General Question

lloydbird's avatar

If an act/action causes no perceptible harm,can that act/action be considered to be a 'bad' act/action?

Asked by lloydbird (8735points) June 13th, 2009

right and wrong

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22 Answers

ragingloli's avatar

i don’t think so

arnbev959's avatar

‘Bad’ and ‘morally wrong,’ do not go hand in hand. That said, something that does no harm, but also does no good could be said to be bad.

I would consider something that wastes my time and gives me nothing in return is ‘bad.’

ragingloli's avatar

something like that would be neutral. you know, the world is not black and white.

PapaLeo's avatar

Define both terms “perceptible” and “harm.” Perceptible to whom: the actor or the actee? And is “harm” only physical or also mental?

Zaku's avatar

”...because I’m BAD, I’m BAD, you know it, you know…”

Morality, bad and good are invented concepts that have no basis in reality. I can say anything is bad and have it be bad for me and anyone I can get to agree with me.

The question sounds a bit like coming from a limited Buddhist context, to my listening. However, causing harm or suffering is only one unenlightened path. One might consider actions unrecommendable for other reasons as well. For instance, one might be wasting one’s own time with trivial activities that do no harm, but waste one’s life. Another way of looking at that angle, is that one can define what ‘harm’ is in many different ways. Does a genius harm the potential of what he might do, by choosing to try to master his hang-gliding skills instead?

crisw's avatar

Possibly. It’s certainly possible that an act can cause no direct perceivable harm but could set up the conditions that allow an otherwise-preventable harm to occur. I agree that some better definitions are needed before the question can be answered completely.

Jayne's avatar

@Zaku; Using up the resource of time is a ‘bad’ effect, and therefore the “other reasons” you give can still be considered on the basis of harm v. benefit. Technicalities aside, however, I very much agree with your conception of morality as arbitrary, and that given this, there are innumerable grounds on which to consider an action undesirable.

crisw's avatar

There is a huge difference between morality being arbitrary and morality being logical. A valid morality (like any other valid belief system) needs to be logically sound.

Jayne's avatar

It must be logically internally consistent, certainly, but it has no basic foundations, so calling it logically sound is something of a stretch.

lloydbird's avatar

@PapaLeo Sorry for the delay in responding to your comment,but I too have been bamboozled as to how to do so. However, thanks to your question to the Fluthersphrere of 1month ago, I too am now in the loop.
Regarding your, very perceptive, request for better definitions:- ‘Harm’ as ‘Unwanted/undesirable physical and or mental damage’. ‘Perceptible’ as in the basic ‘Able to be perceived by a person or entity’. I’m not sure what you mean by “actee”, would ‘actor and effected’ be what you mean?. If so, then I would say both.

lloydbird's avatar

@Zaku ‘Bad’ and ‘Good’ are indeed “invented concepts” but I suspect that they do have a basis in reality; if only an invented one. The essence of my question is to do with trying to find a clear way of differentiating between the two.
Yes you ”..can say that anything is bad ” but does that make it so?. Would that claim not need to have some basis, regardless of how many people agree with it ?.
Re: ”....wasting one’s own time with trivial activities that do no harm”,and hence wasting
“one’s life” , are the “trivial activities” really “doing no harm”?
As for the hang-gliding genius, it would be a matter of choice and conscience . Not to use one’s talents to be of benefit to others might be considered morally questionable and perhaps harmful on some level. I would hope that the genius in question might devote time to inventing a device that would dramatically reduce the risk injury from hang-gliding accidents.
Finally, I may have casually strolled along a Buddhist path (as well as others) , but my tent has not been pitched in any one field.
Kind regards.

f4a's avatar

yes it is still considered a bad act or bad action eventhough it causes no peceptible harm. somewhere outthere someone will be receiving the consequence of that bad act, it may not be immediate or in the same life time as the doer, but because all lives are intertwined, someone will interpret, understand or take that action and will have a negative impact in their own life.

the truth of the matter is, every action causes another to be better off or to be worse off. then why still choose to do something bad? why not choose the good one?

ragingloli's avatar

“yes it is still considered a bad act or bad action eventhough it causes no peceptible harm. ”
Why do you afterwards talk about actions that DO cause perceptible harm?
“every action causes another to be better off or to be worse off. then why still choose to do something bad? why not choose the good one?”
The “good” one can easily cause another one to be worse off as well.
Also, if I masturbate in my room in secret, who exactly is worse off in this case?

f4a's avatar

let’s say a positive results to something negative, and let’s say a negative results to something negative. why not choose the first one, that’s already positive, atleast you have one positive.

about the masturbation, if the person is not getting any, they probably get frustrated, resulting to behavioral irritation with other people around them? (dude, is masturbation really needed to prove a point?)

ragingloli's avatar

you get positive results from negative ones too

f4a's avatar

but you’re not suppose to be doing something negative in the first place.

