Taking away life is the worst crime

Theodore Dalrymple is right to point to the inadequate moral response our society has to perpetrators of domestic violence ("Even more foul than murder", 10 April). But the claim that "murder is not the worst crime" is possibly misleading. First, a murderer must have had the requisite intent, and so the example of a confused and drunken brawl would more likely result in a conviction for manslaughter than for murder, if the defendant lacked an intention to cause grievous bodily harm, or if he could show diminished responsibility or provocation.

Second, and more importantly, the claim that murder is not as bad as domestic violence ignores that most of our moral evaluations do seem to depend on the consequences of actions as well as the subjective intentions involved in them. In this moral view, murder is, and must be, the worst of crimes because it deprives another of his most valued possession, namely his life.

David Pievsky
Pinner, Middlesex

This article first appeared in The New Statesman Essay - The rise of the ergonarchy

2000-04-17