Category Archives: Moral Harm and Moral Worth

Moral Harm and Non-being

I am beginning a series of posts the goal of which is to get some understanding of the basic Christian framework called the Paschal Mystery. The Paschal Mystery is the teaching that the Incarnation of God as Jesus and Jesus’ subsequent suffering, death and resurrection radically transformed the human condition. These events restored the human condition from a fallen one in which at best human life had no greater destiny than that we typically attribute to bedbugs to an original one in which human beings rise after biological death to live eternally with God. Human beings were in the fallen condition because they had chosen some act which they ought not have chosen and so they were no longer as they ought to be.

The phrases with the moral terms are emphasized because they gave me the clue on how to clarify and modify concepts to become somewhat clearer about the Paschal mystery. Moral concepts will be those under closest analysis and modification. This post focuses on a notion of moral harm.

What is moral harm? Distinguish moral harm from natural harm which here I will treat as medical harm. I use “medical” to have a working definition of natural harm. The medical harm of an act is a physical or psychological condition brought about by an act for which the person has a high probability of being compensated by medical insurance. So if you assault a person and break his arm, that person can very likely win a suit for damages from you. Similarly, if a man seduces a boy into sexual acts medical professionals will almost certainly testify that the boy has suffered psychological harm for which he should be compensated.

Moral harm is not the medical harm which an immoral act causes. Certainly we cannot say that an act is not immoral if it causes no medical harm. Moral harm is the harm a person inflicts on himself when he chooses contrary to a moral law. For instance, there is a moral law that you ought not testify that you saw a man at the scene of a crime when you clearly realize that he was somewhere else. “Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor!” The moral harm he inflicts upon himself comes from choosing to break the moral law. Moral laws specify how we ought to be. By choosing to break the moral law he chooses to not be the kind of person he ought to be. Moral harm is not being as you ought to be. Harm can be called an evil. So a notion of harm or evil as non-being is being used: non-being as a departure from what ought to be. The non-being which is evil may be an actual state of affairs. But it is a state of non-being, moral non-being, because of its difference from what ought to be.

This notion of moral harm or evil as non-being will be fundamental in posts trying to get clearer about the Paschal mystery. This will include introduction of a notion of Satan!

My book explores the notion of moral evil in conjunction with an examination of male sexual morality.

My book Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism was released by Tate Publishing on March 11, 2014. See Book Web Page for information about the book. The publisher’s listed price is $26.99. Printed copies can be purchased here by credit card for $3.99, plus $3.71 for shipping and handling.

To purchase the printed book by check, send check of $3.99 plus $3.71 for shipping and handling per copy. Send to:
Charles F. Kielkopf
45 W. Kenworth Rd.
Columbus, Ohio 43214
Include your shipping address.

Penance : Fulfillment of Our Obligation to Express Moral Wrath

This post is a criticism and development of my previous two posts on penance.
February 16, 2015: Penance: Pain as a Scapegoat Which Carries Away Moral Evil
February 24, 2015:Penance: Guilt, Shame, Self-Loathing as Penitential Pain

In those posts, I interpreted penance as self inflicted pain to make up for and restore oneself after commission of a moral wrong. An act of masturbation was the example of an immoral act so that there would be no issues of compensating other people. Four dimensions of making up for and restoring were noted. Restitution was inflicting a pain to pay for an immorally attained satisfaction. This could be a simple fast of skipping a meal. Rehabilitation was inflicting pain so that by becoming accustomed to enduring dissatisfaction aesonould be less likely to subcumb to temptations to seek immoral satisfactions.Again a simple fast could be an example of penance. Deterrence was inflicting pain with a threat to inflict it again if we pursued the immoral satisfaction. Taking a cold shower with threats of subsequent cold showers is an example of a deterring penance. My focus was on the retributive dimension of penance. Retribution is the most difficult dimension for which to articulate a motivation even if in some people the need for it is strongly felt.

In retribution we inflict a pain to represent to ourselves our moral evil, i.e., breaking a moral law, as physical or mental damage. This physical or mental damage intentionally connected with the moral damage can be called punishment. Punishment is always a physical or mental pain. Punishment is imposed for moral reasons but the punishment itself is factual (empirical) not moral. Penance is self-inflicted punishment.With recovery from the connected factual damage the moral damage is cleansed or healed. The factual damage becomes a “scapegoat” which carries away the moral damage.

