is a good deed for a bad reason still good?

I posted this in another section of the forum but thought I’d post it here as well.So I got into a conversation with a few non-denominational friends a little while ago and I wanna see what you guys think. We were on the topic of idolatry and talking about how it’s wrong and selfish to help someone or do good if it’s for monetary value (money, food, etc.), but that you should do it knowing that by doing good, you will be working towards a higher spot in heaven because God will look favorably upon your actions.

The question I have is that they were saying that although it is a good thing to help others or do something good, if you are doing it for some monetary and for selfish reason then it is bad because you have the thought of a reward in mind for doing such actions, making it a good deed but with a bad premise. If you were to do something good or help a person out with the thought of being looked favorably on by God, is this not a selfish act as well? It might not be for anything that we can use here on earth or anything but it’s still the idea of receiving a reward. Is this not a good deed but with a bad premise as well? Is the only true good that someone can do be invoked simply by you doing it for the love of your fellow humans and doing something because it’s the right thing to do?

I appreciate any responses back to my question. Thank you and God bless!

I’m not an expert, but from what I understand we know that an action is ‘good’ because it is what God desires of us. So by that reasoning you would be doing good simply because it was good, if you were doing it for the purpose of pleasing God. Seeking to please Him is a worthy action in and of itself, so you wouldn’t be acting for ‘a bad reason’ if you were only acting to enter Heaven. That is (or should be) every person’s goal here on Earth.

A more ‘secular’ argument is that being aware of a a positive consequence doesn’t negate the action taken. If you’re giving to the poor because you know your neighbour wishes he could but cannot afford to, and you want to show him up… that’s probably not a ‘good’ action. Your goal isn’t to help someone in that case, it’s to harm.

If, however, you’re giving to the poor because you’re aware that making others happy makes YOU happy, I don’t see how that diminishes the good of the action. Making others happy, in an appropriate manner, SHOULD make us happy. I believe it’s a sign of good character if a person is made happy by helping others, and a sign of bad character if it doesn’t.

I also don’t see why accepting food/money for good works would be wrong, provided it was reasonable and not extortion. Allowing those you are helping to give to you in return preserves their dignity and helps them to feel as though they have worth. In fact, I think turning down the offer of a meal/ minor payment (without good reason) on the basis that your actions or assistance were meant to be charity is condescending and rude. It relegates the recipient to the status of ‘lesser than you’, and is far worse than graciously accepting.

I’m not saying, for example, your friends asks if you would help him move and he’ll give you dinner or something as a bad thing to do. We were simply talking about how you shouldn’t do something good if the reason you are doing it is for selfish reasons. I’d agree that wanting to please God is a good thing, that doing something because it pleases God is a valid reason for doing something good. I guess what we were getting into was the thought that let’s say there’s a homeless man who’s cold and you donate a blanket to him to stay warm. The act itself pleases God and is a good thing to do. What we were talking about was not doing it necessarily for God’s approval and the fact that it pleases Him, but doing it expecting Him to give you something or do something for you when he has already given you more than you could imagine. I might not have made my question clear or it might just be something hard to answer for all I know. I think if something pleases God then it’s good to do and you should do it, but doing it expecting God to give you a higher seat in heaven or something is wrong. And that’s what we were talking about, not for His pleasing or approval but by expecting something from Him.

The intrinsic goodness of an intention, action or result is not affected by any other factor.
Nothing can change something good into something evil!

According to Church teaching a moral object (an act) can result in an immoral act if the intention or circumstance is immoral.

1750 The morality of human acts depends on:

  • the object chosen;
  • the end in view or the intention;
  • the circumstances of the action.

The object, the intention, and the circumstances make up the “sources,” or constitutive elements, of the morality of human acts.

1751 The object chosen is a good toward which the will deliberately directs itself. It is the matter of a human act. The object chosen morally specifies the act of the will, insofar as reason recognizes and judges it to be or not to be in conformity with the true good. Objective norms of morality express the rational order of good and evil, attested to by conscience.

