All posts by kielkopf1

About kielkopf1

I am Professor philosophy (emeritus) of the Ohio State University. I am blogging to promote a book on sexual moral philosophy and to develop further themes not fully developed in the book. I live in Columbus, Ohio with my wife Marge. My three sons: Charles P., Mark S. and Andrew J. live in Columbus. My daughter Judy lives in Rhode Island while my daughter Susan lives in Fresno, CA. My wife and I are daily Mass goers at our Catholic parish: Immaculate Conception. Marge is an active Lay Cistercian and I am very active in the works of the Society of St. Vincent dePaul.

Pope Francis’ Opens a Door to Sexual Nihilism

I take the liberty of quoting the entire article by Edward Pentin from the on-line edition of National Catholic Register,September 14, 2019. It is evidence that Pope Francis either endorses what I have called “The moral neutrality of sexuality” or is willing to have inconsistent sexual moral theologies taught as authentically Catholic. However, the moral neutrality of sexuality would be the sexual morality taught at the important the Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences.

I have pointed out that accepting the moral neutrality of sexuality undercuts traditional Catholic sexual morality. Note that accepting the moral neutrality of sexuality is tantamount to accepting that no sexual acts are intrinsically morally disordered.

Let us pray that the Holy Father knows how to preserve Catholic Christianity as a serious religion if it in principle accepts that under certain conditions, with certain intentions and high probability of beneficial consequences any sexual act is morally permissible. The moral neutrality of sexuality undercuts the religious outlook of Catholic Christianity which views human beings as fallen, needing redemption for our sins, and divine help to avoid sin.

There is nothing like the struggle to be chaste, eg., struggling against temptations to masturbation, to convince us that we are strongly tempted to sin, we cannot avoid sin by our own efforts and we need forgiveness for our sins. Performance of the corporeal works of mercy is necessary for salvation. But they are far easier to perform than, say, practicing natural family planning. At least that has been my personal experience

The Catholic Register article follows.

New JPII Institute Professors Question Church Orthodoxy on Homosexuality, Contraception

Father Maurizio Chiodi and Father Pier Davide Guenzi currently teach moral theology at the University of Northern Italy in Milan, and both are well known for their questioning of moral absolutes.

VATICAN CITY — The latest development in what is becoming increasingly viewed as both a purge and a revolution of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute is the hiring of two moral theologians whose views on homosexuality and contraception contradict the magisterium.
The new professors, Father Maurizio Chiodi and Father Pier Davide Guenzi, both moral theologians at the University of Northern Italy in Milan, will begin teaching at the Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences as part of its 2019-2020 curriculum announced this week.
Father Chiodi, whom Archbishop Paglia appointed as a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life in 2017, is to teach “Theological Ethics of Life” at the institute.
Father Guenzi is to lecture on the “Anthropology and Ethics of Birth.” Both professors, whose appointments follow highly contentious removals of long-serving lecturers in July, are well known for their questioning of moral absolutes.
In 2017, Father Chiodi gave a controversial Rome lecture on Humanae Vitae in which he used Chapter 8 of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia, to justify contraceptive use in some cases.
More recently, he gave an interview to the Italian bishops’ newspaper Avvenire in which he asserted that, while each homosexual person is called to chastity, “under certain conditions” and depending on circumstances, homosexual relationships can be “the most fruitful way” for same-sex attracted persons “to enjoy good relations.”
The interview appeared to suggest that Father Chiodi was open to considering homosexual acts as “objectively good,” according to bioethicist Tommaso Scandroglio, writing in the Italian Catholic daily La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana.
Father Guenzi expressed similar views to Father Chiodi in another recent interview with Avvenire. On the subject of whether homosexual acts could ever be licit, Father Guenzi equivocated, saying it depended on the “relationship, between the intention of the individual and the sense of their actions.” In this regard, he added, “they may be deemed ‘imperfect’ as other sexual behaviors are, even within the life of a stable heterosexual couple.”
With respect to homosexual relations generally, he drew on Amoris Laetitia, Chapter 8, to assert that every situation has to be discerned differently. In recent years “we have learned that the natural law must be continually rethought,” he said. “There are deep dynamics inherent to each human person which ask to be respected as inherent to the structure of anthropology.”
Fathers Chiodi and Guenzi are two of eight new lecturers to be hired by the institute this forthcoming academic year, all of them Italian, while other incumbent professors including Polish philosophy Prof. Stanislaw Grygiel, a close friend of Pope St. John Paul II, have been sidelined or given their marching orders.
Grygiel has said he believes the institute is being “destroyed” and that John Paul II’s anthropological teaching replaced by “sociological and psychological meanderings.”
Both Professors Chiodi and Guenzi are understood to be close associates of the institute’s grand chancellor, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, and effectively replace Msgr. Livio Melina, a former president of the institute who held the institute’s now-obsolete chair of fundamental moral theology, and moral theologian, Father José Noriega.
The removals in July of Msgr. Melina and Father Noriega, and the way they were dismissed, led to over 200 scholars worldwide, including well-known U.S. academics such as professor Robert George and professor. Scott Hahn, signing an open letter to Archbishop Paglia, and the institute’s president, Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri, asking they be reinstated.
The personnel changes come two years after Pope Francis issued a decree refounding the institute and giving it a new name.
The Register asked Archbishop Paglia whether he could give reasons for employing Fathers Chiodi and Guenzi to teach at the institute in light of their views on homosexuality and contraception. He has yet to reply.

