Weight of Intent

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Khethil
 
Reply Tue 3 Mar, 2009 07:11 am
Good Morning,

Question: To what extent does one's motives figure in evaluating the ethics of an action? Does it figure at all?[INDENT]Example: The OP in this thread suggests that despite wholesale condemnation of the wealthy, there are some actions the bloated-rich have taken that have brought 'good' to others. If I'm filthy rich, having bathed in avarice my whole adult life and then to give myself some tax breaks, make large contributions to charitable foundations, do the self-serving motives devalue the benefits of the action?
[/INDENT]If you do a good thing, for bad reasons, is it still a 'good' thing? Use any definition of 'good' you like. Also, I think that regardless of how case-dependent this question may be, I'd very much like to keep rage-saturated condemnations at bay (save those for the other hate-threads).

Thanks
 
xris
 
Reply Tue 3 Mar, 2009 08:19 am
@Khethil,
Rich or poor we all do good for our own purpose...it makes us feel good.The difference is rich people have more money to make themselves feel even better than me..another reason not to let them have so much..If i win the lottery we muse...Its a positive self gratification emotion that us humans wear like medals..
 
Bones-O
 
Reply Tue 3 Mar, 2009 01:47 pm
@Khethil,
Khethil wrote:
If you do a good thing, for bad reasons, is it still a 'good' thing? Use any definition of 'good' you like. Also, I think that regardless of how case-dependent this question may be, I'd very much like to keep rage-saturated condemnations at bay (save those for the other hate-threads).

I'd say that the moral judgement of a person and the beneficial nature of an event can be judged separately if there is no direct link of intent. If a person does a good thing for immoral reason, the thing (event) is good (beneficial), the person is not good (is immoral).
 
GoshisDead
 
Reply Tue 3 Mar, 2009 01:48 pm
@xris,
The result of any action is judged good or bad objectivly by witnesses according to a recieved cultural/biological guidelines. Motive is hardly ever considered weightedly by the recipients of a good deed or witrnesses to it. Results are what matter in this objective realm. Personal motive may well be inconsequential, as per the example above, the carrot dangled in front of the wealthy (tax benefits) is built into the the cultural matrix.

Subjectivly however one can never really know about a true charitable action. Some consider even the good feeling that one gets upon performing a 'good' act as selfish or selfserving. Yet some consider this a by product of being truely charitable, sort of something like an instant karmic reward. I'm not so sure that just because one somehow benefits from a good action that it means the motive is suspect. If one is performing a good action/service to get a good feeling possibly, but consider all the good/charitable/service acts that you have personally committed, and before how many of those actions did you actually consider the "good feeling" you get for performing them?
 
Elmud
 
Reply Wed 4 Mar, 2009 01:51 am
@Khethil,
Khethil wrote:
Good Morning,

Question: To what extent does one's motives figure in evaluating the ethics of an action? Does it figure at all?[INDENT]Example: The OP in this thread suggests that despite wholesale condemnation of the wealthy, there are some actions the bloated-rich have taken that have brought 'good' to others. If I'm filthy rich, having bathed in avarice my whole adult life and then to give myself some tax breaks, make large contributions to charitable foundations, do the self-serving motives devalue the benefits of the action?
[/INDENT]If you do a good thing, for bad reasons, is it still a 'good' thing? Use any definition of 'good' you like. Also, I think that regardless of how case-dependent this question may be, I'd very much like to keep rage-saturated condemnations at bay (save those for the other hate-threads).

