I am looking at this from the perspective of a deontologist, who is against the hedonistic utilitarian theory of John Stuart Mill. John Stuart Mill's version of the hedonistic utilitarian theory does not take motive into account when determining the moral worth of an action.

So far, I have the following argument as to why motive should play a part in determining the moral worthiness of an action:

Believing that motive has no role to play in the assessment of a moral action, this means that, as humans are apt to make mistakes, if we do the wrong thing by accident, we are considered morally wrong, even if we have noble motives. Furthermore, if we have sinister reasons for doing something, and we do the right thing by mistake, our action is still considered morally right.

Does anyone have any other ideas as to why motive should play a role in determining the ethical value of an action?

  • not sure, i think the idea is legit – user6917 Oct 24 '15 at 20:51

I am on a Whitehead kick, so I will answer from an 'organic process' point of view. (This is not Whiteheads ethics, which I find gloriously mind-addling, and involves an ultimate observer God, that I have trouble accepting, but instead a simpler version based upon his basic theory of value as the relevance of an event.)

Actions in time are not independent, but they are tied to past and future actions through the unity of experience. If moments of action were independent, motives would not matter, what someone was causing at any given moment would be good or bad in itself and we would move on to the next moment of good or bad, accumulating an ethically positive or negative existence along the way. But that is not the way actual animals live. It lacks unity.

We don't just want to exist through waves of good or bad experiences. We want an underlying structure that we can rely upon and reproduce. One's recurring states of mind are what cause behaviors to be reproduced. So motive binds actions to future actions. Intention becomes a habit, and good or bad intentions become good or bad habits.

As a collective whole, we want to value the motive behind a good action because only by instilling the return of proper states of mind that provoke good motives can we bind mere actions into an ethics that predicts future proper actions and gives us a feeling of predictable and safe communities.

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