Thursday, July 07, 2016

Desirism Book - Part 0023 - Moral Prohibitions and Non-Obligatory Permissions

Now that we have created our proto-moral society, I want to take some time to understand what it is true about it and what is not.

Our society is made up of a number of people. Some of them are Alphs, each of which has a desire to gather stones. Some of its members are Betts, who desire to scatter stones. Both Alphs and Betts also have an aversion to pain.

The people in this world also have a capacity to learn desires through praise and condemnation. Consequently, the aversion to pain gives both Alphs and Betts reason to condemn those who cause pain to others. This creates an aversion to that which causes pain, which reduces the tendency to perform actions that cause pain. Nobody has a natural reason to avoid causing pain to others. However, through condemnation, people can acquire such a reason.

Our imaginary community has a language where they say that causing others pain is wrong. By this, what they mean is that people generally have reason to use condemnation to promote an aversion to doing that which causes pain to others. In addition, the statement "causing pain is wrong" is also a statement of condemnation.

In other words, the statement, "causing pain is wrong" has both descriptive and emotive content. It has a truth value - it is or is not the case the people have reason to condemn those who cause pain to others. At the same time, it has an emotive component. It is a statement of condemnation of those who cause pain. The condemnation, in turn, aims at promoting an aversion to that which causes pain. This, in turn, reduces the amount of pain being caused.

Using these moral terms creates a risk that I am about to introduce elements of our morality without explaining or justifying those practices. They will simply come in with the use of the term and seem natural merely because of our habitual use of the terms. To avoid this, I will shy away from (though I will not entirely avoid) the use of moral terms. I will tend instead to use the statement that people generally have reason to praise or condemn particular types of acts.

However, I will violate this restriction here long enough to note that our proto-moral world already has a moral prohibition and a moral permission.

There is a moral prohibition against causing pain to others. I will have more to say about this prohibition in the next post.

At the same time, the members of our community have a non-obligatory permission to either scatter or gather stones.

One of the challenges of a moral theory is to explain why there are three moral categories for action - obligation (that which an agent morally must do), prohibition (that which an agent morally must not do), and non-obligatory permission (that which an agent may do but is not required to do).

Our proto-moral community says that causing pain to others is something that agents must not do. People generally have reason to condemn anybody who causes pain to others. But gathering stones and scattering stones are things that agent may do but is not morally required to do.

We will introduce accounts of moral obligation - things that an agent must do - in a future post. Suffice it to say at this point that an obligation is something that people generally have reason to praise when done or condemn when not done. This is in contrast to a moral prohibition which people may condemn when done and praise when not done.

If the reader is reluctant to use moral terms at this point, we can simply stick with the facts as they apply to this simplified world. Everybody in this world has a reason to promote a general aversion to that which causes pain by condemning those actions. People in this world have no reason to promote either a universal desire or aversion to gathering or scattering stones. These facts exist regardless of whether one wants to call the former a moral prohibition and the latter a non-obligatory permission.

We can continue on from here and see what else we can say about our community of Alphs and Betts.

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