[FoRK] Re: reas. conv. 10/22: "Religion is not only wrong; it's evil"

Kragen Javier Sitaker < kragen at pobox.com > on > Thu Nov 16 07:24:57 PST 2006

On Thu, 26 Oct 2006 13:51:23 -0500, Corinna wrote:
> Matt Jensen wrote:
> > I think a good approach is to reframe things with terminology. Use 
> > "right/wrong" for personal beliefs. Use "acceptable/unacceptable" for 
> > society's decisions. 
> With my kids, I almost never use "right" or "wrong" (except in their
> lessons!). I tend to use "inappropriate" or "appropriate". For
> strong things I say "unacceptable", or "you are never allowed to X".
> It has worked well for us, and has led to discussions on when
> certain behaviors are/are not appropriate. It also gives us room to
> change rules as they get older, or to justify rules that apply for
> one kid and not the other.
> The theory is that it will help develop more sophisticated
> ethical/moral reasoning. I'll let you know in 5 years or so whether
> it's working :)

I had teachers who used this approach when I was a small child.  It
undermined my respect for them, for a couple of reasons.

"Appropriate" and "inappropriate" are terms that sound objective and
dispassionate.  But, in cases like the ones you are describing, the
person using them merely uses them to express their own moral
judgments (which may be neither objective nor dispassionate), and they
hide behind the terms in order to avoid taking responsibility for that
judgment *as* a moral judgment, to avoid being subject to debate.

Used in this way, "inappropriate" is a euphemism; by pretending to
avoid representing a moral judgment, it renders the cloaked moral
judgment more condemnatory, by virtue of implicitly asserting the
unmentionability of the judgment itself.

However, more importantly, "inappropriate" and "appropriate" do only
literally refer to temporary, contingent societal norms, rather than
right and wrong.  To delegate your moral agency to societal norms, or
to justify your moral decisions by reference to societal norms, is to
abandon your responsibility as a moral being to distinguish between
right and wrong --- perhaps even to deny the existence of the

I could not have explained my childhood disgust for these people this
way at the time, of course.

More information about the FoRK mailing list