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The issue of "harm"

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Jack18
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The issue of "harm"

Post by Jack18 » February 22nd, 2018, 10:32 pm

I'm curious about the nature of "harm." As I understand it, it often requires measurable damage of some sort to the other party. But does that mean then, as long as the party is ignorant of the act then no harm is done?

For example, X act is both illegal and immoral (in most cultures and in this particular culture). If X act was done to an aware being, it would cause some form of measurable harm (such as psychological, mental, social). To be clear, the measurable harm done would require knowledge of act X. But if that same being were completely unaware of X act occurring to them, it would seem they would never notice the existence of X act and without awareness of X act, there could be no harm.

So then can it be said that X act isn't an act of harm? That because it may not result in harm (if the other party is not aware of act X) in all instances, the most that could be said about it is that despite it being illegal and immoral 100% of the time, it isn't an act of harm itself, it can only result in harm under certain conditions. Is this accurate?

The confusion lies in the idea of "harm" being an affront to another, regardless of consequences or measurable harm. If the other party is devalued in some way, regardless if they acknowledge it or feel effects from it, by devaluing a human being it can still be said to be harming them. Is there any philosophy that describes or argues for harm in that way? Or is it always required to have at least some "measurable" harm?

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Re: The issue of "harm"

Post by Eduk » February 23rd, 2018, 2:48 pm

Difficult to conceive of an act which is harmful only if a person is aware of the act.
Let's also not forget the harm you do to yourself in acts of harm.
Lets also not forget average chance of harm over time. Even if a person wasn't aware of harm in a particular instance does that mean they always wouldn't be aware of harm under those instances.
Let's also not forget people are no islands. You may harm someone without them realising and harm others.
Unknown means unknown.

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Jack18
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Re: The issue of "harm"

Post by Jack18 » February 23rd, 2018, 3:01 pm

OK, so let's take some specific examples to help clarify.

1) Bob creates a virus that steals .004 cents (4/10 of 1 penny) from every bank account in the world. Because this is merely 4/10 of 1 penny, no one knows it is even taken. This is called "penny shaving" and is the scam seen in the movie Office Space. In this scenario, no one becomes aware.

2) Bob creates a business that asks people for donations to help the homeless. 100% of all donations go to Bob so he can have fun traveling the world and live an extravagant lifestyle he's always wanted. In this scenario, no one becomes aware.

3) Bob slips a "Mickey" to a woman he meets at a bar. This drug puts her to sleep. Bob is able to take her back to her home. While she is unconscious, Bob has sex with the woman. There is no STD transmission, the woman won't get pregnant. She wakes up safely. In this scenario, no one becomes aware.

4) Bob inappropriately (sexually) touches a sleeping 4-year-old child. The child never awakes while Bob is touching. In this scenario, no one becomes aware.

So in any of the 4 scenarios above, is any harm done to any entity (Bob, victim(s), society, etc.), in any sense of the word? Is awareness required for harm to occur?

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Re: The issue of "harm"

Post by Eduk » February 23rd, 2018, 6:10 pm

Harm is done in all four scenarios. Not going to break them all down. But take example 1. Because of actions like penny shaving, anti-fraud measures have to be taken which do cost everyone in the world money. Not to mention that not everyone could do what Bob did without those fractions of pennies adding up, so how are we to decide who would be Bob. Also what cost is Bob's integrity to himself? How much harm is he doing to himself? Can he harm himself without harming others? Like I said no one is an island. Also add up the cost of paranoia to the world because of con artists. Finally how does he know he won't be caught? You can't just be wise after an event. For example if threw you out of a plane and you landed in deep snow entirely unharmed though extreme good fortune would you not consider that an act of attempted murder? Would you be happy to take another flight with me?
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Re: The issue of "harm"

Post by Jack18 » February 23rd, 2018, 9:11 pm

Your plane flight doesn't really hold up here because I'm aware of your actions. The issue is whether or not it is possible to harm someone if they are completely unaware of the act and they experience no ill-effects.

And while I understand that it may be possible that Bob is harming himself, that isn't exactly fleshed out well. It's more about the victim. Is the victim harmed in any one of those scenarios? If yes, how? If no, ok, then perhaps there is harm occurring elsewhere and that is where you were wanting to go with your response. However, the only example that may seem to follow that line of objection, would be #1 (re: needing to use resources to protect people from fraud). But even then, it might be a tough argument because simply using resources isn't necessarily harmful.

