I didn't do it on purpose ..

Words are the channel of the mind and thinking. What somebody says often carries a lot more information than what we read or hear on the surface. Communication is an art after all. Often what we say as a rather standard phrase rests on a philosophical argument, unconsciously. By recognising the underlying pattern we have a far better idea where a person is coming from and what he or she is invoking.

The title of the post reflects a typical response from child towards an adult after his deeds have been discovered. It is a plea for mitigation, for clemency. The parent considering this may respond: « But you have done it eitherway! » These two phrases stand on two different schools of thought. The first is an expression of what is known as ethics or deontology from the Greek obligation, duty. Moral judgment of the act is based on the intention driving the act. What one may or may not do is often codified as a set of rules that expresses the ethics of for example a profession. The value of an action is in principle measured by its origin.

The parent's response is an example of the school of consequentialism, that holds that the consequences of one's actions are the ultimate basis for judgment about the rightness or wrongness thereof. Deontology judges the motivation and consequentialism the outcome. The two ideas are diametrically opposed. Both have problems. Acting ethically would oblige one to always speak the truth. Although this sounds really good (our religious background is filled with ethics), one might injure an innocent person severely. An example would be an assasin demanding the whereabouts of his victim. Should you disclose it, you become complicit in the crime. Consequentialism on the other hand is really a majority voting approach. One cannot possibly predict how everyone would experience an action. Right or wrong now becomes the opinion of the majority. In trying to accomplish one thing one might inadvertently affect a part of the audience very differently.

The basis of the argument was taken from Tous philosophes? by Charles Robin.

Gerhardus Muller 2020-06-22

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