Perhaps my account of retributive penance accounts for why some, or even many, people do punish themselves for immoral behavior with a hard to articulate sense that it makes them clean or healthy again. But an account of why some people punish themselves does not justify their doing so and certainly does not give support to a claim that this type of retributive punishment is what we ought to do.. Now my goal is to make a case that we ought to perform retributive penance.

Why ought connect factual damage with moral damage by inflicting factual damage on an offender because of his moral damage? If we do not accept a prescription for conduct as a command coming from ourselves in which we both think and feel that factual damage be imposed on violators we do not accept it as a moral law. Thinking and feeling that factual damage be imposed on violators simply because they violated a moral law is moral wrath. Genuine acceptance of what we think ought to be requires internalizing the prescription. Internalizing a prescription requires feeling that it ought to be followed because what it commands is right. This feeling that it ought to be followed because it is right has as a complementary feeling a sense that a violator ought to be damaged in some factual way simply because he did not act as he ought. Acting on this moral wrath is retribution. In retribution we do not seek to accomplish anything by imposition of the damage beyond striking back after violation of the law. To be sure, as noted above, in inflicting damage after a violation, we may hope to accomplish restitution, rehabilitation and deterrence. But retribution is simply to express the obligation to react negatively to violations of a moral law we have internalized, viz., genuinely accepted.

Penance, then, is retribution inflicted on ourselves for our own violations of morality. As the wounds from our self-inflicted moral wrath heal, we often have a sense of being healed or cleansed.

My thoughts about penance, forgiveness etc., come from my emphasis on sexual immorality as producing moral harm in my book Confronting Sexual Nihilism .
My book Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism was released by Tate Publishing on March 11, 2014. See Book Web Page for information about the book. The publisher’s listed price is $26.99. Printed copies can be purchased here by credit card for $12.99, plus $3.71 for shipping and handling.

To purchase the printed book by check, send check of $16.70 per copy. Send to:
Charles F. Kielkopf
45 W. Kenworth Rd.
Columbus, Ohio 43214
Include your shipping address.

Penance: Guilt, Shame, Self-Loathing as Penitential Pain

This post elaborates on my February 16 Post: Penance: Pain as a Scapegoat Which Carries Away Moral Evil in two ways. First, I advocate mental pain as the proper penitential pain. Second, I bring out more of the theory rationalizing inflicting pain on yourself to cleanse yourself from a moral stain or heal yourself of a moral wound.

In my previous post, I suggested interpreting penance as a way of cleansing or healing ourselves for moral damage we inflicted upon ourselves by a wrong such as masturbation which in no clear way does any tangible damage to our bodies or anyone else’s body. My suggestion was that we inflict some tangible damage on ourselves. Penance as cleansing or healing works by linking the moral wrong with a tangible wrong which will heal. The healing tangible wound is taking away the moral harm with which it has been linked. We are morally cleansed because the moral wrong in us has gone away insofar as it was a type of wound in us. However, the moral wrong is still formerly – “on paper” – in our history until it is forgiven.

Forgiveness is another topic. Penance may be necessary for forgiveness but I do not think penance is sufficient for forgiveness

What kind of pain is a suitable penance for victimless sexual immoralities; especially masturbation? As suggested by the Lenten texts from Joel: “Rend your heart; not your garments” the pain should be interior – in the mind. Mental pain is tangible – guilt, shame and self-loathing are felt. Let yourself feel these pains by not giving yourself any excuses. Of course, as in any important endeavor, good judgment is needed to know when to “go one with your life” and let the mental pain and moral wound heal.

Why, though, inflict pain on ourselves so that it can become a wound which is supposed to take away a moral wound? Here I need to sketch out thoughts on the reasons for punishment.

