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Arts & Letters Daily


10c. Motive - Jerry - Social Studies teacher


‘Morally bad’ can apply to people


Duty. ‘This is the last time I will allow you back into my class!’ shouted Jerry a third year Social Studies teacher at Middletown Middle School, at one of his ninth graders. Jerry had been a good student himself and always had this dream of being a star teacher. But teaching wasn’t working for him … the students’ lack of interest in Canadian Social Studies annoyed him. He felt the students were irresponsible and immature and he let them know it.

Jerry’s beliefs, attitudes, feelings, and emotions engulfed his sense of duty about teaching adolescents … he felt a huge sense of guilt about how he felt about his students. What could he do about it?

Rights. In utter frustration, Jim discussed his disappointments with Betty, an experienced and successful Math teacher on staff. Betty listened and at one point asked Jerry if had any other interests. He hesitated and finally indicated that he also was somewhat interested in law but had never considered it because he could not afford law school. What’s more, he did not have the grades to qualify for law school. Betty ask, ‘What about training to become a para-legal?’ Jerry certainly had not considered this option because it would mean a considerable cut in pay. Could this potential object of interest become his actual object of interest? Jerry will never know till he tries it.

Motive. It was the students’ motive for doing things that really bothered Jerry. Some of the boys seemed quite prepared to interrupt the class if it suited their purpose. Some seemed morally week in that they participated in class disturbances reluctantly. A few yielded to the temptation of disturbing the class frequently. One or two students seemed downright unscrupulous in their behaviour towards Jerry. Did he read the motives accurately or was he paranoid? He had a great deal of difficulty with this question.


  • How did Jerry’s perception of the students’ motives affect his reaction towards the students? Explain.
  • Discuss how each judgement ( duty, rights, motive, desert, justice) contributes to a more thorough understanding a moral dilemma.
  • Discuss other situations where people use this kind of thinking.

You may want to discuss other dilemmas.

Consider this view about morally bad people

  • Crooked thinking

‘Morally bad’ applies to bad acts and not to people.

  • Straight thinking

Just as “morally good” can apply to people (as well as to acts and motives) so also “morally bad” can apply to people. What, then, is a morally bad  person? He is quite prepared to do a wrong act if it suits his purpose. It should be noted that he need not actually do the act. In fact, doing a morally wrong act does not necessarily make a person a morally bad person. If a person does a wrong act reluctantly he might be regarded as being a morally weak person instead of a morally bad person. The act would be regarded as yielding to temptation. To be considered a morally weak person, a person would have to yield to temptation somewhat frequently. The person would have to succumb to temptation in some areas of activity. On the other hand, a person who feels no reluctance about doing a wrong action would be regarded as an unscrupulous or unprincipled person. What would make a person thoroughly bad is when he is thoroughly unscrupulous. He would lack all scruples, which is to say that he would not be deterred by any sense of wrong. This situation could be brought on by certain naturally bad motives like hatred, revenge, jealousy, envy, greed, lust, or malice. These are motives which can overcome people when they do not make continuous efforts to deter the influence of naturally bad motives. When these naturally bad motives become strong enough in a person, they can blur the person’s sense of right and wrong and so the person can become unscrupulous.

Moral principle value tests

An application of the moral principle value tests probably illustrates most clearly what is entailed in evaluative reasoning. They are:

It is important to emphasize that the moral-value principle tests are not designed to resolve issues (guarantee right answers!) but to assess the ‘justification’ for moral value decisions.

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

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