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Arts & Letters Daily


9c. Motive - Ms. Young - PE teacher


What makes an act morally bad is that it is wrong and a person is not deterred by its wrongness.


Duty. Ms. Wong, a middle years teacher for the past 12 years, had been a coveted physical education teacher till three years ago when she was immobilized in a car accident. Now she was teaching English, another subject she loved. When she applied for the position of vice principal in her school, her application was refused on the grounds that she would not be able to fulfil all the duties of a vice principal because her mobility was restricted because she is in a wheel chair.

Senior management felt an apparent conflict of duties. On the one hand, they wanted to  appoint a vice principal who could attend to the varied and complex tasks and situations that arise in a high school. They thought this required a highly mobile person who could move about freely in crowded hallways, attend huge sports complexes for away games, drive at a moment’s notice, just to mention a few challenges. On the other hand, Ms. Wong had demonstrated creative mobility, outstanding communication skills with staff and students and exceptional organizational skills. At the same time, management knew they had to make a decision.

Rights. Ms. Wong objected to the decision on the grounds that her rights had been violated. There were creative ways of accommodating her physical handicap. For example, she could introduce a Student Civil Service Program which would not only support her in executing her duties but would educate students in providing volunteer community service. Management commended her for her creative solution but rejected her application. They maintained that even though she had a right to make an application, they were not obligated to receive it. Ms. Wong challenged the decision on the grounds that she had a right to demonstrate that she could fulfill the duties of a vice principal. Administration had no right to deny her the appointment on the grounds they cited.

Motive. The Management Team was convincingly impressed by Ms. Wong’s skills and abilities and trusted her creative ability to manage her physical handicap. That is all the members except one, Mr. Carpenter, who was a close friend of one of the alternative candidates. He did not disclose this special friendship. He kept on emphasising potential problems that could arise as a result of Ms. Wong’s physical handicap to the point where the other members of the Management Team began to wonder about Mr. Carpenter’s motive. Why was he so opposed to the appointment of Ms. Wong who was clearly the front runner?


  • What appeared to be the motive of the members of the Management Team? Explain.
  • Discuss other situations where people use this kind of thinking.

You may want to discuss other dilemmas.

Consider this view of ‘not deterred by wrong motive’

  • Crooked thinking

There are no degrees of the seriousness of a wrong act.

  • Straight thinking

When an act is very bad, morally, it is judged to be evil, atrocious, wicked, iniquitous, nefarious, fiendish, or demonic. “Wicked” applies to both the act and the agent. “Nefarious’ applies only to the act. “Heinous” expresses a strong disapproval of both act and the agent. “Vile” or “foul” expresses a strong feeling of disgust. What makes an act morally worse is the degree of the seriousness of the wrong done by the act. For example, it is more seriously wrong to murder a person than to steal a pen.

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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