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Shining Raichu
July 27th, 2011, 06:49 AM
I had a ponder-some thought at work today:

If you do the right thing for the wrong reason, are you still ethically doing the right thing?

Discuss.

Kiyoshi the Polar Bear
July 27th, 2011, 07:11 AM
Ah, yes, I've thought of this question to.

I've always thought that doing something like that would return in no karamatic reward, and potentially give you a karmatic backlash because of your bad intentions.

But what is "right" is subjective, and I'll bet you and thousand hypothetical internet dollars that this thread will turn into a debate about the definition of "being ethically right," because what is "right" to you is based on your personal moral standpoint.

What about doing the wrong thing for the right reasons? Come on! I love anti-heroism.

PkMnTrainer Yellow
July 27th, 2011, 09:57 AM
If you do the right thing for the wrong reason, are you still ethically doing the right thing?

What is the "right" reason for any given thing? aren't there more than one right reason to any action? Aren't there degrees of rightness to go with them?

So yeah. That being said.

Are we wrong to do work for money instead of out of the kindness of our heart? Are we wrong to expect respect for our deeds instead of doing them selflessly?

At the same time, if we do the wrong thing for the right reasons, are we still ethically doing the wrong thing?

Are we wrong to kill because we're soldiers at war? Are we wrong to demand money from customers because they want something of value?

The answer is most surely no.

Esper
July 27th, 2011, 11:29 AM
Doing the right thing is doing the right thing. That's why it's called doing the right thing.

If your reasons aren't all that pure then that just means you aren't necessarily going to do the right thing the next time because you aren't necessarily a good person who always does the right thing. So, even if you called an ambulance and gave first aid to someone solely to impress your date and get interviewed for the news, you still did the right thing. You're also a bit selfish, but hey, no one is perfect and always does the right thing for the right reason. Doing the right thing for the wrong reason isn't all that bad, unless you're actually doing the wrong thing without realizing it.

G.U.Y.
July 27th, 2011, 11:31 AM
I don't think the answer is simple enough for just yes and no. It depends on many factors.

Such as-

Let's say you were the person who killed Hilter. It was ethical to stop such a horrid monster - but not ethical to kill him. That's a very bad example though..because I mean..he killed 11,000,000 people (and that's not counting the people who died in the war he started.)

Oryx
July 27th, 2011, 12:42 PM
In my opinion, it depends entirely on what the right thing is related to. Take two situations:

Situation A: You have a very negative opinion of yourself. Your friends want to help you feel better about yourself, and read that if you compliment yourself regularly, then you will up your own self-esteem. You don't want to do it, so they offer to pay you 5 bucks every day that you write down a good thing about yourself. You want the money, so you write down something that you don't really mean, although it is a compliment. The compliments don't help whatsoever because you're only doing it for the money, not for the self-esteem boost.

Situation B: A soup kitchen is having trouble getting people to volunteer because it's in a bad area of town and people would rather volunteer in better places. To get people to volunteer, they pair up with a grocery store that will give you a 10 dollar discount for every 5 hours you volunteer at the soup kitchen. People come to volunteer, and the homeless are fed.

In Situation A we have a situation where, if you have the wrong intentions, then the result isn't the same. But in Situation B, no matter what the intention of the volunteers, the homeless still get fed and the soup kitchen still gets the volunteers that it needs. That's what I mean as far as a difference between the situations. To break it down, in my opinion if the right path is right only because it changes yourself, then doing it for the wrong reasons won't mean anything because you won't change. However, if the right path is right because it helps others, honestly it doesn't matter your intentions because those people are going to be helped.

That's what I try to explain when I tell people why I think the volunteering requirement for my high school was a good idea - although some kids may do it just because "they have to" (in fact, most do), it doesn't really matter to the people being helped. They're being helped either way, and although they may not be a better person for it since they're not doing it for the right reasons, the people being helped need the volunteers and are helped no matter what the intentions of the volunteer is.

Guy
July 27th, 2011, 04:52 PM
Situation A: You have a very negative opinion of yourself. Your friends want to help you feel better about yourself, and read that if you compliment yourself regularly, then you will up your own self-esteem. You don't want to do it, so they offer to pay you 5 bucks every day that you write down a good thing about yourself. You want the money, so you write down something that you don't really mean, although it is a compliment. The compliments don't help whatsoever because you're only doing it for the money, not for the self-esteem boost.
I would classify that as doing the wrong thing for the wrong reason. The person in this situation would be lying to themselves as they don't mean what they say and they'd be lying and practically stealing money from their friends just so they can earn a few extra bucks every day. Nothing they do is affecting themselves or changing anything. I don't know if that's what you were saying when you compared Point A and Point B, but that's just how I see this example anyway. I don't really see this as doing anything right for the wrong reason. It's just doing something entirely wrong.