1752 In contrast to the object, the intention resides in the acting subject. Because it lies at the voluntary source of an action and determines it by its end, intention is an element essential to the moral evaluation of an action. The end is the first goal of the intention and indicates the purpose pursued in the action. The intention is a movement of the will toward the end: it is concerned with the goal of the activity. It aims at the good anticipated from the action undertaken. Intention is not limited to directing individual actions, but can guide several actions toward one and the same purpose; it can orient one’s whole life toward its ultimate end. For example, a service done with the end of helping one’s neighbor can at the same time be inspired by the love of God as the ultimate end of all our actions. One and the same action can also be inspired by several intentions, such as performing a service in order to obtain a favor or to boast about it.

1753 A good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the means. Thus the condemnation of an innocent person cannot be justified as a legitimate means of saving the nation. On the other hand, an added bad intention (such as vainglory) makes an act evil that, in and of itself, can be good (such as almsgiving).39

1754 The circumstances, including the consequences, are secondary elements of a moral act. They contribute to increasing or diminishing the moral goodness or evil of human acts (for example, the amount of a theft). They can also diminish or increase the agent’s responsibility (such as acting out of a fear of death). Circumstances of themselves cannot change the moral quality of acts themselves; they can make neither good nor right an action that is in itself evil.

That’s right. St. Thomas addresses the question in ST II, I, 18, 4.

Jesus said, “lay up treasures for yourself in heaven…” So that would mean that is perfectly ok and even good to rely on the promises of Christ for his rewards. It would be better to do it out of perfect love, but then to do it for a reward is good since this takes an act of trust in Jesus which is also pleasing to Jesus.

But he also said not to let others know but only your heavenly Father, for then if you do it to display to others your goodness then the person already has had his reward. So to toot your own horn takes away the merit. And if a politician gives thousands to a charity to win votes, then it isn’t a bad action but one that simply doesn’t have any merit to it. It is rather just the buisness side of his job to give him a good image which most people are aware of. If the politician made a silent private donation, then it would be meritorious.

Goodness in action has different degrees. Oviously there are a variety with some being greater than others. All of them are good if done for a good motive. For example to give to a beggar because one sees in that beggar another Christ hungry is the best motive. But to give to a beggar because Jesus taught us to do so out of charity is also a good motive. And to give to a beggar because it is just what we are suppose to do is also a good motive because it shows obedience.

May God be praised.

The act is certainly wrong if the intention is immoral but the act per se is still good.
If a person saves another person’s life for the wrong reason the act cannot possibly be evil!

I don’t get it. Don’t those two sentences contradict each other? Or are you distinguishing “wrong” from “evil”?

I suppose it depends what you mean by “evil,” but the basic teaching of the Church is that an evil end/intention results in an evil/deprived act.

Say Hannibal Lector saves someone from drowning only so he can torture them and eat them. Is it a good act? No, it’s not. The object of the act is good (saving their life), and the circumstances are good, but the end (torture and murder) is bad. The act is therefore bad considered as a whole.

This is a much finer line than serial killers doing what appears to be good.

If a man saves a child from drowning while not considering any profit in doing so, then he has done a good deed. If the reponse from the TV the news causes him to receive thousands in cash then is his reward in heaven diminished?

I would contend it depends on his relationship to the money and God. If he is careful to direct the money for more good and treats it as a good steward should then he only adds to his blessings in heaven, but if he does otherwise; for instance blowing the money on a hot car or he begins seeking out the chance to make money in through a good deed then his reward is only the money and not a heavenly treasure.

Correct! We can do the right thing for the wrong reason. :slight_smile:

I suppose it depends what you mean by “evil,” but the basic teaching of the Church is that an evil end/intention results in an evil/deprived act.

If a person saves another person’s life for the wrong reason the act per se cannot possibly be evil. It is only evil when taken **in conjunction **with the intention and/or the means.

Say Hannibal Lector saves someone from drowning only so he can torture them and eat them. Is it a good act? No, it’s not. The object of the act is good (saving their life), and the circumstances are good, but the end (torture and murder) is bad. The act is therefore bad considered as a whole.

:thumbsup: “considered as a whole” are the key words. It doesn’t mean each aspect of the act is necessarily evil.

