Sam Harris on killing people for thought crimes


I recently came across an item where the author claimed that Sam Harris had advocated that some beliefs are so pernicious that they merited the person holding them being killed. The critic was using this quote supposedly made by Harris that “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them.” Although Harris has advocated ideas that are terrible (such as bombing campaigns against Islamic countries), racial profiling, and concocting elaborate scenarios to justify the use of torture, I thought that advocating killing people for thought crimes was a bit much and that he must have been taken out of context.

So I looked up the context of the sentence and here it is on pages 52 and 53 of his book The End of Faith (2004).

The power that belief has over our emotional lives appears to be total. For every emotion that you are capable of feeling, there is surely a belief that could invoke it in a matter of moments.

Consider the following proposition:

Your daughter is being slowly tortured in an English jail.

What is it that stands between you and the absolute panic that such a proposition would loose in the mind and body of a person who believed it? Perhaps you do not have a daughter, or you know her to be safely at home, or you believe that English jailors are renowned for their congeniality. Whatever the reason, the door to belief has not yet swung upon its hinges.

The link between belief and behavior raises the stakes considerably. Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them [My italics-MS]. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live. Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of every peaceful means of persuasion, while inspiring them to commit acts of extraordinary violence against others [My italics-MS]. There is, in fact, no talking to some people. If they cannot be captured, and they often cannot, otherwise tolerant people may be justified in killing them in self-defense. This is what the United States attempted in Afghanistan, and it is what we and other Western powers are bound to attempt, at an even greater cost to ourselves and to innocents abroad, elsewhere in the Muslim world. We will continue to spill blood in what is, at bottom, a war of ideas.

Notice that he seems to be advocating killing people for merely having certain thoughts, not for taking active steps to carry out the intent of thoughts so as to make them an imminent danger to others, the usual standard we use to justify killing in self-defense. He also says a little earlier that “Beliefs are principles of action (p. 52, italics in original) and seems to think that at least some beliefs lead inexorably to actions based on those beliefs, so having the belief is sufficient cause for summary execution.

I simply cannot see any way of interpreting that passage to make it seem any less horrific.

The question is who decides which beliefs and people are worthy of this pre-emptive summary justice. One suspects that Harris thinks it would be people like him, of course, since he clearly sees himself as an enlightened man who is an expert on ethical behavior. One gets the impression reading Harris that he would be the worst kind of dictator, so sure of the rightness of his own judgments and moral goodness that he would make life or death decisions about others and not have the slightest qualms. He reminds me of leaders of religions who are so sure that they are doing god’s will that they commit monstrous acts without turning a hair.

In fact someone might argue, using Harris’s own argument, that beliefs such as Harris holds are so dangerous that it is sufficient grounds for summarily executing him in order to prevent him ever attaining the ability to carry them out. Of course, Harris says that if such dangerous people can be captured, that would be better, so maybe he should be captured and thus kept from acting on his belief that he has the duty to kill others for their dangerous beliefs.

Of course, the people who believe that Harris should be captured or killed simply because of his beliefs are themselves the holders of dangerous beliefs, so yet others may think they should be captured or killed before they get at Harris before he gets at the people he thinks are dangerous.

And yet others may think … Well, you get the idea. Once you accept the idea of pre-emptive punishment for merely having thoughts, you set in motion an unending chain.

I had somehow not been aware of this statement by Harris even though it was published in 2004, and it seems like I was not alone. People seem to have taken note somewhat later and it generated enough controversy around 2014 that Harris responded to it, saying “The fact that belief determines behavior is what makes certain beliefs so dangerous” which to me simply reinforces the problematic nature of the statement. While no one would deny that beliefs influence behavior, surely they do not determine them? Even in a strictly deterministic view that denies free will, our conscious and articulated beliefs are just one part of the driving forces behind our actions. People have all sorts of conscious beliefs that they do not act upon.

Harris often responds to his critics by accusing them of either not understanding his views or of deliberately distorting them. Last year, Robert Wright had a good response to Harris, saying that he is either a muddled thinker or a muddled writer.

OK, so Harris thinks al-Zawahiri should be killed because of his beliefs “about jihad, martyrdom, the ascendancy of Islam, etc.” I’m not sure if holding just one of these beliefs is supposed to warrant the death penalty, or if all of them are required (including whatever the “etc.” covers), or what. Still, I think I get the basic idea. And it leaves me with a question:

If we come across a private diary, and in it some guy has written, “I agree with al-Zawahiri on jihad, martyrdom, the ascendancy of Islam, etc.,” we should kill him? Even if he has no plans to hurt us, or to help al-Zawahiri, or even to communicate his opinion to anyone else? If Harris really holds that it’s the beliefs that merit the death penalty, then, so far as I can tell, he has to answer that question in the affirmative.

The only way I can imagine Harris trying to wriggle out of a “yes” answer would be to reply that if this guy really believed everything al-Zawahiri believes, he wouldn’t sit there idly and innocuously; he’d do the kinds of things al-Zawahiri does.

But this just underscores how unnecessary it is, when deciding whether to kill al-Zawahiri, to get into the question of beliefs in the first place. After all, al-Zawahiri has done things that make it clear he’s an enemy. Specifically: He has chosen to lead a group that has attacked us and that continues to try to attack us. Leading a group is a behavior, not a belief. So in order to justify treating al-Zawahiri as a mortal enemy, we don’t have to get into the question of his doctrinal beliefs at all; we can safely infer an intent to harm from his behavioral history.

And given what a dangerous precedent it is to embrace killing people for their beliefs, shouldn’t we just stick with behavior as the criterion? That would be simpler, right? Plus, it would have the virtue of minimizing the overlap between our belief system and the belief system of people whose beliefs Harris thinks warrant the death penalty.

Anyway, this is what I meant by “muddled.” IMHO, Harris has a tendency not to think things through, especially when he’s making dramatic pronouncements, and careful thought might inconveniently short-circuit them.

I am a little late to this controversy but it further cements my view that Harris promotes some truly weird and reprehensible ideas.

Comments

  1. says

    I had somehow not been aware of this statement by Harris even though it was published in 2004, and it seems like I was not alone.

    The rest of us sprained our eyeballs and set Harris’ book aside, usually with a derisive sniff about the depth of his philosophical thinking. That he was able to say something that silly and still be embraced as a “horseman” etc – kinda embarrassing.

