August 24, 2010

Gratuitious Evils of the Worst Kind

Filed under: Ethics,Philosophy — camcintosh @ 4:20 pm

A while back I expressed the idea that sexual evils are, to my mind, the worst kind of evils. Here I will attempt to articulate why I think this is true, and why sexual evils are better examples of apparently gratuitous evils than the typical examples.

As I reflect on horrendous and gratuitous evils, it seems to me that the qualitatively worst kind of such evil has been completely ignored—sexual evils. There seems to be something altogether different, more perverse and twisted and fully saturated with pure moral wickedness about sexual evils than the ones normally discussed (e.g., forest-fire fawns, stray-bullets, accidentally backing-up over one’s own child, etc.). Here I have in mind sexual evils such as rape and child molestation, to say nothing of the varying degrees of perversity these acts can have. Why do I think sexual evils are better examples of apparently gratuitous evils than the typical examples? Gratuitous evils are usually characterized by their apparent quality and quantity. It’s not the apparent quantity of sexual evils that seems different. It’s the quality of the sin that increases apparent gratuitousness. Let me suggest at least three reasons.

First, sexual evils are exclusively moral evils. Moral evils are qualitatively worse than natural evils in that they involve personal offense, which conveys a responsibility and avoidableness on behalf of the offending party that natural evils do not. That moral evils can be traced to a responsible moral agent who could have refrained from so acting heightens the intuition of gratuitousness, whereas natural evils cannot obviously be seen as avoidable or as tracing to a responsible moral agent, though such is possible (e.g., it is possible that God or demons are responsible for both moral and natural evils, but this is not obvious or apparent). But both sexual evils and, say, murderous evils are exclusively moral evils. So what makes sexual evils worse than other moral evils, such as murderous ones? Consider the following two points.

Second, acts of sexual evils are qualitatively worse that other moral evils. Murderous evils fail to treat moral agents as valuable ends, but sexual evils fail to treat moral agents as valuable ends and mistreats them only as valuable means. I suggest that this is qualitatively worse. One might object that a murderer also treats a moral agent as a means to satisfying his desires and so is on par with sexual evils. But I think this is confused—a murderer’s victim is not valuable to the murderer insofar as they are dead; the victim is not valuable to the murderer at all. The murderer does not treat his victims as valuable means, but treats the act of murdering as a valuable means. Where x is a moral agent, perhaps the difference is between not valuing x as an end and disvaluing x. Disvaluing x includes not valuing x as a means in addition to treating x improperly (i.e., mistreating x). What’s more is that the disvaluing of x in cases of sexual evils is perverse. In the most extreme cases (that’s what we’re after), there is the shattering of an innocent and pure life for the sake of satisfying an utterly selfish and perverse carnal desire. This is not mere disvaluing, but perverse defilement or degradation.

Third, the consequences of sexual evils are qualitatively worse than other moral evils. While the consequences of both murderous evils and sexual evils are ‘forever’ in a sense, murderous evils involve a release of suffering whereas sexual evils offer no such release. They insidiously linger and continue to torture the victim long after the evil is perpetrated. Intense feelings of shame, worthlessness, and guilt created in victims of sexual evil forever mar the face of innocence. In other words, sexual evil is prolonged, undeserved torture. This torture is often mental, and as such is arguably worse than physical torture. Moreover, sexual evils often have the unfortunate consequence of being repeated by victims of sexual evils, and so, in a way, self-perpetuate.

I conclude that sexual evils are such that their quality and intensity greatly heightens apparent gratuitousness more than typical examples of apparently gratuitous evils. So the question remains—is God justified in permitting these kinds of evils? Couldn’t God have at least created humans in a way minimizes such evils, say, by creating men with less libido? Does the goodness of the gift of sexual pleasure righteously expressed outweigh or defeat the apparent gratuitousness of sexual evils?



  1. I think your third point excludes some important foundational thoughts. The assumption that murderous evils provide a release of suffering is only true if annihilation-ism is true or if universalism is true (or if there is no God, but the article assumes the existence of God).

    I don’t necessarily disagree with your conclusion, but a person on the receiving end of sexual evil(s) can find and live in hope. The person on the receiving end of murderous evil(s) cannot.

    Also, define innocence. Is a sexual evil that is committed against a person who is a murderer (or even a committer of sexual evils themselves) qualitatively less evil? If so, I don’t think that your conclusions can be categorically true.

