Responsibility

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Responsibility

Postby mypsychoticself » Mon Mar 02, 2009 12:45 am UTC

In 2003 a study was published concerning a man with a right orbitofrontal tumor (more details in attached PDF). Short version is that the tumor turned him into a sex-obsessed pedophile who was unable to control his behavior.
All western rules and laws concerning behavior and responsibility hinge on the ability of the agent to control his/her behavior and the ability of the agent to know what s/he is doing. If brain structure and health can limit these abilities, how do we know who is responsible for their behavior. How much of our own behavior are we responsible for?

Honestly, I have no idea. I'd just like to see what other people think.
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Re: Responsibility

Postby poxic » Mon Mar 02, 2009 1:22 am UTC

From one point of view, it doesn't matter much whether a person is able to control their behaviour or not. If they commit a crime against another (and are caught), they are punished. If they commit another crime, they are punished again. If they don't stop committing crimes, whether because they can't or they won't, they keep getting punished, with sentences that get longer with each infraction (in theory, anyway). In Canada, we even have a category called dangerous offender -- someone who's been judged to be incapable or unwilling to stop offending, and who can be jailed indefinitely to keep them from doing further harm.

If we show no mercy at all, then we simply eliminate anyone who deviates from the accepted social norms. If we show unlimited mercy, then we never punish anyone but do our best to figure out what went wrong for them. We figure out how we can "make them right" so they can return to a normal social role. In this man's case, doctors eventually figured out exactly what went wrong. Surgery fixed the problem (twice). Throwing him in prison wouldn't have fixed anything at all.

I found this quote from the paper interesting: "Nevertheless, poor impulse regulation leads to bad judgment and sociopathic behavior." Could we "fix" a significant number of habitual criminals if we found a way to repair faulty impulse regulation? (Most of us have thoughts that we choose not to act on, because we recognise that it would be a bad idea. That's impulse regulation. It needs to work well in order for us to live in groups and not kill each other all the time.)

The best we seem to be able to do is punish offenders when we can, and fix them if we figure out that something's gone wrong. It would be nice to have a justice system that could do this reliably well...
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Re: Responsibility

Postby Dani » Mon Mar 02, 2009 1:55 am UTC

Reminds me of the House episode where the man's niceness was a symptom of being sick.

I agree that if you did it, you have to pay the price. I remember reading about a certain gene or set of genes that made someone reckless. People could say that since they had that/those genes they couldn't help themselves, they were programmed that way. That by no means makes it okay. You can't start making exceptions like that.

This is a problem that comes with understanding more and more of how the mind works. In the above example, the police could just start arresting people with that/those genes as well. They could justify it by saying they were a threat to society and wouldn't be able to stop themselves from doing harm.

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Re: Responsibility

Postby Comic JK » Mon Mar 02, 2009 2:15 am UTC

It all comes down to, when does a tendency to harm people become a compulsion? We can't jail everyone with violent tendencies; for one thing, many cops would be jailing themselves. So really, all we can do is judge people by their actions and leave what they were "really thinking" between them and God.
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Re: Responsibility

Postby Chen » Mon Mar 02, 2009 2:17 pm UTC

poxic wrote:From one point of view, it doesn't matter much whether a person is able to control their behaviour or not. If they commit a crime against another (and are caught), they are punished. If they commit another crime, they are punished again. If they don't stop committing crimes, whether because they can't or they won't, they keep getting punished, with sentences that get longer with each infraction (in theory, anyway). In Canada, we even have a category called dangerous offender -- someone who's been judged to be incapable or unwilling to stop offending, and who can be jailed indefinitely to keep them from doing further harm.


The bolded statement above is simply not correct. There are numerous legal defenses regarding diminished capacity that can be used so that, even though someone committed a crime, they will not be punished for it. An example that was on wikipedia was of Lorena Bobbit being found not guilty due to a Irresistible Impulse defense. There are already distinctions made in the law to determine whether or not you are in control of your actions. I'd imagine, in the tumor case, that if the necessary psychiatric tests were done and the person was found to not be in control of their actions they would receive lesser if any punishment. They'd likely be moved to a medical institution to be treated for this condition. Now if no treatment was possible I am unsure of what would or even should be done. In all practicality you'd need to somehow restrict this person's access to the rest of society if they are constantly a danger to it. On the other hand if they are not legally in control of their actions it does not seem just to actually lock them away.

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Re: Responsibility

Postby mypsychoticself » Mon Mar 02, 2009 2:59 pm UTC

They'd likely be moved to a medical institution to be treated for this condition. Now if no treatment was possible I am unsure of what would or even should be done. In all practicality you'd need to somehow restrict this person's access to the rest of society if they are constantly a danger to it. On the other hand if they are not legally in control of their actions it does not seem just to actually lock them away.


