The Instigator
Pro (for)
7 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
0 Points

Motive is just as important as the action

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 5/8/2012 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 4 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,568 times Debate No: 23482
Debate Rounds (5)
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Votes (2)




A person's reason for taking action is just as important as the action itself. This is what I intended to prove within this debate.

The first round will simply be to establish the topic of the debate and accepting of the challenge. Rounds 2-4 will consist of our arguments, rebuttal and counter arguments, while round 5 shall consist of our Closing statements.


I will take the con side, that a person's reason for taking action is not as important as the action itself. In the end, the ends justifies the means, so to speak. If a person donates to charity, does it matter why they did it? In the end, good was done.

Sometimes a person's original intent was different than the outcome. While a person may have wanted to donate to charity simply as a tax right-off, perhaps afterward they realized the good that came of it for those they gave to. So their motive for taking action may not have been "pure", but in the end good was achieved, and perhaps they are also better for it.
Debate Round No. 1


Can on truly argue that the ends justify the means? A person's motivation for acting is quite important as it is most

often what is used to define the person, not the action itself. As such, I first plan to prove the importance of motives

through the issue of morality.


Let us start by taking a look at the example my opponent provided. When a celebrity donates to charity what is

generally the first thought that comes to mind? For many I would say it is something along the lines of "Oh he/she's

only doing that to look good or get some publicity." Though this may not be true all the time, such thinking shows that

we as people do place great emphasis on the motives behind an action, good or bad. Why do people do this? The

answer is because motivation can actually shift the meaning of an action. Yes, donating to charity is an act of

goodness that will help people in many ways, however, if a person does so due to selfish motives it removes the

"kindness" from the act. They are not giving their money to help others, only to make themselves appear good to

others. Thus, even though people may benefit from the act itself, it can no longer be considered an act or selflessness

or compassion. The motivation has actually changed the very definition of the person's act. An action which would

normally define the person as a good soul has now depicted them as a fraud; their action ceases to be selfless and

instead becomes selfish all due to the motivation behind it. Thus when it comes to morality, one's motives are what

tips the scale up or down, not simply the action alone.


You make a good point about a celebrity doing somethine purely for personal gain. But what the argument misses is that in the end a good deed was done. Was it not "good" because is was done for selfish reasons? Perhaps. But in the end if a child is fed or a school is built doesn't that have some element of kindness attached to it?

It is like a person who has been fed. Maybe the person who made the food only did it becausr it was their job. Does that limit the virtue of the act? And in the end a person was given sustanence. Does the motive of the person who made the food matter if in the end a hungry person is fed?

I agree that motive and intent are important. But I dont think that the end result can be negated if the original intent was not pure.

Do we write of the works of Van Gogh because he was crazy? No, it is the lasting piece of art that we focus on. Perhaps an act is the same way. What we do is what lasts, not what lies behind it.
Debate Round No. 2


I do acknowledge that though the intention wasn't exactly there, a good thing was in the end accomplished. However,

the issue wasn't that motive can nullify an action, but rather that the motive is just as important as the action itself.

The action may be good or bad in or of itself, but its the motive behind it which gives that action a more clear

definition as I demonstrated before. The action is still complete but the intentions behind it are just as important in

defining the situation as the action was; we can just ignore such a fact. To better explain this let us take a look at an

action such as killing. When a person kills in cold blood, planning and calculating the deed, its called murder and is

considered to be a heinous crime. Yet when a person kills in the heat of the moment (based on emotion) or

unintentionally, the action is now classified as manslaughter which is not considered nearly as serious as murder. But

lets not stop here, when someone kills in self defense the action is now considered completely justified and when a

soldier kills an enemy in war more often than not they are considered to be heroes. My point is the action does play a

clear role in defining the action just as much as the action itself, and this example quite literally makes that clear.


The murder/killing analogy is a very good one, and very effective.

But i will say this, in those instances we are looking to apply punishment to a bad action. Is it neccessary to look at a good act with such scrutiny? Is it possible that it is enough to look at the good act, be content with the act, and leave it at that? Is it possible that the good act itself nullifies the weak and possibly selfish motive behind the act? Are we the sum of our motives, or our actions?

