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Con (against)
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Is Guilt Determined by Intent? (In this scenario)

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 3/31/2016 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,393 times Debate No: 89006
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (15)
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I wanted to present a philosophical exercise that I'm sure a few have already heard or gone through before.

Scenario One: A man goes on a trip with his wife and their friend. While on the plane, mid-flight, a group of men hijack the plane and take control. One of these men forces a gun to our focus' head and hands him a gun. He then tells our focus that he has to shoot his friend or the whole plane will be blown out of the sky. Our focus then shoots his friend in order to save everyone else. Is he guilty of murder? Is his friend's death on his hands? Does him saving the plane outweigh his murder? I want you to think about that for a second before moving onto scenario 2.

Scenario Two: This scenario all follows the same path as the first, however, there are a few extra details to consider. Before the man, his wife, and their friend leave for their trip he discovers that his friend has been having an affair with his wife. He does not plan to confront his friend until after the trip (it was already planned), but he hates him enough that he wish his friend would just die. The scenario then plays out as the first and he ends up killing his friend upon being forced by the hijackers. Is he guilty now? Should he hold at least some guilt? Think on this scenario before moving onto the third and final scenario.

Scenario Three: This scenario follows very similarly to the second, however in this scenario the man, our focus, plans on killing his friend soon after the plane lands. He prepares to murder his friend, having everything ready at their destination. However, the plane is hijacked and he is instead "forced" to kill his friend on the plane. Is he now guilty of murder? Does the focus' guilt increase with each scenario, or does his level of guilt remain the same throughout?

The debate I would like to have is whether or not the man's intent in each scenario changes how his guilt is determined. Is he more guilty with each scenario, or does his guilt remain the same throughout?

I will be taking the position of pro.
Pro: His guilt changes with each scenario.
Con: His guilt remains the same.

1. First Round is for acceptance only (If you have questions on terms let me know with acceptance)
2. Not forfeiting
3. Be respectful, site your sources or post the links at the end of each round, make clear, valid points.
4. No trolling. (This is a semi-serious debate, I want you to think logically and critically but there is no need for sources and opinion is the main deal here.)

Round 1: Acceptance of debate
Round 2: Intro into your argument
Round 3: Counter-Argument/Further main points, use this round to further your main points or in order to argue against my main points.
Round 4: Conclusion and closing statements



looking forward to this!
I'm a little busy with school, so forgive me if my opening statement isn't very long.
If you could wait until the last hour before posting, that would be great time for me to balance my opening statement and my schoolwork. Any round other than first, you can feel free to post whenever (as I'll be rebutting), and if you decide you don't want to chance the clock, that's also alright, I just want to give you the best I can when what time I can! ^_^

Good luck!
Debate Round No. 1


I am going to go ahead and post my opening statement now, I hope that it still gives you plenty of time. I am rather busy tomorrow and don't want to miss the deadline.

I am arguing for the Pro stance in this debate. I believe that the level of guilt changes in each scenario. In this debate guilt and guilty shall be recognized as the same. (Guilt being a measurement of guiltiness)

For scenario one:
In this instance I would argue that the man is not guilty. In this scenario he is forced into a position where he must choose between the lives of the many and the lives of the few. (A common exercise and one that I will, for this debate, treat as a guilt-free decision) This therefore removes any level of guilt from him, because he cannot in good conscience allow the rest of the plane to die and must do what he can to save them. (I believe another scenario that can effectively show his lack of guilt would be sending the few to fight a war for the many, knowing they will most likely die. You are not guilty of murdering the few because it is for the safety of the many.)

Guilt: None

For scenario two:
In this scenario I would argue that the man is slightly more guilty. Although he does not take any action to murder his friend himself, the man is still less remorseful for killing his friend and therefore is more guilty than in the first scenario.

Guilt: Low

For scenario three:
In this scenario I would argue that the man is guilty of murdering his friend. He plans on murdering his friend, prepares for it, and hours before he can he is granted the "good fortune" that he gets to murder his friend with an excuse. In this scenario I would say that full guilt is on him. Although the hijackers forced him to kill his friend he still would have done so without such compulsion.

