• Matei
    8
    Greetings,
    I have recently found a flaw in my own philosophical views, a bugging inconsistency.
    Good is largely defined as what should be.
    And a good thing is a thing that helps said good exist, as it should.
    But then it would mean that a good person is someone who helps good exist, therefore someone that does good.
    If that is the case, then a person that desires evil and does good would be a good person, and a person that desires good and does evil would be a bad person (we assume that a person can wish for evil).
    That result seems incredibly unacceptable though. How can a man that wishes for evil and does good, therefore doing good by error, be a good man?
    I have the feeling that my logic fails somewhere, but I cannot put my finger on it. Can anyone help?
  • ChatteringMonkey
    789


    Generally, or in western culture at least, we would say that intentions matter for determining what is a good action or not. So by that logic it would be impossible to desire evil and do good by accident.

    In some other cultures intentions seem to matter less, and there it is perfectly possible to desire evil and do good by accident... because good or bad are evaluated purely based on actions.
  • Kenosha Kid
    1.9k
    In some other cultures intentions seem to matter less, and there it is perfectly possible to desire evil and do good by accident...ChatteringMonkey

    If the good is accidental, there is no need to consider a moral agent at all. A tree is a good tree if it shelters me or bears fruit. But this is not 'good' in ethical terms. It would be illogical to instruct the surrounding trees to follow the example of the first.

    This is why I find it illogical to construct an ethics of outcomes. One does not act according to outcomes; one acts according to intentions.
  • The Questioning Bookworm
    102


    How can a man that wishes for evil and does good, therefore doing good by error, be a good man?Matei

    Logic can't help this scenario due to the absurd nature of human beings, morality, and human experience. There are many things that are illogical that exist.

    But, to get to my point on your question, it depends on how we are judging the person. What code of morals are we judging this person by? And are these morals widely accepted or not? I say this because some people judge people good or bad by action, intention, or both.

    Every human, if we remain in our lines of desiring good and bad and doing good and bad, is inconsistent or morals can't be widely accepted or judged on people. I have yet to meet or hear of a person who hasn't done good and bad and hasn't desired good and evil at some point in their lives. Do these things make that person wholly good or wholly bad? The fact that inconsistencies do exist--because of the absurd/illogical nature of human beings and their actions--illustrates that this isn't possible nor exists.
  • Matei
    8
    I am European myself, that is precisely the reason for this discussin, because my conclusion seems unacceptable. If for an action to be good it would need to have been made in good intentions, then there would result some strange outcomes.
    For example, let's take a hypothetical scenario.
    A man is swimming in the water. His enemy is trying to shoot him. He misses and shoots a shark that was swimming under the water ready to eat the swimming man, and so saves the man swimming.
    The intentions of the enemy were evil, but his actions saved a human being, therefore naming them evil too would be against common sense, but, by what you have said, they would, indeed, be evil.
  • ChatteringMonkey
    789
    If the good is accidental, there is no need to consider a moral agent at all. A tree is a good tree if it shelters me or bears fruit. But this is not 'good' in ethical terms. It would be illogical to instruct the surrounding trees to follow the example of the first.

    This is why I find it illogical to construct an ethics of outcomes. One does not act according to outcomes; one acts according to intentions.
    Kenosha Kid

    I agree, but nonetheless some cultures apparently don't see agency as a central concept in morality. It's a descriptive claim, not necessarily rational or normative. Just picked that up from Sean Carroll's last podcast on W.E.I.R.D.- biases. The rough outline is that we westerners, and our conceptions, are in some respects not representative at all for whole of humanity. Individuality and notions of free will and agency are more typical for cultures that grew out of Christianity.
  • ChatteringMonkey
    789
    I am European myself. If for an action to be good it would need to have been made in good intentions, then there would result some strange outcomes.
    For example, let's take a hypothetical scenario.
    A man is swimming in the water. His enemy is trying to shoot him. He misses and shoots a shark that was swimming under the water ready to eat the swimming man, and so saves the man swimming.
    The intentions of the enemy were evil, but his actions saved a human being, therefore naming them evil too would be against common sense, but, by what you have said, they would, indeed, be evil.
    Matei

    I think people, in Europe, generally would think that that action was evil... if they knew his intentions at least, which often isn't the case. But to be clear, intentions are not the only thing that matters. My point was just that they do, to some extend at least.
  • Pantagruel
    1.2k
    How can a man that wishes for evil and does good, therefore doing good by error, be a good man?Matei

    The whole idea that an intention should correspond to its results tacitly assumes there is a rational connection between the two. If you intend to "do good" and help an old woman across the street this is certainly more rational than embezzling a large amount of money in order to acquire the funds to start a company to end global hunger. So if someone either does good or evil "by accident" I'd say it usually indicates a very inferior kind of rational thought. And/or an accomplished degree of self-deception.
  • L'Unico
    17


    "Good is largely defined as what should be."

