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Why is murder wrong?

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moralist
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Off the cuff, from a social contract perspective, people have banded together in various formats agreeing not to murder one another in exchange for the safety of the group. From a self-interested perspective, the dis-value of being an enemy of this group which rules the area where you reside is pretty high. Additionally, the value of other living producers creating all of the goods which we enjoy access to would be diminished in most cases. That's to say nothing of the high risk of harm to oneself, during the occurrence, when the victim(s) attempts to defend themselves.

I'm curious what turns the conversation was taken in?

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I heard this question discussed on the radio a few days ago and it took some very interesting turns:

Can you explain why it is wrong to murder?

Why is it wrong for humans to be like the animals where only the strongest survive?

Humans are animals. Predators, in fact. But animals (including predators) almost never kill their own species. That's not a definitive answer to the question (because it's not a given that humans should always behave like other predators), but it is a pertinent observation. After all, animal species have been surviving on this planet for quite a while, so they are definitely doing something right.

But our reasoning abilities are superior to just copying other animals. We can do better. So, the "other predators" issue aside, the real question isn't why is it wrong, it's "why would that be right?". Would that help us achieve some desired goal, or not?

According to Objectivism, the purpose of Ethics is to devise a set of principles to help men live and be happy. It isn't a set of arbitrary rules dictating what not to do.

Objectivism posits that living in a society of rules that prohibit the violation of rights through the initiation of force, is one of those things that helps men live and be happy, by facilitating peaceful coexistence and voluntary cooperation.

It presents extensive evidence to support that hypothesis. History proves that in societies which do this right, or even just come close to doing it right, people thrive, while in societies that don't, people don't. Then there's logic, which shows that if one expects to be allowed to live in peace, one must allow others to do the same.

Edited by Nicky
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There aren't any good reasons to murder people, but the reasons not too are vast. Egoism is about doing what is in your best interests. Why would you need to murder someone? Emotional indulgence? Gaining the unearned? Those things are anathema to an Egoists livelyhood anyways.

The disbenefits were highlighted above. For one you become either a predator or a lunatic when you murder someone. You signal that you either have no self controll and that you don't care about the rights of others. If this is the case any human society will be very hesitant to allow you to be free and allow you to cooperate with others. Evidence of this is the average murderes lifestyle is completely undesirable to a rational egoist. It usually involves prison time, a life of savage violence, fear, ostracization, imprisoment, and paranoia. To be a criminal of this kind means to be forced to associate with more criminals, because normal society will not take you.

You would be sacraficing the community of cooperation and coexistence for the one of predation and exploitation. This is a loss.

The next problem is that your are permanently destroying a source of value for what is most likely little gain. The benefits you gan from coexisting with other human beings are tremendous. You are not only destroying that source of value, but harming everyone who that person was in contact with. The effects of this on the community you most likely benefit from will be vast.

If you want to ask about "Getting" away with it we have had a few threads on it already. Even if you did kill a homeless man in a different city and no one found out it would not change the fact that murder is wrong in principle.

Edited by Hairnet
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Off the cuff, from a social contract perspective, people have banded together in various formats agreeing not to murder one another in exchange for the safety of the group. From a self-interested perspective, the dis-value of being an enemy of this group which rules the area where you reside is pretty high. Additionally, the value of other living producers creating all of the goods which we enjoy access to would be diminished in most cases. That's to say nothing of the high risk of harm to oneself, during the occurrence, when the victim(s) attempts to defend themselves.

While you offered an accurate description of the benefits of a social agreement, it does not explain why murder is wrong. I may be assuming that you believe that it is, but if I'm wrong let me know. If one person is stronger than another and kills him and takes possession of his property, why is that wrong?

I'm curious what turns the conversation was taken in?

It went outside the parameters of acceptable discussion in this forum.

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Humans are animals. Predators, in fact. But animals (including predators) almost never kill their own species.

Male lions murder all of the cubs when they join a new pride. Chimpanzees also murder and eat their own.

That's not a definitive answer to the question (because it's not a given that humans should always behave like other predators), but it is a pertinent observation. After all, animal species have been surviving on this planet for quite a while, so they are definitely doing something right.

Yes, they are. So what is wrong with humans behaving like the other predators?