End of Register article

I authored a book Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism Oklahoma City March 11, 2014. Sexual Nihilism is equivalent to the moral neutrality of sexuality. I argue that sexual nihilism leads to total moral nihilism which is frequently labeled moral relativism. See Book Web Page for more information about the book. Free copies can be obtained here by credit card by paying $3.75 for shipping and handling.

To receive a free book, send check of $3.75 for shipping and handling per copy. Send to:
Charles F. Kielkopf
45 W. Kenworth Rd.

Core Concepts of Authoritarian Morality

In this post, I sketch out three signigicant features of the moral authority in authoritarian moral thought. In passing, it is shown how authoritarian moral thought confronts Plato’s dilemma challenging authoritarian moral thought in his dialogue Euthyphro.

Previous posts brought out that moral thinking requires a concept of a being who commands the laws of morality, who cares that the laws of morality are obeyed, who commands that harm ought to result when moral laws are violated and who has the capability to have it brought about that the harm prescribed for violations of the moral laws actually occurs.

The issuing of prescriptions that harm ought to result from
violations of the moral laws can be called the wrath of the moral authority. Moral thought requires, further, a fear of disobeying the commands of this moral authority and incurring its wrath.. This fear of the moral authority can be called respect for the moral laws.

My goal is to draw out from my understanding of moral thought, the basic thoughts and feelings of all moral thinking. I appreciate that my goal seems an egotistical delusion. But reliance on personal analysis of the randomly assembled fragments of conversations and readings that happen to come my way is, I submit, a philosophers material for analysis. But for awhile I will limit my claims to what can be called, in light of my analyses, authoritarian moral thought.

In some later posts, I need to sketch out some account of my belief that individual people can uncover universal structural features of human thinking because the basic structure of any individual’s thinking is common to every individual person’s thought.

An important feature is transparency. The moral authority is a aware of all violations of moral laws. There is no way to evade this awareness of moral violations. I have been chided for having an allegedly childish concept of God as one who knows and judges all that we do. Actually I consider myself mature for holding and developing a concept of God as at least the all-knowing moral judge. Having a fully developed way of thinking about morality requires maturity.

Immutability is also an important feature of a moral authority. Recognition of immutability is especially helpful when we are challenged with the question based on Plato’s Euthyphro: Does the moral authority command it because it is right or is what the moral authority commands right simply because the authority commands it? If we answer “yes” to the first question, our answer presupposes that there is a standard of right and wrong apart form the moral authority. If so, the moral authority is not the foundation of our obligations; but the standard which it uses is the foundation. If we answer “yes” to the second question we are confronted with the objection that then torturing babies for amusement could be right if the authority commanded it.

What is immutability? If we accept a moral law we cannot imagine what it would be like for it to be changed. We cannot imagine the moral authority changing it. If we accept that the moral authority has condemned torturing babies we cannot conceive of it switching over to permitting it; much less commanding it. This is what it means to say that the moral authority has immutability with respect to laws. But the immutability is not total. The moral authority changes with respect to the ad hoc prescriptions for harm. The moral authority cancels them if the harm is inflicted or if the moral authority shows mercy.

In answer to the Euthyphro challenge, we should answer “yes” to the second question. We do not worry about claims that the authority could command acts and principles we already accept on its authority. We can not even think of the contrary to fact hypotheticals starting with, “Suppose the authority commanded X”, where X is something seriously in conflict with morality we have already accepted.

