• Samuel Lacrampe
    489

    Great discussion. I want in. Is either harm or intention essential to morality? Consider the following cases.

    (1) Harm without intention: a rock falls on someone. This is not immoral.
    (2) Harm with intention: A person intends and successfully kills someone innocent. This is immoral.
    (3) Intention without harm: A person intends but fails to kill someone innocent. This is still immoral. I personally would not appreciate this. Would you?
    (4) No harm, no intention: A rock; that's it. Clearly not morally bad, and yet, also not morally good.

    If the above judgements are correct, then it follows that harm is not essential, where as intention is, unless there exists a case where morality exists without intention.

    A few things to note:
    • Although it is difficult, or even impossible, to discover some's true intention, true intentions still exist.
    • In more complex cases, the intended outcome is more challenging to achieve, but this does not change the intention itself. I.e, willing good or willing harm as the end.
  • Inter Alia
    77
    (I haven't worked out how to reply to multiple people yet)

    There's a few things to unpick here, but they mainly centre around the contention that;

    Although it is difficult, or even impossible, to discover some's true intention, true intentions still exist.Samuel Lacrampe
    and
    In more complex cases, the intended outcome is more challenging to achieve, but this does not change the intention itself. I.e, willing good or willing harm as the end.Samuel Lacrampe

    We have no proof that 'True' intentions exist, indeed, if you are of a physicalist, or materialist persuasion, the evidence from neuroscience is very much that we do not have one true motivation, but that multiple desires compete to find a course of action that satisfies them. Think of an animal which desires both to not be eaten and to eat. It finds a patch of grass near a predator, it might choose to eat there with one eye looking out, or eat but only for a short time. It's action is determined by the balancing of two desires, which is the 'True' intention? Humans, are, if anything, even more complex. So already (2) is looking shaky. We know the innocent person gets murdered (outcome is 'Bad', we don't want to live in a society where innocent people get murdered), we may well be able to determine from the evidence that the person intended to kill them, but did they do so because they desired to create a society where innocent people get murdered (the 'Bad' outcome of all this)? How could we know? Maybe they did so because the person stole from them and they considered stealing an offense punishable by death. A society with no thieves in it would be 'Good' (at first glance) would it not? Was this his 'True' intention, and he's simply very stupid or misguided as to what such a society would really be like (lots of innocent people dying by mistake, for a start)?

    I won't continue to list exceptions, the point I'm making is that these 'complex' scenarios are actually real life, and there's a very sound reason for it to do with our theory on Meta-ethics. If everyone actually knows what 'Good' is and this knowledge is not just arbitrarily placed in the brain for no reason, then they must at some level be motivated to do 'Good' and avoid 'Bad'. I'm a monist and an atheist, so for me 'Good' is put there by evolution, but I would argue the same is true for theists and dualists, 'Good' must still be there for a reason and so we must still at some level be motivated to do it. Making pretty much all of our action the result of more than one desire (intention) competing, just like the grazing animal.

    Leaving the difficulty of assessing 'True' intention to one side for a moment, we have the complication of determining outcome. You say that "...it follows that harm is not essential", but this does not quite get us out of the mire that consequentialism leaves us in. We must still, by this 'intention/outcome' based system, determine what the outcome would have been in order to rule that (3) is immoral and obviously we are using what the outcome actually was in case (2). So we still haven't answered the questions - outcome for whom and over what timescale (how far into the future), which become important the more complex the situation. I'm not sure I see the value in an ethical theory which only works for the simple cases, but which breaks down in more complex ones because the amount of knowledge required becomes to great.

    In summary both the 'do unto others...' and the intention/harm rules share the same problem, they use only the accumulated knowledge of the person determining the action. In simple situations this is perfectly adequate, which is why both seem fine when used in such cases, they give us the answers we were expecting. But as soon as the cases become more complex, the knowledge of one individual starts to look inadequate, their ability to see into the future to assess all consequences, their ability to take into account the effect of their actions on multiple people over multiple timescales. This is why societies have, over millennia, evolved guides that are much more generalised, ones which seem to work in the long term, but which require a bit of a leap of faith to an extent, that everything will pan out OK if they're followed. These are the 'Rules' of rule utilitarianism, the 'Virtues' of virtue ethics, the prima facae 'Duties' of deontology. Personally I'm a virtue ethicist, but I would argue, as above, that at least one of these generalised approaches is required, an aim for our actions that has nothing to do with the immediate outcome, neither the actual one, nor the one we 'intended'.
  • Inter Alia
    77


