Social Question

auhsojsa's avatar

Why is killing somebody wrong?

Asked by auhsojsa (2516points) February 20th, 2012

Assume that I am born a 24 year old person with the ability to absorb information. Also we must assume there will be no introduction to any form of religion.

Try your best to scientifically explain why it matters or doesn’t.

How would you best explain the answer to my question to me?

*Note! I don’t believe in killing, just pondered this at the moment.

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54 Answers

YARNLADY's avatar

If you don’t want it done to you, you must not do it to anyone else.

MilkyWay's avatar

Scientifically nothing is ever wrong or right. It just is.
So your question is invalid.

auhsojsa's avatar

@MilkyWay That’s like saying psychology isn’t a science.

HungryGuy's avatar

@MilkyWay is partially right, and @auhsojsa is partially right.

Something is a science if you can test it with the scientific method. Some aspects of psychology can be tested with the scientific method (learning a path through a maze, for example), but the question of why killing is wrong can’t be answered with the scientific method.

King_Pariah's avatar

I’ve always believed that people generally believe there is different levels of killing. Murder is a type/level of killing that is wrong. But then is killing in self defense wrong? Sure doesn’t seem like it.

marinelife's avatar

Man has a strong survival instinct. Therefore, man values life.

Depriving another of life (shortening their survival) is therefore inherently wrong.

john65pennington's avatar

Setting all the laws aside, killing another person is wrong, if for nothing else, what others have a conscious that has a dead cell and these are the people you have to watch.

keobooks's avatar

I think humans have a better rate of survival when they live in a society, be it a large city or a tiny nomadic band. In order for a society to work, there are many universal unbreakable rules. One of the most basic ones is : “You don’t kill me, and I don’t kill you. We are safe from each other.”

I hope nobody skewers me too badly over this, but I think this may also be why racism seems to be an inherent trait in most societies. Most ancient cultures would give themselves a name that meant “The People” in their native language. People outside the community or culture would frequently be considered animals or savages or not quite fully human. I think in ancient times, this inherent programing helped societies stick together and stay cohesive, and it also made it easier for these groups to keep natural resources to themselves and fight off rival societies who might kill the group to get access to water, hunting areas or other things needed to stay alive.

I think that in this modern day, we have access to more perspectives on the lives of strangers across the world, living a completely different life. Natural resources can be transported long distances and for the most part, people don’t have to fight to the death with neighboring people to have water to drink or food to eat. So we have the luxury of realizing that people who are not exactly like us are still as human as we are. People can also travel around the world.

Our society has greatly expanded. And it still works much better when we obey basic human social contracts like “You don’t kill me and I don’t kill you.

And maybe this sounds too mushy—but you never said anything about excluding social science when you asked for scientific reasons.

6rant6's avatar

@marineline, so if I value your wife (have strong feelings for her) then it’s wrong of you to deny me her?

CaptainHarley's avatar

Because when you kill something, not just a person, you alter the state of the world and eliminate all possibilities which include that living thing.

ddude1116's avatar

I’ve never really thought about it, it just seems unnatural. I’ve always considered there to be a sense of equality and respect between beings of the same species, so killing is an act against humanity. If I’m equal to you, who am I to decide whether you live or die?
@MilkyWay Your answer made me smile in its succictness.:)

ninjacolin's avatar

@CaptainHarley, that’s pretty awesome.

Killing someone isn’t necessarily wrong. It could possibly be the very most rightest thing you could do on a fine monday evening.

Context is king.

Blackberry's avatar

There’s nothing really wrong with a lot of stuff, but on our little planet, where the universe doesn’t matter in daily lives, we’ve created our own society where people have the freedom to live. You like living, so why would you take away someone’s life?

TexasDude's avatar

Killing someone is the ultimate infringement of their natural rights.

I’d argue that they surrender these rights when they try and kill you or cause you grievous harm, but most people have an inherent right to exist that should not be trampled on.

ninjacolin's avatar

^ “inherent rights” are hard to prove.

TexasDude's avatar

@ninjacolin do they have to be proven?

sinscriven's avatar

Murder violates the social contract.

