The Sensible Knave

"I do not see that we are further along today than where Hume left us. The Humean predicament is the human predicament." - W.V.O. Quine

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

More on Motives

Keith Burgess-Jackson on motives:

Philosophers are taught to focus on reasons, not motives—and to supply the best reasons rather than the worst. This is why any self-respecting philosopher should have criticized the leftist argument that, since President Bush was improperly motivated in invading Iraq, the war was unjustified. That's a non sequitur. First, there is no evidence that President Bush was improperly motivated. But even if he were, it would have no bearing on the morality of the war. Bad people can do the right thing, just as good people can do the wrong thing. I think this is another case in which hatred of President Bush led leftists astray. Their obsession with a person—and that person's motives—prevents them from thinking clearly about actions and reasons.

The "leftist argument" is not just a non-sequitur; it changes the subject. When we ask whether the President should have taken one course of action, we are not asking whether he demonstrated morally worthy character. As for motives, they are indeed relevent to moral worth, as Kant maintained. However, as I argued before, raising the matter of motives brings nothing to light when they are only inferred from prior judgments of character.