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Breaching Morality

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What is the consequence of committing an act that you know to be immoral if you can pull it off without getting caught or causing injury to the victim? For example, suppose you could hack into your love interest's email account and view all her data for the sake of satisfying your curiosity, but you vowed not to disturb the data and you judged the odds of getting caught to be low. You know it's immoral because you're violating her property and privacy, no different from if you walked into her house while she was gone and went snooping through her underwear drawer. Would you be doing yourself long-term harm by giving yourself permission to be immoral this one time even though you may be perfectly moral most of the time?

Edited by happiness
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I think privacy is beneficial because it allows someone to think to themselves or be themselves without having to explain themselves or provide a context. Privacy also allows you to hide vunerablilities from predatious people. Invading someone's privacy will be injust because you are either searching for vunerablilities to exploit or looking for information you have no way of understanding. Being unust, it would put you in a position in which you are pretending to understand something you don't, which is harmful to yourself. If someone does this consistently they clearly have issues in the honesty and justice departments.

To your larger point, when you do something like this you will either feel guilty and stop, or drop the principle of respecting the privacy of others. People operate in patterns, not isolated random events. If violating someone's privacy is okay, you will most likely do so again, in which case you will end up causing harm. If you feel guilty, that is your subconcious telling you that you have violated a principle of yours, you didn't have a good reason to do so, and you shouldn't do it again. The wound to your pride will be enough damage.

I think it is obvious though that a pattern of a behavior is a lot worse than an instance of a behavior. People live in the long term and build routines, they do not live in hypothetical instances. So instances of people "getting away with" an immoral action are ethically uninteresting.

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"What is the consequence of committing an act that you know to be immoral if you can pull it off without getting caught or causing injury to the victim?"

Man isn't a butterfly and doesn't live overnight. His life span today is about 80 years. Consider how he would spend all these years if foundation of his life is faked reality.

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The critical concept is principles.

I think somewhere down the road people were convinced that ethics was about analyzing decisions in hindsight. Analyzing things that have already happened is part of ethics, but it isn't what ethics are essentially about. We live life going forward in time, which means we need to develop morals now, and then apply them in later, even when we don't have all of the facts. The implication of this is that hypothetical moral conundrums are not helpful at all. So even if you can imagine a situation in which you could get away with doing something unethical and not have any negative consequences, it wouldn't really matter, because in the moment moment no one knows all of the conditions.

Because we are not omnicient, we need to induce principles which allow us to think in generalities, and act based on normal circumstances. I think that almost everyone has principles, even if they haevn't defined them or see them as subjective. Decisions making would be extremely difficult wihout them.

If you are aware of some circumstance that would mean that your normal ethical principles should be ignored, do so, but most of the time acting unethically is just really bad gambling.

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  • 5 years later...
On 11/25/2012 at 5:29 PM, happiness said:

What is the consequence of committing an act that you know to be immoral if you can pull it off without getting caught or causing injury to the victim?


One's psychological health would be at risk.

One would start living in an unsafe world. If one "can't" be moral, the view of mankind will be that no one can be moral, "morality is impossible". At any moment, you may be stolen from, or worse, harmed physically.

Even if everyone (or most people) are (actually) moral and safe, they have to be looked at with suspicion because they are out of control "like me". (the immoral me)

I wonder how a sociopath integrates that. "No one is moral, and it is ok".

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