More to Morality than Niceness?

800 - Morality Niceness

A friend on Facebook shared this comment. The idea behind it seems self-evident: shouldn’t you evaluate your actions with respect to others based on how they themselves perceive those actions? If you like vanilla more than chocolate, then it doesn’t make sense to give everyone vanilla. You should find out which they prefer themselves, and you should behave accordingly. Simple, right?

Well, no. It’s not always that simple. The reason that analogy works is precisely because taste really is subjective. But, unless you’re willing to buy into total moral relativism, then that analogy is not going to translate simply and easily from dishing out ice cream to much more complex issues ranging from helping people kill themselves (assisted suicide) to helping people mutilate themselves (see: Bodily Integrity Disorder).

By the way, I had to look up David G. McAfee (who wrote the original Tweet). If you did not know who he was, then the best way to introduce him is as a sidekick to the Four Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse. Which is to say, he’s the newest generation of the New Atheist movement. I particularly enjoyed the titles of his books: Disproving Christianity and Other Secular Writings and Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist: The Guide to Coming out as a Non-Believer. There are few things as endearing as the towering sense of certainty that accompanies precious young adulthood. Whether it’s fundamentalist Christians who know that they can prove God exists or fundamentalist atheists who know they can prove God doesn’t exist, you just kind of want to ruffle their hair and say, “That’s the spirit, Sport. Go get ’em.”1

This clash between the directive to just “be nice” (which entails a kind of moral relativism) and the apparent callousness of traditional morality (which stems from moral objectivism or realism) is incredibly important. It constitutes an essential aspect of the clash between social conservatives and social liberals. Pick any one of several issues and you will find at root a conflict over moral relativism masquerading as a conflict over self-determination. One example is the right-to-die movement, which argues that denying legalized, physician-assisted suicide is a gross abridgment of the right of rational human beings to choose the timing, manner, and rationale of their own demise. The same sentiment pervades most of the sexual philosophy of modern liberalism: as long as people are consenting adults, what right have we to abridge their choices with either legal or moral condemnation?

The logic is strong and compelling because it taps into a bedrock principle of the philosophy that our nation was founded on. What is more American or more Enlightened than to staunchly defend the right of citizens to choose their own identities and destinies?

And yet, as even some liberals have started to intuit, this logic takes us in unintended directions. Damon Linker is one who has had the temerity to draw attention to this point. In “Yes, the Libertarian Moment has Arrived” he argued that “America clearly is becoming more libertarian — it’s just that the transformation is happening in morality and culture, not in economic, tax, and regulatory policy.” Linker traces this shift to Anthony Kennedy’s decision on Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which he wrote that “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, of the mystery of human life.” Scalia, as prescient as he is grumpy, “recognized immediately that such a libertarian principle created serious problems for morals legislation of any kind.”

The problem with Kennedy’s logic is that it has no limiting principle. And the problem with that is that it leads to places that make us uncomfortable. Which is why Linker is one of the few (maybe the only?) social liberal to publicly connect the dots between socially liberal positions that are in and socially liberal positions that are (so far) still very much out.2 This irritates his fellow liberals to no end, as he wrote about in “No, I’m not the Rick Santorum of punditry“:

Why, these readers wonder, do I continually highlight such trends as the acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex marriagepolyandry, the mainstreaming of porn, consensual brother-sister incest, and bestiality, while also insinuating that they’re all somehow connected? In doing so, aren’t I invoking the same kind of alarmist and fallacious slippery-slope arguments favored by social conservatives — and in particular by the wannabe savior and champion of the religious right Rick Santorum, who seemed to imply back in 2003 that legalizing same-sex marriage might lead to the acceptance of “man on dog” relationships?

Linker disavowed the slippery-slope argument, and this is reasonable. To the extent that the slippery slope argument functions as a rhetorical device to transfer disgust from bestiality to homosexuality it is morally and logically deficient. The two are in no way equivalent, the one does not lead to the other, and given those two facts sloppy conflation of the two leads to justifiable outrage that drowns out a more legitimate—and more subtle—argument. It’s not that gay marriage itself implies anything else on Linker’s list. It’s that they are all implied by a common cause.

To explain this common cause, Linker cites social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory (MFT). According to this theory, there are six universal moral value-opposite pairs: care/harm, fairness/cheating, liberty/oppression, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation. Haidt has discovered that while conservatives in America incorporate all six pairs into their moral paradigms, liberals in America acknowledge exclusively the first three.

