Category Archives: Moral Harm and Moral Worth

Moral Harm, Retributive Punishment, Punitive Harm and Contrition

In my book on sexual morality*, I confronted Pinker’s example of coitus between a brother and sister which had, as the imaginary cases for moral philosophy may stipulate, absolutely no harmful consequences in nature. I propose that there is a type of harm over and above natural harm which is specifically a moral harm. Without much development of the notion, I simply proposed that moral harm is the harm done merely by disobedience to a moral law. In my book, I left this notion of moral harm lie in the background of my argument for traditional sexual morality. My case was mainly that the harm of setting aside the rules of traditional sexual morality was a sense of lawlessness and ultimately a sense that life is pointless, viz., nihilism.

After publication, I realized that the argument of my book needed to be strengthened by clarification and justification of moral harm as the harm of simply disobeying a moral law. I also have religious or theological concerns about understanding the fundamental Christian thesis that Christ suffered and died for our sins. In my religious musings I reached a stage at which I realized that I could not hope to understand doctrines about our redemption by Christ unless, I understood retributive punishment. A breakthrough in my thinking about the need for redemption was that retributive punishment is repair of moral harm.

The proposal that retributive punishment is repair of moral harm demands specification of moral harm as something which can be repaired. What goes on in the violation of a moral law which is something which can be repaired? I conjectured that in violation of a moral norm, moral rule, the violator adds a new moral norm to morality. This new moral norm is ad hoc for this violation. The ad hoc moral norm specifies that some harm ought to be done. Let us call this harm which ought to be done “punitive harm.”A violation of a moral rule does reflect a choice that the good aimed at by the rule ought to be inhibited. Inhibition of good is harm. So, moral harm is a bad moral norm, i.e., a norm with the force of morality but contrary to the goal of morality. This ad hoc norm with the force of a genuine moral norm is damage or dirt in morality. This damage to morality can be repaired by fulfilling the ad hoc moral norm and thereby removing it from morality. Doing the punitive harm cleanses morality from the ad hoc moral rule. Doing the punitive harm required by the ad hoc rule is retributive punishment. So, retributive punishment cleanses morality from the ad hoc moral rules established by choices to set aside some basic human goods.

Since I am introducing “punitive harm” in this post, it is helpful to emphasize its difference  from moral harm. Moral harm is damage done to morality by a choice to disobey a moral law.  Nothing in the physical or mental life of individual human beings is damaged. No broken bones, torn flesh or mental anguish are components of moral harm. Moral harm is the introduction of improper moral imperatives into morality. It is, I hate to say it, theoretical damage.  Moral harm is not painful. Punitive harm is not theoretical.  Puntive harm is breaking bones, tearing flesh and production of mental anguish to cleanse morality from the improper moral imperatives. Punitive harm is the actual physical and mental harm produced by retributive punishment.  Punitive harm is painful.

Besides trying to understand moral harm and retributive punishment, I want to understand a thought that abortion is always a grievous wrong despite the fact that it frequently can be justified by utilitarian considerations. What is it like to have sorrow simply over the breaking of a moral law that innocent human life should not be directly terminated? This question led me to the proposal there might be an analogue to the Catholic notion of perfect contrition. Perfection contrition is sorrow over simply disobeying God. So, perhaps, the genuine moral conviction that abortion is wrong is sorrow over simply disobeying a moral law against it. This would be sorrow over moral harm. This sorrow over moral harm of abortion might be sorrow over having the ad hoc moral laws requiring punitive harm in morality. But when I pay attention to my own sentiments, my sorrow over abortion is sorrow for the punitive harm of the mental anguish which I believe the woman who has her child aborted ought to suffer.

These notions of moral harm, punitive harm, retributive punishment and contrition are crucial in my case that acceptance of the sexual revolution is incompatible with a genuine Christian religion.

  • Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism, Tulsa 2014. A free copy of this book is available at

Love of God is Essentially Love of Neighbor

The formula “Loving God is Loving What God Loves “ answers questions about the relation between morality and benevolence. There are two types of questions.

1. Does doing it because it is right diminish, if not eliminate, doing it because it is good for the other?

2. Is doing it only because it is good for the other amoral- without moral worth?*

The answer to the first question is No. Doing it because it is right is doing it because you love what God loves. God loves the good of the other. So, doing it because it is right is doing it for the good of the other.

An abstract answer requires an example.

