Thursday, June 07, 2012

Is slavery harmful?

Larry Sanger's recent post brought out the usual idiotic comments. But some thoughtful and clever comments too, in particular from someone called 'Carl Gombrich' who I suspect is the grandson of E.H. Gombrich. Some asked for evidence which supports Larry's implicit assumption that pornography is harmful to children. Gombrich replies, asking whether there is any evidence that slavery is harmful.
[…] as far as I know there is nothing we could really call evidence to show that slavery is bad, either collectively or for individuals kept as slaves. Are those refusing to move on restricting the access of children to pornography therefore in favour of legalising slavery until we have ‘evidence’ (presumably a longitudinal study over many years involving several hundred people, control groups etc) to show that slavery is harmful? Specifically that it is so harmful to individuals that it should therefore be outlawed? If they do not advocate such a move, why don’t they? That is the logic of the position: no evidence, no move.

But the important point is that slavery is bad, and the argument that it is bad was successfully made on moral grounds by previous generations in the West. That is why it is outlawed in many countries.

Now ask: is it better or worse for children to come across hardcore pornography? We are talking children, not adolescents searching out of curiosity or for arousal, but children, for whom sexuality is a very different thing. I would like to know the libertarian answer to this question. If you think it is better that children do not see hardcore pornography, then we should something about the fact that, increasingly, many of them do.

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10 Comments:

Blogger Anthony said...

>> Now ask: is it better or worse for children to come across hardcore pornography?

So, we can just substitute anything we want for slavery, and make the same argument?

Is it better or worse for children to come across cartoon violence?

Is it better or worse for children to come across homosexual love?

Is it better or worse for children to come across atheist literature?

If you think it is better that children do not see [cartoon violence/homosexual love/atheist literature] then we should something [sic] about that fact that, increasingly, many of them do.

11:14 am  
Blogger Anthony said...

(Please note that I am *not* saying that slavery=hardcore pornography=cartoon violence=homosexual love=atheist literature. They *are* different. But the important difference is that we have different levels of evidence of the harm that they do. Whether "hardcore pornography" falls on the side of that division that it should constitute a crime, presumably child abuse, for a parent to allow a child to view it, is not a part of the argument we can just waive away, or deal with emotionally.)

11:21 am  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>So, we can just substitute anything we want for slavery, and make the same argument?

Clearly not. What was the point he was making, do you think?

12:43 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

>> What was the point he was making, do you think?

No idea.

7:55 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

Perhaps he was making the point (very clearly, I had thought, but obviously not) that the question of whether X is harmful is different from the question of whether X is wrong?

Clearly we can't substitute anything you like for 'slavery', because some things are neither wrong nor harmful. And perhaps some things are harmful but not wrong.

8:41 am  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>Whether "hardcore pornography" falls on the side of that division that it should constitute a crime.

Yet another distinction. That X is criminal may not mean that is wrong. And vice versa. 'Harmful', 'wrong', 'criminal' mean different things, and there are important cases where one might apply, but the other(s) don't.

8:43 am  
Blogger Anthony said...

>> Perhaps he was making the point (very clearly, I had thought, but obviously not) that the question of whether X is harmful is different from the question of whether X is wrong?

If so he wasn't making it very well, because slavery is both wrong and harmful.

His argument seems to rest on "as far as I know there is nothing we could really call evidence to show that slavery is bad". I'm not sure what he's calling evidence, though, because he admits that "the argument that it is bad was successfully made on moral grounds".

If I were going to try to make his argument for him (and I try not to do this, as it tends to lead to strawmen), it would be something along the lines of: It is not necessary to show that something is bad empirically - it is enough to show that it is bad theoretically.

>> Clearly we can't substitute anything you like for 'slavery', because some things are neither wrong nor harmful.

So you think Gombrich is claiming that slavery is not harmful? That's certainly not what he said. In fact, he doesn't seem to be drawing any distinction between "wrong" and "harmful". He switches readily between the two, referring to "nothing we could really call evidence to show that slavery is bad" and then to " until we have ‘evidence’ [...] to show that slavery is harmful".

The distinction he seems to be drawing is based on "evidence to show that slavery is bad" vs. "the argument that it is bad". I've tried to elaborate on that above, but that very well may be a strawman, because I'm somewhat of an empiricist - certainly I would say that any good argument is based on evidence.

1:24 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

>> >> Whether "hardcore pornography" falls on the side of that division that it should constitute a crime.

>> Yet another distinction. That X is criminal may not mean that is wrong.

That X should be criminal implies that it is wrong.

Of course, that X is wrong does not imply that it should be criminal. At least, I am not arguing that.

However, the last line that you quoted is the one that worries me. "If you think it is better that children do not see hardcore pornography, then we should something about the fact that, increasingly, many of them do." Gombrich doesn't say what it is "we should", so it is hard to analyze this.

>> 'Harmful', 'wrong', 'criminal' mean different things, and there are important cases where one might apply, but the other(s) don't.

You're the one drawing a distinction between "harmful" and "wrong". Gombrich didn't. And slavery is not an example of the distinction. Slavery is wrong. Slavery is harmful.

1:32 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>If so he wasn't making it very well, because slavery is both wrong and harmful.

Irrelevant. His point is that we must not confuse the question of whether it is harmful, from the question of whether it is wrong i.e. morally wrong.

It does not help that he uses 'bad for' as meaning 'harmful to', then switches to 'bad' meaning wrong i.e. morally wrong.

5:20 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

>> His point is that we must not confuse the question of whether it is harmful, from the question of whether it is wrong i.e. morally wrong.

Well, first of all, I don't think that was the point he was attempting to make, because it doesn't explain why he brought up slavery.

But secondly, if it is the point he was attempting to make, I don't think he was successful. If something is not harmful, then it isn't wrong. The point about slavery is irrelevant. Slavery is wrong, and slavery is harmful. Moreover, slavery is wrong because slavery is harmful.

>> It does not help that he uses 'bad for' as meaning 'harmful to', then switches to 'bad' meaning wrong i.e. morally wrong.

You're the one proposing that there is a dichotomy. The fact that we use the same word, "bad", in the context of "harmful to" and the context of "morally wrong" is not a coincidence.

6:15 pm  

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