    It's not that will/intention is not allowed for. Personally I'm a compatibilist, so I don't actually believe in free will, but that aside, what I'm saying is that because intention is not a single thing, it cannot be used to judge the morality of an action. No-one intends one, and only one, outcome for any action, they might have an immediate outcome in mind, but hope that leads to a whole chain of events, they might be satisfying two or even a dozen different desires at the same time by their actions, which one are we going to use to judge them by? Someone might assassinate an evil dictator, they want the evil to stop but are also quite keen on the glory and notoriety their action will bring, are they right for ridding the world of an evil man, or wrong for killing someone just to gain notoriety? What if they also quite like the whole mission/killing thing (like in a video game), their family are encouraging him so he will make them happy by doing so, he personally has suffered under the dictator's rule so he'll get revenge. Some of these motives are morally acceptable, other aren't so how would we use will/intention here to judge? That's essentially the point I was making, not that we have no will, quite the opposite in fact, we have lots of will, much of it contradictory and competing.
  • Sam26
    261
    Number 3 still causes harm to a person's character (the one trying to commit the murder), that is, even if you try and fail to do what you intended, it's still immoral as you say, but I would argue that you did harm to yourself. One could also argue that it diminishes the culture in which one lives, so in a sense it does harm to others. I also said that sometimes it's harder to discern the harm, but one could argue that the harm is present. It would take a more detailed explanation of what makes a good character, and also those things that harm one's character.

    Although your 4th example is not an example of something immoral, it's is an example of a natural evil, which does cause harm. Thus, not only do all immoral acts cause harm, but all evil, immoral or natural cause harm.
  • javra
    361


    This often (but not always) occurring competition of vying intentions in one single mind is very well explained by David Hume in his Bundle Theory of the Self. It’s a theory I’ve deeply abided by since I first read his works back in University days. Yet one must recognize that health is greatly dependent on there being a unitary functionality of mind, of the mind’s total bundle of intentions. The further one deviates from this, the unhealthier the mind is (typically) appraised to be. While this is a very complex issue, I do modify Hume’s theory to include a singular first-person point-of-view—the “I” its often labeled—which at times engages in its own chosen intentions and which—I would argue—is itself, at least in part, a dynamic, unified composite of the mind’s lesser intentions. It’s a big topic though, at least for me.

    In terms of how we would then use will/intention to judge ethical issue, we’d judge what the first-person point of view either actively choose (here, between alternatives) or else engages in (here, by not rejecting its unconscious mind’s intentions—e.g. emotions which goad—but, instead, becoming unified with these intentions; e.g., one feels pangs of envy and, instead of rejecting them as wrong, one then becomes envious and acts out due to so being).

    At the end of the day though, this enters into an entirely different topic: that of how the mind works. So we can find a working common base, are we in agreement that ethics is contingent on the presence of will? If not, please furnish examples where this is not the case, so I may better understand.
  • Inter Alia
    77


    To your direct question first, I'm afraid the answer is no, although I realise such a fundamental shift in axiom might end this otherwise fascinating conversation. As I mentioned earlier, I'm a compatibilist, so I don't even really believe in free will, but I certainly don't think morality requires it. All I'm interested in is how to guide people's behaviour to help bring about the society that I firmly believe all people (of sound mind) would want to live in. I personally believe this universality of meta-ethics results from the evolution of a social species, but it is also evidenced in the coincidence of moral objectives in all societies (even where actual opinion on how to achieve those objectives might differ widely). I'm not sure how it got there is very important, so long as we agree it's there.

    So, given that we all want to live in this (very) broadly similar type of society, we need a set of behaviours which are going to achieve it in the long-term. In small hunter-gather groups living in stable savannah environments it's possible (though by no means necessary) that evolution could instil the appropriate behaviours also, in addition to the objective, but as soon as the environment changes, the group changes, or both change, we are left with just an objective and no instinctive means of achieving it.

    All of our actions have wide reaching and multiple consequences sometimes continuing into the distant future. To expect any one person to determine what they are each time they make a single decision is absurd, even whole societies would find the task a challenge, so society develops generalised guides as to the sort of actions that will probably lead to the society we're aiming for in whatever environment we find ourselves in - Virtues. Being virtuous is my morality.