Once I had an assignment as a Vincentian – a member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. I was to be a companion with Edward who was battling depression and other behaviorial health issues. I talked with him over coffee except that he wouldn’t drink coffee. We attended a few movies, sports events, some political meetings. I visited him when he was hospitablized in behaviorial medicine wards. On the whole, I found time with him dissagreeable. I could tell that he found me agreeable because I accepted his dislike of so many things and complaints. Over the years I slowly disengaged myself from him because he did connect with a few more people and I stopped driving. After not hearing from him for about three years, there was a message on my phone that Edward called. I did not want to return the call. I was going to ignore the call. Then I thought that I ought to return the call. By being his companion for quite awhile, I made some comitment to give him attention. That was my thought about morality.

With my moral thought, I intended to call Edward. Most likely, I would have called sooner or later. However, I started to think about Edward and “put myself in his place” to imagine how he might be hurt by ignoring the call but have positive feelings if I returned the call. So, for Edward’s good I made the call immediately. It turned out to be a pleasant call. Edward wanted to update me on his improved current status. I returned the call that I thought I ought to make for Edward’s good.

This example suggests another question about the role of morality and benevolence.

Edward might have been humiliated if he realized that I returned his call because I thought that I ought to and that it was for his good. He might think that I didn’t do it for him. Morality and what is good for him are not who he is. I slighted him.

The question intermediate between the two above could be posed as follows.

May doing it because it is right and for the good of the other fail to do it for the other?

The answer is clearly Yes. In personal relations, especially romantic love, there is a way of interacting which could be called doing it simply for that other person. Willing it simply for the other is a different type of love than willing it for the good of the other.

But simply doing it for someone without contraints of morality and consideration for the good of the other can be very destructive for oneself, the other and society. Think of a wife who enables her husband to contiue in substance abuse simply because he claims that if she loves him, she will give the money he despartely wants now. Think of a man’s mistress who demands that he kill his wife if he loves her.

I am not denying the reality and value of the personal relationship of acting simply for the other. When contrained by morality and consideration of the basic human goods, it is a component of friendship.

The answer to (2) above depends upon the kind of good being provided.

If it is a basic human good** or a direct means to a basic human good, there is a moral obligation to promote those goods and never intentionally inhibit them. So, doing it because it is a basic good for the other is inevitably doing what you ought to do and thereby is a moral action, i.e., has moral worth.

For instance, parents want to promote the health and knowledge of their children. That is what they ought to do.

If the good is amoral such as some condition or object the other desires, doing it to satisfy the other may well be amoral but of value for making life agreeable. It has no moral worth in the sense of being neither right nor wrong. Classing an act as amoral is not classing it as immoral. Most of what we do in daily life is amoral.

For instance, parents enjoy satisfying desires of their children. For the most part, that is just acting naturally.

Of course, if what the other desires is only good in so far as it is something he desires, providing that good has negative moral worth; it is wrong. The enabling wife and man manipulated by his evil mistress are examples of this type of wrongdoing.

So, morality and love harmonize

* I am obviously concerned with a controversy about Kantian morality. But I am not here concerened with Kantian exegesis. I tried Kantian exegesis in my book pp. 178ff. Contronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexuality as an antidote to nihilism. Tulsa OK, 2014
A copy of my book is available without cost by emailing

** I use a modified version of New Natural Law morality. The New Natural Law view holds that practical reason, that is, is reason oriented towards action, grasps as self-evidently desirable a number of basic goods. These goods, which are described as constitutive aspects of genuine human flourishing, include life and health; knowledge and aesthetic experience; skilled work and play; friendship; marriage; harmony with God, and harmony among a person’s judgments, choices, feelings, and behavior. From an essay by Christopher Tollefsen on The New Natural Law Theory .

Is Perfect Contrition Possible?

I closed my previous post Why Do I Care About Abortion? with a promise to connect my notion of moral harm with caring about it. However, I did not want to reduce the concern to an emotional state; it had to be a distinctly moral sentiment. Feeling a need for repentance or deserving pain as punishment might be marks of a distinctively moral sentiment. In this post, I begin to characterize the problem of finding a sentiment of sorrow about moral harm.

It is a deep problem which might, unfortunately, be raised by asking “Why be moral?” I write “unfortunately” because the question “Why be moral?” was dismissed in the early 20th century* as the trivial question “Why ought I do what I ought to do?” The question is at least “Why should I care about a moral law being violated by me or someone else?” Even if I have conceptually characterized the moral harm of violation of a moral law as willing that harm ought to be done, there remains the question of why care about this ad hoc norm that some harm ought to be done.