One reason for punishment is restitution. I am not writing of penance as restitution. I am not thinking of penance being the infliction of some tangible damage to ourself as a way of paying back for a satisfaction immorally attained. For instance, the pay back for the pleasure of masturbation might be a cold shower. On this model the pain is paired with the illegitimate pleasure and then the pleasure-pain pair is neutralized. Such a model may be useful for understanding some dimensions of penance. But that is not the dimension which I am trying to understand. Here I am struggling with a belief that penance is appropriate to make myself cleaner or healthier after committing a moral wrong. I try bring myself back to my moral status I had before the immoral act. The restitution model does not seem to me to bring out making myself healthy after committing a moral wrong. It is too impersonal. Restitution brings our making the situation better. What can fairly be labeled a retribution model of penance brings out that penance is supposed to make me better by somehow removing the moral damage I brought upon myself. This is different from a rehabilitation model of penance where penance is to build my character. The retribution model is also different from a deterrence model. On a deterrence model, the masturbator would inflict some pain on himself after masturbating and threaten to inflict that pain on himself every time he masturbated. Cold showers might be his choice of deterrent.

Restitution, rehabilitation and deterrence are all important dimensions of penance. They are forward looking dimensions of penance. They aim at making the person or situation better in the future. Retribution is backward looking. In retribution we go back in our history to clean or heal a wound we suffered. We are trying to bring ourselves status quo ante.

My thoughts about penance, forgiveness etc., come from my emphasis on sexual immorality as producing moral harm in my book Confronting Sexual Nihilism .
My book Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism was released by Tate Publishing on March 11, 2014. See Book Web Page for information about the book. The publisher’s listed price is $26.99. Printed copies can be purchased here by credit card for $12.99, plus $3.71 for shipping and handling.

To purchase the printed book by check, send check of $16.70 per copy. Send to:
Charles F. Kielkopf
45 W. Kenworth Rd.
Columbus, Ohio 43214
Include your shipping address.

Penance: Pain as a Scapegoat Which Carries Away Moral Evil

At the beginning of Lent 2015, it is appropriate to reflect on penance. I hope to clarify my thought that penance is choosing an inclination frustration – pain- to remove or cleanse from oneself a negative feature or stain on oneself which resulted choosing an immoral act.

Since these blog posts are on sexual morality, let us consider the point of doing penance for sexual immorality. The focus is on an act of male masturbation. The act itself has no significant consequences in the world outside the man who masturbated. I do not want to be distracted by consideration of needs to restore some damage done by the act. Also I do not want to consider penance as a either a way of building strength of character or a way of somehow deterring oneself from masturbating again. Penance may strengthen character and be a deterrent. However, I hope to clarify a thought and feeling that somehow penance cleanses a person from a morally evil condition he has produced in himself

An immoral sexual act is bipartite. Both parts are immoralities One part is the act performed. In masturbation this part is the self-stimulation to orgasm. The other part is self inflicted moral damage in the person who chose the wrong act. The moral damage or moral evil is whatever it is in the person which now justifies passing the judgment upon him: He is now a man who chooses to do what is wrong to gain a sexual inclination satisfaction.

This moral damage seems nebulous, intangible and invisible. How can it be removed?

Nothing can be done to remove the past choice to masturbate for an inclination satisfaction. Nothing can remove the fact that he had enjoyed the inclination satisfaction which is now gone. However, the point of penance is to cancel out that wrongly gained inclination satisfaction by inflicting on oneself a greater inclination frustration. Choosing to connect an overriding inclination frustration with the wrongly chosen inclination satisfaction transforms the moral damage into complex condition of moral evil connected with a balancing natural or non-moral evil. This complex of moral and natural evil is not so nebulous. It is certainly tangible if not visible. Because of its natural component this complex can fade away with time as the natural pain of frustration diminishes.

Penance is a “scapegoat.” The penitential pain attaches to the moral evil and as the pain fades way so does the moral evil it carries with it.

I introduce my thoughts on moral evil in my book Confronting Sexual Nihilism

My book Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism was released by Tate Publishing on March 11, 2014. See Book Web Page for information about the book. The publisher’s listed price is $26.99. Printed copies can be purchased here by credit card for $12.99, plus $3.71 for shipping and handling.

To purchase the printed book by check, send check of $16.70 per copy. Send to:
Charles F. Kielkopf
45 W. Kenworth Rd.
Columbus, Ohio 43214
Include your shipping address.

