... to evaluating someone's action from the perspective of character and morality. This is why we have to be so careful about judging others. It is often difficult to know what another person's intent is.
I become more and more convinced that it would do America a lot of good for everyone to take a good philosophy class and that a good philosophy class should be part of every college curriculum. Now most philosophy classes probably aren't good in the way I'm thinking and I don't think the ones I used to teach hit the mark either. But I more and more see the potential benefit.
So the human animal has a tendency not to respond in kind but to escalate retribution. This was apparently the driving force behind the "law of retribution":: an "eye for an eye." The original notion--quite a high point in the history of human moral thinking--was that you should not take two eyes if a person only takes one of yours. This to me remains one of the best starting points for talking about justice. Justice is exacting an equivalent punishment for a wrong done with intent.
I added the intent part. On the one hand, governments have to be very careful about taking intent and repentance into account--they have to set up a structure and making individual exceptions can threaten the society, even when an individual case might seem to warrant it. But as individuals, we are more morally mature when we take the intentions of others into account.
So the intent of someone in doing you wrong is the key measure of how to respond. True, a person can do wrong by forgetfulness in a way that reflects failure to make an effort to remember in the past. Unintentional wrongdoing can imply moral failure because you have not been doing something you should have been doing all along.
But a person can also be more guilty than the offender in the "pay back" he or she gives when the offender did not do a wrong with high intent. If someone unintentionally wrongs you and you let them have it in one way or another, there's a good chance you are the greater wrongdoer than they are.
It took me a long time to realize how morally immature most people are. Maybe that's true in part because I have had such virtuous parents. I grew up thinking that most people at least in the church always try to do the right thing. As it turns out, most people don't ;-)