    What do you mean "should be"?
  • Kenosha Kid
    1.9k
    I agree, but nonetheless some cultures apparently don't see agency as a central concept in morality. It's a descriptive claim, not necessarily rational or normative. Just picked that up from Sean Carroll's last podcast on W.E.I.R.D.- biases. The rough outline is that we westerners, and our conceptions, are in some respects not representative at all for whole of humanity. Individuality and notions of free will and agency are more typical for cultures that grew out of Christianity.ChatteringMonkey

    Oh absolutely. The Iliad is chock full of people talking about evil arrows and evil spears and evil chariots. But then they don't mean what we mean by evil now.

    What I meant was that any culture that holds a person to be evil for an accidental outcome of their benign actions but does not hold the tree to be evil for falling on granddad seems objectively inconsistent.
  • Matei
    8

    The definition of good is what should be. If something should be then it is good, and if something should not be then it is bad.
    By should be I mean that it should exist. Justice is good, so it should exist. Slavery is bad, so it should not exist.
  • Tzeentch
    900
    How can a man that wishes for evil and does good, therefore doing good by error, be a good man?Matei

    I think the intuitive answer is: he cannot.

    Thus, it seems a good action requires both a just intention and the intended result.

    We can attribute an unjust intention to malice, and an unintended result to ignorance.

    And aren't they both great sources of what is traditionally regarded as evil?
  • L'Unico
    17


    No, wait, this doesn't make any sense. So, your definition of good is "what it should exist". So if a thing should exist, then is good. If not, is bad.

    Then you make the example of Justice. You say that "Justice is good", so Justice should exist. That is correct, but why Justice is good? According to your definition Justice is good because it should exist. But Justice should exist because Justice is good.

    Basically it seems that saying that something is good or saying that something should exist is exactly the same thing. Then you didn't provide an informative definition of what good is.
  • Jack Cummins
    921

    The question would be to what extent can good and evil be understood as objective categories? Even if you see good and evil as objective, who is able to judge and spell out their exact nature in applications for human affairs. I see the word 'bad' as a value judgement.

    On a wider and deeper level, I would go on to ask: is there anything which is absolutely wrong? This specific question was once given to me as an essay title and it got me thinking, but I won't go on to share the conclusions I came to. I think that it is more useful to just pose the question, for you to reflect upon, in relation to the area of debate which you have raised.
  • Pinprick
    530
    This is why I find it illogical to construct an ethics of outcomes. One does not act according to outcomes; one acts according to intentions.Kenosha Kid

    I find this interesting...

    One reason why could be that intentions themselves have no effect on others. I can intend to do harm all day, but no one will actually be harmed until I act, and even then only if I am successful. If no one is harmed, then what is there to justify any moral judgments made on intentions? Also, our intentions are, at least sometimes, caused by whatever outcomes we desire, or don’t desire. So I’m not sure it’s entirely accurate to say we don’t act on outcomes. If I had no desired outcome, I don’t think I would act at all. Why would I?
  • ChatteringMonkey
    789
    Oh absolutely. The Iliad is chock full of people talking about evil arrows and evil spears and evil chariots. But then they don't mean what we mean by evil now.

    What I meant was that any culture that holds a person to be evil for an accidental outcome of their benign actions but does not hold the tree to be evil for falling on granddad seems objectively inconsistent.
    Kenosha Kid

    Sure, if we evaluate it in our moral frame it would be inconsistent.
  • Outlander
    864
    I have recently found a flaw in my own philosophical views, a bugging inconsistency.Matei

    Nothing to worry about too much, they'll be many more assuredly.

    Good is largely defined as what should be.
    And a good thing is a thing that helps said good exist, as it should.
    Matei

    Yeah but that's just subjective. If aliens happen to exist, perhaps numbering in the trillions, and discover our history, where we are and that we're trying to colonize the universe, we'd probably just get blown up to be honest. And they would this call this good. And logic would agree. But would we? Etc, etc.
  • ChatteringMonkey
    789
    This is why I find it illogical to construct an ethics of outcomes. One does not act according to outcomes; one acts according to intentions.
    — Kenosha Kid

    I find this interesting...

