George Iordanou Politics, Philosophy and (not much) Real Life

What makes a hero? — two types of motives (part 4)

Previous posts:

In this series of posts I try to make sense of what makes a hero. These posts are a record of my thoughts on the matter, and might not always be coherent. If you have feedback or thoughts you want to share, I would love to read them either in the comments below, or via email.

The earlier discussion on outcomes distinguished between outcomes in relation to the success or failure of the act — i.e. whether the children were saved from the burning school building — and the outcomes in terms of the personal detriment endured by the act-doer. A similar distinction is relevant in the discussion on motives. They can be divided into the motives prior to the act and the motives during the act.

To illustrate the difference between the two types of motives recall our fireman example. First the example with the motive that is prior to the act. A fireman might be outside the building and notice how fragile it is. He nevertheless decides that he will go inside and risk his own life to save the children. This decision contradicts his mandate, which requires him not to take risks that would jeopardise his  well-being. He is outside his contractual obligations — probably in violation of them — and nevertheless, decides to risk his life. His motives and the exercise of his agency kick in before the act itself and they end up driving the act.

In the second case, we have an example where the motive arises during the act. We have a firewoman in a regular work scenario. She enters the burning building. The firewoman, upon entering the building, realises the near-collapse state of the ceiling and nevertheless decides to move forth to the second room to try and save the kids. The moment the firewoman decided to move forth knowing of the possible adverse consequences of her act, was the moment she exercised her agency in opposition (or above) her mandate. It is at that point that her act yielded a hero-status, which is independent from the outcome of her attempt.

But, as with the case of outcomes in terms of detriment to the act-doer, it is the exact point where considerations of motive kick in that inform the extent of the heroism. The earlier the motive kicks in, the more grandiose the hero-status that will be attached to the act.

In the case of motives — the exercise of the individual agency of the actor — the distinction between earlier and later motives qualifies the extent of the hero-status that will be attached to the act. Both stages yield the original hero-status. Or, to put it in a slightly different way, the distinction is irrelevant to the original allocation of the hero-status and it only speaks to its magnitude.

This is not the case with outcomes. The success or failure of the hero-type endeavour — named the original outcome — is unable to yield the hero-status by itself. In fact, one can be considered a hero solely based on motive-related considerations.

The second type of outcome (described in previous posts as personal outcome), on the other hand, can yield both hero-status and qualify the magnitude of that status. Its primary role is, of course, to qualify the extent of the hero-status. Nevertheless, it also serves a secondary role, which is to provide insight into the motive. A person, for instance, who has injuries that testify to his endurance under detrimental for his well-being conditions, has exercised his agency — motive — to endure those conditions; thus he is a hero because of the exercise of his agency as seen through the personal outcome.

Before we proceed further with the discussion on motives, let us first address the elephant in the room; an endeavour that will be attempted in the next post.

About the author

George Iordanou

I'm mostly interested in politics and philosophy, which makes up for the majority of this blog. As this is an archive of what I have written over the years, it also provides a glimpse into my personal life. I'm currently working in the humanitarian sector. In my past life I was in academia where I completed a Ph.D. in political theory with focus on multicultural citizenship. I'm one of the few people lucky enough to be given the opportunity to actually practice their research interests. Needless to say, whatever I write here is strictly my personal opinion and does not represent anyone else.

You can also find me on twitter @iordanou.

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