Obviously, without a person saying or doing something, it is impossible to know what they are thinking, so they couldn't be prosecuted, but are there any things that are illegal to think about in the US/Oregon? Of course, if there are, the answer would have to be just "yes," because giving or reading examples would be illegal.

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    Not necessarily: I don't live in Oregon so I could give details that might lead to prosecution in Oregon.
    – user6726
    Jul 5, 2022 at 15:42
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    Do you fear the Thinkpol to hunt you down for Thoughtcrime., or are you in the time and jurisdiction of the Tokkō, which was abolished after the 2nd world war?
    – Trish
    Jul 5, 2022 at 17:36
  • @user6726 yes, but by reading your answer I would be committing a crime.
    – Someone
    Jul 5, 2022 at 18:33
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    @Someone That's what romance novels and other trashy books are for. Utterly mindless reading.
    – doneal24
    Jul 5, 2022 at 19:21
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    There is a sign near my home (not in Oregon, US) put up by the municipal government which states that people are "not even allowed to think about littering in this place". But I doubt that regulating thought is within their authority.
    – Philipp
    Aug 22, 2022 at 9:32

2 Answers 2


There are not "illegal thoughts" in the abstract, but what you are thinking can make the difference between something being a crime or a basis for bringing a lawsuit, and actions being non-criminal or not a basis for any legal liability.

If you fire someone because they are black, you've engaged in actionable employment discrimination. If you fire the same person, in the same circumstances, because you've noticed that they were late to work by 10 minutes every day this month but recorded their hours as if they came on time, you've acted legally.

If you shoot someone in bear suit hovering over your toddler in your backyard at twilight believing it is a bear, you haven't committed a crime. If you realize that the person in the bear suit is your husband playing a prank and shoot anyway, you are guilty of aggravated assault or attempted murder if he lives, and murder if he doesn't.

If you buy a $200 refrigerator thinking that it's a bankruptcy fire sale price, you are not guilty of anything. But, if you know that the refrigerator was stolen because you hear the store owner talking about it in the back room, you are committing the crime of trafficking in stolen goods if you buy it.

If you record a song because it just comes to you when you've never heard it before, you haven't infringed a copyright. But if you've heard it (at least if you remember it) and then record it, you've infringed the copyright in the song (assuming you don't get permission to do so and the copyright is still valid, etc.).

What a person committing an act is thinking is part of what must be proven in court for someone to be guilty or liable in the case of all but a small minority of crimes and torts (i.e. civil wrongs which can be the basis of a lawsuit). Often, the element that involves what you are thinking as one part of a case that must be established in court is described with the latin phrase mens rea (which translates literally as "guilty mind").

Conversely, sometimes thoughts are not crimes or torts unless there are actions taken in connection with the thoughts.

If you carefully plan out a murder, but take no concrete actions to carry out your plan, you haven't committed a crime or tort. But, if you have planned out a murder and take significant affirmative acts to carry it out, you've committed attempted murder, even if those acts might not have constituted attempted murder if you took those actions for purposes unrelated to a plan to commit a murder.

Similarly, if you imagine a seven year old having sex with you in your head, you haven't committed a crime (although if you are a sex offender, doing so might prevent you from receiving parole), but if you download or make a video depicting that act, you've committed a crime.

  • "If you carefully plan out a murder, but take no concrete actions to carry out your plan, you haven't committed a crime or tort": only if you do so by yourself, no? Otherwise you've committed the crime of conspiracy to commit murder.
    – phoog
    Jul 5, 2022 at 17:18
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    @phoog yes and no: there have been author groups that planned together perfect murders to toss at each other and challenge their fictive detectives with - sometimes they collaborated in designing such a murder. none of the conspiracy members actually planned to murder someone.
    – Trish
    Jul 5, 2022 at 17:40
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    @phoog I think you still need someone in the conspiracy to take an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy.
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 5, 2022 at 19:45
  • If the refrigerator sale was genuine, then you are guilty of attempting to traffic in stolen goods :-)
    – gnasher729
    Jul 6, 2022 at 11:56
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    The "record a song" thing happened to someone who was both a famous composer and a famous conductor. Some music that he recorded was quite clearly based on something he had conducted earlier, and not remembering it.
    – gnasher729
    Aug 22, 2022 at 9:46

To properly and definitely answer your question we must first define and agree on the definition of "illegal" so as to ensure it is purely and literally answering the question of, if whether or not there can be such a thing as an illegal thought.

As it pertains to the context, Merriam-Webster Defines "illegal" as:

not according to or authorized by law : unlawful, illicit also : not sanctioned by official rules (as of a game)

By that definition, it will be necessary also to establish what is defined as being "law". And, as defined by Oxford Languages (AKA Google's dictionary): Law is defined as...

the system of rules which a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members and which it may enforce by the imposition of penalties.