The question may be a mistake in the sense that there is no answer because there is no sentiment of regret conceptually and emotionally uniquely brought about by and directed to violation of a moral law. Such a sentiment may be illusory. However, I move forward under an assumption that the nature of the sorrow about violation of moral laws is only elusive; not illusive.

I began by recollecting my childhood efforts to capture this elusive sentiment. Then I wondered. Now, I explicitly ask “How is perfect contrition possible?” When I was seven or eight preparing for my First Confession in the second grade of Nativity Catholic school in St. Paul, Minnesota, I memorized an Act of Contrition which I would recite before the priest gave me Absolution for the sins I confessed. I remember and still recite in confession:

“ Oh, my God, I am heartly sorry for having offended you because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell. But most of all because they offend you, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve with the help of your grace to confess my sins, do penance, and amend my life. Amen”

We were taught that contrition is bipartite. First, there is the imperfect contrition of sorrow about losing heaven and suffering the pains of hell. Second, there is the perfect contrition expressed as sorrow about offending God who is deserves all of my love. I definitely had imperfection contrition. I worried about lying in the confessional id I said that I cared about offending God; let alone caring most of all about offending God.

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet wisely taught that if we did not feel perfect contrition, our expression of it meant that we were praying that we could get as we continued to practice our faith. If we could attain perfect contrition all our sins would be forgiven without Absolution. However, we should plan on going to confession throughout our lives because we could never be certain that we felt perfect contrition. I recall one suggestion in discussion was that after death, in purgatory, those of us who did not become saints would learn to have perfect contrition. We would never get to heaven without perfect contrition!

I cannot help but note that for me memorization and study of the Baltimore Catechism was never rote memorization. Catechism study was my introduction to philosophy.

In the context, where Divine Command morality is taken seriously, the question about the special sorrow for violation of moral laws can be expressed as “What is it like to feel sorrow about offending God?” and how is it possible to have such sorrow in this life. If perfect contrition is only possible in purgatory, it is an illusion, at least for moral theologians in this life. If saints attain it, it is not an illusion. But we have to understand sainthood to attain some sense of what it is.

In any event, characterizing the question about the unique sorrow over violation of moral as a question about the possibility of perfect contrition is a start towards appreciating what we are trying to understand moral harm to be. Subsequent posts bring out that holding a divine command morality does not raise a problem only for morality so understood. Secular understandings of morality still need an understanding of repentance for moral violations for which the penitents dread no harm to themselves. Think of middle-class Americans who feel deep sorrow for violation of moral laws inflicting injustices on ancestors of say, contemporary Indigenous peoples. What is the harm we now regret to what do we offer apologies?

* H.A. Prichard, “Does Moral Philosophy Rest on a Mistake?” Mind (Jan. 1912)

Suicide is a Choice that People Ought to be Killed

I dread a prospect of dying slowly with Alzheimer’s far more than I fear dying from COVID-19 flu. If I were diagnosed with onset of Alzheimer’s I would be seriously tempted to kill myself or have physician assisted suicide if legal.

Suppose that I have received such a diagnosis. Suppose also that I, along with a close group of family and friends, have planned the taking of my life so that the dispiriting effects of my suicide on a much broader group of family and friends have been eliminated or greatly reduced. In short, suppose that utilitarian considerations show that my suicide is best for satisfying the human inclinations of all concerned. The actual harm done to people by my suicide would be less than the actual harm done to people by my undergoing a long slow dying with Alzheimer’s.

Suppose that there is a moral law forbidding suicide. I have argued for such a moral law.Immorality of Suicide. But the topic of this post is not to argue for a moral law prohibiting suicide. The topic of this post is to characterize the moral harm produced by violating the moral law prohibiting suicide.

In this situation in which I am tempted to take my life, the moral authority’s will is that I choose not to take my life to be in conformity with its will that life not be taken. But the moral authority has left a freewill gap in its legislation whereby I can choose to will as it wills for the situation or choose to will against it. I will against the moral authority by willing that in this case what ought to be done is the taking of a life. The moral harm of breaking the moral law is this new norm that a life ought to be taken. The new norm is that some human life ought to be taken. This new norm is “dirt” in the moral order; it is out of place in the moral order which is a system of norms.