Law of Gradualism vs. Gradualism of the Law

I. Some background on “The Law of Gradualism”

A. Gradualism in a report from the 2014 extraordinary synod on the family

On October 13, 2014 there was publication of an unofficial translation of opinions expressed at the Catholic Church’s extraordinary synod on the family. This preliminary report is titled in Latin Relatio post disceptationem and can be read as:”report after discussion.”This extraordinary synod ran from October 4 through October 19, 2014 in the Vatican. These published opinions were expressed in the first few days of the synod and are to be discussed in the remaining days. The extraordinary synod is, in effect, a preliminary meeting for the ordinary synod. A final statement of opinions will be published and form a basis for an ordinary or regular synod of Catholic bishops in the Vatican October 4 to October 25, 2015. This preliminary report has been regarded as radical by both progressives and conservatives and has not been well received by conservatives including me. Here, though, I do not want to criticize the preliminary report because it will be revised. It’s transitory. Also careful critique of it would require theological expertise which I lack. My goal is to elaborate on a concept used in this preliminary report since it connects with themes in my philosophy book on sexual morality. This concept is “the law of gradualism.”

See a Jimmy Akin Blog Post for a useful overview of the Law of Gradualness in the discussions about the bishop’s synod.

B. Gradualism in two Vatican documents,

1] From section 34 of John Paul II’s 1981 exhoration Familiaris Consortio in which amongst many other topics, he reaffirmed the condemnation of artificial birth control.

Married people too are called upon to progress unceasingly in their moral life, with the support of a sincere and active desire to gain ever better knowledge of the values enshrined in and fostered by the law of God. They must also be supported by an upright and generous willingness to embody these values in their concrete decisions. They cannot however look on the law as merely an ideal to be achieved in the future: they must consider it as a command of Christ the Lord to overcome difficulties with constancy. And so what is known as ‘the law of gradualness’ or step-by-step advance cannot be identified with ‘gradualness of the law,’ as if there were different degrees or forms of precept in God’s law for different individuals and situations.

2] From section 3,9 of the 1997 Handbook for Confessors on Conjugal Morality in which confessors are advised not to let penitents delay stopping a practice of artifical birth control as they gradually prepare themselves to stop it sometime or other.

The pastoral “law of gradualness”, not to be confused with the “gradualness of the law” which would tend to diminish the demands it places on us, consists of requiring a decisive break with sin together with a progressive path towards total union with the will of God and with his loving demands

B. My preliminary thoughts on the law of gradualism vs. gradualism of the law,

1. When should we use a law of gradualism? When a moral law requires us to bring about good state of affairs for which there are degrees of goodness for these states of affairs it is permissible and, indeed may be necessary to bring about the lesser goods as we develop attitudes and skills for bringing about the higher goods. For instance, a father has a duty to spend time with his children. However, because of focus on his job and low apptitude for interacting with children, he may have to start with just spending a few minutes each day with his children. However, he should gradually bring himself to spend more time with his children in more significant activities. This example suggests many areas of life in which we are wise to accept that we only grow gradually producing better and better situations.

2. What would it be like to practice gradualism of the law? The example of a father’s duty to spend time with his children can be used here. Suppose a young father thought that while the children were quite young and he was busy with his career, he would spend no time with them at all. He would completely neglect them with the mother or other caregivers having contact with the children. He would tell himself that when he grew older and had more inclination to spend time with his children he would do so. He plans to gradually start following the law. Well, as long as he totally neglects the law to spend time with his children, he is in the wrong and living, in that respect, immorally – not as he ought to live.

So, my interpretation of “gradualism of the law” is an intention, or hope, to stop violating a moral law sometime in the future when one feels ready to set aside present motives for violating the moral law in question. On this characterization of “gradualism of the law” a person who practices it does do what is morally wrong each time the person violates the law.

A significant question is whether or not practicing gradualism of the law has any place in moral life or moral development. Especially does it have any place in sexual morality.

My next post will address this question.

I dealt with this question in my book on sexual morality.

My book Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism was released by Tate Publishing on March 11, 2014. See Book Web Page for information about the book. The publisher’s listed price is $26.99. Printed copies can be purchased here by credit card for $12.99, plus $3.71 for shipping and handling.

To purchase the printed book by check, send check of $16.70 per copy. Send to:
Charles F. Kielkopf
45 W. Kenworth Rd.
Columbus, Ohio 43214
Include your shipping address.

What I Want to Know by Knowing that Masturbation is Immoral

My book Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism was released by Tate Publishing on March 11, 2014. See Book Web Page for information about the book. The publisher’s listed price is $26.99. Buy printed copy here with credit card for $10 off the listed price: $16.99.

