Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Corrupting Influences

I have another question from the studio audience. Chris asked in Condemning Actions Not People

What would you say to the idea that certain actions tend to corrupt one's character or self? A possible move would be to say that person A cares about person B, and believes that if person B begins doing certain actions, that those actions will begin to tear away at the person?

An action that tends to corrupt one’s character or self would be an action that tends to cause the agent to acquire desires that tend to thwart other desires.

Smoking provides an excellent example. The act of smoking fills the brain with chemicals that promote a very strong desire to smoke. The desire to smoke, in turn, is fulfilled by actions that tend to cause lung disease, various forms of cancer, and other effects that smokers have many and strong reasons to avoid getting.

Parents have very good reason to fear having their (foolish and ignorant) child take up smoking because, once the child acquires the desire to smoke, the rest of her life will be worse off. The child will then have to live the rest of her life choosing which set of very strong desires she must thwart – the desire to smoke, or the desires that can best be fulfilled through good health.

One question to be asked, however, is whether there is good reason to believe that a particular action tends to cause a desire that tends to thwart other desires. In the case of tobacco use, we have overwhelming evidence that these acts do cause desires that tend to thwart other desires. We know the mechanisms that do this.

The tobacco companies also understand these relationships. Unfortunately, they are consumed by such evil that they actually use this knowledge to promote the act of smoking and increase the tendency of this act to promote a desire to smoke. In encouraging children to smoke, they are, effectively, promoting far more harm to children than many of the worst child abusers currently rotting in prison – and I would argue that they deserve comparable treatment.

However, there are also cases where people adopt the belief that an act is corrupting – not because they have evidence to support it, but because, “If this were true, it would give the harm that I would do to others in fulfilling my own desires an appearance of legitimacy.”

People who blamed homosexuality for AIDS, for example, or who link homosexuality to child abuse, are people who adopt an attitude, not because the evidence justifies it, but because it gives their own evil actions an appearance of legitimacy.

These claims fail not only in virtue of a lack of evidence, but also a lack of reason. If AIDS were more common among heterosexuals than homosexuals, would they have condemned heterosexuality? What explains their willingness to draw a particular inference in one case, but not the other? Ultimately, they are motivated by a desire to view behavior harmful to the interests of homosexuals as legitimate, and they have no such desire to view behavior harmful to the interests of heterosexuals are legitimate. So, they blind themselves to the invalidity of the inference in the first case that they allow themselves to see in the second.

So, yes, there are corrupting influences out there, and there is reason to prevent people from performing actions that tend to cause desires that tend to thwart other desires. However, this does not mitigate our obligation to find out whether these relationships exist as a matter of fact, or only on the minds of those motivated by the desire to give actions harmful to others the appearance of legitimacy.


Chris Hoover said...

Thanks for the response!

Emu Sam said...

Status: Undetermined.