The Balance Between Intentions and Results in Moral Duty

Lucas Charbonnier

Hatched by Lucas Charbonnier

Sep 29, 2023

3 min read


The Balance Between Intentions and Results in Moral Duty


In recent news, it has been reported that Germany's GDP stagnated in the first quarter, showing no growth compared to the previous quarter. This economic data raises questions about the importance of intentions and results not only in the realm of economics but also in moral duty. How should we judge moral obligations? Is it the intention or the outcome that truly matters? This article delves into the debate between those who believe virtue lies in intentions and those who argue that morality cannot disregard the consequences of our actions.

I. Virtue lies in intentions:

1. Disinterested Duty:

According to Kant, if duty is disinterested, the outcome becomes irrelevant. For instance, if my duty is to save someone drowning, I must make every effort to do so. Even if I fail, I can still consider that I fulfilled my duty. However, it is crucial that genuine effort accompanies the intention; otherwise, we are left with nothing but a clear conscience filled with good intentions, but no action.

II. Virtue lies in consequences:

1. Hegel's Objective Ethics:

Hegel argues that duty should also be judged based on objective results. Freedom should not remain merely subjective and internal; it must manifest itself in history. Intentions alone are insufficient if they do not lead to tangible success. Duty must be willing to "get its hands dirty" by taking external reality into account. In certain cases, the end justifies the means.

2. Utilitarianism:

Good intentions can lead to catastrophic outcomes, and conversely, one can do good with dishonest intentions. For example, a trafficker may enrich their country's economy, doing good at an economic level, albeit with dishonest intentions. The moral value of an action depends on its utility. Consequentialist doctrines evaluate the morality of an act based on its consequences.

Connecting the dots:

While both perspectives have their merits, it is essential to find a balance between intentions and outcomes in moral duty. Simply having good intentions without taking action or considering the consequences may result in a lack of real impact. On the other hand, solely focusing on outcomes without regard for intentions can lead to a morally compromised path.

Actionable advice:

  • 1. Reflect on your intentions: Before taking action, examine your motivations and ensure they align with virtuous values. Intentions rooted in empathy, compassion, and a desire to do good often lead to morally sound outcomes.
  • 2. Consider the potential consequences: While intentions are crucial, it is equally important to evaluate the potential outcomes of your actions. Reflect on the short-term and long-term effects they may have on others and society as a whole.
  • 3. Seek ethical guidance: Engage in discussions with others who have expertise or insights into ethical dilemmas. Learning from diverse perspectives can help you make more informed decisions and strike a balance between intentions and outcomes.


The debate surrounding moral duty and the balance between intentions and results continues to be a complex and nuanced topic. While some argue that virtue lies solely in intentions, others stress the significance of considering consequences. Striking a balance between the two is essential for ensuring that our actions have a meaningful and positive impact on ourselves and the world around us. By reflecting on our intentions, considering potential consequences, and seeking ethical guidance, we can navigate the intricacies of moral duty and make choices that align with our values.

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