To review: In the temptation to violate the moral law “No life ought to be taken” I had the choice to ratify that law by setting aside the temptation to commit suicide or I had the choice to create my own norm on what ought to be done in opposition to the authority’s norm on what ought to be done. My norm opposing the moral authority’s is “Some life ought to be taken.”*

So the moral harm of my committing suicide is a moral norm that some human life ought to be taken. My suicide corrupts the moral order with this perverse norm. This norm can be removed from the moral order only by it being carried out or by the moral authority erasing it by forgiveness through its mercy. The carrying out of the norm prescribing death would be retributive punishment.

* In standard deontic logics, the contradictory of “No life ought to be taken” is “Some life may be taken.” However, when an agent willfully defies a moral law, the agent is willing more than a simple rejection of the law. The agent is willing that this act in defiance of the law is what I ought to do.

Who Chooses that Humans Ought to be Harmed?

If a person willfully chooses to disobey a moral law, the choice results in a new ad hoc prescription in the moral order that some harm to humans ought to occur. I have written of these norms prescribing harm as sanctions for moral laws. Even if only confusedly understood, an agent who willfully violates a moral law recognizes that there are negative consequences for the choice to disobey. My moral theory is based on a thesis that the negative consequences are the ad hoc norms prescribing that there be some human harm.

These prescriptions for harm are evil items in the moral order. They lack what is crucial for being in the moral order. The primary items in the moral order are the laws of the moral authority which aim at human good and there being no harm where harm is lack of some human good. These prescriptions for harm lack aiming at human good.

What is the source of evil in the moral order? Are the prescriptions for harm issued by the moral authority or are they issued by the disobedient agent?

If issued by the moral authority, the moral authority would not be perfectly good for it would have at least the potential for production of evil always within it. To be perfectly good the moral authority needs to issue norms for the good and never for harm which is the absence of good. So, for theoretical reasons, we cannot say that the ad hoc norms prescribing harm are issued by the moral authority.

So morally disobedient agents issue the norms that there ought to be human suffering which is deprivation of some human good. In the moral authority, there are only norms with “gaps” aimed at human good and never harm. The gaps are occasions on which human choice needs to converge with the will of the moral authority to have the authority’s will executed. See Closing “Ought” to “is” gap for elaboration.

So, my authoritarian, divine command, moral theory needs to sketch out how the moral authority by granting humans free will has also granted humans authority to issue norms in conflict with its basic norms.

In my next post, I will illustrate willing harm for humanity by suicide.

Moral Harm & Moral Worth

Everything I write about moral philosophy is heavily influenced by Kant. But I never claim to write with any authority when I express Kantian themes. When writing, in my previous post, of how human choice completes the moral causation in a morally correct action, I just could not resist the temptation to included a flash of insight into what Kant meant by “moral worth.”

Kant did not clearly mean what I mean by the term. That is why after this post I will rarely use “moral worth.”

In this post, I first specify how I use “moral worth.” This specification expands my model of divine command morality. Second I offer my putative insight into what Kant meant by “moral worth.” This insight leads to the third and final phase of the post: a preliminary discussion of positive and negative freedom of the will.

I define “moral harm” and “moral worth” as co-relative terms. Moral harm is the moral result of an agent willfully disobeying a moral law. Moral worth is the moral result of an agent willfully obeying a moral law. They are moral results because by agents’ choices they come to be in the moral order or structure. By being in the moral order they are norms. Moral harm is a norm that there ought to be deprivation of good and moral worth is a norm that there ought to be good. Willfully disobeying a moral law is rejecting the good at which the moral laws aim while willfully obeying the moral laws is endorsing the good at which moral laws aim.

I am expanding my model of divine command or authoritarian moral thought. Although I still maintain that it articulates the moral thinking of many people. I have already made a case that that moral harm as the production of a norm that some harm ought to be is crucial in ordinary moral thought. Indeed, that thought generates authoritarian moral theory. Here the new feature is the willfully disobedient agent generates the harm requiring norm; not the divine moral authority. I can make a case that ordinary moral thought recognizes that willfully obeying a moral law ought to be followed by some good. It is the obedient agent who creates this norm

How did Kant use the “moral worth”? To answer, I review some ideas about moral action from my previous post.

A moral action results from the agent adding his or her choice that the moral law be obeyed to the partial choice of the moral authority that the law be obeyed. The authority’s choice is partial because it grants agents the freedom of will to complete the authority’s choosing. Free will is here the positive freedom, “freedom to,” to will as the moral authority wills.