If someone is determined to be a danger to themselves or others then they can be forcibly institutionalized, but if they enter the institution themselves then they can leave before it's considered "safe."
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Re: Responsibility

Postby Turambar » Mon Mar 02, 2009 5:32 pm UTC

What I find most interesting about the whole legal system is that implicit within its framework is the assumption of free will. If we take a relatively dispassionate scientific viewpoint, I don't think there's any convincing argument for why a complicated mass of electrical impulses and neurochemicals should have any active choice about what it does (this is not to say that it's a purely deterministic, certain system, just that the random chance in it doesn't result in free will). If free will does not, in fact, exist, a more sensible system than trying to "punish" people for something they did "wrong" would be to just subject them to conditioning seeking to ensure that they do not re-offend.

It's right about here that I realize I just started rehashing A Clockwork Orange.
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Re: Responsibility

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon Mar 02, 2009 5:44 pm UTC

But we treat minors and the mentally disturbed differently then everyone else. If someone who has special needs is cared for by the state, and they break out and kill someone, they aren't thrown in jail, they're thrown back into whatever institution they escaped from, and their wards are held responsible.

The House episode that dealt with the convict who had the tumor that made him violent made some good points. People have tendencies, and people are able to control them. If you have a medical condition that prevents you from controlling yourself, you belong somewhere where you can't hurt anyone when you are out of control. If you can control your medical condition, then do so, like everyone else who isn't out there murdering people when they get angry.

We as descendants of primates (see other thread) are predisposed towards emotional responses. We cannot escape the fact that when we see something upsetting on an evolutionary level (A child being abused, someone 'cheating' and getting better rewards then us, etc) we get angry. That anger is inescapable, but we as human beings are able to act outside of it, to make the right decision. In short, responsibility is all we have that separates us from animals, and our existence should be a constant exercise in remembering that.
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Re: Responsibility

Postby Turambar » Tue Mar 03, 2009 3:49 am UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:We as descendants of primates (see other thread) are predisposed towards emotional responses. We cannot escape the fact that when we see something upsetting on an evolutionary level (A child being abused, someone 'cheating' and getting better rewards then us, etc) we get angry. That anger is inescapable, but we as human beings are able to act outside of it, to make the right decision. In short, responsibility is all we have that separates us from animals, and our existence should be a constant exercise in remembering that.

Does responsibility really separate someone from animals? My dogs and cat definitely know when they've done something bad. Their downcast eyes, tail tucked between the legs, skittish appearance, all of that indicates that they are aware of having broken the rules. And I think it's more than that they are aware of my irritation at them, since sometimes they act that way before I'm even aware of their misbehavior. I see no reason to assume that they don't have a genuine guilt response. They are aware that their actions violated the household code of morality, which they are subject to, and respond with body language not unlike that of a child caught stealing from the cookie jar.
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Re: Responsibility

Postby Velict » Tue Mar 03, 2009 5:31 am UTC

I'm guessing that the person in question would be able to plead Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity (NGRI) in the United States, as lack of ability to control one's actions is considered to be one of the key indicators in insanity in legal terms (see: Insanity Defense or The Evolution of the Insanity Plea).

To simplistically determine to what extent a person is responsible for his actions, I prefer the quasi-legal approach: if there's nothing medically wrong with you, if you're legally sane, you're responsible for everything you do in a court of law. There may have been factors and circumstances that brought you to the point where you committed a crime, but ultimately, you made a conscious decision to break the law and deserve to be punished for it.

Now, there are obviously a few gray areas here (such as criminally negligent homicide), but even in the vast majority of exceptions to this general philosophy, the defendant is still responsible for his actions at some level (in the example of criminally negligent homicide, the defendant has been reckless or criminally negligent), and deserves to be punished.

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Re: Responsibility

Postby psychaotix » Tue Mar 03, 2009 1:42 pm UTC

There is a grey area to my mind. I'll pin myself up for this one. I suffer from some kind of cross-wiring in my brain, that means when certain triggers are pushed, I cross the line from normality, to a kind of primitive rage. I become so violent I could literally kill, and I have absolutely no memory of this ever occuring. Its only been in the last few years that I have even become aware of the significance of the blank areas when I try and recall a certain event, thanks to the video camera. Now, I have learnt to control myself through some rather wierd methods, not least my involvement in my local Volunteer fire brigade, but I have found that I have become calmer with that, and a rather simplistic form of meditation, where I spend an hour or two alone, in the quiet, and just force myself to "sleep" sitting up.

The issue is that If i had killed someone when I am angry, I could honestly plead no memory of the incident, since it is documented by 2 neuropsychologists that this does occur, with one actually witnessing the event. However, during these periods, I am unable to account for my own actions by my own recall. Should I be jailed? If I didn't have this problem, yes. However I do, so It becomes a grey area. Medication has a tendancy to make things worse, but I cant go for the rest of my life strapped to a bed in an asylum because I may trigger. This is where intervention programs come in. A person should go through them, along with court ordered treatment, such as regular visits to a psychologists, and serve community service, along with regular check-in's with the cops.If a visit is skipped for the shrink, and there is no VALID reason, then the court can state that the remainder of time needs to be served in a cell.

