• Sam26
    253
    Hmm, think of the same scenario of perceivable behavior but with a different set of imperceivable intentions: Person A violently shoves person B to the ground (this being the exact same act with an identical degree of harm upon person B in crashing to the ground) but, in this version, the act is performed with the intention of saving person B’s life from the assassination attempt of person C. The discernable outcome of harm (and of a saved life) remains the same; the sole difference now is in the private intentions with which the act of shoving person B is performed by person A.javra

    In this scenario person A has committed a moral act, remember my position is that not all harm is immoral, that is, if you have good reasons for the harm, and in this case person A does, then it's not immoral. Intention although important is not always the deciding factor. One can have good intentions and yet still commit an immoral act, as in accidental harm that should or could have been foreseen. In this case it's clear that person A committed a moral act by preventing a greater harm. There is also an important point here, that is, that all immoral acts have the property of harm, but not all moral acts lack harm, some do some don't.
  • javra
    332
    Intention although important is not always the deciding factor. One can have good intentions and yet still commit an immoral act, as in accidental harm that should or could have been foreseen.Sam26

    Say a person is clumsy and accidently knocks over a book on the coffee table while walking. Do we blame them for so doing? Of course, if the item is both one of great value to us and becomes destroyed in being so knocked over, many of us would feel heightened degrees of anger at the occurrence and, some, will then readily blame the individual for the outcome.

    I’m not claiming that this isn’t a murky area for both philosophy and for law. I do however maintain that where there to be intention in so knocking over the item, regardless of the item’s value to us, the scenario would now become drastically different. So I yet uphold the importance of intention to ethics.

    There is also an important point here, that is, that all immoral acts have the property of harm, but not all moral acts lack harm, some do some don't.Sam26

    I find myself fully agreeing with this. I should add: especially when "property of harm" encompasses intention to do harm.
  • Wayfarer
    4.8k
    I also don't associate immoral acts with sin, that is, sin is a religious word that carries religious connotations. In fact, I don't believe in sin in terms of an act against God, which is deserving of punishment, or that it's something we need to be saved from. In the sense that evil is equated with sin, I would disavow evil too.Sam26

    Well after a lot of soul-searching, I think I do accept the reality of sin, although I know it's a tremendously unpopular view to take. I am a Buddhist convert, and in most Buddhist literature, you will read that Buddhism doesn't contain the concept of sin. But I don't think that's true - read older translations of texts and commentaries, and the word appears frequently; there are several Buddhist terms, including asava (outflows) and klesa (defilements) which provide an equivalent. However, the cardinal error of humans is not sin, in Buddhism, but avidya, ignorance (which I'll come back to).

    My understanding of the etymology of 'sin' (as there are several) is that it is derived from the concept of 'missing the mark'. So that has a connotation of a cognitive error, a mistaken judgement. (The other etymology has something to do with 'blood' and is more common amongst the mainstream Christian denominations.)

    I think a lot of the reason that the idea of 'sin' has been rejected is because it has been contaminated (pardon the irony) by Calvinism, for whom it is this kind of dreadful cosmic miasma, the only escape from which is via unquestioning faith in the dogma. (Not for nothing has Calvin been dubbed 'the Ayatollah of Geneva'.) Whereas, in other readings, although sin is evil, it doesn't have the absolute nature that it is accorded by the Calvinist idea of 'total depravity'; I think overall that Catholicism and Orthodoxy have a much more balanced view of human nature.

    The cardinal difference between the Buddhist avidya and the Christian 'sin' is the former is cognitive, whereas the latter is volitional. The former is a mistake in the understanding; the latter is the inherited consequence of the original sin, and a corruption of the will, about which we can do nothing other than believe - we can't even will what is good. But both concepts speak to what I regard as the fact of innate human moral insufficiency, whether due to 'beginningless ignorance' or 'original sin'.

    I think that nowadays, the concept of sin persists, albeit in a different guise, namely that of guilt - and that long essay I have linked to is one of the better philosophical essays of 2017 in my view (and notice the audio version provided, I listened to it on a long car trip recently.)
  • Sam26
    253
    There is one point that I failed to mention in my last post. A good intention or a good will is a necessary feature of all moral acts. I can't see how one could commit a moral act unintentionally. Moral actions necessitate a good will or good intentions. However, these are separate and distinct from immoral actions which can happen regardless of intention.

