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Unformatted text preview: THE HARM OF IMMORALITY Paul Bloomfield Abstract A central problem in moral theory is how it is to be defended against those who think that there is no harm in being immoral, and that immorality can be in one’s self-interest, assuming the perpetrator is not caught and punished. The argument presented here defends the idea that being immoral prevents one from having self-respect. If it makes sense to think that one cannot be happy without self-respect, then the conclusion follows that one cannot be both immoral and happy. Immorality is harmful because its self-disrespecting nature keeps immoralists from being happy. This is the harm of immorality. Introduction and scope of the argument Immorally harming others is also harmful to oneself. If immorality is understood as manifest in the intentional harm of others for the sake of one’s perceived ‘self-interest’, or ‘person gain’, or mere convenience, or for the sake of the interests of one’s family, or tribe, or country, etc., then there is good reason to think that it is harmful to oneself to act according to a theory that prescribes immorality. The good reason is that those who are characteristi- cally immoral, or to a less degree, those who are occasionally immoral, are to that degree depriving themselves of self-respect, thereby making it impossible for them to be happy. The more immoral a person is the less that person can have self-respect and be happy. The idea that immorality is harmful to its perpetrators is of course not new. Plato treated the issue in three dialogues: Gorgias , Republic , and, briefly in the ‘ Theaetetus digression’ (176a–177b). Glaucon, in Republic , puts the challenge in a now familiar way. 1 First, morality is seen as a ‘compromise between the ideal of doing wrong without having to pay for it, and the worst situation, which 1 Robin Waterfield, translator (Oxford: Oxford University Press) 1993. © 2008 The Author Journal compilation © 2008 Blackwell Publishing Ltd Ratio (new series) XXI 3 September 2008 0034–0006 is having wrong done to one while lacking the means of exacting compensation’ (359a). Next, he asks us to consider a particular immoral person who is consummate in immorality (360e), prac- ticing it in outstandingly ‘proper fashion’ (361a), who is also uncatchable, due to, say, possessing magic (359c–360d), and as attractive and successful in the world as one can be (362b–c). He concludes that there is no reason left to think that immorality cannot yield a happy life, and the biblical ‘green bay tree’ spreads. The obvious way to answer this challenge would be to point to a harm unavoidably suffered by all practitioners of immorality....
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This note was uploaded on 12/22/2010 for the course PHIL 1104 taught by Professor Larvy during the Spring '09 term at UConn.
- Spring '09