In short, A person should be held accountable to the standard of an "average" person of the era. If there is a problem preventing normal behaviour, then an effort to locate the source should be made.

The first paragraph is real, but the part about comitting murder is hypothetical... My Firefighter membership requires no criminal record.

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Re: Responsibility

Postby Mzyxptlk » Tue Mar 03, 2009 2:07 pm UTC

Turambar wrote:
Izawwlgood wrote:We as descendants of primates (see other thread) are predisposed towards emotional responses. We cannot escape the fact that when we see something upsetting on an evolutionary level (A child being abused, someone 'cheating' and getting better rewards then us, etc) we get angry. That anger is inescapable, but we as human beings are able to act outside of it, to make the right decision. In short, responsibility is all we have that separates us from animals, and our existence should be a constant exercise in remembering that.

Does responsibility really separate someone from animals? My dogs and cat definitely know when they've done something bad. Their downcast eyes, tail tucked between the legs, skittish appearance, all of that indicates that they are aware of having broken the rules. And I think it's more than that they are aware of my irritation at them, since sometimes they act that way before I'm even aware of their misbehavior. I see no reason to assume that they don't have a genuine guilt response. They are aware that their actions violated the household code of morality, which they are subject to, and respond with body language not unlike that of a child caught stealing from the cookie jar.

Yes and no. Yes, pet animals (and presumably so can wild ones) can distinguish between doing bad things and good things. No, this is not because they feel genuine guilt, but because we punish them for doing bad things and reward them for doing good things. We are imposing our morality onto them from above, and though they do not agree with of even understand our morality, they understand the implications of doing bad things (punishment) and good things (reward). When your cat is showing awareness of having done something that you think is bad, you are not seeing proof of their understanding of your moral codes, but instead a classically conditioned response to the punishment they know you're going to administer when the cat piss on your couch has finally permeated your pants and reached your skin.
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Re: Responsibility

Postby Turambar » Tue Mar 03, 2009 11:01 pm UTC

Mzyxptlk wrote:Yes and no. Yes, pet animals (and presumably so can wild ones) can distinguish between doing bad things and good things. No, this is not because they feel genuine guilt, but because we punish them for doing bad things and reward them for doing good things. We are imposing our morality onto them from above, and though they do not agree with of even understand our morality, they understand the implications of doing bad things (punishment) and good things (reward). When your cat is showing awareness of having done something that you think is bad, you are not seeing proof of their understanding of your moral codes, but instead a classically conditioned response to the punishment they know you're going to administer when the cat piss on your couch has finally permeated your pants and reached your skin.

Just to throw this out there, who's to say that our own guilt response is anything more than the result of conditioning? What results in guilt varies greatly from culture to culture, so it seems apparent that to at least some degree, feelings of guilt are based simply on what we know our society expects of us. There's certainly a part that's biologically ingrained, but I don't see why the situation can't be more or less the same for us as for dogs.
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Re: Responsibility

Postby spent » Tue Mar 03, 2009 11:41 pm UTC

Turambar wrote:
Mzyxptlk wrote:Yes and no. Yes, pet animals (and presumably so can wild ones) can distinguish between doing bad things and good things. No, this is not because they feel genuine guilt, but because we punish them for doing bad things and reward them for doing good things. We are imposing our morality onto them from above, and though they do not agree with of even understand our morality, they understand the implications of doing bad things (punishment) and good things (reward). When your cat is showing awareness of having done something that you think is bad, you are not seeing proof of their understanding of your moral codes, but instead a classically conditioned response to the punishment they know you're going to administer when the cat piss on your couch has finally permeated your pants and reached your skin.

Just to throw this out there, who's to say that our own guilt response is anything more than the result of conditioning? What results in guilt varies greatly from culture to culture, so it seems apparent that to at least some degree, feelings of guilt are based simply on what we know our society expects of us. There's certainly a part that's biologically ingrained, but I don't see why the situation can't be more or less the same for us as for dogs.


Society plays a big part in teaching us what to feel guilty about, not how to feel guilty.

Otherwise we'd all be positively sociopathic.

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Re: Responsibility

Postby mypsychoticself » Wed Mar 04, 2009 2:01 am UTC

Society plays a big part in teaching us what to feel guilty about, not how to feel guilty.

Otherwise we'd all be positively sociopathic.


Is the ability to feel empathy inborn or learned? If it's inborn, should we be held accountable for not having it; if it's learned, should we be held accountable for not having been taught it? If all of our behavior is a mixture of genetics and conditioning, what are we ultimately responsible for?

I cannot believe that we aren't responsible for anything, even though that seems to be the logical conclusion.
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Re: Responsibility

Postby poxic » Wed Mar 04, 2009 2:33 am UTC

Mirror neurons exist in both humans and other animals, though I think humans might have more of them. They allow us to "instinctively" understand another's action as though we were doing that action ourselves. There is also discussion that they might help us understand another's intentions, forming a basis for empathy. Or something like that.

