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Wrong (or right) is a conclusion – not judgement

A commenter indicated, in a post on my comment policy, that “having a comment policy is wrong.”

That was the end of the statement.

This touches on something broader: Right and wrong are conclusions, not the beginnings of a judgement.

When people declare something is wrong – or, worse, is just wrong – we have a duty to ask why: What are the reasons that led to that conclusion? If none can be provided, what reason do we – or indeed the person making the claim – have for taking that conclusion seriously?

People forget this about the terms right and wrong, equating it with things like disgust or attraction. Of course, I’m focused here on right and wrong used in a more moral sense, rather than, say, mathematical or artistic (“That music feels right“).

“Homosexuality  is wrong” invariably for many translates into “Homosexuals makes me feel icky”. The first can be interrogated, debated, criticised. The second cannot. That people really are disgusted by gay people is a fact, not a moral discussion or argument. It’s no different than saying “I like Pink Floyd”. Of course, unlike being a Pink Floyd fan, disgust of gays translates into more harm – especially when people want government to be their feelings police, making sure other people don’t offend these disgusted people.

Interestingly, both feed each other but can be separate. I find the concept of incest a bit unnerving, but I still defend the right of two consenting adult twins to engage in a sexual, romantic relationship with each other. My disgust shouldn’t be a deciding factor in how others should live, in most cases. But, of course, one’s digust can fuel engagement with the topic. For example, my intense disgust for the American prison system and capital punishment is a big drive in my writing on capital punishment. The same is no doubt true for all of us and the things we engage in.

The point is, however, that we must treat these concepts of right and wrong in the… well, right way. Right and wrong must be treated as conclusions, otherwise it makes no sense; if they’re not conclusions, then they are probably aesthetic judgement. If you think merely asserting right and wrong makes it so, then that’s probably bigotry.

(Also, if someone asks you why something is wrong, try not to tell them to read x, watch y, etc. Sure, certain topics might require more in depth engagement. But if you can’t at least summarise your reasoning, then – yet again – no one has to take you seriously just because you declare it so.)

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Comments

  1. John Morales says

    I know this is not your main point, but I note you cannot avoid having a de facto comment policy whether or not you seek to regulate comments and whether or not you make that policy explicit.

    (So, “having a comment policy is wrong” is a meaningless complaint in my view)

  2. Robert B. says

    Indeed. “I place no restrictions whatever on comments” is still a comment policy.

    Also, it’s a policy that is in practice equivalent to, “You know the loudest, most intimidating jerk who reads my blog? My comment policy is whatever he wants.” Because that guy (I suppose it doesn’t technically have to be a guy, but often it is) can “ban” people without admin privileges, and if he’s the only one setting comunity standards, the community will quickly become a not very nice place.

  3. says

    I’m focused here on right and wrong used in a more moral sense, rather than, say, mathematical or artistic (“That music feels right“).

    I find that a great deal of opinion can be defended by aesthetic arguments – implicitly recognizing them as opinion instead of fact. If I say “I do not like Justin Beiber’s music” it’s a statement of a conclusion, that needs no factual defense. “I think that X is wrong” is another opinion – I am acting as if there is a factual matter (“wrong”) that we can discuss as fact, but I am using that language to couch an opinion; the key words are “I think” that allow the listener to infer that I am speaking of an opinion rather than a fact. Yet, if I say “killing is wrong” there is no surrounding verbiage to soften it or indicate it is an opinion – I am making what appears to be a statement of fact. And, if it’s a fact, then I’d argue that it’s true in the past as well as the present; killing is as wrong now as it was 2000 years ago and vice versa.

  4. says

    Prodegtion is reminding me an awful lot of homophobic fundamentalists who keep crying out that their freedom to preach anti-gay hatred is under attack… as they keep preaching anti-gay hatred with nobody stopping them. Xe is posting an awful lot in comments on a blog that xe seems to be saying that the anti-free speech forces of feminism have clamped down.

  5. bruce says

    To both Tauriq and Marcus: perhaps this might help, below.
    To me, the key is if one’s statement seeks to persuade. If not, then it is mere humble opinion, and a matter of taste. For example, if Bieber music does nothing, or everything, for me. Such opinions are generally never worth publishing even in a blog.
    But if a statement wishes to persuade, then it must provide valid warrants for its arguments. For example, if Bieber music is seen to evoke reactions of universal harmony, or anger, in all audiences. Or if it creates resonances that let one tell fine crystal from fake in a world that needed that technology, those could be debatable reasons that could lead one to or from a conclusion on the utility of such music for the purpose under consideration. Of course, this Bieber example is weak, as most people don’t seek to use music for objective functional purposes. Perhaps the main way to have an esthetic choice be a conclusion is if one could say that one is an opinion leader whose personal taste was reliably able to predict the emotional response of many other people who would be motivated thereby.
    So a successful talent judge’s view might be worth knowing. But a random person’s view would not be persuasive.
    As Hitchens said, that which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.
    In other words, conclusions need evidence. And claims without evidence are opinions without significance.
    The distinction does not depend on if things are described with proper or improper helper words. It depends only on if sufficient evidence is invoked. Of course, most talk has a known context, so discussions of the morality of killing can be assumed to be in a world where people know history, and can see that a murderous society might be unsustainable, without it being stated.
    So claims might use only unstated contextual evidence, but these would be poorly stated claims, and perhaps not intended as mere opinions.
    Communication depends on what is evoked in the mind of the reader. So even a well reasoned analysis can degenerate into meaningless opinion if the supporting arguments are erased or poorly said.
    For example, Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica would be pointless useless opinion without the aid of people who could translate Latin for us.
    The key to raise a claim to being potentially worth reading is if the claim is accompanied by warrants or evidence that can be understood by the reader.
    Unsupported claims are bigotry or boring or both.

  6. Tauriq Moosa says

    @ prodegtion

    OK, your continued namecalling, lack of proper argument and childish engagement is ending now. I';ve asked you several times and responded to you charitably and civilly – and checked others who swore at you – but you’ve not reciprocated or responded in mature or thoughtful ways. Goodbye.

  7. Tauriq Moosa says

    @ Tabby

    Well s/he is now removed due to not making proper arguments and namecalling, despite me asking him/her repeatedly to justify his claims and to refrain from namecalling.

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