    Nowhere in that do I see the need to determine the 'true' will of the person taking the action, society wants that person to act in a certain way for the good of the community as a whole and is justified in taking steps to encourage them to do so, I don't see any reason why they should care whether the person is intending the outcome we're all trying to avoid or not. This kind of thinking is a left-over from the fire-and-brimstone Calvinism (or any other similar religion) where it's all about culpability and punishment, where it is necessary to be sure someone intended the harm. I don't believe in all that, so I do not need to know the intention of the person, I don't need to know if they freely engaged in some immoral act fully aware of the consequences, or whether they did so out of ignorance, I just don't want them to do it, and will take whatever steps are necessary (and are themselves moral) to prevent them from doing so.
  • javra
    361
    To your direct question first, I'm afraid the answer is no, although I realise such a fundamental shift in axiom might end this otherwise fascinating conversation. As I mentioned earlier, I'm a compatibilist, so I don't even really believe in free will, but I certainly don't think morality requires it. All I'm interested in is how to guide people's behaviour to help bring about the society that I firmly believe all people (of sound mind) would want to live in.Inter Alia

    And you maintain that this interest is devoid of your intention/will? I find it hard to believe that you do.

    The discussion is so far pleasant to me as well. Been thinking about it and I can’t overcome the sense that you’ve been equivocating the meaning of “will/intention/volition” in you previous posts—to paraphrase, in some stating that there is a multiplicity of intentions/wills in each being and in other stating that there is no will. Because of this, I’m having a difficult time making out what you mean.

    Yet this reminds of a case in point scenario: the interpreted meaning of words we use to express beliefs is itself contingent on our appraisals of the speaker’s intentions. As one example of this, whether the speaker is sincere, very subtly sarcastic (such that we don’t notice while others do), or (successfully) deceptive in what they say is not contingent on the phenomena commonly available to both speaker and interlocutor; instead, it is at least partly contingent on the non-phenomenal intentions of the speaker (and, partly, the abilities of the interlocutor to discern these intentions). BTW, unpleasant (or, at least at times, unethical) as the latter two possibilities of sarcasm and deception are, they nevertheless do occur in some human interactions. As another example: Whether “senses” in the one phrase, “good senses are quintessential to a moral life,” addresses a) “the physiological senses via which perception of phenomena occur”, b) “the intellectual capacities for understanding—which was once termed as nous in Ancient Greek, form which the term noumenal is derived”, c) “pragmatic worldviews otherwise expressed as perspectives of common-sense”, d) “the capacity for interpersonal emotive faculties such as those of empathy, i.e. for feelings (but not of the tactile kind) which are interpersonal (as in, “I feel you”)—or e) even a conflation of all these previous meanings—will be fully contingent on i) what the speaker/writer intends by the word “senses” and ii) what the listeners/reader interprets the speaker/writer as intending by expressing this word.

    Other examples are possible.

    Whether will (intention) is metaphysically describable as “free” or not: How does one justify any interpersonal interaction if the issue of intention is to be completely done away with? (… this both on the part of all others and on the part of one’s own self—as in, one’s own momentary intention to further interact in a pleasant discussion)

    I’m hoping this subject matter might better pinpoint our own stances in regard to will/intention.
  • Samuel Lacrampe
    489

    So your position is that an immoral act is always harmful because the person that causes the immoral act always harms themselves. In your view, is the act immoral because the person harms themselves, or do they harm themselves because the act is immoral? If the former, then how do you know they harm themselves? If the latter, then what makes the act immoral besides intention?

    Otherwise, I agree that harm is essential to physical evil.
  • Inter Alia
    77


    I'm glad you're still interested.

    As I wrote earlier, I'm a compatibilist which means I don't believe in free will, not I don't believe in any kind of will at all. So I have never (intentionally) stated that there is no will, only that it is not free. A person may exhibit several desires for both long and short term outcomes, but they will all be the result of previous thoughts, which in turn are the result of previous thoughts and so on until you get to the first thought which is the result of a genetic instruction to fire the first neuron etc. It just 'feels like' we're making free choices and I think that feeling is really important to acknowledge and make use of in our discourse (hence I'm not a determinist). Your example with language lays out perfectly why I think talking as if 'will' were free is so useful even if we might ultimately believe it isn't.

    So, that aside, I'm not claiming that people's actions are not driven by will/intention/desire, but that we don't need to know (and probably can't know) what those will/intention/desires actually are behind any given action in order to judge it moral or immoral.