If all of this is true -- we only found out about mirror neurons within the last decade, so we could be wrong -- then it would seem that empathy and understanding intent are indeed available to at least some animals other than humans.
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Re: Responsibility

Postby spent » Wed Mar 04, 2009 4:19 am UTC

mypsychoticself wrote:
Is the ability to feel empathy inborn or learned? If it's inborn, should we be held accountable for not having it; if it's learned, should we be held accountable for not having been taught it? If all of our behavior is a mixture of genetics and conditioning, what are we ultimately responsible for?


I think feelings like guilt and empathy find their origins biologically, however, the severity with which a person feels those feelings will vary depending upon genetics or upbringing. Interestingly, sociopathy in adults shows a strong genetic component, while in adolescents it seems as though environmental factors are more culpable. Which could have a number of interesting implications (or the statistic could be an artifact of the research methods, I'm not sure, i found it on wiki). Anyways, assuming it's legit, that could imply empathy is biological in origin, yet it can be suppressed by upbringing.


mypsychoticself wrote:I cannot believe that we aren't responsible for anything, even though that seems to be the logical conclusion.


Yes, I often feel the same way. But even if ultimately the entire universe is deterministic, we still feel as though we're in control, which I think is the key point in this discussion. We may not be in total control of our actions, but our assumption, that "we are in control" is the most fundamental drive of human behaviour.

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Re: Responsibility

Postby Pez Dispens3r » Fri Mar 06, 2009 1:33 pm UTC

Mzyxptlk wrote:
Turambar wrote:
Izawwlgood wrote:We as descendants of primates (see other thread) are predisposed towards emotional responses. We cannot escape the fact that when we see something upsetting on an evolutionary level (A child being abused, someone 'cheating' and getting better rewards then us, etc) we get angry. That anger is inescapable, but we as human beings are able to act outside of it, to make the right decision. In short, responsibility is all we have that separates us from animals, and our existence should be a constant exercise in remembering that.

Does responsibility really separate someone from animals? My dogs and cat definitely know when they've done something bad. Their downcast eyes, tail tucked between the legs, skittish appearance, all of that indicates that they are aware of having broken the rules. And I think it's more than that they are aware of my irritation at them, since sometimes they act that way before I'm even aware of their misbehavior. I see no reason to assume that they don't have a genuine guilt response. They are aware that their actions violated the household code of morality, which they are subject to, and respond with body language not unlike that of a child caught stealing from the cookie jar.

Yes and no. Yes, pet animals (and presumably so can wild ones) can distinguish between doing bad things and good things. No, this is not because they feel genuine guilt, but because we punish them for doing bad things and reward them for doing good things. We are imposing our morality onto them from above, and though they do not agree with of even understand our morality, they understand the implications of doing bad things (punishment) and good things (reward). When your cat is showing awareness of having done something that you think is bad, you are not seeing proof of their understanding of your moral codes, but instead a classically conditioned response to the punishment they know you're going to administer when the cat piss on your couch has finally permeated your pants and reached your skin.


When my mother goes out to put the clothes on the line the dog follows her outside and then goes and takes a piss in the garden. I commented on this, and she said it was because when he was a puppy she'd take him outside with her, and if he did a wee outside she'd praise him... you know 'you're such a good boy', all that stuff.

I said to her 'that's really clever, how'd you come up with it?' She said, 'well, it's how I got you toilet trained.'

In short, I agree with Turambar: that if pet morality is just conditioning, than so is human morality. Our emotions are not unique to us, and neither is responsibility.
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Re: Responsibility

Postby Mzyxptlk » Fri Mar 06, 2009 2:19 pm UTC

Pez Dispens3r wrote:
Mzyxptlk wrote:Yes and no. Yes, pet animals (and presumably so can wild ones) can distinguish between doing bad things and good things. No, this is not because they feel genuine guilt, but because we punish them for doing bad things and reward them for doing good things. We are imposing our morality onto them from above, and though they do not agree with of even understand our morality, they understand the implications of doing bad things (punishment) and good things (reward). When your cat is showing awareness of having done something that you think is bad, you are not seeing proof of their understanding of your moral codes, but instead a classically conditioned response to the punishment they know you're going to administer when the cat piss on your couch has finally permeated your pants and reached your skin.

When my mother goes out to put the clothes on the line the dog follows her outside and then goes and takes a piss in the garden. I commented on this, and she said it was because when he was a puppy she'd take him outside with her, and if he did a wee outside she'd praise him... you know 'you're such a good boy', all that stuff.

I said to her 'that's really clever, how'd you come up with it?' She said, 'well, it's how I got you toilet trained.'

In short, I agree with Turambar: that if pet morality is just conditioning, than so is human morality. Our emotions are not unique to us, and neither is responsibility.

Why do you piss in the toilet? Because your mother praised you when you were a kid? The fact that classical conditioning works on both humans and animals is no proof of animal morality.

