While I know that Intent Isn't Magic, I'd honestly say that Intention can be helpful here.
While driving down the road, a car pulls in front of yours more than a safe distance ahead and then brakes, causing you to slow down. Was this a Moral, Immoral, or Neutral act? It depends on the intention of the driver who pulled out in front of you.
If they were intending to just sort of show their power on the world, a kind of "I can make this car slow/stop! Muah hah hah!" thing, then it's an immoral act. They were deliberately fucking with you.
If they did it because they saw a deer crossing the road and believed you did not see it, a sort of "I'm going to help this person not wreck their car and help this deer not die today" it would be a moral act.
If they braked on accident, it's a neutral act. There's no morality to find in it. They made a mistake. It simply is. This isn't absolving all mistakes, but it's stating that in this instance, there's no greater meaning or purpose, no malice intended, no danger anyone was really put in.
None of these reasons are apparent to you. You simply have a car pull in front of you, apply brakes and, after a moment, resume the normal rate of speed causing you a minor inconvenience. From your perspective, you have an asshole in front of you and you might want to consider it an immoral act, either from malice or carelessness. From the driver in front of you's perspective, they potentially are believing to be a savior of sorts to you and to a random deer and consider their act moral.
Both of you are operating on completely different sets of information. Both of you have different immediate goals (Continue travelling at the same rate of speed | Not get in or allow another to be involved in a collision with a deer).
Perhaps you are a good enough driver to have dodged the deer. Perhaps you were aware of it this whole time and planning your actions before they were disrupted by this new driver. Perhaps the deer is in a safe position and the other driver is mistaken. Is it even a moral act to "protect" someone from something that may not have occurred in the first place when they were never in any danger?
Combining them, the person pulling in front of you and braking is doing it because they're an asshole and after the fact both you and the asshole see the deer and realize the asshole's self-satisfying actions stopped you from colliding with the animal. Is the act now suddenly moral because it had a good outcome even though the intentions were bad?
The answer to all those questions is "Beats the shit out of me".
But when you start tracing actions not just from the immediate instance and start digging down in to everything else - (Car pulls in front of mine and brakes, preventing me from hitting a deer and thus saving the deer's life and my car from needing repairs, possibly my own life - Good. However, the wear and tear on my car from the more abrupt than expected braking, the waste of gas in accelerating back up to speed, the costs both financially and environmentally of creating and transporting the now worn parts and fuel from the point of manufacture to me - bad) - you can easily get out of hand and start arriving at conclusions like "It is the moral choice to stab this child through the eye with this long metal spike as it causes the greatest amount of harm reduction, both immediately as it's the fastest renewable way to end this child's life and in the long term as this child will not grow up to consumer more resources and produce children that will consume resources, etc" as reasonable options.
I mean, chasing the Most Moral Act and Least Harm Done is how you get things like Skynet, Ultron, Braniac, or other fictional villains who just want to make the world better (by killing everything on it).
SDK wrote: Is that what you were getting at, ST? Is the ability to "measure" accurately the cutoff point where something becomes a question of morality?
More or less, I guess.
Basically an act has causes and effects (for lack of better terminology), and those causes have causes and those effects have effects. And a lot of what j_s has been proposing seems to rely on following the chains out until their ultimate conclusion or at least more than ten steps out.
I'm saying that - once you get a couple of steps away, it's no longer a question of an individual person or an individual act's morality. You're now dealing with societal systems and that's well outside the scope of what one person can be expected to cover with their own decisions.
Whether or not I choose to drink coffee today does in no way shape the coffee industry. I'd need thousands to meaningfully shape it in an area, I'd need tens if not hundreds of thousands to shape it nationally, and I'd need millions of me to shape it globally. Assigning the immorality of low pay to coffee farmers to my choice to drink a cup of coffee today is absurd. The ethics of the various systems that led to that coffee's existence are too great for that single cup to matter. The ethics of the various systems in play of research are too vast for a single researcher's participation to matter.