There Ought to be Moral Suffering

In my previous post I made a great step forward in articulating the structure of what I have called authoritarian morality. Authoritarian morality is based on rules with sanctions. The sanctions specify suffering which ought to occur if the rules are violated. The thought that there ought to be some suffering is morally repugnant. For the suffering in question is not suffering as a means for some good; it is suffering for violating the law. It’s retribution. In Inconsistency in Moral think Resolved By Moral Skepticism I addressed the problem of the moral repugnance of accepting that some suffering ought to be by arguing that we need to repress that thought to have a consistent rule based morality. However, what is the suffering which ought to be?

In my efforts to find the topics which need to be addressed in making a case for a moral principle I realized that I needed to point out some good realized by obedience to the rule. I had to do more than show that obeying the principle meets some standard for acting rationally. Fortunately, there is readily available a characterization of moral thinking which shows that obedience to traditional moral rules aims at attainment of some basic human goods. This is the so-called New Natural Law Theory.

I have not yet re-developed the argument in my book* for the moral principle I call the Paternal Principle.

A man may intentionally seek an orgasm only in coitus open to conception with a woman to whom he has a lifelong commitment to care for her and any children resulting from their intercourse.

I plan to re-develop it by showing its rationality using thoughts from those working in Thomistic moral theory and that it aims at a basic human good by adapting thoughts from the New Natura Law theory on the good of marriage.

However, the main point for this blog post is that I can specify a minimum suffering which ought to be. The basic idea is that a person who violates the law ought to suffer loss of the good at which obedience to the law aims. It is difficult to specify in detail the good of obedience to the law. What, in detail, is the good of being honest? However, the structure of this suffering can be stated. I will state it for the case of a man who violates the Paternal Principle by habitual masturbation stimulated by pornography.

He ought not have any of the satisfactions of proper marital intercourse. He ought to suffer awareness that he does not deserve his satisfaction. He ought to suffer longing for proper sexual satisfaction even in a inchoate way. He ought to suffer shame from the thought that people who think rightly about sexuality think that he ought not be acting as he does.

Similar paragraphs about people who are dishonest, cruel etc., could be written. These thoughts and feelings of guilt or shame could be called moral suffering.

I must emphasize two points about moral suffering. First moral suffering is always suffering which OUGHT TO BE for violating a moral law. Moral suffering is only occasionally suffering which actually occurs upon violation of a moral law. Second, moral suffering is only a minimum suffering which ought to be. Other suffering such as physical pain or disease may always be required for violations.

However, by accepting moral suffering as a SUFFERING WHICH OUGHT TO BE, we accept retributive suffering in our moral framework.

* 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.

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