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Thread: Can thoughts be moral or immoral?

  1. Top | #31
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    From what I read in this thread, the word "thoughts" is ambiguous (e.g., "I don't judge my thoughts because I know I can't help what I think and I don't put any potentially dangerous thoughts into action." suggests "thoughts" only denotes things one does not choose).

    But in a nutshell: choices (made by a mind like that of an adult human or similar enough) are immoral, or morally obligatory, or morally permissible but not obligatory (which they can still be morally praiseworthy). Whether that counts as a "thought" in this context, I do not know.

    Other than that, it is possible for someone to be a morally bad person because of his predispositions, even if he hasn't yet made immoral choices, but that's extremely rare in reality (you'd need some sort of sudden and very specific brain damage).

  2. Top | #32
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    I'm beginning to think that we are all interpreting the OP in different ways. To me, thoughts are not within our control so I see no reason to judge our thoughts as being immoral. From some of the other responses, it appears as if some of you aren't thinking of this in the same way that I am. Sure, there are moral concepts that are human universals, but I see no correlation with those with the stray thoughts that stray into our minds as the day progresses.

  3. Top | #33
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    Quote Originally Posted by southernhybrid View Post
    Sure, but if you keep your thoughts to yourself, there is nobody but you to judge them.
    Sure, but that still leaves them being judged (or maybe better to say 'felt' because that's commonly how our consciences operate) which is the point. Otherwise, we are only talking about other people's judgements about what is or isn't right and wrong, and leaving ourselves out of the equation, and we are the moral agents after all.

    Quote Originally Posted by southernhybrid View Post
    I don't judge my thoughts because I know I can't help what I think....
    Really? You can't successfully change your thinking about anything, by for example saying to yourself, 'I wonder if I'm right about that?' You can't decide, today, that you're going to think about something tomorrow, when you get the chance? How do you even plan holidays? I'm not saying holidays are necessarily immoral.

    In the end, we may not have free will to do anything at all, of course, so in that sense all bets are off.

    Quote Originally Posted by southernhybrid View Post
    But to be honest, I rarely have thoughts that are about hurting others. When I do, it's usually just an immediate emotional reaction to something that other person has done or said.
    So you've rarely felt bad for thinking something bad about someone? I know the nickname (over here) for nurses is 'angels' but.....

    I definitely have. But I'm a man, and we're by and large a bad lot, well I'm definitely flawed. I've thought something and then maybe even straight away sometimes (though sometimes not until I've reflected later) I've thought, no that's unfair, or prejudiced thinking. I might sometimes even aplogise to the person. Not always, I guess, but sometimes I might say to someone, 'you know, I thought this about you the other day, but now I realise....etc'.

    And you can even think bad things about yourself, and then you know about them without being told, and you may even have been harmed by the thoughts.

    Quote Originally Posted by southernhybrid View Post
    My sister, who suffers from anxiety, frequently feels guilty because of something that she thought about.
    I'd say most people are like that to at least some extent. I think we (or rather our systems) actively monitor and evaluate our own internal views and opinions (ie thoughts) quite a lot of the time. How would we know if we are thinking the wrong thing otherwise?

    Now, there are, I think, some significant differences between thoughts and deeds (and between thoughts and words, and words and deeds) but that does not mean thoughts are morally neutral (or better to say judged to be that, because imo all morals require judgements) and perhaps as politesse implied, the morality literally is the judgement, which of course is the equivalent of saying morality is thoughts.
    Last edited by ruby sparks; 12-18-2020 at 09:57 PM.
    "Let us hope that it is not so. Or if it is, let us pray that the fact does not become generally known."

  4. Top | #34
    Veteran Member Wiploc's Avatar
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    People have some control of their thoughts.

    A friend of mine reported that he used to be negative, cranky, unhappy. So he chose to think of good things.

    When he found himself thinking unhappy thoughts, he would interrupt them with happy thoughts. Thus, over time, he became an upbeat person.

    In an earlier incarnation of this website, we had a poster named Alonzo Fyfe. He came up with a morality called desire utilitarianism. In this theory, some desires are better (more moral) than others.

    Suppose ten white racists want to beat up a black man. This will make the victim unhappy, but it will please the rapists. A naive criticism of utilitarianism would say that -- according to utilitarianism -- the racists should go ahead and beat their victim, because that will make ten people happy and only one person unhappy.

    Fyfe would say, I believe, that the ten racists are in the wrong for wanting to hurt someone. They should adjust their desires. They should learn to take pleasure in kindness rather than cruelty. It is by learning better desires that they can make the world a happier place.

    I haven't studied Fyfe's theory well enough to be a qualified spokesman for it, but I believe it to be the best version of utilitarianism, and thus the best theory of morality.

    Desire utilitarianism depends entirely on our ability to have some control of our thoughts.