In natural law we do have the ability to murder others for their resources, but because we instead choose to live in societies and not in the jungle, we must give up some of our natural rights in order to receive the rights and protections given by societies for the protection of ourselves and our property.

Also, by killing, that person creates a disruption in society. The society has lost another taxpayer and productive member, the victim’s family is now thrown into emotional and social chaos in coping, and they possibly may have lost the ability to support themselves financially or otherwise and then this creates a burden on others to make up for that loss, or on the greater society with safety net programs.

It also creates a negative psychological effect on the society in that people feel less safe and have less confidence in the society’s ability to protect them and creates a kneejerk reaction in order to try to regain that feeling again: e.g, allowing every damn “security measure” since 9/11 to happen.

ninjacolin's avatar

@Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard Well, the question asked for a “scientific” answer so i just assumed that proof and/or evidence was a minimum requirement. ;P

gondwanalon's avatar

This reminds me of playing a game of chess in which one player is obviously sacrificing his queen in order to get an inevitable check mate. But the other player can see right through it. If he takes his opponent’s queen then he will lose everything.

The same is true in real life out side of war. If you want to, you can go out and kill just about anyone that you want to on the street. However if you do that then you will pay a huge price for it. Even if you do not consider any moral aspect to this it just isn’t worth the cost to kill another human being.

Here’s a couple situations in which you may kill another human and not be punished:

War is a special situation in which using Geneva Convention humanitarian rules a soldier is given the right to kill hostile enemy soldiers.

Back in the civilian world, if someone is trying to kill you then your have a right to defend yourself. And you defend yourself by doing everything that you can to kill first. In this situation you want to make sure that the attacker in not just merely dead, you want to make sure that he/she is quite sincerely dead.

6rant6's avatar

I’m not sure that murder is forbidden because it’s wrong as much as it is wrong because it’s forbidden. So many of the rules we enforce on one another make morality a function of law. Can we own land, who owns the air and sets standards of acceptable use, how young is too young for a sexual partner, what’s allowed to do to nonhumans… all these things have many reasonable arrangements. Each society decides what it’s going to be.

Killing is no different. We say that murder is wrong. We call it murder if it violates the rules we’ve set up. Otherwise, it’s “self defense,” or ‘casualties of war” or “God’s will,” or whatever.

Personally, I hold strongly to the idea that it would be wrong to kill me. So there’s that.

TexasDude's avatar

@ninjacolin oh, I didn’t see that part. Guess I should read the details more closely.

Scientific answer: wanton killing is antithetical to human evolution. The species can’t be propagated if people go around killing other people.

tom_g's avatar

I think you might be thinking of it in a slightly-incorrect way. @auhsojsa: “Try your best to scientifically explain why it matters or doesn’t.”

Science comes into play only when we are engaged in an effort to fine-tune our morality to optimize well-being and minimize suffering. So, science can inform this process when we talk about morality. But the whole project (developing an ethics) requires justification. I feel that it’s a worthwhile effort, and something that we (as a species) are involved in, but move slowly. In a way, much of the Taliban’s resistance to the West has been a rejection of our secular, modern ethics. The U.S. has a problem with this with certain fundamentalists.

Anyway, killing someone is wrong – very wrong – because as soon as you decide to investigate ethics, by every criteria, killing is the wrong path. (I’m talking murder, not self-defense).

auhsojsa's avatar

@tom_g I’m not thinking about science in a linear form. There can be an answer like this for example. “I don’t think killing another is right, the traumatic effects of killing someone might haunt the killer for the rest of their lives. These memories are stored in their head and cause them to have negative effects chemically in their brain after the slaying. With such horrible memories it may be hard to ever produce “happy” chemicals with such a stigma attached to a killer.”

