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Ethics / Philosophy

Action and Goodness

In my last post, I explained that actions have different content if the intentions of the action are given. We simply take the lowest level of intention, remove the reason for the action and what remains is the intention.

Contents of acts can be good, conditionally good and bad. Acts that are intrinsically good are good acts. So are acts that are instrumentally good. If the content indicates that either these is the case, then the content of the act is good. For example, “returning borrowed money” is good and so is “contemplating knowledge”. Acts that are contrary to an intrinsic good are bad. So are acts that instrumentally aid in something bad. If the content of an act indicates that one of these is the case, then the content of the act is bad. Acts such as murdering and stealing count as bad simply from the content. The final case are those acts that might be bad or might be good depending on the circumstances and intentions. These acts are called conditionally good because their goodness is dependent on something other than their content.

I have said that acts are given by the lowest intention. Let’s consider someone who takes something from the store. We might describe that act as stealing – but we cannot know unless we consider why that thing was taken from the store. If the person owns the store, then he may not be stealing at all. He might simply be throwing out bad merchandise. So in order to determine the morality of the content of the action, we must have a better way of determining the lowest intention of an act. Consider an act that is truthfully described by some phrase. The phrase will say that a particular person did something for a reason. If we were to ask whether or not that reason has a reason for it, that would give us a higher intention. But we are looking for a lower intention. So we must ask whether or not this reason is a reason for an intention that is not mentioned.

An example would help at this point. Suppose Bob took an apple from a field because he was hungry. We would determine a higher intention by first noting that satisfying hunger is not an intrinsic good. Since it is not, we can ask why Bob took an apple to satisfy his hunger”. The answer is probably that Bob wanted to eat the apple. He took the apple in order to eat it so that his hunger would be satisfied. When we try to reason in the other direction, we simply reason backwards. Bob took an apple to satisfy his hunger, but is there a reason such that Bob took an apple in order to satisfy his hunger to fulfill this reason? If yes, then there is a lower intention. If not, then there is not. Satisfying hunger is the lowest intention, so the act is simply “taking an apple”.

In order to determine the goodness of a content of an act, we simply ask whether or not such a content is intrinsically good or aids in such a good, whether such a content is contrary to an intrinsic good or whether the content is not good nor contrary to a good.

Next, I will discuss the circumstances of action in general.

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