You Ought To Be Ashamed of Yourself!

The point of this post is to add some support for the intelligibility of a crucial notion I have been using in my interpretation of moral thought as based on commands of a moral authority who commands, amongst other things, that some harm ought to be as a consequence of moral infractions. I have heard it said that the notion of harm as mere retribution does not make sense; it does not serve any purpose. Infliction of harm simply for a past violation does not aim at making the future any better.

Let me be clear that the position I am criticizing, is not that there should be no harm after a violation. It is admitted by all that harm should result but that it should be aimed at improving the violator and/or society.

I grant that retributive harm is pointless in the sense of “pointless” which indicates lack of a future better condition at which the occurrence of harm is supposed bring us. However, “pointless” in this sense should not be confused with “senseless” with “senseless” being interpreted as “cannot be understood” as a phrase such as “Days barked all day long.”

The notion of harm which ought to be inflicted is understood if talk of it is frequently used. For this post, the usage cited as evidence that the notion of obligatory harm as pure retribution makes sense is “You ought to be ashamed of yourself.” People with widely divergent views on what is morally wrong, converge on their usage of this phrase. Progressives tell me that I ought to be ashamed of myself for disparaging gay marriage. I tell progressives that they ought to be ashamed of themselves for promoting gay marriage.

Shame is an uncomfortable emotional state. Both progressives and I think that it makes perfectly good sense to allege that the other OUGHT to suffer this uncomfortable state simply from having the morally wrong thoughts and attitudes about same sex marriage.