I had an interesting set of conversations with Mark (Rosewater) today, which was great, but I also identified something in my own thinking about morality and “good” that I need to define a bit better: the relevance of choice versus the outcome (consequence) it produces.

Mark brought up the following question: if a person is in need, and you help them, and they are happy/better off/no longer in need, is that good?  To me, there are two factors at work here:

  • My decision to help a person, apparently in need
  • Whether they are in fact helped by my action (or harmed by my inaction, to look at it a different way)

I am pretty sure I can only assign moral weight to my decision, because I can’t necessarily affect the outcome significantly.  For example, if the person is lying and doesn’t need help, does that make my decision to help them any less “right”?  What if they are truly in need, I help, and they end up no better off because I couldn’t give them what they needed?  In both cases, I believe that my choice to help the person is just as moral as the choice to help the actually-in-need-and-I-end-up-helping person in distress.  The consequence is relevant, in the sense that I think the world could be better off in some utilitarian way if the outcome is positive, but not as relevant as the choice.