The whole idea here is to understand what "harm" exactly is. What are the properties of "harm"?

Most philosophers seem to argue that it requires some form of measurable, negative impact on the well-being of others. But what happens if we take away that measurable quality? Is harm no longer possible?

I'm of the position that it is harmful regardless of awareness. It devalues the human being as nothing more than an object of self-gratification or personal gain. But then, how can that be framed in a way that makes sense and most rational people might accept?

I'm ignoring for the moment that it is possible that entities other than humans can be harmed. We can, of course, harm animals and even inanimate structures. And they can harm us, just as natural events can. But that adds another layer of complexity on the already challenging issue I think. So I'm trying to focus on the nature of "acts by humans to humans" and whether or not there is a meaningful way to determine if said act is "harmful."

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Re: The issue of "harm"

Post by Burning ghost » February 24th, 2018, 12:20 am

Jack18 -

I find this a little confusing. It seems more like a denial of causation than an ethical question. Or rather a denial of causation in order to act without moral concern - perverse at best.

If you didn't know that I'd just given you a dose of fatal poison that doesn't mean you wouldn't be affected by it in a very obvious way. Even a thought can turn you toward a dangerous end, for a "thought" is the first requirement for progressing toward acting it out. Generally we are free to explore our thoughts though in order to witness the good and bad sides to our nature so as not to live out and suffer the psychological consequences of more permanent and largely irredeemable "errors/mistakes."

Have you read Crime and Punishment? If not do so ASAP!

Scenario 1,2,3 and 4 .... Bob knows. He lives with the knowledge of what he has done and reconciles himself as he deems fit - likely by blaming someone else for forcing his actions rather than facing the general suffering of life we all have to face and deal with. It stinks of immaturity and child play to me.

Eduk -

Why is it difficult to conceive of the harm? Actions have consequences somewhere down the line. A good deed may cause more harm than a bad deed, but generally speaking we differentiate "good" from "bad" due to the common outcome associated with each (ie. punching someone in the face is generally considered "bad", as is lying or cheating.)
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Re: The issue of "harm"

Post by Eduk » February 24th, 2018, 4:15 am

Burning ghost I think you need to re read what I wrote. I am agreeing with you.
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Re: The issue of "harm"

Post by Jack18 » February 24th, 2018, 1:32 pm

Unfortunately, I'm new here and as such, I have to have all of my posts moderated so I'm not able to respond in a timely manner. I have no idea when that will change or how to get out of being a "trial member." Until then, timing is going to be janky.

My respond to Eduk finally showed up, but may have been missed because it was inserted prior to Ghost's response.

Eduk - I think you are right that this really isn't an issue of Ethics but more on the philosophical nature of "harm" which would possibly include the property of "causation."

It is true that harm would be done by poisoning someone who didn't know. That would be an example of measurable harm. That person's well-being would be made worse than had the act of poisoning them secretly not been undertaken.

But it seems quite different than the other scenarios. In the death scenario, harm is measurable, so we know it can exist without the victim's awareness. Can harm be measured in regards to the victim, with the 4 scenarios I gave though? I'm not seeing it.

It's possible that harm is caused elsewhere, but can it be said that those acts are acts of harm to the victim specifically?

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Re: The issue of "harm"

Post by Burning ghost » February 24th, 2018, 1:40 pm

Eduk -

Yep! I somehow skipped past your second post :S
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Re: The issue of "harm"

Post by Eduk » February 25th, 2018, 2:44 pm

Jack. The thing is you are being wise after the event. In effect you are saying if there is no harm done then is harm done. You are also ignoring the whole, which includes the perpetrator and the victim but also many others.
For example if you successfully get away with fraud and do no harm to anyone in the process what happens if I am your neighbour? Friend or family member? What if I needed help, what if I trusted you with a life or death situation.
What we need to consider is probabilities and the whole. I already gave you one good example. Multiple millions are spent the world over to protect against various frauds. If no one committed fraud then everyone would be significantly better off. This is the thing with crimes really, it is rarely the case that they are anything other than a net cost, including to the criminal.
Again imagine you were Bob and you got away with the fraud. How would you live your life? Would you still love your wife and children the same? How much self respect would you have. Wouldn't your short sighted, greedy, incorrectly prioritised nature be of cost to yourself?
This goes back to the old happy pig question. To wish I say it's better to be an unhappy man.
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Re: The issue of "harm"

Post by Jack18 » February 25th, 2018, 10:41 pm

But your entire objection there rests on 1 factor: "it is possible that someone somewhere becomes aware." That's ignoring the universe of discourse.

