Are there any thoughts (with no action) that are morally/ethically wrong?

I think in his mind it comes down to how they feel about their thoughts. If a man is, say, attracted to children but is disgusted with himself and tries to distract himself from those thoughts whenever he can then he is unintentionally having those thoughts.

As opposed to someone who revels in them, I guess.

Buddhist thought also includes the idea that karma is incurred through “body, speech, and mind” (actions, words, thoughts), in declining order of severity but nonetheless certainly present in thoughts alone.

Noticing the quality and content of one’s thoughts is a part of most spiritual practices that I’m aware of. You don’t try to force them away (that cements them in place), you simply bring them to a higher level of awareness. In Buddhist practice one might make the internal observation that ‘I am not my thoughts’, and allow them to drift away. In Christian practice one might “offer them up” – give them to God. And then allow them to drift away.

Personally, I find that wishing ill on others very much affects not just my relationship to them but to the whole world.

In a word, no. It’s only when thoughts become deeds that ethics comes into play.

It is very hard to separate thought from action. If I continuously think, I’m better than that [black] person, then eventually I’ll act on it if I’m not already.


Well for one thing, by trying not to have “sinful” thoughts. It’s like the old joke about telling someone that a magic spell only works if they don’t think of a blue monkey; naturally once you tell them that they can’t help but think of a blue monkey. Tell someone that sex or whatever is sinful and you can expect them to obsess over it; the harder they try to avoid “sinful thoughts”, the more such thoughts they will have. That’s why the concept of “sinful thoughts” is so great for guilt tripping people.

Nonsense. I haven’t met the man who could manage to sin just by thinking about something as an idea. It must engage the will, the desire, to be sinful.

According to your definition of sinful. Which is more defensible than “just thinking about it is a sin”, but less useful to someone trying to induce guilt in people.

Well, if we are material beings, then a thought must have some physical manifestation. Memory must somehow be a long-term physical manifestation of a thought. If a thought is somehow inherently evil, it would seem in some way ‘better’ not to introduce those physical patterns into the universe at all, if it can be helped.

How could it not be helped? TV. Bad influences. War. Starving. Crime. Probably lots of things.

i read the mental gymnastics you just took yourself through and i’m too much of a lady to tell you verbatum what i think, let’s just put it this way, everyone has the right to their opinion but when you’re worrying about you next meal you don’t have the time or the luxry to wonder if your thoght have a physical manifestation of some kind!

Because you have a moral code and you recognise that your thoughts do not fit with your moral code. Basically, you’re normal. Well, in this one thing, I can’t speak for the rest of you. :wink:

I agree with this.

I hear ya. But I’m looking at these physical things as a kind of ‘seed’ that can get latched onto and grow into something terrible.

I just watched ‘The Thin Blue Line’ the other day. True story- a cop gets shot, the guy who did it comes up with a story to blame someone else. Based on this story the wheels of justice get turning on this other guy and he winds up in prison for over a decade. At what point did the injustice against the innocent guy begin? I think we could trace it back to the killer’s idea to blame someone else. The idea itself was the seed for everything that followed. See what I mean?

I agree though, in the heat of things this isn’t going to be something practical to worry about.

I still harbour unclean thoughts about Sarah Palin…

I’d say that a thought can be morally wrong, but it can’t be criminally wrong.

If thoughts and feelings were entirely exempt from judgement (in a social sense), then we’d only attach value to actions. But we don’t. We routinely label thoughts as “good” and “bad”.
So given that, why shouldn’t we describe thoughts as ethical or unethical? It’s in keeping with our social norm.

If a bigot believes any member of his hated enemy class should be killed on sight, is he not being unethical in thought if he hasn’t yet had the opportunity to carry out his plan? Let’s say that he is being unethical. Is there more to lose than gain by judging him this way? Why should we care enough to characterize him differently?

The OP’s question is like asking whether a sound is made if a tree falls and there’s no one around to hear it.

I think intent makes a difference. It’s human nature to have thoughts about things that would be unethical in deed. I’ve had plenty of thoughts that would be offensive to drag out in the light of day. And I wasted a lot of time feeling like a horrible person because of them, and trying to control them, until I learned that it’s just human nature and thoughts are just thoughts. Moreover, they can’t be controlled - but one can learn to view them from a more detached and objective standpoint, without investing in them.

So basically, no, I don’t think thoughts have moral weight by themselves. As for the idea that thinking ‘‘bad’’ thoughts increases the likelihood of committing ‘‘bad’’ actions, most of the research I’m familiar with refutes that. For people with OCD it’s one of the paramount myths to bust for those who suffer, because they are terrified that their thoughts are predictions of their action. The more they try to suppress the thought, the more they think it, which then confirms their belief that they are bad and must engage in safety behaviors to prevent themselves from losing control. A major key to healing is learning to treat thoughts as they are - inconsequential, random, only imbued with the power we give them.

Really? I would need to see that research because this is completely counterintuitive. If what you’re saying is true, people who routinely lie, cheat, and steal (and do so in a premeditated fashion not on impulse) are equally as likely to be thinking “bad thoughts” as people who don’t do those things.

I think there is a big difference between someone with OCD whose brain keeps playing a naughty sound track, and someone without OCD who acts in unethical ways based on forethought and deliberation.

My understanding is that it’s the difference between random thought and habitual thought.

As an example, I have (managed, treated) anger issues. Occasionally, when having my morning coffee, I will get the impulse to throw the mug against the wall and start screaming.

If I dwell on it, and magnify it, and revel in the imagined sense of how good that’d feel, it will probably eventually habituate me to thinking that’s normal.

If I dwell on it, and magnify it, and get horrified at myself for even daring to think such a thing, it will stay in my head and I’ll STILL get habituated to thinking that it’s normal.

If I think it and dismiss it, it probably won’t affect me at all.

Although it’s not possible to avoid the intrusion of thoughts, it’s definitely possible to choose how much, if at all, one will dwell on and develop a thought. We are somewhat in control of ourselves (including our own thought-lives) are we not?