If a man makes a lot of money supporting a business that pollutes the environment, and then spends the money supporting environmentally focused charities, is he good or evil? What does philosophy say about this kind of behavior?

  • 1
    Dozens of different philosophies would have dozens of different things to say about the man's behavior. Lacking any firm philosophical context from which to respond according to, this question is unanswerable. Even though you have gotten an answer which seems to have satisfied you, I'm going to close this question pending revisions. – stoicfury May 1 '12 at 18:40

It's rare for philosophers to make ethical claims about men. There are different schools about how to discuss moral behaviour.

In virtue ethics there are right or wrong virtues.

In consequentialism there are right or wrong consequences.

In deontological ethics there are right or wrong intentions.

This is very simplified and there's also other schools. Since philosophers disagree about how to discuss ethics it's difficult to say anything about complicated questions like the one you asked. More information is needed. What is the virtues of this man? What is his intentions? And what is the sum of the consequences?

I think that most philosophers agree there can't be a final answer. There will always be a lack of information. We don't see an end to consequences and we can never dig deep enough into our "real" intentions and virtues.

If the polluter asks if he can "pay back" I think it's the wrong question in most ethical contexts. There are right or wrong things to do and that's the same for everyone.

  • 3
    This is a good answer and should help highlight to the OP why his core question ("is he good or evil?") is unanswerable. +1 – stoicfury May 1 '12 at 18:44

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.