Morality-Intention Relationship in Homework EthicsJune 27, 2021
Your door is slammed. A young man stands before you, obviously in need of help. He’s injured and bleeding.
You let him in, you help him, you make him feel comfortable and safe, you call an ambulance. There is no doubt that you did what had to be done. But according to Immanuel Kant, if you helped him out simply because you were upset, it would not be a moral act at all. Your pity has nothing to do with the morality of your action. It may be part of your character, but it has nothing to do with right and wrong.
According to Kant, morality is not only about what you do, but also about why you do it. Those who do the right thing do not do that behavior based on what they feel: The decision should be based on reason, the mind that tells you what your homework is, no matter how you feel.
Kant believed that morality should not be confused with emotions. Whether we have emotions or not is largely dependent on luck. Some people feel compassion and empathy, some don’t. Some are cruel and find it difficult to show compassion; some enjoy helping others by donating their money and assets. But being good should be something that every rational person must achieve through their own choices. According to Kant, if you help the young man because you know it is your duty, then it is a moral act. This is the right thing to do, because everyone else in the same situation should do it.
This may sound strange to you. You probably think that someone who felt sorry for the young man and helped him because of it would have acted morally, perhaps because he felt that emotion that made him a better person. This was something that Aristotle would also consider. But Kant was sure. If you do something based solely on how you feel, it is by no means a good action. Imagine someone who feels disgusted with the young man when they see him, but still helps him because he has homework. In Kant’s eyes, this person would be more moral than someone who acts with compassion. This was because the person who was disgusted was clearly acting out of a sense of duty; because his emotions would encourage him not to help the person in need, and push him to act in the opposite direction.
Consider the story of the Good Samaritan. The Good Samaritan helps a man in need lying by the roadside. Everyone except the Samaritan passes by the man. So what makes a Good Samaritan good? If the Samaritan helped the needy man because he thought this action would take him to heaven, then according to Kant it would not be a moral act at all. It would be to use the man as a way to achieve something, as a means to an end. If he had helped the man out of sheer mercy, that would not have been good in Kant’s eyes either, as we saw above. But if the Samaritan helped the man because he realized that this is what everyone should do under homework and similar conditions, then Kant would accept that the Good Samaritan is morally good.
Kant’s view of intention is easier to accept than his view of emotions. Most of us judge each other not just by what we do, but rather by what we strive to do. Imagine how you would feel if a parent rushing to stop their young child from running into the street accidentally bumps into you. Compare that to how you would feel if someone deliberately bumped into you for fun. The parent’s intention is not to hurt you. But the vagrant’s intention is to hurt. But as the next example will show, having good intentions is not enough to make your action moral.
Your door is slammed again. You are opening. In front of you stands your best friend, pale, worried, out of breath. He tells you that someone is after him who wants to kill him. The chaser has a knife in his hand. You let him in, he goes upstairs to hide. After a while, the doorbell rings again. The probable killer this time and he looks crazy. Your friend wants to know where you are. at home? Is it hiding in the closet? Where? It’s actually hiding above. But you are making up a lie. You say he went to the park. You must have definitely done the right thing by sending someone who could be a murderer out to look for your friend in the wrong place. You probably saved your friend’s life. It has to be a moral act, right? Not according to Kant. Kant believed that under no circumstances should lies be told. Even if it’s to protect your friend from someone who might be a murderer… Lying is always morally wrong. There are no exceptions. There is no excuse. This is because you cannot make it a general principle that everyone should lie when it suits them. In the example in question, if you lied and your friend went to the park without knowing it, he is guilty of helping the murderer. you would be It would be your fault somewhere if your friend died.
This example, used by Kant himself, shows how extreme his point of view is.