Revision of the Normative Theory of Moral Harm

Note added 11-1-22 The definition of moral harm below needs revision to make it perfectly clear that the non-moral harm a violator of the natural law prescribes as morally obligatory cannot be the harm the violator chooses by violating the moral law. We canot allow the damage someone brings about in a crime be retribution for the crime. See italicized segment in definition of natural 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 as a consequence of violation of a moral law and the harm chosen in the violation. 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.