Kelgray and Beyond

int game_engine(void) {

Intentions

An article presented by CBC news talks about how brain scans may actually be able to tell what your intentions are.  While it’s not nearly an exact science (at a 70% success rate it’s not even good enough to be able to ward off the ‘coincidence’ argument) it brings up some interesting questions in my least favorite area of philosophy: ethics.  What if the technology was perfected.  What if we were able to judge a person’s motives objectively (or as objectively as we can judge their actions in any case).  What would this mean for ethical theories.  Most theories of ethics do not take motives into account, some saying that it’s actions that matter rather than motives, but most saying that we can’t tell what a person’s motives are and so we can’t make a theory based on them.

The closest theory that I’ve found to judging actions based on motives is Virtue Ethics.  It states that an action should be judged good or bad based on whether or not it is virtuous.  In other words, we should decide to do an action or to not do an action (talking from a completely moral standpoint) based on the virtues of the action itself, rather than the consequences (keep in mind that I’m talking out of my ass a fair amount here as I haven’t studied this theory nearly enough to be able to describe it properly so I’m talking about the theory as I understand it rather than the theory itself).

The problem that I see with this theory is that of deciding what actions are virtuous and what are not.  Plato made a fairly comprehensive list, but it’s still a matter of opinion as his list was based on his own thoughts and not necessarily true thoughts.  In any case, if we judge a person’s actions based on what they meant to do rather than what they did, we have the problem of not being able to know what they meant to do.  Now, if this new technology works as it should, we may be able to tell what a person’s motives are (though that would be a slightly different technology as it would deal with motives of an act that was already committed rather than one that has yet to be committed, but the idea still stands).  Do the consequences of actions matter more than the intentions?  What do you think?

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February 9, 2007 - Posted by | Ethics, Philosophy, Technology

4 Comments »

  1. Personally, I do not believe that one can claim to be truly objective in any case. These intentions must be interpreted in some kind of context, unless you’ve figured out a total social vacuum. Who is to judge what is “virtuous” or “right?”

    Comment by Wolfgar the Red | February 9, 2007

  2. true, but if you have a technology that’s 100% sure to work (this is completely rhetorical, of course, but still a logical possibility that we shall play with) then you can be as objective as if you were judging a person’s actions. So the question remains, which is more important, intentions or consequences? Deciding what is “virtuous” or “right” may be a problem in judging a person’s intentions, but just as much of a problem when judging that person’s actions as well, so the conundrum remains.

    Comment by Taylor | February 9, 2007

  3. Let me simplify this argument.

    People = Shit.

    Comment by Wolfgar the Red | February 14, 2007

  4. That is a simpler argument. Judging a man based on the fact that he is a man (or a woman based on the fact that she is a woman). Very christian of you.

    Comment by Taylor | February 14, 2007


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