The full-fledged concept of God in the Judeo-Christian religions suffices for the concept of a moral authority. However, it is not necessary to have a concept of the Judeo-Christian God to have a concept of a moral authority. Concepts of lesser deities suffice. Monotheism is not required. The moral authority need not be the creator of all that is. The moral authority need not be all-powerful. The moral authority may be in a struggle with an evil deity as in Manicheanism or Zoroastrianism . The moral authority may have other beings exercise its wrath as did the Furies in Greek mythology. The moral authority need not have any compassion for wrong doers. It need never show mercy or forgiveness. It could demand that every prescription for harm as a result of wrong doing be carried out.

But in the authoritarian stance on morality, the moral authority has to have some type of mentality. It has to be regarded as in some way being aware of and caring about human affairs.

Total materialists can recognize no moral authority. And those who think that mentality is not fundamental in reality, do not think morality is fundamental in reality, if I am correct in thinking that serious moral thinking must be in the form of authoritarian morality.

Evaluation of Feser’s Perverted Faculty Argument

This evaluation of Edward Feser’s* argument for traditional Catholic sexual morality is not a digression from my series of posts on the conceptual elements of moral thinking. The main point of my evaluation is to bring out that in moral thinking “ought” is moral fundamental than “good.” Or: thinking of what we ought to do is more fundamental than thinking of good to be accomplished by what we do.In the terminology of moral theory, I am making a case that moral thought is fundamentally deontological as opposed to teleological. Correct moral theory brings out that choices are to be driven by duty as opposed to being drawn by a goal (telos) of what is good.

I might be evaluating Feser’s article by a standard different from what he was trying meet. Feser’s goal might have been simply to show the correct formulation of the argument in the tradition of Aristotelian-Thomistic moral theory. I am evaluating his argument on the basis of whether or not it is an effective argument for the correctness of the basic principle of Catholic sexual morality.

To be an effective argument for the basic principle of Catholic sexual morality, the final conclusion has to be a statement that we OUGHT to follow the restrictions of Catholic sexual morality. A frequent criticism of natural law moral arguments is that they infer from a claim that there IS a way a system operates to a claim that that is the way we OUGHT to use the system.

For example,

The function of sexual intercourse IS to unite a man and woman in a union for procreation an rearing of children.
Therefore, sexual intercourse OUGHT to be used for uniting a man and woman in a union for procreation and rearing of children.

Feser writes on p. 381
No such gap, and thus no “fallacy” of inferring normative conclusions from “purely factual” premises, can exist given an Aristotelian Thomistic essentialist and teleological conception of the world.

But I challenge his argument mainly because we should not rest our argument on a conception of the world without admitting that such an assumption is taking a stance and thereby conceding that our argument is contingent upon that stance being correct. Moreover, I think that even if he explicitly conceded that he is taking a stance, he still makes a logical leap from “is” to “ought”
if his intention is to show that people ought to conform to traditional sexual morality.

It is in the use of metaphysics to justify moral claims about what people in the natural world ought to do where there might be inferences from “is” to “ought.”

In claims about the natural world, from an Aristotelian perspective, there may be no significant factual statement which does not also entail an “ought” statement because significant factual claims about any natural individual, species or system at least implies a claim about a final cause for the individual, species or system. However, factual statements entail an “ought” because there is an implicit premise to the effect:

If at the metaphysical level we can characterize a being with an essence E as choosing goal G, then at the natural level we can say that a being with essence E ought to choose G.

Such a premise should be explicit when used.

Consider Feser’s argument for traditional sexual morality. I present his whole deductively argument because it is so elegant. With the discussion of the premises in the article it is a clear and rigorous argument from Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics that conformity to traditional Catholic sexual morality IS an essential feature of a rational animal. But I focus only on the first and last premise.

His first premise as I mark it explicitly places his argument in metaphysics and not in physics.

1. Where some faculty F is natural to a rational agent A and by nature exists for the sake of some end E (and exists in A precisely so that A might pursue E), then it is metaphysically impossible for it to be good for A to use F in a manner contrary to E.

2. But our sexual faculties exist by nature for the sake of procreative and
unitive ends, and exist in us precisely so that we might pursue those

3. So it is metaphysically impossible for it to be good for us to use those
faculties in a manner that is contrary to their procreative and unitive

4. But contraceptive acts, masturbatory acts, homosexual acts, and acts of
bestiality involve the use of our sexual faculties in a manner that is con
trary to their procreative and/or unitive ends.

5. So it is metaphysically impossible for it to be good for us to engage in
contraceptive acts, masturbatory acts, homosexual acts, or acts of

6. But it can be rational to engage in an act only if it is in some way good
for us and never when it frustrates the realization of the good.

His conclusion is still at the metaphysical level. It tells us what is true about the essence of a rational animal.

