Friday, August 05, 2011

Intent is the Key...

... to evaluating someone's action from the perspective of character and morality.  This is why we have to be so careful about judging others.  It is often difficult to know what another person's intent is.

I become more and more convinced that it would do America a lot of good for everyone to take a good philosophy class and that a good philosophy class should be part of every college curriculum. Now most philosophy classes probably aren't good in the way I'm thinking and I don't think the ones I used to teach hit the mark either.  But I more and more see the potential benefit.

So the human animal has a tendency not to respond in kind but to escalate retribution.  This was apparently the driving force behind the "law of retribution":: an "eye for an eye."  The original notion--quite a high point in the history of human moral thinking--was that you should not take two eyes if a person only takes one of yours.  This to me remains one of the best starting points for talking about justice.  Justice is exacting an equivalent punishment for a wrong done with intent.

I added the intent part.  On the one hand, governments have to be very careful about taking intent and repentance into account--they have to set up a structure and making individual exceptions can threaten the society, even when an individual case might seem to warrant it.  But as individuals, we are more morally mature when we take the intentions of others into account.

So the intent of someone in doing you wrong is the key measure of how to respond.  True, a person can do wrong by forgetfulness in a way that reflects failure to make an effort to remember in the past.  Unintentional wrongdoing can imply moral failure because you have not been doing something you should have been doing all along.

But a person can also be more guilty than the offender in the "pay back" he or she gives when the offender did not do a wrong with high intent.  If someone unintentionally wrongs you and you let them have it in one way or  another, there's a good chance you are the greater wrongdoer than they are.

It took me a long time to realize how morally immature most people are.  Maybe that's true in part because I have had such virtuous parents.  I grew up thinking that most people at least in the church always try to do the right thing.  As it turns out, most people don't ;-)


FrGregACCA said...

Ken writes: "I grew up thinking that most people at least in the church always try to do the right thing. As it turns out, most people don't ;-)"

Yes, I see the smiley. MANY people don't. And MANY of those people are Evangelicals. One has to ask: how does Anselmian soteriology, perhaps coupled with an at-least crypto-Calvinistic doctrine of the elect, aid and abet, if not actively encourage, this?

"One kind of Christian theology is compatible with believing in democracy; another kind isn’t. If I believe that the purpose of Jesus’ death for my sins is to make me a person capable of admitting my mistakes and letting go of my idols, then I’m going to welcome my harshest critics as angels sent by God to sanctify me of my ideological blind spots. Scot McKnight’s book A Community Called Atonement describes this kind of Christianity. Jesus’ atoning sacrifice creates a community of people who don’t play gotcha with each others’ mistakes, who are capable of disagreeing without demonizing, who ultimately see reconciliation as the final goal of any quarrel that arises. The basic difference between a Christian and a non-Christian for political purposes is that the Christian can admit that she’s wrong. There’s no reason to mistrust the insights that non-Christians have to offer Christians. We simply desire as Christians for others to enter into the freedom from self-justification that we have discovered.

"Another kind of Christian theology thinks that the most important fact about the world is its division between the elect and the damned. The damned don’t have anything positive to contribute to the project of building human community. They are simply wrong and there’s no reason to try to understand why they’re wrong because God created them to be wrong. God put them here as automatons to persecute and test the elect, whose lives gain meaning through the challenge of waging war with the damned. The only thing to do with the damned is to defeat them. Trying to learn from them and working together with them collaboratively is morally hazardous. A Christian with this perspective does not really believe in democracy as an ultimate ideal. In this view, the purpose of democracy is not to learn and make better decisions through synthesizing multiple viewpoints, but simply to elect the elect; so the end-goal is not really democracy but dictatorship (once the damned are thrown completely out of office, why allow any votes to happen after that?). I don’t think anyone with this view thinks that the damned will ever be defeated completely. The elect simply fight the damned faithfully out of duty, until God comes and finishes the job by destroying the Earth (which of course we can help to expedite)."

Obviously, the implications are not just political.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Our laws protect liberty. These are negative rights of "non-interference". Unlike Nazi Germany, that sanctioned experiments on undesirables, so "the greater good" could be accomplished, America believes in diversity of interests and values, respecting another's right to liberty. Laws were to be principles, not mandates of positive duty or a sanction for discrimination.

So, "collectivism" nor anarchy suits our societal tastes. The "rule of law" was to limit, but also free. And it was/is protected by respecting another's right to liberty, not a paternalistic or overbearing oversight of government intervention. But, a government that defends and protects against another's anarchial disregard of boundary (personal, and national).

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I heard a good analogy about the law; "Criminals live outside the bounds of law; citizens live under the law; leaders live behind the law"....isn't living behind the law a license to those leaders that want to use the law for their personal benefit and not be accountable to the publc interests or good?

Character is about living "under the law" because leadersthip respects the rights of "the citizen", as public service is viewed as a responsiblity, and not a priviledged political class.

Every American has the right of choice about their personal life and where that life will "play out", but a public servant doesn't have "rights", but duties and responsibilities toward those they represent. Such leaders do not use their priviledged position to further their personal self interests alone. They have the nation and citizen's interests in mind.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Intent, though can be a factor in determining a just sentence for those that have broken a law, it cannot be a mitigating factor at the outset, as to desired "outcomes". Otherwise, one goes into a situation presuming upon another's right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. And that is interference!

One cannot predict another's choice and determine outcomes, before the individual has a chance to decide for themselves what their personal "outcomes" are to be.