Now if the agent’s choice is nothing but to obey the moral law, we have a case of pure or total moral causation. As a moral action nothing but the willing of the authority that the law be obeyed and the willing of the agent that the law be obeyed were operative moral causal factors. No physical factors were operative in the willing; only the moral factors of willing that the moral law be obeyed.

Kant seemed to hold that only pure moral actions had moral worth and he definitely never wrote that moral worth is the production of a norm that some good ought to be done.

With this concept of a pure moral action the use of “moral worth” leads to requiring the theoretically important taking a stance on free will along with theoretically uninteresting self-examination of motivation. How can I know if I chose what was right only because it was right? And: Is it really right that we strive to choose because but only because the action is right?

I do not pursue the self-examination questions.

I am forced, though, to confront a tension between positive and negative freedom of the will. Negative freedom, “freedom from,” would be choosing while being free from physical causal factors.

Perhaps Kant held that if choosing is not free from physical factors, then it loses its capacity to be free to choose as the authority chooses – it loses its positive freedom. I want to avoid interpreting Kant. So, I avoid further efforts to interpret what he meant by moral worth.

But I cannot avoid the problem of whether or not moral and physical factors can co-mingle in a moral action. I begin facing the problem in this post by announcing a dualistic stance on free will and mixed motivation.

The positive freedom to choose to obey the moral law is not lost in the moral order by the agent’s not having in the physical order the negative freedom of being free from physical causal factors for his choice. Only some moral motivation is necessary to place an action in the moral order.

I elaborate on this stance on positive and negative freedom in my next post.

Moral Worth Closes the Ought/Is Gap

This post is an account, from the perspective of divine command morality, of how human choices have moral worth by creating morally correct actions.

However, I still write of the divine commander as only a moral authority. I think the post is more effective by inviting the reader occasionally to think of the moral authority as God. Also I do not want to write as a moral theologian. I have not come to the notion of a moral authority as God from some religious system. I started in moral theory by expanding the notion of the harm in violation of a moral law. This expansion of a notion of moral thought led to the notion of a god-like moral authority.

What makes an action morally correct?

I do not claim any originality for any ideas expressed in my philosophically untechnical essay. Any ideas of value have most likely already been better expressed by Aquinas, Kant and J.H. Newman.

Differences between moral laws and physical laws help distinguish a physical action from a moral action.

Regard a situation to which a physical law applies a cause. Regard the action that the law says follows the situation an effect. In the physical order the effect occurs invariably. The physical law of nature has power within the situation to which it applies to bring about the effect. A physical cause bringing about its effect is a physical action.

For the moral order, talk of cause and effect requires qualification.

For the moral order, think of a situation to which a moral law applies as a partial moral cause. For instance, an opportunity to steal under the law “Do not steal” is a partial moral cause. Regard what the moral law demands for a situation a possible moral effect. Not stealing in the example is a possible moral effect of the law.

The will of the moral authority is that the partial moral cause actually be followed by what is called the possible moral effect. However, the moral authority does not make its will totally effective because for the good of the agent in the situation, the moral authority wills that the agent add his or her willing to the authority’s willing to actualize the possible moral effect. If the moral authority fully willed the event, it would invariably occur and we would have only a physical action.

The combining of the agent’s willing with the moral authority’s willing converts the partial moral cause into a full moral cause which then actualizes the possible moral effect. The agent completes the will of the moral authority by willing what the authority wills for the situation.

A full moral cause followed by the actualization of the possible moral effect is a morally correct action.
An instance of a morally correct action is an instance of moral causation

Our capability to bring about a morally correct action by willing as the moral authority wills is free will. The moral authority grants us this capability because its is good for us to will as it wills for it always wills what is good. Our free choice has moral worth when it complements the will of the morally authority, or God, to produce a morally correct action.

I close by sketching some terminology. The terms need elaboration in subsequent posts. A morally incorrect action occurs when an agent chooses not to complement the will of the moral authority. An action in accord with morality is an action which is what the authority wills for the situation but the agent did not think of what the authority would will. An action not in accord with morality is an action which is not what the authority wills for the situation but again the agent did not think of morality. Actions which are merely in accord with morality or not in accord are really only physical actions.

A person of good moral character is a person who strives to, and is usually successful, in fulfilling the will of the moral authority. A person of virtue habitually chooses to fulfill the will of the moral authority (God). A person of virtue is morally better than a person with good moral character.

