This question is loaded with ideas and directions to take conversation. The image implies we are more likely to engage in wrong acts under the condition of anonymity or privacy. It also reminds me that some moral lapses are socially acceptable, some are joked about in friendly company, and some, a person will be shunned for. But regardless of the act and which social mores it offends or agrees with, each individual has personal convictions as to what is right to do and what is wrong. So, why would anyone choose to do wrong?
To get a simple, straightforward approach to the question, I asked my two sons, ages 12 and 10, to respond to it. Son Number One said, “If I know something is wrong, I don’t do it”. That's an incredible answer. If I didn't know my son, I might think he was being smart or trying to please me with his answer. But he is telling the truth. Son Number Two, who my family fondly (I hope) says is the male version of me, had this to say: “Because doing it feels better than not doing it”.
Both of my sons desire something good. However, the older one is able to stand above his immediate situation and determine that obedience is a higher good than pleasure; his younger brother is stuck in the pleasure spectrum and sees only that one pleasure is greater than another—eating a candy bar (his example) feels better than going without; and apparently also feels better than pleasing his mother, who asked him to save the chocolate for after dinner.
Socrates claimed, rather provocatively, that “no one errs willingly”. In this view of things, my younger son simply does not have sufficient knowledge to direct his will toward the right thing. And this may be true, depending on how we define “knowledge”. However, from a practical point of view, most of us experience a sense of divided desire which sometimes leads to our choosing against our own knowledge of what is right.
Why do we do this? Looking back on times I chose to do what I knew was wrong, I would have to say, "I did it because I wanted to”. Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., in his book, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, answers this question essentially the same way I did, when he quotes Woody Allen’s justification of his affair with the daughter of Mia Farrow, his then romantic partner. Allen said, simply, “The heart wants what it wants”.
And that is really the final answer. But it’s complicated, because my passion extends to things other than my own pleasure. In fact, I care very little for my own pleasure, in the grand scheme of things. I would lay it aside for many nobler virtues; including truth, justice, compassion, beauty, and love. I would tell you my passion for these things is much greater than my passion for pleasure or safety or comfort. So why am I sometimes willing to cast them aside for momentary and incomplete satisfaction?
My mother says I was a “strong-willed child”. Parents often say this with a chuckle, as if it is an exasperating but endearing quality in their child. I wonder: Can a little girl who does only what she pleases be said to have a strong will? Isn’t her will actually weak? Isn’t she enslaved to her passions and unable to command her body with her will? What is the human will and what role does it/ should it play in our choices? Can we strengthen our will? Can we weaken it? And what makes it so difficult for some of us to put the candy bar away until after dinner?