7. So it cannot be rational to engage in contraceptive acts, masturbatory acts, homosexual acts, or acts of bestiality.

I use his term “metaphysically impossible” to emphasize that the conclusion is still a metaphysical claim.

So it is metaphysically impossible to be a rational animal and to engage in contraceptive acts, masturbatory acts, homosexual acts, or acts of bestiality.

Unfortunately it is all too obvious that it is physically possible to be a rational animal and to engage in contraceptive acts, masturbatory acts, homosexual acts, or acts of bestiality.

How can there be such a disparity between metaphysical truth and physical truth? The quick answer is that we are not as we ought to be. We get distracted by goods which are not our true good. So we do not choose as a fully rational animal would choose. We ought to choose as a fully rational animal would choose. And here we have the “ought” following from an “is.”

We need a premise (8) along the lines of:

8. We ought to choose and act on the physical or natural level as a rational animal characterized at the metaphysical level

* See Ch. 16 “In defense of the perverted faculty argument”
by Edward Feser in Neo-Scholastic Essays St. Augustine Press, South Bend IN 2015,

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. In Ch. IV of my book I make a case for traditional Catholic sexual morality. If I were to prepare a 2nd edition of my book I would think of using Feser’s argument because I think it is persuasive. I would only add that I am explicitly assuming a stance and I do need to add an “ought” premise. Free copies can be obtained here by credit card by paying $3.75 for shipping and handling.

To receive a free book, send check of $3.75 for shipping and handling per copy. Send to:
Charles F. Kielkopf
45 W. Kenworth Rd.

Respect For the Moral Law

In my normative theory of moral harm, I first proposed that moral harm is an ad hoc prescription that harm ought to occur because of a violation of a moral law. For instance, if the moral law is “Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor” and a man perjurers himself by falsely accusing his neighbor of theft, the ad hoc moral prescription is “Harm ought to happen because of this violation.”

Throughout my posts on moral harm, I have usually allowed the ad hoc proposals to be specified in more detail as “Harm ought to happen to perpetrators and accomplices in some proportion to the nature of the violation.” To specify that the harm be to perpetrators etc., helps make my theory closer to common sense.

Nonetheless, once harm is required for violation of a moral law, it remains to ask “For whom?” and “How much?” However, in this post I do not explore the questions of “To whom?” and “How much?” So, feel free to understand these ad hoc prescriptions for harm as demanding punishment to fit the crime for perpetrators. When I discuss collective guilt, inherited guilt and substitutionary atonement it is useful to bring out the separation of the issues of “to whom?” and “how much?”

Here I want to explore the significant enhancement of the theory made in the previous post. The enhancement is that genuine moral thought requires a type of fear. The ad hoc prescription cannot be interpreted simply as a normative statement that harm ought to be done for the violation. As I put it at the end of the previous post on wrath of God.

The major “take-away” from this post is that the prescription in morality that harm ought to happen upon violation of a moral law cannot be regarded as simply the statement of a prescription for harm. It needs to be understood as the expression of a being offended by the violation of a moral law, with the authority to command the harm threatened by the moral law and some capability to bring about this prescribed harm.

Similarly, the basic moral laws are to be understood as the actual commands of a being with the authority to issue the commands. Moral laws are not to be understood as primarily statements of the moral law.

The suggestion that moral laws are primarily statements of what ought and ought not be suggests a distorted picture of morality. It suggests that experiencing what is required by morality is obtained by consulting some moral law book to learn what is required. Now the distortion is not the suggestion of a immaterial moral law book. The distortion is the suggestion that experiencing the moral law is learning the fact that such-and-such IS written in the book. OUGHT cannot be based merely on what IS; not even what is commanded. An ought- an obligation- must be experienced as the reception of a command.

I admit that the suggestion of hearing a command from an immaterial moral authority is no clearer than the suggestion of reading a statement of a moral law in the immaterial law book of an immaterial moral authority. But the analogy to hearing a command corresponds better to the experience of being obligated than to reading a statement of the law.

Unfortunately, any serious discussion of the basic moral concepts will come in conflict with a dominant bias that there is nothing over and above that which can be investigated by the methods of natural science.

Let us return to the main question of this post. Amongst the constellation of concepts for moral thought we have uncovered that in authentic moral thought there is a concept of a type of fear. What is this fear? Like almost all concepts this concept of fearing to violate a moral law is a mixture of cognitive and emotional components: a feeling structured by thoughts. (Sometimes I like to call these thought/feeling complexes attitudes.) There is an emotion of fear but it is structured by thoughts about the moral commands. It’s a fear of the ability and willingness of the moral authority to have the harm which ought to occur upon violation of the law to actually occur. There is this fear about both violating the general moral laws and not having the ad hoc prescriptions for harm not being fulfilled.