But our reasoning abilities are superior to just copying other animals. We can do better. So, the "other predators" issue aside, the real question isn't why is it wrong, it's "why would that be right?". Would that help us achieve some desired goal, or not?

I think it would all depend on the goal. Forgive me for using such a well worn example. Hitler's goal was to acheive an evolutionary superior race of humans, and so he murdered his own species (although he regarded his victims as being subhuman). If that goal facilitated evolutionary development why would it be wrong to murder in order to acheive it?

According to Objectivism, the purpose of Ethics is to devise a set of principles to help men live and be happy. It isn't a set of arbitrary rules dictating what not to do.
Can you describe that process of devising when there is a disagreement as to what those principles are to be?

Objectivism posits that living in a society of rules that prohibit the violation of rights through the initiation of force, is one of those things that helps men live and be happy, by facilitating peaceful coexistence and voluntary cooperation.

I both understand and appreciate those rules, but they do not explain why murder is wrong.

It presents extensive evidence to support that hypothesis. History proves that in societies which do this right, or even just come close to doing it right, people thrive, while in societies that don't, people don't. Logic shows that if one expects to be allowed to live in peace, one must allow others to do the same.

History does make a strong point, as there is no better teacher than the consequences of peoples' actions.

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Why is it wrong in principle?

"Great quote from the movie Unforgiven: It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have.”

That is what a killer does – He takes away everything the other person had, and the whole life they could have had. This also does not count the victims loved ones who lost someone too." -Spiral Architect

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It's a damn thing to top my own move quote, but I'll try to add a few details :)

The source of all rights is man’s life. The basic question of ethics reduces to the single question of what is necessary for self-preservation. From there you branch into the use of man’s primary method of survival, his mind (reason) and the questions of what his survival according to his nature will require.

Without getting into the whole ethic/political argument from scratch plus the benefits of free association, at this point you can see what is wrong with murder. A man has a right to his life so why would anyone want to live in a society where that fundamental right is threatened? We don’t so we agree to rules to protect our life from threats. We thrive since we have greater time for purposeful action that used to be dedicated to self-defense.

Ultimately it is not in our rational self-interest to live like a normal animal and kill or be killed. We have a mind and the good is to live and use it. To do so we need to respect other people’s right to their life so they respect ours, exactly so we can thrive.

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Male lions murder all of the cubs when they join a new pride. Chimpanzees also murder and eat their own.

Yes, they are. So what is wrong with humans behaving like the other predators?

Like I said, MOST predators don't kill their own species. And I did give other reasons on why we should behave like MOST predators, not like the FEW who do sometimes kill their own.

I think it would all depend on the goal.

Yes, it would. All ethics depend on the goal. If your goal is something other than your own life, then Objectivist Ethics won't help you reach it.

But reality is what it is, and it doesn't care about your goals. One of the basic rules of reality is that life is fragile and requires tending to. If your goal isn't your life, you're going to die. Just because you pick some other, conflicting goal, doesn't mean reality is just going to change, and you can pursue that other, conflicting goal. You'll just die, and then you won't exist, and neither will your goal.

All life forms must act to preserve their own lives. The only difference with humans is that we can choose not to and die. Animals and plants can't do that, they act to preserve their lives automatically.

Hitler's goal was to acheive an evolutionary superior race of humans, and so he murdered his own species (although he regarded his victims as being subhuman). If that goal facilitated evolutionary development why would it be wrong to murder in order to acheive it?

It didn't, though. His goal was stupid, the way he went about achieving it was stupid, it was all stupid. You're asking me to pretend that it wasn't. That's the equivalent of wanting to find out about planes, and starting off by asking people "What if there was no gravity? Would planes still need wings then?".

No, planes wouldn't need wings if there was no gravity. And yes, murder would be perfectly fine, if Hitler had a firm grasp on reality and everything he said about it were true. But there is gravity, and Hitler was a delusional moron. So let's accept that as fact, and continue our discussions from there. Planes need wings, and murder is wrong, because murdering people on principle would put all our values at risk by putting our most fundamental value (the value without which there are no values), our life, at risk.

That's why Hitler's choice, to arbitrarily choose "making a super-race" as his ultimate goal, instead of his own life as his ultimate goal, led to death and destruction, including his own. That's why choosing anything except your own life as your ultimate goal will always lead to the same exact results as Hitler's choice.