Linker focuses on just the first pair (care/harm), writing that in the West “within the past few decades… the concern for care/harm — with both care and harm defined exclusively in terms of individual preferences and desires — begun to drive out other moral principles.” As a result:

Outside of the relatively narrow sphere of the law, this shift isn’t taking the form of a slide down a slippery slope, as if the acceptance of homosexuality were causing or leading to the acceptance of other sexual behaviors that were once considered deviant. Rather, the public condemnation of all such behaviors is slowly fading away because of an underlying ethical shift that has transformed care/harm into the ultimate moral trump card.

The liberal paradigm, rooted in myopic attention to care/harm, is the common cause that leads to, for instance, acceptance of gay marriage and of group marriage. To the extent that gay marriage is accepted (legally and morally) on these grounds, it validates the care/harm paradigm and that validation (not gay marriage itself) will inevitably lead to group marriage. It is also vital to note that it is not just the emphasis on care/harm but also, as Linker pointed out, care/harm “defined exclusively in terms of individual preferences and desires.” In other words: while everyone is off debating about self-determination and individual human dignity, the actual payload of these arguments is to sneak moral relativism in while no one is paying attention.

So this is why McAfee’s quote matters so much. At first it seems like just a pedantic reformulation of the Golden Rule. But the point of Christ’s injunction was to broaden the scope of morality. Instead of behaving morally within our clan or tribe, our moral obligations became universal. That was the primary point he was making, as the following parable illustrates quite clearly. McAfee has not only missed the point, but he is using an apparently trivial twist to do something entirely different; he is redefining morality. The new formulation substitutes subjectivism and sentimentalism in place of moral realism.

The problem, for Linker at least, arises when that same paradigm leads not only to validating polyamory in group marriages (for example), but also extends to behaviors that still trigger to disgust in most people. Linker writers:

That’s why the recent 6,200-word New York magazine interview with a committed “zoophile” is so important — because it’s such a perfect example of this transformation and its practical implications. The piece expressed no concern about the subject’s moral degradation and in fact contained no moral judgments at all — except to denounce those who would make such judgments. And why is it wrong to judge a man harshly for having sex with a horse? Simply because, the interview clearly implied, it would be mean (and so harmful) to those who have such desires.

Which leads Linker to his most important question:

Don’t get me wrong: being nice is definitely a good thing. But is it the best thing? The highest thing? The thing that should override every other possible moral judgment? I’m not so sure.

Linker is in search of some kind of limiting principle. He understands (and so do most social liberals, which is why they get so testy about it) that within the new moral paradigm there isn’t one. The only thing that separates acceptance of homosexuality on the one hand and consensual sibling incest on the other hand is popularity. Which is to say, fashion. That’s it. There’s no substantive argument possible within the exclusive care/harm paradigm to admit the one but deny the other. And so social liberals are confronted with a stark question. Do they fully embrace the logic of their paradigm and concede that their own disgust at zoophilia, incest, and so forth are nothing more than newly exposed forms of bigotry? Or do they reject the logic of their moral paradigm and look elsewhere to arrest the unfolding progress of moral progressivism?

16 thoughts on “More to Morality than Niceness?”

  1. My thoughts on bestiality are currently inchoate, so I’ll not opine on that issue. But incest strikes me as a wonderful example of the self-limiting nature of the moral principle that people ought to be free to do as they wish. The problem with incest, on my view, is the hazard of diminished freedom to choose, because families are so interdependent (thus issues of power and coercion are never irrelevant) and play such a crucial role in the development of our desires. If sibling incest were acceptable, we would incentivize older siblings with sexual urges they’d like satisfied to channel their younger siblings into wanting to satisfy those urges. The more deliberately created your desires are, the less free choices based on them appear.

  2. I think niceness is hugely overrated in our culture. It has gotten to the point where it is difficult to have an intelligent conversation, an exchange of differing ideas, or a genuine debate. Diplomacy, tact, a sense of humor, and a respectful demeanor are important to such conversations, but now it is considered offensive to even have the conversation. It’s not considered “nice”. I see it in everything from the low threshold for offense in our culture down to my very own family, where many folks consider it disrespectful to even engage in a friendly debate or discussion…even when they bring the controversial topic up themselves. Apparently, the “nice” thing to do is not engage at all when a questionable or controversial statement is made. And niceness is more important than anything else.