    In the case of the book, my contention is that it's not necessarily an immoral action. It can become an immoral act if the person who accidentally destroyed the book doesn't make reparations, that is, if they ignore the harm done. The harm in this case is the destruction of the book, which is property that belongs to someone. If the person doesn't have the means to make reparations they should do all they can to make it right. This is a more complicated situation than the other examples, but I believe it can still be fit into this moral code. Also, in this situation your idea of intention becomes very important. If for example the person doesn't have the means to correct the situation, what matters is the intent to do so, that's what corrects it to some degree.
  • javra
    332
    I agree with most of what you've stated.

    However, these are separate and distinct from immoral actions which can happen regardless of intention.Sam26

    Can you exemplify something of this nature. I can't think of any example right now.
  • Sam26
    253
    Many of the Christian ideas of sin and original sin come from a Biblical perspective, and although I have a good understanding of some of these doctrines, I don't think they are credible. Which is to say, that they're dependent upon a certain view of reality that, at least for me, lack good evidence. Moreover, they go against the testimonial evidence, of many people who have experienced an NDE, which I believe puts them in direct contact with the other side, so to speak. However, this discussion would take us far afield.
  • Sam26
    253
    Sure I can give an example where intention doesn't mean much at all, in fact you could have good intentions and still commit an immoral act. You are driving and are distracted by the angry conversation you're having with your wife, and in that moment you run a red light and accidentally kill someone. It's done unintentionally, but it's something you could have avoided if you were paying attention. It's clearly your fault and you know it's your fault. Harm has clearly been done, the person was killed, and it's an accident that could have been avoided if you had been paying attention. By not paying attention you are responsible for the death of another. This is analogous to driving under the influence, that is, you might not have the intention of killing another, but the result is that by driving under the influence, which you know to be wrong, killed another. The same is true in my above example, you know that if you don't pay sufficient attention to the road you can cause bodily harm to another, but you ignored this important point.
  • javra
    332
    The same is true in my above example, you know that if you don't pay sufficient attention to the road you can cause bodily harm to another, but you ignored this important point.Sam26

    Nitpicking here. To me this example presents a choice between two alternatives. One alternative is that of paying attention to the road, which you know to be ethical, at expense of short-term loss of ego’s pride (or something to the like). The other is that of focusing in on an argument at expense of being attentive to where you’re driving. The individual, given the presence of this choice between now momentarily sensed alternatives, is culpable for the decision made. This is so strictly due to the willed intention to pursue the second alternative at the expense of the first. So we find the individual at fault for vehicular manslaughter on grounds of what the individual intentionally chose. As you say, same enough with drunk driving, or with talking on mobiles while driving, etc.

    I think something without intention would be running over a person due to a momentary instance of vertigo, or epilepsy, etc., that was unforeseeable. While proving that such was the case can be exceedingly difficult, were it to in fact be proven to have been the reason for the momentary lack of attention given while driving, would the outcome then still be considered an immoral act by the driver? Here, there was no conceivable intention on the part of the driver that could have been alternatively acted on which would have prevented the accident.

    Likewise with a blown tire that deviates the car’s trajectory.
  • Sam26
    253
    I don't think there is any clear intention involved in the accident. You weren't even thinking, just reacting to the argument. It's not like someone says, I'm going to have this argument in spite of the fact that I might kill someone. It's just something that's happening at the moment. Again, they're not thinking, and thus not even aware of the act that's about to happen.
  • javra
    332
    We differ on how much of a person’s behaviors we deem to be intentional. Acts of passion—I think they’re legally called—could be deemed acts of lack of thought that hold harmful results. The guy who kills his significant other when finding them cheating is, thus, to me, guilty of an immoral act due to his choices—regardless of how guilty he feels afterward. To some lesser degree, a heated argument while driving could be considered an instance of these acts of passion. Again, I personally find the individual culpable for the ensuing harm due to the choices made and, thus, the intentions held. In the case of the driver, the car could have been pulled over, for instance—especially once the argument gets out of hand. Still, I again acknowledge it’s a murky area. To concede a little, at some unfortunate instances a momentary lack of attention (say, when reaching over for a water bottle while driving … minor instances of non-attention which we’ve all been involved in at one point or another) can result in a lot of harm (like a kid just then running out into the street before you chasing after a ball).

    I’m personally OK with there being a difference of opinion in relation to how much of this ought to be considered intentional (by which I mean volitional). I again was nitpicking.
  • Sam26
    253
    No problem Javra, good discussion.
  • javra
    332
    good discussion.Sam26

    Ditto.
  • Inter Alia
    46



    The issue with intention that has not been addressed is that they are constrained by their position in an infinite future. Your examples all focus solely on what the perpetrator 'intended' to be the immediate outcome of their action, Consider person A in the example (pushing the would be assassination victim). Person A's intention might be to harm Person B (immoral), but maybe to teach person B a lesson for some act of harming another perpetrated by person B (A is now moral again? depending on your view of punishment), but person B's act (for which he's being punished) was part of a war to overthrow an totalitarian dictator (A is immoral again), but the totalitarian dictator was only trying to bring stability after the overthrow of a particularly evil tyrant (A is back on the good side) ... and so on.

