Friday, April 27, 2018

Love and deontology

Sometimes it wrongs a person to intentionally do them what is known to be in their own best interest. If by torturing you for 60 minutes I can prevent you from being tortured in the same way for 70 minutes by someone else, it may be in your best interest that I torture you. But it is still wrong for me to torture you. Cases of this sort can be multiplied, though of course only deontologists will find any of them plausible.

(One can also analyze these cases as ones where the action is wrong because it is a violation of the agent’s own human dignity. I think the actions are violations of the agent’s own dignity, but they are violations of the agent’s dignity because they wrong the other party.)

These are cases where your action wrongs someone but causes them on balance benefit. This means that to be wronged does not entail being on balance harmed.

Here is how I think we should think of these cases. The true ethics is an ethics of love: I should love everyone. But benevolence is only one of the three fundamental aspects of love, with the other two being union and appreciation. To wrong someone is to violate one or more of the three aspects of love. If I intentionally do something that is known to be in your best interest, I do not violate the benevolence aspect of love. But I may violate one of the other two aspects. In the cases I am thinking of, like torture, the act is an affront to your human dignity, and by affronting your human dignity I am directly acting against the appropriate kind of unitive relationship between human beings—hence, I violate the unitive aspect of love.

It may seem, however, that these are cases where I have a real moral dilemma. For if I refuse to do the act, then it seems I am violating the benevolence of love. But this is mistaken. To fail to be benevolent is not to oppose benevolence. Some cases are obvious. If I fail to be benevolent to you because someone just as close to me has a greater need, I may have done something not in your best interest, but I have not violated the benevolence of love. Now, if I intentionally did to you what was not in your best interest because it was not in your best interest, then I have violated love.


Angra Mainyu said...


It seems to me that for every wrong action A with victim V, there is an equally wrong possible action A', in which the mind of the perpetrator is the same, but there is no victim (e.g., the perpetrator is in a simulation and the apparent victim is a NPC). So, it seems to me that facts like whether the action wrongs someone never makes an action immoral.

In particular, if your scenario with the 60 minutes of torture is immoral (it probably is, I think, but I reckon it wouldn't if we were talking about 60 minutes vs. expected 60 billion years of worse torture, for example), it's not because the victim is wronged. We can consider the variant where the NPC is apparently tortured, and the behavior is equally immoral even if the NPC has no mind, cannot suffer anything and cannot be wronged.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Sure, many a moral theory needs to have a story about the derivative wrongness of things that subjectively look just like primary wrongs.
There will be technical issues there.