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Thread: Harm to Others: Society's Ultimate Rationale for Laws, Rules, and Morals

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    Harm to Others: Society's Ultimate Rationale for Laws, Rules, and Morals

    All societies consider certain acts outside the bounds of civilized behavior precisely because they somehow inflict hurt and grief onto either others or to society as a whole. This includes equally the most heinous wrongdoings (murder, rape, child molestation, etc) as well as lesser offenses. Laws against these acts exist in large part because of the consequent emotional trauma and suffering for the victim, with the rest of the reasons based in the potential well-being of society as a whole. Were murder, rape, child molestation not hurtful or harmful acts in any way, then it would be difficult to see any point behind forbidding them - and hence even why society would bother forbidding these acts in the first place. Furthermore, were harms and hurts themselves not prone to cause pain and suffering in others, then it would be likewise difficult to see how they could be considered a bad thing by anyone - even the "victims" (quotes appropriate in this case, for if one cannot be hurt by the action then it is impossible to be a "victim" of it). The same framework also applies to deeper questions of justice in general. We seek to prevent injustice precisely because injustice hurts individuals and/or society in some manner and to some extent.

    In reality, many harms and hurts - and by characteristic all injustices - can cause great and grievous pain and suffering. Thus, all these acts are bad, whether to the individual or to society as a whole (often both). Because certain bad things can cause egregious suffering in others, we have laws, rules, and other social admonishments against acts that cause such pointless (i.e., nonproductive and avoidable) pain or suffering to and for others. This is especially true regarding acts that generate no sufficiently compensatory good desired by the victim, family, social group, or greater society. Murder, rape, and child molestation certainly are such acts in all the described respects, and hence we consider them outside the bounds of permissible actions (in these cases, far outside). Therefore, society does establish laws, rules, and moral values against such actions precisely because they cause pain, suffering, grief and anguish for other people.

    The same essential reason for banning the most harmful and/or hurtful crimes also applies to crimes with less harmful and/or hurtful consequences (battery not resulting in bodily harm or injury, pickpocketing, “white collar crime”, etc.). Again, it’s difficult to see how these acts can legitimately be considered immoral if they did not cause pain and suffering for others. In fact, how could we say these activities were immoral at all if these actions did not impose hurtful consequences onto others in a very fundamental way - all of which boil down to hurting to grievous extents others' peace of mind and/or significantly disrupt the smooth functioning of society as a whole?

    So it is that justifications for any law will ultimately find their source in the desire to prevent suffering, pain, and other deprivations of others' peace of mind. Hence, the goal of preventing or mitigating against suffering, pain, etc (i.e. bad things) is a well-established moral value. Thus, prevention of suffering, pain, and other deprivations of other's peace of mind is a sound basis for legally forbidding any action.


    Which Hurtful Acts Deserve Formal Legal Sanction?

    In a sentence, any act that, if performed against someone outside one’s social circle (loved ones, friends, acquaintances), that create at least the potential for substantial negative impacts on those others (i.e. “out-groups”, strangers, etc). Hence, while spousal cheating and suicide, f.ex. indeed can leave deeply hurtful, negative impacts on loved ones, probably on many friends, and perhaps in some cases even close acquaintances, these acts do not threaten the larger society as a whole. So while it is sound enough to advocate discouragement of these acts on moral grounds (in most cases, at least) to codifying them as criminal behavior seems to go beyond the proper role of government, and hence legislation.

    So it is that pickpocketing is legitimately considered a criminal activity (for it can equally affect strangers), suicide ought not be – for theft of money and credit cards in and of itself can threaten the security of the larger society, spousal cheating and even suicide (both more traumatic for the aggrieved than pickpocketing) are not. Any wrongdoing that affects only individuals and not society as a whole ought not be considered criminal. At most it should be made a tort, and even then if only highly hurtful to the victim’s physical and/or psychological health. Informal social morals and admonitions against hurtful and/or harmful non-public activities should suffice in cases against individuals that do not cause serious physical or psychological health.

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    Double British (see flags)? Intriguing! Where is your thread going? What is the purpose? To explore meaning or evolutionary origins of good versus evil? Define criminal behavior? Surely we must have external criteria and evidence of "crimes that are hurtful.....", as leaving it to the alleged victim to just claim being hurt (in his/her psyche) leads to much interpersonal, political, and social extortion and similar abuses.

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    Quote Originally Posted by scottraveler
    Double British (see flags)?
    Shows ancestry proportions (the US Centered flag signifies my central self-identification).

    Where is your thread going? What is the purpose?
    To provoke discussion about anything you want.

    To explore meaning or evolutionary origins of good versus evil? Define criminal behavior?
    Wherever it takes people

    Surely we must have external criteria and evidence of "crimes that are hurtful.....", as leaving it to the alleged victim to just claim being hurt (in his/her psyche) leads to much interpersonal, political, and social extortion and similar abuses.
    Did you even read the post? I distinguished between crimes and private wrongs, saying that types of activities that would threaten public security if performed toward those outside one's circle of family (and perhaps friends too). I don't see where this post adds anything to the discussion, barring the "just claim to be hurt" part. That's why we have juries, to determine if a reasonable person would consider the act a potentially serious enough threat to society as a whole to justify jail time or stiff fines.

