Moral Judgment
Mohamed Helal 104

Moral Judgment

Moral Judgment[1]

     We have already mentioned that in order for a value-based action to be judged as good or evil, it must be done out of intention and willingness. Thus, human actions that take place without deliberate intention can neither be judged as good or evil, nor can they be considered indicative of one's values. The question now is about actions that are based on both deliberate intention and willingness; should a value-based judgment be issued concerning the action itself, regardless of the intention or rather be based on the purpose, intention, and will of the one who carries it out? To answer this question, we will bring the views of two distinctive schools of thought:

     The first school adopts the view that a value-based judgment should only be concerned with the action itself regardless of its doer's intention. Thus, an action can be judged as either good or bad, based on its sole nature. That is because intentions are hidden affairs which are difficult to identify; therefore they should not be considered a valid criterion for judging one's values.[2]

     The second school, including the majority of moralists in ancient and modern eras, maintains that a value-based judgment of both the action and the doer should be in accordance with the intention and purpose behind the action. This is because, to them, it is the intention that determines whether an action should be considered good or evil. For instance, “if a physician tries to save the life of a patient who has been in a very dangerous condition by carrying out a certain procedure, that has ultimately caused the patient's death, then the judgment should be based on the physician's good intention rather than on the saddening consequence of the attempt.”[3]

     Based on the significant role of intention in evaluating an action and describing it as either good or bad, the religion of Islam approves this latter view. Accordingly, there might be two similar actions that lead to the same result. However, they are considered differently due to the intention behind each of them; so one of them can be judged as good while the other evil. For example, assume that a person rebukes an orphan child with the intention to teaching good manners, while another person beats the same child in order to hurt her/him. Should we judge both actions in the same way? Of course not, although they are equal in terms of the pain they cause to the child. Thus, it becomes evident that the intention is the basis for judging an action. In Islam, actions are bound with the intentions behind them. Therefore, many of the leading Muslim jurists set as a condition for the acceptance and the validity of the acts of worship and the financial dealings that there must be a sound intention on the part of the individual or the parties involved. The Noble Qur’an shows in many verses that judgment is not based on the form of an action but rather on the intention behind it. God almighty says,

“God will not reprimand you for idleness in your oaths, but He will reprimand you for whatever your hearts have earned; and God is Ever-Forgiving, Ever-Forbearing.” (Qur’an, 2:225)

     The same meaning is understood from the following hadith in which the Prophet (PBUH) says, “Indeed, the value of an action depends on the intention behind it. A human being will be rewarded only for what s/he has intended.”[4]

[1] Prof. Aḥmad Muḥammad Aṭ-Ṭayyeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, “Essential Features of Islam”, Al-Azhar Center for Translation (ACT), 2017, p. 168.

[2] Among the advocates of this view is Blaise Pascal from the modern time. See Mahmoud Hamdi Zaqzooq, Muqaddimatun fi-'Ilm il-Akhlaaq (An Introduction to Ethics). Dar Al-Qalam, Kuwait: 1983, p.45.

[3] Ibid, p. 44.

[4] See Umdat ul-Qari' (Authority Reference for Readers), an explanatory book of Al-Bukhari's Collection of Hadiths, Book on Revelation, 1:16.




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