    How does one justify any interpersonal interaction if the issue of intention is to be completely done away with?javra

    In much the same way as we talk freely about someone's 'choice' even if we think that all of their thoughts are simply the result of a deterministic chain set in motion at some incomprehensible 'start of time'. We presume someone has intentions behind the interaction, we come to terms with the fact that we cannot possibly hope to understand what they all are, but that with a very large margin of error and a bit of (hopefully) charitable guesswork we can move on by telling our own little story about what their intentions were, safe in the knowledge that we're telling ourselves a story about what our own intentions are too. I'm no psychotherapist, but I'm pretty sure the whole discipline would be out of business if we all had an absolutely comprehensive and flawless understanding of our own intentions in any given action.
  • Sam26
    261
    So your position is that an immoral act is always harmful because the person that causes the immoral act always harms themselves. In your view, is the act immoral because the person harms themselves, or do they harm themselves because the act is immoral? If the former, then how do you know they harm themselves? If the latter, then what makes the act immoral besides intention?Samuel Lacrampe

    If there is no harm done when one acts, then I don't see how an act can be called immoral, i.e., what would make it immoral other than the harm done? Also, in an earlier post I showed how intent is not necessarily a feature of an immoral act, the example being an accident where one didn't intend to cause harm, but harm happened nevertheless. Most immoral acts that people commit are intentional, but not all, is what I'm saying. This is the point of calling some immoral acts accidental, it's an accident because someone didn't intentionally set out to harm someone, as opposed to intentionally doing something to harm someone. This is clearly seen in a drunk driving example, or even in an example where someone is not paying sufficient attention to what their doing. In each example one is held accountable for their actions in spite of not intentionally harming others.

    Since I believe that all immoral acts have the property of harm, that is, that harm is necessarily a property of an immoral act. Thus, both your questions, ("...is the act immoral because the person harms themselves, or do they harm themselves because the act is immoral?") are answered in the affirmative. I've already explained how intention isn't necessarily a feature of an immoral act. The latter part of your question is essentially the same as the former. It's the same as A=B and B=A.

    What's essential to a moral act is not essential to an immoral act, and it's here that people are getting confused. All moral acts have the necessary feature of intentionality, but not all immoral acts. Why? Because one cannot accidentally do what's morally correct. What makes moral actions praiseworthy are their intentionality. If one does the right thing unintentionally, then it's not a moral action, but it can be called a right action. Although it's the case that all moral actions can be called right actions, or correct actions, not all right or correct actions can be called moral actions. For example, I can choose to turn right, which is the correct choice if I want to go to Boston, but whether I go left or right is not a moral question.

    It must be said that one's view of what makes an act immoral is essential to whether or not harm is a necessary property. For example, if I believe that all immoral acts proceed from what people decide is immoral, then harm is not an essential property of all immoral acts. However, if one believes that what makes something immoral is the property of harm, and that harm can be shown objectively, then it can and does follow that harm is an essential property of immorality. Calling something immoral doesn't make it immoral. Some religious people think that dancing is immoral, given their ideas about gyrating bodies leading to sexual contact.

    Another important point of what makes something both immoral and accidental is responsibility, I'm held responsible for the act of driving drunk and causing harm to someone or myself, because of what I could have reasonably foreseen in terms of my actions. Thus it not about intention, but about what one should have known about certain actions, and thus we are responsible for actions taken that could lead to harm.
  • Samuel Lacrampe
    489
    If there is no harm done when one acts, then I don't see how an act can be called immoral, i.e., what would make it immoral other than the harm done? [...] Since I believe that all immoral acts have the property of harm, that is, that harm is necessarily a property of an immoral act. Thus, both your questions, ("...is the act immoral because the person harms themselves, or do they harm themselves because the act is immoral?") are answered in the affirmative. I've already explained how intention isn't necessarily a feature of an immoral act. The latter part of your question is essentially the same as the former. It's the same as A=B and B=A.Sam26
    There is an error. 'Because' has the word 'cause' in it. My question could be rephrased as "Does harm cause immorality, or does immorality cause harm?". "A causes B" is not the same as "B causes A". But from what you said, it sounds like you mean "harm causes immorality".