That’s just one instance.

tom_g's avatar

@auhsojsa – Good example and point. But some people reject that altogether because you have yet to connect morality with human well-being and suffering (not me, of course). From my perspective, science can’t make that connection. But morality is meaningless without it. As a non-religious person who continues to work on my ethics, I have met some (calm down people) religious people who reject that premise altogether. In other words, to some people the suffering/well-being of people do not come into play when discussing morality. Moral truths are merely statements that should be followed because of the after-life consequences.

auhsojsa's avatar

@tom_g Yes and I understand what you are saying as well :) I guess that’s why psychology is so important along side neurology overall. Of course some people are just straight up cold hearted, those would make for the most interesting test subjects.

(I’m a Investigation Discovery :ID: channel freak! hence the OP)

I guess the bottom line is we have to agree what the definition of, “wrong” is in the first place.

Berserker's avatar

@TheBastard That’s what I’m thinking. Looking at science and societal factors in relation to survival, technically, it’s ’‘wrong’’ to kill because as @keobooks says, we’re pack creatures and we need one another to live. Killing, in many aspects of what makes a culture and its societies stand would impede this growth, as pointed out by @TheBastard.
However I also believe that while we’re pack creatures, there’s a lot of individuality that serves to ironically shape a collective, and individual growth and maintenance must not be neglected either. Not that killing has necessarily everything to do with that. In fact it probably has little to do with it, since self preservation occurs with everyone just about every minute they live and feel some emotion. It’s a natural thing, while murder, with this idea, is not. (but one might see the self preservation issue as being linked to it, on an extremely primitive level I’m sure humans subscribed to at one early point or another)
A lot of societies have adapted with murder, as in, ways to deal with it. (justice and the like)
While I believe what @TheBastard says, and while I believe that death is ’‘regulated’’ by societies for an extreme lack of a better word, there must be some reason then, as to why murder occasionally happens…it’s scary to think that it might actually have some purpose when it comes to the Darwin like approach things seem to have.
I mean, murder actually happens a lot with people bound by the same cultures and ideals. So maybe it isn’t always technically ’‘wrong’’. But it’s damn scary. I refuse to believe there’s ever a reason to kill a child for example. Remaining strictly technical and putting emotions aside, we need them to continue the society, anyway.

Whooa what the hell is that?? A giant black rectangle thing is comin over here! Doom doom doom doom DOOOOM! I did not purposely spell the word doom a buncha times

But the point remains. Killing is a stick in the wheels. Everyone’s prolly gonna think I’m a Nazi now, but I think that death between allies is an impediment to evolution, and this can be observed when comparing different countries together. Look at an advanced North American country where people are mostly free and safe, and compare it to a less developed country that knows tyranny like Cuba, or some place where people rip each others eyes out for not believing in the right thing. I know this sounds totally douchebag on my part, but when making the comparison I don’t think that the advent of technology or its lack thereof, evolution’s current main muscle, (in as much sense as I can make) can be denied when looking at many places and how much murder there is, or isn’t. Not much of a proof in a way, because I’m not a sociologist or…wtv trade you’d need to know these things. But that’s what I think when it comes to random murder with societal evolution and the thriving thereof, if you wanna call it that.

MollyMcGuire's avatar

You are asking why it’s wrong to kill a thing which is not human in the context of it being human. Sorry. Fail.

Response moderated (Flame-Bait)
SavoirFaire's avatar

I would say that there is no scientific answer to the question. Luckily, not everything is science. Ethics, for instance, is a matter of philosophy.

Berserker's avatar

@SavoirFaire Not related to this subject here, but I always really wondered, how was philosophy born? Where does it come from?

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Symbeline Philosophy, as we know it, was born in ancient Greece. There are other philosophical traditions in other parts of the world—especially Asia—and I suspect the questions of philosophy have been wrestled with by people in all cultures in all times. But the distinctive approach we get from the Greeks began when certain thinkers began rejecting mythology as a sufficient answer to question about how the world works or what sort of life a person should live.

Berserker's avatar

@SavoirFaire Interesting. So, the rejection of mythology…thanks for the insight. :)
Never thought of that.

digitalimpression's avatar

Through generations of trial and error we’ve discovered that killing other people, hurts other people. Every day we live is another part of the experiment where someone kills someone else. I’m pretty sure we have all the evidence we need (scientific or otherwise) to dissuade us from killing.

