Small and large, the fabric of our very existence is dictated by the decisions we make every single day. But how should we judge whether decisions are right and should the outcome of the decision be what we judge in the first place? 

The connection between intention and moral responsibility render it a central determinant when deciding the gravity of emphasis in moral judgement. On one hand it can be argued that intent is not contingent on desire and thus if an actor does not desire a certain outcome but intends it, his actions are extensively morally permissible. One can intend to do something unpleasant yet accept it as the overall positive consequences outweigh the unpleasantry. It is accepted not as an end in itself but as part of the package, and the package as a whole is desired-otherwise one would not do the act all together. Nevertheless, it seems that an ‘undesired purpose’,  is a contradiction. 

Even if we accept the premise that there can exist a state of undesired purpose, an individual is still deserving to be judged for an action of intention if the foreseen though undesired consequence is inseparably bound up with the desired consequence (referencing Oblique Intention, as coined by Bentham). Suppose person X stabs a pregant woman in the abdomen, as he intends to murder her. It is not a necessary truth that person X’s desire is to also kill her child, but the foreseen success of his actions will subsume the child’s perishing. Stating the criminal desired to kill the baby is not intrinsically truthful, yet it is possible for law to claim that he is to be taken as having intended his death.

The role of moral luck debilitates the logic of consequentialism. Determining the immorality of an action must be immune to luck (as a state of freedom from restraints and liberty to act with intent is needed for moral responsibility). A person does not always know the precise effect of their action. If a unilateral consequentialist ethos is taken, a consequentialist only considers the effects of an action in relation to their ultimate objective. This is reflected in Kant's quote ‘the good will would remain good, even if by the niggardly provision of step-motherly nature it wholly lacked the power to accomplish its purpose’

The phenomenon of moral luck denotes a paradox embedded in our notion of responsibility. As Nagel succinctly puts it: ‘A person can be morally responsible only for what he does; but what he does results from a great deal he does not do; therefore he is not morally responsible for what he is and is not responsible for’.Often only intentions are subject to an agent’s control and thus they alone are enough to be subject to moral judgement. 

This can be demonstrated when liability is based on an omission. A prescription of duty, for instance the duty of care, is assigned before morality is judged. The omission means a failure to prevent a foreseeable action, thus the responsibility of the effect of inaction means the obligation of care has not been carried out. For instance, if person A is guilty of homicide by failing to prevent person B’s murder, it is assumed person A has a duty of care towards person B. A duty of care, compounded by inaction logically follows that person A is the intentional agent of his death. 

The core to the consequentialist argument is that the sole measure for moral judgements is an action’s effects in relation to an ultimate objective. This measure however incites a contradiction and therefore a falsehood. The consequentialist outcome-only focused logical framework deems the action wrong based on the effect; however the same action cannot be viewed as both wrong and right. The value of a moral judgement is the actor’s cognition, immediately prior to the action, of the action’s likely effects in relation to an ultimate objective. This ascertains no value to actual effects, but rather is a revised position where the actor’s intentions are a more decisive dividing line between right and wrong than the action’s effects.


This discrepancy is significant in society today, its applications stretching from the justice system to the healthcare system. In a world where technology is increasingly making more decisions, it is ever more important we preserve our ability to question how we reach certain outcomes and use a philosophcal lense to examine these processes.