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
...I remember someone saying one time, that, that is the attraction of the novel, in the novel you are let in on the private thoughts and intentions of the characters, real life does not have that going for it.
Another side-note: I believe it's human nature to "brand" or "imbue" folks with motives of our making. We see someone do something 'bad', our mind wants to frame it - get a grip on it - so we end up attributing a 'why' that fits why I (the observer) might have done it. I judge, act, rebuke and so on; spilling my disdain on a person for motives of my own making.
Question: To what extent does one's motives figure in evaluating the ethics of an action? Does it figure at all?
In a series of recent experiments, Joshua Knobe has shown that people's intuitions can actually be affected by the moral qualities of the behavior itself. He constructed pairs of vignettes that were similar in almost all respects but differed in their moral significance. In certain cases, subjects were far more willing to say that a behavior was performed intentionally when that behavior was morally bad than when the behavior was morally good.
So, for example, consider the following vignette:
The vice-president of a company went to the chairman of the board and said, 'We are thinking of starting a new program. It will help us increase profits, but it will also harm the environment.' The chairman of the board answered, 'I don't care at all about harming the environment. I just want to make as much profit as I can. Let's start the new program.' They started the new program. Sure enough, the environment was harmed.
Confronted with this vignette, most people say that the chairman intentionally harmed the environment.
But suppose that we replace the word 'harm' with 'help.' The vignette then becomes:
The vice-president of a company went to the chairman of the board and said, 'We are thinking of starting a new program. It will help us increase profits, and it will also help the environment.' The chairman of the board answered, 'I don't care at all about helping the environment. I just want to make as much profit as I can. Let's start the new program.' They started the new program. Sure enough, the environment was helped.
Confronted with this second vignette, very few subjects say that the chairman intentionally helped the environment.
Does this result indicate that moral considerations are actually playing a role in our concept of intentional action? Or does it only show that our judgments can sometimes be distorted by feelings of blame? A variety of competing theories have been proposed, but no real consensus has yet emerged.