Jayne's avatar

@fish4answers; if you are talking about very indirect results like that, then there is no way to predict whether those results will be good or bad from a given action, so it is impossible to know whether an act will be good or bad, and the same general act will have very different indirect results at different times. For instance, maybe the act of masturbation (to continue the given example) will cause one to leave the house somewhat later than otherwise, in time to save an old lad from an oncoming bus. Even if masturbation or anything else may be instinctively repulsive to you, you cannot use indirect harm too show that they are bad, because they cause no more indirect harm than other acts. If you want to say that such acts are bad, you must make the claim that they are bad completely independent of their effects.

lloydbird's avatar

We have all probably heard or used the phrase ‘There’s no harm in that’, or the question ‘Where’s the harm in that?’, with both of these, being used as qualifiers or determinants for identifying something as ‘good’ in some sense. The basic premise being that the absence of harm is what denotes the presence of good. Even more common is the statement ‘more harm than good’ or ‘more good than harm’. The implication being that harm equals bad. If this is so, does the absence of harm then not equal good?

The question that I originally posed at the head of this page was meant to be approached in the purely conceptual sense. Something that I feel that I should have made clearer in the ‘Details’ section (apologies to all responders). It’s just that I was over eager to throw this question out there onto this great site which I had just discovered and joined (the first and only interactive internet site that I have ever joined).

So my answer to this question, on a purely conceptual level, is categorically NO. It is the presence of ‘Harm’ (defined as:- Unwanted/undesirable physical and or mental damage) that determines the presence of ‘badness’. Quite simply, without the ‘Harm’, there cannot be any ‘Bad’ (conceptually).

This question and its resultant answer has been a preoccupation of mine for almost 20 years and much has stemmed from it. To try and illustrate what I believe to be its significance, I offer this quote from a book that I read back in the late 80’s.

“An entire and sufficient working philosophy of life may be devised about the right doing of the act in hand, whatever it may be. If this act is rightly done, the actor on his way through life will find a diminishing need of assistance from philosophic doctrine, religious practice or a Saviour of any kind. In harmony with the rhythm of life, he will be able to safely ignore such man-made distinctions as being and doing, right action and wrong action, and by concentrating on the utterly right performance of the next thing to be done, move happily towards his own and the world’s enlightenment. If it be true, and I hold it to be true, that ‘the immediate work, whatever it may be, has the abstract claim of duty, and its relative importance or non-importance is not to be considered at all’, then the next thing to be done, and rightly done, is sufficient agenda for any man for twenty four hours a day. But it must be rightly done, and much is wound up in the syllable right”.
‘The Way of Action’ by Christmas Humphreys 1960.

Much is indeed “wound up in the syllable right” but on a basic,workable level the absence of what might be considered ‘wrong’ would be a good starting point for trying to gain some understanding as to how to proceed.

Within my original question, or better still the statement :’ If an act/action causes no perceptible harm,it cannot be considered to be a bad act/action’ with this being the fact that an evident degree of harm must be in evidence before any objection can be raised ,is,I believe, a basis for creating just such “An entire an sufficient working philosophy of life”. Developing this ‘basis’ and creating conceptual mechanisms for its general application is something that I have been working on for some time and I am hoping to be able to bring it to people’s attention in the near future.

Now,of course, we don’t operate on ‘Purely conceptual level’ in this life, and on the ‘Actual level’ that we do operate in – a huge number of complexities arise with regard to my original question (as has been well pointed out by all responders here). But using this basic concept as an aim or ideal to get as near to as is reasonably possible, I believe that we have a chance of greatly reducing the harm (bad) that is all too evident in this world. Too much is done that is actually bad ,and yet, is somehow presented as good, regardless of the evident an unnecessary harm that has been caused. But this would be dependant upon all perceivers of ‘harm’ being able to register their perceptions with all other perceivers, and then those perceptions being analysed, processed and acted upon by all other relevant perceivers. This kind of thing is quite achievable in this internet age. Perhaps such a project might be of interest to some users of this site.Perhaps this site might be of use to just such a project. Anyway thats by the by. Any more responses on this topic would be welcomed.
Again, sorry for my initial lack of clarity. One week on board Fluther now,and feeling an exited sense of connection. Kind regards.

f4a's avatar

@jayne i still consider, positive results to positive; negative results to negative; a negative that results to positive (is not positive) and a positive that results to negative (thats what we call ‘Sh@t happens’)

Jayne's avatar

@fish4answers, ok, say you do say that whether something is good or bad is independent of its effects, direct or indirect? Out of curiosity, how then do you determine what is a good or bad action?

f4a's avatar

@Jayne effects do matter.(to consider what is good or bad) but there are things that are not in our hands of which we can’t control of.

Zaku's avatar

@lloydbird – Good exposition. Looking at: ’If an act/action causes no perceptible harm,it cannot be considered to be a bad act/action’ – I notice that “perceptible” seems to me to make harm subjective. A Judeo-Christian may perceive harm to his daughter voluntarily engaging in activities which she herself doesn’t perceive as harm. I may perceive harm in being exposed to advertising which offends me, which the advertisers think is fair and harmless for them to inundate me with. One man’s courageous freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist murdering coward. Who gets to be right about what is harmful and what is not? If all perceived harm is harm, what about the sociopathic (sociopathic isn’t in the Firefox dictionary?) strategy of proclaiming harm disingenuously for selfish gain, or to inflict harm?

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