I think we can call this fear of violating a moral law RESPECT for the moral law.

(I confess to being influence in selection of this English term for his German term Achtung as the concept characterizing the attitude of genuine moral thought towards moral laws. But I make no pretense of interpreting Kant.)

Why use “respect” which suggests more thought than feeling?

Moral laws are too frequently violated to suggest that people live in terror of the moral authority. Those who try to follow moral laws could be characterized as having a thoughtful fear. Even those of us who think moral laws are commands of God and violations provoke the wrath of God, I think could be characterized by having respect for the wrath of God. We do not expect God to send down fire and brimstone at, say, the many sexual sins. We think that God is offended by what goes on in bathhouses and believe that harm is and will be occurring because of what goes on. But we do not expect anything dramatic to happen. I am personally reluctant to classify the AIDs epidemic as God’s wrath blazing. But maybe I should.

But most of all it must be emphasized that fear of violations of moral laws and prescriptions is not so strong that it overwhelms our free will. Despite fear of violating moral laws, we can, and do, choose to violate them. Yet we can never choose to violate a moral law and have it be a correct choice. “Respect” is a good term for an attitude towards a rule that we know we can violate but can never be right in violating it.

Moral Harm as The Wrath of God

In my previous posts on moral harm, morality has been discussed from a secular perspective. There was no mention of God or divine beings who cared about human morality; let alone created it. I did not take this secular perspective because I do not believe that God cares that humans follow the morality He gives us. I take the secular approach because I want to find the simplest or most basic concepts in our moral thinking. Thinking of a violation of a moral law as simply a violation of a law is simpler than thinking of the violation of a law commanded by God. Finding the simplest concepts in our moral thought enables us to recognize its structure. Recognizing the structure of our moral thinking increases our understanding of what we are thinking when we think morally.

In this post, I want to introduce the concept of moral laws as commands of God. Looking at moral laws as divine commands enables us to think of violations of moral laws as sins. Previously, I proposed from the secular perspective,Revision of Normative Theory of Moral Harm, that moral harm is the addition to morality of a negative prescription that harm ought to be done because of the violation. This negative prescription was characterized as dirt or junk in moral thought because it was something out of place in moral thought. This way of characterizing moral harm makes moral harm something formal or even verbal. However, with moral thought personalized as the thought of God on how humans ought to behave, the prescription that harm ought to occur because of the violation is not simply words. The prescription that harm ought to occur is God’s thought. A thought of God that harm ought to occur because of a violation of one of His laws can be fairly characterized as the wrath of God.

So from a religious perspective common in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the moral harm produced by simply violating a moral law, is the thought of God that now some harm ought to occur to humans – usually the perpetrator.

Unless God relents what He thinks ought to occur will occur. So, when we add a religious perspective, moral harm seems much, much more harmful than when described merely in secular terms.

The major “take-away” from this post is that the prescription in morality that harm ought to happen upon violation of a moral law cannot be regarded as simply the statement of a prescription for harm. It needs to be understood as the expression of a being offended by the violation of a moral law, with the authority to command the harm threatened by the moral law and some capability to bring about this prescribed harm

Moral Harm vs. Moral Injury

I need to distinguish the concept of moral harm from the concept of moral injury. Moral harm is a concept I have introduced to connect a collection of concepts used in discussing morality. These are concepts such as retribution, atonement, collective guilt and penance. The concept of moral harm is offered as a concept to be used in characterizing what morality is – a concept for use in moral theory.

Moral injury is a concept introduced into clinical psychology to discuss the damage done to a person’s moral thought and sentiments after experiencing the stress of situations strongly violating the person’s moral beliefs and sentiments.

“Moral injury refers to an injury to an individual’s moral conscience resulting from an act of perceived moral transgression which produces profound emotional guilt and shame, and in some cases also a sense of betrayal, anger and profound ‘moral disorientation’. The concept of moral injury emphasizes the psychological, social, cultural, and spiritual aspects of trauma. Distinct from pathology, moral injury is a normal human response to an abnormal traumatic event. ”
Continue reading Moral Injury. for more details.

Usually, morally wrong acts cause harm in the natural world: physical or psychological harm. Moral injury is one of many kinds of natural harm which are caused by immoral acts. Moral injury is damage done to individuals by immoral acts. In contrast, moral harm is damage done to human morality simply by the violation of a moral law.