I both understand and appreciate those rules, but they do not explain why murder is wrong.

Perhaps my explanation wasn't very clear, I'll give it another shot. For those of us who value our own lives, murder is wrong. It is wrong because it endangers our lives.

That is the best, and only explanation I have ever heard on why murder is wrong. I can't possibly imagine there being any other explanation.

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"Great quote from the movie Unforgiven: It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have.”

That is what a killer does – He takes away everything the other person had, and the whole life they could have had. This also does not count the victims loved ones who lost someone too." -Spiral Architect

That's a great distillation of murder. I love movie quotes. My wife and I have a notepad on which we write down the memorable ones.

But if it isn't wrong for a lion or a chimpanzee to murder their own kind, why is it wrong for humans?

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That's a great distillation of murder. I love movie quotes. My wife and I have a notepad on which we write down the memorable ones.

But if it isn't wrong for a lion or a chimpanzee to murder their own kind, why is it wrong for humans?

Have you considered asking a lion or a chimpanzee for an answer to such a question?
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All life forms must act to preserve their own lives. The only difference with humans is that we can choose not to and die. Animals and plants can't do that, they act to preserve their lives automatically.

So the difference between humans and animals is that we can choose and animals can't choose?

It didn't, though. His goal was stupid, the way he went about achieving it was stupid, it was all stupid. You're asking me to pretend that it wasn't. That's the equivalent of wanting to find out about planes, and starting off by asking people "What if there was no gravity? Would planes still need wings then?"

No, planes wouldn't need wings if there was no gravity. And yes, murder would be perfectly fine, if Hitler had a firm grasp on reality and everything he said about it were true. But there is gravity, and Hitler was a delusional moron.

I agree about the delusional part but not about him being a moron. He was quite intelligent and had very high self esteem. So high, he felt worthy of ruling the world. I don't think it's possible for a human being to have more self esteem than that. He took great pride in what he was acheiving

So let's accept that as fact, and continue our discussions from there. Planes need wings, and murder is wrong, because murdering people on principle would put all our values at risk by putting our most fundamental value (the value without which there are no values), our life, at risk.

Animals' lives are constantly at risk, so what is the difference between them and us?

That's why Hitler's choice, to arbitrarily choose "making a super-race" as his ultimate goal, instead of his own life as his ultimate goal

But his goal was his own life... as the supreme leader of that "super-race".

led to death and destruction, including his own.

So bad moral choices destroy us. I wholly agree with this moral law to which everyone is subject, because it is as real as the physical law of gravity.

That's why choosing anything except your own life as your ultimate goal will always lead to the same exact results as Hitler's choice.

That's almost it... the vital qualifier is it's what you choose your life as.

Perhaps my explanation wasn't very clear, I'll give it another shot. For those of us who value our own lives, murder is wrong. It is wrong because it endangers our lives.

Your first explanation was better. This returns to peril and again raises the question of why is it ok for animals lives to be in peril, but not humans?

That is the best, and only explanation I have ever heard on why murder is wrong. I can't possibly imagine there being any other explanation.

You did good Nicky.

Edited by moralist
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Have you considered asking a lion or a chimpanzee for an answer to such a question?

I meant how we regard their behavior toward their own kind as compared to us and our own. If a chimpanzee murders another chimpanzee he is not prosecuted because it is normal behavior for an animal towards another animal. But if he tries to kill a human by tearing off her face and hands, justice is both swift and sure.

Edited by moralist
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I meant how we regard their behavior toward their own kind as compared to us and our own. If a chimpanzee murders another chimpanzee he is not prosecuted because it is normal behavior for an animal towards another animal. But if he tries to kill a human by tearing off her face and hands, justice is both swift and sure.

The main problem here is that you anthropomorphize animal behavior and vice versa. Human mind, normally speaking, is capable of a great deal rationalization and conceptualization. Lions don't do that only to a very small degree. Monkeys might be a lot more crafty and social than felines and yet we are operating on totally different level as a whole. Long story short, if you want to enter animals realm of thinking and do force on force only than no, murder is pretty much okay, regardless of how many and who. If you however want to be able to call yourself a human then you shouldn't behave or think like something which is 5 times more primitive than you are.

