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Arts & Letters Daily


1c. Motive – Irate parent


What if a man does an act which is right and he does it from a morally bad motive?


Duty. An irate parent burst into the Principal’s office at Semple High School located in a small town in the Midwest and dove into her questions, ’Why do you permit your English teacher to require her class to read Of Mice and Men by John Steinbach … (she paused for a moment to catch her breath) … when you know the book is not on the required reading list of the State Education Ministry?’  ‘That’s wrong’, she went on to say before the principal could say a word, ‘morally wrong!’ ‘I find the language used in that book totally offensive … all that cursing!’ ‘I repeat’, she said, ‘that is morally wrong’.

Rights. What’s more, my daughter has a right to be allowed to read a novel which is not offensive to me whether she agrees with me or not’, she asserted.

Motive. All the while, the Principal was wondering as he listened to her. Even though he suspected that her motives were somewhat self-serving, he accepted her moral indignation.  He agreed that it would not be wrong to offer her daughter the option to study an alternative novel.


  • Identify the principal’s crooked thinking.
  • Identify the principal’s straight thinking.

You may want to discuss other dilemmas.

Consider this view of acting from a good motive

  • Crooked thinking

An action is morally good if a person acts from a good motive.

  • Straight thinking

For example, suppose a principal refuses to allow a student to be promoted because he believes that it is his duty to prevent the student from being promoted. Many people today believe that it is, in fact, wrong to require a person to repeat a whole year of school work. At the same time there are people who honestly believe that it is necessary to require some students to repeat a grade. Would the principal’s action in this example be morally good? It could not be morally good if the action itself is wrong because one of the conditions of a morally good act would not be satisfied. Similarly, an act is not a morally good act when a person does an act which is right but he does not believe it to be right and his motives are not good.

To view the Dilemma from the perspective of Duty, Rights, Motives, Desert and Justice, click the following:

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