In the previous post, I wrote that my intellectual motivation for condemning immoralities such as masturbation was to become convinced that these acts would be immoral for me to perform. I pointed out that for me to know through use of reason what is moral and immoral for me, I had to establish general rules specifying what is moral and immoral for everyone. Let’s focus on immoralities. So, finding out what is immoral for everyone is more fundamental than finding out what is immoral for me. However, a moral thought needs to be accompanied with feelings since moral thoughts are to guide conduct. For a thought of immorality, the feeling should be negative about what violates the rule. Of course, when I think that a rule is well justified and think of an act in violation of it, I think of that violation with the negative feeling that it is a violation.

Now here rises a challenge to deontological moral theories holding, as I do, that morality is based fundamentally on rules categorically condemning certain acts or ways of acting regardless of the consequences over and above those of being or not being in conformity with the rule. The challenge is basically: How can the harm of violating the rule keep the violation in conflict with morality if other consequences produce a large amount of human satisfaction? To appreciate the moral harm of violating a rule we need to look away from the general rule to look at it as applied to oneself. We need to look at it from the inside so-to-speak. Given that I think the rule is correct, what harm would I afflict on myself by violating it.

I prefer to use masturbation as an example rather than homosexuality. There is so much discussion of homosexuality now-a-days. If you’re not one, it is really boring in morality to think about something to which you have no temptation. Internet porn, provides temptations threatening all men.

For this exercise in uncovering the sense of violating a well established moral rule, I assume that I have established the rule that a man ought not seek an orgasm outside of sexual intercourse with his wife. The rule is very simple and gives clear guidelines on how to act morally with respect to an especially difficult area of a male’s life. Indeed the simplicity and clarity of the rule is the major
reason supporting it. If I violate it, I explicitly, or implicitly, adopt a personal policy, or what Kant called a maxim, that allows me to seek orgasms under other conditions. I am now acting on a policy which gives no clear guidance and is a response to inclinations which are lawless in the sense that they lead me against this simple law. the harm is losing direction and the sense of this harm is a sense of falling or being unguided with respect to some very powerful human incliations.

So I morally condemn masturbation to guide me towards discovering the harm I would do to myself by masturbating. It opens the way to sexual wantonnes.

Motiviation for My Condemning Immoralities

In two recent posts, I deliveredmoral condemnation of homosexual acts and life styles. Why? Here ‘why’ is not asking for the reason for which I conclude homosexuality morally wrong. The argument, or reasons, for concluding that it is wrong are in my book :Confronting Sexual Nihihlism. Here ‘why’ asks for my motives for arguing against homosexuality and expressing the conclusions of these arguments.

My intellectual motives for arguing against homosexuality and other sexual immoralities are easier to specify than my social motives for expressing these conclusions. My motives for expressing the conclusions are those for making recommendations to other people or giving other people information. These motives for expressing vary with circumstances; especially the audience to whom I intend to communicate. With respect to the intended readership of my book, I have two primary motives for expressing the moral condemnation of homosexuality. I want to explain my objection to gay-marriage and recommendation of a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.

If homosexual activity is immoral, pair-bondings in which it is practiced should not be dignified by being called ‘marriage.’ The term ‘marriage’ is to be reserved for male/female bondings in which the morally proper sexual acts are performed. Publicly labeling people as immoral demeans them even if they boast of their immorality. For instance, a man who brags of cheating at cards, demeans himself whether or not he realizes it. Most emphatically: A man who boasts of cheating on his wife degrades himself. Unless some public good is accomplished by accusing a man of the immorality of homosexuality, the man should not be demeaned by being so labeled. In general, little public good is accomplished by labeling people as homosexual. Public good is accomplished by calling a man whose adultery is well known “an adulter.”

So, I recommend not demeaning homosexuals but propose demeaning adulterous men. If homosexuals want to be so labeled, they are fools who fail to realize that they making themselves look foolish. I will not cooperate with them when they make themselves look foolish. I suppose that I should add to “don’t ask, don’t tell,’ a guideline for what to do if “they tell.” My guideline, and practice, is “don’t listen.” I do not express moral judgment against homosexuality in vain hopes that mere expressions of judgments can help cure the condition. I defintely do not express a judgment that homosexuality is immoral to urge legislation against homosexual activies. In general, I oppose dealing with this moral issue with legal sanctions.

