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Author Topic: Intent vs. Action  (Read 3905 times)
Speed of Sound
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« on: November 14, 2007, 09:26:45 pm »
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You guys need to help me out here. Im sure Im right, but I need some confirmation. Me and two friends were arguing over what you use to measure morality, intent or action/result of acting on intent. Me and my one friend said intent, the other said action. What do you think?


Here's my argument: We have (the three of us) agreed that, while subjective, morality works on a spectrum of good and evil. I define one's position on the spectrum as odds of doing good or evil and magnitude of good or evil. Therefore, intent must define your morality, as what you think/want to do will better predict what you will do in the future than the result of you acting on them, because if you attempt to kill 1,000,000 people, but accidently save a child, one would surely use the thought, not the result as what one uses to define the morality of the person. (My other friend is actually attempting the argue otherwise) Along the same line, if I attempt to save you from a speeding bus by pushing you out of the way, but I launch you into a manhole and the bus never ends up coming this way (it turns at the last second/stops) then the death should not be what is used to judge my morality.....correct?
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« Reply #1 on: November 14, 2007, 09:27:42 pm »
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Correct, and your friend is delusional. (You can make argument against morality using his formulation, but you can't say that morality is based on outcomes rather than intents.)
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Speed of Sound
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« Reply #2 on: November 14, 2007, 09:33:07 pm »
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Correct, and your friend is delusional. (You can make argument against morality using his formulation, but you can't say that morality is based on outcomes rather than intents.)
Coincidently, we described him the exact same way. Smiley
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« Reply #3 on: November 14, 2007, 09:48:27 pm »
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While the results of one's actions are important in general (the old cliché of "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" comes to mind), they most certainly do not, in my mind, have anything to do with morality.  Being incompetent or overenthusiastic does not mean you're immoral.
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« Reply #4 on: November 14, 2007, 10:10:36 pm »
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I'd say actions have more of a role than intent although intent DOES play somewhat of a role.
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« Reply #5 on: November 14, 2007, 10:20:06 pm »
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I'd say actions have more of a role than intent although intent DOES play somewhat of a role.

It's more immoral to accidentally kill someone than to actually want to kill someone?
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« Reply #6 on: November 14, 2007, 10:22:17 pm »
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I'd say actions have more of a role than intent although intent DOES play somewhat of a role.

It's more immoral to accidentally kill someone than to actually want to kill someone?

No. Hence my saying intent DOES play somewhat of a role. It's complicated and depends on the situaiton as your example shows.
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« Reply #7 on: November 15, 2007, 02:25:40 am »
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While the results of one's actions are important in general (the old cliché of "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" comes to mind), they most certainly do not, in my mind, have anything to do with morality.  Being incompetent or overenthusiastic does not mean you're immoral.

Very true.  Some of the most annoying people in the world are well-meaning idiots.  Take our president for example.  Wink
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« Reply #8 on: November 15, 2007, 03:17:54 am »
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While the results of one's actions are important in general (the old cliché of "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" comes to mind), they most certainly do not, in my mind, have anything to do with morality.  Being incompetent or overenthusiastic does not mean you're immoral.

Very true.  Some of the most annoying people in the world are well-meaning idiots.  Take our president for example.  Wink
Agreed.  I'd guess most of what we consider the "evil" people of history didn't consider themselves evil.  Their intent wasn't to do harm for harm's sake, they thought they were progressing their country or their peoples to a future, better life.  Stalin was full of good intentions for his country and he thought getting rid of all the smart people, Jews, Generals, etc was what was best for his country.  He was an evil moron of course, but he had good intentions.  Should he be forgiven?  If I push you into a manhole because I see bus coming right at you....3/4s of a mile down the road.  I might have had good intentions, but my actions were idiotic and evil looking by other onlookers.  I meant well, but I appeared evil.

I'd say the ends are more important than the means.  Doing good in a stupid way that ends up causing harm to others is often just as bad as being mean on purpose and causing harm to others.

(on the other hand, I can certainly undestand why poeple believe the opposite)
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« Reply #9 on: November 15, 2007, 03:27:28 am »
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I'd say the ends are more important than the means.  Doing good in a stupid way that ends up causing harm to others is often just as bad as being mean on purpose and causing harm to others.

For me, the reason why I feel that intent is more important is because if someone tries to do good and screws up, then it's unlikely that that will happen again unless the person is a terminal screwup who is incapable of learning from his mistakes.  On the flipside, however, if something bad happens because the person intended to cause that outcome, it's very likely that it will happen again unless the person is forcibly stopped.
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« Reply #10 on: November 15, 2007, 06:46:03 am »
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Do you think most "bad things" in life are done by "bad people" who know full well what they are doing is bad?  I don't.  I think most "bad things" are caused by good intentions gone wrong, unforeseen negative consequences of innocient actions and accidents/bad luck.  Sometimes good people with good intentions do bad things.  Sometimes they too should be punished for it, not just the bad guys doing bad things.