Two examples may illustrate the difference between moral harm and moral injury.

A young soldier has grown to admire the character of his platoon leader during training. This sergeant has become his model of how a man ought to be. He is a good father and husband as well as being a disciplined soldier. However, under combat conditions this sergeant “goes rogue.” He puts bullets into the heads of two prisoners after interrogation and on one occasion shot a woman going to a well because he said she was going to place a bomb in it.The sergeant lets it be known that anyone who reports him might not live long. Besides the physical damage this sergeant inflicts on his victims he also inflicts psychological harm on the young soldier who admired him. The young soldier becomes disorientated in his moral thinking. How could a good man be a killer?

Now the moral harm brought about by the sergeant’s egregious violations of the moral law “Thou shalt not kill” is addition to morality of a negative prescription that ought not be in morality. The prescription is that harm ought to occur to the killer. Morality is burdened with this negative prescription until it is cleaned up by the suffering of harm by the murderous sergeant.

For another example, consider the case of a fourteen year old Catholic boy who is struggling hard not to become a porn seeking masturbator. He recognizes the moral prohibition against intentionally seeking an orgasm outside coitus with a woman to whom he is committed for life. This boy seeks the advice of a priest. After several sessions with this priest, in some of which the priest has viewed pornography with him under the pretext of resisting temptation, there was a session in which they performing mutual fellatio. The boy left in shame and horror. He was painfully confused by sexual impulses and thoughts. Losing direction about what is right and wrong sexually is painful because you are totally under pressure from others on what you can and cannot do; and that direction from the outside, as opposed to inner direction, is totally ambiguous. Destruction of a sense of sexual inner direction along with losing hope in help from religion is a moral injury the priest inflicted upon the boy.

When we talk of sexual abuse, I propose that we restrict it to cases in which there was moral injury inflicted on one of the parties. I doubt that my proposal will be followed.

In this case of the priest and the boy, the moral harm is the damage done to morality by the priest violating the moral law against seeking orgasms outside marriage is a negative addition to morality of the prescription that harm ought to befall him. Our morality will be cluttered up with this negative prescription until some appropriate harm befalls this priest – until justice is done.

If the priest dies before any harm happens to him because of his seduction of the boy, many will lament that justice will never get done in this case. That failure to have justice done will remain forever in our morality as a failure to have a prescription fulfilled.

My notion of moral harm may not be a thought that people want to use explicitly. Indeed I do not know whether anyone has used it before. However, using it does help us understand some moral concepts we do use such as just illustrated: justice being done.

Compassion Undercuts Morality

This brief post draws a corollary from the theme of my previous post You Can’t Have Morality and Deny That There Is Moral Harm. in that post I pointed out that it is irrational to claim “X ought not be done but no one ought to suffer harm if X is done.”

Here I call “Full compassion” a belief and attitude that no one ought ever suffer harm. Of course, full compassion is not ordinary compassion for some individual we see suffering. So-called full compassion requires reflection. However, I submit that it is a widely held attitude. It does not require some bizarre philosophy to develop a belief that we ought to prevent all harm and if that is not possible we ought to alleviate harm as much as we can. But thinking that we ought to struggle to prevent or alleviate all harm is incompatible with seriously thinking that some acts are morally wrong.

Acceptance of morality requires accepting some “hardness of heart.” To be moral we have to be prepared to let some harm happen or even on occasion to inflict harm!

You Can’t Have Morality and Deny that There is Moral Harm

The goal of my exploration of a concept of moral harm is not development of a theory of punishment ; let alone a theory of retributive punishment.

I offered a post The Virtue of Taking Retribution in which my main goal was to show that the notion of moral harm could be used to articulate a concept of punishment as an effort to repair moral harm. Punishment understood as infliction of harm to repair moral harm is retribution.

I admitted that the punishment could have goals such as deterrence, re-education and prevention which all in some way harm the perpetrator. However, the initiation of harm on a perpetrator needed to be for retribution and the amount of harm from deterrence etc., had to be guided in some way by the thought of proper retribution. This discussion was too sketchy to be offered as a theory. It only showed a link between the concept of moral harm and concepts used in developing theories of punishment.

If I am developing any theory, it is a theory that the notion I am articulating as moral harm represents a fundamental notion in human moral thinking. My remarks on punishment were offered primarily to support my theory about the fundamental role of the concept of moral harm in our web of moral concepts. Helping make sense of the notion of retributive punishment provides evidence for the notion of moral harm as fundamental.

Here I want to show that it is inconsistent to make a moral judgment and deny that there is moral harm. I hope that simply reading the claims alleged to be inconsistent will
convince readers of the claims being an assertion along with a rejection of what is asserted.