The reason I don't kill people (moving a bit further into the realm of morality) is not because I don't want to go to jail. If it was I would be known as a sociopath. It's because I feel it's wrong to kill people.
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Re: Responsibility

Postby setzer777 » Fri Mar 06, 2009 8:47 pm UTC

mypsychoticself wrote:Is the ability to feel empathy inborn or learned? If it's inborn, should we be held accountable for not having it; if it's learned, should we be held accountable for not having been taught it? If all of our behavior is a mixture of genetics and conditioning, what are we ultimately responsible for?

I cannot believe that we aren't responsible for anything, even though that seems to be the logical conclusion.


Even when we are talking about interactions of inanimate matter, we assign "responsibility" to each step in the causal chain. We don't say "the tornado wasn't responsible for that house being blown down, the big bang was". Likewise, a person is responsible for a crime if the chain of causality leading up to the crime includes those deterministic paths of matter we call "conscious choice".
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Re: Responsibility

Postby Rinsaikeru » Sat Mar 07, 2009 12:07 am UTC

Even in a strictly deterministic sense, if someone is caused to do something based on previous events/actions--they would still be held responsible socially. (Not necessarily because they could have done otherwise--but because we act as though they could have). Whether people are responsible for their actions at all is a matter for debate even if you don't consider impaired judgement.
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Re: Responsibility

Postby Pez Dispens3r » Sat Mar 07, 2009 1:31 am UTC

Mzyxptlk wrote:
Pez Dispens3r wrote:
Mzyxptlk wrote:Yes and no. Yes, pet animals (and presumably so can wild ones) can distinguish between doing bad things and good things. No, this is not because they feel genuine guilt, but because we punish them for doing bad things and reward them for doing good things. We are imposing our morality onto them from above, and though they do not agree with of even understand our morality, they understand the implications of doing bad things (punishment) and good things (reward). When your cat is showing awareness of having done something that you think is bad, you are not seeing proof of their understanding of your moral codes, but instead a classically conditioned response to the punishment they know you're going to administer when the cat piss on your couch has finally permeated your pants and reached your skin.

When my mother goes out to put the clothes on the line the dog follows her outside and then goes and takes a piss in the garden. I commented on this, and she said it was because when he was a puppy she'd take him outside with her, and if he did a wee outside she'd praise him... you know 'you're such a good boy', all that stuff.

I said to her 'that's really clever, how'd you come up with it?' She said, 'well, it's how I got you toilet trained.'

In short, I agree with Turambar: that if pet morality is just conditioning, than so is human morality. Our emotions are not unique to us, and neither is responsibility.

Why do you piss in the toilet? Because your mother praised you when you were a kid? The fact that classical conditioning works on both humans and animals is no proof of animal morality.

The reason I don't kill people (moving a bit further into the realm of morality) is not because I don't want to go to jail. If it was I would be known as a sociopath. It's because I feel it's wrong to kill people.


What if you've just been conditioned to feel it's wrong to kill people? You think that's impossible? Try smoking around an eight-year-old. They'll tell you it's wrong. They'll feel it's wrong, because today they condition people to be anti-smoking and children are very impressionable.
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Re: Responsibility

Postby Rinsaikeru » Sat Mar 07, 2009 2:11 am UTC

Beyond the strictly socialized reasoning for using a toilet--many animals also don't defecate or urinate near where they sleep. We just have created increasingly elaborate methods with which to remove waste.
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Re: Responsibility

Postby Mzyxptlk » Sat Mar 07, 2009 2:29 pm UTC

Pez Dispens3r wrote:
Mzyxptlk wrote:Why do you piss in the toilet? Because your mother praised you when you were a kid? The fact that classical conditioning works on both humans and animals is no proof of animal morality.

The reason I don't kill people (moving a bit further into the realm of morality) is not because I don't want to go to jail. If it was I would be known as a sociopath. It's because I feel it's wrong to kill people.


What if you've just been conditioned to feel it's wrong to kill people? You think that's impossible? Try smoking around an eight-year-old. They'll tell you it's wrong. They'll feel it's wrong, because today they condition people to be anti-smoking and children are very impressionable.

Again, I am not saying it's not possible, quite the opposite.
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Re: Responsibility

Postby Naurgul » Sat Mar 07, 2009 3:33 pm UTC

This has been troubling me for quite a while. I think that the notion of having a justice system that assigns responsibility for crimes to people is rather simplistic an inaccurate. Let's take things from the beginning: In our society, events happen that can be perceived as errors or wrong. For example, a human killing another human obstructs the functioning of society. Now, thanks to causality, an event such as that has its causes. The goal, as I see it, is to first compensate for the error (if it's possible) and secondly to prevent it from happening in the future.