And your objection to #1 would not work with #2 or #3.

Also, if Bob is of such low moral character who defends such actions, suggesting that "Bob is harmed" doesn't appear to be a strong objection. The issue is about the potential harm that falls to the victim, not the perpetrator.

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Re: The issue of "harm"

Post by Eduk » February 26th, 2018, 4:56 am

Like I said if you are asking if no harm is done is no harm done then that's just a truism.
Likewise if you are asking if you can harm someone that can't be harmed then, by definition, no.
If you are dealing with the real world then you have to consider what could happen not just what did happen. And you can't just decide the perpetrator can't be harmed.
In your thought experiment then of course no harm is done as your thought experiment is defined as causing no harm.
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Re: The issue of "harm"

Post by LuckyR » February 26th, 2018, 4:59 am

Jack18 wrote:
February 23rd, 2018, 3:01 pm
OK, so let's take some specific examples to help clarify.

1) Bob creates a virus that steals .004 cents (4/10 of 1 penny) from every bank account in the world. Because this is merely 4/10 of 1 penny, no one knows it is even taken. This is called "penny shaving" and is the scam seen in the movie Office Space. In this scenario, no one becomes aware.

2) Bob creates a business that asks people for donations to help the homeless. 100% of all donations go to Bob so he can have fun traveling the world and live an extravagant lifestyle he's always wanted. In this scenario, no one becomes aware.

3) Bob slips a "Mickey" to a woman he meets at a bar. This drug puts her to sleep. Bob is able to take her back to her home. While she is unconscious, Bob has sex with the woman. There is no STD transmission, the woman won't get pregnant. She wakes up safely. In this scenario, no one becomes aware.

4) Bob inappropriately (sexually) touches a sleeping 4-year-old child. The child never awakes while Bob is touching. In this scenario, no one becomes aware.

So in any of the 4 scenarios above, is any harm done to any entity (Bob, victim(s), society, etc.), in any sense of the word? Is awareness required for harm to occur?
Just a spin on the tree falling in the forest. Let me ask you, would you consider it harm if you got slipped a "Mickey" and were gang raped prison style? I thought so.
"As usual... it depends."

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Re: The issue of "harm"

Post by Burning ghost » February 26th, 2018, 5:14 am

LuckyR -

I think the point was if he was unaware then it wouldn't matter to him personally. The "harm" is in the people who committed the crime thinking they could repeat such actions again and again without any psychological repercussions (which I find deeply naïve.) To commit such an act, knowing you've deceived, doe snot constitute a firm idea of "self-respect" or base "empathy."

to all -

That said, we are all willing to deceive ourselves rather than face hard truths. The question is how big a deceit is necessary before we are awoken to our own faults, OR what happens if we go too far beyond any intent of "good will."

I would also be very careful about how we equate "harm" from acts of rape to acts of mere name calling, or simply difference in opinions being "offensive" therefore "harmful." I think we generally understand "right" from "wrong" and that we will in some way or another fall short. Nevertheless I don't see the "good" in making excuses or redirecting blame onto others in order to "feel better" about ourselves (such deceits will catch up with you and pull you down further and further until you're done in and the veery embodiment of "despair" itself.)

Understand ing "harm" is basically useful because it helps us understand the path we wish to follow. Complete avoidance of "harm" will, ironically, cause harm. The contrary nature of the human condition is likely the reason many people turn to nihilism in the face of suffering. The stoic is far wiser, and the original idea of hedonism is faulty in its belief of "avoiding suffering", that is why it led to corruption via self comsumption.
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Re: The issue of "harm"

Post by Present awareness » February 26th, 2018, 10:22 am

Physical harm, is the only REAL harm you may do to a person, all other forms of harm take place in the mind and are conceptual. For example, loss of money is a mental concept as are all possessions, for ownership is simply a mental attachment to things. That’s not to say that mental and emotional harm aren’t real, only they are different in nature, and one may be unaware of them. One is seldom unaware of physical harm unless unconscious.
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