I consider what I think are the two levels of moral imperatives: Second person and first person.

Second person moral judgments are standard. The judgments are made that a plurality, usually everyone, ought not do such-and-such.
It is inconsistent to assert: X ought not be done but nothing harmful ought to happen if X is done.

For those who might develop a moral theory that each individual had to decide for a particular situation what he ought to do, it is still inconsistent to assert: I ought not do X but nothing harmful ought to happen if I do X.

Revision of the Normative Theory of Moral Harm

The normative theory of moral harm needs revision. The main result of this post will be some working definitions, based on he revised theory, to be elaborated in subsequent posts.*

If interested see July 5, 2019 version Moral Harm is Moral Judgment.

My normative theory proposed that the moral harm of violating a moral law is the harm which ought to occur because of the violation. As I try to articulate a notion of moral harm, my greatest dissatisfaction with my own normative theory is that according to the theory moral harm is essentially potential and only accidentally actual. This is because whether the harm which ought to occur ever actually occurs is contingent upon natural causation from facts that people think about the violation, e.g. punishment, or natural consequences, e.g. AIDS following upon homosexual activity.

Consider a case of a detective who presents false evidence to convict a man of a murder to ease his work-load. Assume the crime is a killing during a fight in a homeless camp. Suppose also that the man on trial was too intoxicated to know whether or not he had committed the crime. Now on my normative theory the moral harm of a perjury is the harm a perjurer ought to suffer. But if the perjurer gets away with his lie and feels no remorse for his crime no pain which ought to occur because of the violation occurs. The poor wretch languishing in prison is suffering because of the violation of the eighth commandment; not the harm that ought to occur if the eighth commandment is violated.

So I have to go back to the post in which I developed my normative theory of moral harm. In that post I confronted my self with a dilemma. The dilemma emerged when I maintained that over-and-above the harm of any act violating a moral law the mere violation of the moral law was harmful. But what is that harm of merely violating the law? The dilemma is quoted below.

1] am faced with a dilemma between inventing some type of special harm which is necessarily connected with mere violation of a moral law or claiming that some natural harm always results from the mere fact that a moral law is violated.
2]If I invent some special non-natural type of harm such as creating disharmony in the moral order or even offending God, I make claims which I cannot justify since I want to justify my claims about morality on natural grounds.
3]If I claim that some natural harm, such as law abiding diminishes, situations can be invented as Pinker did with Julie and Mark, that shows the harm does not always occur.

I developed my normative theory of moral harm by rejecting [1] . I argued that the harm which ought to follow upon violation of a moral law was natural harm to human beings. However, the natural harm which ought to follow violation of a law frequently never actually occurs.

To revise my theory I reject [2].

I specify a subject – an entity- which necessarily suffers a wound when a moral law is violated. I bring out that what happens to this entity is rightly called harm even if no harm to the mind and body of any human being. While doing these two things I hope to indicate that this subject and its harm are not defenseless phantasies of a philosopher.
Human morality is harmed by any intentional violation of a moral law. There is a human morality even if there are conflicts within it. You can believe in the reality of human morality even if you think that it has been only a product of human thinking.

Human morality is harmed in two ways by violation of a moral law. First it puts junk moral laws into human morality. (Junk is stuff which does not belong.) This junk morality is made up of the new moral prescriptions specifying that harm for humans ought to occur. This is junk in moral thought because moral thought is for promotion of good.; not harm. So, my previous theory that moral harm is the harm which ought to follow upon violation of a moral law is modified to maintain:

Moral harm is the occurrence in human moral thought of a prescription that harm ought to occur because of a violation along with a stress in morality’s authority until the harm which ought to occur upon violation of a moral law actually occurs.

In the case of the lying detective human morality has been burdened with a prescription that some harm ought to befall him and the tension that disobedience to the moral law has not been rectified. Some harm happening to this detective would fulfill, and thereby eliminate, the prescription that he ought to suffer harm and return morality, at least with respect to this case, free from tension of losing its authority.

Upon this definition of moral harm, some definitions are proposed for discussion in subsequent posts

Natural moral harm is the harm which ought to be a consequence of violation of a moral law. Upon violation of a moral law a prescription for natural moral harm necessarily occurs in human morality but it is contingent upon circumstances in the natural world whether or not natural moral harm occurs.

Moral purification for a violation is the removal of moral harm of the violation from morality by the occurrence of the natural moral harm specified by the moral law. Purification removes the junk prescription requiring harm and eliminates the stress in morality of having its threat unexecuted

Moral punishment of a violator of a moral law is the intentional infliction on a violator of what is believed to be the natural moral harm for the violation.

