Making the right choices for the wrong reasons
I have a problem with intentions. On the one hand, I feel investigating them is unnecessary because they belong to the subjective realm, and the only thing that matters is facts: reality. You gift me $100: maybe it’s because you want to see me happy, or perhaps you think I’ll spend them on vices and you want to finance my self-destruction. It doesn’t matter that much. In reality, my money grew by $100.
On the other hand, I know you need to consider intentions because they change the meaning of facts: the interpretation of reality. Knowing what’s behind your gift can tell me something about our relationship. However, the same facts can have different meanings, and not all meanings are equally relevant. In fact, looking closely, both meanings and relevance are arbitrary attributes: not intrinsic features of reality, but labels assigned by humans.
These premises constitute the foundation of the ability to make the right choices for the wrong reasons.
Let’s say I’m a kid deep in puberty. My hormones are on fire, and I pass my time thinking about the opposite sex, day and night. I want to become more attractive. I want to show off. What can I do? Among the ideas that come to my mind are those involving physical exercise. I could start going to the gym, or playing basketball, or swimming… Would these choices be right?
Physical exercise is generally considered a good thing, given that science teaches us its numerous health benefits. The desire to show off, on the other hand, is usually considered a questionable motivation, as opposed to independence from the opinions of others. In this context, whether I choose the gym, the basketball court, or the swimming pool, I would be making a “right” choice for the “wrong” reasons.
We can extend the same argument to other cases. Just think of acts of charity “in plain sight,” i.e., those done with the intention, alleged or real, of showing how generous one is. Many people criticize them, saying that charity is something to be done in secret. Beyond the question of whether this interpretation has any merit or not, what we noted above continues to apply: even assuming that the intention is wrong, the choice is still correct. 100 vanity donations are better than no donation.
From this line of reasoning, I personally draw a couple of ideas. First, when evaluating a behavior, it would be worth considering how the benefits compare to the perceived negatives. Then, regardless of the evaluation, it would be helpful to clarify what parameters it’s based on. In the end, justness is relative, and whether an action is 100% right or wrong is an exception, not the norm.
But in addition to the theoretical/moral arguments on the interpretation of behaviors, the ability to make the right choices for the wrong reasons also has (at least) one practical advantage. It gives us the opportunity to change our motivations while leaving the results intact. And motivations, along with instincts, guide our behavior. The infatuated boy will be more compelled to exercise to be attractive for the girl he likes, rather than for the abstract goal of staying healthy.
It’s not that bad to find a wrong reason for making the right choice. Much better than nothing.