If someone is not being directly and deliberately inauthentic, can we say their actions are inauthentic, if we sympathise with them?

I just got in a long winded ethical discussion (I think I subscribe to some form of virtue based rule consequentialism - whether or not they are necessary to guide action, rules which we expect would maximise the good are what makes actions virtuous - but it probably doesn't matter) about how to critique someone's conditioning about what they think is reasonable (about what is good and virtuous, which I feel is necessary to show they are wrong) and moral.

We were talking about a hypothetical limit case (a bit like a moral dilemma) in which the actor elicits a lot of sympathy, and whether that means we take their side, if we're authentic. I could find no other ethical overlaps - e.g. a latent refutable belief in the primacy of individual wealth - with which to criticise the agent, besides "authenticity".

I am not asking if the action could be wrong despite their authenticity

I am asking if we can show why they believe it is wrong - their conditioning, the state of their culture etc. - is actually deceptive, with 'authenticity' only.

1 Answer 1


Yes, we can sympathize with someone who did something we disagree with.

Suppose someone makes a math mistake. Everybody has made math mistakes; it is easy to sympathize with the person who has made the mistake. But of course we do not agree with their mistake.

A moral mistake is not different. I am sure you have made one or two moral mistakes in your lifetime, whether you'd admit to them or not. So you can, if you are willing, sympathize with someone who has made a moral mistake, while still recognizing it as a mistake.

It's wrong that people so often take the side of the more sympathetic party. What elicits sympathy often has little to do with what is right. If someone is similar to us, and cute, and charming, then they elicit sympathy. And if this similar, cute, charming, sympathetic person commits a crime, they will get a lighter sentence than a rude, different, ugly person who committed the same crime, because of the sympathy of the judge and the jury. And that is wrong.

We should be sympathetic to all humans. We can practice loving-compassion to everyone. But to be sympathetic with someone, to feel compassion for them, is not the same as to take their side and agree with them.

  • You can compare ethical decisions to maths, but saying "they are not different" is kinda deceptive and overly rhetorical.
    – user59394
    Commented Jul 7, 2022 at 1:13
  • The question wasn't whether we can say the act was wrong, but whether we can via reference to their "authenticity" undermine the agent's decision that it was a reasonable action, if we sympathise with them.
    – user59394
    Commented Jul 7, 2022 at 1:19
  • As to your not editing or deleting this question. It may well be morally permitted to not do so, but it is hypocritical and deceptive to leave it up. Such is life.
    – user59394
    Commented Jul 7, 2022 at 1:25
  • 1
    @a_person Your title currently says, 'Can we really "sympathise" with someone who really has tried to do the right thing, yet still think it was wrong?' So, yes, the question is about whether we can say (or think) the act is wrong. Besides, I don't see much of a distinction between saying the act is wrong, and "undermining the agent's decision that it was a reasonable action."
    – causative
    Commented Jul 7, 2022 at 1:26
  • No it doesn't my title has since changed. Odd. Please don't tell me what I am trying to ask.
    – user59394
    Commented Jul 7, 2022 at 1:27