Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Hygro, Feb 12, 2019.
I would argue it's important to intend good things. And it's important to not intend bad things.
Many people do not intend anything.
Maybe better to say "it's important for intentions to be good".
Why is that better?
Because it doesn't give any requirement that you should have intentions, just that if you do they should be good ones. The original phrasing doesn't seem to allow for that.
Isn't an absence of intent the absence of self?
Absence of intent means the absence of action. The opposite is not always true.
I feel this goes without saying, like why would you ever want to intend on doing bad things? If you're doing that, then you know you're a bad person, right?
I do also feel your intentions aren't enough, you have to also do good actions and not harmful ones. You can have good intentions but still hurt people through your actions, and if you are then your intentions don't really matter, right?
But yes totally, as a starting point you should intend to do good things, and not intend to do nothing, because when you're doing nothing you're passively allowing suffering to happen.
Suggestion: Things should be good and not bad.
I'd like to post here but i don't know what the OP's intentions for this thread are.
You unintentionally posted here.
I would argue that its also important to know your limitations when trying to act upon those good intentions.
@MaryKB said as much and i agree:
You have to actually do no harm. Merely not intending not to is very Communist in the "Oh we just wanted to reform farming and redistribute land but we - totally innocently - blundered into killing ten million people with a famine. Ooops." ...way.
To be fair he didn't say that it was the only thing that was important, just that it's important to not start with bad intentions.
I'm not sure exactly what the point was or who would disagree with this however.
It was not my intention to unintentionally post in this intention thread without knowing the OP's intentions.
Let's hear the argument.
Hygro is trying to get at a fundamental question of Western Philosophy, namely that of consequential vs deontological ethics: should the ethics of an act be evaluated on the basis of the effect it ultimately has, or on the actor and their motivations?
Consequentialism, narrowly, evaluates an act by the effect it has. If the outcome is good, then the act is good, even if the motivations might have been malicious. Take for example a case from the tv series House. In the 2nd episode, House has a patient Dan. House suspects Dan's father is not his biological father and makes a bet with another doctor on the truth of his claim. Later in the episode, House takes cups of coffee from both of Dan's parents and performs DNA tests without their knowledge or consent. The DNA tests prove that neither parent is biologically related to Dan, winning House the bet, but, more critically, leading House to a diagnosis which is ultimately correct and which ultimately saves Dan's life.
Under a consequentialist framework, this would be seen as a good act. Even though House does bad, selfish, and underhanded things, the result, ultimately, is that the kid's life is saved.
A deontological framework ignores consequences and looks at an act in the context of the actor, and whether they acted in service of an obliged duty or set of ethics. Under this framework, even if House ultimately solved the case, his actions would not be good, firstly because he arrived at the solution only in pursuit of his own pleasure (winning a bet), and secondly because his ends were achieved only after violating medical ethical imperatives such as obtaining consent and not lying to patients/their legal guardians. Even if House demonstrated he was right, the ends don't ultimately justify the means - ethical rules guiding a doctor's comport exist for good reason, and violating those ethics for one good outcome doesn't justify the 9,999 other times in which violating them would result in a negative outcome.
I tend to esteem intentions far more than outcomes. Very simply, you have four possible scenarios:
good thing intended -> good thing achieved
good thing intended -> bad thing achieved
bad thing intended -> good thing achieved
bad thing intended -> bad thing achieved
Tied up in intention is the capacity for self-reflection and change. If one intends good, but achieves an unintended, bad effect, this impels the actor to reflect on what and why things went wrong: maybe there was an error in the way things went about, or maybe the intention was based on incomplete knowledge or bad assumptions. If the intent of the actor is truly to achieve a good outcome, then a failure will result in alteration, and an effort to do better next time. The problem with a consequentialist approach lies in unintended effects, and specifically in when good arises from bad intentions. Here too is presented the capacity for change, but change which can only result in worse effects down the road. Either the actor is malicious and so will revise his actions to achieve the actually desired maleffect in the future, or the actor intends bad in the sense that the reasoning driving his intention is faulty, and the good outcome will only serve to further justify their presuppositions and impel them to repeat their actions, shielding him from self-reflection because, after all, they rolled a 6 the first time, maybe they just need to roll more dice (see: The Chicago School).
For example: yes the Holodomor was horrifying. And it will forever remain as a stain on the legacy of the USSR and Stalin in particular. However, it is important to remember: 1) that droughts and, consequently famines, were and are relatively common in the region, 2) that after 1947 the USSR never again suffered another famine, despite experiencing another 12 severe droughts in that 47-year period.
I think we should define the context of these intentions, as everyone intends some negative thing at some point, for a variety of reasons. For instance, 20+ years ago I was playing the Civilization board game with my boyfriend and another friend. They were so busy trying to take over each other's territories that I was quietly sneaking up the middle, and had a good chance of winning. What finally clinched it was that in the final round of trading commodity cards, I intentionally slipped my boyfriend a Civil Disorder disaster card (he wasn't happy about that, naturally). He wasn't able to recover from that, I ended up with a fortune in one of the higher-priced commodities, and was able to buy the last tech cards I needed to win the game.
BTW, the other guy (who also lost) had been my mentor/coach in some of the previous games, and this time he hadn't been helping me. He was pleased that I'd used that particular strategy at a critical time so my opponent wasn't able to recover.
Was it mean? Yep. But it felt good, since I rarely win that game (have managed it twice over a period of many years).
In most cases this would be true. But sometimes there's an element of chance - call it bad luck, Murphy's Law, Loki being his trickster self - and what should have worked might result in harm rather than beneficial consequences.
My intentions are good. Every Saturday night I head off to the bar intending to spread the word about the dangers of alcoholism and offer rides home to those who are too drunk to drive safely. I've been doing this for a month now, and so far every time I have woken up Sunday morning with a severe hangover, battered knuckles, with my car parked diagonally in my front yard and no memory of how it got there.
When I head out to the bar this Saturday do my good intentions really matter?
I tend toward the opposite view. There was a public argument a while back between Noam Chomsky and Sam Harris where this issue came up. Harris claimed that the West is morally superior to the terrorists because while we may kill way more civilians than they do, we don't intend to do that - it's "collateral damage," not "murder." Chomsky replied that there is no doubt that the Germans and Japanese in World War II mostly believed that what they were doing was for good reasons and to get a good outcome - their intentions were good. Howard ZInn even posited that the concept of intentionality in the context of war crimes was largely invented so that the crimes of the Allies, which mostly consisted of dropping bombs on civilians from airplanes, could be handwaved away.
I have found those arguments to be essentially unanswerable. There is no doubt that when the US invaded Iraq, we did not intend many of the bad consequences that occurred. Certainly we did not intend to inflict half a million excess deaths on the Iraq population. In my view, what we intended hardly matters. What we actually did matters.
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