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    Is murderer a bad person? In many cases murderers are often psychopaths or sociopaths, In which case their apparent ‘bad’ behaviour is a result of a mixture of genetic defects and their interaction with the environment (often a traumatic one). They don’t choose to become a killer, it almost chooses them.

    Is a terrorist a bad person? If you have been indoctrinated from childhood to believe something and any discussion about the belief results in humiliation or even death. Can you blame them for following their culture?

    As I see it, morality is very subjective. So I ask: what makes a person bad?
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    I'm a bad person
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    A literal answer to "Are there really bad people?" is invariably yes - 'bad' has a consistent linguistic definition, 'people' refers to definite entities, thus of course there are. I suspect however the poster is asking a fundamentally more interesting question of:


    "Are people really in control of (i.e. completely responsible for) their actions, such that their 'bad' actions reflect that they are 'bad' people?".

    This is an interesting and important question, that to answer, one must look at a few related concepts.

    Complete responsibility

    Firstly, "completely responsible" in this context reflects the idea that the individual is autonomous and this capacity to self-determine is the major, or perhaps, entire factor in any action performed. The more this concept is explored, the clearer it becomes that it is logically inconsistent. Our understanding of human development and evolution implies common underlying mechanisms to mammals, and more generally animals. There is clear evidence that many behaviours are generally inducible.

    A dog, for example, without food, if presented with food, would usually seek it. This does not reflect a 'completely responsible' dog - in that specific manipulation of the environment, increases measurably the probability of individual actions (behaviours). This can be very easily generalised to any mammal, any animal and clearly any human. As understanding of behaviour has developed, it has become abundantly clear that many behaviours previously difficult to predict, once better understood can be more better predicted once the influencing variables are specifically determined (or measured). This applies to any class of variability be it genetic, environmental or even psychological. The effect of this is that the scope of difficult to predict, thus unexplained variability in animal behaviour is continually narrowed.

    Free choice and free will
    In human psychology there is a concept of 'free choice'. This is reflected in past and existing justice systems, and prevalent religious ideology and appears to provide an explanation for 'unexplained variability' in behaviour. Human beings of certain characteristics (e.g. above certain ages) are thought to have the capacity to make 'free choices' - decisions influenced primarily by their 'will' (another nebulous concept), thus making them the owners of their actions, responsible for their actions (which in the strictest of senses is perfectly consistent), but most interestingly 'to blame' for their action. Ownership and responsibility are reconcilable with our understanding of behaviour. Blame, specifically 'personal' blame, is however difficult to reconcile with our a priori understanding of behaviour as described earlier.

    Blame, responsibility and punishment
    Blame i.e. 'to find fault with' or 'to hold responsible', though not strictly a personal attribute, is often attributed to persons - not necessarily actions. It is this use which is troublesome, when an attempt is made to reconcile behaviours with persons. The consequences of blame in this sense are significantly different from the consequences of responsibility. This is because in finding fault with the person directly, a blamed person is effectively deemed mostly responsible, if not 'completely responsible' for their actions. An example is in previous and many current justice systems.

    A person deemed responsible (in the strictest of senses) for an action that is deleterious to society could have their freedoms limited to minimise the risk of further deleterious actions occurring. This is because, irrespective of the multi-factorial determinants of their behaviour, the behaviours are expressed through their body, thus providing a simple point at which such behaviours can be prevented/limited. This limiting of the individual's freedom would be acting to prevent further harm by limiting specific behaviours. A justice system focused on responsibility thus does not require, or lead to punishment (at least not by intention).

    A person held to be at blame, or blamed for an action would however be in a different situation. I argue that because of the psychological constructs of 'free choice' and 'free will' as described earlier, counter-action to protect society from further harm occurring, is more likely to be directed at the person, not their actions. In this system, since the person is deemed to have had 'free choice' and to have had complete or near-complete responsibility for their actions, that they did not limit their actions could be interpreted at best as ambivalence, at worst as malevolence (implying a desire to cause harm). This interpretation readily gives rise to punishment which aims to deal with (and sometimes to harm) the person, not their behaviour. In extreme, it holds the person to the fullest of account and results in their death - execution.

    Inconsistencies and possible causes
    So it is clear that making an attributive jump from 'bad behaviours' to 'bad persons' is possible, but may rely on concepts which are not necessarily logically consistent. Free choice and free will, as discussed above, are not (in some of their common interpretations) consistent with our understanding of behaviour. The blame of persons can arise from a belief in free choice/will, resulting in and reinforcing the idea of a 'bad person'.

