Are You Capable Of Murder?

By way of giving myself a lift from the February doldrums, I’ve been listening to Agatha Christie’s Crooked House (available, of course, through, and conveniently paired with Endless Night). I haven’t done an Agatha Christie for years, but it always gives me a pleasant rush of nostalgia, because I read scores of these in my early adolescence. My family also used to read them aloud, and make bets on whodunit. I have many pleasant memories of these classic m…

  1. Rachel Lu

    In don’t call self-defense (or defense of other innocents from attack) murder. But there could be cases where even a completely innocent person nonetheless destroys the welfare of your family (say, by inheriting money which is the only means to removing them from a dangerous situation). Obviously murder under such circumstances isn’t okay. (At least I think it’s obvious.) But that doesn’t necessarily mean an otherwise-decent-seeming person wouldn’t do it.

  2. Tsunami Blue
    Merina Smith: I wouldn’t call defending self and family murder, but what if your family is threatened by, say, a stalker that you’re pretty sure will eventually murder one of them.  I think those are the hardest cases.  · 14 minutes ago

    I agree–self defense (including defense of loved ones) isn’t murder. How about if an elderly loved one is in pain and wants to die? Is it murder to assist them? I want to feel I could do anything for those I love, without counting the cost, but I suspect that confronted with the actual situation I would find it much harder than I imagine.

  3. Fred Cole

    Webster’s defines murder as


    : the crime of unlawfully killing a person especially with malice aforethought

    So making a plan and then killing someone unlawfully. It includes “unlawfully” in the definition.  There’s different kinds of law.  There’s moral law and there’s written law.Would I do it?Only in extreme circumstances.  I have a moral objection to initiating use of force on someone.  So I wouldn’t do it if it were immoral.  But to break the law to kill someone who needed to be killed?   I’m probably capable of it.  
  4. Tsunami Blue
    Fred Cole: Webster’s defines murder as


    : the crime of unlawfully killing a person especially with malice aforethought

    Unlawfully is the critical word there. But regardless of the lawfulness of it, can one do it? I love hamburgers, but I doubt I could kill a cow, even at a distance with a rocket propelled grenade. I am grateful that other people take care of that for me. I have difficulty gutting a fish. I can do it, but it isn’t easy for me.

  5. Merina Smith

    Does anybody know Christie’s last Poirot mystery, Curtain?  That’s one of her most interesting, because the bad guy commits murder through other people by engineering circumstances that give them incentive.  In other words, he manipulates them to commit murder.  I think Poirot raises the question at the end about who is really guilty of the murder, the ones who commited it or the one who manipulated them to do it.  I’d have to say that I think everyone is responsible for their own actions, but the manipulator is nevertheless evil. 

  6. Rachel Lu

    Yes, but that does put the question in a slightly different light. *Could* such a manipulator engineer circumstances that would motivate me to kill? Or am I impervious to such suggestion?

  7. Israel P.

    When I was fourteen or fifteen a friend of mine said, when speculating who of our acquaintances might have done some minor transgression in the community, “You have to be a certain type. For instance you and I could never murder someone.”

    I was really surprised that he would say this, since it was not obvious to me at all.

  8. Schrodinger

    But the second theory is even more alarming: maybe everyone is a potential murderer, given sufficiently compelling circumstances.


    Is it in our genes?


    And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 5

    but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. 6 The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”8 Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. 9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”

    Genesis 4

  9. Merina Smith

    Well, I hope you are impervious, Rachel!

  10. Frederick Key

    I don’t believe I could being myself to be a murderer. Manslaughterer, yes. Got anyone in mind…?

  11. tabula rasa

    The first theory is more than plausible to me. I’m less convinced by the second theory, although most of us (me included) haven’t been driven to the kinds of extremities where, if the theory is true, we’d be murderers.

    My reputation means a lot to me, but I can’t imagine committing a murder to protect it.

