Intentions Revisited

Further to my previous blog post about intentions I thought I should present a similar version of the same problem (the Knobe‘s CEO example)

[Harm] A CEO for a large corporation is presented with a new money-making scheme and he is told that the scheme will harm the environment. The CEO says, “I don’t care about the environment, I just want to make money.” The scheme is implemented, and the environment is harmed. Did the CEO harm the environment intentionally?

[Help] A CEO for a large corporation is presented with a new money-making scheme and he is told that the scheme will help the environment. The CEO says, “I don’t care about the environment, I just want to make money.” The scheme is implemented, and the environment is helped. Did the CEO help the environment intentionally?

So how do you see this case and why?

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4 thoughts on “Intentions Revisited

  1. thinks says:

    In both cases, hurting or helping the environment was a byproduct of an action . That action carried the higher priority in the mind of the CEO. The byproduct of that decision was a second priority in both cases.

    The CEO is responsible for the results of both the action and the byproduct.
    But his intention was the result of the action, not of the byproduct.
    There is responsibility in helping or harming the environment, but not intention.

    If a ship has only enough lifeboats for women and children, is the captain responsible for the drowning of the men, by way of his decision to go by gender as opposed to alphabetically? In 1912 the point would be mute. But in 2011, women may sue the company for discrimination through sexist treatment if they are asked to all go before the men. In that case, we may say that the captain intended to save the women and children, or he intended to save as many as possible, but in either case he did not intend the deaths of those who drowned. Or did he?

  2. manblogg says:

    This is a very interesting and difficult problem that caused me to think it in a lot of different ways.
    In both cases the CEO is aware of the consequences of his actions ( I assume that those will happen 100% of the time) and he states that “he does not care”. Looking at it at first hand I come to the same conclusions as thinks notes in his message above. That is, his clear intentions are to make money and not harm or help the environment. Thinking of it from a moral perspective I tend to view this in two different ways.
    In a moral context “motive”, “consequence of actions” and “responsibility” come into play.
    In that context, I think the answer tends to depend on whether our actions cause “Harm” or “Good”. Especially if the motive in both cases is to “make money” which is a socially and culturally charged subject. Where [harm] is a certain consequence of actions that are not unavoidable and we choose to carry out those actions anyway, I believe the verdict will most likely be that the harm inflicted was intentional as well. The motive itself (i.e. making more money) will most likely emphasize this position in a lot of western cultures.
    When the consequences of the same actions [help] (or in another popular term produce “good”) you would think that nothing changes as far as judging the intentions of the same person. But I believe when “good” happens as a consequence of certain actions that did not deliberately seek to achieve it, we tend to give less direct credit to the person carrying out those actions. We tend to encourage actions that deliberately seek to do good for its own sake rather than as a by product of other actions even if that is certain to happen by carrying out those actions. Again the motive of “making money” will most likely emphasize this view and will discredit the person who produces good and characterize him as a person who didn’t really care to deliberately do good but rather cared only for making money.
    I also believe that if you swapped the “environment” being the receiver of [harm or help] with “humans” the dynamics of the above exercise change completely and it will make clearer the above distinction as we tend to be more absolute in terms of delivering “good” and “harm” to people as opposed to the environment in general.

    @thinks
    Dimitri, very good example the one with the lifeboats. I view it as a slightly different one than the one of the main post in that, whatever the captain chooses, he is faced with an unavoidable problem. That is, some people will not make it into the lifeboats. As a logic problem I think it is true that he indeed intended for some people to be saved and some to drown by virtue of being the one making the selection. Looking it in terms of moral judgment under the specific circumstances it is very difficult for anybody to support that he intentionally let people drown I believe.

    • manblogg says:

      + I did not mention that, regarding dimitris’ scenario, the captain does not seem to personally benefit no matter what decision he makes (as opposed to the CEO). It seems to me that in our minds this (i.e. whether there is a personal benefit or not as a result of an action) makes a big difference in how we classify actions in terms if their moral significance.

  3. epanechnikov says:

    The problem is indeed very difficult. That is because we have to bear in mind (and we certainly do when asked) that intention lies at the heart of the attribution of moral responsibility (and of course of legal liability). Intention is a marker (probably the most important) of serious culpability of wrongful actions. Intentions and responsibility are very closely connected. Unintentional wrongdoing on the other side (due to negligence, back luck etc.) has a very weak connection with moral responsibility.

    I also agree with you guys that having a predictive belief is not equivalent (at least not always – that is what we need to clear) to having an intention. To believe is not to so intend. Despite that, foreseen consequences are not comfortably regarded as intentional or unintentional. Intentionality usually arises with respect to the circumstances of actions. And it is extremely difficult to define under what general conditions we say that an action is intentional.

    So lets now ask ourselves: Are people morally responsible for actions they did not intent doing? And then: Is the CEO morally responsible for harming/helping the environment?

    Can you answer those questions comfortably and consistently? I can’t!!

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