Goodness and Badness of Actions
The field of axiology focuses on values or ethics and aesthetics, perspectives that are part of everyday life. For a long time, there have been debates on whether particular behaviors exhibited by people in day-to-day life are right or wrong, and it is in such scenarios that the concept of ethics comes up. Acting in an ethical manner means that a person behaves in a way that is acceptable in society. However, the greatest concern has been what and how the goodness and badness of actions should be determined. On one hand, there are those with the opinion that how an action is good or bad depends on what motivates a person to act in a particular manner (Heinrichs et al., 2013). Such philosophers or individuals have the perception that motives are the only relevant factors that ought to describe the moral worth of an action. There is no doubt that the perspectives that motivate a person to act in a particular manner have a final say on whether the actions are good. For instance, for a person who prefers to spend money to help poor members of a community, his or her action in this situation would be considered morally good. However, if the same person spends money on poor people to get favors from donors in return, his/her action would be considered bad. Through this, it is clear that motivation helps to determine the badness or goodness of actions. On the other hand, there are people with the opinion that the consequences of actions are what determine whether the action is right or wrong (Heinrichs et al., 2013). For instance, philosophers who are pro in this argument believe that if two people were to get drunk and drive home under the influence of alcohol, the fact that one of them will cause an accident and the other will not, implies that the action of the person who causes an accident is wrong. Several questions and concerns have been raised on what exactly between consequences and motivation determines the goodness and badness of actions. This paper supports the argument that actions are good or bad depending on their motivations and not consequences.
Development of Thesis
The aspect of ethics is often questioned when the actions or behaviors of a person affect the community or those around him/her. In most cases, people try to exhibit good actions that are acceptable to the community and those that will not result in their rejection from the community. However, it is important to note that there are two critical factors that determine whether a person’s action or behavior is ethically good or bird. One of these factors is the motivation that a person has to engage in a given action, and the other is the consequence of a person’s action. The latter is defined as consequentialism, and its proponents (consequentialists) believe that how an action is good or bad must be judged based on how good or bad the results of the action are (Heinrichs et al., 2013). In the real sense, consequentialists are convinced that priority should be given to the consequences of human actions rather than the motivations behind the actions. This idea is opposed by deontologists who argue that the righteousness of an action ought to be determined by the intentions or motivations behind the action.
The argument of consequentialists has been opposed in day-to-day life because the results of a given action do not necessarily mean that an action is good or bad. For instance, a person with the intention of saving the lives of people suffering from illnesses, such as polio or measles might come up with a vaccination or treatment program for people suffering from the same. However, at times, the individual’s treatment or prevention program can turn out to be detrimental, resulting in unexpected deaths. In such as situation or scenario, consequentialists might argue that the person’s action is bad because of the resultant deaths, which should not be the case. It is imperative that the goodness or badness of the person’s action in the scenario be determined from his or her motives. This implies that the goodness and badness of human actions are dependents on their motivations rather than consequences.
As discussed in the section above, it remains undoubted that the ethicality of the actions of human beings should be determined from what motivates the actions rather than the consequences of the actions. In most cases, relying on the consequences of actions to determine their ethicality might not give reliable or valid outcomes. There is a possibility that a person might have good motives or intentions when engaging in a particular action, which means that the action ought to be considered good. However, the results of the action might not be as anticipated, and this does not mean that the person’s action will be regarded as bad (Spielthenner, 2005).
The argument that the ethicality of human actions should be determined by motivations rather than consequences can be applied to various contexts. For instance, in jurisdictional contexts, whether a person will be charged or not for an offense depends on whether his actions were good or bad; and these are often determined by the motives that the person had when engaging in undertaking a certain activity. Jurisdictional institutions often leverage on motives rather than consequences when determining the ethicality of the behavior of a criminal.
Argument in Support of and Opposition to Thesis
Several previous studies and literature are in agreement with the argument that actions are good or bad depending on their motives or intentions and not consequences. Spielthenner (2005) supports philosophers who regard motives of a person as the key factors that determine whether an action is good or bad. The study argues that the obviousness of how important motives or intentions are in determining the morality of an action cannot be doubted. It gives an example of a person who spends money with the motive of helping innocent civilians in a war-torn country to highlight how motive is crucial in determining the goodness or badness of human actions. It argues that in such as case, the person’s motivation or intention, without a doubt, envisages the goodness of the action.
However, there are scholars who oppose the argument that the ethicality of actions should be determined by motives rather than consequences. Sheehy (2010) argues that how the ethicality or morality of actions is evaluated is dependent on how good or bad their consequences are. This study gives the suggestion that the right action is one that results in the maximization of overall utility or happiness. Moreover, Shaw (2006) opposes the argument when he states clearly that consequentialism is important when it comes to determining whether an action is right or wrong. His study opines that more concern and focus should be on the extent to which the world would be better or worse because of the actions of people living in it.
Response to Arguments
The validity of the above opposing and supporting arguments on whether actions are good and bad depending on their motivations or consequences cannot be questioned. However, the argument supporting the fact that the goodness or badness of actions is determined by their motivations rather than consequences holds water. In the real sense, it is the motive or intention that a person has when engaging in a certain activity or action that determines whether his or her action is good or bad. At times, a person might have a good motive intention when getting involved in an activity but the result of his or her involvement in the same might not be as expected, and this does not warrant a consideration of such an action a bad. Nevertheless, the study by Shaw (2006) lacks validity as it focuses primarily on consequentialism and ignores the aspect of motivation, and thus, there is no comparison of the two that might underscore the advantage that one has over the other.
The goodness or badness of actions should be determined by their motivations rather than consequences. The motives or intentions of a person when engaging in a given action might be good although the results of the same action might be contrary to the expectations, and thus, the action in such a situation might not be considered bad. The bottom line, in this case, is that when determining the ethicality or morality of actions, the focus should be more on motives or intentions than consequences of the actions.
Heinrichs, K., Oser, F., & Lovat, T. (2013). Handbook of moral motivation: Theories, models, applications. Rotterdam: SensePublishers.
Shaw, W. (2006). The consequentialist perspective. Contemporary debates in moral theory, 5-20.
Sheehy, P. (2010) Doing the Right Thing (Part I).The Richmond Journal of Philosophy.
Spielthenner, G. (2005). What Makes Actions Morally Good?. Retrieved from http://www2.units.it/etica/2005_1/SPIELTHENNER.htm