The View from Hell

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The Moral Effect of "Being Glad It Happened"

with 4 comments

In my post “When It’s Permissible To Force Someone To Stay Alive For His Own Good” and elsewhere, I have addressed the fact that many people who are forcibly prevented from committing suicide later report being glad they were forced to stay alive. This fact is often used to justify coercive suicide prevention practices.

Similarly, the vast majority of people appear to report that they are glad to have been born. This is occasionally used as a justification for procreation (against antinatalist arguments).

While I am not attempting, in this piece, to address the question of whether suicide or procreation is right or wrong, I wish to question the validity of the argument that goes something like this:

  1. Action
  2. Object of the action is later glad the action occurred
  3. Therefore, Action was morally correct.

I will jump right in with an illustrative counterexample: genital mutilation of children. In many countries, female children are subject to genital mutilation, usually for the purpose of maintaining their chastity by making sex painful or less pleasant, though sometimes for other purposes. Those of us who find the genital mutilation of children horrifying are confronted with the fact that, in many cases, women who were genitally mutilated as children grow up to participate in, and actively perpetrate in many cases, the genital mutilation of their own daughters. The fact that they practice genital mutilation on their own children is strong evidence that these woman are glad to have been genitally mutilated. But does this make forcible genital mutilation of children morally right? Clearly not.

In many cases, we may suffer wrongs that begin a chain of causation that leads to a subjectively good result. It should not take much introspection to come up with cases in our own lives when someone committed a wrong against us for which we were ultimately grateful, because the eventual consequences of the wrong were subjectively pleasant or otherwise beneficial. My claim is that this after-the-fact feeling of gladness does not render the initial act any less wrong.

More on the parallels between birth and female genital mutilation in my piece, “Birth and Consent: An Alternate Philanthropic Route to Antinatalism.”

The “glad it happened” justification seems to be a species of the Golden Rule Argument – if you’re glad you’re alive, have more babies (who will presumably be glad to be alive). If you’re glad you were prevented from committing suicide, prevent others from committing suicide. And so on. The problem with this line of thinking is people like me – people who are not happy to be alive, and who sincerely wish to die. What effect would a Golden Rule have when applied to me – should I go around killing people because I want to die? Hardly. It is moral for me to respect the lives and desires of others, just as I feel it is moral for others to respect my wish to die. I think “do unto others as you would like to have done unto you” has a serious flaw, and the variety of human experience is that flaw.

Obviously, the majority of people are happy to be alive. Perhaps the majority of “rescued” attempted suicides are even happy to have been rescued. But this line of thinking turns action into a consequentialist game of playing the odds. Respecting the values of individuals – even those with unusual desires – and placing a high value on consent, is a more coherent and appealing strategy. “Do unto others as they would have done unto them.”

Thanks to Sister Wolf for crystallizing the argument at her site!

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Written by Sister Y

July 26, 2008 at 12:03 am

4 Responses

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  1. i’m not so certain that it is obvious that the majority of people are happy to be alive. there are two motivations, one is pleasure-seeking and the other is pain-avoidance. it’s entirely possible that people are not happy to be alive but instead are just too fearful of dying.

    werouious

    July 26, 2008 at 1:58 am

  2. Fine assumption, just as long as you’re only speaking for yourself. After all, who else can you speak for?

    Sister Wolf

    July 26, 2008 at 2:27 am

  3. Oh no! I just read your post more closely (silly me) and I see that you want to die.I am so sorry to hear this, and I mean it. I wish I could help, Sister to Sister.

    Sister Wolf

    July 26, 2008 at 2:30 am

  4. You’re a sweet human being. I wish the fastest healing to your pelvis too!

    Sister Y

    July 26, 2008 at 9:38 am


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