I agree with what Scarf said in her post though. If you're doing the right thing, regardless of your reasons, you're still doing the right thing. Which is what I get from both her example and Toujour's Point B. Even if you're doing it to make yourself look good or you're doing it because you "have to" even though you really don't want to, you're still making a difference by doing something right.

I believe that it also depends on an outside person's view. For example, using Landorus' example with Hitler. He killed over 11,000,000 people ─ by his order ─ and had to be stopped. Killing him was obviously the only way this man was going to be taken down from his high horse. Now, killing him would be considered unethical by many people and they may have viewed it as doing the wrong thing; even though they knew he had to be stopped. While another group of people may have thought killing Hitler was the right decision. So, in this situation the outside party agreed that the reasoning was well enough , but the action that was taken to do so could have been disputed between people who were against killing Hitler and to those who agreed upon killing him.

Then again, reading that makes me believe that the choice to kill Hitler could have been right or wrong depending on how one saw it while the reasoning as to why the did it was in good means. Which is something entirely different.

Oryx
July 27th, 2011, 05:30 PM
I would classify that as doing the wrong thing for the wrong reason. The person in this situation would be lying to themselves as they don't mean what they say and they'd be lying and practically stealing money from their friends just so they can earn a few extra bucks every day. Nothing they do is affecting themselves or changing anything. I don't know if that's what you were saying when you compared Point A and Point B, but that's just how I see this example anyway. I don't really see this as doing anything right for the wrong reason. It's just doing something entirely wrong.

I based that example on the belief that if you consciously compliment yourself and make an effort to say positive things about yourself, it's hard at first but in the end it's supposed to raise your own self-esteem. But if you're not doing it because you care about your self-esteem, then it has no effect since you don't make the connection. Or that's what I figure, I'm not sure exactly how it works but assume that situation in a world where that's true then I guess. xD The 'not affecting themselves or changing anything' point is exactly what I'm getting at - complimenting themselves for the wrong reason (to get money) is pointless, because then the 'right thing' doesn't actually mean anything.

Myles
July 27th, 2011, 05:51 PM
Situation A: You have a very negative opinion of yourself. Your friends want to help you feel better about yourself, and read that if you compliment yourself regularly, then you will up your own self-esteem. You don't want to do it, so they offer to pay you 5 bucks every day that you write down a good thing about yourself. You want the money, so you write down something that you don't really mean, although it is a compliment. The compliments don't help whatsoever because you're only doing it for the money, not for the self-esteem boost.

Doing a murky-moral thing for a neutral-morality reason. There is nothing immoral or moral about accepting his friends' offer. The thing is murky since it would be good except that it failed.

Situation B: A soup kitchen is having trouble getting people to volunteer because it's in a bad area of town and people would rather volunteer in better places. To get people to volunteer, they pair up with a grocery store that will give you a 10 dollar discount for every 5 hours you volunteer at the soup kitchen. People come to volunteer, and the homeless are fed.

It depends: if $2 an hour is the standard pay you would get for that kind of work, then it's a neutral-morality reason for a good thing. If $2 an hour is considered rubbish pay, then it's a good reason for a good thing.

G-Virus
July 27th, 2011, 08:04 PM
If it's the right thing then obviously it's the right thing. Just because sometimes society condemns it (such as capital punishment) doesn't mean that they're right in the sense that whatever it is is wrong.

Oryx
July 27th, 2011, 08:23 PM
It depends: if $2 an hour is the standard pay you would get for that kind of work, then it's a neutral-morality reason for a good thing. If $2 an hour is considered rubbish pay, then it's a good reason for a good thing.

You misunderstood. It's volunteer work. Volunteer means no pay normally. The point is, they decide to pay people to work there, and the people going aren't doing it for the people or to be good, they're doing it to get money. So the reason they're doing it in this case isn't the "right" reason (helping others), but the people are still helped so in the end their motivation doesn't matter.

Stormbringer
July 27th, 2011, 10:52 PM
Good deeds done for the wrong intentions are wrong, the same as bad choices, made for the right reasons, are right. If I were to kill Osama Bin Laden, would it be an evil act, being a murder? Or would it be the right choice, considered good?

