Saturday, April 27, 2013

Intentions vs. Consequences

**This is from guest blogger, Talia.**

As I was writing my paper, I came across a few things that I'd love to get your opinions on. First, in class, we had discussed that Kant's formulations of The Categorical Imperative stressed the importance of intentions when determining the moral rightness/wrongness of an action. But, as I started thinking about it more, it really doesn't seem like the first formulation, i.e. the Principle of Universalizability, does this at all. Moreover, if anything, it seems to focus on the consequences of an action, though not intentionally. For Kant, the importance is in the universalizability of an action, not its intentions/consequences, but it seems as though the outcome of the action actually is important, in retrospect. Let's take the bank robbing example. The reason Kant says that stealing is wrong is because, if everyone stole, there would be no more money left to steal, which creates a contradiction, making the maxim un-universalizable. But, doesn't it seem like this is very much consequence-based? The outcome of stealing, not the intentions of the robber, is what is relevant to the moral rightness/wrongness. I guess my issue here is that the first formulation of CI (Principle of Universalizability) seems consequences-based, while the second formulation (Principle of Humanity) is intention-based. If we are to act in accordance with the good will, as Kant suggests, we are certainly focused on our intentions, rather than the consequences of our actions. So, moral of the story: Kant seems to contradict himself in determining whether the intentions or consequences are more important in determining moral rightness/wrongness. I know that was a lot of rambling, but I'd love to hear any clarifications or responses you all might have to offer.


David C. said...

Hey Talia, I think you raised a great question. I also have a lot of puzzlement on Kant different formulations of the Categorical Imperative, but I think the answer to your question--"is Kant's first formulation of the Categorical Imperative consequences-based, instead of intention-based?"--is "no".

Here's why I think so:

Even though the thought experiment of running the Principle of Universalizability seems to be somewhat consequences-based (I would also doubt this too, for it seems to me more like a deduction of reason, instead of consequential evaluation), it should not be a problem for Kant. A moral theory is consequences-based if it refers to consequences as the reason for why people should do such and such. But the Principle of Universalizability is proposed to be a thought experiment for determining whether an action is moral. It is NOT proposed to be the REASON why people should act upon it. The reason why people should act upon their moral duties is because those are their duties. This reason --to do such and such because those are their moral duties -- is intention-based.

Chelsea R. said...

With the universalizing, maybe Kant is asking you what your intentions are. By making your actions universal, he is showing that while you may have okay intentions their consequences could be dastardly. So rather than contradicting himself he is just broadening the scope that intentions play within morality.

Jordan Bowe said...

Talia, I thought the way you posed this was well written, even though you called in rambling, so good job! It's interesting to think about the principle in that way. It seems like, as perviously mentioned, the principle seems to say that even if you have good intentions, they can lead to bad consequences if universalized. What I find puzzling is that this seems to stress the importance of the action. If you have good intentions but the action you are motivated to perform by your intentions, when universalized, creates bad consequences, wouldn't the fix be changing the action? Whether your intentions are bad or good doesn't seem to matter. If the action can be universalized without creating an inconsistency, then there's no problem.