Response moderated (Personal Attack)
TexasDude's avatar

@auhsojsa this is social, not general.

bob_'s avatar

Because I like being alive, and if you kill me I’m gonna haunt the shit out of you.

Pandora's avatar

I would explain that at the very least to go around killing others randomly would put our own lives in danger. Imagine a world where this was acceptable. We wouldn’t prosper because everyone would be too busy just trying to survive each other. We would’nt be able to mate and raise children because we wouldn’t know who we can trust. I mean, we are not like the black widow spider where we can kill our mate or even be killed after laying an egg that will deliver hundreds of babies that can pretty much survive without our help. We would’ve grown extinct years ago. If we are a threat to everyone than everyone becomes a threat to us. It would be better at this point just to kill ourselves than go through years of fear or being hunted like an animal.
There will always be (someday) someone faster, stronger, angrier and smarter who will take us out.
Ever see the movie WarGames? That explained it pretty easily enough. In the end there would be nothing without control and laws.

auhsojsa's avatar

@Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard So I could go on any social question and write, “I’m just a retard?” That doesn’t make sense. Even social restricts that things be on topic. Clearly, McMollys answer isn’t answering anything. If you would be so kind as to point out what in her statement makes sense I’d be open to it.

augustlan's avatar

[mod says] Let’s get back to the topic at hand. If you have questions regarding a moderation situation, please contact a mod directly. Thanks!

ucme's avatar

Imagine if soldiers on the battlefields of history gave this just a moment’s thought.
It’s a wonderful notion, one of those hopeless dreams that can never be realised, but imagine….if only.

auhsojsa's avatar

@ucme Or imagine if the soldiers questioned the lifestyle and beliefs of who sent them to war. Wow.

ucme's avatar

@auhsojsa Yeah, the “chiefs on the hill” who quite literally get away with bloody murder.

CaptainHarley's avatar


That is already happening.

auhsojsa's avatar

@CaptainHarley Maybe there are instances of someone lashing out against the military. But for the most part it looks like everyones loving their job security and position in the military right now. At least that how it seems from where I’m from (San Diego). Free military housing for your family? Wow! Might as well just buy a car and save up for a downpayment toward a real home. How could these soldiers fight against the hand that feeds…

Keep_on_running's avatar

Because it causes insurmountable pain to the family and friends of the victim.

MilkyWay's avatar

@ddude1116 I like it simple :)

mattbrowne's avatar

Because you might not be alive asking this very question.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@mattbrowne I wound’t have been alive to answer this question if my parents hadn’t had sex at the particular time they did all those years ago, but that in no way means that it would have been wrong of them to have not had sex at that particular time. It seems we need something more substantial than counterfactuals to explain the wrongness of killing.

mattbrowne's avatar

I agree with you @SavoirFaire. I wanted to point out to @auhsojsa that he was able to ask this particular question because nobody killed him. That of course isn’t an ethical foundation.

Killing is wrong because everyone has a right to live. It is a universal human right.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@mattbrowne Perhaps it is true that everyone has a universal human right to live, but that just pushes the question back a little without answering it. It says “it is wrong to kill people because we have an obligation not to kill them,” but what we are looking for is an explanation of that obligation.

mattbrowne's avatar

@SavoirFaire – Ultimately, there isn’t any conclusive answer like pointing to the fundamental forces of physics. The only thing that might come close is Darwinian group selection. Humans became social creatures because of that. A lot of homo species died out, perhaps because they relied too much on killing each other. Some of these beastly genes are still part of the homo sapiens genome too competing with the genes of altruism.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@mattbrowne I have no problems with naturalistic and/or evolutionary explanations of morality, and indeed I am a defender of such a view myself. It seems quite difficult to say that there are such things as universal human rights given such a view, however, unless we are understanding rights as mere legal constructions (and not the sort of natural right that is typically being appealed to when one invokes universal human rights). And if that is all we are saying, then we don’t even have to get into evolution at all. We can just state a legalistic view and leave it at that.

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