General Question

ninjacolin's avatar

Why would someone make a mistake? Why would someone do something wrong?

Asked by ninjacolin (14224points) February 12th, 2011

I don’t believe anyone would do something “wrong” intentionally. I believe they would only do what they imagined would be for the best.

Some examples:
– Tripping on the stairs
– Slipping on ice
– Slighting a good friend/relative
– Committing a heinous crime
– Failing to properly conceal a heinous crime

Questions:
Really, what is at the root of a mistake or a wrong doing?
For any imminent mistake or wrong doing, what would it take for someone to avoid it or choose against it?

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17 Answers

Pattijo's avatar

The word fear comes to mind.

Soubresaut's avatar

—Tripping on the stairs: as someone who always almost falls, I can’t tell you quite what it is about stairs that make them so good at tripping people. I guess I’m expecting stairs of a different height/length and am not looking down or something. The worst are stairs that decided it would be fun to have a little lip. My foot gets caught, and down I go into an awkward pushup position, the things I was carrying gone flying down behind me.

—Slipping on ice: same thing. I just messed up. Misjudged/misreacted or something. Got startled and it pushed me off balance just that much too long that gravity found me.

—Slighting a good friend/relative: someone not realizing that as they’re making themselves at an advantage they’re disadvantaging a loved one; someone deciding their advantage is worth another’s disadvantage; anger causing a desire for revenge; intense dislike of the person; etc

—Commiting a heinous crime: jealousy; lost love; feelings of entitlement; anger; feeling like they have no other option in their life for whatever reason; etc

—Failing to properly conceal a heinous crime: if it was done in the heat of passion they weren’t thinking about the after-effects; maybe they just aren’t that good at covering their tracks; maybe they missed something to cover up; maybe the detective is really good.

I think they’re mistakes because they’re not imminent, they’re not seen coming. Or it wasn’t seen as a mistake by the doer of said “wrong doing”.
I know when I’m climbing up those stairs I’m sure not looking for opportunities to fall. If anything, after repeated falls, I’m looking out for them. And when I’m… say, answering a test question, I think the answers were all right until I get it back covered in red ink.

It would take seeing it’s a mistake prior to doing it to avoid it. Which maybe, if we all look out really hard for possible mistakes, would prevent a lot more of them.—Maybe I look down at the stairs more.—It reminds me a little of the movie Minority Report (which I haven’t had the opportunity to see the end of, but still…)

deni's avatar

Not paying enough attention, not thinking things through, some people are just generally scatterbrained and clumsy, other people have a different idea as to how others should be treated. Someone might say something that I consider very rude, but they think nothing of it, and perhaps don’t even realize they’ve hurt someones feelings.

lillycoyote's avatar

It’s an interesting list of mistakes, that’s for sure. People make mistakes because they are not perfect. Mistakes arise from poor judgement, bad judgement, carelessness, inattention, character flaw, physical flaws, all sorts of things. People don’t always act rationally and think things through and, like @DancingMind, I am a bit of a klutz and always seem to be tripping and falling and running into things. I have a permanent bruise on my right shoulder from running into the corner of my dresser as I exit my bedroom. And sometimes mistakes are only mistakes in hindsight. Sometimes we just do our best, make the best judgement we could with the information we had available at the time and it turns out that the information was bad, or insufficient or something.

And not every crime is a mistake, obviously, it’s very often a conscious choice to do the wrong thing.

Though I am curious as to why you mention committing a heinous crime as a mistake or wrong doing but that the next mistake is failing to properly conceal your crime, failing to cover it up and thus not getting away with it. What made you choose that one for your list?

SavoirFaire's avatar

This is a very old philosophical problem, going back at least to the ancient Greeks. It is the problem of akrasia (weakness of will). Socrates held a position much like yours: no one ever knowingly or willingly does wrong, so all wrongdoing is a product of ignorance and the remedy is wisdom. This view seems quite plausible so long as one focuses on accidents. We don’t willfully trip and fall, for example, nor do we willfully stub our toes—at least not under ordinary circumstances.

Yet it seems there are plenty of cases where we say something like “I know I shouldn’t do this, but I just can’t help myself.” The classic example used by philosophers concerns a dieter who chooses to eat cake. The Socratic stance requires us to say that we don’t really know that it would be better for us to abstain from the cake, despite our explicit protestations to the contrary.

Plato and Aristotle respond to this by dividing up the psyche into parts which strain against one another. To summarize: weakness of will occurs when our desires conflict with our reason. If our reason wins out, we are enkratic (often translated as “continent”). If our desires win out, we are akratic (often translated as “incontinent”).