    One reason why could be that intentions themselves have no effect on others. I can intend to do harm all day, but no one will actually be harmed until I act, and even then only if I am successful. If no one is harmed, then what is there to justify any moral judgments made on intentions? Also, our intentions are, at least sometimes, caused by whatever outcomes we desire, or don’t desire. So I’m not sure it’s entirely accurate to say we don’t act on outcomes. If I had no desired outcome, I don’t think I would act at all. Why would I?
    Pinprick

    I thought he meant that we judge something on what the intended or desired outcome was, not on the actual outcome. And while that seems to be the case for the most part, it isn't that cut and dry. In certain cases we do think intent to harm isn't necessary for something to be immoral, like say in case of doing harm because of drunk driving or negligence.
  • TheMadFool
    8.3k
    You're trying to reconcile the intentions behind actions and the consequences of actions because they happen to be in opposing camps in the scenario you described. The problem arises because you want to put a label on people in a consistent manner i.e. you want a person to be good or bad and it's impossible to do so when intentions and consequences point in different directions on that question. The simple solution in my humble opinion is to not try to do that - labeling a person as good or bad - but treat intentions and actions as different as they actually are. Instead of trying to zero in on a man's moral status, treat his intentions for an action and the consequences of that action separately. We could say, for example, that Mr. X's intentions were good but what followed from his actions were bad or that Mrs. Y's intentions were bad but what her actions led to bad things. This in favor of trying to say something like Mr. X is bad or Mr. X is good or that Mrs. Y is good or Mrs. Y is bad.
  • Kenosha Kid
    1.9k
    One reason why could be that intentions themselves have no effect on others. I can intend to do harm all day, but no one will actually be harmed until I act, and even then only if I am successful. If no one is harmed, then what is there to justify any moral judgments made on intentions? Also, our intentions are, at least sometimes, caused by whatever outcomes we desire, or don’t desire. So I’m not sure it’s entirely accurate to say we don’t act on outcomes. If I had no desired outcome, I don’t think I would act at all. Why would I?Pinprick

    If we do not act on our intentions, are they intentions? I think intentions do have effects on others, mediated by our actions (the things we intended to do).
  • Judaka
    1k

    This is why I find it illogical to construct an ethics of outcomes. One does not act according to outcomes; one acts according to intentions.Kenosha Kid

    I think it would be impossible to justify commending someone who intends for something malevolent but inadvertently does good but I don't think it is impossible to condemn someone who intends good or does not intend harm but inadvertently does harm. Whether by negligence, incompetence, recklessness, carelessness or impulsiveness. Not necessarily so but I think we could come up with examples where people with good intentions acted thoughtlessly and caused harm and could be rightfully condemned for it.

    There's also a list of actions which are considered immoral regardless of intention. Sometimes, we need to weigh up why someone did something as a mitigating feature, like a drug dealer who is just trying to survive or support a family but often that isn't enough. When their actions are causing harm or violating moral precepts, intent may not be accepted as excusing their immoral behaviour. Perhaps a drug dealer is too much, my intent isn't necessarily to give a cut and dry example because this area can be contentious in ethics. The point is that we cannot and do not simply excuse any or all behaviour based on intent and sometimes intent doesn't even excuse a person.

    There's no logical inconsistency here, we hold humans to standards which we don't expect of trees or animals.
  • Book273
    168
    How can a man that wishes for evil and does good, therefore doing good by error, be a good man?Matei

    I do good, not because I wish to do good, but because the few I care about would suffer were I to do the evils I desire, therefore, due to self imposed restrictions of not wanting to cause my loved ones suffering, I restrain my true desires and continue to follow "Socially acceptable actions", despite knowing I am, in truth, living an exceedingly long winded lie.

    The fundamental difference is that I am not doing good through error, I am doing good by choice, not because I prefer good, but because I am aware of the results my true desires would have on my few valued people, were I to indulge in these desires. Were these factors to be suddenly and irrevocably removed from my life, my choices would be very different. No longer would I choose to play nice.

