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Thread: Define "Guilty"

  1. #1 Define "Guilty" 
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    Hello forum folk!
    As a newly-initiated member of this fine virtual establishment, I would like to put forth for your critique/amusement the old concept of nature vs nurture. A closet fan of "Law and Order," I frequently end up arguing with my boyfriend (also a biologist) about the nature and the very existence of a human will. You see, the overwhelming majority of cases this show chooses to highlight involve those products to the unfortunate circumstance of their upbringing. In other words, should a guy be punished for shooting his (oh, let's make this fun..) dad who molested him and his sister while.. OK, you get the point, I hope.
    Here's why I'm rambling about Law and Order on the biology forum: I say, our actions are a direct consequence of 1). what genes we have and how/when they are expressed, 2) our experiences, which in turn may influence gene expression more than we can imagine with our present understanding of the human development. As such, I don't believe that there is a "choice" to be made, our actions are merely a product of circumstance. My opponent on the issue claims, however, that what makes us human is the fact that we always have a choice, and the final outcome is always up to us. Are the guilty really guilty?

    Have at it! Hope this makes some sense.


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    Forum Ph.D. Nevyn's Avatar
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    nurture definately. Genes define us as humans but not our actions. The feeling of giult is part of our consousness which is built upon our experiances


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    I second Nevyn. You can't feel guilty for drinking alcohol when you're nine if you weren't taught not to do it.

    Though, in some way, our genes may influence the intensity of our guilt feelings (this isn't official, now, just saying it's a possibility).
    Whence comes this logic: no evidence = false?

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    I guess I was more interested in what yaal thought of the nature of the human will. Whether those accused of a crime SHOULD be blamed for it, not how THEY feel about it. Our society certainly needs the justice system, it just raises the question of whether all should be measured using the same standards given our genetic differences.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wombat
    I guess I was more interested in what yaal thought of the nature of the human will. Whether those accused of a crime SHOULD be blamed for it, not how THEY feel about it. Our society certainly needs the justice system, it just raises the question of whether all should be measured using the same standards given our genetic differences.
    Yes...unless the person is mentally ill, we should be measured using the same standard.
    Whence comes this logic: no evidence = false?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Wombat
    I guess I was more interested in what yaal thought of the nature of the human will. Whether those accused of a crime SHOULD be blamed for it, not how THEY feel about it. Our society certainly needs the justice system, it just raises the question of whether all should be measured using the same standards given our genetic differences.
    Regardless of what out genes "tell" us, the way we choose to act in any situation is largely dependent on what we've been taught and what we CHOOSE to do.

    What would you propose - a billion jillion "sliding scale" set of laws to cover every possible genetic factor that might ever (even if wrongly) be somehow blamed for our choices of action? "Excuse me, judge, he should only get 2.07 years for that crime instead of ten because he has DNA factors AF3, BA9, and GGA." (Or whatever.)
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    I'm afraid I would have to side with your opponent. For the vast majority of people, there is a choice. I think that in some extreme cases, there is a point where mental illness or some other extreme trauma completely removes the person in question from reality - even in this case they are making a choice, but a choice based on a personal reality that is necessarily incorrect, and they can't help that fact. But for the most part, people know that even though their dad may have molested them and their sister and all the neighbors, that even though they are angry and bitter and afraid in a way that effects them every day of their life, they know that the law says they cannot kill this person. If they decide that their anger and/or the anger of others justifies breaking this law, they are still making a decision, making a choice.

    Humans are conscious of their thought processes, and I think that if more people took the time to understand themselves and why they feel or think some of the things they do, they would realize how much choice they really do have. Genetics and upbringing can influence you, very strongly in some ways, but I believe that if you make yourself aware of these factors, make yourself aware of the influences acting on your choices, then you can make better decisions. It's part of taking responsibility for yourself, which is something we have to do in a civilized society. You can't just let your anger run amok and go killing people when it takes your fancy. That's why the law charges you if you fail to be responsible for yourself in this way.

    This is partly why I'm interested in studying the evolution of behavior. I completely agree that there are genetic influences acting strongly to drive us toward certain behaviors. But when we're aware of these influences, we can understand that perhaps the suggestions they're making don't have a place in a civilized world. It's like a guiding compass for when we're trying to decide if that "gut feeling" is right or not. That feeling may be hundreds of thousands of years of evolutionary history driving you towards a certain goal that used to result in increased reproduction, but that may not apply in today's world. Similar thinking can be applied to the influences of experience - knowing what you went through and why it effects you the way it does. I think we're lucky in that few if any other animals are capable of having this kind of perspective on themselves.
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    Quote Originally Posted by paralith
    I'm afraid I would have to side with your opponent. For the vast majority of people, there is a choice. I think that in some extreme cases, there is a point where mental illness or some other extreme trauma completely removes the person in question from reality - even in this case they are making a choice, but a choice based on a personal reality that is necessarily incorrect, and they can't help that fact. But for the most part, people know that even though their dad may have molested them and their sister and all the neighbors, that even though they are angry and bitter and afraid in a way that effects them every day of their life, they know that the law says they cannot kill this person. If they decide that their anger and/or the anger of others justifies breaking this law, they are still making a decision, making a choice.

    Humans are conscious of their thought processes, and I think that if more people took the time to understand themselves and why they feel or think some of the things they do, they would realize how much choice they really do have. Genetics and upbringing can influence you, very strongly in some ways, but I believe that if you make yourself aware of these factors, make yourself aware of the influences acting on your choices, then you can make better decisions. It's part of taking responsibility for yourself, which is something we have to do in a civilized society. You can't just let your anger run amok and go killing people when it takes your fancy. That's why the law charges you if you fail to be responsible for yourself in this way.

