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Is it morally wrong to kill purely for fun?

ruby sparks

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I strongly doubt there is anyone here who would say it is not wrong to kill purely (only) for fun (or pleasure, perhaps, which may be a better word)*.

The first, possibly obvious caveat would be that we are talking only about living things. A falling rock may kill someone or something but.....we assume rocks can't experience pleasure.

Now, there might be some who say that it is not morally wrong for at least some non-human species (to kill, for whatever reason), so that would be the second (possibly also obvious) caveat. It only applies to humans.

Third, there might be some who say it is not morally wrong for a human to kill a non-human purely for pleasure (some gun sports enthusiasts for example, or many people who squash a fly) so that would be the third caveat. It only applies to humans killing other humans.

With those caveats in place, the first thing we can say is that it is not, as far as we know, objectively or independently morally wrong, using the definition of either as meaning 'not dependent on the mind for existence; actual'.

(So morality is a mind-thing, as far as we know. I think I would prefer to call it a brain-thing, since this avoids the issue about what a mind is and whether it's separate from a brain. It might be even better to either call it a central nervous system thing or even a thing (feature, characteristic) of living things with central nervous systems. In other words, it is a psychological thing, a sense, an emotion, instinct, intuition, rationalisation, thought, belief, opinion, judgement or attitude, or possibly a mixture of all of those)**.

I think the second thing we can say is that it is not universally true (among humans) because there are (I believe) those who do not think (believe, intuit, emote, rationalise, etc) that it is morally wrong. Perhaps they are sadists or psychopaths or people with an unusual death-wish for themselves, or insane, or something along those lines. Some might call them evil, or flawed, or possibly they are in the strong grip of a certain ideology (involving supernatural beliefs or otherwise) which affects their thinking. We might say they lack key components, such as deliberate intent, or knowledge (of moral issues). They are exceptions to the norm, but they are part of the set of all humans, so the characteristic (thinking that a human killing another human purely for pleasure is morally wrong) is not universal (using the definition, 'relating to or done by all people or things in the world or in a particular group; applicable to all cases') to humans.

So what are we left with? We could say that nearly all humans think (with what I would call certainty) that a human killing another human purely for pleasure is, without question, morally wrong.

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I think after that we could introduce some situational modifiers, which might affect how wrong it is held to be (by those who hold it). Such modifiers might include....whether it's 'me' either doing the killing or being killed (self-interest bias is a well-known skew on moral judgements), or whether the killer or person being killed is in my ingroup or my outgroup (my friend or enemy) or whether or not they are my biological kin. Another modifier might be to do with the unpleasantness (suffering) involved and possibly also the degree to which it is immediate and 'hands on' (subjects in experiments seem to be able to consider killing someone more readily if it involves pushing a button remotely, etc. Personally I think this is where the capacity for empathy comes importantly into play). Another possible modifier might be the degree or perceived degree of the likelihood or otherwise of being observed or detected by other humans. It might matter if the killing was accidental, or done in the heat or spur of of the moment. It may matter if the person being killed was or was considered wholly innocent as opposed to guilty of something terrible.

But none of those modifiers seem to affect the basic, widespread judgement of wrongness, only the degree of wrongness attributed to it.

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I would like to add that is my opinion that all moral judgements reduce to non-moral facts. In other words, if we seek to explain why a moral sense exists, we will eventually get down to biological, chemical and physical causes which are themselves amoral, and which play out in living things during evolution by natural selection, which is an amoral process.

Thoughts, anyone?

Feel free to reply only to one part. It's a long-winded OP.





* Whether any human has ever killed purely for pleasure or not, is imo debatable. I would tend to strongly doubt it. It may, in the end, be a hypothetical scenario. Which is potentially quite a big problem. If no one has actually ever done it, does it render any discussion on it irrelevant or pointless, because we would not be discussing the real world?

** It strikes me to add that I would say that there are at least precursors to (what humans would call) moral behaviour (and possibly instincts, and possibly even emotions) in non-sapient species.
 
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ruby sparks

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I read something the other day. It was an apparently true and accurate account of what some people did, as a sort of game. One 'player', having forcibly snatched a baby from its wailing mother's arms, would throw the baby up in the air towards another person holding a gun with a bayonet fixed to it, and that person would then try to skewer the falling baby on the bayonet, in front of the mother. I'm not sure what war it was, but it involved Turks. I'm not sure if the soldiers or the mother(s) were Turkish. As far as I can recall, it wasn't an isolated incident.

That may be a reasonably suitable example.
 

rousseau

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I would like to add that is my opinion that all moral judgements reduce to non-moral facts. In other words, if we seek to explain why a moral sense exists, we will eventually get down to biological, chemical and physical causes which are themselves amoral, and which play out in living things during evolution by natural selection, which is an amoral process.

I think that's a good way of putting it. The existence of moral sentiment is contingent on the species it applies to. I'd take it a step further and describe entire cultures as reductive to physical causes. We see a lot of variety among cultures, but ultimately the basic framework boils down to the human psyche.
 

