Posts Tagged choice

Contingent Morality

In my blog on Choice vs. Consequence, Pete called me out in my apparent subordination of the outcome to the choice.  If I make a choice, a Good choice (to help someone in need, for example), but botch it real bad, should I get “credit” for said moral choice?  He asserts no, and I wanted to think it through today.

First off, I don’t feel like one can judge the morality of the environment.  That is, I feel things can be shitty in many different circumstances, but if PEOPLE (or otherwise choosing entities) made it that way, than it’s the influence and decisions and actions of the people that make it immoral (not the shitty things themselves).  When you seek to take a moral action, how much does your eventual impact on the world matter?  I would say that your impact demonstrates your effectiveness, but not your morality.

If a very incompetent person sees a person in distress and goes to help (let’s consider this action “moral”), but ends up bungling it so bad he ensures the distressed person’s death (let’s consider this consequence “bad”), I don’t think of the person as immoral.  They are merely as described – incompetent.  From the other side – a competent person meaning to do harm but “accidentally” (or incidentally) doing good – I think it’s harder to zone in, but I do think that person is acting immorally (and also, hilariously ineffectually!).  I want to talk more about this later (not today) because there is value to result, maybe even moral value, but not in the primary sense that I care about most strongly.

We should strive to be both competent and moral, I believe.  But I don’t think a person’s competence or ability to remake the world for the better really has a bearing on whether they are essentially “good”.  There is a secondary level of consideration – if a person knows themselves to be awful at helping, but helps anyway (and therefore harms incidentally), I might consider that in the immoral space.  But overall, at the broadest level, I think it is choice that defines our moral nature, and not consequence.  Morality is not contingent on results.

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Right Reasons

I believe in second chances.  But what does that mean, really?  It means I am willing to give my friends (and even to some extent people with whom I am just acquainted) the benefit of the doubt when they do something I consider a mistake, or something that is just intolerable to me.  We’re talking about results here – I give a second chance when things don’t work out.  But I do predicate that second chance on an understanding that the person did what they did for mistaken wrong reasons, or for the right reasons.  To me, the important factor is whether they were making the right choices.

I believe that humans are free-willed – we are capable of making decisions using our minds, and we are not just acting in reaction to context.  Since I also believe that many times there is a “right” thing to do, I also believe that people can choose to act in a way consistent with the “right” thing in those cases.  When a person makes a mistake, I want to forgive.  The times when I can’t are the times when I think the person is making choices inconsistent with the “right” and doesn’t want to reconsider those choices at all.

My principle, I think, is: People are defined by their choices, and merely influenced by their experiences. This is a complicated notion to get to the bottom of, however… so many assumptions are in play here (free-willed, comparable “rightness,” understanding of other people’s choices) that in many ways I am just theorizing, but I think this is illustrative of my principles.


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