The Sociopath Thought Experiment

I’ve been thinking lately about what makes an action wrong. I think we would all agree murder is wrong since it deprives someone of their life and deprives the people around that person as well. Theft deprives a person of property they worked to obtain; assault causes them physical and emotional pain. There is a clear moral basis to say these are wrong.

Consider a thought experiment for a minute. Imagine there is a sociopath who lures a person into his house, restrains him and injects him with a cocktail of drugs that cause him excruciating physical pain and mental agony. Then, at the end of the day he gives him another drug that completely erases the memory of that day and lets him go. All the drugs are designed to be gone from his system within twelve hours. For good measure, the sociopath gives himself the same drug, completely erasing his own memory of that day as well.

Did the sociopath do anything wrong?

The immediate answer that comes to mind is, yes, of course. Clearly torture is wrong. But why is it wrong in this situation? The man has absolutely no lasting effects from the torture, no memory or psychological scars from it and no one else knows about it, including the person who inflicted it. It was wrong while it was happening, since the prisoner was suffering intensely, but afterwards it has been totally erased from the collective minds of the human race, as if it had never existed. You could argue the sociopath did wrong by depriving the victim of his freedom for a day, but that would be true even if he kidnapped him and made him play Uno for a day. I’m talking specifically of the torture aspect.

The point I’m try to get at is if morality is dependent on an observer having knowledge of it or if it is an absolute, outside of any observation (by observer, I mean someone with knowledge, either directly or indirectly.) It’s kind of the equivalent of the question of if a tree falling in the forest makes a noise when no one is around to hear it.

My belief is that morality has to be dependent on an observer because morality outside of sentient minds has no meaning. However, I believe it is also an absolute since God is the prime observer of all reality. He sees everything and even if no one else sees something or remembers it, God sees it and can judge it on its merits. He is outside of time and so has access to the past, present and future at once.

I think every normal person, no matter what their beliefs, would agree that torture is wrong. What I’ve been pondering is if there is a basis for saying something is wrong if there is no observer or memory of it, in a belief system without God, a prime observer.

What do you think about this? I’d be happy to hear your thoughts.


Welcome to the Green-Walled Chapel

Welcome. Come on in and sit down and let me tell you where you’ve found yourself.

This is the Green-Walled Chapel, called such because it is a recently built annex to the Green-Walled Tower, my other blog. Let me tell you why it is here.

I have been wanting to start this blog for some time, but until recently I didn’t have much time to run two blogs at the same time. Usually when asked to tell a bit about myself, I mention that I am a Christian and a writer. The Green-Walled Tower is my (mostly) fiction blog, but because of this I never felt it was a good place to share a lot about my faith. So that is why this is here.

First of all, here is what the Green-Walled Chapel is not. It is not a cathedral, a place where one person proclaims and many listen. It is not a place of preaching. It is not a place of condemnation. It is also not a place for bad logic or personal attacks.

One of the reasons I chose a chapel is that a chapel is smaller and more personal (also, it matches the word “tower” in syllable and stress pattern). The Green-Walled Chapel is:

1. A place where everyone is welcome, from all denominations, faiths and religions, or no religion at all. We might not agree on everything, but I want to create a constructive, open environment.

2. A place to wrestle with the big questions of faith, religion, and philosophy

3. A place to speculate

4. A place of honesty and logical arguments


copyright David Stewart

5. A place of respect, no matter what. I welcome different points of view, even if we can’t agree, but always with respect.

Finally, this blog, as well as my beliefs, are based on the idea of objective truth, that reality is a certain way whether we agree with it or can every know what it is. That is what I am interested in searching for.

I hope to post every week, on Monday morning to give you something to start your week with. I would post more, but for the moment, that is all I can do. If you find something you find intriguing, infuriating, or commendable, please comment and share with others.

So again, welcome. Make yourself at home.