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I meant how we regard their behavior toward their own kind as compared to us and our own. If a chimpanzee murders another chimpanzee he is not prosecuted because it is normal behavior for an animal towards another animal. But if he tries to kill a human by tearing off her face and hands, justice is both swift and sure.

When an animal kills a human being, we kill it to help ensure our safety, not for justice.
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I meant how we regard their behavior toward their own kind as compared to us and our own. If a chimpanzee murders another chimpanzee he is not prosecuted because it is normal behavior for an animal towards another animal. But if he tries to kill a human by tearing off her face and hands, justice is both swift and sure.

Well considering that we are the dominant species with our giant law abiding international civilization, I don't think we could say that the way of the chimp or lion is one to be emulated or thought of as "moral". The only reason we don't prosecute them is that we don't expect much from animals that at the peak of their intelligence act like four year olds. They are less intelligent and therefor do less intelligent things, like murder one another. So no, chimps most likely do not act in their best interests.

You asked earlier why it is wrong in principle in murder, and my distillation of my earlier point is this. It is wrong to murder because it permanently destroys a great potential value for no good reason and it alienates you from the human race in doing so. I can not stress the severity of this alienation enough.

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Well considering that we are the dominant species with our giant law abiding international civilization, I don't think we could say that the way of the chimp or lion is one to be emulated or thought of as "moral". The only reason we don't prosecute them is that we don't expect much from animals that at the peak of their intelligence act like four year olds. They are less intelligent and therefor do less intelligent things, like murder one another. So no, chimps most likely do not act in their best interests.

Your excellent point raised another question. If it is only a matter of intelligence, why do very highly intelligent people murder their own?

And I just wanted to clarify, I agree with most parts of the arguments presented. It's refreshing to read, instead of people romanticizing animals as role models to justify humans behaving like animals.

You asked earlier why it is wrong in principle in murder, and my distillation of my earlier point is this. It is wrong to murder because it permanently destroys a great potential value for no good reason and it alienates you from the human race in doing so. I can not stress the severity of this alienation enough.

That is a big difference, when some animals killing their own kind is necessary to unite them with their group.

Ironically... that almost sounds like gangs.

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Your excellent point raised another question. If it is only a matter of intelligence, why do very highly intelligent people murder their own?

And I just wanted to clarify, I agree with most parts of the arguments presented. It's refreshing to read, instead of people romanticizing animals as role models to justify humans behaving like animals.

That is a big difference, when some animals killing their own kind is necessary to unite them with their group.

Ironically... that almost sounds like gangs.

I do not think it is only a matter of intelligence, it just takes a rational mind to understand ethics in the first place. A chimpanzee and a young child can not really grasp ethics.

LIke I said in my earlier post, if you commit a murder, a any number of other crimes, there is a large probability that you will be ousted from normal society into the criminal underground. The anti-community of crime. That is not a place any person should want to be. There are a lot of good books written by criminals and people who were involved with criminals that share why these societies are often horrible to be in.

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Killing for a perceived gain that is not in self defense.

Thank you for providing a definition to work with that makes your reference to animal behavior more understandable.

Going back to your initial question...

Why is it wrong for humans to be like the animals where only the strongest survive?

If you are drawing a comparison to Darwin's survival of the fittest, humans outperform animals in mental abilities rather than physical strengths, so there's no benefit to be had in lowering ourselves back to conditions on the veld, jungle or ocean; where lions, tigers and sharks are physically superior to humans in every contest of physical strength. Human fitness to survive relies on having developed stronger mental abilities which allows them to outwit both animal predators and murders. A murderer has weaker survival skills than any competent CSI, demonstrated by their eventual capture and incarceration.

In the animal kingdom the fittest survive, meaning the best adapted to their environment. If the ability to murder were a stronger survival skill than the ability to contract non-violently for mutual gain, then murders certainly wouldn't be lurking in the shadows or confined behind bars. When was the last time you saw a thief honking the horn and saying, "Check out this car I just stole", or a murder buying rounds at a bar saying, "Drinks are on the guy I just killed".

-edit-

I've excluded an ethical response to the general question of why it's wrong for humans to behave like animals to avoid apples to oranges comparisons. In human society, murder violates moral reciprocity.

Edited by Devil's Advocate
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