Wait, we were "measuring morality" right?  On second thought I think it's like rating art, it's all in the eye of beholder.
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Quote from:   Martha Gellhorn for The Atlantic 1961
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« Reply #11 on: November 15, 2007, 07:27:20 am »
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Do you think most "bad things" in life are done by "bad people" who know full well what they are doing is bad?

You misunderstand me.  It's not a matter of someone knowing that what he's doing is bad; it's a matter of having the bad outcome be intentional, regardless of what the person himself thinks about it.  It's irrelevant what a serial killer thinks about his actions; what is relevant is the fact that all of the deaths he caused were purposeful, and that they are likely to continue unless he is stopped.  On the other hand, if someone causes a death due to negligence, that person is likely to be extremely distraught by the outcome and is unlikely to let it happen again.  Given that what's in the past is what it is and is unchangeable, what really matters once something bad happens is the prevention of any recurrence in the future, if possible.
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« Reply #12 on: November 15, 2007, 10:43:38 am »
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The question is an entirely subjective one; there is no "correct" means of determining the moral worth of an action.

The distinction I would personally draw is not between intent and action, but between intent and consequences. I don't see why action should be considered less important than intent; surely, merely intending to commit a crime is different from actually committing it. On the other hand, the actual consequences of the action matter less to me, because an individual does not have control over them.
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« Reply #13 on: November 15, 2007, 10:56:54 am »
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While both should be considered, intent is more important from a moral standpoint. Our justice system operates accordingly. Let's look at a few different scenarios involving someone dying.

1. A kills B in self defense. Though someone died, A receives no punishment because A's intent was to preserve his own life in the face of an immediate danger.
2. A kills B deliberately because A hated B. A is convicted for a murder charge.
3. A kills B with his car accidentally while driving drunk. Because A caused a death through reckless behavior, the death is not considered justified. However, A had no malicious intent so he is not considered as bad as he would be in the second scenario. A receives a vehicular manslaughter charge, which carries less weight than a murder charge.
4. A is lifting a heavy piece of furniture via rope and pulley into a tall building. The rope breaks and the furniture falls onto B, killing him. The incident is ruled an accident and A receives no punishment.

In the first two the killings are intentional, but the reasons motivating the intent are different. Defense of one's life is considered as "good" so no punishment is given. Taking another's life in cold blood is considered as "evil" so punishment is given. Clearly in these situations intent is most important.

In the third and fourth situation there really is no intent, so action is the only thing that can be weighed. The reason A receives punishment in the third scenario is because his actions were reckless and the situation preventable, making the accident A's fault. Punishment here isn't for A being "evil", it is to prevent A from commiting further reckless actions that could harm others. In the fourth scenario nobody is at fault so nobody is held accountable for the results.
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« Reply #14 on: November 15, 2007, 01:15:36 pm »
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I'd say actions have more of a role than intent although intent DOES play somewhat of a role.

It's more immoral to accidentally kill someone than to actually want to kill someone?

Define accidentally.  Is someone who drinks and drives and then gets in an "accident" that kills a person who he had no particular desire to see dead more or less moral than a person who wishes to see some person dead, but takes no action to that would cause that death?  Obviously both persons are more moral than someone who not only wants someone dead but also takes action to achieve that desire.
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« Reply #15 on: November 15, 2007, 01:24:24 pm »
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While both should be considered, intent is more important from a moral standpoint. Our justice system operates accordingly. Let's look at a few different scenarios involving someone dying.

1. A kills B in self defense. Though someone died, A receives no punishment because A's intent was to preserve his own life in the face of an immediate danger.
2. A kills B deliberately because A hated B. A is convicted for a murder charge.
3. A kills B with his car accidentally while driving drunk. Because A caused a death through reckless behavior, the death is not considered justified. However, A had no malicious intent so he is not considered as bad as he would be in the second scenario. A receives a vehicular manslaughter charge, which carries less weight than a murder charge.
4. A is lifting a heavy piece of furniture via rope and pulley into a tall building. The rope breaks and the furniture falls onto B, killing him. The incident is ruled an accident and A receives no punishment.

In the first two the killings are intentional, but the reasons motivating the intent are different. Defense of one's life is considered as "good" so no punishment is given. Taking another's life in cold blood is considered as "evil" so punishment is given. Clearly in these situations intent is most important.

