Thursday, July 22, 2010

Moral philosophy quiz answers (8)

 8. END, MEANS, INTENT Which is the most important, morally?
    a) The intent (the choice to do something or the will).
    b) The means (the way something is done).
    c) The ends (the results from the action).
   d) None of them are significantly more important than the others.
    e) Doesn't matter/Dislike all answer choices
      What priority do you place on your selection above? High    Medium    Low 

 Not much explanation needed here. The crucial thing is that I think moral virtue means the capacity to deliver*. The person who always means well but can't come across isn't quite morally useless but they will be if they don't change soon.

*Incidentally,  one of the most significant shifts in moral philosophy to come with the Enlightenment was the shift away from results to intent. You can see it in what are probably the two most famous lines ever written about moral goods:
“It is impossible to think of anything at all in the world, or indeed even beyond it, that could be considered good without limitation except a good will.” Immanuel Kant

“Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim.” Aristotle

And there you have about as important contrast as you will find in moral thinking. Lots of people didn't like Kant's answer but virtually all moral philosophy since Kant has taken his side on this. One very notable exception is Nietzsche who does good work shredding the Enlightenment view. (Interestingly enough, Nietzsche does this in an attempt to save the day for Enlightenment ideals.

1 comment:

  1. I think I chose a) with a High priority. From a moral or ethical perspective intent or motive is crucial, but all three--intent,means, and ends have to work hand in hand. Also, I don't think its ever right to use unethical means to achieve what one believes to be a good end (e.g., setting fire to a gay bar so that the patrons die before they can commit mortal sin and be consigned to hell). But with the best of intentions and using ethical means, there should also be a reasonable chance of success. Then again, people can do things, e.g., march or peacefully demonstrate against abortion or an end to the war in Vietnam (which our Constitution allows) even though they know there's little chance of success simply to take a moral stand.