Consequences and Intentions

Which matter more - consequences or intentions?

Do consequences matter more than intentions?

The easy way out is that “both matter equally” but that’s not of any use.

If they really are equally important, why are they equally important?

Before that, it’s worth asking – Do consequences and intentions matter at all?

How Consequences Matter More

It’s easy to say that consequences do matter.

Anyone who denies that should be truly indifferent about everything that happens to him.

Punch him in the face or don’t, it’s all the same to him.

I think it’s unlikely anyone is that indifferent; therefore at least to some extent consequences matter to nearly everyone.

Intentions are a different thing.

Intentions do not matter at all by themselves – they matter only to the extent they influence consequences.

Imagine if someone designed a car for you with all the goodwill in the world, and it turned out to be a defective piece of crap that caused you to crash and you ended up paralyzed for life.

Would his good intentions be any consolation to you?

I don’t think so.

The consequences are terrible; the intentions completely irrelevant.

And if someone pushes you hoping to hurt you, and as a result you avoid an accident – would you care about the evil intentions behind the action, or the good consequences of the action?

Intentions, then, if they don’t determine consequences, don’t have intrinsic worth.

Consequences, however do.

(There’s a set of weasel-words here, “if they don’t determine consequences” that I’ll come back to later).

In this case, the evil intentions behind the push didn’t matter but their good consequences did, and the good intentions behind the gift of a car didn’t matter either, though the harm they caused did.

These are rare cases, where intentions lead to opposite consequences. Good intentions causing bad consequences and vice versa.

Much more common is a straightforward relation – good intentions leading to good consequences, and bad intentions leading to bad consequences.

If someone means well and saves your life, or someone envies you and hurts you, do the intentions matter?

Not intrinsically, they don’t matter by themselves; but they matter to the extent they determine consequences.

It’s easy to see this in the market.

Few things talk as loudly as money.

If someone tried to sell me a laptop telling me how hard he worked to build it and how it’s the first laptop he’s ever made and how he wants to become better – I’d never buy it.

That’s the wrong way to sell; no one cares about you or your intentions.

You look at what you get for your money – what the consequences are.

The guy could have zero interest in his work and hate it for all I care, but if he’s selling a good laptop I’d buy it.

How Intentions Matter More

Consequences aren’t always in our hands; only intentions are.

With all the good will in the world, I can end up making a mess of things and doing more harm than good.

And with the worst of intentions, you can end up helping someone.

Should I then be blamed for the harm I do that I didn’t want to cause? Or take the credit for the good that I didn’t intend?

Or should my responsibility end with what’s in my control, which are my intentions?

I think this is a fallacious argument, one that you can counter easily.

It tries to imply that consequences are absolutely random, completely beyond our control – that’s not at all true.

It’s obvious that there’s a very strong correlation between intentions and consequences – good consequences and good intentions are very strongly correlated, and bad intentions and bad consequences similarly so.

Which implies that consequences are to a large extent in our hands, and not as random as this argument makes them out to be. And thus you can’t dismiss them as being out of our control, and hence worthless.

However, if you follow this counterargument and take it to its logical conclusion, you can very well end up strengthening the case in favor of intentions.

You can reverse the relation between consequences and intentions.

I said that consequences are of primary importance; intentions matter only to the extent they influence consequences.

It’s possible to argue instead that it is intentions that matter, and not consequences, because intentions are what influence the consequences.

Consequences aren’t completely random; they’re to a large extent shaped by us, and how do we shape them?

Based on our intentions.

That’s why the weasel words, that intentions, if they don’t determine consequences, do not matter might not really hold.

Because intentions do determine consequences.

There’s a common fallacy of confusing correlations and causations; every correlation does not imply a causation.

You could find a correlation between the rate at which your nails grow and the rate at which the world’s population grows; but is there a causation?

Unlikely, unless you believe that growing your nails faster will increase population growth.

Similarly, perhaps it’s not that “good consequences are correlated with good intentions”, but more likely that “good consequences are ‘usuallycaused by good intentions”.

Cases where good intentions lead to bad consequences and vice versa are much rarer, you wouldn’t generalize based on exceptions.

In that case, isn’t the intention primary?

Without the intentions, the consequences are unlikely to come about, except the rare cases where they happen by chance, which isn’t what I’m concerned with here.

Intentions create Consequences that create Value

If intentions are the cause of consequences, then surely intentions are of primary importance.

Without them, consequences would never arise.

And yet consequences are primary in the sense that the one who’s affected by it only cares about the consequence; the intention behind it is irrelevant – as the examples earlier argued.

It’s essentially an interdependent relationship.

The order in which events occur

Initially, at T = 0, there’s an intention.

And the consequences of the action that the intention gives rise to occur at T = T, after some time.

In that sense, intentions precede and cause consequences.

The order in which value is created

But until T=T, that is, from time 0 to time T – the intentions have no value.

They derive their value only from the consequences, and therefore only after the consequences associated with the intentions are created do the intentions have any value.

It’s hard to really separate them now, just for the sake of illustration to make a point it helps to think of it in terms of an infinitesimally small delta T (ΔT).

So consequences derive from intentions, and the value of intentions is derived from consequences.

So then it really depends on you – if you consider the source of the thing more important than the source of the value of the thing, you’d put intentions above consequences, else the other way.

Unfortunately, that means I couldn’t arrive at any answer to the question I started off with, even though I thought I had an answer in mind when I began.