    Does that make me a good man thinking he is evil, or an evil man playing at being good?
  • Outlander
    864
    Does that make me a good man thinking he is evil, or an evil man playing at being good?Book273

    Neither. It makes you a child. Nothing more, nothing less. Though the window of proper upbringing has come and gone, perhaps you could find solace in society ie. "socially acceptable actions" upon the realization the laws, systems, and orders in place are what allows you to have been raised as you were in the first place. You would not be you, as you are, alive, without the society that you claim to "choose to play nice" in. Show a little respect for what made you and continues to sustain you day after day, at the very least.
  • Book273
    168
    Lots of words, little answer provided. So I should respect society because...?
  • Book273
    168
    . You would not be you, as you are, alive, without the society that you claim to "choose to play nice" in.Outlander

    Exactly, I am a product of society. Apparently that causes you distress. Tell me again about this society that I am to find solace in, the one that created me.
  • Kenosha Kid
    1.9k
    Sure, if we evaluate it in our moral frame it would be inconsistent.ChatteringMonkey

    I mean it's logically inconsistent in itself.
  • Kenosha Kid
    1.9k
    I don't think it is impossible to condemn someone who intends good or does not intend harm but inadvertently does harm.Judaka

    Yes, it depends. If the person didn't think because they didn't care, they are morally culpable. As for incompetence, it depends. An idiot is generally considered to have diminished responsibility.
  • ChatteringMonkey
    789
    Sure, if we evaluate it in our moral frame it would be inconsistent.
    — ChatteringMonkey

    I mean it's logically inconsistent in itself.
    Kenosha Kid

    I kinda figured you wouldn't let it go that easily :-).

    I think I disagree, but i'm not entirely sure which is why I tried to avoid it. Logic pertains to language. The world cannot be logically inconsistent in itself, only statements we make about that world can.

    So I think, concerning this specific point, if you have a totally different moral vocabulary, that doesn't include individuality, agency, free will, personal blame and the like, because they just don't exist yet, you presumably cannot really say it is logically inconsistent. It's logically inconsistent in those terms, but I wouldn't know if it was in their terms.

    An example giving in the podcast was bloodfeuds of old, and how if one member of a clan did something wrong to a member of another clan, you could take compensation from any member of that clan, not just from the one that did wrong. And yes, if individuality isn't a thing yet, but their whole way of looking revolves around tribes and clans or any social unit, it isn't clear how intentions would play a role there.
  • Pinprick
    530
    I thought he meant that we judge something on what the intended or desired outcome was, not on the actual outcome. And while that seems to be the case for the most part, it isn't that cut and dry. In certain cases we do think intent to harm isn't necessary for something to be immoral, like say in case of doing harm because of drunk driving or negligence.ChatteringMonkey

    I agree that both have to be considered, but neither are good/bad on their own. You can’t solely look at outcomes or intentions and derive a moral judgment based only on that. For example, is it wrong for me to shove pins in a Trump voodoo doll because I’m intending to do him harm? I don’t think it is since no harm is actually caused. It’s the same thing with outcomes. Is it wrong if a football player tackles another player and unintentionally injures him? Again, I would answer no.
  • Pinprick
    530
    If we do not act on our intentions, are they intentions?Kenosha Kid

    I always thought so, but maybe we’re thinking of the term differently. I think of intentions as whatever it is you want to do, regardless of whether or not you have the means to do them, or are capable of doing them, etc.
  • ChatteringMonkey
    789
    I thought he meant that we judge something on what the intended or desired outcome was, not on the actual outcome. And while that seems to be the case for the most part, it isn't that cut and dry. In certain cases we do think intent to harm isn't necessary for something to be immoral, like say in case of doing harm because of drunk driving or negligence.
    — ChatteringMonkey

    I agree that both have to be considered, but neither are good/bad on their own. You can’t solely look at outcomes or intentions and derive a moral judgment based only on that. For example, is it wrong for me to shove pins in a Trump voodoo doll because I’m intending to do him harm? I don’t think it is since no harm is actually caused. It’s the same thing with outcomes. Is it wrong if a football player tackles another player and unintentionally injures him? Again, I would answer no.
    Pinprick

    Yes, I think it also depends on the circumstances what will be considered and what not, which is not saying much, I know... but it is complex and probably not reducible to simple uniform principles.

    Shooting at someone with a gun but missing, would be considered morally wrong, but shoving pins in a voodoo doll is not... both have the same intention and and the same outcome, but they are judged differently. So aside from outcomes and intentions, what kind of action also seems to matter.

    The football example is actually an interesting one, because in football (and I'm talking about soccer here) they have very clear rules about what kind of tackles are allowed and which are not. Intentions usually are not considered in determining whether the player has made a fault. Either way such a tackle usually isn't considered morally wrong, even if it was a fault. But if you were to tackle someone outside of a football-field then it would be considered morally wrong. Intention to harm is assumed because why would you be tackling someone otherwise. So here we have basically the same actions that are judged completely differently because context matters.
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