With that established, it should then become apparent that to answer your question, we must first determine if having any sort of, or any particular type of, thought that could be observed or can be observed in order to be considered in violation of what has been established as being a law.

In The Literal Sense

Therefore, in the context of any city, county, state, federal, or otherwise government-established laws, at least as of 2022, a time when when the progression of neuroscience has yet to discover a methodology of "reading your mind" and as a result, has no means of enforcing any such law that prohibits any sort of particular thought, if one was to exist; then in terms of any sort of established authoritative power, there are no laws that I am currently aware of that exist today that would make any thought illegal,

Thus, in terms of having "illegal" thoughts or illegal thoughts existing, by the aforementioned regards, no, there is no such thing as an illegal thought because no law currently exists to enforce or regulate a restriction on a person's thought.

However, in more recent years and in the US, some laws have been proposed that prohibits the teaching of certain topic matters relating to race, American history, politics, sexual orientation, or gender identity which may be considered a proposed law attempting to limit and restrict indirectly the introduction of thoughts and ideas related to one or more of those topics. And, that may be a signal for some that we may one day in the future, see such laws being introduced that will attempt to make it illegal to have certain thoughts or ideas, especially if such proposed laws were eventually passed and if the technology was later discovered to interpret a person's thoughts that would enable enforcement of such laws. That is to say, perhaps one day there could be.

In Other Context

However, in the context of moral, religious and/or cannon laws that may rule over a man or woman not based on their physical location or of where they reside but by the faith that they entrust their beliefs in, and; whereas in some religions, it may be considered a violation of their religious teachings/beliefs and if such beliefs are also considered to some varying degree as a religious "law" but may not particularly reference said beliefs as "laws" literally speaking (i.e. "The Ten Commandments"), then in the context of a person's religious beliefs, it seems very plausible that "illegal thoughts" or what would be considered as illegal thoughts, do exist.

For example, in many of the version for the Christian Bible, which isn't a book of law per se, but is often referred to as a book of teachings that establish the moral guidelines of those who believe in it, contains text that suggests having mere thoughts of adultery is the same as committing adultery (or in some translation, has already "committed the sin").

...whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart

-Matthew 5:28 in the King James Version of the Bible

Although the sexual activities that constitute adultery vary, as well as the social, religious, and legal consequences, the concept exists in many cultures and is similar in Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Then in that context, it is very possible for an illegal thought to exist if the thought violates a religious law of one's chosen faith.


Therefore in terms of the original question which specifies only a condition of location (Oregon or in the US), no, there is no such thing as an illegal thought unless one was also a member of a religious group that holds the belief that committing an illegal or "sinful" within one's thought says otherwise.

  • 1) scientific journals have no legal power 2) the bible has even less relevance to any legal proceedings. 3) Law and morale are two highly distinct things. properly enacted and legal laws might be wholly immoral - like a law stripping citizens of their power to vote.
    – Trish
    Aug 22, 2022 at 17:36
  • It's not the thought itself, it's whether a crime has been committed where the mental state of the accused matters. A good example was "selling a fridge cheap". If I think the seller just bought himself a better fridge and wants to get rid of the old one, fine. If I think (incorrectly) that I'm offered a stolen fridge very cheap and buy it to take advantage of that theft, that is an attempted crime. So the combination specific thoughts + action can be criminal.
    – gnasher729
    Aug 23, 2022 at 11:33
  • If you read the comment by the OP, with their example of arresting someone for thinking about XYZ and suggesting that, in arresting and prosecuting a John Doe for thinking of XYZ the prosecutors would also have to think about whatever XYZ was thinking about and therefore commit the same crime, then you might see why a dystopian-based conceptual question such as this might be better served by a more practical and literal answer to address the underlying curiosity.
    – Doedigo
    Aug 26, 2022 at 10:57
  • If anything, explaining how the act makes the thought illegal itself would be more applicable to what the OP is asking rather than proposing explanations on how thought plays a role in making the act illegal. They didn't ask if an act becomes illegal because of thought, they wanted to know if having the thought, by itself, without action, is illegal but more so as it relates to a general thought and/or idea, and likely one not necessarily involving action. Hence, no legal proceedings occur on grounds of thoughts by themselves and essentially may be a question more suited for morality than law.
    – Doedigo
    Aug 26, 2022 at 11:02
  • While you both have very valid points, I was merely answering the question in the literal sense. In the matters of a 'selling a fridge cheap' example, you're conflating the concept of premeditation in a criminal act with an immaterial act of having a thought. Whereas my take is on the literal question of, 'are thoughts themselves on their own illegal', and that's what I had hoped to address and was not in any way objecting to those concepts you bring up, but rather, expands on the fact that thinking of murdering someone without taking action is not, in and of itself, an illegal act
    – Doedigo
    Aug 26, 2022 at 11:14

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