Thursday, July 10, 2014
Forcing My Beliefs Onto You
Countless people have asserted the following proposition to me:
F: It is always morally wrong to force one’s beliefs onto someone else.
I will argue that F is false.
Consider the following:
W: It is always morally wrong to rape, torture, and kill children solely for the sake of one’s personal sexual enjoyment.
You almost certainly agree with me that W is true. If you do not, there is nothing I can say to you.
Because of the moral seriousness of the behavior described in W, if W is true, then the following two propositions are true:
P: It is obligatory to prevent—forcefully, if necessary—people from raping, torturing, and killing children solely for the sake of their personal enjoyment.
S: It is obligatory to serve punishment—forcefully, if necessary—to people who rape, torture, and kill children solely for the sake of their own sexual enjoyment.
Now: If F is true, then P and S are false, since both P and S are instances of forcing one’s beliefs onto someone else. Since P and S follow reasonably from W, then the affirmation of F is also the denial of W. The consequence of all this is that, if you affirm F, then you are also affirming not-W:
Not-W: It is not the case that it is always morally wrong to rape, torture, and kill children solely for the sake of one’s personal enjoyment.
So, if you accept W, then you must reject F.
But what if you really like F? What to do? Perhaps you may deny either P or S. As long as you affirm at least one of them, however, then my conclusion follows, since only one of either P or S will save the inference.
Perhaps you may deny both P and S. Yet the moves from W to P and S are eminently reasonable, and denying both of them would require some extraordinary argumentation. Perhaps you can give it.
You could deny W, but it is most implausible to affirm F and deny W. This is because both F and W make moral claims, and the moral claim in W is in a far more certain position than the one in F.
You could argue that rejecting F would lead to all kinds of abuses. That is irrelevant, since the abuse of a principle does not condemn the principle itself to falsehood.
So I conclude that F is obviously false, and that therefore its opposite is clearly true:
Not-F: It is not the case that it is always wrong to force one’s beliefs onto someone else.
Indeed, sometimes morality requires that you do so.