Well-Known Member
Aug 22, 2006
All the discussion covering various legal topics led me to say that I'd make a post about an issue central to them, so here it is!

First, a link to a thought I had along these lines. But I'll rephrase the question in more general terms here:

The doctrine of double effect (from Roman Catholic theology) holds that for an action that has the same net effect, the intention of the actor matters. Thus somebody who deliberately kills somebody is morally worse than somebody who accidentally kills somebody.

This appears to be generally accepted and integrated into many ethical theories- and is highly reflected in our legal system. It seems to me rather counter-intuitive to leave intentionality out, anyway.

However, it must be asked what the role and the effect really is. I doubt that intentionality has as much real bearing on the thrust of the legal system as people seem to make it out to be. In theory, I suppose that it's used as a predictor of behavior, which to me would suggest that the punitive side of the legal system is somewhat...irrelevant.

Then there's the question of what defines intention. This society is big on assigning cause and in terms of behavior, responsibility and blame. The way we generally define intention on an empirical basis is interpreting the evidence of the behavior (which is very vague). This is a huge burden to sort out systematically and is reflected in the facets of many major criminal court cases.

The question is whether this is the best way to go. I'm all for suggesting different methods, given that I follow a loosely consequentialist dictum. Such would, of course, require a momentous change in the way we understand and define influences on behavior- I'd go so far as to say it was something of a 'quantum leap'.
That's some pretty deep stuff.

I will have to take more time to consider this, and re-read your livejournal post. "Quantum Leap" describes it pretty accurately...I had never considered intentionality before, yet it is a trope that shows up almost everywhere.
I think intent (and neglect) should be relevant in a justice system. The purpose of the justice system as I see it is three fold:

1) To get revenge for victims in a way that won't spiral out of control
2) To protect society from dangerous people
3) To rehabilitate dangerous people so that they can re-enter society

Your intent in committing a punishable offense is relevant to 2 out of 3 of those things. You are more dangerous if you are out willfully challenging authority. You are easier to rehabilitate if your crime was unintentional. That says to me that sentences should vary based on your intent, but not completely since the revenge itch has to be scratched.