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how important are intentions?

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libertygrl
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Posted 12/06/07 - 3:47 PM:
Subject: how important are intentions?
if good intentions fail and end up causing harm to others, is it the thought that counts?

on the other hand, if a person's actions end up benefitting others, does it matter if they were done with malicious intent?

any thoughts?
Nihil Loc
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Posted 12/06/07 - 8:55 PM:

Can we choose a context?
Society and Law
Feelings and Love Affairs
Global Ethics

There are degrees of harm.

Intention may come into play as a defense in cases where the result, act, or event is judged to be harmful. It is much harder to establish intent after the more notable event of harm occurs.

I think we gauge intent when the intent is questionable, which most often occurs when someone has committed or has been accused of wrongdoings.

On the other hand establishing harm, if it isn't so obvious, say in a personal relationship between two people, may be difficult. One can accuse the other of harm one shouldn't be held responsible for because the accuser has questionable intentions.

You can read bad intentions into someone's act (if for subjective reasons) and accuse them using some legal basis.

You can see bad acts and question the intent behind it. Did the act occur as a fit of rage (a crime of passion) or was it planned (have a qualifiable intent).

Is there a specific problem you are thinking about, Lib?
MrMario
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Posted 12/06/07 - 9:28 PM:

If the ending result is good, then yes. It is the thought that counts. At least in my eyes.rolling eyes
Monk2400
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Posted 12/06/07 - 10:33 PM:

lib wrote:
on the other hand, if a person's actions end up benefitting others, does it matter if they were done with malicious intent?


MrMario wrote:
If the ending result is good, then yes. It is the thought that counts. At least in my eyes.rolling eyes


Shall we say, then, that the end justifies the means?

raised eyebrow
Monk2400
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Posted 12/06/07 - 11:12 PM:

One of the components of the Buddha's noble eightfold path is 'Right Intention'. This I undrstand to mean that a act should be performd in the spirit of loving-kindness with an eye to the compassion for all sentient beings.

Intention, in Buddhism is exactly that process that creates karma. So, in terms of whethr intent is good or bad, it always is creating effects, and hence, generating karma.

I would not assert that a good end justifies an evil means. Suppose I take place on a building roof with my snipr rifle, aiming to shoot the mayor, but, just as I pull the triggr, the worst criminal of all time steps in front of the mayor by chance, and takes my bullet, dying instantly. The crowd cheers cause the bully is dead. Now, its just fortuitous that my shot made people happy, but my act was in no way 'good'.

Besides, we all know where the road of good intentions leads to. eek
e.
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Posted 12/07/07 - 3:54 AM:

Midnight_Monk wrote:


Intention, in Buddhism is exactly that process that creates karma. So, in terms of whethr intent is good or bad, it always is creating effects, and hence, generating karma.



MM et al,

Kant said that 'nothing shines more brightly in the universe than a good will'.

So, I guess Kant would be with the Buddhists on the Karma thing. Also, I think that a person with genuine good will would not stoop to evil means, at least according to Kant. This raises the famous objection that a Kantian couldn't tell a lie, even to save a life. Kant's theory is coherent, but like all systematic moral theories it runs into difficult counter examples in practice.

e.


Monk2400
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Posted 12/07/07 - 12:50 PM:

The 'famous objection' to Kant brings into focus an intrsting juxtaposition of values that, one could argue, makes Kant's deontological system entirely selfish.

What is the value of the life of a sentient being VS the integrity of a will?

Hmmm, lets see. Since will does not create sentience, but is rathr dependent on it, the arisal of sentient beings is at least a necessary condition for the arisal of sentient wills (of a mind acting conatively). Not only do sentient beings provide the actual ground for sentient wills, but also its possibility, for in the absence of them, there is no will at all. A will can always be adjustd to meet a situation, but the balance of life for a sentient being is very fragile and precious. I dont think there is any contest here--the value of a life is far superior to that of the integrity of the will.

But the Kantian, who would be compelld to tell the Nazis that the Jews are hiding in the attic, is acting only in the intrst of preserving the integrity of the will, and not in the intrsts of preserving life, which is more valuable. Hence, for hesh own peace of mind and continued intellectual integrity, hesh allows evil to be done. Alternatively, though, such a one might refuse to answr at all, rathr than put eithr lives of hesh will at risk.

Mind you, this is my assessmnt of the relative value of life VS integrity. Anothr might place the value of an integral will as most high, as worth dying or killing for, as worth preserving to the end of all ends, despite any othr consequences, as the jewel of all creation. Howevr, to me, any value system that promotes such an ideal is ludicrous in the extreme, unless and only if there is a law-givr being for whom such unwavring devotion to principle is most highly regarded and rewarded, and anything else punishd. What is a bettr base for moral choices--devotion to principle or compassion for life?

Besides all of which, since 'good' and 'evil' are entirely relative, there is no such thing as a perfectly 'good will' that is universal and absolute for all possible contexts. Hence why the Buddhist states only that intention creates karma, and karma keeps the cycle of samsara going--it doesnt mattr if that cycle continues with generations of hells or heavens, as the mere fact of its continuance is the problem of intention.

cheers,

8)
hyena in petticoat
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Posted 12/11/07 - 4:26 AM:

Maybe the intentions weigh more than the result. After all, intentions determine the actions that are to be undertaken.

