I Usually Don’t Ask Open-Ended Questions, Because I Usually Have All the Answers

Kant opens the first section of his Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals with the statement: “Nothing in the world — indeed nothing even beyond the world — can possibly be conceived which could be called good without qualification except a GOOD WILL“. Kant says that there are qualities that may be good and desirable (intelligence, courage, resoluteness, etc.), but these qualities can be bad if they are not accompanied by a good will. A good will, according to Kant, corrects the influences on the mind. Kant states that the will is good, not because of what effects follow from having a good will, but because the good is intrinsically good or good in itself. For Kant, all moral decisions are emanate from a sense of duty, and our sense of duty contains good will. I know that this question might seem like it has an obvious answer, and I used to think so myself, but what is a bad will? I know that what I just asked is one of those questions that scream out “duh”, like asking someone who steps into the room soaking wet, shaking off an umbrella if it’s raining outside. Or hearing the dude next to you stomach growl, and asking him,”hungry, eh?”. It’s pretty easy when someone’s intent is fairly obvious, like when some dude carrying a pike, covered in blood, wearing an “I H8 Philosophy Professors” T-shirt asks where the philosophy department is. It dosen’t take a stroke of genius to figure out the the guy’s intent is to do some harm — especially when it’s nowhere near April Fool’s Day and it’s not Halloween. There is the bad will that we can see — the murderer, the thief, the starlet intent on launching a music career. But some will is what we might call ambiguous. What do we do when the intent of the will is not so clear? I thought of sticking a personal situation in right here about something that I did that I’m still not sure as to whether my will in this situation was good or bad. (Take your guesses everybody) But since I’ve thought it over, I decided that I would save myself the embarassment ( not to mention any possible bridge burning) and grab an example from my collection of DVDs. About a year ago, I was made familiar with a website called selectsmart. The point of this website is to spend hours taking surveys to figure out what kind of whatever you are. They should call this website hours from your life. So, instead of studying philosophy, I was taking this survey on which horror movie protagonist I’m most like. Much to my delight, I’m like the character Dr. Herbert West from the movie Re-Animator, which just happens to be my favorite horror movie. Talk about serendipity. To those who are not familiar with the Stuart Gordon classic Re-Animator, here’s the plot in a nutshell: a couple of med students at Miskatonic University discover the secret for re-animating dead people. They decide to see if it works by testing it on a cat named Rufus and then on the cadavers in the pathology ward. All hell breaks loose when one of the students beheads a professor, reanimates the professor’s head and body, and eventually lands himself in a fantastic battle royale with the professor’s intestines. Now that I’m done with the plot. In the film, Herbert West discovers the key to reanimation, which, in and of itself, isn’t bad. You might say that someone who makes such a discovery is motivated by good will. If we can cheat death, think of all that land we’d be saving from becoming cemetaries. We could put WalMarts up everywhere! Ok, and a few Trader Joes. And it seems that, at first, Herbert is intent on making genuine medical progress. But, somewhere that same intent loses it’s good-willish patina and takes a turn for the bad. We know that when Herbert kills Dr. Hill, he is motivated by a bad will. He wants to kill Hill because Dr. Hill is in his way. That’s easy. And when the bodies start piling up, including the dean of the university and Dan’s girlfriend Meg, we need not consult the utlitarian calculus to figure out that Herbert’s quest to revive the dead was bad. But there it goes again. We can say that what Herbert West did was inherently bad, but how was it so? At what point did West’s intent turn from good to bad? Since Kant tells us we cannot rely on consequences, we cannot point to the pile of dead bodies as evidence of Herbert’s bad will. But we know that, perhaps on some intuitive level, Herbert’s intent had changed — although it stayed the same. I realize that what I’m saying might sound like a little bit of goobledygook here. And there’s a reason for that. It’s because there are times when someone’s intent may be the same, but somehow the intent may seem to be aimed at doing more harm than good. What makes things worse, is the fact that, in addition to not being able to pin down how a good intent can become bad, we may not be aware that our own will is bad. We may be operating under the supposition (delusion) that our own intentions are good. But how do we know what a bad will is, or when our own will is bad? The question is not so much what constitutes a bad will than how do we know what a bad will is? Perhaps the issue of whether a person’s will is good or bad is as much an epistemic question than an ethical consideration. And that’s where I land my open-ended question. I’d like to know what the answer is, because honestly I have no idea.

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