This is a question that I struggle with a lot whenever I am confronted with the consequences of mass stupidity and ignorance. The people I have talked to over the years all have very different opinions on it, but now I want to put the question to you as well, in the hopes of starting a wider discussion. It is one of those things that will ultimately come down to opinion, and not everyone will agree. With that, let’s begin.
I think that we can all agree that intent, as in what we intend to do, is important to some extent and this is reflected in our laws. For example, take these three scenarios:
- A person meticulously plans, then executes a murder, and then tries to cover up their tracks in an attempt to evade the law.
- A person gets into a verbal altercation and punches someone in the face, who then trips, smacks their head against a stone floor, and dies.
- A person is driving along a dark road, turns a corner, hits a person walking along the side of the road in the dark and kills them. This person then pulls over and calls the police, distraught.
All three of these scenarios result in the death of an innocent person. In all three cases, the consequences of the person’s actions are the same. However, I think we can all agree that the punishment they should face should be very different, because intent matters. Person A intended to kill someone and get away with it. Person B intended to physically assault someone in the heat of an argument, but certainly never intended to kill them. Person C never intended to do any harm to anyone at all. In most countries the laws reflect that, despite the outcome being the same, the punishment for creating that outcome should be very different in these three scenarios.
Intent matters. But sometimes, when extreme ignorance is involved, we are forced to consider how much intent should really matter.