The following reflections on moral choice reveal an assumption that although every physical action has a cause those physical actions which are also morally correct actions do not have a physical cause of their being morally correct actions. This assumption also requires examination in subsequent posts.

Moral Harm, the Death Penalty and Intrinsic Evil

This post brings out a significant modification of the concept of intrinsically evil act.

In recent posts I have been linking moral harm with retributive punishment. I have labelled moral theories which accept a notion of moral harm “authoritarian moral theories. In my next post I will explain why I change the label from “authoritarian moral theories” to “divine command moral theories.”

All divine command theories recognize a moral command condemning the intentional taking of a human life. All divine command theories accept that harm ought to occur upon a violation of a moral law, i.e., they all accept the notion of moral harm. Harm is inhibition of a basic human good. See Duty vs. Love for a discussion of basic human goods. Retributive punishment is infliction of some, or all, or the harm which ought to occur for violation of a moral law.

Retributive punishment can be proper or improper. The propriety of retributive punishment raises complex issues about how much harm, how, on whom and by whom. Careful investigation of these issues is far beyond my competence and experience. Here I will assume that execution is not always too much harm for murder. See Virtue of Retributive Punishment for some thoughts on the complexity of the concept of retributive punishment. Excuse, then, my writing without all sorts qualifications which should be made.

The focus of this post is primarily on how consideration of even the possible permissibility of the death penalty requires a reconsideration and restatement of the notion of intrinsically evil act or in principle wrong act.

A moral command categorically condemning the intentional taking of a human life tells us that the intention taking of a human life is intrinsically evil. That is to say that under no circumstances, regardless of the good aimed at by so doing, and the consequences for so doing is it morally permissible to take a human life.

Note that I have used “good aimed at by so doing” rather than “intention for so doing” as it is usually said. This re-wording emphasizes that the notion of “intrinsic evil” has to be linked with the inhibition of some basic human good for the sake of another good.

The intention to inhibit a basic human good for the sake of promoting some other good is always morally illicit. But an intention to inhibit a basic human good for the sake of inflicting the harm which ought to result for violation of a moral law may be morally permissible.

Consider a case of a man who has been found guilty of cold-blooded murder. To execute him simply for the sake of deterring others from such acts and preventing m from ever doing so again is not morally permissible. However, to execute him with the intention of inflicting the harm which ought to occur for murder is morally legitimate. The deterrence value of his execution and protection of society are then benefits of a morally legitimate action.

For me this need to modify the concept of intrinsic evil has been a surprise about a the implications of moral thinking.

There Ought to Be Suffering

This post interrupts the line of thought in my past several posts. That line of thought was why and how should we try to prove a moral principle. Here I return to the theme of moral harm as harm which ought to be as a result of violating a moral principle. I do not want reflections on proving a moral principle to lead me away from exploring implications of this notion of moral harm for understanding the Christian doctrine of redemption.

I review how I developed this notion of moral harm from an essay of Steven Pinker.* Then I apply it to the sensitive topic of my morally condemning homosexuality.

Pinker’s passage which led me to develop the notion of moral harm as harm which ought to be is the second “hallmark” in the following:

“The first hallmark of moralization is that the rules it invokes are felt to be universal. Prohibitions of rape and murder, for example, are felt not to be matters of local custom but to be universally and objectively warranted. The other hallmark is that people feel that those who commit immoral acts deserve to be punished. . .

we are born with a universal moral grammar that forces us to analyze human action in terms of its moral structure, with just as little awareness.”

I developed that hallmark into a thesis about a fundamental component of moral thinking, viz., if a moral law is violated harm ought to occur. I left the principle at a high level of generality. There was no specification of what the harm might be, on whom it should befall and how much. The very general thought is merely that moral principles carry sanctions. This does not mean that these subsidiary questions cannot be answered. There simply needs to be further moral thought to answer them.

Let me add here that right now I think that moral thinking contains almost no provisions for numerically measurable thinking on the quantity of harm and good.

I return to this notion of moral harm by considering its ramifications for a moral judgment I make. I think homosexual acts are morally wrong. I have argued for that position in my book**. Hence, I judge that the homosexual acts of 2020 Democrat presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg are immoral. Concomitant with that judgment is a judgment that he ought to suffer some harm for his homosexual behavior.

