The Moral Harm Syllogism

This post continues my series of Blog Posts on a notion of moral harm. I think we do have a notion of moral harm. I think my articulation of this notion is what people really mean by “moral harm.” I plan several posts to articulate this notion of moral harm. It’s a difficult task. Our moral thought is a complicated web of concepts. It will illuminate concepts such as atonement, permissiveness and vice as an illness.

The main purpose of this post is to introduce a “conceptual tool” for exploring some of these conceptual connections. I call this tool “ the moral harm syllogism.”

What is my theory? My theory is that moral harm is the moral judgment, concomitant with a moral law, that harm OUGHT to result from violation of the moral law. We can call it “ the normative theory of moral harm.” For more detail see Moral Harm is Moral Judgment

I do not claim any originality for this normative notion of moral harm. If others have articulated it earlier and better, give them credit for it. *

The moral harm syllogism is the deductively valid pattern of reasoning below. The first premise is the normative theory of moral harm. The second premise is a form expressing various cultural beliefs.

If X is morally forbidden, then harm ought to follow upon performance of X
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.

Consider, some examples. In all of these examples harm may actually follow upon performance of the act. But the issue is whether or not we endorse the threat or promise of actual harm.

If masturbation is morally wrong, then harm ought to follow upon an act of masturbation.
But seriously no harm ought to result from masturbation.
So, when thinking seriously we should not hold that masturbation is morally wrong.

Readers can readily fill in this line of argument for homosexual activity, abortion, gambling, marijuana use and sale of alcoholic beverages. There may be interesting disagreement about prostitution, pornography viewing, cocaine use and tobacco use.

Readers are invited to think of other examples. For instance, draw upon how you think about protection of the environment. Indeed this little syllogism form can be used to draw out what you really think is immoral.

The value of the moral harm syllogism for exploring conceptual links in moral thought is that it exposes inconsistencies in our moral thinking. We may think that we believe that doing X is immoral but reflection brings out that we do not seriously think that harm ought to follow upon doing X. The interesting feature of analyzing our beliefs with the moral harm syllogism is exposing the subtle ways we conceal from ourselves that we seriously do not think harm ought to follow upon performance of certain acts. Such explorations are for subsequent posts.

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. I did not have the normative theory of moral harm when I wrote my 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.

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The Moral Harm Syllogism

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