  2. specialffrog says

    I thought one of the standard atheist objections to Jesus’s moral teachings was the fact that he advocated punishment for thought crimes.

  3. qwints says

    [Harris] … seems to think that at least some beliefs lead inexorably to actions based on those beliefs, so having the belief is sufficient cause for summary execution.

    There’s no seems about it. This is pretty explicitly his position both in the End of Faith and as he’s developed it over the past decade. I remember his discussion with Scott Atran at Beyond Belief 2006 as one example.

    @1:52

    There are innumerable instances where we can see that the proximate cause of certain behavior is precisely what a person believed.

    Part II @ 5:47

    If you [believe in martyrdom] it has certain behavioral and logical consequences.

  4. raven says

    I’ve never had any use for Sam Harris.

    I read his book years ago, got halfway through, and decided he was cuckoo idiot. Everything since then has proved it.

    The atheists would be far better off, if Sam Harris would find some horrible religious cult and join it. So would Sam Harris since he would fit in better. It’s a win-win move.

  5. says

    I thought one of the standard atheist objections

    There are no “standard” atheist objections.

    As far as I recall, it was Hitch that made a big deal out of the “thought crime” angle. He was a fan of Orwell, of course.

    I prefer to simply say “christianity is immoral” and if someone asks I start with the idea that it encourages people to undertake actions based on authority rather than ethics. If that doesn’t shut down the conversation then we can drill into specific recommended behaviors of christianity and examine the divine ethics. But it should be enough simply to point out a few of the inherent problems in christian morality, namely the idea of third party forgiveness (A hits B, and C forgives A instead of letting B decide whether forgiveness is appropriate) as well as inherited guilt (A is B’s child, who is C’s child, unto the Nth generation, and A is punished for Z’s actions) or collective guilt (A does something and A’s family and friends are punished for it) These are much bigger problems than that religion encourages “thought crime”

  6. lanir says

    I hold one belief that keeps me from acting out on all of my other beliefs all the time.

    I believe I am occasionally wrong.

    I guess I should add that’s for certain values of “wrong” and certain values of “occasionally” (these are in flux, I am not perfect). Still, that was an extremely simple debunking of that house of cards Harris was building. Because I’m pretty sure that belief of mine is common all around the planet.

  7. sigurd jorsalfar says

    Of course, Harris says that if such dangerous people can be captured, that would be better, …

    Not only that, he doesn’t think the idea that people who hold these dangerous beliefs should be jailed merely for believing them is even controversial. It’s only the act of killing them that he recognizes as needing some supporting argument.

  8. Chiroptera says

    Thoughts and beliefs are so dangerous that we must eliminate those who merely have them? Isn’t that one of the defining characteristics of totalitarianism?

  9. Peter the Mediocre says

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who found “The End of Faith” disturbing. I was afraid that there was something wrong with me for thinking that this famous atheist leader had come to conclusions I found offensive.

  10. corwyn says

    While no one would deny that beliefs influence behavior, surely they do not determine them?

    1) Sam Harris does not think we have free will. He also seems to speak of ‘beliefs’ as the sum of the mind state of a person (definitionally). This implies, I think, that he thinks beliefs *do* determine behavior.

    2) If you have ever said something like ‘oh, I know her, she would never do something like that.’ you would be saying the same thing. That your knowledge of her beliefs allows you to determine her behaviors in new situations. Imagine if you had perfect knowledge of her beliefs (mind state).

  11. says

    Let’s face it: Harris just isn’t that smart. Like so many other atheist luminaries, he only seemed smart because the god question is a particularly easy one. The moment he applies his intellect to any subject with actual nuance or complexity, he fucks it up.

  12. Mano Singham says

    corwyn,

    I don’t think we have free will either. What I am arguing is that the conscious thoughts that we have are only a fraction of the ‘mind state’ and are not determinative. When we say ‘oh, I know her, she would never do something like that’, we are making a probabilistic statement. We know that she might have done that.

  13. Holms says

    It is plain that there is a conflation between ‘killing for beliefs’ and ‘killing in self defense.’ If he knows the difference but worded it unintentionally poorly, then he is a terrible communicator; if he knows the difference and deliberatly chose to confuse them, then he is dishonest; and if he doesn’t know the difference, then he is an astonishingly shallow thinker.

  14. Francisco Bacopa says

    It seems over at Lousy Canuks’s site they believe that all lesbians have to take transwoman dick because it’s special female dick. Dirty shameful lesbians are transphobic for not wanting dick. The nerve of them! Jason is a 100% lesbian corrective rape supporter, as long as it’s done by female-identifying ladydudes with their totally female dicks.

    PZ almost seems to believe this rapey BS, though he reigns in “Crip Dyke” from time to time. I am not sure Crip Dyke is even a woman, trans-abled wheelchair fetishes are pretty common among autogynephilic fetishists.

    And Zachary Antolak, FTB’s own Zinnia Jones, posts all kinds of pro-rape stuff on HIS twitter. Yep, I have both misgendered and deadnamed him. Yes, HIM. Let’s speak out now!

    It may be time to bail like Brayton did and Benson was forced to.

    Or maybe you are one of THEM, and truly believe that lesbians gotta fuck and suck trans-cock or else they are horribly prejudiced. That’s what Jason believes, and what PZ almost seems to believe.

    As far as I can tell from what I read here on FTB the whole point of transgenderism is the corrective rape of lesbians. FTB is sooooo progressive. Non-compliant women need to be raped.

  15. Holms says

    Francisco, that is one of the most blatant troll posts in the history of the internet. Piss off.

  16. Ben Finney says

    While no one would deny that beliefs influence behavior, surely they do not determine them? Even in a strictly deterministic view that denies free will, our conscious and articulated beliefs are just one part of the driving forces behind our actions.

    Yes, you’ve limited “beliefs” to a sub-set, and said that is only a sub-set of beliefs that determine behaviour.

    What Harris said wasn’t “only conscious and articulated belief determines behavior”. He said “belief determines behavior”. You’ve read his other writings too, I assume, so you know that he includes much more than “conscious and articulated” in the set of beliefs.

    People have all sorts of conscious beliefs that they do not act upon.

    Yes, and Harris didn’t claim all beliefs determine behaviour.

    It seems to me most – maybe all? – of your objections fall away if one understands Harris means “anything we act as though we believe true of the world” in “belief”. By that definition, itself pretty normal I’d have though, the claim that belief determines behaviour is an uncontroversial fact.

