The Balance Between Intent and Outcome: Judging Moral Duty and Pursuing Truth

Lucas Charbonnier

Hatched by Lucas Charbonnier

Oct 31, 2023

4 min read


The Balance Between Intent and Outcome: Judging Moral Duty and Pursuing Truth


The concepts of moral duty and truth are complex and multifaceted, often leading to debates and differing perspectives. On one hand, some argue that virtue lies in the intention behind an action, while others believe that the consequences of our actions hold greater moral significance. Similarly, the notion of truth raises questions about its definitiveness and the role of illusions in our pursuit of knowledge. In this article, we will explore the common points between these topics and delve into the complexities surrounding them.

The Virtue of Intention:

Kantian philosophy suggests that moral duty is disinterested, emphasizing that the intention behind an action is what truly matters. According to this viewpoint, even if the desired outcome is not achieved, fulfilling one's duty is of utmost importance. For instance, if one attempts to save a drowning person but fails due to external circumstances, they can still consider themselves virtuous because they made every effort to fulfill their duty. However, it is crucial to note that intention alone is not sufficient; genuine effort must accompany it for meaningful action to take place.

The Significance of Consequences:

On the other hand, thinkers like Hegel argue for an objective ethical framework that considers the objective results of our actions. They argue that freedom must manifest itself in history and not remain solely subjective and internal. In this perspective, intention alone is inadequate if it does not actively work towards achieving its goals. Sometimes, the end justifies the means, and actions that may initially seem morally questionable can be justified by their positive outcomes. Utilitarianism also supports this notion, stating that the moral value of an action depends on its utility and the consequences it produces.

The Quest for Truth:

When it comes to truth, we encounter a similar dichotomy. There are logical and universal truths that are not subject to change, such as mathematical principles. However, truths derived from empirical observations of the ever-changing reality are provisional and subject to revision. Scientific truths fall into this category, as they are limited by the knowledge available at a particular time. It is essential to question and reevaluate scientific truths as new discoveries emerge, leading to paradigm shifts in our understanding.

Criteria for Truth:

Determining truth requires reliable criteria. Evident truths, those that appear clear to the mind and withstand doubt, are one such criterion. However, subjective interpretations and biases can cloud the reliability of evident truths. Another criterion is the rigor of reasoning, which provides certainty through the structure of logical arguments. Additionally, empirical verification through observation of facts plays a crucial role in establishing truths about the external world. Trusting credible sources is also a reasonable approach to accessing truth, as it is impossible to personally verify everything.

Navigating Illusion and Error:

Illusion and error pose challenges to our pursuit of truth. Illusion arises when desires distort our perception of reality, leading us to believe what we wish were true. It is essential to differentiate between error, which is neutral from a moral standpoint, and the act of persisting in error. However, rejecting illusions can be complex, as sometimes accepting a simplified or erroneous representation of reality aids in its comprehension and eventual liberation from illusions.

Balancing Truth and Illusion:

Striking a balance between rejecting all illusions and embracing those that aid our search for truth is a thought-provoking question. While a firm rejection of illusions seems necessary to understand reality accurately, it is worth considering whether temporarily embracing certain illusions can enhance our understanding and ultimately lead to the truth. This raises the question of whether the pursuit of truth tolerates any form of illusion or if it demands complete disillusionment.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Cultivate self-awareness: Reflect on your intentions and ensure they align with moral principles. Regularly question your actions and assess whether they serve the greater good.
  • 2. Embrace intellectual humility: Acknowledge that our understanding of truth is limited and subject to revision. Be open to new perspectives and new information that may challenge your existing beliefs.
  • 3. Seek a balance between skepticism and trust: Question information and sources, but also be willing to trust reliable and credible sources. Develop critical thinking skills to discern truth from falsehood.


The interplay between intention and outcome in moral duty and the complexities surrounding the pursuit of truth highlight the multifaceted nature of these concepts. While intention and consequences both hold significance, finding a balance between them can help inform our actions and judgments. Similarly, acknowledging the provisional nature of truths and navigating illusions can lead to a more nuanced understanding of reality. By cultivating self-awareness, embracing intellectual humility, and balancing skepticism with trust, we can navigate these complexities and strive towards moral responsibility and a deeper understanding of truth.

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