This second goal is of interest as far as the justice system goes. In order to prevent an error from happening again you have to find the causes and eliminate them. To eliminate a cause, you have to identify the agents that produce them and either remove them from the system or configure them. The flaw I see with classical justice systems is twofold. First, they only identify human beings directly involved with the event as cause-producing agents. Second, the only way they use to eliminate the cause is to put someone in jail, which is just reinforcement learning, punishment & reward etc etc. By being blind to any underlying non-direct non-immediate agents and alternate ways to configure the offending agents, the justice systems drastically limit their effectiveness.

Some concrete examples to showcase the flaws in the system: 1 - A car runs over a person. The possibility that it was a coincidence and neither the driver nor the victim could do anything to avoid it is more or less not considered. 2 - A person kills another person. The experiences in life and genetic dispositions of the killer should be taken in consideration. If the events of his life or his genes make his behaviour such as it's likely to kill another person, then the occurrence of such events needs to be studied and if it's a generalised phenomenon then ways of preventing it must be created. If it's not generalised, then nothing could prevent it really. As for the actual killer, gene therapy, psychotherapy and other things could be done to ensure his behaviour is changed. If it is deemed that there are no means to change the behaviour, then I guess it's okay to lock him up to prevent him from doing further damage.

All in all, trying to track down if a certain behaviour was "a conscious decision" or not seems like an arbitrary way to define blame/responsibility for an action. Take a psychopath for example. The way he decides to exploit people is probably not much different from the way a "normal person" solves a mathematical problem. If you define that as conscious thinking, why does it follow that jail (i.e. reward & punishment) will work any better than psychotherapy?
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Re: Responsibility

Postby setzer777 » Sat Mar 07, 2009 3:48 pm UTC

Naurgul wrote:All in all, trying to track down if a certain behaviour was "a conscious decision" or not seems like an arbitrary way to define blame/responsibility for an action. Take a psychopath for example. The way he decides to exploit people is probably not much different from the way a "normal person" solves a mathematical problem. If you define that as conscious thinking, why does it follow that jail (i.e. reward & punishment) will work any better than psychotherapy?


Because psychotherapy hasn't shown much effectiveness turning violent people into non-violent people. And gene therapy is still in very experimental stages. For right now we don't know any really effective ways to "fix" criminals.

We judge conscious behavior because we predict that making a conscious choice to do violence is more likely indicative of a dangerous personality trait as opposed to a random confluence of events that is unlikely to ever repeat.
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Re: Responsibility

Postby Naurgul » Sat Mar 07, 2009 4:12 pm UTC

setzer777 wrote: Because psychotherapy hasn't shown much effectiveness turning violent people into non-violent people. And gene therapy is still in very experimental stages. For right now we don't know any really effective ways to "fix" criminals.
I didn't know that about psychotherapy. Are you sure it's true? Still, if we don't have any effective way to change criminal behaviours, then that means that we shouldn't bother with anything other than life-sentences, right? It also means that we're in a terribly urgent need to research such ways.



setzer777 wrote: We judge conscious behavior because we predict that making a conscious choice to do violence is more likely indicative of a dangerous personality trait as opposed to a random confluence of events that is unlikely to ever repeat.
I thought that the psychopath example did well to convey that this is uncertain at best (and completely wrong in the worst case). So, someone who blacks out and becomes a violent person whenever he is stressed is less likely to be corrected with reward & punishment than someone who grew up in a poor neighbourhood and was brought up to believe that the best way to make a living is to steal? Also, if someone consciously commits a crime to fulfil a basic need (such as someone stealing to get food) how does it follow that he has a "dangerous personality trait"? In essence, I don't think your assertion that "consciousness is a more likely indicative of a dangerous personality trait" is true, and even if it is, it seems that it would need to be a whole lot more absolute for the justice system to rely much on it.

Another argument against the use of consciousness to distinct the way a behavioural error should be fixed is that we don't really know how it works or if it even exists in the form we are imagining it. It's like making a judgement based on what an alien civilization would think (yes, I know, hyperbole; it's just for the sake of the argument). As an example, let's assume that every human behaviour can be assigned a consciousness value from 0 to 1, 0 meaning completely subconscious and 1 meaning completely conscious. Would you argue that it's right for any crime committed with a consciousness value above 0.5 that jail is the correct response while any crime with a consciousness value bellow 0.5 that psychotherapy is the correct response? And consciousness is a lot more complex than this simplistic model, most probably.
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Re: Responsibility

Postby setzer777 » Sat Mar 07, 2009 6:23 pm UTC

You're right, just based on preventing future crime, we do not have an ideal (perhaps not even good) system. But it isn't just based on correction and prevention. The justice system also fulfills people's desire for vengeance, to see those who cause suffering receive suffering (depending on how much they "deserve"). Since (speaking in crude terms) it is our consciousness that suffers when punished, we only believe in punishing "consciousnesses" that have done wrong, not ones attached to bodies or subconscious processes that did wrong (well, not as harshly anyway).
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Re: Responsibility

