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.


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