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    Did you even read the post?
    Yes; that's why I wondered where you were going?

    I distinguished between crimes and private wrongs

    What are crimes has to be decided; and even with allowances for "private/family...?" issues, behaviors within families and so-called private relationships are generally considered the subject for social restrictions.

    I don't see where this post adds anything to the discussion
    It first has to be deciphered what the discussion is supposed to be about, before it can be added to.

    , barring the "just claim to be hurt" part. That's why we have juries, to determine if a reasonable person would consider the act a potentially serious enough threat to society as a whole to justify jail time or stiff fines

    "potentially..."? Usually society does not preemptively convict and punish people for what might happen? Although there is some fuzziness here in extreme circumstances. And many issues are balancing acts; restricting some kinds of things like "being hurtful" can fly in the face of legitimate constitutional rights of free speech and the value that has for society. In fact, I think more of criminal definition and control is a balancing act of competing human interests than we realize --- especially perhaps by those who see good and evil defined by religious means.

    I just had the feeling there were so many foundational issues related to your initial question about crime and punishment, issues and foundations developed over thousands of years of civilization and perhaps millions of years of genetic wiring, and starting assumptions that the audience may or may not buy into, that it will be difficult to proceed.

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    Thanks for clearing this up, Scott.

    Actually, the foundational issue is simple: We develop laws because (a) most of us have empathy toward our fellow human beings as a whole (b) due to (a), we feel other people's pain, and so any harm caused to others will cause us to feel what other people are going through. I think both create a fundamental ethic: Do not cause pointless harm to others -IOW harm that is avoidable, unnecessary, and non-productive (not just in a resource/economic sense, but also includes activities of culturally/intellectually redeeming value - activities that add to the well-being and enjoyment of life). Difference in opinion DO occur over what exactly constitutes such harms, activities, etc. But the basic principle itself "Do not cause pointless harm to others" seems on very safe ground.

    Why else would we prohibit even the most heinous, ghastly crimes you've ever heard of (or probably worse, that you can imagine happeining) if they did not cause pointless harm to an individual or to others in some way? If [name of crime and particular incident here] did not cause such harm (physical or psychological) at all, then it's hard to see why there would be any reason to ban it at all. It woud matter to other people about as much as John or Jane Doe choosing Coke over Pepsi.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Phil75231 View Post
    Thanks for clearing this up, Scott.

    Actually, the foundational issue is simple: We develop laws because (a) most of us have empathy toward our fellow human beings as a wholeWhy else would we prohibit even the most heinous, ghastly crimes you've ever heard of (or probably worse, that you can imagine happeining) if they did not cause pointless harm to an individual or to others in some way? .
    The issue is complex rather than simple in my view. While empathy is an important glue that helps to hold society together, you seem to leave out the social contract idea --- that I want myself and those I especially care about to be protected from certain kinds of acts by others, but if I am to expect from and relinquish to society the provision of protection to my circle rather than depend on our own means, than I have to agree to have my circle's behavior towards others controlled by the same rules.

    But to me the much more difficult question is what produces the society's list of official and enforced "don'ts", and what is a healthy boundary to such a list? I can't say my society sits at the proper balance right now.

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    Quote Originally Posted by scottraveler
    you seem to leave out the social contract idea --- that I want myself and those I especially care about to be protected from certain kinds of acts by others, but if I am to expect from and relinquish to society the provision of protection to my circle rather than depend on our own means, than I have to agree to have my circle's behavior towards others controlled by the same rules.
    Why should you care about other's outside your circle in the first place? More to the point, many people cared about the well-being of others well outside their own circle (granted to varying degrees, but even so). Most "lily white" Westerners were appaled at what happened in Rwanda, continue to be likewise when some Mad Mullah issues some fatwa about Muslim women, or especially if the Saudi government or some other hard-core Islamist government actually enforces those laws in an especially callous way. Most Americans also were appaled at Abu Ghirab - for we did see essential humanity in even alleged enemy combatants. So while I appreciate the fact that there our primary sense of concern is going to be our family and friends (justified or not), we do place limits on how little concern we have for the well-being of "outsiders" (although even this can be short-circuited by certain memes - with Apartheid and Jim Crow being the most notable examples from recent history).

    So it seems that even before we entered an alliance with other groups, there still had to be a sense of empathy AND concern (not exactly the same thing) for those "others" as well.

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    The basic concept of law, as we know it, was to protect members of a society from wrongdoing. Laws evolved to encompass all people in a village, region, or country. It was not always unlawful to kill someone. Slaves, for example, could be disposed of as the owner thought fit. Laws were originally based on the Bibles Ten Commandments, which, given by God, could not be wrong.

    Similarly, The Holy Koran sets out codes of conduct with penalties for transgressors, and so on.

    Laws are made for the good of society, the protection of the weak. Often, bad laws are passed and the people object, sometimes successfully.

    I couldn't see the point of this thread either.

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    here is a bit more context..."The sources of the general fiduciary duty do not lie, then, in a natemelistic concern to protect a 'weaker' or 'primitive' people, as has sometimes been suggested"

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