Guilt: Full

This is my main argument, I tried to keep it short and sweet for readers. I can't wait to hear yours and wish you luck as we move into the actual debate. I would like to remind my opponent to save their rebuttal for the next round and use this round only for your main arguments.

I would also like to thank my opponent for accepting this debate, I am looking forward to hearing from you.



Personal guilt, being left to one's own morality, is a fragile consideration. If I were to discuss the scenario in terms of the guilt felt by the "focus," I could simply make the argument that, as mentioned by another, he is a sociopath and therefore feels no guilt throughout. Li Si said once that "if one get's an opportunity, one should not be slow to seize it." So, is it reasonable to believe he felt guilt after driving Qin's Second Generation Emperor to suicide when faced with the opportunity to gain power?[1] So, I shall argue guilt as a public prospect in fairness to my kind opponent.

"People will curse you for kind deeds, just like evil deeds."[Niccolo Machiavelli] The deeds of men are often judged regardless of intent. In the case of the scenario laid out, the concept of justifiable homicide comes into play. An argument can be made that, despite his reasoning, his intent still remains, in that moment, to shoot his friend. Does this intent make him guilty? No one disputes that it doesn't. The blame is unanimously placed in the hijacker's hands.

In the second scenario, the prospect of malice comes into play. But, Malice does not equate to intent, so my reasoning remains very much the same. It's not until the third scenario that the parameters shift -- that the question changes; despite his intent is he guilty? If the plane landed and he went through with the murder, he would be guilty for the murder, but as far as the scenario, the blame remains with the hijacker.

Let's consider this question from both the public and personal prospect of guilt. If we consider this action from a personal standpoint, he intended to kill him, so why would he carry any guilt with him, being morally sound within himself? From a public standpoint, he saved a plane full of people. His intent holds no value in such discussion, remaining entirely within himself and having nothing to do with the actions that took place. The blame, or guilt, remains entirely with the person who is responsible for the actions -- the hijacker.

Throughout each scenario, the guilt remains with the person responsible for the action, and intent is rather inconsequential to the events that occur. Intent is not the driving force of guilt in this scenario.

[1] Sima Qian: The First emperor (Selections from the Historical Records)
Debate Round No. 2


davidsondw17 forfeited this round.


Given the circumstances of the previous forfeit, I will grant pro the next round for rebuttals. That being said, I will remain in format.

The question that seems to be asked is if our 'focus' is guilty of committing murder. The moral question has been very much avoided by Pro, and his scenario two explanation very much is based in an external standpoint. So is he guilty of murder? No.

Pro's scenario two explanation begs the question, "Does emotion equate to guilt?" If we're discussing guilt in the external sense, which it seems we are, it's difficult to accept that good intent outweighs an evil action. In the opposite effect, to change such view point is a bit of a double standard. Excuse the extreme example, but we wouldn't excuse Hitler for the holocaust, despite his intent to make Germany a better place. His intent was good, but his actions were evil. In this scenario, our focus' actions are arguably good, but his intent questionable.

In the third scenario, his intent is good. No, that's not a typo, I meant "good." He was granted, by a situation that wasn't planned, good intent. Previously he had ill intent, but, now, the situation is no longer in his control. So the question posed, which one do we disregard: good intent, or bad intent? Pro says, good intent -- that the context of the situation doesn't matter, and that he is guilty of murder. I say, neither good or bad intent matters -- that intent is trumped by action.

The 'focus' is not guilty of murder because the responsible person is the hijacker. What the Focus is guilty of is conspiracy to commit murder, not because he intended to, but because he acted in such a way that brings his intent to fruition. Intent is momentary. You can fail to act upon it. It's when you act upon it that guilt is given. This is the difference between consequences for actions, and thought-crime.