    This is partly why I'm interested in studying the evolution of behavior. I completely agree that there are genetic influences acting strongly to drive us toward certain behaviors. But when we're aware of these influences, we can understand that perhaps the suggestions they're making don't have a place in a civilized world. It's like a guiding compass for when we're trying to decide if that "gut feeling" is right or not. That feeling may be hundreds of thousands of years of evolutionary history driving you towards a certain goal that used to result in increased reproduction, but that may not apply in today's world. Similar thinking can be applied to the influences of experience - knowing what you went through and why it effects you the way it does. I think we're lucky in that few if any other animals are capable of having this kind of perspective on themselves.
    But if someone is as dead to the world as you suggested in your arguement, can they really be classed as humans? there bodys may be humanoid but there mind would no longer be human but that of an animal.
    The law is conditioned into our brains as children: this is right, that is wrong. so there upbringing has had an effect on their choice of what they do, in some countries different things are seen as legal and different things are seen as vulgar (e.g polygamy)
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nevyn
    But if someone is as dead to the world as you suggested in your arguement, can they really be classed as humans?
    Of course. Biologically they are still human. A lot of mentally ill people do follow certain rules and things that seem right to them, but their perception of the world is different than ours. Their perception may include perhaps voices that help tell them what is right and wrong, for example. A person with mental retardation who thinks like a child may simply be unable to comprehend complexities and in certain situations, and think that otherwise they are doing the right thing. I don't think "dead to the world" is a good way of saying it - more like, "stuck in a different world than ours, and there's no way to get out of it."

    Quote Originally Posted by Nevyn
    The law is conditioned into our brains as children: this is right, that is wrong. so there upbringing has had an effect on their choice of what they do, in some countries different things are seen as legal and different things are seen as vulgar (e.g polygamy)
    I agree - another case of "stuck in a world different than ours" would be a child raised by some crazy parents out in the middle of nowhere who ingrained them with some strange ideas about what and what isn't ok, and that anybody who says otherwise is just crazy and shouldn't be listened to. However, I never said that people separated from reality in this would should be let off scott free - that's where differences in sentencing come in and all that. It's just that these are the only people who we can maybe state that "they had no choice but to commit this crime." With normal people, I would never use that statement.
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    If we are defined by our genes or our upbringing, in both cases retribution and/or correction should go against the guilty and the family usually mostly responsible for the upbringing. When we consider the problem to be genes the solution would be ... sterilization (or worse). We have been there now haven't we, and I don't think we should go back any time soon. If it's influence, of the parents or environment, segregation is the instinctive consequence (nobody wants to have their children play in a bad neighborhood), lastly there is the possibility to personalize ALL the guilt to the one who actually broke the law, but that we tend to call inhumane also.
    Now I'd say that the truth is somewhere between these three extremes and their three consequences, who will find the least evil within them?
    As far as I can judge the gene-environment-will ratio is different for different actions (not only crimes) and the question is what the ratio is for a specific action and what our reaction to it should be if any.
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    Quote Originally Posted by n300
    If we are defined by our genes or our upbringing, in both cases retribution and/or correction should go against the guilty and the family usually mostly responsible for the upbringing. When we consider the problem to be genes the solution would be ... sterilization (or worse). We have been there now haven't we, and I don't think we should go back any time soon. If it's influence, of the parents or environment, segregation is the instinctive consequence (nobody wants to have their children play in a bad neighborhood), lastly there is the possibility to personalize ALL the guilt to the one who actually broke the law, but that we tend to call inhumane also.
    Now I'd say that the truth is somewhere between these three extremes and their three consequences, who will find the least evil within them?
    But those - genes and upbringing - are far from the only sources of information that we have for making the decisions we do. There are also friends, neighbors, classmates and many others. Unless someone has a severe mental problem, they have the ability to watch and learn by example what is permissible and what is not.

    To fall back on genetics is the maximum cop-out - nothing more than an attempt to refuse to accept personal responsibility for their own choices and actions. (Again, assuming normal mental health.)
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    Quote Originally Posted by n300
    If we are defined by our genes or our upbringing, in both cases retribution and/or correction should go against the guilty and the family usually mostly responsible for the upbringing. When we consider the problem to be genes the solution would be ... sterilization (or worse). We have been there now haven't we, and I don't think we should go back any time soon. If it's influence, of the parents or environment, segregation is the instinctive consequence (nobody wants to have their children play in a bad neighborhood)...
    That may be the consequences - if "defined by our genes or our upbringing" was a very simple thing. Usually it isn't. It's a complex interaction between thousands of genes and who knows how many different kinds of environmental influences a child might be subject to while growing up. If one child of two parents commits a crime, but the other is an innocent little angel, and the upbringing of the two was more or less similar, then do we jail the parents too? For "making" one bad kid? Bad neighborhoods are usually bad because many people in them are bad, but not all of them. There are good people there too. So what elements exactly of that neighborhood are the ones to blame? Is it a certain group of people? Is it the state of the housing and the lack of jobs? Is it bad schools? It would be nice, really, if finding the ultimately guilty party was always that easy and we could just excise it out of society along with the criminal himself, but it's not.
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    I think that the answer to this question is that genes and upbringing both play a part in how we react to different situations. In different people the balance between these two methods will be difference due varience in stregth of will, mental degredation etc. which makes it hard for people to come to a discision with Nature vs Nurture
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    I agree, though I probably pulled the topic off topic sorry.
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