Thanks

Depends on which side of the fence you're standing on. If I have five hundred dollars and I give away ten bucks to hungry person, its really no big deal. But, to the hungry person, its a big deal. To the hungry person, it is a good thing. To the person who gave the gift, he would need to give $490.00 and keep ten, to make it a good thing. then, you know he was thinking more of the other instead of himself. If the intent is to put the other person ahead of himself, that is a good thing. If the intent is to create a positive image of himself , then it is a bad thing because it is all about him. But, either way, it can be argued that the act is both good and bad. Send that rich man to me. I'll take the cash and I'll overlook his intentions. Having an extra few bucks is a good thing for me and I'll consider his tax write off a good thing for him. Its all good. No,,,its bad, no,,,thats good, wait a minute, no. Its,,,,,,,.Aw hell with it. I'm gonna take that cash and get me something to eat.
 
Theaetetus
 
Reply Wed 4 Mar, 2009 05:31 am
@Khethil,
Khethil wrote:
Good Morning,

Question: To what extent does one's motives figure in evaluating the ethics of an action? Does it figure at all?[INDENT]Example: The OP in this thread suggests that despite wholesale condemnation of the wealthy, there are some actions the bloated-rich have taken that have brought 'good' to others. If I'm filthy rich, having bathed in avarice my whole adult life and then to give myself some tax breaks, make large contributions to charitable foundations, do the self-serving motives devalue the benefits of the action?
[/INDENT]If you do a good thing, for bad reasons, is it still a 'good' thing? Use any definition of 'good' you like. Also, I think that regardless of how case-dependent this question may be, I'd very much like to keep rage-saturated condemnations at bay (save those for the other hate-threads).


I think you can do good things for bad reasons, and it is still good, just as you can do bad things for good reasons, and it is still bad. I think the outcome of actions are far more important than the motives of the actions. As limited beings susceptible to ignorance, sometimes we do not see all the consequences of our actions, and thus, accidentally do good or bad when we did not originally intend to.
 
Mr Fight the Power
 
Reply Wed 4 Mar, 2009 06:50 am
@Theaetetus,
It is important to note that "good things" and "good persons" are categorically different.

To say someone did a "good thing" has no bearing on whether the person is "good". It could have been random, it could have been forced. It is the motivation to pursue the "right" action that makes a person good.
 
xris
 
Reply Wed 4 Mar, 2009 07:05 am
@Mr Fight the Power,
Mr. Fight the Power wrote:
It is important to note that "good things" and "good persons" are categorically different.

To say someone did a "good thing" has no bearing on whether the person is "good". It could have been random, it could have been forced. It is the motivation to pursue the "right" action that makes a person good.
What drives a good person to do good.Am i not a good because i do it for pleasure? Tell me just letting another driver out of a side road not give you pleasure?
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Wed 4 Mar, 2009 08:05 pm
@Khethil,
Age old question: and the answer depends on our ethical system. A utilitarian would say that motive is irrelevant, and that we should only look at the result of the action. A deontologist, on the other hand, would make the opposite argument, that in evaluating the ethics of an action we should limit ourselves to motive.

I never really understood the need for such a divide: why would we ignore motive and why would we ignore the results? Both motive and result seem morally relevant: motive speaks to the moral thinking of an agent, while the results of an agent's actions speak to the agent's ability to apply his or her moral thinking.
 
Holiday20310401
 
Reply Wed 4 Mar, 2009 10:03 pm
@Didymos Thomas,
How the heck does a utilitarian learn from past mistakes then?
 
Theaetetus
 
Reply Wed 4 Mar, 2009 10:28 pm
@Holiday20310401,
Holiday20310401 wrote:
How the heck does a utilitarian learn from past mistakes then?


By how little happiness, goodness, betterment, etc. their former actions caused. Remember utilitarianism is about benefiting the highest percentage of people that an action can. In other words, by performing an action that harms more than it help, the utilitarian knows for the next time the same decision arises.
 