  17. Mano Singham says

    Ben Finney @#20,

    To say that our actions are driven by our beliefs, where our beliefs are defined as the full set of neuronal activities both conscious and unconscious, is to say nothing more than that we have no ‘free’ will (in the usual sense in which it is used), which is hardly novel. I too do not think we have free will.

    But in judging other people, all we have to go on are their conscious and articulated beliefs. Since these are not sufficient to determine behavior, then what exactly is he asserting?

    It becomes clear that Harris says things that are outlandish on the fact of it and when called out, retreats and says that what he meant was far more banal. I think the judgment that he is a muddled thinker or a muddled writer is, if anything, rather kind to him. There is also the possibility that he likes drawing attention to himself and sees this as a strategy.

  18. karmacat says

    Harris seems to have forgotten that people have more than one belief and more than one thought. He doesn’t have enough “data” in terms of knowing all the beliefs of a person to predict anyone’s behavior

  19. Chiroptera says

    Mano Singham, #21: It becomes clear that Harris says things that are outlandish on the fact of it and when called out, retreats and says that what he meant was far more banal.

    I was just thinking the same thing when I read the comment to which you are responding. It seems that Harris’ defenders have a habit of defending him by claiming that he actually never says anything at all.

  20. Edward Gemmer says

    It’s worth noting that much of our justice system punished people for complicity or conspiracy with others who actually commit crimes. These are essentially “thought” crimes. Further, much of our foreign policy violence is and always has been attacking people who we feel will do us harm, not punishing people for their crimes. These are also “thought crimes.” So, while certainly one can disagree with Sam Harris, I find the notion that this is somehow outlandish unconvincing.

  21. polishsalami says

    While I think Harris has overstepped the mark here (and has done so in the past), he is one atheist that has managed to grasp the truly evil nature of Islam.

    “Islamophobia” should not be a concern for the atheist community. The less welcome that Muslims feel in Western societies, the better. We should feel no empathy or pity for them, cold logic should determine that the fewer Muslims live amongst us, the safer our lives will be.

    While it’s easy for people like Greenwald (from his Brazilian penthouse) and PZ Myers (from Whitetown, USA) to pontificate on these things, those of us who have to live with the Islamic threat on a daily basis are happy that people like Harris are willing to speak the truth on these matters.

    Not all human lives are equal, not every life is worth preserving. The sooner the SJW faction of the atheist movement gets rid of these notions, and join this life-or-death struggle against this poison of Islam, the better.

  22. says

    ““Islamophobia” should not be a concern for the atheist community. The less welcome that Muslims feel in Western societies, the better.”

    O.o

    most moslems i know, have an interpretation of their religion that is very similar to that of modern european christians. they cherry picked the nice sounding peacefull parts and ignore the rest, just like most christians do.

    those moslems are absolutely no problem for my security. they got not even pissed when my country outlawed their minarets while my city is plastered with churches and church towers with bells. freaking loud bells. they said, we don’t need a minaret.
    sure they are mosltly kurdish alevites, and they are most propably the most moderate moslems there are. but they alone are reason enough to NOT trow them in the same pot with IS , taliban etc.

  23. Jay says

    If you had a magical mind reading machine taking action against people with certain beliefs/dispositions might be justified.

    But that’s hypothetical and ideological zealots are another matter, after all its impossible to know what a person really believes, what they actionally believe, simply from what they profess to believe.

    That said, I think most folks would think its wise to take preventative action based on someone’s professed beliefs, the question is what sort of actions are justifiable and under what circumstances. If I overheard a group of radical anarchist talking about how it’d be wonderful if the county courthouse was blown up I wouldn’t want the cops to open fire on them but I might like it if someone kept an eye on them.

    So the question is, under any circumstance, before action is taken, is it the least bad option to kill someone for merely professing certain ideas. Its a matter of where we draw the line. I can’t think of such a circumstance, but maybe I’m not imaginative enough (and I don’t think Harris was either).

  24. says

    #25 “The less welcome that Muslims feel in Western societies, the better. We should feel no empathy or pity for them, cold logic should determine that the fewer Muslims live amongst us, the safer our lives will be.”

    Trade the word “Muslim” for “black people”, and see how that scans. Sounds bigoted and prejudiced, doesn’t it? What does that tell you?

  25. says

    justice system punished people for complicity or conspiracy with others who actually commit crimes

    “conspiracy” is an action, not a thought. To conspire you plan, organize, motivate, encourage, facilitate, aid, abet, etc — all actions (hence the verbs) If conspiracy included thought-crime, then you’d see people being convicted on no evidence, at all. Evidence indicates action – whether it’s an email saying “rid me of this odious blogger?” or whatever.

    Harris screwed up. He could have made a case on preemptive violence based on past actions and stated goals. He’s too full of himself to think, and did the philosophical noob’s equivalent of shooting off his mouth.

  26. Holms says

    #24
    It’s worth noting that much of our justice system punished people for complicity or conspiracy with others who actually commit crimes. These are essentially “thought” crimes.

    No they aren’t. Helping the crime in some way, whether it be material aid or just advice, means the person is being convicted not just for harbouring nasty thoughts, but for their actions. Oh and even if the person provides no help of any sort, they are still afoul of the requirement to report the crime and thus help police either stop it if it has yet to take place, or solve it.

    I agree with you on the latter point re. foreign policy though. However, that’s not much of an endorsement of Harris’ thought process.

    ___

    #25
    …he is one atheist that has managed to grasp the truly evil nature of Islam.

    “Islamophobia” should not be a concern for the atheist community. The less welcome that Muslims feel in Western societies, the better. We should feel no empathy or pity for them, cold logic should determine that the fewer Muslims live amongst us, the safer our lives will be.It is well established that the huge majority of muslims do not endorse terrorist activity. Piss off.

  27. laurentweppe says

    The atheists would be far better off, if Sam Harris would find some horrible religious cult and join it.

    But Sam Harris already joined a horrible cult: the Cult of Himself, and he took his readership with him.