    I know many conservatives who are easily and unnecessarily offended, so I don’t want to just throw liberals under the bus. But I have noticed that the liberals in my life uphold this niceness morality as one of their highest virtues. They see it as fundamentally offensive to even engage in a discussion, and they see it as a sign of maturity when you won’t engage. This is a pretty sad development for a nation that supposedly wants an informed and engaged public, that supposedly values the free exchange of ideas.

  3. LT-

    I think you’re right, in that there is a connection between the emphasis on “niceness” and social liberalism. But it’s not a question (and I think you would agree, so I’m not arguing this point, just clarifying something that wasn’t clear enough in my post) of genuine kindness. It’s not “Who should we be kind to?” or “Is kindness important?” These are obvious. the question is: What is kindness? And that, sadly, is not obvious.

    By situating the answer exclusively in the perception of the person in question, the socially liberal response is making a strong claim about moral relativism, but it’s an invisible one. It is saying that “kindness is in the eye of the beholder.”

    As a rule of thumb, that’s fine. But when you get people who are starting to ask if they can have perfectly healthy limbs amputated, then you start to realize that subjective kindness isn’t kind. In many cases–like assisted suicide–it’s actually much more about our feelings and convenience than it is about the dignity or liberty or feelings of those who suffer and are vulnerable.

    Until social liberals understand that this is the origin for a lot of the resistance of social conservatives to their moral progressiveness, they will truly not understand us. (And, when understanding does not exist between people who have different viewpoints, force is all too often the immediate recourse.)

  4. I completely agree, Nathaniel. Just the fact that many liberals view debate, in general, as unkind shows a disconnect in our perceptions of kindness. I think it is a kindness to seek the truth together, to try to root out each other’s errors through discussion. Many liberals view the very nature of that sort of discussion — one that involves questioning each other’s ideas — as unkind. And that goes back to your point: What is kindness? Is it really in the eye of the beholder? A (hopefully) more straightforward example: Would any of us, including liberals, think it okay to allow a teen to cut herself merely because she desires to release her pain in that way? Isn’t it kinder to intervene, to help her toward a healthier path, even if it upsets and angers her? If we could only have some of these conversations that back up and point out some of the underlying assumptions and implications, we may be able to work our way toward more agreement in other more controversial areas. Maybe that’s too idealistic?

  5. “I think it is a kindness to seek the truth together, to try to root out each other’s errors through discussion. Many liberals view the very nature of that sort of discussion — one that involves questioning each other’s ideas — as unkind.”

    At least you’re in the good company of Socrates:

    < seemed to me that this man seemed to be wise, both to many other human beings and most of all to himself, but that he was not. And then I tried to show him that he supposed he was wise, but was not. So from this I became hateful both to him and to many of those present.>

    I always chuckle reading Socrates’ comment (through Plato) that we should be happy when people show us our errors, because they have helped us to stop believing something false and begin believing something true. Socrates is so obviously right, and yet carrying out that wisdom in practice is exceedingly difficult.

  6. Regarding the actual content of the article, I would argue that the niceness form of morality suffers from an additional problem, at least since this form of morality is almost exclusively advanced by atheist materialists: *Why* be nice? *Why* treat others how you would want to be treated or how they would want to be treated? The entire edifice for this argument seems to be the discarded Judeo-Christian worldview.

    The most common argument I hear coming from an atheist materialist point of view is that cooperation and kindness increase chances of survival and societal growth, but a short survey of history will reveal that cooperation and kindness *within your own group* is the key to survival, not cooperation and kindness towards all people. Other groups range from “useful allies” to “potential slaves” to “genocide material.”

    And to bring things full circle, that’s exactly what made Jesus’ teachings like the Golden Rule so crazy for its time. Like Nathaniel said, you weren’t commanded just to consider your friends or your clan. You were to consider everybody, even your worst enemies. But the basis for that command is the fact that, in the Jewish and Christian worldview, all human beings are God’s creation. Remove that inherent dignity, and you’re going to have a hard time finding a basis for applying the Golden Rule universally.