:thumbsup: “The devil is in the details”! And so is the truth. :slight_smile:

Notice that the state of the deed isn’t what matters. We can always say saving the child is a good thing even if done by a greedy hero or perversly hungery serial killer. Yet, it is the states of the men that God will judge. So, we should not expect the teaching of our Lord to give us every answer to the state of each act, but we are well taught on the relationship to be made and manitained beween ourselves and God.

The Church has in its authority stated things that are intrinsically evil because people have made claims that in doing them there was a net positive. The binding finding of the Church is that this claim is false. Note that there are no opposites. There are no acts that are named intrinsically good.

I would say that the same norm applies to serial killers that applies to everyone else. There are finer lines, but they must be judged according to the same norms as the obvious cases.

If a man saves a child from drowning while not considering any profit in doing so, then he has done a good deed. If the reponse from the TV the news causes him to receive thousands in cash then is his reward in heaven diminished?

No, because his intention had nothing to do with the profit. Therefore the act was not deprived.

I would contend it depends on his relationship to the money and God. If he is careful to direct the money for more good and treats it as a good steward should then he only adds to his blessings in heaven, but if he does otherwise; for instance blowing the money on a hot car or he begins seeking out the chance to make money in through a good deed then his reward is only the money and not a heavenly treasure.

Given the scenario you presented, the man was not even aware that he would receive any money. Therefore the act was good, and the money was given after the act was done. This accidental giving of money cannot retroactively make the act evil.

We can do so, but not in good conscience.

If a person saves another person’s life for the wrong reason the act per se cannot possibly be evil. It is only evil when taken **in conjunction **with the intention and/or the means.

The act, per se, is a conjunction of object, end, and circumstance. You seem to be wanting to say that “The object of the act is good,” or “The act qua object is good.” That’s fine, but it doesn’t mean that the act itself is good. Intention is an intrinsic part of moral acts, for they do not exist absent intention.

:thumbsup: “considered as a whole” are the key words. It doesn’t mean each aspect of the act is necessarily evil.

Correct. :thumbsup:

Funny zippy2006 how you sound like you are arguing and agree with my every point, except the one I just made seperately.

Who cares about the state of the deed?

Not really. The last point you made was implicit in the rest: the idea that the intention or circumstances are not important.

You keep saying that an act can be good regardless of the intention and circumstances, such as saving a life. That is false. Hannibal Lector’s act is not good, even though a life is saved. Although it is good that a life is saved, that does not make his act good.

Who cares about the state of the deed?

Jesus Christ, the Church, etc.

Or by “state of the deed” do you not mean the intention or circumstances? If not, what do you mean?

None of these things are what I’m saying at all. I’m saying that judging a deed in isolation from the intention and purposes of the person doing them is nonsense. The focus of trying to judge the deed is not even in the scope of Christ’s teachings. He is concerned with the persons and the relationships they are keeping in Love or using to an evil aim. The very title of this discussion draws the attention to what is not important.

Human law often enumerates penalties for acts for they are easy to decern; so, we tend to follow this approach, but God sees into everyman’s heart where the true morality of the choices are clear to Him. As I mentioned before even the Church has declared some acts as intrinsically evil since none have ever come up with a moral reason to do them.

Then I also would agree that there are a list of the seven deadly sins even in the Bible, but the Sermon on the Mound draws us away from trying to overly focus on listing acts of evil to avoid. The teaching of Christ is this call to Love and the beattitudes to go beyond laws and lists of don’ts. That’s why I’m saying Christ’s teaching is not about focusing on the deeds, but on the grace that is living in our hearts. Still, it is necessary to have written a few of these mortal sins just for the wayward that would say this or that sin is not in the Bible; so, I must be free to do it.

The OP is not concerned with " the states of the men that God will judge." The issue is whether a good deed for a bad reason is good from a **philosophical **or **legal **point of view. The intended victim of attempted murder will certainly regard the consequence of malicious intent to kill as beneficial if the act prevents his or her death! That fact doesn’t alter the evil nature of the intention but an unfulfilled intention is not in the same legal category as one which is successful.

This is exactly right. :thumbsup: Furthermore, there is practical import here not only in a legal sense, but also in a personal sense, for it can help a person understand how they ought to act.

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