  28. says

    most folks would think its wise to take preventative action based on someone’s professed beliefs

    You should probably study something like Chatterjee (“the morality of preemptive war”) or Fabre (“the morality of defensive war”) – it’s not that cut and dried. There are serious problems to consider, including things like the professed believer’s ability or inability to act.
    And, as soon as you bring that factor in to the discussion, then we’ve moved from “belief” to action (building the capability to act is an action)

    Consider a case we’ve all heard a lot about recently: Israel. Iran has said “Israel should be wiped off the map” (or various translations to that effect) The proponents of preemptive war argue that this justifies attack on Iran. But I myself, in this very blog, have said “Israel is a bad idea; it should never have existed at all.” Am I now an acceptable murder target? That makes me a bit uncomfortable. What we look for before we feel justified in pre-empting anyone is solid indication that they actually are not merely planning something, but are going to put it into effect. Consider the vast arsenals of nuclear weapons that already exist: under a straightforward doctrine of pre-emptive warfare the US would have been justified in obliterating any nation preparing a nuclear weapon, on the grounds that the only practical target for it (when the number of nuclear powers was one) was the US.

    Essentially, the doctrine of pre-emption can be used to argue for any action at all, in response to a hypothetical. And, of course, it can apply recursively: if I learned that the Mossad was planning on killing me for my comment in this blog, am I justified in carrying out pre-emptive assassinations? Be careful; it gets complicated: assume the hypothetical that I think I am right (which is why I said that in my posting) and that someone trying to pre-empt me is therefore being the aggressor. The problem, in a nutshell, with pre-emption is that you have hypothetical aggressors all the way down — but the only real aggressor is the one engaging in pre-emption.

  29. Edward Gemmer says

    “conspiracy” is an action, not a thought. To conspire you plan, organize, motivate, encourage, facilitate, aid, abet, etc — all actions (hence the verbs) If conspiracy included thought-crime, then you’d see people being convicted on no evidence, at all. Evidence indicates action – whether it’s an email saying “rid me of this odious blogger?” or whatever.

    No. Yes, there is some action required, but the thoughts become much more important than the action. Which is the point – this isn’t an outlandish point by Harris. It isn’t far off from what we do today. In fact, I’d say it is almost indistinguishable from our foreign policy, where we aren’t constrained by due process. When we hear a call to violence against ISIS, it’s true that some people in ISIS have done hideous things. But no one is calling for violence against those particular people. It’s against ISI as a whole, and it is because those who say that feel people who believe what ISIS believes deserve violence against them.

  30. says

    Trade the word “Muslim” for “black people”, and see how that scans.

    Trade “black people” in your example for “gun nuts” and you’ve really made the shit hit the fan.

  31. says

    the thoughts become much more important than the action

    You have that exactly backwards. And centuries of jurisprudence and many many philosopher’s arguments agree. Even the Spanish Inquisition didn’t torture people for their beliefs – they did it because of accusations from others, or from extrapolation from people’s actions. Otherwise they’d have had to put everyone to the question, right?

    Show your work: simply making an assertion like that isn’t convincing.

    But no one is calling for violence against those particular people. It’s against ISI as a whole, and it is because those who say that feel people who believe what ISIS believes deserve violence against them.

    Uh, no. First off, being a member of ISI is an action: you have to go there, join the group, wave the flag, shoot the guns in the air, push the gay people off the towers. Actions. Nobody is saying people should die for being sympathetic to ISI.

    Let’s try an experiment: should I be put to death? As I typed this I paused for a moment and decided whether or not I am on the side of ISI. You tell me: live or die? That’s all you’ve got to go on: my beliefs. Go ahead, Solomon.

  32. says

    Trade “black people” in your example for “gun nuts” and you’ve really made the shit hit the fan.

    Actually, I mis-spoke. The problem seems to be people with libertarian beliefs. They tend to be gun owners and have been associated with more killings in the US than islamic terrorists have. “gun nuts” are simply the libertarians who have acted on their libertarian beliefs by buying guns; it would be reasonable to target them for extermination based on their actions, of course (menace to society) but it’s the libertarian belief that must be eradicated with the hot pincers of skeptical enquiry.

    Kill all the libertarians (Y/N)?

  33. edmond says

    It’s very difficult to defend Harris in his statement, and I remember reading that passage years ago and disagreeing. But, in an attempt to play devil’s advocate, he does seem to say some things which refute the idea.

    “This is what the United States attempted in Afghanistan, and it is what we and other Western powers are bound to attempt, at an even greater cost to ourselves and to innocents abroad, elsewhere in the Muslim world. We will continue to spill blood in what is, at bottom, a war of ideas.”

    This sounds like he is deploring the result of pursuing people for thought crimes, and illustrating the disastrous results. However, he never clearly states that he is against it, which would help his defense. Despite chastising the US for the “cost to ourselves and innocents abroad”, all the previous quotes seem to support the idea that he really thinks this way. Devil’s advocate seems to fail here, and he does seem to be proposing the dangerous and indefensible.

    I think killing in nearly any context is wrong, with the exception of defense of self or others, including wartime killing when it’s perfectly reasonable to presume that someone will continue on an established path of destruction (though negotiation to determine someone’s grievances is preferred). I’m against the death penalty EVER. But killing someone just because they hold beliefs which COULD lead to dangerous actions? Nope, Harris would be dead wrong here.

    His only saving grace might be in this statement (among those italicized by MS): “Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of every peaceful means of persuasion”.

    Perhaps he is only referring to people who ARE acting on their beliefs, and not those who aren’t, and who therefore wouldn’t NEED any “peaceful means of persuasion”. Holding back on acting on such beliefs would indicate SELF persuasion, and maybe he tacitly exempts them.

    It would help if he could be clearer about that (and maybe he will be, in response to the criticism), but he certainly seems clear enough at face value so far.

  34. Edward Gemmer says

    Uh, no. First off, being a member of ISI is an action: you have to go there, join the group, wave the flag, shoot the guns in the air, push the gay people off the towers. Actions. Nobody is saying people should die for being sympathetic to ISI.

    This statement actually illustrated Harris’ point perfectly. No one would punish another person for joining a group, or going somewhere. No punishment would come from shooting a gun in the air, outside of some negligence action, perhaps. Obviously, the “action” is almost besides the point. It is clearly the belief you think you be punished, not the action. This is why I object strongly to a statement saying Harris’ point is outlandish. Even people criticizing him feel the same way.

  35. Scott Draper says

    I think you’re reading way too much into what Harris speculates about. Note, for instance, he doesn’t actually advocate that any particular point of view deserves death, but holds out the possibility that such an argument could be made.

    Most rational people would agree, given the right scenario.