    It is not entirely clear why these inconsistent ideas are nevertheless prevalent. In using justice as an example, I hoped to suggest how these ideas and their attributions can be very practical and useful, reinforcing their role in our daily lives. Interestingly however, many of the practically useful aspects of justice (restricting freedoms of those whose actions lead to harm) can exist without the need to invoke free will, choice or personal blame. I suspect therefore that these ideas exist for much simpler reasons - perhaps they are convenient.
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    (Original post by Do Chickens Fly)
    A literal answer to "Are there really bad people?" is invariably yes - 'bad' has a consistent linguistic definition, 'people' refers to definite entities, thus of course there are. I suspect however the poster is asking a fundamentally more interesting question of:


    "Are people really in control of (i.e. completely responsible for) their actions, such that their 'bad' actions reflect that they are 'bad' people?".

    This is an interesting and important question, that to answer, one must look at a few related concepts.

    Complete responsibility

    Firstly, "completely responsible" in this context reflects the idea that the individual is autonomous and this capacity to self-determine is the major, or perhaps, entire factor in any action performed. The more this concept is explored, the clearer it becomes that it is logically inconsistent. Our understanding of human development and evolution implies common underlying mechanisms to mammals, and more generally animals. There is clear evidence that many behaviours are generally inducible.

    A dog, for example, without food, if presented with food, would usually seek it. This does not reflect a 'completely responsible' dog - in that specific manipulation of the environment, increases measurably the probability of individual actions (behaviours). This can be very easily generalised to any mammal, any animal and clearly any human. As understanding of behaviour has developed, it has become abundantly clear that many behaviours previously difficult to predict, once better understood can be more better predicted once the influencing variables are specifically determined. (or measured) This applies to any class of variability be it genetic, environmental or even psychological. The effect of this is that the scope of difficult to predict, thus unexplained variability in animal behaviour is continually narrowed.

    Free choice and free will
    In human psychology there is a concept of 'free choice'. This is reflected in past and existing justice systems, and prevalent religious ideology and appears to provide an explanation for 'unexplained variability' in behaviour. Human beings of certain characteristics (e.g. above certain ages) are thought to have the capacity to make 'free choices' - decisions influenced primarily by their 'will' (another nebulous concept), thus making them the owners of their actions, responsible for their actions (which in the strictest of senses is perfectly consistent), but most interestingly 'to blame' for their action. Ownership and responsibility are reconcilable with our understanding of behaviour. Blame, specifically 'personal' blame, is the however difficult to reconcile with our a priori understanding of behaviour as described earlier.

    Blame, responsibility and punishment
    Blame i.e. 'to find fault with' or 'to hold responsible', though not strictly a personal attribute, is often attributed to persons - not necessarily actions. It is this use which is troublesome, when an attempt is made to reconcile behaviours with persons. The consequences of blame in this sense are significantly different from the consequences of responsibility. This is because in finding fault with the person directly, a blamed person is effectively deemed mostly responsible, if not 'completely responsible' for their actions. An example is in previous and many current justice systems.

    A person deemed responsible (in the strictest of senses) for an action that is deleterious to society could have their freedoms limited to minimise the risk of further deleterious actions occurring. This is because, irrespective of the multi-factorial determinants of their behaviour, the behaviours are expressed through their body, thus providing a simple point at which such behaviours can be prevented/limited. This limiting of the individual's freedom would be acting to prevent further harm by limiting specific behaviours. A justice system focused on responsibility thus does not require, or lead to punishment (at least not by intention).

    A person held to be at blame, or blamed for an action would however be in a different situation. I argue that because of the psychological constructs of 'free choice' and 'free will' as described earlier, counter-action to protect society from further harm occurring, is more likely to be directed at the person, not their actions. In this system, since the person is deemed to have had 'free choice' and to have had complete or near-complete responsibility for their actions, that they did not limit their actions could be interpreted at best as ambivalence, at worst as malevolence (implying a desire to cause harm). This interpretation readily gives rise to punishment which aims to deal with (and sometimes to harm) the person, not their behaviour. In extreme, it holds the person to the fullest of account and results in their death - execution.

    Inconsistencies and possible causes
    So it is clear that making an attributive jump from 'bad behaviours' to 'bad persons' is possible, but may rely on concepts which are not necessarily logically consistent. Free choice and free will, as discussed above, are not (in some of their common interpretations) consistent with our understanding of behaviour. The blame of persons can arise from a belief in free choice/will, resulting in and reinforcing the idea of a 'bad person'.

    It is not entirely clear why these inconsistent ideas are nevertheless prevalent. In using justice as an example, I hoped to suggest how these ideas and their attributions can be very practical and useful, reinforcing their role in our daily lives. Interestingly however, many of the practically useful aspects of justice (restricting freedoms of those whose actions lead to harm) can exist without the need to invoke free will, choice or personal blame. I suspect therefore that these ideas exist for much simpler reasons - perhaps they are simply convenient.
    Professor Chickens................

    You've just literally dropped an essay bomb.
 
 
 
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