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23053Re: [evol-psych] The Moral Animal

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  • Steven D'Aprano
    Jan 31, 2003
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      On Fri, 31 Jan 2003 08:19, Hill, David wrote:

      > Let me consider one clear mistake that
      > Wright makes, a mistake typical of moralists of his kind. He writes,
      > "Once you see the forces that govern behavior, it's harder to blame
      > the behaver." (The Moral Animal, p. 348) This is often taken for a
      > truism, but is in fact plainly false. My brother was murdered some
      > years ago, and not surprisingly I took an interest in his killers. I
      > learned something about their motives, which were in fact easy enough
      > to understand. The more I knew of them, the more culpable they
      > appeared. I do not doubt that their actions can be interpreted as a
      > complex of hereditary factors and environmental influences. The
      > killer was predisposed to violence (had been all her life). She was
      > a bomb waiting to go off, and it may be that this disposition had
      > genetic causes. This did not make her appear less culpable. It
      > explained and illuminated her culpability.

      I do not know the details of this case, so I cannot possibly judge to
      what extent the killer or killers are culpable. But it seems to me that
      there is an essential contradiction being shown here.

      If the killer truly was "a bomb waiting to go off", then it what sense
      did she have a choice in committing murder or not? Bombs do not have
      free will, and when they go off, we don't blame the bomb, we blame the

      David would have it that the killer was simultaneously a dangerous
      killer who was CERTAIN to kill sooner or later, and also a free agent
      who could choose whether or not to commit murder. This is not unique to
      David: the phrase "a bomb waiting to go off" is a cliche, and even when
      it is not used, people often go to great lengths to portray the killer
      as being beyond redemption, beyond any possibility of reform, incapable
      of choosing to not kill. But at the same time, they want the killer to
      take moral responsibility for committing murder. (Murder requires
      conscious choice: earthquakes and sharks and the HIV virus do not
      murder, although they frequently kill.)

      Responsibility in a moral sense is different from responsibility in the
      sense of cause and effect. If I truly have no choice in the matter,
      then while I may have casual responsibility for my acts (after all, I
      did do them) I may not have moral resposibility, since I cannot NOT do

      (The question of how to treat these people is a seperate issue.)

      Steven D'Aprano
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