    Take, for instance, a person with his thumb on the activator of a nuclear device. He hasn’t pushed the button yet, but he’s a religious nut that thinks the end of the world is imminent. Would you kill him for his thoughts, before he’s committed any crime? I would. I think most people would, if they had time to think about it. By the time he’s actually committed a crime, it’s too late.

    Now, clearly there is a slippery slope involved, as the danger becomes less imminent and less severe, but the nature of the ethics remains the same. If you would pull the trigger in the scenario above, then you’ve already demonstrated you’re a prostitute and all that remains is dickering over price.

  36. Al says

    @37

    Tell me, if Harris finds it all so deplorable to kill people for thought crimes, then why would he claim that it would be ETHICAL?

  37. MattP (must mock his crappy brain) says

    Take, for instance, a person with his thumb on the activator of a nuclear device. He hasn’t pushed the button yet, but he’s a religious nut that thinks the end of the world is imminent. Would you kill him for his thoughts, before he’s committed any crime? I would. I think most people would, if they had time to think about it. By the time he’s actually committed a crime, it’s too late.

    We’ve already had presidents (both Shrubs) and other leaders of nuclear nations in this position, yet no one assassinated them. Both of the Shrubs actually committed (or commanded to be committed) numerous actual atrocities, yet they received not even a slap on the wrist. Why ignore the known criminals among us to focus on IS who pose little to no threat outside of certain areas of the Middle East? How about we finally clean our own fucking house before arguing to continue our legacy of royally fucking things up elsewhere.

  38. Scott Draper says

    MattP wrote:

    Why ignore the known criminals among us to focus on IS who pose little to no threat outside of certain areas of the Middle East?

    Your post is totally unrelated to anything I said.

  39. Ben Finney says

    Sam Harris says many things with which I disagree. If someone wants to find a “defender” of Sam Harris specifically, they’ll miss the mark in me.

    What I do want, though, is to disallow the parlaying of a (justifiable) strong reaction against someone’s words to a (unjustifiable) placing of different words into that person’s mouth. If you have a problem with Harris’s words – and there are problems, to be sure – please be sure you’re actually disagreeing with the man, and not a straw confabulation.

    Harris has written further on the reaction to the passage you’ve objected to; I hope you’ll take it into account. https://www.samharris.org/blog/item/response-to-controversy#killing

  40. MattP (must mock his crappy brain) says

    Why did Sam Harris not argue for preemptive action against the Shrubs when they had their fingers on the button? These were known threats to the survival of the entire planet, but he did not make a peep about preemptive action against them to prevent the nuclear annihilation of the planet. Nor has he even done much in the way of making demands for justice for their actual crimes committed before and/or during office. Despite this, he thinks we should be stomping about everywhere else in the world to potentially preemptively murder people for their beliefs (whatever the fuck his definition for ‘beliefs’ actually is).

    Do you not see the blatant inconsistency? We have leaders in the ‘West’ that would love to fuck over the entire world (and are continually working to accomplish that), yet Sam Harris does not say we should kill them for the greater good. But let there be some brown militants in a far away land posing no threat to us, and we are somehow completely justified in preemptively bombing the shit out of them and anyone else we think might be like them (weddings, funerals, first responders to initial strikes) or help them (MSF hospital)?

  41. Holms says

    So after reading that clarification provided by Ben Finney, I believe my first surmise has been validated: “If he knows the difference [between ‘killing for beliefs’ and ‘killing in self defense’] but worded it unintentionally poorly, then he is a terrible communicator”.

  42. vaiyt says

    Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of every peaceful means of persuasion, while inspiring them to commit acts of extraordinary violence against others

    Without reading the rest of the quote, when I saw this, my first thought was: He’s setting up this just to single out Islam as an idea that merits indiscriminate extermination, right? Lo and behold, I was right.

    Take, for instance, a person with his thumb on the activator of a nuclear device. He hasn’t pushed the button yet, but he’s a religious nut that thinks the end of the world is imminent. Would you kill him for his thoughts, before he’s committed any crime? I would. I think most people would, if they had time to think about it. By the time he’s actually committed a crime, it’s too late.

    Another predictable thing whenever criticism of Harris’ objectionable views comes up – the cavalcade of outlandish hypotheticals. Harris is not speaking in hypotheticals, as he helpfully points out in the very same paragraph that he thinks “a scenario where killing people for their beliefs is justifiable” applies to very real wars that actually happened.

  43. Mano Singham says

    Ben Finney @#43,

    I had read that passage and linked to it in my post and it was from there that I quoted Harris again where he says ““The fact that belief determines behavior is what makes certain beliefs so dangerous” .

  44. Ben Finney says

    I had read that passage and linked to it in my post and it was from there that I quoted Harris again

    Thank you, I see that now.

    I’m left with the question unresolved, though: the position Harris professes is one he draws from what should be uncontroversial facts. When people who object to the conclusion are directed to the “banal” statements that are the premise for the argument, it is disingenuous to then complain about the banality of the premise.

    So rather than accuse you of being disingenuous, I ask more specifically: What, in particular, is objectionable about the fact that belief (understood as a person’s mental representation of how the world is) determines the person’s behaviour? That seems to be supported by a massive weight of evidence to date.

    Or, if that’s too banal, what is objectionable about the inference that some people hold representations of the world that will reliably determine behaviour that is atrocious and reliably leads to huge suffering and death, while also being impervious to discourse about their behaviour?

    I see the outrage at the concept of “killing people for their beliefs”, but that simply isn’t a position Harris espouses. So much of the outrage seems to be inferring a position of Harris’s that just isn’t there. Mano, can you reassure me on that?

  45. says

    Harris and his supporters need to be reminded of Freddie’s old lesson; Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster

    Edward Gemmer @38:

    This statement actually illustrated Harris’ point perfectly. No one would punish another person for joining a group, or going somewhere. No punishment would come from shooting a gun in the air, outside of some negligence action, perhaps. Obviously, the “action” is almost besides the point. It is clearly the belief you think you be punished, not the action. This is why I object strongly to a statement saying Harris’ point is outlandish. Even people criticizing him feel the same way.

    Read more: http://freethoughtblogs.com/singham/2015/10/09/sam-harris-on-killing-people-for-thought-crimes/#ixzz3oFEg6uku

    You fail Tu Quoque. Dude, ISIL is an ARMY, not a social club or tour group. Belonging to one means a lot more than that you hold the same beliefs as the group, it means that you are willing to and intend to take up arms and act on those beliefs, that you are willing to kill others for your beliefs, and in this case, willing to kill others simply for having beliefs that ISIL believes are against the will of Allah. (See the irony there? ISIL actually DOES do what Harris advocates, they kill others because they hold beliefs that they believe are immoral and dangerous.)

