Ethics of Intentions

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

There is an ethical premise that holds the evaluation of actions by the intentions of the actions. This idea is compatible with any standard of value. It is the claim that the consequences of an action are not important morally. Only the desired results.

If morality is a guide to living, it can only be so if the outcome of action moral is in your interest. By claiming that only intentions matter, ethics becomes useless. It is left strictly as a method of evaluating the actions of others. It cannot act a a guide to your actions.

The Ethics of Intentions is derived from the understanding that people who intend to harm will eventually succeed. It is a way of judging them evil by the fact that they want to harm people, not that they do. But this is faulty. It is the impending actions that are evil. The fact that the person is malevolent implies they will take the actions. But it is the actions that are destructive.

A newspaper article a few years ago portrayed a mother who had murdered her young daughter. The mother had come to believe that the world was a place of suffering, and happiness was impossible. She killed her daughter in order to save her from the torment of living. Under the Ethics of Intentions, she should be praised as a hero.


Copyright 2001 by Jeff Landauer and Joseph Rowlands