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I read something the other day. It was an apparently true and accurate account of what some people did, as a sort of game. One 'player', having forcibly snatched a baby from its wailing mother's arms, would throw the baby up in the air towards another person holding a gun with a bayonet fixed to it, and that person would then try to skewer the falling baby on the bayonet, in front of the mother. I'm not sure what war it was, but it involved Turks. I'm not sure if the soldiers or the mother(s) were Turkish. As far as I can recall, it wasn't an isolated incident.

That may be a reasonably suitable example.

Could be from the Armenian Genocide in WW1
 

ruby sparks

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The Romans found killing in the arena entertaining.

I'm no expert but yes it does seem that many people regularly enjoyed the spectacle. I don't think this is enough to warrant saying that many of them thought it was not wrong (for example it may have been that their attitude 'A', that it was deserved in some way and/or that 'B', it was entertaining, may have outweighed their simultaneous attitude 'C' that it was wrong) but I do think it poses tricky questions for moral realists. There seems to be a not uncommon aspect of being human that involves taking pleasure in the misfortunes of others.

I again think that this is where an evolved capacity for empathy plays an important role. I would say empathy (or the lack of it) are crucial considerations in the topic of morality, and again I think we can see precursors in other species, including other social mammals.
 
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ruby sparks

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I would like to add that is my opinion that all moral judgements reduce to non-moral facts. In other words, if we seek to explain why a moral sense exists, we will eventually get down to biological, chemical and physical causes which are themselves amoral, and which play out in living things during evolution by natural selection, which is an amoral process.

I think that's a good way of putting it. The existence of moral sentiment is contingent on the species it applies to. I'd take it a step further and describe entire cultures as reductive to physical causes. We see a lot of variety among cultures, but ultimately the basic framework boils down to the human psyche.

Yeah. Note that being reducible to something else does not mean 'is not real'. What we call feelings of love (or even just attraction, or attachment) for example (or the opposite, hate) are real experiences, imo, as are all attitudes and value judgements (including what humans call moral judgements) even if biologically explained in non-value terms. Imo, the psychological sense/sensation of value is an add-on product of the workings of the human brain.
 
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rousseau

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The Romans found killing in the arena entertaining.

I'm no expert but yes it does seem that many people regularly enjoyed the spectacle. I don't think this is enough to warrant saying that many of them thought it was not wrong (for example it may have been that their attitude 'A', that it was deserved in some way and/or that 'B', it was entertaining, may have outweighed their simultaneous attitude 'C' that it was wrong) but I do think it poises tricky questions for moral realists. There seems to be a not uncommon aspect of being human that involves taking pleasure in the misfortunes of others.

I again think that this is where an evolved capacity for empathy plays an important role. I would say empathy (or the lack of it) are crucial considerations in the topic of morality, and again I think we can see precursors in other species, including other social mammals.

Shot in the dark - but I believe many who performed as gladiators were 'enemies', or others with a sub-human status. There was likely a variety of opinion on the rightness/wrongness of the sport. So your rule might be updated to 'when the person being killed isn't a part of my tribe the degree of empathy isn't as high'.

Similarly, today someone wouldn't want to be seen killing for fun, but if people of a different race, in a far-away country get bombed there's not necessarily an emotional reaction.
 

ruby sparks

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The Romans found killing in the arena entertaining.

I'm no expert but yes it does seem that many people regularly enjoyed the spectacle. I don't think this is enough to warrant saying that many of them thought it was not wrong (for example it may have been that their attitude 'A', that it was deserved in some way and/or that 'B', it was entertaining, may have outweighed their simultaneous attitude 'C' that it was wrong) but I do think it poises tricky questions for moral realists. There seems to be a not uncommon aspect of being human that involves taking pleasure in the misfortunes of others.

I again think that this is where an evolved capacity for empathy plays an important role. I would say empathy (or the lack of it) are crucial considerations in the topic of morality, and again I think we can see precursors in other species, including other social mammals.

Shot in the dark - but I believe many who performed as gladiators were 'enemies', or others with a sub-human status. There was likely a variety of opinion on the rightness/wrongness of the sport. So your rule might be updated to 'when the person being killed isn't a part of my tribe the degree of empathy isn't as high'.

Similarly, today someone wouldn't want to be seen killing for fun, but if people of a different race, in a far-away country get bombed there's not necessarily an emotional reaction.

Yes, I would say those are relevant.

Regarding the sub-human status, if a human thinks of another human as sub-human, it seems easier to kill them (in line with the third caveat in the OP). In fact, I read that a component of military training involves dehumanising the enemy (and the Nazis dehumanised Jews). Now I would say that most people have a natural disposition to do this to at least some extent without prompting, training or what we might call brainwashing (even babies show behavioural preferences for 'like me' instead of 'not like me'). As such, I would say that the training/brainwashing merely homes in on a pre-existing natural, very common human disposition and exploits or amplifies a natural tendency towards bias.