Actually, in my book, I tried to find good justification for my judgments that masturbation, fornication and adultery are immoral. Fortunately, I am not afflicted with have same sex-attractions. Condemnation of homosexuality is simply a corollary of a general principle- The Paternal Principle- for which I argue.

My intellectual motive for arguing for the immorality of homosexuality, and the other male sexual immoralities, is to convince myself that my judgment that homosexuality et al. are immoral is a well founded judgment. I want to know what is wrong for me. But this requires knowing first what is wrong for others.

As these next few Blog posts develop, it emerges that I am trying to understand the moral harm I would do to myself by performing one of these immoral acts. From a definition, in §II.7 of my book, ‘moral harm’ is specified to be the bad status a person has by violating a moral rule. In so far as the purpose of moral thinking is to guide us on how to be the right kind of people, there needs to be a sense of what this moral harm is over and above what the definition says.

The most important moral thinking is the moral thinking which guides individuals on how to be the right kind of people – how to form their moral character. Understandings of morality which hold that the most important moral thinking is for forming character are called character moralities. This important moral thinking is an inseparable combination of thinking that a rule forbids something and sensing that simply violating the rule is harmful to the violator. Developing this sense of the harm of moral harm requires thinking from the “inside” so to speak. You need to think of what you would be doing to yourself by simply violating a moral rule which you believe to be correct. Much of what follows will be my doing this “inside” thinking. Readers have to do it for themselves.

My parents, schools, traditions of my communities, etc., caused me to have certain moral opinions. Here I will stay with sexual morality. I, as most of us, confront many challenges to our moral opinions. My intellectual motive behind arguing for moral judgments is to bring me to a conviction that my moral opinions are well founded or need modification to be well founded. In general, I try to justify the opinions which I received; but not always. I have imagined living in accordance with “progressive” moral practices contrary to moral teachings I received from my Catholic tradition. The imagined way of life -a life style in accordance with the so-called sexual revolution – seemed an empty pursuit of pleasure leading to nothing.

Now recognition that a sexual morality contrary to traditional sexual morality leads to nihilism does not justify traditional sexual morality. However, it indicates an aspect of what the moral harm of the violations. The threat of nihilism by abandoning traditional sexual morality provides motivation for trying to justify traditional Catholic sexual morality. Justifying it means trying to show that reason supports it.

To show that reason supports a moral opinion requires showing that acts or ways of acting in accordance with the opinion are general requirements for human beings. These general requirements are expressed as moral rules forbidding or permitting certain acts or ways of acting. Most often, the rules are negative. The usual form is: Thou shalt not. Because reason deals with general principles, using reason to discover what I am forbidden to do, requires first using reason to establish what everyone is forbidden to do. So, the intellectual effort to justify my judgment that I am forbidden to intentionally attain a sexual climax outside the context of my marriage to a woman requires justifying a judgment that such seeking of sexual climaxes is forbidden to everyone. With respect to intellectual motivation, my condemnation of homosexuality is a by-product of what I really wanted to discover about my moral entitlements to attain orgasms.

In my next posts, I I plan to display my “inside” thinking of violating traditional sexual morality in order to arouse a sense of the moral harm of such violations.

My book Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism was released by Tate Publishing on March 11, 2014. See Book Web Page for information about the book. The publisher’s listed price is $26.99. Buy printed copy here with credit card for $10 off the listed price: $16.99.

The Moral Harm of Flouting Cost-benefit Calculation

This post offers further considerations about the notion of moral harm introduced in my Dec. 27, 2013 post.

Might people who hold that cost-benefit calculation is the fundamental way of making moral judgments, eg. utilitarians accept the following? If they would, that would indicate acceptance of the notion that there is a type of moral harm based in the nature of how humans ought to be. And this harm is not the type of harm they consider in cost-benefit calculations! In this case, the “abused” component of our nature is our economic rationality. It is possible for a person to engage in a cost-benefit calculation and choose a less than the best alternative on a whim or some hunch “Oh, what the f—, let’s do it anyway.” This flouting of economic reasoning might be how “people escape from prisoners’ dilemmas.” I suspect some young men have entered years of imprisonment because of imprudent choices expressed with such a phrase.