Intent does not define guilt because it is different from action. Difference in action is why conspiracy to commit a crime and actually committing the crime have different charges. One defines action of preparation, and, the other, actually committing the crime.
Debate Round No. 3


I would like to apologize to my opponent and the voters for forfeiting the previous round. I know it is no excuse but I am in the middle of writing my senior thesis for school and got a little distracted. However, I will try to include my rebuttal into this round as well as my conclusion.

My opponent claims that the blame and responsibility is solely on the hijacker, who forced the "focus" to commit this homicide. My opponent also claims that I have avoided the moral question of whether or not our "focus" is guilt of murder. I believe that I forwardly addressed this question in my previous round, but I will leave the voters to decide that.

I believe that our "focus" in these scenarios holds as much responsibility as any other person. He can choose to ignore these hijackers commands. He would be choosing to kill everyone on the plane, however, he is very much in control of himself in these scenarios. So I do not believe that blame and responsibility falls solely on the hijackers in these scenarios.

In my opponents explanation of the second scenario he claims that malice does not equate to intent. I believe this point is moot, however for argument's sake I will acknowledge this and claim the opposite. Malice is intent. (Wikipedia source below)

For his explanation of the third scenario: I do not believe that the hijackers offering him an easy excuse for murdering his friend exempts him from being guilty of murder. His intention was to murder his friend, and he chose to murder his friend. He had a choice, he could either murder his friend or let the plane crash (blow up.) He had responsibility in his choice and his intention to kill his friend out of malice and not out of necessity makes him guilty, more so than in scenarios 1 and 2.

Therefore I would reassert that intent is the driving force of guilt in this scenario.

Again I would like to apologize to my opponent and to the voters for forfeiting the previous round. I tried to keep my rebuttal solely focused on my opponents opening statement, out of fairness. If I addressed anything from his rebuttal round please ignore it out of fairness to my opponent. And I thank my opponent for allowing me to complete my rebuttal above.

Our focus chose what to do in each scenario. His intent also changed in each scenario. I argue that because his intent changes in each scenario, so does his level of guilt.

I would like to remind the voters that I only have to prove guilt changes between at least two of these scenarios. I believe I have given the voters plenty of reason to vote in favor of Pro, because I have shown that the level of guilt changes with each scenario as his intent changes. His intent to save the people on the plane outweighs any guilt, from the eyes of the public, that he may have earned by killing his friend. However, his intent to murder his friend is not outweighed because he also happened to save the people on the plane.

My opponent claims that action outweighs intent, however in our society both action and intent matter. If I accidentally hit someone with my car and I purposefully hit someone with my car the level of guilt is different, both in the eyes of the court and the eyes of the public. Mens rea and actus reus are both important.

Intent defines guilt because intending to murder someone and accidentally killing someone are not the same. Intent defines guilt because choosing to save a hundred lives at the cost of one and choosing to kill one person with the added benefit of saving 100 lives is different.



The second round forfeit is forgiven and should be dismissed in voting. However, it has had some effects on this debate that I will fix using this round. Firstly, I would have been able to respond to his rebuttal, secondly, many of the points made by pro are in response to a round he would not have been able to respond to. Given the second effect of this, I feel it best to respond here briefly. I will not go into the depth I otherwise would have and will quickly jump into my conclusion. This seems like the kindest way to deal with the balance shift of this debates format.

Brief rebuttal:

pro said that I "[claimed] that [Pro had] avoided the ... question of whether or not our 'focus' is guilty of murder." I in fact stated that "Pro says ... that [the 'focus'] is guilty of murder."

In my opening statement, I meant intent by the non-law definition, defining it as desire and not intent.[1] If you define his malice as intent, than shouldn't he be fully guilty and not "low"?


This debate has two questions: is the 'focus' guilty of murder, and should intent drive our decision? He is not guilty of murder, not because he didn't intend to kill his friend, but because of the action of someone else. Intent, because of this, should not be the driving factor in our decision.

The first scenario is best concluded by Pro himself, "He can choose to ignore these hijackers commands." So, he intends, for what ever reason, good or bad, to kill his friend. So why is he not guilty? Because it is caused by, and a direct result of the hijackers action.