    If all belonging to them meant was that you agreed with their beliefs, we might think them repulsive, but we wouldn’t be creating an armed coalition to destroy them. We do that because of their ACTIONS, like invading and occupying territory, murdering civilians, imposing their will over that of the local populations, etc. And yes, we oppose them as a group, not just as individuals. Because that’s how military conflicts work.

    That said, does that mean that every individual is equally guilty, equally deserving of death? Of course not. But that only becomes relevant AFTER they have been defeated as a group. After the army is destroyed. Then, they can be tried and punished individually for their actions. This isn’t anything new, after all. It’s called War Crimes trials.

    OTOH, to Harris’ way of thinking (and ISIL’s and apparently yours), they ARE all equally worthy of death, simply for the beliefs they hold in common, regardless of their individual acts. You know what it’s called when people act on that and kill every surviving member of a defeated enemy simply for belonging to it? Also War Crimes.

    Scott Draper @39:

    Take, for instance, a person with his thumb on the activator of a nuclear device. He hasn’t pushed the button yet, but he’s a religious nut that thinks the end of the world is imminent. Would you kill him for his thoughts, before he’s committed any crime? I would. I think most people would, if they had time to think about it. By the time he’s actually committed a crime, it’s too late.

    Read more: http://freethoughtblogs.com/singham/2015/10/09/sam-harris-on-killing-people-for-thought-crimes/#ixzz3oFA9hNBj

    You fail analogies. Killing someone who is about to commit murder in order to prevent that act is not in any way analogous to killing someone for their thoughts.

    For that scenario to even occur, your hypothetical nut job has to have already taken several actions; at a minimum the act of building or securing the weapon, and the act of threatening lives with the weapon. And he has clearly demonstrated the intent to carry through with those threats. Any actions taken by others to stop him are for actually posing an imminent threat, not merely for holding thoughts or beliefs which might lead to such actions. Which is what Harris is advocating.

  46. says

    Ben Finney @48:

    What, in particular, is objectionable about the fact that belief (understood as a person’s mental representation of how the world is) determines the person’s behaviour?

    Read more: http://freethoughtblogs.com/singham/2015/10/09/sam-harris-on-killing-people-for-thought-crimes/#ixzz3oFUaTzHE

    The part where Harris implies that we can know 1) the entirety of a person’s mental representation, and 2) exactly what behavior that representation will determine.

    what is objectionable about the inference that some people hold representations of the world that will reliably determine behaviour that is atrocious and reliably leads to huge suffering and death, while also being impervious to discourse about their behaviour?

    Read more: http://freethoughtblogs.com/singham/2015/10/09/sam-harris-on-killing-people-for-thought-crimes/#ixzz3oFU6m82e

    The “reliably” part, the “impervious to discourse” part, and, as mentioned above, the part where Harris, you, or anyone else has enough knowledge to make those judgements in the absence of ACTIONS based on those beliefs.

    What beliefs exactly do you claim that we KNOW, know to great enough certainty to act just on the basis of those beliefs and not on any actions taken by the person holding them, will lead RELIABLY to violence? Islam? Nope, billions of counter examples. Radical Jihadism? Nope, not even that. Mosques and street protests are filled with thousands who hold and support those ideas, but still don’t act on them. SO what belief do you mean that is so “reliable” an indicator of future actions that we can justify ourselves imprisoning or killing them?

    Same for “impervious to discourse.” While it is certainly true that MANY people, if not most, hold ideas that they as individuals are impervious to discourse on, especially religious ideas, there are also others who have renounced those same ideas precisely because of discourse, such as ex-muslim atheists.

    Not that I think terrorists, by and large, are susceptible to discourse. But to call them terrorists, you must admit they have to have taken some action, so we’re no longer talking about judging them on their beliefs, are we?

    So, let me ask you, specifically, just as you asked Mano, what SPECIFIC beliefs do you think both reliably indicate that the holder will act on them violently, and reliably indicate that they holder will be impervious to discourse, such that “that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them”?

    I see the outrage at the concept of “killing people for their beliefs”, but that simply isn’t a position Harris espouses. So much of the outrage seems to be inferring a position of Harris’s that just isn’t there.

    Read more: http://freethoughtblogs.com/singham/2015/10/09/sam-harris-on-killing-people-for-thought-crimes/#ixzz3oFaBBCQf

    Um… But it is. He is not just arguing that behavior is connected to belief, he is arguing that the belief itself is ethical justification enough for “A willingness to take preventative action”.

    He wrote that it would be ethical to kill Ayman al-Zawahiri on the basis that “he is likely to get a lot of innocent people killed because of what he and his followers believe about jihad, martyrdom, the ascendancy of Islam, etc.”

    Not ethical based on al-Zawahiri’s actions in planning or organizing terrorist acts (which I believe would be the only truly ethical justification), but based on what he and his followers believe.

    Here’s a non-islamic example; Millions of Americans believe that abortion is murder, and are not at all susceptible to persuasion otherwise. Many of them are led by this belief to also believe that abortion doctors are mass murders and killing them or blowing up their abortion clinics is justified and necessary. A very tiny number of them have actually acted on those beliefs and killed people that anyone who does not share their beliefs would judge to be innocent victims.

    So, would it be ethically justified to take “preventative action” by capturing or assassinating preachers who deliver sermons calling for God to strike down the abortionists? Or if an anti-abortion terrorist’s pastor had helped him plan the deed, are we ethically justified in arresting and punishing the pastor only if we have evidence of his participation, or are we justified simply by knowing he shared the same beliefs? Harris is arguing for the latter.

    But if the latter is true, what about the millions of other Americans who agree? Who share the same beliefs, but have not acted on them?

    In the end, yes, beliefs influence our actions and can therefore be dangerous, but pinning our ethical justification to their beliefs is itself dangerous, and more so, IMO.

    Because that’s the kind of thinking that underlies the Inquisition, the HUAC, pogroms, ISIL, etc.

  47. Mano Singham says

    Ben Finney @#48,

    I thought I had already (at least partially) answered your question @#21 but Dan Henschel @ #51 is more comprehensive.

