The Moral Duty: Intentions vs. Results

Lucas Charbonnier

Hatched by Lucas Charbonnier

Jan 25, 2024

3 min read


The Moral Duty: Intentions vs. Results


The question of whether intentions or results matter more when determining moral duty has long been debated. Some argue that virtue lies in the intention, regardless of the outcome, while others believe that morality cannot disregard the consequences of our actions. In this article, we will explore both perspectives and attempt to find common ground between them.

I. Virtue lies in the intention:

1. Duty is selfless:

According to Kant, if duty is selfless, then the result becomes irrelevant. For example, if our duty is to save someone drowning, we should make every effort to do so, even if we ultimately fail. The important aspect is that we have fulfilled our duty to the best of our abilities. However, it is crucial to note that effort must genuinely accompany the intention; otherwise, we are merely left with a clear conscience full of good intentions but no action.

II. Virtue lies in the consequences:

1. Hegel's objective ethics:

Hegel argues that duty should also be judged based on objective results. Freedom should be realized in history and not remain solely subjective and internal. In other words, intentions alone are not enough if they do not lead to successful outcomes. Duty must be willing to "get its hands dirty" by considering external reality. In certain cases, the ends may justify the means.

2. Utilitarianism:

Good intentions can sometimes lead to catastrophic results. Conversely, it is possible to do good with dishonest intentions, such as a trafficker who enriches their country, providing economic benefit. The moral value of an action depends on its utility. Consequentialist doctrines judge the morality of an act based on its consequences.

Finding common ground:

While both perspectives present valid arguments, it is essential to acknowledge that intentions and results are interconnected. The intention sets the foundation for our actions, but it is the consequences that determine the impact of those actions. A balance must be struck between the two, where good intentions guide our actions, and the results are carefully considered.

Actionable advice:

  • 1. Reflect on your intentions: Before undertaking any moral duty, take time to examine your intentions. Ensure they are genuine and aligned with ethical principles.
  • 2. Evaluate potential consequences: While intentions are crucial, it is equally important to assess the potential consequences of your actions. Consider the short-term and long-term effects on others and society as a whole.
  • 3. Continual self-reflection: Regularly evaluate the outcomes of your actions and reflect on whether they align with your intentions. Adjust your approach if necessary, striving for a balance between good intentions and positive results.


Determining the moral duty requires a careful consideration of both intentions and results. While intentions set the groundwork for our actions, the consequences determine the impact of those actions on others. By reflecting on our intentions, evaluating potential consequences, and engaging in continual self-reflection, we can strive to fulfill our moral duties responsibly. Remember, true virtue lies in the harmonious combination of intentions and results.

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