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« Proportionality, Wanton Destruction, and Intent | Main | A Cautionary Note »

Response to Anderson: Empirical Evidence and Mental States

Ken (if I may) – thanks for joining us (and giving up valuable weekend time). And thanks for a very interesting reflection on some of the things that have vexed us most over the last few days: proportionality, intent and motive. These comments were very helpful.

I think that your point regarding the untested quality of proportionality is very interesting. I realise now that I was operating with a much more lay conception of this term. I suppose there is a sense in which there is a broad social understanding of what constitutes proportionality. By this I means that observers and commentators seem to have a set of criteria for regarding some actions as warfare (i.e., proportionate to a military goal) and others as morally exceptional (i.e., going beyond such proportionality). I think it is this social/moral sensibility that I was invoking. I take seriously your caution to think further about it in legal terms.

On the other hand, I wonder if I could tease out something that remains unclear from your comments. Is it not the case that intent and motive can be regarded as separate: my intent may have been to kill, for example, but my motive may be selfish, altruistic, compassionate etc. Moreover the intentional act of killing can be done for all kinds of deluded motives (for example the intentional killing where the killer’s motive is some sort of misplaced belief that death is in the victims interest).

If this is the case we presumably have two separate categories: motive is a matter of mental state; intent is more a matter of inferring that an act was purposefully conducted. If this is the case I have less of a problem with intent playing a role in social theory since it can be inferred from empirical evidence without recourse to mental states. That is to say we can infer from patterns of destruction that a particular act was purposeful (i.e., not accidental) without having to ask as to why any individual engaged in the violence. It is this latter avenue that I am suspicious of: the beliefs of ethnic-nationalists in regard to their actions rarely tally with the effects of those actions. This is of course not to say that those same ethnic-nationalists don’t purposefully engage in the violence attributed to them. It is in this last sense that we could say they intend that violence.

I’m aware the symposium is drawing to a close (indeed, I have posted my concluding comments!) but I would be interested in your thoughts in this regard.

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