    Comment by Christian — August 25, 2010 @ 10:45 am | Reply

  2. Gratuitous, at least when defined as “pointless or without apparent reason”, when applied to personal evils (be they sexual or not) by definition presupposes that there seems to be no explanation of their occurrence. When you said, “the ones normally discussed”, it brought to mind the often built case of “the problem of evil” which is perhaps what you are referring to though I don’t know. If so then to me it seems more fitting to ascribe gratuitous as defined to the examples of evil that are most distanced from human interaction (forest-fire fawns, earth quakes, or “accidental evils”) simply because they seem to have no explanation. When speaking of human evils in regards to the problem of evil the “reason or point” behind their occurrence can be explained in such a way that sin or free will is the driving factor.

    In response to your points of sexual evil being the worst kind of evil. It brought to mind some rhetorical questions such as: What makes one evil worse than another? Is it simply based on the average societal view of the action, or can it be different per scenario? Is it worse based upon the victims reaction to the evil? Is it’s evilness more profound if it affects more people i.e. relatives of the victim who emotionally suffer for their sister or daughter etc..

    Imagine a case where a mentally handicapped homeless person is sexually assaulted and survives yet doesn’t really suffer much after the incident and being as they were more or less cut off relationally with everyone no one else suffered by association. In contrast imagine a famous actor or politician who is murdered in the height of their career who’s family and followers will now all be emotionally suffering. If we conclude that one evil is worse than another based off consequential suffering then between these proposed scenarios the murderous one would seem worse. Obviously you could create other contrasting scenarios where the opposite is true. Though if this is the case then it seems that it is partially situational as to which type of evil is worse.

    I think it’s also interesting to make note of the reaction of the victim in regards to the evil as I questioned above. When reflecting on differencing opinions of the role of women in society some may say that it is wrong for the male to “force” the wife to stay at home while the husband gets to work. Yet often times the wife or “victim” doesn’t recognize their scenario as wrong rather they find it nice to be able to stay home and not work. Are we to disregard their appreciation of staying at home and regard them as delusional? Or must we take into account their opinion that there is no wrong being done. Now of course you are not going to find a rape victim that doesn’t see the rape as wrong or else it wouldn’t really be considered rape. But there are some people who would have less difficulty recovering from the incident than others. Perhaps even they would end up leading a productive life in which they start a rape help center which is something that they would not have had the opportunity had they been murdered.

    I personally think in light of this that between murderous evils and sexual evils we can’t judge one on the whole as more evil than the other.

    In response to your pondering, “So the question remains—is God justified in permitting these kinds of evils? Couldn’t God have at least created humans in a way minimizes such evils, say, by creating men with less libido?” The males extra libido would not have been an issue had there been no fall of mankind. Not that that really answers the question as we can wonder would extra libido pre-fall really been necessary as you have wondered that it doesn’t seem necessary post-fall. An idea that has only just crossed my mind a bit ago to which I have not put much thought may shed some light on the situation. That is that the battle spoken of between Satan and God took place during the evolution of our world. The death after death during the evolution of creatures could have been due to Satan and his followers attempting over and over to halt God’s creative act and that it wasn’t until the creation of man that God said “That’s enough!” If that is the case then man’s biological flaws “too much libido” could be attributed to Satan and then it could be said that God is not directly responsible for mans excessive desire for sexual pleasures.

    Those are just my thoughts and I hope I did not misunderstand or misrepresent any part of what you were saying.

    Comment by Colin — August 25, 2010 @ 10:47 pm | Reply

  3. I think the point about sexual acts being qualitatively worse than murder is a confused one. The point you make is that sexual evils mistreat someone as they are, i.e. it takes away their dignity, how we ought to view people. But surely my existence is a bigger and more basic fact about me than my dignity. To take away my existence is to take away the possibility of viewing me as a person at all.

    Surely that we ought not take someone out of existence is a much more obvious and basic truth than that we ought not use them to please our sexual inclinations. As another commenter points out, there is a hope of a future of cleansing and redemption for the victim of sexual abuse. Not so for the murdered: and that becomes a part of the act of murder itself, to know it is to wipe a person’s future away completely.

    For that reason, I’d much rather be robbed of my dignity than robbed of my life.

    Comment by Philip — August 26, 2010 @ 8:37 pm | Reply

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