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The Ethics of Thoughts and Desires

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sanchopanza
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Can thoughts and desires, anything within a person's own mind, ever be subject to moral judgement?

I have been arguing this point with a few people and surprisingly few agree with me that thoughts and desires will always be amoral. I purposely used extreme examples such as child molestation to prove the point and most people argue back that even thinking about immoral actions is immoral. I even spoke to somebody who denied the existence of amorality - every action or thought he concluded must either be right or wrong, e.g. me thinking about clicking my fingers is a moral act.

Anybody else experience this? You probably have and anyway I was just wondering how other people deal with this level of idiocy.

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Can thoughts and desires, anything within a person's own mind, ever be subject to moral judgement?

A person's choices are subject to moral judgment. But, since your thoughts and desires are influenced by the choices you have made, they are indicators of how moral your choices have been.

most people argue back that even thinking about immoral actions is immoral.

From Atlas Shrugged: "'There are no evil thoughts, Mr. Rearden,' Francisco said, 'except one: the refusal to think.'"

Just thinking about child molestation is not immoral in itself. You cannot decide whether it's a good thing or not unless you think about it. However, once you have thought it over and come to the conclusion that it's a bad thing, your only moral choice is to avoid it. If you make the wrong choice at this point--if you decide you "like" child molestation even if it is bad, or exactly because it is bad--and you develop a habit of thinking desirously about molesting children, you have planted in your soul the seeds of actually molesting children.

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'There are no evil thoughts, Mr. Rearden,' Francisco said, 'except one: the refusal to think.'

Thought is always moral (or at least not immoral). Non-thought is immoral.

What a person thinks about is to some extent an indicator of his values, as CF said. However, they reflect the morality of his values but have no intrinsic morality. (Thought versus non-thought is a moral choice, an action, a value, which is why this distinction is one of morality.)

A person thinking all day about child molestation we would generally describe as sick. Why? Because, apparently, it's on the 'good' side of his value system - not because he's thinking about things. If one enjoys thinking of such things, generally he is already immoral because of his value system.

The thought itself is not subject to moral judgment, but the value system influencing it is.

One cannot take a moral measurement of an indicator, but only of a thing which here is being indicated.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Moral judgment for real events can only be applied to choices that result in those events, and choosing to think about something evil is morally questionable but not as bad as actually choosing to do the thing. Humans are not perfect, and we all have times when our conscience must step in an remind us of morality, and that doesn't change the preexisting thoughts, only our choice to respond to them. If you catch a person in the act of murder and save the victim, then the person is still guilty of an intent to kill but the moral consequence is not so severe because there is less injustice to correct. If a man is brainwashed to think and do evil then the actions such a person takes are not his own choice, because he did not choose to be brainwashed, and he is not morally guilty of them.

If there was a way to monitor inner thoughts, then would it be right to punish people if you monitored constant thoughts of child molestation in their brain, and even an intention to commit the act?

do children have rights not to be thought of in a sexual way by adults? If so, then that would give me sanction to monitor men's minds in order to guarantee this right is not violated.

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choosing to think about something evil is morally questionable

Why?

If you catch a person in the act of murder and save the victim, then the person is still guilty of an intent to kill

Intent to ... means provably has taken steps to but has not yet succeeded in .... Intent is not thought, but partial action. All actions are subject to moral judgment, but this doesn't necessarily lead to an equivalent statement about thoughts.

If a man is brainwashed to think and do evil then the actions such a person takes are not his own choice, because he did not choose to be brainwashed, and he is not morally guilty of them.

Such a thing is no longer a man.

If there was a way to monitor inner thoughts, then would it be right to punish people if you monitored constant thoughts of child molestation in their brain, and even an intention to commit the act?

If there was a way to monitor the books a person read, then would it be right to punish people if they only read millions of books on building bombs, or is provable intent to blow up a crowd necessary too?

do children have rights not to be thought of in a sexual way by adults? If so, then that would give me sanction to monitor men's minds in order to guarantee this right is not violated.

No, but all people have the right not to be molested in any way by anybody. Therefore, there is no sanction for Big Brotherhood.

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choosing to think about something evil is morally questionable

I would say that choosing to think about something that might be evil (but you're not sure it is) in order to find out whether it actually is evil, is perfectly moral. Choosing to think about something you know is evil just because you find some perverse joy in imagining it happening, is definitely a self-destructive, and therefore immoral, choice.

Not that any thoughts should be made illegal. Mere thoughts don't violate anybody's rights, even if they result from immoral choices.

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  • 5 months later...
Intent to ... means provably has taken steps to but has not yet succeeded in ....  Intent is not thought, but partial action.  All actions are subject to moral judgment, but this doesn't necessarily lead to an equivalent statement about thoughts.

I have to disagree with your semantics here. In the specific example given, you are correct in the legal sense of the word, but it sounds like you address intent in a more universal fashion. Intent is thought, deliberate and planned thought, but it can only be demonstrated (or proven) by action in furtherance to that intent or admission by the thinker. One may intend to do many things, without ever actually acting on that intent.

"It was my intent to take out the garbage, but I forgot."

VES

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