    When my children were young, I did learn that I’m capable of mild mayhem.

  12. Misthiocracy
    Rachel L.: Are You Capable of Murder?

    I’m going with “no”, because murder always seems to involve an awful lot of work, and I’m findamentally lazy.

  13. Fake John Galt

    I have no doubt that given the correct circumstances that I can kill another human being.  Whether it would be considered murder would be up to the state and a jury to decide later. 

  14. donald todd

    Human beings are capable of a lot of good and a lot of evil.  Is abortion murder?  If it is, then we’ve had 60,000,000 of them since Wade-Roe.

    Perhaps we don’t think of that as murder because usually the parts are removed out of our site, so we don’t look at the results of the abortion, or think of that kindly physician as a murderer. 

    Of course, one might be talking about dispatching one’s neighbor who is a royal pain in the posterior.  Not every neighbor is a good neighbor, and some seem positively unworthy of life.  

    Politics is perhaps as close as some of us come to contemplating murder.  We’ve been abused by the people who are elected or appointed to serve us and help us and by heaven, they haven’t done any of that.  They seem positively against us, ready to ride us down as far as they can take us.  We move from citizenry to serfdom to thralldom and don’t fathom why we should be held in such contempt.

    I actually pray for them, perhaps in part to avoid bringing them a worse fate than my prayers.

  15. Aaron Miller

    Ever considered how easy it was, relatively speaking, to murder someone throughout most of human history… before fingerprinting, DNA and surveillance cameras? This is one example of technology, rather than moral evolution, being responsible for the “civilized” societies we know today.

    As hinted in the comments, Rachel’s question boils down to definitions.

    Is it murder to legally but wrongly kill someone? Is it murder to use lethal force to defend oneself when non-lethal force might be or probably is sufficient? Is it murder if a vigilante kills a rapist or murderer whom courts have set free, with no motivation other than to prevent the villain from victimizing anyone else? Is “friendly fire” or “collateral damage” murder? Is “manslaughter” just a legal term for accidental murder, or must murder involve malicious intent?

    Not all reasonable people would agree on the answers to these questions.

    What would all reasonable and good-hearted people agree is murder? What are the conditions? Unlawful? Malicious? Selfish?

  16. Roberto

    Both your theories seem a bit off track. If you want to consider scenarios where the normally pleasant, quiet and placid are driven to this type of extreme you shouldn’t start by considering people in “tight spots” or seeking “advantage”.

    The motivation you are looking for is revenge.

  17. Keith

    I think the first theory could have some merit, especially since we are as a whole society distanced from the reality of death and bloodshed. By that I mean we don’t kill our own meat anymore. As cruel as it sounds now, we were safer as a society when young boys were able to roam the countryside with their .22 shooting things.

    And that dovetails into the second theory because we are all capable of murder, whether we think we are or not. Some are more morally developed and thus would be very unlikely to murder, but all are capable.

  18. Rachel Lu

    Hmm, interesting. Now, see, I’m fairly confident that I would never kill for revenge. I trust in God’s justice. No punishment I can mete out would compare to God’s own wrath. What is more comprehensible to me is the desire to remove a person who enormously interferes with the thriving of oneself or one’s loved ones. Naturally, it would be easier if the person happened not to be very nice.

  19. Severely Ltd.
    Rachel L.: As a Catholic, I believe that murder is always, without exception, wrong. I’d like to think that I could never be in danger of violating the precept, but do any of us really know ourselves well enough to be sure?

    Yeah, I know myself that well, it’s you and Israel P that I’m worried about. Are either of you in a rich uncle’s will?

    More seriously, If someone murdered anyone in my family, particularly if it were done maliciously, I can see the temptation being enormous. I don’t know if I’d call it murder in that case. How about justice?

  20. Casey Taylor

    All of us are capable of murder.  Every single one.  Acknowledging the existence of that darkness and mastering it is what makes us more fully human.

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