Saturday, December 18, 2010

Philosophical Ponderings

I've already finished my final paper for my Philosophy of Evil, but I think I'll continue my discussion of evil, because morality is such a fascinating topic.

Last time I discussed evil, I came up with a thesis saying that the moral status of an action depends on the action itself, its consequences, and the intentions of the person who performed the act. That's a pretty broad thesis, but I like it anyway. For reference, here is what some of the great philosophers say in response to the question "What makes an action good or evil?":

Mills: An action is good if it has good consequences.
Kant: An action is good if the intention is good.
Neitzsche: Morality? What's that? You're making things up, bro.

I'm paraphrasing, obviously, but it always seemed to me that Mills was wrong, because his morality ignores intentions that go into an action.  Kant's morality also seems wrong, because it ignores the consequences of an action.  And so, I took the safe route and said that the moral status of an action depends on the consequences and the intentions, not just one or the other.

The problem with chosing just consequences or just intentions becomes apparent in a case where the consequences don't match the intentions.  For example, think of someone who means to do something good, but ends up doing something bad by mistake.  The person thinks he's doing the right thing (intention), but it turns out that he does something really bad (consequences).  In that case, did the person do right or wrong?  It is obvious that you have to take both the intention and the consequences into account before rendering moral judgment.

I have a similar solution to a different philosophical problem: self. Philosophers wonder, "What is the self?"  Some people say it's just the body, and other people say it's just the brain.  The body guys have trouble accounting for situations that involve the brain, and the brain guys have trouble accounting for situations that involve the body. My response is, why does it have to be either mind or body?  Why can't it be both mind and body?  Just like how it seems morality can be both intentions and consequences.

Actually, I'm pretty sure that "the self" is a trinity of mind, body and soul, but few modern philosophers believe in souls, so it's not an idea that gets discussed.

One of Kant's huge achievements in philosophy was to bridge the gap between rationalism and empiricism.  On one hand, you had people who only believed in a priori knowledge, and on the other hand, you had people who only believed in a posteriori knowledge.  Kant expertly ended the debate between the two schools by creating a philosophical system that included both a priori and a posteriori knowledge.

I think the philosophical world needs a similar coming-together today.  Let's have a system that bridges the brain-philosophers and body-philosophers, in a unified theory of self.  And let's bridge the consequence philosophers and the intention philosophers with a system that accounts for intentions and consequences. Hegel would certain approve of a resolution to these philosophical debates which follows a triadic movement like that.

I don't think all philosophical debates should be settled by a synthesis of the two opposing positions, but these two particular debates seem like they should be settled in this way, as the opposing positions both feel like they're missing something.  Each side has one part of the jigsaw puzzle, and they need to come together to finish the whole picture.

Oh, shoot. I'm at the end of this entry, and I completely forgot to talk about the topic of evil. I'll have to remember to do that next time.


Diana said...

Wow...very philosophical... good job!

Anonymous said...

bad things may have resulted, but the person is NOT evil, because the person did NOT attempt to do something bad.

Lynniepoo87 said...

Morality, I think, is defined by the intention, which is influenced by actions.

If I want to do something that I don't believe will be harmful (meaning I think it will be neutral or helpful) and something harmful results, I have not done anything wrong. But if I am ignoring the sums of my experiences in life to come to this conclusion, than what I am doing is wrong.

Just my 2 cents.