This thought that I ought to think that he ought to suffer some harm poses a problem for me. First, the proposal that there ought to be some suffering is repugnant. Second, I confess to not caring that Pete Buttigieg suffers. However, as I have argued in several posts, we are not serious about morality if we do not think that there ought to be unpleasant consequences for immoral behavior. Not caring whether the sanctions for violations of morality be applied is irrelevant for thinking that they ought to be applied

So, what kind of suffering do I think Pete Buttigieg ought to undergo? Not getting nominated as the 2020 Democrat candidate is a type of disappointment which is too loosely connected with his homosexual behavior to be a proper punishment.

Here is my proposal for the kind of suffering a man who has a practice of immoral sexual behavior such as: frequent masturbation, homosexual activity, fornication and adultery. From the stance I take on sexuality, proper sexual activity is confined to coitus open to conception in a lifelong monogamous marriage. Basic human goods are realized when sexuality is so confined. The harm which man who does not so confine his sexual activity ought to suffer is twofold First there is failure to attain these basic human goods along with a sense of not realizing these goods. Second, there is a realization, perhaps quite dim, that people who think properly about sexual activity judge that he ought not realize the goods of proper sexuality. Broadly speaking, he ought to suffer a sense of unworthiness, guilt and shame.

If I am right that this kind of inward moral suffering ought to occur in men who misbehave sexually, it seems reasonable that we should proclaim traditional sexual morality to facilitate occurrence of these negative moral feelings in ourselves and others when needed. Trying to post proofs of principles of traditional sexual morality is a way of proclaiming traditional sexual morality.

Mr. Butttigieg knows everything I could say. In so far as I care, my sympathies are that he does not suffer too much from the negative moral thoughts and feelings he ought to have.

* Pinker Article .

** 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 Ch. IV for my justification 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:
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Reason Persuades; Cannot Force Thought

My previous post established that reason is not a moral authority. That result does not denigrate reason but only leads to getting a clearer concept of reason. Reason is just too diffuse to be an authority about anything. But that does not mean that reason fails to be our only access to what is true and what ought to be.

I propose that we think of reason as human consciousness, thinking broadly construed, to avoid the impossible task of trying to construct a concept of how what we sense is connected with what we think. In fact, there is no separation. It is only for philosophical purposes that a separation was made. It is true that we can sometimes think through a problem better if we shut our eyes while holding our hands over our ears. But that helps because the thoughts or conscious states- making up what we see and hear readily distract us from what we want to think about. However, once I have made this proposal to think of reason broadly as human consciousness to set aside an insolvable philosophical puzzle, I will write of reason as I did in the previous post. That was the way we talk and write of reason in ordinary language.

Thinking or reasoning is the only way humans can find out and communicate what is the case, why things happen, how things function, what ought to be, etc.,. Over a period of at least several thousand years humans have developed fairly reliable ways to find out, manipulate and explain what is the case. I think current scientific method including mathematics is the most reliable ways of thinking about what is the case. I am not claiming that scientific method is a subclass of reasoning that is an authority on what is the case. It does not increase the force of a scientific demonstration to say “Reason tells us this is the right result.” Citing reason as an authority is irrelevant. The scientific experiment shows, with probability what is the case. Chatter about the rationality of scientific method is just propaganda to persuade those who cannot follow the reasoning.

There has not been agreement on a method of finding out what ought to be. I propose there is no agreement on a method for moral thinking because almost all of us have the notion of moral harm as fundamental in our thinking about what ought to be. As I have shown in several past posts, the notion of moral harm leads to the notion of a moral authority. Now many people cannot, or will not, accept the notion of a moral authority because amongst other things it requires acceptance of at least some type of semi-divine being. Many others for various reasons find the notion of moral harm morally repugnant. They cannot, or will not, accept that there is harm that ought to be.

Because of this deep disagreement about moral harm, our reasoning with one another cannot be expected to lead to agreement on a method for finding out what ought to be. However, we can still reason -converse- with others to reach conclusions about what ought to be done in some particular cases.

In my next post, I elaborate on what has been brought out in this post. Human moral thinking is fundamentally logically inconsistent.
The fundamental inconsistency is that moral thinking is both deontological (rule based) and teleological (good seeking).

This does not mean that people have to think inconsistently when thinking about morals. There are different ways of removing a fundamental inconsistency in moral thinking. The result is that different consistent ways of moral thinking can be taken and these ways will be logically inconsistent with one another.