Myles
July 28th, 2011, 12:11 AM
You misunderstood. It's volunteer work. Volunteer means no pay normally. The point is, they decide to pay people to work there, and the people going aren't doing it for the people or to be good, they're doing it to get money. So the reason they're doing it in this case isn't the "right" reason (helping others), but the people are still helped so in the end their motivation doesn't matter.

Yes, but if they're doing it for pay, then it's work. The rest is semantics. So if it's underpaid, then they're doing charity, since they wouldn't do it if it didn't help people. If it's not properly paid, then it's just that, work. But work isn't immoral.

Guy
July 28th, 2011, 03:32 AM
Good deeds done for the wrong intentions are wrong, the same as bad choices, made for the right reasons, are right. If I were to kill Osama Bin Laden, would it be an evil act, being a murder? Or would it be the right choice, considered good?
I wouldn't necessarily consider all good deeds made for the wrong intentions wrong nor all bad choices made for the right reasons right. If good is coming out of what you did, even though you may have had wrong intentions, then regardless of your reasoning something good did come out of it. In the act of killing Osama Bin Laden, ─ or anyone for that matter ─ what was your reason? Was it for revenge or personal enjoyment? Or was it because he did enough harm to others and needed to be put to a stop? Two very distinct reasons (one bad, one good), but whatever your reason, after the thousands he had killed in his time, people would have just been happy he was overthrown and put to an end; which many were after news broke out that he was indeed killed.

Esper
July 28th, 2011, 10:19 AM
I just wanna say one thing about Toujours' example and then I promise I'll move on to the topic of the thread itself. xD

Wouldn't writing down compliments about yourself make you feel better whether you did it for money or not? Or at least help make it easier for you to feel better, or later on do the same compliment-writing thing more honestly now that you've tried it out? Or, in other words, doesn't it actually help after all?

Regarding the main topic I want to throw in that a person's intentions are very hard to pin down. People often act out of several different intentions which can often conflict in some ways. If I offer to give you money to do something to feel better about yourself (okay, sorry, I'm using this example again) I'm intending to help make you feel better ("right" reason), but maybe I'm just tired of your whining and want you to stop annoying me (selfish, "wrong" reason), or maybe I see how your mood is affecting your boyfriend and see that he's suffering, too ("right" reason), but maybe I just secretly have a crush on your boyfriend and want to see him happier for my own vicarious pleasure ("wrong" reason).

In other words, I feel that in a lot of cases one's actions are the only solid way to determine whether something is right or wrong.

twocows
July 28th, 2011, 03:26 PM
These guys would say yes. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utilitarianism)
These guys would say no. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deontological_ethics)

I am in the latter group. Specifically, I am a follower of Kantian ethics (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kantian_ethics). Intentions matter in determining right and wrong. Outcomes do not.

Shining Raichu
August 1st, 2011, 06:09 AM
I guess since this is my thread I should probably post my own thoughts.

I think yes, it's still the right thing to do, regardless of your reasons. If an old rich woman donates millions of dollars to save the forests, but does it as a tax write-off, so what? Do the animals care that the old lady gets a tax break? No, because regardless of whether it was the old lady or a group of well-intentioned activists that saved their homes, the outcome remains that their homes and lives are saved.

Esper
August 1st, 2011, 09:49 AM
These guys would say yes. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utilitarianism)
These guys would say no. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deontological_ethics)

I am in the latter group. Specifically, I am a follower of Kantian ethics (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kantian_ethics). Intentions matter in determining right and wrong. Outcomes do not.
I don't mean to put you on the spot, but I've always had trouble understanding how Kant's philosophy applies in the real world, particularly how someone can say that outcomes don't matter in determining whether something is right or wrong. I don't understand what his basis is for determining what's right if he completely ignores outcomes.

twocows
August 1st, 2011, 02:31 PM
I don't mean to put you on the spot, but I've always had trouble understanding how Kant's philosophy applies in the real world, particularly how someone can say that outcomes don't matter in determining whether something is right or wrong. I don't understand what his basis is for determining what's right if he completely ignores outcomes.
The idea is that you should always act with the intention to do well to others and not try to maximize some abstract "happiness value." For instance, Kantian ethics hold it intolerable to sacrifice one for the good of many (unless possibly the one in question is willing, but that's a different issue).