Thinking about context might help to use these ideas.

Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.

Meditations, Marcus Aurelius

When You see Yourself

If you have to assess yourself – focus on consequences more than intentions.

There’s a tendency to give everyone a prize, no one “loses” anymore, we’re all winners because we participated.

Patting yourself on the back so easily because of your intentions can be a fast-track route to mediocrity if you’re not careful.

But judging yourself solely on consequences could be too harsh; you can’t always win.

That’s when it can be good to turn to intentions – but usually only after looking at consequences, if you know you tried with the best of intentions and the consequences still didn’t pan out.

When You see Others

If you have to assess others – give them the benefit of intentions, if you can afford to.

Which means – usually for something non-critical.

If someone messes up at work – if you think his intentions were fine, you might give him a pass, especially if it’s not important.

If you see a poor person selling pens, you might want to buy some even if you don’t need them or you don’t think they’re of a good quality. It’s a small amount; it means more to him; and he’s working instead of begging.

But if it’s a doctor performing a major operation or a pilot flying you – it’s better to see their qualifications and track record rather than their intentions – which you probably can’t see anyway.

And if it’s a salesman selling a car or a house, the product is what matters more to you, not the person’s intentions. Good intentions would be a bonus, but you wouldn’t buy just for them, though you could buy just for a good product in the absence of good intentions.

When Others see You

When others judge you – don’t expect them to be able to divine your intentions. If they do, that’s a bonus, but don’t count on it.

Accept that they will probably only judge you on what they can see, and they can probably only see the consequences of your actions.

So you might have worked very hard but a project turned out a flop and your boss could be pissed.

It’s the most reasonable thing in the world.

He probably made a commitment to the client, counted on you to deliver, and for whatever reason the client or your boss’s boss wasn’t satisfied.

It’s likely your boss received the same treatment from the client that he handed out to you.

Its up to you now. You can end this vicious chain, or continue it down the hierarchy to your subordinates.

In short:

Judge yourself by the consequences you create, and temper that by looking to your intentions.

Judge others by their intentions when you can afford to, and the consequences when the stakes are high.

And accept, or rather expect, that others will judge you by the consequences you create, regardless of your intentions.



Hey Pratyush
Do you know any good microeconomics book to explain the fundamentals/foundation?

Sweta Tripathi

You can buy introductory to microeconomics by sandeep garg (Dhanpat Publication) also Frank ISC economics by D.K Sethi and U. Andrews for class 12 .Both are really good for basic level .The latter one includes both macro and micro concepts .




Gregory Mankiw


Thanks a lot pratyush!😀

Rajshree Trivedi

True , always consequences matters more than intentions…

Prachi shankar

This is a really pragmatic post!

As a kid, I strongly believed good intentions always bring good consequences cause God takes care of the people with good intentions.
(A childish interpretation of law of karma)
Since consequences almost always worked in my favour for a long time, so it was even more easy to believe in this prophecy.

However, growing up I realised there may be little or no correlation at all.

An extreme and a little off topic example, still I’ll mention.

*Ajmal kasab* gave an interview, a day before his hanging. He told he participated in the attacks because it was his only way to a good life. Living in abject poverty, his parents told him he would be able to earn lots of money and live a comfortable life in case he joins the(what we know as the terrorist organization )

All he wanted was to see himself & his parents be able to eat good food, travel and live in riches like others do. Saying this he broke down terribly. (Intention)

Nevertheless, we know how heinous was the 26/11 attack, and the punishment (consequence) was something he deserved.

Still everything depends on the frame of reference, one chooses. Society ain’t that simple as potrayed in the moral science school books.

On a lighter note, with whatever intention you might write these posts, hope you are aware how deep the consequences can be on someone’s life (thought process to be precise).

And we’ll judge you for it. Don’t feel bad :p

Sweta Tripathi

Well I believe when we are dealing with the world then it is the consequence which derives more importance than intention for eg : many a times I tried to make my mother happy through my cooking skills but each time it resulted into a disaster and ultimately what I offer speaks more than my intention at the end the quality of food matters than my intention to make her happy.
So we should always work hard and hard to improve the quality of our intention’s consequences like Virat Kohli and the team intention was obviously to win the T20 worldcup but the consequences were entirely different and their entire hardwork were abandoned by the people only consequences gives you value (harsh truth) …

But when it comes to dealing with self then it is intention that matters like my intention is to bring long-term happiness to my people by achieving my goals but to do so I have to say no to their various enticing offers here this behaviour could make them feel bad for a while but in long-term my intention will bear fruits in their life so intention brings good results or consequences when it comes to taming ones mind or healing self at initial point the consequences of such action may makes you feel guilty or frustrated but in long-term your intention gives you tremendous results .


i am here judging myself as consequesnces that i failed. Does not matter how much i tried.


There is a process to achieve success..likewise there is a process for failure too.. you need to observe on what path you are heading into by looking at your everyday schedule and target completions..


You mentioned in your book about Gym, how you figured out things on your own. Can you recommend some good sources to learn about this stuff, exercises, and supplements, etc?


Geoffrey Verity Schoffield


How to judge oneself and others, how to analyse the consequences and other’s intentions?
How to overcome consequences caused by act of anyone related to you? Is there any systematic way of looking into things happening around you?

Akshita Tiwari

Thank you for explanation, made it easy to grab.

I would request you to give your perception or differentiation between psychopathic behaviour or craziness ?

Or differentiation between infatuation or Love ?