A few philosophers even dismiss the possibility of cost-benefit calculation being used in moral reasoning. Grizez, Finnis et al. have argued that cost-benefit calculation cannot be moral deliberation since, for them, moral deliberation has to offer alternatives for choice. They hold that once a cost-benefit calculation is made the choice of what is best must occur. See Ch. IX of their Nuclear Deterence, Morality and Realism . I disagree. Recognition of an alternative as best is different from choosing it. Causality amongst peoples’ mental states is statistical. If there is deterministic causation for what we desire, believe and choose it lies at the physiological level. Suppose then someone decides by cost-benefit calculation that a certain act is not most beneficial but nonetheless chooses it, that person made a wrong, or irrational, choice. In addition to the excess harm resulting from the wrong choice, there might be additional harm. The additional harm is the acting contrary to the way a rational being ought to be. Utilitarians may implicitly hold that there may be a moral principle that the way a rational being ought to be is to choose the most beneficial act. And that principle is in addition to their utilitarian principle. Might not utilitarians have a moral judgment and sense that feels repelled by and condemns whimsical or willful imprudence? If so, they have “more morality” than utilitarianism.

Moral Harm and Victimless Crimes

The purpose of this short post is to point out how the notion of moral harm can be used to clarify the notion of victimless crime. See posts for Dec. 27, 2013 and Jan. 4, 2014 for introduction of the notion of moral harm.

There are wrong acts in which no one suffers any harm beyond the occurrence of acts and conditions which are not as they morally ought to be. There is nothing for which anyone should receive reimbursement for medical treatment. If to be a victim is to suffer some
injury for which a person needs treatment, there are victimless wrongs where the wrong may not be a crime. If the harm suffered is moral harm only and the act is illegal there is a victimless crime. Of course, there are in fact victimless crimes in our several communities. The perpetrators of some victimless crimes quite clearly suffer moral harm. For instance, a pimp,in a municipality outlawing prostitution, who treats his girls well incurs moral harm as well as committing crimes.

Are there are victimless crimes where “crimes” means acts which should be illegal. I do not develop a social and political philosophy in my book Confronting Sexual Nihilism . So I do not address carefully questions about criminalizing sexual wrongs which are primarily, if not totally, moral wrongs. My bias is toward decriminalizing sexual immorality which harms no one physically or psychologically. However, I am not a libertarian who holds that we have no business trying to use the power of law to help us becoming morally better. I disagree with Kant who wrote “Woe to the legislator who chooses to use force to implement a constitution directed towards ethical ends.”

Expect subsequent posts on the clergy sexual abuse scandal which make me uncertain about a sharp demarcation between moral harm and other harms.

Moral Harm vs. Sense of Offense

This post relates to my Dec. 27 post in which I introduced the notion of moral harm. Moral harm is the status of the violator of a moral law which results simply by violating the moral law over and above any other consequences of the violation. Here I want to distinguish moral harm from any sense of offense, including guilt, resulting from what we judge to be an immoral act or way of being.
Our moral instincts also include a capacity to feel offended by acts and ways of being.

Our sense of offense is not the kind of moral harm about which I am talking. A sense of offense by itself is not a reliable guide to what is wrong. A moral instinct gives rise to the sense of offense and the normative thought that the act is wrong. The normative thought tells us what the moral harm is. The moral harm is acting contrary to the norm expressed in the instinct. The sense of offense provides a stimulus to think more carefully about what if anything is wrong. However, the sense of offense is not the harm because the sense of offense may diminish after repeated exposure to the wrong act while the instinctive judgment of wrong remains. The harm is derived from the judgment of wrong. An example illustrates distinguishing moral harm from moral offense.

The Target corporation has a “gay friendly” employment policy. Such a policy offends me but after due thought and deliberation I judge it to be morally permissible. Once when I was returning a defective camera the appearance of the courteous and competent young man who served me at a Target service desk highly offended me. Lip-stick and pinkish red fingernails made me avoid eye contact. Still, I do not think that his dressing as he did was immoral. I did not judge hastily by assigning high probability to a suspicion that he engaged in homosexual acts when off-duty. I judge that those acts are morally wrong. The moral judgment flashed through my mind without any sense of offense. Perhaps if I had to witness some of those acts, I would have a sense of offense. However, if I happen to witness the paradigmatically morally proper sexual intercourse of a recently married young couple, I might feel offended or negatively disturbed in some hard to describe way.