Postby Naurgul » Sat Mar 07, 2009 7:28 pm UTC

I agree that current justice systems cater to both these emotional needs. It is true that there is a desire for vengeance. It is also true that punishing humans feels better than solving abstract problems. However, that doesn't mean that this is for the greater benefit of society as a whole. I wouldn't want all electronic chips be patterned to resemble smiling faces based on the fact that their designers get a cosy feeling when this happens. Likewise, I am quite convinced that a justice systems doesn't need to have any other goal except fixing errors and preventing them from repeating themselves.
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Re: Responsibility

Postby LaserGuy » Sun Mar 08, 2009 10:42 pm UTC

Naurgul wrote:This has been troubling me for quite a while. I think that the notion of having a justice system that assigns responsibility for crimes to people is rather simplistic an inaccurate. Let's take things from the beginning: In our society, events happen that can be perceived as errors or wrong. For example, a human killing another human obstructs the functioning of society. Now, thanks to causality, an event such as that has its causes. The goal, as I see it, is to first compensate for the error (if it's possible) and secondly to prevent it from happening in the future.

[snip]

All in all, trying to track down if a certain behaviour was "a conscious decision" or not seems like an arbitrary way to define blame/responsibility for an action. Take a psychopath for example. The way he decides to exploit people is probably not much different from the way a "normal person" solves a mathematical problem. If you define that as conscious thinking, why does it follow that jail (i.e. reward & punishment) will work any better than psychotherapy?


The problem I have with this argument is that as soon as you start to argue that people should not have any responsibility for their actions, how can you argue that those same people should have any rights? If someone has a genetic disorder that can result in direct harm to others, why do they have the right to refuse treatment for that ailment? Even before they commit a crime? Why should a person have the right to own property, when they are not held responsible if they steal from someone else?

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Re: Responsibility

Postby Rinsaikeru » Mon Mar 09, 2009 1:17 am UTC

But punishment/correction adds to that causal change--it might be negligible in terms of effect at 'correcting' someone but it does keep them away from society. Even if people are completely not able to alter the course of actions they partake in--from their perspective and for all intents and purposes, they are the person performing the actions and therefore the person to be held accountable for them.
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Re: Responsibility

Postby Naurgul » Mon Mar 09, 2009 9:52 am UTC

LaserGuy wrote:The problem I have with this argument is that as soon as you start to argue that people should not have any responsibility for their actions, how can you argue that those same people should have any rights? If someone has a genetic disorder that can result in direct harm to others, why do they have the right to refuse treatment for that ailment? Even before they commit a crime? Why should a person have the right to own property, when they are not held responsible if they steal from someone else?

Rinsaikeru wrote:But punishment/correction adds to that causal change--it might be negligible in terms of effect at 'correcting' someone but it does keep them away from society. Even if people are completely not able to alter the course of actions they partake in--from their perspective and for all intents and purposes, they are the person performing the actions and therefore the person to be held accountable for them.


The question of rights is a big one and I'm not very certain on how to fit it together with this whole responsibility/blame thing but it's not like I'm saying that everybody should do whatever they feel like. This isn't about extreme libertarianism, it's about error handling. Thus, the argument "if you remove responsibility you must also remove rights" seems a bit irrelevant to me.

I think you are both misunderstanding my argument up to a point. I didn't say to do away with the notion of responsibility, I'm saying to do away with the notion of blame. I'm not challenging the fact that you assign responsibility of an action to a person; rather, I'm challenging what this whole "held accountable for it" means. Taking responsibility for something should simply mean that you accept to play the role the action implies; not that if something goes wrong the rest of society will hit you with a stick. When something bad occurs, we shouldn't pre-emptively decide that the fault lies either with an individual person (or a small group) or it's a completely random occurrence. The world is more complex than that. Similarly, if a person is part of the problem, to just automatically throw him in jail means to disregard any alternative way of "fixing" him. I think It's okay if an engineer says "I would like to take responsibility to design that bridge" but it's not okay when the bridge collapses to get that single person and put him in a cell. It doesn't bring the dead people back, and it most probably will not make him a better engineer. Likewise, if a murder occurs, throwing the single person who plunged the knife into the other person's heart seems like cutting the Gordian knot; it disregards the meaning and context of the problem, then just hits it with a stick and pushes it under the carpet.

As far as keeping perpetrators away from society goes, it was mentioned before. Wouldn't that mean that any other sentence apart from life-in-prison and the capital punishment are not needed?
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Re: Responsibility

Postby Rinsaikeru » Mon Mar 09, 2009 4:42 pm UTC

Designing a faulty bridge is a lot different than murder or assault. People, by and large, don't get fixed. The internal socialized and developed character isn't really going anywhere fast.

If someone murders someone else in cold blood--it is not the time to say that the murderer was a victim of circumstance. Don't try to anesthetize this by giving vague engineering examples please, it just muddies the already murky waters.
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Re: Responsibility

Postby Naurgul » Mon Mar 09, 2009 5:06 pm UTC

Rinsaikeru wrote:If someone murders someone else in cold blood--it is not the time to say that the murderer was a victim of circumstance. Don't try to anesthetize this by giving vague engineering examples please, it just muddies the already murky waters.