Thus they suggest that we must distinguish between accidents and mistakes. The former are not intentional, whereas the latter are not. The problem is that we can have competing urges, and so we might do things that reason tells us not to do (like eat the cake or commit a heinous crime). These are old ways of addressing the issue, and plenty has been said about them since. But it might at least be enough to make you consider whether or not you’re really with Socrates on this one.

laureth's avatar

For the physical mishaps like tripping, some things are just out of our control. If your physical balance is off, you go tumbling. I’m always running into the corners of cubicles at work as I round corners because my perception is off and I misjudge the size of my own body or something. Also, being on “autopilot” as I think more about the work I’m about to do, or just did, takes away from the “be here now” that is essential for navigating in physical space.

As far as the “mistakes of passion,” people like to think they are always rational but that can go away under the influence of strong emotions like anger, jealousy, and arousal. That’s why, for example, when you’re in sex ed or talking to people about sex, people will swear up and down that they know to wear a condom every time. But in the heat of the moment, the rational part of the brain is not as much in control, and people let that condom advice slip right off their minds. If you want to know more about why this sort of thing happens (and its effect on such diverse areas of life from STDs to chocolate to wedding gowns to economics), I recommend this book.

CaptainHarley's avatar

I have known several people in my lifetime who took great delight in inflicting suffering on others, whether it was “State sanctioned” or not. The only explanation for this is that some perversity in their nature impelled them.

Response moderated (Writing Standards)
Nullo's avatar

Non-moral wrongs are generally the result of errors in judgment- you miscalculated just how high you needed to move your foot, for instance, and stumbled on the steps. Or you didn’t thoroughly consider the ramifications of what you said (though here we begin to lap over into morality territory).
Generally speaking (there are most certainly exceptions), moral wrongs require some sort of conscious effort on your part. If you tell your aunt exactly what sorts of unflattering things that you think about her with the intent to insult her, then you’re wrong – even if they are true and even if she needs to hear them.

Deliberate crimes always carry with them some degree of moral wrongness. Murder, obviously, is both morally and legally wrong. But sometimes your actions may be morally right, but against the law – in which case you are deliberately breaking the law – a moral wrong. A well-written set of laws will avoid this sort of thing.

I would say that failing or outright neglecting to cover up a crime is more morally right than a cover-up – you are not adding deceit to your bill, and you are making it easier for you to face justice.

filmfann's avatar

As previously mentioned, Carelessness is a big contributer.
You allow your 16 year old to drive your car, and she has an accident while texting her BF. She didn’t mean to do it, but she did not take the most basic, simplest precautions.

peridot's avatar

One person’s “right” is another’s “heinous mistake”. It’s subjective.

augustlan's avatar

A lot of the mistakes I make (tripping, typos, forgetting an important date) probably result from mind overload. Thinking about too many things at once will do that to you. (Or, it does that to me, anyway.) Maybe being more present in the moment would alleviate a lot of these errors.

Other types of mistakes or wrongs are deliberate. As @SavoirFaire pointed out, we know it’s wrong, yet we do it anyway. Some of those things (like eating cake) are easy for me to rationalize (the pleasure derived from the action outweighs the harm caused by it) and some (like committing a crime) are not. Yet there are certainly many criminals in the world, so they must have a different ‘line in the sand’ on their rationalizing scale. I have no idea how one would convince criminals to stop being criminals. If law/punishment/suffering/compassion and moral disapproval haven’t gotten the message across, what will? But if we’re talking about preventing people from becoming criminals in the first place, that’s a whole different story. I’m sure there are early interventions that work, but I’m not knowledgeable enough on the topic to really get into it.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
PhiNotPi's avatar

People, by definition, do what their brains think is the best/correct thing to do in the situation. Mistakes arise when what the person does isn’t actually the best/correct thing to do, or they failed to take into account something that they probably didn’t realize was there.

@augustlan If mistakes or wrongs are deliberate, then they aren’t mistakes or wrongs. Other people may view the actions as wrong, and even the same person in hindsight might see what they did was a mistake, but in the person’s mind at the time they did it, they considered it to be the best thing to do. In the case of it being a mistake in hindsight, the same idea of “thought it was but it actually wasn’t the best thing to do” applies.

Nullo's avatar

@peridot Unless you have the moral-standard dynamic – which you do.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@peridot The objectivity or subjectivity of wrongdoing is quite beside the point. The problem is weakness of will. All we need is for a person to believe that the act in question is wrong, unwise, or otherwise to be avoided. Consider the example that I gave: while the advisability of eating the cake may be relative to a person’s goals, the problem of akrasia can still arise.

mattbrowne's avatar

Real-world complexity often exceeds the computing power of the human brain.

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