Clarifying Shampoo

I saw that in the bathroom. I have no idea what it is, but this is a clarifying post:

I mentioned how the "We need to remove the stigma on X, because it hurts the stigmatized person" argument is generally a failure. If X is morally fine, then it shouldn't be stigmatized, whether or not it hurts the stigmatized people. If X is immoral, then usually having a stigma attached to it is a positive. (The "generally" qualification is there because there are times when the stigma might be out of proportion to the immorality of the act: spitting your gum on the sidewalk may be bad, but we probably would consider the death penalty a it too harsh a punishment for that transgression.)

I received two curious responses:
  1. One reader wrote, "I don't think it is true that everything stigmatized is immoral."
    That response just seems like the person hardly bothered to read the post, which never said anything like "All stigmas are justified." I really can't see how they got that idea from my post, except that they were so primed to object to it that they could not really follow it.
  2.  Another reader claimed that people saying "We should remove the stigma from X" typically are just making the argument "because X is not wrong." But:
    1. I specifically handled that case in my post:"Well, if the activity isn't immoral, then it shouldn't have any social stigma attached to it..."
    2. I specifically said I was addressing the kind of argument that ran, ""People who engage in X suffer from the social stigma attached to that behavior: therefore, we must remove the stigma."

An example: I often see people argue, "Laws against abortion make the practice more dangerous for women: therefore, we ought to get rid of those laws."

Well, if abortion is morally unproblematic, then it should be legal, even if not a single person goes in for dangerous, illegal abortions.

On the other hand, if abortion is immoral, then the fact that people wishing to break the law and have an illegal abortion put themselves at risk is not much of an argument against anti-abortion laws: after all, the fact that bank robbing is illegal definitely makes that activity more dangerous for bank robbers. But the right response to a complaint about that danger is, "Well, then, they should stop robbing banks!"


  1. So in short: People who use the argument are either pointing out that as 'the activity isn't immoral, then it shouldn't have any social stigma attached to it..."' or else pointing to the cases where the stigma is "out of proportion to the immorality of the act."

    In neither case is the argument a failure.

    1. Well, no. Generally they aren't. They are generally studiously avoiding either of those things, because they don't have good arguments for them.


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