    It's not that any of these facts might be considered 'newly come to light', I'm specifically suggesting that they might all be known to both A and B at the time of the pushing. Now is A moral or immoral for pushing B. Do we take the outcome A intends immediately, one step removed, two steps ... how many? A may well intend there to be several outcomes of his action. In fact A would be something of an idiot if he were to presume that his action was going to have one single, clear, and entirely exclusive outcome. SO which of these do we use to determine A's intention?

    We could then add in some contemporaneous consequences that A can foresee. What if A knows that C is aiming a gun at B? He really wants to harm B by pushing him to the ground, but doesn't want to see B killed. Now is he moral or not?

    Your 'intentional by neglect' examples (drink driving, carelessness), which you've branded immoral by intent are similarly time-constrained. How far into the future do we expect people to predict the consequences of their actions? It's easy to determine (using the 'intention' model) that drinking and driving might expose other road users to danger and so one's intentions in doing so are immoral, but what about paying taxes, giving to charity with multiple and long-lasting consequences? How far into the future are the outcomes (or possible outcomes) of our actions by which others judge what our 'intentions' were? What point in the potentially infinite distant future do we take to be the 'final' state of the world A is trying to achieve by his actions?

    These problems are essentially the reason why virtue ethics persists, even though you're focusing on intent you still have a consequentialist ethic because you're using the consequences of the perpetrators actions as a means of determining their intentions, it therefore suffers from the same problem as all other consequentialist ethics, what point in the future do we use to judge?
  • Sam26
    253
    These problems are essentially the reason why virtue ethics persists, even though you're focusing on intent you still have a consequentialist ethic because you're using the consequences of the perpetrators actions as a means of determining their intentions, it therefore suffers from the same problem as all other consequentialist ethics, what point in the future do we use to judge?Inter Alia

    All your examples simply change the facts of the cases. If you change the facts, then the outcomes are going to be different. Moreover, there will always be examples that are more complicated, which involve what people know, what people should have known, or even possible future outcomes.

    My particular brand of ethics is definitely not a consequentialist view, that is, that it's based on some fact or facts brought about by someone's acts or intentions. My particular brand of ethics is more closely related to a deontological view, which are based on rules or principles. Thus we have a duty to act a certain way. For example, one might say we have a duty to act in a way that brings about the least amount of harm. Thus, if you were hiding Jews in your attic during WW2 and the Nazi's came to your home and asked if you were hiding Jews, your duty would be to lie. First, because the action of telling the truth would lead to murder, thus telling the lie would lead to the least amount of harm. In fact, Kant might say that the Nazi's have no right to the truth because of what they intend to do, because of the evil they will commit.

    The problem with any theory, including ethical theories, is that it's difficult to find one that covers every possible scenario. All we can do is try to live as closely as we can to certain principles, and make the best decisions we can based on the information we have.

    The two consequentialist theories that come to mind are utilitarianism and hedonism, which in my humble opinion are not good ethical theories. However, trying to put forth a theory of ethics in this thread would be further than I want to go, at least for now. All I will say is that for me the best possible ideas of ethics are principle, rule, or duty based.
  • Inter Alia
    46
    because the action of telling the truth would lead to murder, thus telling the lie would lead to the least amount of harmSam26

    I don't understand how this is not consequntialist. You seem to be deriving the ethical rightness of an action from it's immediate consequences. I can see how you are filtering consequences by intent (only that subset of actions leading to harmful consequences that are motivated by the intention to bring about those consequences are immoral) but the whole ethic still relies entirely on the judgement of consequences and so still suffers from the same problem. Consequences for whom, and for how far into the future?

    I tend to agree that Ethics needs to avoid consequetialism in general (personally I'm a virtue ethicist), but your use of 'intent' here necessitates a level of understanding that I think is unobtainable.

    So, what if the home owner has been threatened with violence by the Jewish family if they reveal their whereabouts? The home owner might still not want the Jews killed but also fears for his own welfare either way, how do we now determine his intent to decide which is his moral course? He, like most people in the real world, will have more than one outcome in mind as a result of his actions, with more than one timescale applicable to each.
  • Sam26
    253
    I do think intent is important, but you haven't read my posts carefully if you think intent is the primary factor. My focus is on the harm done, but that's not all of the focus obviously.
  • Inter Alia
    46
    I understand your position to be that those actions where there is both harm and the intention to cause harm are immoral, as I summarise in my parenthesis above.

