Why Conservatives Are Wrong to Legislate Morality, Part II

See Part I here. I am responding to a counterargument in this post, so it won’t make much sense unless you read Part I and understand my original argument. Quick summary: If force is used against a person to make him act “morally”, the entire concept of morality becomes nonsensical. This is because moral actions, which are associated with acting out of duty, imply choice. If an individual is not free to choose to act either morally or immorally, there is no meaning to the word morality. The person is no longer acting out of duty, but necessity.

The counterargument states the following: if it is nonsensical to legislate morality, why would we create laws banning actions such as theft, murder, and rape? Doesn’t your argument still apply? And if so, isn’t it absurd to not have laws against those types of activities?

I agree, it would be absurd. However, my argument does not apply to those situations. To understand, let’s separate the activities I was originally discussing and the activities the counterargument brings up into two separate classifications. We’ll note the differences and then explain why those differences matter.

Classification #1: Activities such as prostitution and buying/selling/using drugs.

Classification #2: Activities such as theft, murder, and rape.

The primary difference between the two categories is that in the former, both parties consent and are making a voluntary exchange. In the latter, one party is using violence against another; therefore, one party consents (the party using force) and the other party does not (the one being forced).

Why does this difference matter?

My original point to certain social conservatives who try to legislate morality is that they are not advancing morality by legislating but destroying it. This is because in the original situation (classification #1), both parties are acting voluntarily, and have a choice whether to act morally or immorally. Morality in such a situation still exists and is still possible; if we use violence, it is destroyed, but we have the possibility of using peaceful persuasion to change the individual’s mind toward acting morally (side note: I don’t know if I think prostitution/drugs are moral or immoral; but this argument applies to any objective morality).

However, in the latter situation (classification #2), force is already used. If Bob uses force against Becky, he has deprived Becky of the opportunity of being moral. So if our goal is to advance morality here, we have two choices:

1) Don’t use force (i.e. don’t create laws banning those activities): if we do this, Bob still has the opportunity to act morally, but Becky does not.

2) Use force (i.e. create laws banning those activities): if we do this, Bob no longer has the opportunity to act morally, but Becky does.

Either way, one party will lose the opportunity to act morally. As such, we can create laws against these activities while not degrading morality. We are not necessarily advancing it either, according to the argument. However, we are in other respects. A society that respects defensive force allows the opportunity to act morally. It’s intuitive how absurd a society without such laws are, but it also clear that a society that has no respect for defensive force would lead to an absence of the opportunity to act morally.

Photo Credit: francescofissore via Compfight cc

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Posted on August 7, 2013, in Ethics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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