  48. karpad says

    dan @49:

    Dude, ISIL is an ARMY, not a social club or tour group. Belonging to one means a lot more than that you hold the same beliefs as the group, it means that you are willing to and intend to take up arms and act on those beliefs, that you are willing to kill others for your beliefs,

    Furthermore, killing someone just for being a member of an army is a war crime. It means you kill members of that army if they surrender, if they’re wounded, if they’re unarmed.
    I, for one, cannot and would not endorse the premise that ISIL’s beliefs are so abhorrent that should Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi himself be injured, on the ground begging to surrender, that I should put a bullet in his head.
    I mean, if I’d seen one too many action movies and thought reality worked that way, I guess I can see someone thinking that’s a normal response.

  49. Edward Gemmer says

    Belonging to one means a lot more than that you hold the same beliefs as the group, it means that you are willing to and intend to take up arms and act on those beliefs, that you are willing to kill others for your beliefs, and in this case, willing to kill others simply for having beliefs that ISIL believes are against the will of Allah.

    Not sure this is true, but again, this illustrates Harris’ point. All of these things you mention are beliefs. Killing is an action. “I’m willing to kill for reason x” is a belief. Harris says some beliefs are so dangerous that they deserve violence. You seem to agree.

  50. MattP (must mock his crappy brain) says

    Edward Gemmer, 53
    Nope. Joining an army is an act. Joining a murder conspiracy is an act. You may simply wish to assist in logistics without ever firing a weapon or directly harming another person, but you have still acted to join an organization that has at least made serious preparations (actions) for killing others, if that organization has not already committed multiple actions against others. Doing, not simply believing. It may be a good idea to monitor some groups with violent beliefs to ensure they do not succeed in acting on those violent beliefs (purchasing large quantities of firearms and/or precursors to explosives or chemical weapons), but simply believing is not sufficient for any action against them besides speech/mockery.

  51. Chiroptera says

    Remember back in college, there was always that one guy who would always take a contrarian opinion, and then argue for it using the most strained logic and pedantic word games? And their arguments always defy common sense and real logic? And in the end, they always considered themselves so much more clever than “the sheeple” they’re arguing against?

    Harris’ supporters always remind me of that guy.

  52. Ben Finney says

    What is objectionable about the inference that some people hold representations of the world that will reliably determine behaviour that is atrocious and reliably leads to huge suffering and death, while also being impervious to discourse about their behaviour?

    The “reliably” part, the “impervious to discourse” part, and, as mentioned above, the part where Harris, you, or anyone else has enough knowledge to make those judgements in the absence of ACTIONS based on those beliefs.

    I’m glad to see that stated explicitly, thank you.

    The passage asserts that such beliefs *may* exist in some people’s heads. Who is claiming to *know* such beliefs exist in specific person’s heads? That’s nowhere in the chapter of The End of Faith that everyone’s talking about. *I* certainly don’t claim such knowledge.

  53. Ben Finney says

    The passage asserts that such beliefs *may* exist in some people’s heads.

    Now that I write that, it obviously recalls the “but that’s not claiming much at all!” objection. Which is my whole point: the passage doesn’t support the strong claim everyone seems to be inferring.

    The passage isn’t saying much of anything about whom to kill. It (and most of the chapter) is pointing out that there is a direct connection between belief and behaviour. That’s become obvious, so it seems no-one really objects to that; but the parts people object to just aren’t in the text.

  54. Holms says

    The passage asserts that such beliefs *may* exist in some people’s heads. Who is claiming to *know* such beliefs exist in specific person’s heads? That’s nowhere in the chapter of The End of Faith that everyone’s talking about. *I* certainly don’t claim such knowledge.

    And thus the only way to determine anything is by judging their actions, rather than hypothetical scenarios that involve impossibilities.

    Now that I write that, it obviously recalls the “but that’s not claiming much at all!” objection. Which is my whole point: the passage doesn’t support the strong claim everyone seems to be inferring.

    Which in turn happens to be my earlier point: the fact that this cycle of writing – and then disentangling the writing – keeps recurring demonstrates that Harris is a lousy communicator.

  55. Edward Gemmer says

    Nope. Joining an army is an act. Joining a murder conspiracy is an act. You may simply wish to assist in logistics without ever firing a weapon or directly harming another person, but you have still acted to join an organization that has at least made serious preparations (actions) for killing others, if that organization has not already committed multiple actions against others. Doing, not simply believing. It may be a good idea to monitor some groups with violent beliefs to ensure they do not succeed in acting on those violent beliefs (purchasing large quantities of firearms and/or precursors to explosives or chemical weapons), but simply believing is not sufficient for any action against them besides speech/mockery.

    Again, no. Sure, “joining” is an action. However, joining a group is not violent act. It is hardly an act at all. No one would say joining a group deserves death. The “deserving death” part comes with all the motives and beliefs you ascribe to the group. The act of joining is minimal – the important part is what the person believes and why they joined the group. I’m really not seeing where the debate even is. We don’t bomb chess clubs because their members joined a group.

  56. asbizar says

    “However, joining a group is not violent act. It is hardly an act at all. No one would say joining a group deserves death. The “deserving death” part comes with all the motives and beliefs you ascribe to the group. The act of joining is minimal – the important part is what the person believes and why they joined the group. I’m really not seeing where the debate even is. We don’t bomb chess clubs because their members joined a group.”

    That’s what is called rhetorical gymnastics. First of all joining a group is an act (the act of joining a bad group). When your belief of killing someone because he is an infidel is just in your head or just in causal conversation, we cannot kill you, because of that belief. Only when belief turns into an intention and then action you can decide what to do with that person. So what you are confusing here is the difference between necessary and sufficient. Having a belief is necessary for acting, but not sufficient for it. Therefore, you cannot kill people only because what they belief. Period.

    “We don’t bomb chess clubs because their members joined a group.” Yes? so? they are not acting badly. Joining every group is not the problem, joining a “bad” group is the problem and even then killing is not necessarily an answer. For example people providing logistic support for ISIS, should they be killed? I don’t know. But again we are in the realm of intention and action. The statement that people should be killed because of their beliefs is moronic, because from belief to action is a long complex way. There are zillions of external and internal limiting factor, that a pseudo-intellectual like Harris ignores constantly. I am happy that outspoken atheists are coming out against his fascistic ideology.

  57. Holms says

    The “deserving death” part comes with all the motives and beliefs you ascribe to the group.

