Intent vs. Result

November 28, 1993

Which is more important, intent or result? It would seem as though this is a fundamental question; if someone does something with bad intent, but it turns out to be good, is his act excusable? What about the reverse? For example, if I skip a class out of laziness and it turns out that the class had been cancelled anyway, am I free of guilt? If I cut in front of someone in line at a supermarket and they end up finding a much shorter line instead, would you still say that I did a bad thing?

Being firmly in the “intent” camp, I sometimes find it hard to believe that anyone could think otherwise, and I am often surprised when people justify an act by its result rather than by its intent. I say this is fundamental because I believe that people on opposite sides of this issue have no hope of getting along. They may have the same idea of what constitutes a moral act, yet each may judge a particular act differently because of the circumstances. (And, in fact, they often will!)