And I think emotional reactions are very relevant. Some say all moral judgements are essentially emotions. I might not go as far as that, but I'd say it's true to an extent, or often true, or at least true that emotions and moral judgements often share similar characteristics. I might say that I think all moral judgements start off as (things that are very like) emotions, but that they can be rationalised with less emotion subsequently. Who, for example, had to think, for even a split second, about the morality of bayonetting of babies in the example above? As well as empathy, I think disgust is also relevant here, both of which, along with emoting, are more or less automatic/instinctive human responses, at least for the vast majority of humans.

Another consideration might be conformity. For a social species, conforming might be very (instinctively) important, so we might find that 'everybody else doing it' could make it easier (more morally comfortable and possibly safer) for us to do it too. The presence of an authority figure might be another factor, in species which naturally operate with pecking orders.

All that said, I would still say that almost all humans, upon individual reflection, and relatively free of obvious or immediate external influence, would still feel certain that killing another human purely for pleasure was unquestionably wrong, as a matter of 'built in' personal conscience.
 
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Loren Pechtel

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It depends on what you're killing.

Go hunting flies for fun, no problem.
 

Angra Mainyu

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ruby sparks said:
With those caveats in place, the first thing we can say is that it is not, as far as we know, objectively or independently morally wrong, using the definition of either as meaning 'not dependent on the mind for existence; actual'.
Those are two very different things, so which definition is it?
I mean, you say 'not dependent on the mind for existence; actual', but 'not dependent on the mind for existence' and 'actual' are very different concepts. For example, psychosis, psychopathy, love, hatred, anger, are all very much actual, but all of them depend on a mind for their existence - as all mental states, properties, etc.
 

ruby sparks

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ruby sparks said:
With those caveats in place, the first thing we can say is that it is not, as far as we know, objectively or independently morally wrong, using the definition of either as meaning 'not dependent on the mind for existence; actual'.
Those are two very different things, so which definition is it?
I mean, you say 'not dependent on the mind for existence; actual', but 'not dependent on the mind for existence' and 'actual' are very different concepts. For example, psychosis, psychopathy, love, hatred, anger, are all very much actual, but all of them depend on a mind for their existence - as all mental states, properties, etc.

Ok I would run with 'not dependent on the mind for existence'.
 

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My definition of morality is that it is a cultural adaptation for the survival of the human species. That's because we normally concern ourselves with practical issues when we discuss morality. But it's really more than cultural and is the result of biological and genetic traits that make humans what they are, a highly social and communal species. But those factors are usually taken to be a given and typically ignored in the arguments. To get a truer and more objective view I have to broaden the definition to include how these factors operate in other species we normally don't attribute a moral conscience to. For instance the group dynamics of other social species such as a wolf pack and their learned hierarchy. But it extends beyond these to mostly solitary species such as bears or cougars. It might be considered immoral for one cougar to share it's territory with another since it would be detrimental to their survival needs. At the most fundamental level morality is about survival of the species. And so, from that perspective, every moral decision comes down to how it ultimately effects the long term survival of the human species. Obviously there exists a complex web of rules and traditions and relationships that complicate how any one issue influences the overall probability of human survival. But it's also obvious that the complete breakdown of that web would have drastic consequences.

It also needs to be recognized that many moral decisions are based on symbolic values. That's why we consider killing of any kind and of any species as something to be treated with a degree of deference. A demonstration of an indifference for life, and especially sentient life, and especially life that closely resembles human life in some respect, is generally treated as morally wrong unless there are mitigating issues that provide reasons to value such behavior. In the case of hunting for sport this is the symbolic value of hunting as a historically common good. Absent that virtue there is probably no moral support for killing other species that would be for "fun" only. And probably that provides a good operational definition of "fun" to be doing things that produce a thrill because they are in some way dangerous to the common good. Fun needs to have some redeeming value to justify the assumed risk. Otherwise it is by example detrimental to the moral fabric.
 

Treedbear

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It depends on what you're killing.

Go hunting flies for fun, no problem.

True. Yet it is we who rank animals according to value. Value according to us.

Killing flies and many other disease carriers is a virtue in many circumstances. Killing all flies everywhere is not. It would in fact be immoral.
 

WAB

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It depends on what you're killing.

Go hunting flies for fun, no problem.

You need to buy a bug assault rifle! Very fun. It's so much fun that people buy fly larve to hatch more flies to go hunting.

Then try mosquitoes. Just remember, be careful with mosquitoes. There's nothing more dangerous than a wounded mosquito.
 

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It depends on what you're killing.

Go hunting flies for fun, no problem.

True. Yet it is we who rank animals according to value. Value according to us.

Killing flies and many other disease carriers is a virtue in many circumstances. Killing all flies everywhere is not. It would in fact be immoral.

It is a virtue to kill flies in many circumstances, a virtue and a necessity for us. The flies that are being killed may have a different perspective.
 
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Treedbear

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Killing flies and many other disease carriers is a virtue in many circumstances. Killing all flies everywhere is not. It would in fact be immoral.

It is a virtue to kill flies in many circumstances, a virtue and a necessity for us. The flies that are being killed may have a different perspective.

We have the same perspective with regard to survival. To them the few humans who die from malaria are collateral damage.
 
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