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Moralities of Intent and Consequences

Kant's ethics relies upon the intent of an action as solely determinate of its moral worth, regardless of the consequences of the action. Consider the following thought experiment in these terms.

(1) A child is drowning in the lake. A stranger jumps into save the child. He succeeds in saving the childâ?"but the reason that he jumped in to get the child was not to save the childâ?"but rather to be seen as heroic to his girlfriend, with whom he was lunching by the lake.

(2) A child is drowning in the lake. A stranger jumps into save the child. But he's not as good a swimmer as he had thought. In his frantic state, he attempts to reach out to the child and submerges him or her. While he jumped in with the intent of saving the child, he fails to do soâ?"and instead only succeeds in pulling the child's lifeless body from the water.

The first case seems to have the right consequences, but the wrong moral intent. The second case has the right intent, but a poor outcome.
(A) What would Kant say about case #1? Is it a moral act? Why or why not?
(B) Do you agree or disagree with what Kant would say about case #1? If so, why or why not?
(C) What would Kant say about case #2? Is it a moral act? Why or why not?
(D) Do you agree or disagree with what Kant would say about case #2? If so, why or why not?

Solution Preview

Kant thought that both philosophic and scientific knowledge are similar. This is true of metaphysical knowledge concerning freedom and morality. So, when the philosopher discusses freedom and morality, what she is doing is similar to what the scientist is doing. In both cases the mind starts with a given data and arrives, through reasoning, to a judgment. This is important because Kant's ethics is a version of the principle of non contradiction which states that something cannot be A and not A at the same time. Kant believed that reason cannot contradict itself in moral judgment. And so, as he said in his second Critique, namely the Critique of Practical Reason, he discovered with wonder not just the starry heavens above but also the moral law within the human mind.

The moral law that we must tell the truth always is in principle the same as the scientific law that every effect must have a cause, because both are based on reason. And the highest function of reason is to produce the good will. To Kant, there is nothing good in the world except a good will. As long as someone means well, that is, follows the dictates of reason, the demands of morality have been met. This is because a good will is not good because of what it accomplishes; it is good in itself. The concept of duty includes that of a good will; an action done from duty is done as a ...

Solution Summary

This post discusses whether acting out of prudential, hypothetical, and technical imperatives instead of the categorical imperative qualifies an action as moral. Can the consequence of an action or simply the intent of the agent be enough for an action to be moral?

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