Holiday20310401
 
Reply Wed 4 Mar, 2009 10:34 pm
@Theaetetus,
That seems feeble, not that I dislike a heuristic style, but if one can understand the underlying then it only seems logical that one adapts a strategy to approach the next/better action.
 
re turner jr
 
Reply Thu 5 Mar, 2009 11:47 am
@Khethil,
Khethil wrote:
Good Morning,

Question: To what extent does one's motives figure in evaluating the ethics of an action? Does it figure at all?[INDENT]Example: The OP in this thread suggests that despite wholesale condemnation of the wealthy, there are some actions the bloated-rich have taken that have brought 'good' to others. If I'm filthy rich, having bathed in avarice my whole adult life and then to give myself some tax breaks, make large contributions to charitable foundations, do the self-serving motives devalue the benefits of the action?
[/INDENT]If you do a good thing, for bad reasons, is it still a 'good' thing? Use any definition of 'good' you like. Also, I think that regardless of how case-dependent this question may be, I'd very much like to keep rage-saturated condemnations at bay (save those for the other hate-threads).

Thanks


I would say the goodness of an action depends on how closely it corresponds to the 'idea' or perfectly good act. The idea good act is pure in both intent and deed. The act that is intended for ill and produces such is very far away from the idea good deed. The act that is intended for good but produces ill, or the act that is intended for ill but produces good is closer. The acts that are just tainted in intent or deed are closer still.

In short, to answer the OP. Yes, the intent should be factored in to figuring the goodness of an act.
 
boagie
 
Reply Thu 5 Mar, 2009 12:09 pm
@Khethil,
Khethil wrote:
Good Morning,

Question: To what extent does one's motives figure in evaluating the ethics of an action? Does it figure at all?
[INDENT]Example: The OP in this thread suggests that despite wholesale condemnation of the wealthy, there are some actions the bloated-rich have taken that have brought 'good' to others. If I'm filthy rich, having bathed in avarice my whole adult life and then to give myself some tax breaks, make large contributions to charitable foundations, do the self-serving motives devalue the benefits of the action?
[/INDENT]If you do a good thing, for bad reasons, is it still a 'good' thing? Use any definition of 'good' you like. Also, I think that regardless of how case-dependent this question may be, I'd very much like to keep rage-saturated condemnations at bay (save those for the other hate-threads).Thanks


Khethil;Smile

Well, intent is the only means we have of holding the individual responsiable for his/her actions. If a rich person gives to a charitable organization because he feels like giving something back to the system which has been so good to him, the intention is good, if it is done to further profit the rich man, the effect might still be consider good but the intent is a selfish one. It is a bit like the faithful providing soup for the poor, as an opportunity to indoctrinate and make them sing for their suppers, the poor still benefit from the nourishment provided, but the intent at least in measure is selfish. Here the interests of the giver and the receiver are both served, the only difference is, only the giver claims virtue.
 
Elmud
 
Reply Thu 5 Mar, 2009 08:21 pm
@Holiday20310401,
Holiday20310401 wrote:
How the heck does a utilitarian learn from past mistakes then?

That!, is a good question.
 
Khethil
 
Reply Fri 6 Mar, 2009 06:26 am
@boagie,
Hey Boagie,

So you would judge the ethics of the action 'good' if the intent was selfless or 'bad' of the intent was selfish?

Assuming we can't read other people's minds (and, of course, assuming even the actor even knows why he/she is doing something), how might any act ever be deemed ethical or unethical? It is precisely because of this "assuming we know ones' motives"-aspect that I generally will place a premium on the effects rather than trying to guess at someone's reasons. What say ye?

Thanks
 
boagie
 
Reply Fri 6 Mar, 2009 07:57 am
@Khethil,
Khethil wrote:
Hey Boagie,

So you would judge the ethics of the action 'good' if the intent was selfless or 'bad' of the intent was selfish?