If I said a person lived a life of charity, good deeds, kind acts and philanthropy we would celebrate that person, no? But if I then said that they did it because of taxe reasons or "to get into heaven" or because their spouse made them do it, would we knock them or take our opinion of them down a notch or two?
Debate Round No. 3


You ask if it is necessary to look upon a good act with scrutiny? How can we not? It is evident that we do include a

person's motives when defining an action considered to be bad. Are you suggesting that we play favorites? One can

not pick and choose when one's motivation is a factor. If we except the fact that motivation is a factor in defining a

bad act such as killing, how can we exempt it from a good act. They are both actions and should be held to equal

standards. Just because an act resulted in good overall, it does not mean the action is above criticism. If we make

exceptions for bad actions we must do so for good acts as well. To emphasis this, let's take a look at the story of

Robin Hood, a story I'm sure almost everyone knows. In the story, the hero Robin Hood would steal from the rich and

give the money to the poor. Obviously giving money to the poor and helping the less fortunate is without doubt an act

of goodness, that can not be argued. However, Robin Hood still stole the money which he gave, so why is he

considered to be a hero and not a villain? The reason is his intentions (motivation) was for good; to help those in

need. Thus, we look past his misdeed and focus on his motivation rather than brand him a criminal. If we excuse

criminal acts for good intentions, why is it wrong to berate a good act for having bad intentions. If not all bad actions

are considered bad, than all good actions can not be considered good. You can not have one without taking the other

into account.


I don't think that bad acts and good acts should be looked at the same way. Yes we look at bad acts and the intent behind them, but that doesn't necessarily mean that we should do the same with good acts. In the end, is a good act really empty if it was done with less than good intent? Perhaps doing something good means that regardless of the motive and intent that somebody is good overall. Not all bad people do good things. Some bad people do good things with bad intent, but in the end what they did matters. Do we look at Van Gogh's are and judge it based on his insanity? No, in the end we see the beauty of his creation, not the heart/mind of the man who created it. Perhaps looking at the act of a person is the same. A person may do something with selfish or less than pure motives, but perhaps because they chose to do a good act we have to recognize that there is 99% impure and 1% pure, and the 1% is good enough.
Debate Round No. 4


Over the course of this debate I have demonstrated why it is important to take motive into account when analyzing an

act. A person's motivation, as shown by many examples, does indeed have bring on how we perceive or judge an

action. The point of my arguments was not to prove that a person's motives are more important than their action, but

rather that it is equally important. It is this point which I believe my opponent failed to grasp. Throughout the debate,

my opponent argued that the result of a good act still promoted good, even if the motive behind the act wasn't pure.

And I must say, to this extent he is correct the result of the action is still good but that misses the point I feel.

Although good is still promoted, there is no authenticity behind it and on that grounds alone I believe my point is

made clear. The motive may no completely nullify the act but it certainly takes away from it which proves my point. A

good act committed for selfish ends does not give off the same feeling that an act of pure kindness does. More merit

is given to the act done selflessly than the one done in selfishness, in turn, showing the value we place on motivation.

As such, I think the only conclusion we can make is that Motive ha n equal role in defining an action as the very action itself.


My opponent has done a good job in stressing the importance of motive when judging a person's actions. I think it comes down to a case by case basis, rather than a blanket statement that all impure motives can negate a good act, or that motives and acts are always on equal ground. The heart of all individuals are different, and thus, on occassion even an impure motive leading to a good act can have enough elements of goodness and kindness in the heart if the person to lift the assessment of them to more positive light. This of course is not always the case.

In the end I do agree that motive and intent is very important, and plays a key factor when looking at the overall picture of a person's actions.
Debate Round No. 5
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Vote Placed by K.GKevinGeary 4 years ago
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Total points awarded:30 
Reasons for voting decision: Con agreed with pro in the final round though con had points to the other side of the issue
Vote Placed by t-man 4 years ago
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Total points awarded:40 
Reasons for voting decision: Con ended up agreeing with Pro