Philosophy, Theology and Ethics Solution

From Alyssa Reene (Harris Girls Academy East Dulwich)

What, in your opinion, constitutes a (morally) good action? 

In my opinion, what constitutes a morally good action is an act which stems from a good intention backed by the desire to aid another being. For example, helping a cat down from a tree is a morally good action because it comes from the desire to help the cat. Donating money to a charity is a morally good action because it comes from the desire to contribute to the cause of whatever the charity is for.

However, for the action to be morally correct, it has to be one of selflessness. If you donate money to that charity because your peers are present and you want to appear kind-hearted, that act is not morally correct because you did not really want to help that charity, you wanted to make an impression that would help you and you only; helping the charity perhaps being only an added bonus.

In addition, a morally good action must adhere to our society’s set of values and morals; otherwise it may be viewed as immoral, even though it may have stemmed from good intention. One rather extreme example of this is what Adolf Hitler wanted to do for Germany. He believed in the eradication of all races apart from that of the Aryan race, and that this ethnic cleansing would benefit the Germans greatly; making it a strong and pure race. Hitler believed that Aryans were the “master race” and that the mentally and physically disabled (along with any Jews, homosexuals, and non-Germans) were a “drain on the master race”.

Of course, we know Hitler’s ideals to be horribly racist and downright inhumane in today’s standards, but Hitler truly believed that he was doing the right thing, as we can see in Mein Kampf.

“If Nature does not wish that weaker individuals should mate with the stronger, she wishes even less that a superior race should intermingle with an inferior one; because in such a case all her efforts, throughout hundreds of thousands of years, to establish an evolutionary higher stage of being, may thus be rendered futile.

History furnishes us with innumerable instances that prove this law. It shows us, with a startling clarity, that whenever Aryans have mingled their blood with that of an inferior race the result has been the downfall of the people who were the standard-bearers of a higher culture.”

This shows that Hitler thought that the Aryan race bore a higher culture and if he did not allow ‘mingling’ of races, it would be preserved. In his opinion, he deemed it a morally good action as he thought he was keeping the “superior” culture safe. Though, returning to my earlier point, it is not morally good action (in the opinion of myself and most people) because it defies our society’s moral code and belief system (and quite rightly so).

The next point I would like to explore is one of intrinsic worth. A definition of intrinsic worth is “A value or attribute that a person has that is internal, which is a part of their makeup or being, which is something that cannot be taken away.” (Collins’ English Dictionary)

The idea of intrinsic worth is quite pleasant to me because it supports the idea that not all humans are inherently evil. If somebody has it in their makeup to be a good person, they will be a good and just person no matter what obstacles are in their way simply because it is in part of their makeup.

However, does a morally good action necessarily need a person to have a high intrinsic worth for it to be carried it out? I say, depending on the magnitude of the action, they may need to be a higher calibre person morally. 

Though is it a necessity? I would say yes. The intrinsic value of a well-functioning moral compass would definitely aid a person to make a morally good decision.  Though, it could be argued that anybody could make a morally good decision/carry out a morally good action even though they do not have a high intrinsic worth, it must only meet the criteria of stemming from a desire to help others and adhere to our belief system and set of values.

In response to the Euthyphro Dilemma, I would say that somebody with a religious perspective may say that morally questionable things such as the killings commanded by God in the Bible are acceptable simply because they are commanded by God. However, an atheist may say that this is not true and that killing is not acceptable, no matter who commands it or commits it.

Our society’s belief system in particular stems from religion as the UK (and other major places in the Western World) used to be a very religious nation.  However, we as a whole do not condone killings, no matter who commits it, just as the atheist might say.

In conclusion, in my opinion, a morally good action constitutes a pure motivation, along with the action adhering to our society’s moral code. The person who wants to make the action must also take into account the consequences and if it makes life more difficult for or hurt the people the decision will affect, and must act in the best interest of the people and/or animals involved.