  7. Yes, Bryan, it can be extremely difficult :). But I guess the tone of the conversation matters too. When I was younger, whenever I struggled with an idea, argument, or virtue, I would call my dad. And I would ask him a million questions. I would bring up arguments against his explanations. I would ask and talk and question until I was satisfied with the answer. That doesn’t mean I always agreed with him. It took me many years and many phone calls to agree on *most* things with him. But I was definitely more at peace when I could struggle through the problem with someone I respected. I still do that with my dad and others in my life. Sure, sometimes I strongly disagree with someone and I know they probably won’t sway me. But I at least learn more about that individual when engaging with them.

    It is annoying when someone is just out to win or be right, especially if they are right. THAT is hard.

  8. For me, there’s a massive difference between incest, zoophilia and homosexuality. And that is consent and social harm.

    Incest is a taboo in every culture because of the likely harm caused by an accidental pregnancy when the parents are closely genetically related. Zoophilia is only acceptable if you assume that animals can give consent, which they cannot.

    Ultimately, my ‘classical’ liberalism assumes that people are free to do whatever they want, provided they cause no harm to anyone else. The reasoning is that it is not the government’s job to make laws about morality – this is critical to permit, for example, freedom to worship and minority ;lifestyle choices. It’s a check on government authoritarianism and mob rule.

    The ‘compulsory niceness’ issue is nothing to do with real ‘morality’. It’s related to the politics of identity, i.e. “the personal is political.” If your politics are bound to unalterable facts about your identity, then any political challenge is a personal insult. Hence, debate is impossible.

    For me, my politics are one aspect of my identity, and – hence – it’s possible for me to debate without taking offense.

  9. Some further thoughts:

    “But, unless you’re willing to buy into total moral relativism, then that analogy [vanilla vs. chocolate] is not going to translate simply and easily from dishing out ice cream to much more complex issues ranging from helping people kill themselves (assisted suicide) to helping people mutilate themselves (see: Bodily Integrity Disorder).”

    Actually, I think that’s a brilliant example. The golden rule looks decidedly gilt if you’re the person who wants others to harm you–it would be absurd to treat others as you wish they’d treat you. Which is just another way of saying that the golden rule assumes that your wishes reflect universal moral truths. In many of the most vexing cases, that makes “do unto others as you’d have them do unto you” not only bad advice, but predictably bad advice with a side of egocentrism. What makes it a marvelous rule is its simplicity, so it gets easy cases right and helps people learning to behave morally develop empathy. “Do unto others according to their wishes” loses some simplicity, but gains extensibility to slightly harder set of cases. It’s still a pretty simple heuristic, though, so judging it as a reflection of a full-fledged moral theory is as problematic as judging the morality of all Christianity by the golden rule.

    Second, I just wanted to point out that there is a moral hazard problem. Admittedly, I haven’t encountered this failure to engage on the part of liberals. That makes the following possibility more salient to me: what if your approach to debate is actually unkind? Highlighting the importance of saying hard things can easily serve as an excuse for behaving like a bully or a jerk. That’s particularly relevant because Christians, in my experience, tend to be unaware of a lot of ways in which they register disrespect for others. Many seem taken by this same idea that morality is objective and is founded in Christianity, which leads them to think that allowing someone else to be damned forever could never be kind. It’s really hard to hold that thought in your mind and approach a conversation with the goal of preventing that awful result while also treating the person to whom you’re speaking like an equal, with equal access to sources of truth and an equally admirable character. So, if you find yourself thinking that liberals and atheists just don’t want to talk about the big issues because they think such discussion isn’t nice, maybe you’ve encountered such people. But you should consider whether your approach is as nice as it could be while still conveying your thoughts, and solicit feedback on that issue.

    In response to Vivienne, I’m not sure I’m comfortable with your location of the harm of incest. I think it’s bad because of the power relationships and concerns about freedom. You seem to be saying that you think it’s solely because of the harm of having a child of incest. I don’t know how that could be made consistent with the idea that human life is to be treasured. Similarly, if one were to discover that one was sterile, the objection on the basis of possible pregnancy would no longer apply, yet my strong intuition is that incest would still be objectionable. I’d be happy to discuss it further if you think I’m missing something, though.

  10. Kelsey-

    Which is just another way of saying that the golden rule assumes that your wishes reflect universal moral truths.

    I think it’s important to put the Golden Rule in context, if you want to discuss the Christian variant of it, so here it is (with the preceding discussion) from Matthew 7 (KJV):

    9 Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?

    10 Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?

    11 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

    12 Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.

