I started reading Kant today, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals
. I was expecting to hate it, but, actually, it isn't too bad (she says, having only read the first part and a bit of the second). He sets it all out very clearly: intent and effect. Something is moral because it is moral, not because it will cause a good thing to happen. He completely privileges intent. If the intent is good, the outcome is irrelevant. This I can buy. (And no, you can't make the Hitler argument here: moral is an empirical standard -- not whatever one happens to decide is good as far as oneself is concerned). But I have an issue with the inverse of that. Actually, it's the same issue I've had for a while.
What about an immoral (evil) intent? I have a hard time saying that a person who has an evil intent is himself (herself) evil simply by fact of having that intent. That is, I don't mean to say that such a person isn't evil, but if their evil intent produces no effect, how do we even know it existed? Kant himself says that we can never know whether any intent is truly moral, because there may always be some other reason for the intent and the effect other than pure duty, whether we can perceive it or not. I am not, obviously, talking about someone who has an evil intent but then decides not to act on it. In that case, the person is clearly superimposing a good intent over the evil will, for a net result of a moral intent. And it does seem sensible to say that the intent is enough to count as evil… you can get charged for conspiracy to commit a murder, after all. It's built into the law that intent matters in its own right. I guess the question is, of course, how do you know that the intent is there without the effect it produces? It's all very well in the abstract, but I have no idea whether my roomate has a good or an evil intent towards me until she does something. (Or rather, we should reverse this situation…)
And I still have a difficult time with this. I can easily accept some absolute Good that exists outside of anyway effect it might have. But I can't so easily accept a parallel idea of absolute Evil. Evil things, I would say intuitively, have to actually happen for them to be evil. Perhaps it's the idea of evil as a perversion of good. The one can exist on its own, but the other has to actively effect what is already there. Is this what Moral Relativism is? I think it might be. I would like to write my essay on this, but, a) I haven't even finished reading Kant, b) this doesn't really pertain to Kant as much as it pertains to my ideas about right and wrong vis-a-vis Kant, and c) I don't know how to go about writing such a not-primarily-text-based essay even if I could get away with it.
Of course, the other thing that this bring to mind is… Measure for Measure
. Now, obviously, one can't look at Kant as being really applicable to something written 200+ years before he published. But I think that this idea of intent vs. effect is older than that. The Catholic Church, for instance, has counted thinking upon sinful thoughts as bad as committing the sins themselves. And I also found this interesting tidbit from The Catholic Encyclopedia
: Thi sin would be formal if he took the property in the belief that it belonged to another, whether his belief were correct or not.
Definitely, intent counts here. Which is interesting (and okay, so Shakespeare wasn't a Catholic, but I don't think that the English Reformation got rid of this particularly bit of morality.), because that isn't the conclusion the play seems to come to at all. Granted, it is not clear at all that Isabella actually believes what she is saying, perhaps she's just trying to make any argument at all to help out Mariana. But she does argue that intentions don't matter: "thoughts are no subjects;/ Intents but merely thoughts." (Or doesn't she? Just before that, she claimed "A due sincerity govern'd his deeds,/ Till he did look on me: since it is so,/Let him not die." I.e. because the original intent was not evil, the evil action doesn't count. That seems really weak, however, because clearly even if the original intent was not bad, it was replaced by a bad one. But it does seem as though she is trying to make her case on both sides of the issue.) And, in the end, it plays out that way. Angelo gets off because none of his evil intentions produced their effect, although he is clearly guilty by the intent is what matters idea that is so common. But I think what Isabella is really talking about is not, of course, the actual good or evil, but the extent to which the law has power. To that extent, intent can't matter without effect, because it can't be known. "Thoughts are no subjects," she says. An individual's moral status is not in the law's purview. Not making windows in men's souls, and all that. This is all very relevant as far as the Theme of Government-Instituted Morality, I'm sure. At least, it had better be. And, as usual, it made a lot more sense before I tried to type it up.
And on a completely different note (I promise), my lesson was not as dreadful as I thought it was going to be. I was passable at the Schumann, and D. told me that I was definitely conservatory-level, and that a)the new conservatory here had a ridiculously high bar for acceptance and b)acceptance at Oberlin depends a lot on whether you have a connection to one of the teachers or not, all of which makes me feel much better. But best of all, when I started playing the Bach, doing a horrible job at it, she took my cello and couldn't get a good sound either, at first. It was determined that my fingerboard is about an inch too long. So, all this time that I have been putting a ridiculous amount of effort into not playing over the fingerboard I really shouldn't have been. So even though I have much much much work to do before it will sound good, playing farther up already made a huge difference. Plus it is easier and less frustrating.