In the third and fourth situation there really is no intent, so action is the only thing that can be weighed. The reason A receives punishment in the third scenario is because his actions were reckless and the situation preventable, making the accident A's fault. Punishment here isn't for A being "evil", it is to prevent A from commiting further reckless actions that could harm others. In the fourth scenario nobody is at fault so nobody is held accountable for the results.
The 4th guy would lose to, after the civil suit puts him in the poor house.
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The unique misfortune of the Palestinian refugees is that they are a weapon in what seems to be a permanent war...today, in the Middle East, you get a repeated sinking sensation about the Palestinian refugees: they are only a beginning, not an end. Their function is to hang around and be constantly useful as a goad. The ultimate aim is not such humane small potatoes as repatriating refugees.
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« Reply #16 on: November 15, 2007, 01:38:24 pm »
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The 4th guy would lose to, after the civil suit puts him in the poor house.

He would have to be found negligent somehow first - for instance if he had been using and old rope that by reasonable standards should have been replaced, or using a type of rope that wasn't appropriate for the job in question. If it was simply defective rope the case wouldn't stand in civil court, unless the suit was against the rope company and not the man using the rope.
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« Reply #17 on: November 16, 2007, 12:00:08 am »
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The 4th guy would lose to, after the civil suit puts him in the poor house.

He would have to be found negligent somehow first - for instance if he had been using and old rope that by reasonable standards should have been replaced, or using a type of rope that wasn't appropriate for the job in question. If it was simply defective rope the case wouldn't stand in civil court, unless the suit was against the rope company and not the man using the rope.
So the lesson he learned was to not use defective rope?
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Quote from:   Martha Gellhorn for The Atlantic 1961
The unique misfortune of the Palestinian refugees is that they are a weapon in what seems to be a permanent war...today, in the Middle East, you get a repeated sinking sensation about the Palestinian refugees: they are only a beginning, not an end. Their function is to hang around and be constantly useful as a goad. The ultimate aim is not such humane small potatoes as repatriating refugees.
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« Reply #18 on: November 16, 2007, 09:20:19 am »
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The 4th guy would lose to, after the civil suit puts him in the poor house.

He would have to be found negligent somehow first - for instance if he had been using and old rope that by reasonable standards should have been replaced, or using a type of rope that wasn't appropriate for the job in question. If it was simply defective rope the case wouldn't stand in civil court, unless the suit was against the rope company and not the man using the rope.
So the lesson he learned was to not use defective rope?

Err, no. He wouldn't have known the rope was defective, and would not have had a reason to think it was. Again, the incident described is one in which he is not at fault.
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« Reply #19 on: November 16, 2007, 11:10:44 am »
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Right.  Your point was that the innocient person would "learn a lesson and not do it again" or some such.  If the rope broke because of a defaulty rope, he wouldn't learn anything.  If it broke because of something stupid he did, he'd learn something....and he'd get sued.  Thus "losing" like the other 3 dudes in your post.
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Quote from:   Martha Gellhorn for The Atlantic 1961
The unique misfortune of the Palestinian refugees is that they are a weapon in what seems to be a permanent war...today, in the Middle East, you get a repeated sinking sensation about the Palestinian refugees: they are only a beginning, not an end. Their function is to hang around and be constantly useful as a goad. The ultimate aim is not such humane small potatoes as repatriating refugees.
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« Reply #20 on: November 16, 2007, 11:13:26 am »
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"2 Libertarians fighting on a Message Board" sounds like the start of a really good joke.  Pot would probably be involved somehow.  I can't come up with anything though.
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Quote from:   Martha Gellhorn for The Atlantic 1961
The unique misfortune of the Palestinian refugees is that they are a weapon in what seems to be a permanent war...today, in the Middle East, you get a repeated sinking sensation about the Palestinian refugees: they are only a beginning, not an end. Their function is to hang around and be constantly useful as a goad. The ultimate aim is not such humane small potatoes as repatriating refugees.
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« Reply #21 on: November 16, 2007, 02:01:36 pm »
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Right.  Your point was that the innocient person would "learn a lesson and not do it again" or some such.  If the rope broke because of a defaulty rope, he wouldn't learn anything.  If it broke because of something stupid he did, he'd learn something....and he'd get sued.  Thus "losing" like the other 3 dudes in your post.

What? No. Where did you get that rot - I'm talking about what our justice system is based on. Yes, it is supposed that a lesson might be learned, but history gives us many examples of people repeating their mistakes over and over again. The main point I was trying to make is how we weigh intent and action from a moral and practical standpoint. Intent is usually weighed before action/results, but in cases where there is no intent (or at least no ill intent) we typically judge action and results in terms of fault. That's all I'm trying to say.
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