You are right that bringing up bridges was not fair play, I'm sorry. What I was trying to say is that there is no such thing as Evil People (tm) who murder puppies in cold blood. It has to do either with the subculture in which they belong and/or brought up or with their genes or any other cause. And it is that cause that needs to be addressed above all is what I'm saying, honestly; I think it's pretty straightforward once you get passed my bad attempts at giving examples.
Rinsaikeru wrote:The internal socialized and developed character isn't really going anywhere fast.

I'm not sure I understand this, sorry.
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Re: Responsibility

Postby spent » Mon Mar 09, 2009 9:25 pm UTC

Naurgul wrote:Likewise, if a murder occurs, throwing the single person who plunged the knife into the other person's heart seems like cutting the Gordian knot; it disregards the meaning and context of the problem, then just hits it with a stick and pushes it under the carpet.


The thing is, the justice system does take context into consideration. A woman who spends months meticulously planning the murder of her cheating husband will receive a very different sentence from a woman who kills her abusive husband.

The system has to consider the severity of the crime, the context of the crime, and from that determine the likelihood of the perpetrator being able to change his or her behaviour such that s/he is no longer a danger to society. The fact is, we can't see the future. So this is the best system we've got to determine whether the convicted is even capable of change.

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Re: Responsibility

Postby Naurgul » Mon Mar 09, 2009 9:40 pm UTC

spent wrote:
Naurgul wrote:Likewise, if a murder occurs, throwing the single person who plunged the knife into the other person's heart seems like cutting the Gordian knot; it disregards the meaning and context of the problem, then just hits it with a stick and pushes it under the carpet.


The thing is, the justice system does take context into consideration. A woman who spends months meticulously planning the murder of her cheating husband will receive a very different sentence from a woman who kills her abusive husband.

The system has to consider the severity of the crime, the context of the crime, and from that determine the likelihood of the perpetrator being able to change his or her behaviour such that s/he is no longer a danger to society. The fact is, we can't see the future. So this is the best system we've got to determine whether the convicted is even capable of change.


But all those complex factors eventually are boiled down to just adjusting the duration of the sentence, right? That doesn't seem right to me.
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Re: Responsibility

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon Mar 09, 2009 9:47 pm UTC

The inclusion or exclusion of parole, the security of the prison sent to, the likelihood of being given custody of assets/children, etc. I mean, 'guilty, you're going to prison' is sort of hard to sugarcoat or dig deeper, but the two conditions listed will be met with very differently, precisely because of the circumstances, which back OT, don't diminish the responsibility such a hypothetical woman would be accountable for.
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Re: Responsibility

Postby Rinsaikeru » Tue Mar 10, 2009 4:45 am UTC

What I meant was, I agree: our society and experiences do make us who we are and this set of circumstances can cause people to do reprehensible things. It doesn't make people evil monsters--actually I think dehumanizing criminals is the worst thing you can do, any person under a certain set of circumstances could do something that is a criminal act. We can't disassociate ourselves from the worst of humanity because in another situation that could be us.

That said--you still must be held accountable for your actions (even IF you could not have done otherwise). The current system might not be ideal, but telling someone "oh you aren't guilty because all of your previous actions led up to this inevitably" doesn't really solve the situation either.
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Re: Responsibility

Postby tKircher » Tue Mar 10, 2009 4:48 am UTC

The factors brought up in this boil down to the simple question of "how do you see the justice system." You could see it as punishment, a way to right wrongs without the use of personal vengeance. In that case, it doesn't matter if you have a tumor or not, you did something, and must be punished. The scales have to be balanced.

OR, you could see it as protection. A way to protect the innocents from those who would do them harm repeatedly. In that case, you have to start asking yourself whether or not the accused is a good person acting blindly, whether it was an act of insanity, so forth. This is how most people see justice, i think.

But when you try to meld them together, you get unpredictable results. Sure he's pedosexual, but at the same time he has a tumor! He's simultaneously not an evil person, but he's also done terrible things. It winds up begging the question seen in the OP, and the answer comes down to which side of the 'justice fence' you lean towards.

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Re: Responsibility

Postby Weezer » Thu Mar 12, 2009 5:30 pm UTC

I think that people are always responsible for their actions. If they were forced into said actions by a physical ailment, like the tumor the OP referenced, or a psychological disorder it was still some aspect of themselves that caused the person to commit their actions. I think that if someone was forced into said action by some uncontrollable force that could be cured they should still have equivalent punishment as someone who has freely broken the law but that this punishment should incorporate an attempt at a cure. For instance if someone killed another because of a mental disorder they should get the same term of sentence as any other murderer but their sentence should be served in a secure mental hospital where psychologists are trying to cure the disease that forced them into committing murder. If the criminal is cured before his sentence is up he should be sent to a regular prison until his sentence has been completed.

All humans are ultimately responsible for their actions no matter what the circumstances are.
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