Thursday, October 06, 2011

Harm: Physical versus Property

Here is an interesting principle that comes from a member of the studio audience.

To equate property violence to physical violence is laughable, Alonso. The implicit threats of the tea party were against persons, not property. The actions are not the same. Well, it may be morally questionable to commit acts of property violence--although this is debatable even under desirism in political debates. Framing the question in terms of equivocalness is misleading..


Let's say I give you a choice. Your options are, (1) I make a small, clean cut on the side if your hand, or (2) destroy your home and everything in it.

Or (1) I yank out three of your hairs, or (2) I take the whole of your savings.

Which do you choose?

Recall, equating violence against property and physical violence is laughable.

Yet, in both cases, I would wager that the bulk of the population will take the first option (physical violence) over the second (property violence) in both case.

Now, increase the magnitude of the physical violence and/or decrease the magnitude of the property violence, and you will eventually come to a point where the agent will, in fact, be indifferent to between the two options.that is to say, the property harm and physical harm are equivalent.

Pay attention to the implication here. For every act of property violence, there is an alternative act of physical violence with which the agent will be indifferent between the two. There us some form of physical violence that us subjectively equivalent to that property violence for the victim.

This point will be different for different people defecting their different subjective preferences. Many people will prefer the loss if a dollar to a cut on their hand. Fewer would be willing to suffer the loss of $100. Many would accept the cut over the loss of thousands if dollars.

Actually, all harms that we inflict against people are harms of the same type. We harm people by thwarting their strong and stable desires. The degree to which an agent may prefer a physical violence to property violence is determined by his aversion to the physical harm and it's consequences, compared to his aversion to the loss of the property or it's consequences. The fact that people routinely make these comparisons is proof enough that they can do so.

This pretense that there is a difference between the two is simply a rationalization that some people use to give themselves permission to cause harms of a particular type.  It is a technique called "minimization - the pretense that one us not doing harm to avoid the psychological costs if doing home.

The position does not have any legitimacy. Yet, some people find the belief in certain fictions to be useful or comfortable.


Skepoet said...

"Degree to which an agent may prefer a physical violence to property violence is determined by his aversion to the physical harm and it's consequences, compared to his aversion to the loss of the property or it's consequences"

Given that I reject your meta-ethical premises and always have, and sense I don't equate the thwarting of desires with the primary goal of all ethics, I still find your position laughable. That most people intiutively would agree that there is a substantive distinction between physical and property violence although they are both wrong is an indication that your opinion does not hold.

The reduction of ethics to desirism has always seem to be like a way to skirt the problems of meta-ethics to make claims of objectivity.

But we all believe our rationalizations, even trained ethicists. Perhaps especially so.

Skepoet said...

I am aware of minimization theory, in fact, I think you are actually guilt of it for another reason, I'll get to in a minute. but I am also aware of cognitive dissonance theory since you are quite aware that the compared actions were one of gun violence (implied death threat) versus capital violence (implied impeding of value).

Your axioms of choice are interesting and true, but actually are still dealing with issues of indirect (physical harm) and direct harm. The comparable action is the physical harm, not the thwarting of desires. The property violence only violence in that harms others persons eventually or potentionally. The minimization would be to say that property violence never does that. That is NOT what I said. There is harm done.

I, however, said the comparison of threats was laughable. The threat of the tea party was of death--the complete elimination of desires of the other, which even under your theory would be more severe. You treated them as if they were the same in framing. They are not, and you know better. I did not say that liberals were moral, although again in the context of political struggle I don't know that I agree with you, but I could concede the point.