    The examples here are brutally simple: stone vs. bread, fish vs. serpent. That tells you that the Golden Rule was never intended as a kind of moral calculus to determine the right answer to tricky moral questions. Instead, what is interesting about the emphasis, is the particular phrasing: “do ye even so to them.” What’s interesting about this is that it is a call towards proactivity. In other words, you can’t just be like, “I refraind from harming so-and-so.” You have to actually go out and do something positive for people. Another thing that was an actual emphasis of Jesus’ teachings (from the Parable of the Good Samaritan) was the idea that you had to expand the scope of your concern from a narrow interpretation of “neighbor” (i.e. friend and tribe) to an expansive one (anyone and everyone you run into, with particular emphasis on the socially vulnerable and oppressed.)

    So, I think the Golden-Rule-as-heuristic kind of misses out on what was actually interesting and relevant about Christ’s teaching.

    Which is part of the problem with McAfee’s variant of it. First, he’s kind of missed the point of the original emphasis by zooming in immediately on what is more which really isn’t the point. Not that that’s not a valid question, of course, but it’s kind of like evaluating a screwdriver as if it were a hammer. Second, the point he is actually making–which is that we should evaluate moral claims based on subjective perception of the person effected–is (for lack of a better word) bad. Because moral relativism is bad. Because relativism in all its forms is bad.

    So that was the thrust of this post: morality-as-kindness is, in fact, really more about moral relativism than about an emphasis on kindness.

  11. Vivienne-

    I certainly recognize the sentiment you’re expressing as a conventional libertarian one, and it’s a reason that I cannot really call myself a libertarian. The idea that consensus/harm are sufficient to establish morality is something I reject.

    There are a couple of caveats to go with that.

    First, harm and consent clearly are important. I’m not saying they are irrelevant. Just that after you’ve accounted for both of those issues, there is more left to talk about.

    Second, there’s a difference between what is moral and what is legal. The consent/harm issues come closer to a complete explanation of legal issues than they do of moral issues.

    But, in this case, we’re talking morality rather than confining ourselves strictly to legal issues. And so consent/harm is really just not enough. The prime example of that is Bodily Integrity Disorder. In that case, a person can (for example) consent to being blinded. That person can also state that such an act is not harming them, but rather helping them. In a strictly libertarian sense: we’re done here. We can go ahead and blind the individual in question and call it a day’s work. In reality, however, I think that’s a bad idea. And you thought I was just making that example up.

    So, in large part, the thrust of this article is to call into question the kind of libertarian ethics that you have in mind, where as long as people consent and nobody gets hurt (in their own view) then all is well.

  12. Highlighting the importance of saying hard things can easily serve as an excuse for behaving like a bully or a jerk.

    Reminds me of a favorite quote:

    “People who are brutally honest get more satisfaction out of the brutality than out of the honesty.”

    “But you should consider whether your approach is as nice as it could be while still conveying your thoughts, and solicit feedback on that issue.”

    I agree. I know I’m not always the most, uh, un-aggressive in person, so that’s something I like to get feedback on. I tend to get most pushy on the fundamental issues of philosophy–what’s really real, how do we know anything at all, how do we know right and wrong, do right and wrong even exist, etc. I would argue those fundamental questions go unanswered even by many serious thinkers because, in the absence of examining them, people generally just take them for granted, regardless of their stated views, since that’s what Westerners were able to do for many centuries under Christianity’s philosophical dominance. Being Christian (or before that Jewish) immediately answered many fundamental questions in philosophy. But once the Judeo-Christian heritage is jettisoned, those questions all have to be answered again and those answers actually used further down the line in one’s thinking.

  13. Kelsey and Bryan-

    I mentioned to talk about this:

    Second, I just wanted to point out that there is a moral hazard problem. Admittedly, I haven’t encountered this failure to engage on the part of liberals. That makes the following possibility more salient to me: what if your approach to debate is actually unkind?

    After many years of being extremely unkind in debates–and sometimes relishing in that mean-spiritedness–I made the decision to strive to always be polite, civil, and even kind in my debates. Not saying I live up to it all the time–I do still get frustrated and fall short–but it is what I strive for.

    But I don’t think kindness is the only thing that matters. That’s one of my points in this post, and it applies to debate, too. You can be very, very kind to someone while also being completely dishonest and disrespectful. You can argue that being dishonest is intrinsically unkind, but if you take that bath you’re basically expanding “kindness” to mean something like “goodness,” which makes the word to vague to be of any use.

