May 19, 2017 at 3:15 pm #22414
My husband and I were watching a show about a notorious serial killer here in the UK – incredibly sad stuff, loss of very young life, and – very much evil acts.
Someone being interviewed said he didn’t believe the killer had a conscience – that the killer simply had no clue of right and wrong, as any “normal” person would understand it.
Ive been wondering about the spiritual state of such people – as well as their ultimate fate? Can someone who has no knowledge of good and evil be held accountable? Can someone do such evil acts and not know they are evil?
Its been on my mind since I watched this show – I need to pray for the victims and perpetrators (although its hard to pray for perpetrators I know we have to)May 19, 2017 at 8:59 pm #22424
Recent brain research has shown that true adult psychopaths, which are very rare, have reduced volume in the amygdala in their brains. This impairs the fear response as well as their affective recognition. So, to answer your question, yes their brains are physically unable to independently process information related spiritual good and evil, moral right and wrong. They can memorize facts and situations which illustrate the “correct” path to choose, and can do a very good job blending in society by not perpetrating – but someone has to have invested heavily in them to give them an extrinisic motivation to do so. There will be no intrinsic motivation to do so. To me, judging such a person in any way is not possible due to what is essentially a birth defect.May 20, 2017 at 3:11 am #22425
David W. EmeryKeymaster@David W. Emery
Morally, Catholic doctrine would point to two components: the objective part, which is what the person actually did, and the subjective part, which is the person’s understanding and willing of what he did. If the person does not know right from wrong, or his will is impeded, his guilt could be reduced. But it is not normally given to us to know the inner state of a human being. This is why, as Christians, we do not presume to judge the inner state of others. Morally, we can judge the actions, but not the guilt.
In the case of major crimes, the civil government, acting on behalf of the people it governs, retains the right to judge someone on the basis of his actions alone, since these actions are what affects others and causes harm. But this is a legal judgment, not a moral one, and civil governments are not the arbiters of morality.
Scientists may speak of impairments, as axcelle has laid out here, but again, their judgment is physical, not moral. For this reason, I would hesitate to reason from the size of a person’s brain to his ability to his ability to know the difference between right and wrong, then to his inner moral state. Science would then be overstepping its bounds and encroaching on the domain of the moral.
DavidMay 20, 2017 at 3:14 pm #22428
I wish civil governments would remember that they are NOT the arbiters of morality, especially here in Canada, but that is a different topic for a different day. 😛May 22, 2017 at 8:37 am #22462
Thanks for the feedback everyone – it is certainly an interesting topic – and – of course – at the end of the day it is God who knows someone’s heart and their moral responsibility – one thing that bothers me – so many people (after this particular serial killer died a few weeks ago here in the UK) have been on different forms of social media saying they hope hes “rotting in hell” and all of that kind of thing…now – I would NEVER judge the pain and anger of a family member who lost a child in this horrific way – goodness knows, I cant imagine anything worse – but its a bit disconcerting to see people who have not (personally) been victims/family saying all this on social media. I guess feelings are very high – and that’s understandable. People say things when they are upset.
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