But then again, weighs more to whom? Intentions justify the results of actions in introspection. But society judges actions based on the results. No matter what the intention.
libertygrl
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Posted 12/11/07 - 1:15 PM:

NL wrote:
Is there a specific problem you are thinking about, Lib?

hi nihil,

i actually didn't have any examples in mind when i started the topic. it was largely inspired by some contemplations of MM's topic on consciousness and trying to pin down the role that intention (as an aspect of consciousness) has in our development.

good point about context. usually we find ourselves trying to weigh a person's intentions when they have been accused of some wrongdoing. understanding that a person had good intentions when the outcome is disastrous certainly helps people forgive them.

you suggested "feelings and love affairs" as a possible context; some examples in that area could include trying to protect someone from the truth (about an unfaithful lover, for example) to try to keep them from getting hurt (and then they end up getting hurt, anyway, when they find out they were lied to). or, to expand on MM's example, there is also taking credit for having done something good when it was not your intention.

MM wrote:
Intention, in Buddhism is exactly that process that creates karma. So, in terms of whethr intent is good or bad, it always is creating effects, and hence, generating karma.

good point about karma, and i think this is ultimately the heart of the question. i would suggest that how much a person believes in karma will have a large bearing on how much value they attribute to intentions, especially in matters where a person may be guilty of certain intentions which no one else knows about.

along those lines, another example that comes to mind is the character of jackie from the t.v. show "heroes", a cheerleader who takes credit for saving a man's life from a burning train wreck when nobody else steps up to claim the good deed. she then decides to run for class president on some kind of moral platform, promoting "a better student body through good deeds" (or something like that, i don't remember the exact quote). anyway, obviously her intention was simply to garner some attention for herself, and her sincerity about the moral platform was clearly questionable, but if the end result was that it inspired her classmates to do good deeds, then does it matter what her intentions were, or the fact that it was based on a lie?

any thoughts?

smiling facelib
e.
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Posted 12/12/07 - 5:08 AM:

libertygrl wrote:

but if the end result was that it inspired her classmates to do good deeds, then does it matter what her intentions were, or the fact that it was based on a lie?

any thoughts?

smiling facelib


Lib,

This morality is called consequentialism (utilitarianism is one kind of consequentialism). It is usually set against Kantian philosophy.

A basic attack against the C. is that it allows 'the end justifies the means' and most people have some difficulty in giving 'the end justifies the means' the status of moral rightness.

As both C. and Kantian morality have problems dealing with counter examples at their extremes, this might inspire us to look for a third way, although I'm not up to speed on recent developments in moral philosophy.

e.


libertygrl
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Posted 12/17/07 - 2:22 PM:

MM wrote:
I would not assert that a good end justifies an evil means.


e. wrote:
A basic attack against the C. is that it allows 'the end justifies the means' and most people have some difficulty in giving 'the end justifies the means' the status of moral rightness.

for me, the phrase "end justifying the means" conjures the idea of something like a father going out and robbing a bank so he can pay for healthcare for his daughter who is dying of a terminal disease, or something like that.

i imagine that where folks tend to get hung up on the idea of ends justifying the means is that they keep wanting to use it as grounds for some form of prescriptive morality. in other words, it seems people want you to be able to say, "oh sure, if your daughter has a terminal illness and needs expensive healthcare, then it's perfectly alright to go out and rob banks."

and i don't think you can do that, ever, because really, the heart of the question always consists of weighing out the lesser of two evils. that is to say, both options are undesirable, and we are consistently put in the position of picking which is worse. neither option is something we could prescribe under normal circumstances. thus moral rightness is not something that can ever be attributed to the "end justifying the means", at least not in any kind of absolute sense (which it seems is what folks are after, always). nonetheless, we get faced with these dilemmas all the time and are forced to choose.

in such cases, intention and karma are important factors, in my view - in fact, i would go so far as to suggest they make all the difference. karma indicates a system of consequences; the consequence of the same event motivated by two different sets of intentions will not ever be the same.

cheers,
smiling facelib
e.
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Posted 12/21/07 - 8:21 AM:

libertygrl wrote:

in such cases, intention and karma are important factors, in my view - in fact, i would go so far as to suggest they make all the difference.
smiling facelib


Hi Lib,

Well in your example a good intention is implied, so I guess intention is important already. I wonder what happens when the intention is not so clear cut? In these cases I think we look at what has actually happened, as that is the only way we can get a grip on the intentions. As we have debated before, criminal law takes great note of intention when prosecuting. 'I'm innocent' often means innocent of intention.

I wouldn't enjoy being around someone who secretly wanted to kill me!

e.
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Posted 12/31/07 - 12:14 PM:

Unintended consequences of one's actions are still consequences so good intentions end up being meaningless. If one intends to do good, but causes harm, harm was still caused. Unintended consequences are those things that people often end up guilt stricken and the good intention may be nothing more than a cloak to renounce guilt.
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