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

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Bad Motive vs. No Motives

As I've maintained before, motives are not relevant to the justification of an action. Rather, they are relevant to judgments about the character of the person performing it. Well, people seem to think that the judgment about motives entails something about justification, or the lack thereof. I suppose that "Bush invaded Iraq for the oil" could be construed as "There was no other reason (moral or otherwise) for invading Iraq." If the latter judgment is sound, however, then the invasion is unjustified, regardless of the motives of the invader. Positing bad motives impugns the character of the person, but not his actions.

Note how easy it is slip into a circular chain of argumention here (not that the arguments I've outlined are inherently circular). If you suggest that the bad motives make the action unjustified (like water drawn from the poisoned well, as it were), you must be careful not to draw any conclusions about motives based on the absence of any other justification for the action. It would seem that many evaluations of actions based on motives implicitly prejudge the action as a basis for assessing motives.