This came up re: Christian nihilism.
A) What you do matters, or
B) It doesn’t. (Fatalism)
If what you do matters, then it matters whether you do it. If it matters whether you do something, it matters whether you complete that thing successfully (this premise is supported further below). If you don’t care whether your actions are successful, then you don’t believe it matters (modus tollens).
Nihilism is the belief that nothing matters. “De facto” is defined thus:
In law and government, de facto describes practices that exist in reality, even though they are not officially recognized by laws. It is commonly used to refer to what happens in practice, in contrast with de jure, which refers to things that happen according to law.
Therefore sacrificing the ends to maintain the purity of the means is de facto nihilism. This type of nihilism is preferred by the sorts of Christians who tend to the gnostic fallacy, which is to say those who tend to be politically on the right:
The gnostic fallacy:
1) Mind precedes matter in philosophical analysis, in the Cartesian skeptical tradition.
2) Therefore, mind precedes matter in causality. All matter is contingent and therefore derivative from mind, which is primary and not contingent.
In brief, “mind over matter”.
A person who takes the gnostic fallacy as axiomatic believes that nothing may exist outside of the collective consciousness of all existing minds. That is, nothing exists unless it is being created by someone observing it. Put another way, “nothing unprincipled exists”. Or another way, “everything that exists is a subset of what can be imagined to exist by someone, somewhere”. Gnosticism therefore elevates the perspective of the individual soul to pre-eminence, and tends to solipsism. I believe people who have an unbalanced intelligence profile favoring speed over caliber will tend to believe this more often. Gnostic pagans will tend to believe that the universe is a manifestation of the collective unconscious. A good example of a gnostic pagan is Andrew Anglin (ref: The Daily Shoah #171). Their attitude toward other people is equalist, optimistic, and pedantic. They believe they can fix you by raising your consciousness with their idealistic clarity.
People who tend to this are generally rationalizing a preference to believe the right thing at the expense of doing the right thing. Hence Protestantism. (In contrast, people on the left tend to be de jure nihilists but moral pragmatists in practice. Hence the forms of Christianity preferred south of the Hajnal line: Catholicism, Orthodoxy, low church, etc.)
“If it matters whether you do it, it matters whether you do it successfully.”
This is the premise most likely to be attacked because we are not all-powerful and therefore not responsible for all outcomes in the world, so I’d like to disambiguate whether we’re responsible for ANY outcomes at all (tl;dr- we are) with a concrete example. First we assume there are situations, call them antecedents A. where God would have us engage in certain behaviors B. We define B as more obedient and therefore more moral in divine command theory, and therefore “mattering” as in having eternal consequences. We will describe the outcomes of B as consequences C.
So in symbolic terms: We assume there exists at least one A for which God commands B, after which C will happen. We are morally responsible for B, but not C, since C is ultimately God’s decision. For example, God may tell us to share the gospel with a person. It is not our responsibility for them to believe it or for their hearts to change. (Else we may find ourselves torturing people into Christianity, which fortunately has not been common in Christendom.) However, it does not then follow that what we do doesn’t matter, since we’ve already said that we’re responsible for B. Then we’re morally responsible for successfully completing B regardless of where we define it as ending and C beginning.
Here I’ll consider the logical proof at the beginning of the post to be sound enough for the intellectually honest to play with it, and move on to the practical question, which is where B ends and C begins. When do atomic cause and effect interactions cease to be part of my behavior and start to become part of the consequences of my behavior? Defining the difference between B and C obviously suffers from an infinite regress problem. Means are also ends, and vice versa. The distinction is an arbitrary category used by humans to make practical sense of things.
The synthesis of this paradox is in the definition of morality as “that which pleases God”. Therefore, we ought to imagine trying to justify our efforts to God. Insofar as we can predict God’s preferences, this is a helpful guide to the moral use of pragmatism. If we believe he would be pleased with our efforts, then we have probably fulfilled our responsibility. If we believe he would be angry with our efforts, then we have probably done less than he would want or done something extra that he would not have wanted. Two rules of thumb: 1. capability = culpability, and 2. you could be doing a lot better than you’re doing.
In any case, I’ve probably said this before but the smartest thing I’ve ever read is the serenity prayer. It summarizes the whole of moral philosophy in 25 words.