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.

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

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