The Philosophy Post #5: Jammy Intentions

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For today’s philosophy post, I am revisiting one of my favourite topics – the topic of ethics and with today's post I want to think a little bit more about morality and how much a person’s intention should play a part in whether their action is deemed moral. 
Some theories of morality called 'consequentialist' theories, say that if an action brings about good consequences, it is a moral action regardless of the intentions of the person who committed that action but I’m naaaaat so sure that seems legitimate. To try and explain why I am going to use an example straight from the nations most loved tent – the Great British Bake Off tent! 

Okay, so imagine, Mary Berry and Paul “silver fox” Hollywood are competing in a challenge to see who can make the best Jam tarts. The challenge begins and Paul swiftly realises that he is in serious trouble. Mary is on her game, her pastry is looking sweet and her jam is bubbling away nicely – he knows he is going to lose. Now Paul is a very sore loser, so he makes the decision to sabotage Mary’s Jam tarts and he turns up the heat on the oven to make her pasty dough burn (dum dum dummmmm!). His intentions are undoubtedly bad, driven by a selfish desire to retain his baking crown.

However unbeknownst to Mary and Paul, due to a serious falling out with Mary over some french fancies, that dastardly Mel and Sue have undertaken a plot to poison Mary with her own jam tart mixture! This means that by burning her jam tarts Paul has, in a twist of fate, saved Mary’s life!

So now we are in a pickle, if we argue that intentions have nothing to do with whether an act is deemed right or wrong and it is only the consequences we can judge, we would have to concede that Hollywood’s act of bitter sabotage was in fact a morally correct thing to do as it brought about the undeniably good consequences of saving minxy Mary’s life. 

But that doesn’t seem fair, does it? How can Paul have acted out of distinctly immoral intentions and commit an act that is still deemed morally good?

To get a bit technical, what this example shows is a serious problem with a “consequentialist” view of morality, which ignores any role that intentions may play and only focuses on the consequences that comes about as the result of an action. 

So in our example, a consequentialist view of morality is illogical is because it doesn’t consider the fact that the goals of the action that Paul took were immoral and I think we can see from Paul and his pesky jam tarts, that that kind of approach runs into some serious problems. 

Now speaking of GBBO I need to catch up on last week's episode before tomorrow! What do you think about Paul’s act of sabotage – would you deem it to be moral?

Charlotte x
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1 comment:

  1. I'm no consequentialist but I'm not sure a consequentialist is committed to saying that Paul's action was either moral or praiseworthy. Fact-relatively he happened to bring about the best consequences by saving Mary but belief-relative he intended to sabotage her cakes. I think a consequentialist could say something like only actions that we believe will bring about the best outcome are moral. So maybe a belief-relative rule-consequentialist can integrate some room for intentions?

    I mean imagine the converse case where a person runs into a building to save a child from dying in a fire. It seems like that is a morally praiseworthy act. Now imagine that the child you saved would in fact grow up to be a murder (I avoided Hitler so not to invoke Godwin's Law). Is the rescuing of the child now an immoral act? I don't think it is, and I think a rule-consequentialist committed to a belief-relative maxim might agree. Generally speaking it is right to rescue children from fires, irrespective of whether saving an individual child actually brings about a worse state of affairs. Perhaps on that basis it is wrong to sabotage Mary's cakes regardless of whether you accidentally save her life.

    What do you think? (Sorry for the essay - dissertation mode!)