In watching the sixth of the twelve videos of Michael J. Sandel, the political philosophy professor who delivered a series of lectures on moral justice at Harvard University, I realized that, even without a strong understanding of Immanuel Kant, I agreed with him strongly on one point: motives determine the rightness or wrongness of a act. In this view, Kant disagreed strongly with consequentialist reasoning, in which any act is held to be morally right if it is performed in order to produce a good outcome or consequence. In other words, "the ends justify the means." Kant didn't believe that. Neither do I.
You can view the Sixth episode of Sandel's Harvard Justice at either of these websites:
In Professor Sandel's words, "Kant says that what makes an action morally worthy is not its consequences or results; but the motive; the quality of the will; the intention for which the act is done. The motive is what matters. An act isn't good or bad based on its result or outcome, but on the motive for which it is done. The motive confers moral worth on an action."
I was a little surprised that Professor Sandel referred to Kant as "the hardest philosopher we're going to read in this course." More than likely he's referring to the writings of Kant; not his axioms or ideas. Morality and ethics are not difficult. Not even for a 5-year-old.
I agree with Immanuel Kant that motives determine the morality of an act ... not the consequences of that act. Why do I agree with Kant on that? Because I was raised to believe that, it's a basic tenet of the Christian faith, I thought. Is it? Surprisingly, no, it is not. In fact, most Christian ethicists seem to believe the opposite; that an end can, indeed, be use to justify immoral means, in which case it is ok to torture, to imprison without trial or evidence, to murder women and children and call them "unfortunate collateral damage" ... as long as some noble purpose is given for those acts. (Joseph Fletcher),
Of course, when you justify the "accidental" killing of civilians to get a few terrorists; in other words, to accomplish a larger goal; you also justify the use of roadside bombs and suicide attacks in city streets. It's the same disregard of "collateral damage" at work here.
There are those who argue that the results achieved by the war in Afghanistan (or the failure of the military to accomplish the desired results there) don't matter because the intention was right. We had to invade that country in order to prevent more terrorist attacks like the ones that occurred on 9/11. The stated intention was to eradicate al-Qaeda and to capture or kill those who planned the WTC tower attacks. That intention, I am told, was right, and fully justified the war.
But for the sake of my argument, please accept for a moment that Kant is right: An act isn't good or bad based on its result or outcome, but on the motive for which it is done.
If that is true (and I believe it is), then I was absolutely right to oppose the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Because I believe I discerned, correctly, the true intention behind them, and it was revenge. Desire for revenge, based on cultural hatred. Where does that come from? I was raised as a Christian in America's "Bible Belt." Am I to believe that hatred comes from God? What are the Christian scriptural teachings about that? What am I supposed to do when I find that little glowing coal of hatred in my own heart? Blow on it until I kindle a fire?
Fifteen ten years ago, no one knew for sure that invading Afghanistan was the wrong thing to do. It was impossible for most of us to argue that it was a military blunder (which it was), We had to trust that the military and intelligence professionals had it right. Very few people could argue that they knew more or knew better than those professionals, or the political leadership in Washington. But we could all discern the motivation ("kill 'em all, let God sort corpses") behind the attack. The press for a large-scale invasion of a sovereign nation, for war, was based entirely fear, hatred, and desire for revenge. People wanted an outlet for their (perhaps fully justified) rage. I was there; I remember; people weren't talking about "national security"; they were talking about "killing those ragheads," at least in the Deep South (I might say, rather, Bible Belt), but I am convinced it was no different anywhere else.
As pointed out by Newsweek columnist Fareed Zakaria, America grossly overreacted to 9/11. Why? Out of emotion. And what is it called when emotion is allowed to override reason? What is it called? It's called "cowardice."
Fear. Hatred. Desire for revenge. And that's why, morally, it was wrong. The islamaphobes can all give high-sounding goals for their actions; but the motivation for those actions is crystal clear. It's the same motivation that led the U.S. into two unnecessary, unwinnable, unsustainable wars that are now hopelessly lost..
By the way, how's the Syrian War working out for you?