Retribution for a violation is moral purification for a violation by punishment.

Retributive justice is the theory and practice of determining and applying proper punishments.

Penance for a violation is moral purification by a perpetrator by self inflicted harm.

I do not want any blog post to become a treatise although my series of posts on moral harm are steps towards treatise. So, let these definitions suffice for now.

* In conclusion, please note that the revision of the normative theory of moral harm does not affect the value of the moral harm syllogism for attacking an alleged moral principle. See Use of Moral Harm Syllogism in Making Gay OK.

Using the Moral Harm Syllogism to Make Gay OK

This post’s title acknowledges Robert Reilly’s important book*
In this post, I use the moral harm syllogism to sketch out what could have been implicitly the strategy for mis-leading people to abandon a belief that homosexual acts are immoral.
The moral harm syllogism is the following valid pattern of reasoning. See also The Moral Harm Syllogism.

Major premise: If X is morally forbidden, then harm ought to follow upon performance of X
Minor premise: But seriously no harm ought to result upon the performance of X.
So, when thinking seriously, we should not hold that X is morally forbidden.

The strategy for undercutting a belief in the immorality of a practice is to persuade a critical mass of people to assert the minor premises.
Or to put it another way:

When progressives make an effective case that a practice ought no longer be considered immoral they show that harm ought not follow upon exercise of the practice instead of making a factual case that harm does not follow upon exercise of the practice.

The tactics for implementing this strategy can be broken down into four movements. Concomitant with all these tactical maneuvers is a program of sympathetically portraying practitioners of the allegedly immoral practice so that we tend to wish them no harm.

A very powerful tactic is de-criminalization. De-criminalization says we ought not bring about harm through legal punishment. Of course, there is the platitude “just because it is legal does not make it right.” But the platitude ignores the fact of how powerful a policy of saying that we ought not inflict harm through our legal system is in fostering a belief that we ought not inflict harm at all.

Personally, though, even if I strongly supported de-criminalization of homosexual activity, I still thought homosexual behavior was immoral.

Legality does not wipe out all forms of punishment because there are still many social mechanisms for making people suffer for their behavior. Anti-discrimination laws forbid informal social punishments.

Personally, I oppose anti-discrimination laws with respect to sexual orientation. But for the most part I do not want there to be discrimination unless the discrimination is used to discourage promotion of homosexuality. Keep it in the closet and follow the “Don’t ask, don’t tell “ policy. So, since I think that homosexuals ought to suffer the personal discomfort of marginalization, I do not agree with a minor premise for the moral harm syllogism “Seriously, no harm ought to follow upon practice of homosexual acts.”

However, with sympathetic portrayal of homosexuals in the media, promotion of anti-discrimination legislations and gay-pride events, marginalization is vanishing. A single person, or just a few, cannot marginalize a group. Not even the Catholic Church is large enough to marginalize homosexuals in our society. Perhaps, then the question of whether social harm ought to occur vanishes because there is no social harm.

Let me add, though, that I feel sorry for people living in a house flying a rainbow flag. I think that the sense of self one must have to accept oneself as homosexual could be a pain which is some, or all , of the harm which ought to befall someone for homosexual practice. As I argued in my book**, if I accepted homosexuality in myself, I would suffer the despair of nihilism.

Another way of thinking that harm ought to follow upon practices considered immoral is to believe that in due course nature will bring about harm such as disease. Some might have thought that the AIDS epidemic was what ought to have come about and that we should have let it run its course. But there is a tactic which could be called the “therapeutic stance.” On this stance, we ought to minimize or eliminate all harm arising from natural causes. Since the therapeutic stance is widely adopted, the AIDS epidemic became a significant catalyst for leading us to think that harm ought not be resulting from homosexual activity.

Personally, I was ambivalent about trying to wipe out the AIDS epidemic. Nonetheless I made financial contributions to research to find causes and cures.

A fourth tactic is to lead people to think that it is positively harmful to try to correct homosexual behavior. We ought not even think that homosexuals ought to suffer the pain of trying to change their sexual orientation. Making reparative treatment illegal is a bit stronger than anti-discrimination legislation.

*Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything Robert Reilly, Ignatius Press, 2014

**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. See pp. 72ff. for discussion of moral harm. Free copies can be obtained here by credit card by paying $3.75 for shipping and handling.

To receive a free book, send check of $3.75 for shipping and handling per copy. Send to:
Charles F. Kielkopf
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