As for the second and third scenario, the actions leading to the killing remains the same. Our 'focus' remains under duress.[2] The question, if we were to judge based on intent, is which one do we rule out: the intent to do harm or the intent to stop harm? Conclusively, neither should matter in the face of physical evidence and actions should define the guilt of our 'focus.

If our 'focus' is guilty of anything, it's conspiracy to commit murder. This is because of his actions, and not his intent itself. Until something is acted upon in some way, it is only consideration, thought-crime. It is when actions are taken, whether to fulfill a plan or the fulfillment itself that guilt is administered. Before that, it's inconsequential and makes no difference to society.

Intent is abstract, and people should be judged for what they do -- the mark they leave on society. Governments have been made and people have been kept alive some times because of ill intent. Tyrants have gained power and many have died because of their good intent. In this case, the intent of the 'focus' is inconsequential when faced with the actions he had taken and a judgement of guilt, not one of murder but conspiracy to do so can be made do to those actions.
Debate Round No. 4
15 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by imnotacop 2 years ago
Oh, okay. I missed that. The voters who read this can feel free to involve all final round rebuttals from both of us.

If they miss this, it's most logical to come to that conclusion anyway given the good vibes of this debate. ^_^
Posted by davidsondw17 2 years ago
No problem Con, and yeah I tried to keep it to the opening statement. Sorry if I went past that. I also left a disclaimer in there to voters to ignore anything I commented on past the opening argument.
Posted by imnotacop 2 years ago
My final round sources. I know I forgot to post them in the round itself, but I was made to have to post my argument at a time that I'd be asleep, therefor I had to finish it up while I was tired. No rule against posting them here, and the "or" in the rule makes it so end of argument sourcing is optional as long as I do source.


Posted by imnotacop 2 years ago
In the future pro, You could have ignored my round two arguments and simply rebutted my opening statement, given that, had we gone by format, you wouldn't have had an opportunity to respond to those arguments.

The forfeit still shouldn't make a difference other than what I pointed out and that is should grant me response in this round to end things on an even standard.

Posted by imnotacop 2 years ago
Thank you. It's been fun. ^_^ I'll have my closing statement finished soon.
I know I posted my opening statement kinda late at night, so sorry about that. I have a bad sleeping schedule.
Posted by davidsondw17 2 years ago
I would like to thank my opponent for an interesting debate and I appreciate your arguments and found them very interesting and entertaining.
Posted by vi_spex 2 years ago
Posted by Overhead 2 years ago
That's your personal definition of guilt which varies quite largely from the popular conceptions of guilt.

By your definition a sociopath who mercilessly butchers a hundred people is not guilty if he's emotionless about it, while someone who tries to save 100 people and feels guilty about only saving 99 is guilty.

I don't think many people will buy your personal definition.
Posted by Kycam1 2 years ago
While the word guilty in law is used as an all or nothing I am arguing from the idea of guilt. Guilt is based on emotion and sorrow over what happened. Since guilt is determined by emotion which comes after the crime intent cannot be the cause of guilt. Being guilty however is easily understood because the focus was the physically the one who did the immoral action. Since in all three scenarios the focus shot and killed someone he is guilty. Guilt cannot be lessoned by outside factors. To express this I have a utilitarian thought experiment, a train moving down a track in which there are ten people on the track. If you switch the track the train will be diverted but on the other track there is one person. Either way you are involved in the death of one individual. The point is to show no matter how many lives are save guilt is never taken away. No matter the intentions of the focus or how many lives are saved. Guilt is guilt and does not change in any of the three scenarios. In every scenario the focus is equally guilty of murder.
Posted by Overhead 2 years ago
In which case he wouldn't be guilty of murder. However as he had an intention to kill someone and made an overt act towards killing them (reading the materials to kill him and being in the process of taking him to the kill site) he would still be guilty of attempted murder even if he stopped short of the deed based standard western conceptions of "guilty" and "attempted murder".

Hence guilty.
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