    That being the case, determining if an action will cause harm becomes necessary (harm to whom and for how far into the future?) as does determining intent (what if a person intends multiple outcomes?).

    Have I still misunderstood something?
  • javra
    332


    Hello. I’m having a hard time understanding your position, at least as things currently stand.

    Taking things one step at a time, as regards intention: My reading of your post(s) leads me to presume you disassociate intention—i.e., volition, or will—from sentient action … be these actions of the body or solely of the intellect (e.g., the planning out of bodily action). Action devoid of will, to me, equates to inanimate, entropy-driven (this at least at the macro scale) activity. Were a large bolder to hit a loved one due to extreme wind, I do not find the bolder culpable precisely because the bolder did not will this to be. Where a human (to me, a will-endowed being) to hurl a large bolder toward a loved one, I would then find the human culpable precisely because the human did will this to be.

    How can ethics—of any variety: virtue ethics or otherwise—be upheld when the element of volition/will/intention is not considered paramount to the issue?

    As a more precise example, to me, a will to anything, happiness and/or flourishing included (i.e., will to eudemonia) necessarily holds will—hence intention—as a prerequisite. Eudemonia in the absence of will to me is nonsensical. If there’s belief that eudemonia does not require will for its being, how then does one make sense of eudemonia in the absence of intention to both better optimize it and maintain it?

    I’ll address issues such as those of forethought in light of both short- and long-term durations after I can better understand, hopefully, this perspective of ethics not grounded in intention/volition/will.
  • Samuel Lacrampe
    479

    Yes, you are on to something! I was not all that familiar with the term meta-ethics, but the way you have described it makes sense. Described as such, you are correct that my original post is merely about the source of our knowledge of the moral good; which is meta-ethics. The focus was not on the essence of morally good intentions and acts; which is normative ethics. This discussion was brought up later on, almost as a tangent; and to this, I claim that the Golden Rule is a sure way to test the moral goodness of an intention and act. While the two topics are related insofar that they deal with ethics, the claims are not dependant on one another.

    I also agree about the views that morality is objective, and that predicting the consequences of an act is a good way to determine moral goodness, as this method follows from the Golden Rule.

    It is possible, therefore, that determining whether an action is moral, can only be only be done in the context of the perpetrator's acquired knowledge of morality (in the normative sense) because although innately born with the concept of what is 'good' and what is 'evil', they may have no moral knowledge at all i.e. have no clue as to whether their actions will achieve or frustrate the achievement of that state.Inter Alia
    If I understand you correctly, you are saying that although we may all have theoretical knowledge of the moral good, we may lack the knowledge of the right course of action in a given situation. That may be, and this is where the Golden Rule becomes a useful tool. How should I act? The same way I would want others to act towards me in the same situation if the roles were reversed.
  • Samuel Lacrampe
    479
    I understand, but it's an important part of my view of ethics, there are many who view ethics as subjective and/or relative. [...] So it's my view when talking about justice that we have a view of justice that's has some objective standard.Sam26
    I completely agree.

    Your response to the self-sealing fallacy is not sufficient. [...] Thus, because of the way your argument is framed, it's self-sealing as far as I can tell.Sam26
    Well, in theory, we could always ask the individuals whether they have an inclination to seek justice for themselves or not; but I see your point that this is not practicable to do in a large scale. Much like for intentions, we cannot be certain about inclinations from mere observations. However, we have a few solutions left: (1) reasonable claim, and (2) empirical data by observing ourselves.

    (1) Reasonable claim: For a given behaviour, it is not more reasonable to assume that the person was seeking justice rather than injustice to themselves?
    (2) Empirical data within ourselves: I already asked, but do you not personally have an inclination to seek justice rather than injustice for yourself?

    I don't think it's true that necessarily all unjust people know their unjust (you seem to be basing this on the idea of innate knowledge).Sam26
    It must be so, because if they sincerely did not know that their act was causing some harm, then it would be an honest mistake; which is a mistake, but is not unjust.

    What is the evidence that we have innate knowledge, as opposed to knowledge gained in some other way.Sam26
    Specifically regarding morality, I summarize here the argument from my original post, which has yet to be refuted: if knowledge is necessary for intentions, and intention is necessary for moral language, then knowledge is necessary for moral language. And we know it cannot be learned from observation, because as Mr. Wayfarer stated earlier, we cannot entail 'what ought to be' from 'what is'. Therefore, either moral language does not exist, or if it does, then its knowledge must be innate.

    Generally speaking, there is a test to determine if a knowledge is innate or not, but let's save it for another time, for the sake of keeping this post somewhat short.
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