Tuesday 18 October 2011

Good intentions? Not so


I am always reading that such-and-such an evil movement has 'good intentions'; or a person will excuse their past behavior with the comment that their intentions were good.

I don't believe it.

Indeed I know that this is untrue. 


Good intentions are the rarest of things on this earth.

In fact almost all intentions are corrupt.


When I examine my conscience, I perceive that the worst intentions were typically those times where I was trying hardest to signal to myself and to others that my intentions were good, pure, blameless.

That was when I was most deeply in thrall to pride.


People talk as if good intentions were the easy bit, and the accomplishment of these intentions was what was difficult, and where things went wrong.

Not so - good intentions are the hard bit.

So hard, in fact, that good intentions are impossible (to the unaided human).


Let's hear no more nonsense about 'good intentions'...



Kristor said...

This is a great insight. To the extent that an intention is original with a creature - i.e., to the extent that the creature itself introduces an intentional vector novel to the pure divinely ordained intention given to the creature ab initio as his very being by prevenient grace, difference and disagreement with divine Providence is introduced to the world, and thereby sin and pain. If an intention is just mine, it is not in harmony with the intention of God. Saintliness, then, is just the elimination of creaturely origination in favor of humble obedient amplification & expression of the divine will. This applies equally to the via negativa and the via positiva.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Kristor. Yes, it is strange, isn't it, how we have come to judge the opposite as our default?

That own intentions (and those of friends and allies) are assumed to be good, and bad outcomes the result of ignorance or corruption.

But, by the nature of things - and perhaps even more so now than in the past - most intentions are bad, most of the time, for most people.

The Continental Op said...

The road to hell is paved with "good intentions."

Bruce Charlton said...

@CoOp - I came across that quote (I think) in Man and Superman by GB Shaw.

In that context it means the opposite of what I was trying to get at - Shaw was saying that there are plenty of good intentions but that they went astray through lack of understanding and bad organization - and a socialist state would be needed to put the good intentions to good use.

My aphorism was over-inclusive, in the sense that many natural intentions are good (caring for one's child, for instance) - but in any situation where people actually use a phrase about people having good intentions, then the intentions are (almost) invariably bad!

taleb said...

"As long as the dark foundation of our nature, grim in its all-encompassing egoism, mad in its drive to make that egoism into reality, to devour everything and to define everything by itself, as long as that foundation is visible, as long as this truly original sin exists within us, we have no business here and there is no logical answer to our existence. Imagine a group of people who are all blind, deaf and slightly demented and suddenly someone in the crowd asks, "What are we to do?"... The only possible answer is "Look for a cure". Until you are cured, there is nothing you can do. And since you don't believe you are sick, there can be no cure."

Vladimir Soloviev