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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Yeah, but what does he mean by “good”? UPDATE

Reuters reports:

The leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics made his comments in the homily of his morning Mass in his residence, a daily event where he speaks without prepared comments.

He told the story of a Catholic who asked a priest if even atheists had been redeemed by Jesus.

“Even them, everyone,” the pope answered, according to Vatican Radio. “We all have the duty to do good,” he said.

“Just do good and we’ll find a meeting point,” the pope said in a hypothetical conversation in which someone told a priest: “But I don’t believe. I’m an atheist.”

Francis’s reaching out to atheists and people who belong to no religion is a marked contrast to the attitude of former Pope Benedict, who sometimes left non-Catholics feeling that he saw them as second-class believers.

The problem is what the Pope means by “good”. [Read more...]