The value of choice


0029 | [ Continuing my study of Scanlon’s book, What We Owe To Each Other… ]

Scanlon is talking about “paternalism.” He mentions things like stigma, and incompetence, and feelings of “resentment” or “bitterness” from being stigmatized. But, how far he is from understanding what it is truly like to be paternalized!

For one thing, forget about the “feelings” over a damaged ego. It is a violation. Period. It is the violation that causes the rage. The rage isn’t caused by some bruise to my ego over what other other people think about me.

Second of all, we are talking about a real person — Julie. Not an imagined person, or the idea of a person. We are talking about a lifetime’s worth of real experiences, and what it means to be a human being, and what it’s like to be a human being living a life in this world. That’s what this is about; it isn’t about some stupid feelings that last a day or even a month or a year or even a decade. It’s about the reality of person who will have to exist in the human condition. The demand for justice comes from the injustice committed against my Julie (which may or may not be the Julie who exists today).

She will never know to crave 때밀이. She will never know the irritation of wearing shoes indoors. She will never know the transcendent connection that can only be experienced between a mother and a daughter. She will always have some reason to lack confidence. She will never be a part of the project that I am working on, and thus cannot choose to be a continuation of a common soul. She will never fully know herself; she’ll probably always think that she has some emotional disorder rather than having an intense spirit. She’ll never meet my father and be able to hear his great wisdom and feel his great heart. She will never be quite my daughter. And it makes things so much the worse for the fact that she is someone else’s daughter.

Not only are these losses to me, but they are losses to my daughter, whether she experiences them as losses or not. It’s what I would have wanted, if I were my own daughter.


0947 | [ Continuing my study of Scanlon’s book, What We Owe To Each Other… ]

Scanlon is very sweet and generous. I see that he has put forth the ‘Value of Choice’ theory, and it is basically a kind of “baby-proofing” of the world, without putting people into a bubble. In the end, it is a form of paternalism… And, it makes me realize that my own plans are also a form of paternalism (if baby-proofing the world counts as a kind of paternalism). What a good father Scanlon is.


1008 | [ Continuing my study of Scanlon’s book, What We Owe To Each Other… ]

Ah, I take it that this sentence means that Scanlon holds a kind of “deterrence” view of the aim of enforced punishment.

He writes:

“But in the case of punishment, when this harm does occur it is deliberately inflicted on particular people, as required by the institution itself. It is an essential part of the institution of punishment that those who violate the law should be punished, but it is no part of the waste-removal program that those who go to the excavation site should suffer contamination. Thus, since a policy of deliberately inflicting harm is more difficult to justify than a policy of creating a risk while trying (no doubt imperfectly) to protect people against it, the institution of punishment carries a heavier burden of justification than the program of waste removal.” (p.265)

I think that what may justify punishment here (if punishment is justified here at all), would be partly the aim of keeping a person sufficiently safe (presuming that this is what she wants), but also in part the aim of deterring her from making a choice that would necessarily involve injuries upon herself which she would come to regret having sustained. The justification of punishment (if at all) comes in by being the ultimate and necessary means of giving her some perspective on what her choice entails — in order to influence her choice, or at least ensure that her choice is voluntary. Of course, if the point of punishment is deterrence, and if the person to protect is the agent herself (rather than the others who may be victimized by her actions), then the punishment must be less serious (perhaps a lot less serious) than the injury or harm she might sustain from engaging in the act.

Well, this is the idea, I think. But it doesn’t seem to make sense to make a person suffer twice…. since, if she sustains serious injuries from committing the act which has been determined as being dangerous and/or harmful, then she would already be suffering the injury and/or harm from engaging in the act. Even for the sake of deterring future or other incarnations of her self, is it necessary to add still more “punishment” atop the “natural consequences” that she’s already suffering? It doesn’t seem to make sense to do that.

But now, if the agent somehow does not suffer an undesirable consequence despite her engaging in the act (because of some stroke of luck perhaps or divine intervention), does that then mean that she should be punished? This also sounds quite strange. It doesn’t make sense to say that we care about protecting the agent herself, and punish her simply for being lucky or being favored by the gods somehow.


The only way out of this conundrum is to say that the punishment is a deterrence that aims to protect others who may be victimized by her actions, rather than an aim to protect the agent herself from sustaining regretful injury or harm.

But… this would be thinking of the agent as a mere means to ends, and not as ends in herself, and at least one moral theory is going to have a problem with this sort of thinking (but obviously not Aristotelian thinking, since according to him, slaves are living tools meant to be beneficial for the person using the tools).

And besides, those “others” may not even actually exist. It doesn’t make sense to want to punish people who now actually exist, for the sake of those don’t now actually exist. But even if they did exist, if punishment is meant to be a deterrence and not retribution, then it doesn’t make sense to want to deter an agent from engaging in potentially harmful acts after the fact — since, the thing to deter has already happened. And if we mean to speak of future victims of future agents, we are back to speaking of potential victims (hmm, but also of potential agents), and not actual ones. In which case, the only role that punishment could take up is the role of being retribution.

But on my view it is wrong to intend to cause any degree of harm (ie, deep grief) to a person. It is always wrong to intend harm (vs. mere injury) — even when the person who is to be harmed has herself also intended to cause harm to others. But when “punishment” is taken in a certain way — namely, as retribution — it is always a “harm,” at least in virtue of the way that the “punishment” has been formulated.

Hmm. So, if “punishment” cannot be retribution, and it doesn’t make much sense to say that it is a means of deterrence, what other role can “punishment” take on?

Well, my imagination is starting to teem with ideas over this question. I think that I’m going to have to spend at least a couple hours (perhaps even days or weeks or months) looking at how “punishment” can look from different angles, if I’m going to grasp this more firmly. I mean, one could even see “punishment” as being nothing more than a “nudge.” Is it really only a matter of looking at the same thing under a different light? The wizard called Scanlon is not above such sophistries.


1152 | [ Continuing my study of Scanlon’s book, What We Owe To Each Other… ]

Ah, another little gem of a quote by Scanlon:

“Because the institution assigns punishment to those who fulfill certain conditions, justifying the institution involves justifying the infliction of these penalties.” (p.265)

I see that it is reasons like this is the cause of so much strife and suffering in the world. Who made this up, I wonder? Was it Plato? No, these ideas existed long before him. Besides, it doesn’t really sound like something Plato would say. Perhaps it’s Hammurabi. Oh what a tangled web we weave!

Conversely, the same that is said for penalties must also be said for benefits and rewards. If the attainment and ownership of benefits are to be justified, then the institution which permits the ownership of such benefits must also be justified. However, I think that such a world must make life itself a voluntary choice at every moment. Such a world must offer death-centers that are accessible/affordable, is effective, efficient, painless, and hygienic, and most importantly, stigma-free. Perhaps most importantly, if a capitalistic society society is ever to be just, it must always offer such death centers, since capitalism tends to exploit life itself, turning it — all and any form of it — into a means to personal profit.