Can we punish evil intent?

Lately I have been thinking a lot about evil. This could be mostly because I am studying it as a philosophical concept. In the last seminar we have spoken about evil thoughts, and asked can we be taken to be morally responsible for them?

My take is that thoughts are not something which individuals could ever be morally culpable for. Just the idea that we can call someone a bad person for something they thought takes us onto very thin philosophical ice. Orwell’s idea of thoughtcrime comes to mind instantly. The only thing individuals could ever truthfully be judged for is actions. If when a driver cuts me off I have thoughts which are perhaps unsavory. But my thoughts and feelings are the time are not up to me. I don’t reason, at first anyway, that I should be angry. I merely become angry. To me there is no question of whether or not I can be judged for the thought. What I could however be judged on, is my behavior. Not that I was to side with the behaviorists and say that all there is to us persons is behavior.

I do say though, that my behavior is the only thing that I can be judged on. It is because rationally, I can chose to behave in this way and not in that. I can reason with myself. Take anger: I could let myself get more angry at the poor quality drivers (and judging by their behavior, poor quality people) who cut me off. Being a rational man though, I chose not to give in to my passions.

Therefore, people judge me as a (most of the time) calm individual who hopefully is pleasant to have around. If I had reasoned and chose to follow through on my “ unsavory” thoughts, I could rightly be judged as being wrong.

To put my point to bed: we don’t judge murderers for thinking about murder, but rather for the actual act of murder. When we judge would-be murderers for intent, it is not because of their original impulse to kill, but rather for their rational and reasonable follow through with the impulse.

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~ by majorshake on September 17, 2011.

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