    I think you meant to say ‘…the motives and beliefs that they have demonstrated through their actions‘ right?

  58. Edward Gemmer says

    That’s what is called rhetorical gymnastics.>

    NOOOO.

    Look, if you want to argue with Harris’ point, do it. But you guys seem to agree with Harris, but go on to attack him anyway, because apparently pointless personal attacks trump everything in atheism.

    Saying it is ok to inflict violence on a member of ISIS isn’t because the joined a group. It’s because you think they will act in a violent way based on their beliefs. Trying to argue otherwise is the very definition of rhetorical gymnastics. This is Harris’ point. Whatever arbitrary point you put on it, you are saying the same thing. Trying to act all high and mighty because you wouldn’t kill someone until they did something to let you know their beliefs is unconvincing, to say the least.

  59. says

    The link between belief and behavior raises the stakes considerably. Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them [My italics-MS]. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live. Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of every peaceful means of persuasion, while inspiring them to commit acts of extraordinary violence against others [My italics-MS].

    I'm sure Richard Dawkins and his acolytes are-at this very moment-lambasting Sam Harris for being a thought police officer. Right?

  60. says

    Crap. Screwed up the blockquote there. This part is mine:

    I’m sure Richard Dawkins and his acolytes are-at this very moment-lambasting Sam Harris for being a thought police officer. Right?

    Mano, can you fix that?

  61. PA says

    Again, no. Sure, “joining” is an action. However, joining a group is not violent act.

    Read more: http://freethoughtblogs.com/singham/2015/10/09/sam-harris-on-killing-people-for-thought-crimes/#ixzz3oSBVP9kQ

    By this silly logic, every soldier who was at the front line of every war, who was not shooting at the time of his/her death, was merely committing a thought crime. Because joining an army is hardly an action and walking to the front line is also not a violent action.

    If you want to stretch the definition of “thought” or “belief” to include ISIS combatants then sure, Harris is right but such mental gymnastics are the only way to squeeze a valid point out of what Harris wrote.

  62. David Broome says

    This forum seems to be filled to bursting with exactly the sort of failed liberals that Harris bemoans. So eager to deny the obvious based on linguistic technicalities, so gleefully enthusiastic to decry actions that are taken on their behalf that give them the freedom to whine about those actions. It’s a wonder that the air isn’t too thin to breathe up in those ivory towers.

    The war with Islam is in fact a war of ideas, just like the war with Christianity was (and is.) Acting like there aren’t millions of Islamists who wouldn’t happily execute every atheist in the world doesn’t make them go away. This whole deliberate confusion about beliefs vs actions is simply a smokescreen. Once religious extremists and nukes existed together on the same planet, the clock starting ticking. Acting like it’s otherwise is probably suicide.

  63. MattP (must mock his crappy brain) says

    That clock has been ticking for 70 years, yet we are still here despite not assassinating numerous Christian, Hindu, and Muslim extremists controlling those weapons.

  64. David Broome says

    But we have assassinated a few, haven’t we? And encouraged and facilitated the assassination of a few others. Who knows how many hours, dollars, and effort we’ve expended over the last 70 years to keep the clock ticking. The endgame is simple, just like it was with Christianity-fundamental Islam has to be marginalized, and people that actually believe the crazy things in their holy book have to be proactively managed. The stakes are too high to do otherwise.

  65. MattP (must mock his crappy brain) says

    But we have assassinated a few, haven’t we? And encouraged and facilitated the assassination of a few others. Who knows how many hours, dollars, and effort we’ve expended over the last 70 years to keep the clock ticking.

    Really? We’ve assassinated government and military officials from the US, UK, France, Russia, China, India, and/or Pakistan for their (non-)religious beliefs in some sort of imminent endtimes, doomsday, or global domination? Please do name them.

  66. says

    “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them.”

    That seems like a dangerous proposition.

  67. Carl an DoTi says

    Since Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and various others have committed horrible atrocities in the name of secular ideas I think that it may be ethical to kill those who believe in these ideas. Due to all of the horrors perpetrated in the name of religious ideas it may be ethical to kill those who adhere to religious ideas. If we preemptively kill everyone who holds onto secular or religious ideas we will finally achieve lasting peace and harmony on planet earth. I will run for President with this as my central platform.

  68. Cosmic says

    Here’s why Sam Harris is uses the reason “you distort what I say” as an excuse, and listen closely. When he says “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them.”, he is merely making the point that dangerous ideas exist. If you listen to him at you would come to the realization he often looks to the worse possible scenario to prove a point. Can anybody think of an idea that is so terrible that the likelyhood of it happening becomes high? Lets say, I say I believe I will kill somebody important, and I say it over and over again because its my belief, don’t you think I should be taken seriously? Absolutely. If I have a gun in my hand, and I say I will kill somebody who is standing right there, wouldn’t a cop take action? Absolutely. So, do us all a favor and cut the non sequitter bullshit.

  69. John Morales says

    Cosmic:

    Here’s why Sam Harris is uses the reason “you distort what I say” as an excuse, and listen closely.

    OK.

    When he says “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them.”, he is merely making the point that dangerous ideas exist.

    But that’s not true, is it? Were he merely making the point that dangerous ideas exist, he would have said “dangerous ideas exist”. But he’s saying more than that: he’s saying it may be (he’s not sure!) ethical to kill people who believe those ideas.

    Can anybody think of an idea that is so terrible that the likelyhood of it happening becomes high? Lets say, I say I believe I will kill somebody important, and I say it over and over again because its my belief, don’t you think I should be taken seriously? Absolutely. If I have a gun in my hand, and I say I will kill somebody who is standing right there, wouldn’t a cop take action?

    Poor analogy; the likelihood in your example is due to the degree of certitude the idea holder expresses about their idea, not about its terribleness. But still, I grant that someone who is about to participate in administering the death penalty under due lawful process fits your example perfectly.

    So, do us all a favor and cut the non sequitter bullshit.

    I find your expostulation extremely ironic.

  70. says

    “If I have a gun in my hand, and I say I will kill somebody who is standing right there, wouldn’t a cop take action? Absolutely.”

    But, you’ve turned thoughts into actions. Instead of Spencer getting punched by and anarchist, should he be outright killed, because he does advocate ethnic cleansing? Should anyone who says something like “We should nuke the Middle East”, be killed? Sam Harris, himself, can find ways to justify torture and preemptive nuclear attacks. Should he be killed?

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