Sunday, August 21, 2011

Assuming neither decision seems more likely to hurt other people, is it better to do the right thing for the wrong reason, or to abstain from doing the right thing out of respect for its intended spirit? Discuss:

10 comments:

elfarmy17 said...

"The right thing" implies that there is some benefit to either yourself or humanity in doing it in accordance with commonly-held morals, so even if abstaining wouldn't hurt people, doing the right thing would be better.

But if there isn't an obvious benefit, what makes "the right thing" right?

Kenny said...

Egads! Are all of my friends utilitarians? Admittedly, this question won't make much sense to a utilitarian, because there are no wrong reasons for doing the right thing since the ends justify the means. However, you just read Justice, so you know that this is not the only show in town!

As I responded to a similar opinion on G+, if one is in a committed, monogamous relationship, one has a moral obligation to remain faithful until the relationship is dissolved or renegotiated, regardless of any chance of the partner finding out about the indiscretion, in my opinion. It isn't the harm you are doing alone that makes it immoral.

elfarmy17 said...

Isn't cheating doing harm even if your partner doesn't find out about it, though? It's wearing away at the strength of the relationship, and at your character. You'd want to remain faithful for yourself as well as for your partner.

Isn't abstaining from doing the right thing in itself wrong, though, if the whole point of X being the right thing that you _should_ do it?

Kenny said...

It seems like if you are at the point where you want to cheat, the relationship is already fairly substantially undermined. Suppose you'd already cheated and gotten away with it, would it then be ok to cheat again because the relationship had already been violated?

elfarmy17 said...

Um...If you want to cheat, and you've already done it before, I'm going to have to concede that you really shouldn't anyway.
Unless you valued what the relationship used to be enough to want to try and repair it.

If I were in that position, though, I'd want to remain faithful just for my own peace of mind-- cheating would make me feel bad about myself.

Kenny said...

But you will concede that something seems wrong about cheating independent of the harm it could cause?

elfarmy17 said...

Yes.

Kenny said...

Of course, now I have to undermine my own argument by mentioning a variant of Utilitarianism which I have heard called Rule Utilitarianism. Rather than evaluating each individual action using a utilitarian calculation, one evaluates general rules that way. In this manner one might conclude that it is wrong to cheat, even in the specific case where it may not cause harm, because, in the long run, more harm will be caused by allowing cheating than by prohibiting it. However, I still think this misses a point of morality, that humans believe things to be wrong partially independent of the good or harm that comes with them. Maybe these preferences are simply time ingrained preferences for things that have historically caused good to the species, but if so I think morality would be the poorer for it.

If someone rushes into a burning building and pulls out a baby, only to find that the baby dies on route to the hospital, I do not think we would find the persons actions less heroic, simply more tragic. Making the argument that we value such failed attempts only because if people didn't make them, then there would be no chance that we would succeed, while it may actually be a valid argument, is somewhat crass.

Kelsey said...

Intent is more important than action. From reading the Bible, I believe that hatred is equal to murder, lust to adultery.

Also, I've been thinking a lot about raising children (might have something to do with being around families with new babies all the time...) and think this senario applies. I'd rather my kids make mistakes with good intentions than follow the "rules" or do "good", with mal intent or the wrong reasons.

Kenny said...

I have to admit it is good to hear from someone who agrees with my more "means justify the ends" opinion, in addition to it always being good to hear from you! However, since I feel an obligation to be equally contrary to all sides, I must point out that much harm has been done by people with "good intentions," so perhaps it is worthwhile to ask, as ElfArmy does, "what makes 'the right thing' right?"

I don't really have a good answer to that, and as far as I know no philosopher really has.