It seems like the most popular theory among philosophers and neuroscientists who believe in free will is something called free won’t. This basically means that we cannot will what we want to will, but we have the power to veto a thought that our brain has produced.

This would mean that a person who is about to murder another person should have the power to veto pulling the trigger- but if they don’t, then they should be held morally responsible because they didn’t use their free won’t power.

Now, I don’t think about murdering people, but I might be a weirdo. Do most people want to murder other people, but they use their free won’t to refrain- so that they should be praised for their self-control?

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    $\begingroup$ I see where you are coming from here, but your hypothesis could be altered to say that most people want to rob a bank, attack an innocent person, hurl abuse at anyone who is different to them... anything. $\endgroup$ – Chris Rogers Sep 21 '18 at 6:32
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    $\begingroup$ Self-control theory of crime (originally boldly named general theory of crime) is one of the most popular theories to explain criminality. It states essentially that, yes, lack of self-control is for all intents and purposes the cause of crime. This theory is quite a bit too grand in its claims, however there is substantial evidence that lack of self-control is at least partly the cause of criminality. There is much literature about it, for example two chapters in the book 'The nurture versus biosocial debate in criminology.' $\endgroup$ – Eff Sep 21 '18 at 10:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Eff this would make an excellent answer! $\endgroup$ – Seanny123 Sep 21 '18 at 13:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Seanny123 The reason why I didn't answer is because this question is more regarding "free will," a topic I find very uninteresting. If the question would simply be 'What psychological variables predict crime?', then I might answer. As far as I'm concerned, there is no such thing as free will in any real sense. So I don't accept the premise of there existing "free won't." $\endgroup$ – Eff Sep 21 '18 at 14:21
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    $\begingroup$ @rus9384 I'm not the one who created the theory. I don't personally claim that self-control is the only variable needed to explain criminality. If you want my opinion, I think that self-control is probably a part of the equation, but not even close to all parts. $\endgroup$ – Eff Sep 22 '18 at 1:45

[Just addressing your title question:] supposedly so, but there isn't a lot of data on this. One of David Buss' students has this in his PhD thesis:

participants from the Austin community completed a survey instrument that asked a series of questions about their most memorable fantasy of killing someone else. Seventy-six percent of women and 91 percent of men reported having at least one homicidal thought in their lifetime. The person both men and women most frequently thought of killing was an intrasexual rival. The majority of homicidal fantasies involved the murder of someone who was not a genetic relative. Men were significantly more likely than women to have a murder fantasy triggered by a romantic partner’s infidelity. Women were more likely than men think of killing a rival who damaged their sexual reputation. These and other findings were predicted in advance by Homicide Adaptation Theory [HAT] (Buss & Duntley, under review).

As you can probably tell, their angle is evolutionary psychology; they don't care about any free will debates, it seems. I could easily find a criticism of HAT by Durrant (2009), which cites several works of Duntley and Buss on this; the latest cited in there being:

  • Duntley, J. D., & Buss, D. M. (2008). The origins of homicide. In J. D. Duntley, & T. K. Shackelford (Eds.), Evolutionary forensic psychology: Darwinian foundations of crime and law (pp. 41−64). Oxford: Oxford University Press

A more recent paper Reynolds & McCrea (2017) summarizes a few of the older studies on prevalence:

Unfortunately, there is a paucity of research on homicide fantasies, with most of the research historically focused on criminals or the pathological [...] This tells us little about the psychology process of homicide in typical individuals. Kenrick and Sheets (1993) conducted two studies with college students as subjects to address just this limitation. In the first study, participants were asked about their most recent homicide fantasy, and in the second study participants were asked about their homicide fantasies in several contexts. Results indicated that the majority of participants did have at least one fantasy, with males recalling more homicide fantasies (e.g., 73% vs. 66% in Study 1), and males reporting longer and more detailed fantasies. Results were interpreted as supporting evolutionary explanations for homicide like the byproduct hypothesis.

Crabb (2000) also found that homicide thoughts were common in normal undergraduates. Crabb investigated homicidal thoughts and the weapons used in these fantasies. Similar to Crabb, Kenrick and Sheets (1993) explicitly asked undergraduates questions concerning their thoughts about killing someone. Replicating previous research, most participants admitted to a homicide fantasy. Results also indicated that homicide fantasies were preceded by a threatening interpersonal event and involved weapons like firearms, knives, and clubs, rather than weapons like hands and feet. The evidence was interpreted as supporting the existence of evolved psychological mechanisms able to associate material–cultural implements, like firearms, with aggressive actions and to rehearse this through fantasy. These studies are important as they demonstrate that homicide fantasies are common and unlikely the result of pathological processes. Furthermore, they support evolutionary explanations for homicide like the by-product hypothesis and homicide adaptation theory.