    What I mean is that you can respond with a gentle tone, with no personal attacks, with expressions of sympathy, concern, etc. and yet at the same time by lying through your teeth about what you believe and also, by refusing to interact with the actual substance of a person’s argument, be disrespecting their concerns and instead treating them like you would a child.

    In short: kindness alone is not enough for a debate.

    I also just kind of think kindness is something you should strive for in your own discussions, but not something that it is very productive to argue about in other people’s words. That ends up just being a way of playing the referee, as it were, and the reality is that everyone already think their “side” is nicer anyway.

  14. Kelsey – I did wonder, as I was writing about the incest example, whether infertile siblings committing incest would be morally problematic (to me). I had a knee-jerk negative emotional reaction to the idea, but I assume that’s the hard-wired human taboo against incest, which can’t be intellectualised. The difficulty with that, as a legal issue (rather than a moral one), is proving the partners are 100% infertile. True infertility (e.g. missing uterus, no sperm) applies to very few people.

    Nathaniel – I’m a Brit and I started reading your Hugo blogging, and enjoy your blog a lot. As I’m British, I sometimes misstep comparing my politics to the USA. I’m a ‘liberal’ in the UK, but I don’t think I’m a US ‘libertarian’, as that implies (I think) specific economic views.

    I’ve seen something similar to Body Integrity Disorder with respect to heritable deafness. Deaf parents often see themselves as part of a Deaf community, and would prefer deaf children who can participate in that community. There’s been some ethical debates about whether they should be permitted to make that choice via IVF ( My view is “yes”. This does – again – apply to a tiny number of people – so it’s hard to argue widespread social harm on that basis.

    I agree that this only sets up a legal framework, and not a basis for morality. I’m not a moral relativist and, for me, this indeed creates an ethical dilemma. For example, why am I alright with parents choosing to have a deaf child, but not with female genital mutilation? I still need to work through a satisfactory answer to that question…

  15. Nathaniel, it sounds like your view is that Christ meant the golden rule to convey a positive duty to all of humanity, but that he didn’t really mean the bit about using your own preferences as a guide to duty. Instead, the rule assumes that most individuals’ preferences will accord well with objective moral standards, and it’s really those standards which Christ is saying we need to apply actively to everyone. Am I correctly summarizing your view?

    I think you’re right that McAfee does not take that to be the point. He understood it, as I always have, to establish each individual’s preferences as their guide to moral treatment of others. On that understanding, McAfee’s formulation and Christ’s are exactly equally subjective. That’s why this struck me as an odd way to make the point about the badness of subjective niceness–the contrast McAfee seems to be going for isn’t subjective vs. objective, but egocentric vs. other-centric. I agree that, if McAfee interpreted the golden rule as you seem to, as an appeal to objective morality, then he would have been subjectifying morality with his proposed improvement. But, even if your interpretation of that passage is correct, it probably wasn’t McAfee’s interpretation, so that wasn’t the contrast he was likely trying to bring out.

    With respect to kindness, I guess I’ve never seen anyone suggest that kindness is the only value (without, as you say, deflating the term to simply mean “goodness”). Again, maybe I’ve just had very different experiences than you have, but I wonder whether you’re relying too much on Haidt’s claim that care/harm is driving out other moral principles. It’s true that I, a liberal, don’t really care about sanctity or purity. Those concepts don’t matter to me at all. But it’s hard to imagine anyone genuinely believing that liberals don’t really care about fairness or oppression, or that these can never serve as counterweights to care. Indeed, I more often see the equally inaccurate accusation that liberals only care about equality, and we’re all out to “level down” so that no one has more than the poorest among us.

    In short, you’re arguing against the view that kindness is all that matters. Do you actually attribute this view to someone, or are you concerned about something related to it (perhaps there’s rhetoric around which subtly appeals to this principle, without stating it clearly enough for everyone to recognize that no one accepts it, for example)?

  16. Vivienne,

    If you want an example of truly infertile sibling incest, you just have to consider homosexual sibling incest. That’s very straightforward — Same-sex relations are naturally infertile. Based on your logic in this thread, homosexual incest shouldn’t be problematic at all, right? Only heterosexual incest could pose the problem of creating offspring. Would you be okay with homosexual incest from a legal or moral standpoint? And could we end up in a situation where heterosexuals have greater legal restrictions than homosexuals because of their ability to naturally create children with their partners?

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