Say we buy stocks. Then stocks either go up or down. Neither is deliberate. No body deliberately buy the wrong stocks.

But free market assign full responsibility.

However, if someone accidentally committed manslaughter against a kid, he'll get lower sentence than if someone deliberately murdered a child.

Why do we feel that way (and yes most of us do feel that way).

Do we take into account that deliberate mistake are often repeated? Those who deliberately rob us must have rob so many people so many times? Do we recognize that giving huge incentive do not reduce "undeliberate" mistake?

What happened?

Is there a math model or evolutionary model for that?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ To me, it is unclear what you are asking. Are you asking why stock market actions elicit different responses than violence against children? Or about the evolutionary background of of assigning blame? Or what? $\endgroup$
    – jona
    Commented Nov 9, 2015 at 17:45
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think the question might be why intentional acts are more blameworthy than unintentional acts. The free market part seems a bit misleading. The point would be that the outcome (money lost/dead child) might be seen as equally bad, regardless of whether the behavior (buying the wrong stock/putting poison in the food) was intentional or not. $\endgroup$
    – user7759
    Commented Nov 9, 2015 at 21:19
  • $\begingroup$ I agree. Why people consider intentional acts to be more blameworthy. I am not saying they shouldn't. I am asking why. $\endgroup$
    – user4951
    Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 0:47
  • $\begingroup$ In free market, failure to provide better value than your competitors result in out of biz sentence irrelevant of intent. In murder, your intent matter a lot. $\endgroup$
    – user4951
    Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 0:47
  • $\begingroup$ Why because it is the easiest way to making oneself free of all consequences. There is no clear cut answer, as all environments are dynamic and there are numerous possibilities which will lead to infinite number of solutions with varying degrees of success. Even prudence or having 'lack of' provides a certain scope of 'success' factors which allows the person to 'pretend' of not knowing the actions which lead to the result thus justifying the non-action. Everyone to a great extend deals with this sort of things on a daily basis with varying degree. $\endgroup$
    – PhillipJ
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 13:01

1 Answer 1


First, we need to distinguish between those punishments brought about by nature and those brought about by society and law. Many actions in nature have an implicit consequence, such as harm, that may come back on the performer. Regardless of whether a particular person or group agrees that the consequence is "right" or "just", jumping off a high cliff and landing on rocks will probably kill you. The stock market example is like this -- the consequence of a bad prediction can be disastrous on one's finances, and the result is basically independent of what society thinks about the situation. Many actions in society, on the other hand, have explicit consequences set by humans. Because these consequences are not determined by natural phenomena so much as thoughts of man, questions of intent, prior occurrence, and extraneous circumstance may be brought into the picture.

Free market is a system that while created by humans behaves like a natural system. Consequences in a free market generally do not consider intent, prior occurrence, of extraneous circumstance. Larger entities, as an exception, may have special treatment by governments since these entities may have strong effects on society as a whole.

Now to the question of why people (and other thinking animals) tend to consider intent when evaluating an action or inaction of another being. On the surface, one may argue that deliberate and unintentional results should be treated equally since they have the same potential for harm. If we look at the goal of preventing further harm in the future (to society as a whole), however, we see a very important difference between deliberate and unintentional results:

When the harmful result of a person's actions was unintentional, the result alone should prompt the person to control himself or herself. After all, we tend to disagree with results that do not meet our intentions. These results make us feel stupid, and they make us look stupid, the combination of which is in many cases sufficient deterrence from relapse. Those having empathy are even less likely to make the same mistake again when they see the unintended harm they have caused.

When the harmful result of a person's actions was deliberate, on the other hand, the balance of natural forces of deterrence is considerably different. Since the result was intended, the person will not feel stupid. In fact, he or she will probably feel proud of having succeeded. In some cases, we will still have empathy playing a role. In practice, however, those individuals lacking empathy are far more likely to commit crimes and other wrongdoing while simultaneously lacking any remorse. In the extreme case we call these people psychopaths. While the psychopath proper may be relatively uncommon, lesser forms such as many narcissists may still exist in sufficient number that we cannot expect empathy alone from acting as deterrence from relapse.

Hence, we must consider intent when an action leads to harm. Other important factors to consider are prior occurrence, extraneous circumstance, and the psychological profile of the individual. When a person has a history that suggests a lack of empathy, we can expect that person to be more likely to relapse and hence more dangerous to society.

A side case is that of the idiot. These individuals often lack prudence when acting or making decisions. While an idiot may not intend to do harm, he or she may be naturally unsafe as a result of being unable to make proper judgements. Punishment may be unsuitable for complete idiots since they may not be able to change their ways due to lack of awareness and understanding. In these cases, one option is to keep these individuals away from means to causing harm. For example, it is best if idiots do not operate motor vehicles or firearms.

  • $\begingroup$ Differentiating intentional and unintentional cases may make people act as if their harm is unintentional. Politicians do this a lot. And that's actually the reason why competing businesses are good for customers. They will go out of biz irrelevant of their intent. No biz can survive if their cost is too high no matter how much they claim they don't intent to deliberately make things expensive. $\endgroup$
    – user4951
    Commented May 16, 2016 at 6:38
  • $\begingroup$ I agree that there are people who do intentional harm and act as if it were not intended. This has happened to me in fact. A lesser form, which is also pretty common, is passive-aggressive behaviour. When a person causes material loss for another person, the law does not much differentiate between intended or accidental. The person is required to reimburse the damages in either case. Non-material harm, on the other hand, is much more complicated, and the legal remedy is often very different for intended versus unintended harm. $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Commented May 16, 2016 at 10:16
  • $\begingroup$ It sounds like you are advocating or at least pondering a society in which individuals are punished equally regardless of intent. I do want to point out that presently an individual is punished severely for some actions whose direct damage is actually quite small. If you intentionally hit someone with your car at low speed, causing minor injury, you will likely go to prison. If you cause the same injury with your car by accident, the legal injunction will probably be magnitudes less... $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Commented May 16, 2016 at 10:30
  • $\begingroup$ The question becomes, which legal remedy is to exist in a society where intent is not considered in harm? Are we to use the lower punishment (some fines and medical bills), or are we to use the higher punishment (prison time, possibly large fines, and a damaged legal record)? This choice, or a third option, could very much change the dynamics of society. $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Commented May 16, 2016 at 10:33

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.