Assuming we can't read other people's minds (and, of course, assuming even the actor even knows why he/she is doing something), how might any act ever be deemed ethical or unethical? It is precisely because of this "assuming we know ones' motives"-aspect that I generally will place a premium on the effects rather than trying to guess at someone's reasons. What say ye? Thanks


Hi Khethil,Smile

If the effect is good, as in preforming a service to an individual and/or the community, the intent will most often be assumed correctly or incorrectly to be good. You are right however only the subject could know his own heart. When it comes to legal matters, society does its best to descern the intent of the individual relative to crimminal action and the circumstances under which the action took place and is judged accordingly. Intention does not necessarily define how benifical the act will be, sometimes with the intention to do harm, the intent is foiled and the opposited of the subjects intent is realized. In order for an action to be considered as a virtuous act though, it must be intended, ironically intent is often misread, if the action is crimminal or if the action is virtuous often the defination of intent is read backward through its effect. The deck is somewhat stacked by how harmful or benifical the act was. So, yes your right, we all rely mostly on the effects of an action in judging the intent.
 
hammersklavier
 
Reply Fri 6 Mar, 2009 08:03 am
@Khethil,
As I'm sure you know, you've just asked the most problematic question in ethics right now. Not only is it tricky and problematic in its own right, but the corollaries derived from any decent answer raise their own problematic questions as well...

I think that intent and consequences are the two most important determiners in the ethics of a given action. If an action was done with genuine (i.e., good) intent but had less-than-stellar consequences we could say that so-and-so a person thinks good thoughts, at least; if an action causes good consequences despite ill intent, we could say that so-and-so a person does good deeds despite himself. Neither person is inherently unethical--the thinker whose actions always fail to live up to his expectations could develop his ethical character via asceticism; the person who can't seem to think a good thought for beans but whose actions always have good consequences would best be served expressing his ethical character via action (this is the essential difference between jnanayoga {discipline of knowledge} and karmayoga {discipline of action}, btw). This (non)solution however, raises the essential question: how do we judge goodness in action, anyway?
 
Khethil
 
Reply Fri 6 Mar, 2009 09:51 am
@boagie,
boagie wrote:
If the effect is good, as in preforming a service to an individual and/or the community, the intent will most often be assumed correctly or incorrectly to be good. You are right however only the subject could know his own heart. When it comes to legal matters, society does its best to descern the intent of the individual relative to crimminal action and the circumstances under which the action took place and is judged accordingly. Intention does not necessarily define how benifical the act will be, sometimes with the intention to do harm, the intent is foiled and the opposited of the subjects intent is realized. In order for an action to be considered as a virtuous act though, it must be intended, ironically intent is often misread, if the action is crimminal or if the action is virtuous often the defination of intent is read backward through its effect. The deck is somewhat stacked by how harmful or benifical the act was. So, yes your right, we all rely mostly on the effects of an action in judging the intent.


Yea, sticky isn't it? I can't deny the significant of intent; that it can and does mitigate 'bad' actions and that it deludes 'good effects'. I suppose it's an axe I grind; that we can't know one's motives -yet judge them constantly.

Take the example in the OP: Money given to a beneficial cause. Virtually no one here knows why it was done yet the doer has been tarred, feathered and run out on a rail. We're so quick to judge where we should not.

Yes intent is important; yes it's relevant and Yes, it's almost impossible to discern on most issues we all judge from afar.

Danke
 
Joe
 
Reply Fri 6 Mar, 2009 11:34 am
@Khethil,
I guess the weight of intent has two scales in my opinion.

The first scale would be personal perception. Maybe like my ego and perhaps a mixture of thoughts and rationalizing.

The second scale would be impersonal perception. I think this is like if I were to observe something outside of my intent and would have to make a judgment call.

Balance seems to be a noble approach....... maybe.

So the first scale would consist of my personal desires, this could mean anything, as long as I want it to happen and so forth. Ive ran the thoughts and reasons through my mind and decide to donate to charity for a tax break.

The second I decide to share my thoughts and intention into making it reality I begin my impersonal perception of what the outcomes might be and how it will effect different things in the world either positively or negatively.

The balance I think has to meet somewhere along where your personal perception was originally at or where you want it to be (with honesty).Smile
 
 

 
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