    Also, in an earlier post I showed how intent is not necessarily a feature of an immoral act, the example being an accident where one didn't intend to cause harm, but harm happened nevertheless. Most immoral acts that people commit are intentional, but not all, is what I'm saying. This is the point of calling some immoral acts accidental, it's an accident because someone didn't intentionally set out to harm someone, as opposed to intentionally doing something to harm someone. This is clearly seen in a drunk driving example, or even in an example where someone is not paying sufficient attention to what their doing. In each example one is held accountable for their actions in spite of not intentionally harming others. [...] Another important point of what makes something both immoral and accidental is responsibility, I'm held responsible for the act of driving drunk and causing harm to someone or myself, because of what I could have reasonably foreseen in terms of my actions. Thus it not about intention, but about what one should have known about certain actions, and thus we are responsible for actions taken that could lead to harm.Sam26
    I see your point, but want to show you that intention is still the root cause of all immoral acts, including immoral accidental ones. Let's consider the example of harm caused by drunk driving. Yes, the person did not directly intend to harm the victim by driving drunk. But did he have the intention to avoid harm? Logically, either the driver (1) intended to avoid harm as the end goal, or (2) he did not.

    (1) The driver had the intention to avoid harm as the end goal: If he could foresee the act of drunk driving as having a harmful outcome, then he could not have made the decision to drive drunk, because this would contradict his intentions. Conversely, if he could not have foreseen the act of drunk driving as having a harmful outcome, then he could still make the decision of driving drunk without contradicting his intentions. But then he is not responsible, because as you said, immorality necessitates responsibility; and responsibility necessitates being able to reasonably foresee the outcome. Therefore the act is not immoral.

    (2) The driver did not have the intention to avoid harm as the end goal: If he could foresee the act of drunk driving as having a harmful outcome, then he could still have made the decision to drive drunk, without contradicting his intentions. Then he is responsible; then the act is immoral.

    Conclusion: although the person may not have the direct intention of causing a harmful outcome, the intention of avoiding harm or not as the end goal is still the necessary root cause to an act being immoral or not.
  • Samuel Lacrampe
    489
    I haven't worked out how to reply to multiple people yetInter Alia
    Hit 'Reply' on several posts from different people.
  • javra
    361


    It looks like we’re at an impasse.

    As you reaffirm grounds for doubting that we can ever be aware of each other’s intentions/will, I again reaffirm that our interactions—including our capacity to in any way communicate on this forum via words—is in part always continent on our ongoing awareness of each other’s intentions/will. And, at this point, I don’t much know what else to add to the conversation.

    I’ve not addressed your statements of not believing in freewill because I’ve so far found the issue of the will’s metaphysical freedom to be irrelevant to the issues at hand—though, of course, as with most everything, it is in some ways interconnected.

    Also, (for what its worth) wanted to mention that in my own experience the official term for lack of belief in freewill is one of “(causal) determinism”, this being an incompatibilist stance.

    Lastly wanted to mention that--to my mind at least--you seem to be spot-on about my own internal will/intentions in regard this this issue of will’s metaphysical freedom: I due uphold that both (limits-bound) freewill and (a less then absolute) causal determinism co-occur, and my intentions are those of arguing in manners that conform to my current beliefs regarding the reality of freewill. To me this is due to our innate abilities of awareness regarding other’s will/intentions; and is not a mere coincidence.
  • Sam26
    261
    I've reached a point where there's not much more to say, and you don't seem to be following my point. I never said "harm causes morality," which can be seen in many of my posts. But that's okay, it was a good discussion, and it gave me a chance to flush out a bit more of my thinking.
  • Samuel Lacrampe
    489

    Sorry we couldn't come to an understanding. I thought you meant "harm causes immorality" when you said the following:
    what would make it immoral other than the harm done?Sam26
    I.e., if harm makes an act immoral, then harm causes immorality. I understand you don't mean "harm causes immorality every time", but maybe that "harm is a necessary cause for immorality".
  • VagabondSpectre
    784
    I think he means that unjustified harm IS immorality.
  • Samuel Lacrampe
    489

    Ah! yes, thank you. In other words, unjustified harm is an essential property of immorality. I got confused when he said that it was both, that harm causes immorality and immorality causes harm, where as in this case, it is actually neither.
  • VagabondSpectre
    784
    Aye, another way of stating it is that if something does not cause any harm, then it cannot be considered immoral.

    I really like this simplification (ive made a post about it before) as it cuts through so much pseudo moral chaff and clarifies moral dilemmas.
  • Samuel Lacrampe
    489

    It sounds like you equate 'will' or 'intention' to 'desires', 'inclinations', 'emotions'. But if this was the case, then the term 'courage' would be meaningless, because is means "the will to do something that goes against one's inclinations."

    It also sounds like you equate moral success with the success of a society to survive. But does it follow that a society built on slavery is morally successful, so long that everyone survives?
  • Samuel Lacrampe
    489

    Does it follow that attempted murder is not immoral?
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