Reynolds & McCrea's study tried to elicit subjects to spontaneously think of murder by providing them with some typical contexts in which murders occur, but they weren't terribly successful at this: less than 5% of participants reported such cued homicidal thoughts, although many more reported violent thoughts.

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    $\begingroup$ @ChrisRogers: done, thanks. $\endgroup$ – Fizz Sep 23 '18 at 2:51

This is a very interesting question.

I think that there are many both conscious and unconscious factors that determine destructive behavior. The conflict between the id and super-ego (mediated by ego) can, at some level, be understood as a conflict between needs and social norms. Murder seems to be universally accepted as "bad behavior" so it must be coded both on the conscious and unconscious level in our psyche, therefore, I assume the wide majority of people try to combat destructive impulses with defense mechanisms.

Here is a set of questions you can toy with:

  • When would your evolutionary ancestor murder someone?
  • When is it okay to murder someone? Why?
  • What behavioral and mental changes you'd have to undergo to become the evilest person you know of?

Jordan Peterson does quite a good job describing what leads to resentfulness and how can it manifest itself in the world in his biblical series. / Short clip about him discussing hell.

Jungian concept - Shadow - is also an attempt to articulate evil aspects of a human being which is worth exploring. Especially because Jung stressed the importance of getting to known your own shadow. In other words, incorporating the evilest aspects of your personality and learning how to live with it properly.

One of the things that are common among rape victims and soldiers who develop PTSD is the naivety and inexperience prior to the accident of evil. Peterson and other psychologists hypothesized that PTSD can be a shock effect upon realization of the depth of the evil within self or within another human being.

Based on this, I'd say that almost all people have thought about murdering someone at least once, however, have stopped / didn't behave destructively. I'd go further and say that the wide majority of people at a certain point of their lives have fantasized about murdering someone and enjoyed that fantasy.

Based on my personal experience and practice, I'd say murder impulses, desires and fantasies are a very good self-improvement tool that one can use to understand the deep nature of their own personality. Murder correlates with some aspects of our personality. Assumption #1: those personality traits (for example narcissistic features) have to do with the evolutionary survival patterns that can, in some sense, be useful. However, there must be a trigger behind extremes - assumption #2: those triggers are subtle and very hard to notice. So, if one can trace the link between feature and trigger they can improve their lives.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the answer. I’ll have to check out your sources when I have time. Lots of interesting stuff here! $\endgroup$ – Cannabijoy Sep 21 '18 at 14:13
  • $\begingroup$ Re "when is it OK to murder someone": if a killing is OK, (i.e. the action is both just and necessary), then it's not murder. Also, when most people without any actual experience or even acquaintance with such matters think about murder and killing, really they're just adapting tales from TV and movies to their frustrations of the moment. It's only serious as fiction, they walk through the story, or several stories, until the ends which seldom provide any very compelling alternatives. A small magnanimous and condescending satisfaction ensues: bah, spared, not even worth it. $\endgroup$ – agc Sep 21 '18 at 15:08
  • $\begingroup$ @agc, you forgot that different people are different judges. $\endgroup$ – rus9384 Sep 21 '18 at 17:03
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    $\begingroup$ You put forward some interesting points of view here but be careful with this as giving and seeking opinion is not on topic here. Can you please expand on your assumption that the wide majority combat destructive impulses with defense mechanisms? Which defence mechanisms are you thinking of and what research do you base this assumption on? Can you also please explain what you mean by the "naivity and inexperience prior to the accident of evil"? $\endgroup$ – Chris Rogers Sep 23 '18 at 2:23
  • $\begingroup$ Hello Chris. On your first question: Displacement, Dissociation, Repression, Anticipation, Humour, Sublimation, Suppression. As always, when it comes down to unconscious stimuli it's a very tricky to find a decent researcher, however, the fact that psychoanalytic theory has been around for so long kinda proves at least usefulness of the assumption. $\endgroup$ – Goga Vachnadze Sep 23 '18 at 3:57

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