The purpose of this post is to point out how the discovery of the notion of moral harm as harm which ought to be as a fundamental component of moral thinking has become my key to understanding numerous religious and philosophical claims in which I have faith.
In my previous post, I made a case that moral progressivism is inconsistent with Catholicism. I quickly added that individuals could be both moral progressives and Catholics because individuals do not need a consistent set of beliefs to guide their lives. Many individuals are fortunate enough so that facts never force them to feel cognitive dissonance in their beliefs; let alone having a predicament in which they think themselves obligated to do and not do the same thing.
But some of us care about consistency. Once we start caring about consistency we judge that we need consistency because we care about truth. We want true claims about what is and what ought to be. Consistency is a necessary condition our claims to be true.
Clarity is a necessary condition for appreciating truth. That is why so much of theology and philosophy can be labelled “Faith Seeking Understanding.”
An indication of clarity is when you can say to yourself “Now, I understand how I could say that.” For instance, after uncovering the notion of moral harm which led me to understand retributive punishment I could say of “Now I understand how I could say ‘He paid his debt to society by serving five years in prison.’ ”
After writing my post on the theoretical conflict between moral progressivism and Catholicism, I decided to look through some Catholic sources to verify that there is a conflict. I picked up St. Anselm’s Why God Became Man. I noticed on the cover that I had purchased the book at an American Philosophical Association meeting in 1976. Marginal notes indicated that I had struggle through the book twice.
My memories of the book had always been unpleasant because the difficult reading gave me absolutely no help in understand why God incarnated Himself to suffer crucifixion as punishment for some crimes of humanity. I could follow Anselm’s clever arguments on issues such as why God could not simply have waived the punishment by fiat. On this May 2020 reading, I suddenly realized that a fundamental barrier to my being able to say “Now I understand how I could say ‘God suffered the punishment for our sins” is that I did not understand punishment as retribution- as harm required by morality simply for having violated a moral law.
I had lived over eighty years in a Catholic environment believing that punishment is justifiable only as corrective action by properly established civil authorities. For violations of moral laws for which there were no civil sanctions there should be no punishment at all in this life. Actually I never really understood why there should be post-mortem punishment: be it in hell or purgatory. My moral thinking was inconsistent because I in fact held that no harm ought to be along with thinking that there were moral laws which ought never be violated.
But now, late in life, even after my 2014 book on sexual morality, I have realized that fundamental in moral thinking is the notion that harm ought to be as a sanction for violation of moral laws. I realized that my moral thinking was inconsistent and that I had to choose. The need to choose made vivid the thought that I had to accept retributive punishment. With the acceptance of retributive punishment I can much more readily bring myself to say that there had to be suffering for the sins of humanity. Unfortunately, with the need to choose I face the challenge of whether or not my choice against progressive morality is correct.
I will mail you a free copy of my book: Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism, Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org