    Sometimes I get an unpleasant earworm, a song I keep remembering. Sometimes I'll interrupt that loop by deliberately thinking about another, less-unpleasant, song. Often enough this works; I'll have started a new earworm, one that I like. This may be a crude example of someone controlling his own thoughts, but it is an example.

    In the movie Moonstruck, John Cage's character tells Cher's character that he loves her. She responds, "Snap out of it!" Not an unreasonable request, I think, but nonsensical if you don't think people have some say in their own thoughts.

    Current events distress me, so I choose to avoid most news sources. I avoid the distress by choosing not to think about current events.

  5. Top | #35
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    Quote Originally Posted by ruby sparks View Post

    What are you even on about? You're mostly just rehashing things you've already said that have been answered. For example, there is no point in (again) resorting to a dictionary definition that suits you after I have provided a different one that's also from an everyday dictionary.
    And the definition you provided talked about character and behaviour, not 'thoughts'. You also confused moral reasoning with 'thoughts being moral'. It's a category error. Thoughts about the colour green are not green thoughts.

    Quote Originally Posted by ruby sparks View Post
    Mens rea applies to crimes, so it's clearly and obviously not a category error.
    It clearly and obviously is a category error.

    First, some people do not equate 'immoral' with 'crime'. There are immoral acts that are not criminal and there are criminal acts that are not immoral. If you need examples, I will be happy to provide them for you.

    Second, a guilty mind is not necessary for some criminal acts, like strict liability offenses.

    Third, whether a guilty mind is necessary does not mean that the thoughts themselves are moral or immoral, just that they are necessary to turn an act into a crime.

  6. Top | #36
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    Quote Originally Posted by laughing dog View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Metaphor View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by laughing dog View Post
    One definition of moral is

    adjective
    adjective: moral

    1.
    concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior and the goodness or badness of human character.


    It seems to me that means thoughts (since principles are thoughts) can be moral or immoral.

    Again, I am not asking about whether having a particular thought is moral or immoral. Just whether a thought can moral or immoral.
    Thoughts can be about morality but that doesn't make any thought moral or immoral.
    Thou shalt not kill is a moral statement.
    The statement itself is not moral or immoral. It's about the morality of a specific act - killing.

  7. Top | #37
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    Quote Originally Posted by fromderinside View Post
    Thoughts only if acted upon can be treated by rules governing morality. I've never identified a moral thought in the laboratory and I've used EEG and MRI methodologies. One might argue that software capable of predicting action might be that method, but it still depends on execution or behavior to bring the pot to boil.
    This. If we could determine that someone is immoral by thought alone, that would by definition make everyone immoral, which would make the moral domain arbitrary and meaningless.

    The only reason people (and other animals) have a moral nature at all is because expressions of their thought - actual behavior - are filtered through natural selection, which shapes cognition. Thought itself is also affected by natural selection because thought and behavior are contiguous, not disparate. But natural selection via moral sentiment can't act on thought until it's been expressed into behavior. So yea - there is a kind of framing error in the question because thought and action aren't fundamentally different things.

    Ultimately, I think the puzzle is solved when we stop thinking of the moral domain as trying to be a virtuous person, and start thinking about it as a cultural construct that channels behavior in a very specific way. Logically, a person can't be 'morally good' - this makes no sense because everyone is a contradiction of good and bad - but they can be good at following moral norms to their own benefit. Whether they accomplish that is where morality is actually relevant.

    In short, it doesn't matter what our thoughts are, how we define them, or what we think about them, all that matters in the actual moral domain is how they're expressed.

  8. Top | #38
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    Quote Originally Posted by Metaphor View Post
    And the definition you provided talked about character and behaviour, not 'thoughts'.....
    No, it didn't. The short dictionary definition of 'moral' I provided only referred to the holding or manifesting of high principles for conduct, and the first option (underlined) is mental. At leat read other people's posts properly before replying inaccurately, ffs.
    "Let us hope that it is not so. Or if it is, let us pray that the fact does not become generally known."

  9. Top | #39
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    Quote Originally Posted by Loren Pechtel View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Metaphor View Post

    If someone hates you, and wants to torture and kill you, and you know it because they told you that in order to cause you distress, they've taken an action to harm you. But it was the making you believe it that harmed you. In fact, their internal thoughts about how much they want to torture and kill you are irrelevant. They might not want to do that at all. The harm was making you believe it was a serious possibility that they'd do it.

    Thoughts are not actions, they are thoughts.
    This. The immoral action was expressing the thought, not having it.
    No. An immoral act was to have the thought and let it pass unreflected, unconsidered. An unethical act would be to act on it. One person I would turn away from. The other I would forcibly stop from such action.

    I find it disappointing that so few people, even here, can parse a difference between the two

  10. Top | #40
    Surly thoughts could be moral or immoral. If you are a character of the society you will act upon your thoughts right, If thoughts are moral you will be nice and if your thoughts are immoral you are a bad guy. Just like a movie script.

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