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What makes an action right ?

  1. Jan 16, 2004 #1
    what makes an action "right"?

    I started a philosophy class today and this was the question that was discussed by the class... i think that it is a very good and interesting question... it is quite difficult to come up wiht an answer as to what makes an action "right"?

    i want to see people's thoughts about this...

    i think that a "right" action is one which is unselfish towards others...
    this still leaves room for you to be able to do good things for yourself...but as long as they do not negatively influence others.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 17, 2004 #2
    That's a good definition until you get into more difficult problems...

    For instance, if you can save an "innocent" person only by killing the man who intends to murder the "innocent", is it right to do so? In this case you're harming the murderer...

    Or if you can save a group of "innocent" people by killing one "innocent" person, is it right? If you knew what Hitler was going to do before he did it, would it be morally correct to kill him?

    As you said, a very difficult quesion...
  4. Jan 17, 2004 #3
    i guess maybe then a new question has to be introduced here...

    what makes a person good?

    because i am thinking... maybe if i reform my previous definition to "a 'right' action is one which is unselfish towards good people"

    then i think that would still make it a right action to kill one bad person to save a good one...

    any other thoughts on this?

    then again...also comes up the question of... what makes a person good?
  5. Jan 17, 2004 #4
    Newton would say...

    As long as that action is simultaneous with some equal and oposite reaction it's right (or at least legal).
  6. Jan 17, 2004 #5
    Re: Newton would say...

    i dont quite follow what you said... could u explain it in simple terms for me please?
  7. Jan 17, 2004 #6
    Re: Re: Newton would say...

    it was more like a joke...

    Newton's third law says:"For every action there is an equal and oposite reaction". i only said if the action you are talking about doesn't violate Newton III than it's right.

    you might as well ignore my pervious post...
  8. Jan 17, 2004 #7
    oh haha... i overlooked trying to think of it simply... i was all trying to interpret sum deeper meaning to what u said...lol
  9. Jan 17, 2004 #8
    Re: what makes an action "right"?

    Right is what doesn't hurt and wrong is what does hurt. We have no other way of judging right and wrong. So the answer to your question is, it depends on the situation and the various factors you have to weigh in order to judge what will bring about the least amount of pain. Looking around at my fellow man, I see that the hardest part seems to be reasoning in the long term! It feels good now, but later... Consider the death penalty. If feels good now to take revenge on someone who did something heinous to a loved one, but you and everyone else will pay later as society is reduced to one based on revenge instead of justice (a society where the perp is kept in prison so they can't hurt someone else and especially a society oriented towards preventing evil from happening; recognizing problem children instead of processing them through the system over and over again until they do something really horrible...).
  10. Jan 17, 2004 #9
  11. Jan 17, 2004 #10
    i come from the perspective that there is no right or wrong.

    therefore, to me, all is subjective. if my action is being 'true to myself' than it can be considered as right. ironically, there are many times where you learn your greatest lessons by doing the 'wrong' thing.

    i also accept the srgument that doing something 'good' for another is really selfish because it makes you feel good.

    go figure,
  12. Jan 17, 2004 #11
    i guess maybe there is no such thing as an unselfish action.

    maybe also a "right" action is dependent on what you as an individual percieve as right...

    so maybe that is the only way to define a right action... so maybe there is no universal definitino that everyone can agree to...

    i was thinking for awhile that maybe if the person is "good" and their action is "right" to them then maybe it actually is a right action.... but even if the person is "good" then YOU still might not agree that their action is right
  13. Jan 17, 2004 #12
    The notions of right and wrong come from the notions of good and bad.

    Good and bad can be defined in terms of pleasure and displeasure.

    Causing displeasure or preventing pleasure is bad.

    Causing pleasure or preventing displeasure is good.

    Sometimes, an action can do both. That's when the complications come in.
  14. Jan 17, 2004 #13
    What makes an action right? Turn it around and ask yourself what makes an action wrong. Certainly, right is not pleasure nor wrong pain. Pleasure and pain are purely subjective experiences that arise from an individual's tastes and experiences. The funny thing is that all intelectual game playing aside, everyone has a gut instinct for right and wrong. Ask yourself what right is next time someone cuts in line at the theatre :)
  15. Jan 18, 2004 #14

    Another God

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    Thread moved to value theory, because it is about ethics!

    And my conclusion as to what makes something 'right' is dependent on what the goal is. The right way to stop hunger, is to eat food. The right way to releive boredom is to do something interesting. To continue doing nothing even though you desire an end to your boredom would be the wrong thing to do.

    Although this doesn't sound like ethics, the more indepth you think about it, ethics is nothing more than an extension of this into interpersonal dealings. The fact is, you like having people around you...I mean, you REALLY like having people around you. If you had no friends, no parents, no GF, and everyone outright ignored you, i'd almost guarantee that you would kill yourself. Isolation causes people to go crazy (without exception).

    Now, with that in mind, what is the right thing to do? The right thing to do is to have people interact with you. How do you make that happen? You do things which they like to have done to them... doing those things is the 'right' thing to do.... and so on.

    I hope you get my drift.
  16. Jan 18, 2004 #15

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    Gut instinct = That is wrong.

    Analysis of it: From my perspective as someone behind the cut position: It is wrong, because it works against my getting to the front as fast as possible (It works against my goal).

    From his position: It is right insofar as it gets him towards the front, but it is either wrong insofar as it goes towards making the people in the line like him. Whether he cares about that fact or not is another question. If he feels like he won't ever need their help, and he has enough friends/loved ones etc, he may decide that that element of wrongness is irrelevent.

    Right and Wrong will always depend on perspective and context.
  17. Jan 18, 2004 #16
    I completely disagree. We all know from experience that pain is bad and pleasure is good. It doesn't matter that different things cause different people pleasure or pain. There are always certain situational circumstances.

    If you take th e subjective argument, then you can use it to refute any definition of right and wrong. If you believe that killing is wrong, then I can refute it by saying that different things kill different people. While one person may survive a 20-foot fall, another would die.

    The while what causes pain or pleasure is dependent upon the person and other situational factors, the existence of pain and pleasure are completely objective.
  18. Jan 20, 2004 #17
    Good and bad could be defined as: Value statements as defined by your current beliefs.

    Right and wrong will also change as your beliefs change.
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2004
  19. Jan 20, 2004 #18


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    Yes, I would tend to agree with that too, as I am more of a prescriptive moralist. Right and wrong are what you say they are, and in many cases attempts to rationalise them are rather misguided. There is certainly no universal absolute morality, though there is a general consensus as to a moral code, and thanks to social evolution that is aided usually by simple practicality.
  20. Jan 20, 2004 #19

    Isn't something right or wrong depending on what the majority says. And who is in power.
    "Is cannibilism wrong in a Cannibilists eyes"
  21. Jan 20, 2004 #20

    Another God

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    No. right and wrong do not depend on the majority....unlerss u ak that majority specifically

    ie: as a few of us just agreed, its all dependent on who you ask and when, and what they believe. So if a majority of people believe that slavery is right, then they will tell u that it is. If you ask the minority though, they will tell you it is not right.

    Who's correct? I certainly can't answer that difinitively.
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