Friday, April 11, 2008

The road to hell ...

Lately, I have been thinking about why people believe that intentions actually matter. What I am really getting at is whether "it is the thought that counts" or it is the actual results/outcome of your actions that counts. I have a couple of examples that will illustrate the question, then I am going to post a poll to find out what you guys think. You will have the option of "Yes", "No", or "It Depends" (an answer created especially for Zach because I don't want him to feel excluded from participation). For those of you that need to elaborate (Zach), please comment.

Situation #1: Suppose there is this great idea that will both improve the lives of millions of people at very low cost and will make someone a gazillionaire. Does it matter whether she decides to manufacture the idea to help people or whether she is in the deal strictly to make money? I submit that it doesn't matter as long as the idea goes forward because people will be helped with both intentions. If you think it matters, please tell me how you determine the intent of the person with the idea.

Situation #2: Suppose a young black (or white) man is murdered for no apparent reason (wrong place, wrong time). When they find those responsible for the act, the prosecuting attorney finds out that the dirtbags are white (or black) supremacists and decides to charge them with a hate crime in addition to the murder. Is the act of killing more wrong because it was done for an idiotic reason? Hate crime legislation is one thing that I don't comprehend and probably never will. I have never been persuaded that (1) we can determine what someone was thinking when they committed a horrific act and (2) why it is worse if it was done for "hate" reasons rather than for money, drugs, or some other senseless reason.

I think that this pretty much spans the spectrum from happy thoughts to heinous acts. The question is the same in both cases: Does it matter WHY someone does rather than WHAT someone does?

When answering, remember that there is a reason for the saying, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions."


Kritter Krit said...

Wow. Random, indeed.

But what I want to know is why was the inventor/gazillionaire/helper person a she?

Not that that's bad. I was just wondering. You know, your intentions. =)

Kritter Krit said...

And regarding your question...

Sorry to go "Zach" on you, but I think it depends. On whether you're studying:

A.) People and their motivations.

B.) Outcomes (resulting from a person's decisions).

Anonymous said...

If people are helped then who cares if someone profits. You can't take it with you when you die anyway.

Robert (Bob) English said...

Well, as far as Situation 1 is concerned, my opinion is that it doesn't matter the intention either. People benefit, period.

Situation 2 though, let's see...if found guilty, I'm guessing the killers will be doing a prison sentence regardless of whether it's a "hate crime" or not, although I guess they might have more time added to their sentence if it's a hate crime maybe? I too think it is difficult, probably next to impossible alot of the time, to positively, 100% know whether it's a hate crime or not. Probably depends on the killer's story. BUT, does it really matter if it's 'labeled' hate crime or not? I mean, a crime has been committed either way. Society likes to "label" everything, and society might want to use the term "hate crime" as a deturrent for future possible crimes? Don't we feel obligated to hold people up to a certain moral/ethical bar in an attempt to measure people's goodness/badness? People have always done this, and always will do this I suppose.

My question would be, what about Intent vs. No-Intent. What if someone kills some innocent people (with a gun, a car, whatever) on purpose because he hates society, according to you, should he serve more prison time (or be put to death) compared to the person that is proven to have Accidentally killed those same people with the same weapon?

Kritter Krit said...

Ooo, Rob. Good question.

And kind of the point I was making to Russ the other night when we were going back-and-forth at the computer.

The person who guns down the people "just because" (he feels like it) deserves more punishment than the person who accidentally shoots somebody. I mean, obviously, right?

But if you're strictly talking "outcomes", then shot is shot is shot. Dead is dead. Intention doesn't matter.

chance said...

there is much discussion in the law of why motivation matters independent of impact. hate crime is an excellent example.

hate crime legislation recognizes that criminal intentions can be important, independent of the actions they are associated with, because when they arise from a particular tradition of hatred, they can, in the aggregate, be a social force that perpetuates and reinforces the tradition of hate.

hatred of black people, and gay people, and jews, and catholics, and immigrants is different than hatred of an individual, ad hominem, because it represents a destructive cutural institution.

when someone murders another BECAUSE they belong to one of those groups, they cause social harm in addition to the individual harm. the social harm is manifesting hatred in violence, which encourages the same in others that share the hatred and the potential to do violence. that additional harm deserves punishment and should be deterred.

criminal law is about societal condemnation of behavior. we are concerned with those that do violence to individuals. we are more concerned with those that do violence to classes of people.

obviously the respose is "but how can you know when someone acts out of hatred for a class." however, that question is challenges our criminal justice system, not hate crime legislation. it is no more mysterious and difficult to determine the mental state of a hate criminal than any other criminal (and the state must almost always make a showing of mental state). we look to statements, actions, circumstnaces, and ask a jury to do the best it can of deciding whether this was a crime, a hate crime, or a misunderstanding.

it's a devilishly hard question. but i vote for the importance of intentions because it MEANS something different to me and the world when people act out of hatred.

Kritter Krit said...


Wow. Rock me, Amadeus!

That was one GOOD answer. I change my vote to what you said.

Now, come on over to my blog and have a discussion about stuff that really matters. Like Fluff TV and crayons up the nose.

Russ said...

Rob and Kristy,

The law has always recognized that pre-mediatated acts are worse than actions that occur in the moment or accidental actions. I don't disagree with that philosophy.


Chance and Kristy,

Society should NOT be more concerned with protecting groups than individuals. It is individuals that cede freedoms for the protection given to them by society. This is the essential problem with Identity Politics and philosophies that put people in groups. I believe that seeing someone as a member of a group (African-American, Jewish, Catholic, White, etc.) rather than seeing an individual causes many of the problems that you claim the hate crime legislation tries to prevent.


Thank you all for your comments.

chance said...

the best solution for problems of class hatred would be to elliminate the perception of classes, leaving only individuals that do not represent a cultural, religious, or ethnic group. but should the victims of crimes motivated by class hatred suffer while the law indulges the libertarian impulse of reducing the world to an individual of absolute autonomy? should the law recognize a legal fiction of a victim with no cultural identity?

my point is, the legal system has the unfortunate function of operating in reality and in the present to solve existing problems that demand answers. crimes motivated by class hatred are real. and an appeal to hate criminals to shed their perceptions of groupings among individuals ain't going to treat the problem. punishing the injury done to society by hate crimes in addition to the injury done to the victim does treat the problem and is tenable.

the law is built of theories but it doesn't have the luxery of being a theory. it is the application of theories to the most serious of problems.

libertarianism is an appealing theory for its benefits to the libertarian, but it fails in practice for a lack of compassion and practicability, which are considerations as necessary to lawmaking as economics and respect for individual liberties.

great thread russ. hope fayetteville is treating you well.

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