Friday, 17 December 2010

What is in an Action?

A comment on my last post by Not a notting hill mum raises a very important question about culpability.  The example in question was an extra-marital affair.  My point was that if the person considering or actually having the affair knew that the knowledge of it would hurt their pre-existing partner, then they were guilty of behaving in an un-loving manner towards their partner, whether the partner did in fact know or not.  By saying this, I am clearly claiming that there is another element to the act, not just the exhibited behaviour itself, upon which it should be judged.

I understand that in a court of law the intention behind a resulting event is considered, as well as the nitty-gritty of what actually took place.  But I am no lawyer, and indeed what interests me here is not how things are judged in a court of law, but in our own everyday moral court.  The court of our conscience.  The court of our own innate sense of what is right and wrong, loving and un-loving.  Some might say these are not the same thing, but for this argument's sake, let us assume they are.

On what should an action be judged? Only on what actually happens as a result? Only on what was intended and the motivation behind it? Or a combination of all of these? It is possible to say that if no one is hurt (emotionally or physically) by an action, then how can it be wrong? But this sits ill with me.  If the 'do-er' knows it could hurt, how can their conscience be clear? Conversely, if someone is hurt by an action, but the 'do-er' had no intention of that, not even any idea it was possible, and their motivation was good and loving, can one condemn the 'do-er' for their accidental hurt? Ignorance is poor defence, but what of the complete accident? An action is not just a random event in space and time, it is motivation, intention and thought, and all must be weighed in the balance.

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