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Today, I’m going to talk about moral consequentialism as an ethical framework as well as paedophilia, partly because it’s a real motive subject that gets people engaged and enraged.

I recently bought a Stacey Dooley show on BBC iPlayer – she’s rather like Louis Theroux in that they can bring the most out of the people they interview without really challenging in confrontation. One of the shows that she did centred around the sex market in Japan. She was interviewing one man who had a sex doll who was effectively a schoolgirl. In his own little world, he had no consequences outside of his own flat as far as I could tell. In other words, he was getting on with what would be seen as a pretty nefarious past time of violating a sex doll that was representative of an underage schoolgirl but that this had no effect on society at large (notwithstanding Stacey Dooley being in there interviewing him).

I can’t find the clip, but it’s pretty disturbing. The full episode is here. Here is some detail:

Tracy meets in the denouement a self-confessed paedophile who has the courage to appear in front of the camera. He’s a cultural stereotype, the sad loser with bad teeth, and shiny white ribbons in his hair. This marks him out as other, not part of the mainstream. Not really a threat. The kind of man the authorities would happily lock up for a very long time to prove, like Stacey, they are on the case. He carries a cardboard box. Inside it is a floppy doll. He admits to undressing it and imaging what would happen…when it does he puts a condom on. He doesn’t want to get the doll dirty. Paedophilia, he declares, is a person who loves children. He loves children, but scorns the idea he is a child molester. Molesters are people that make unlawful advances towards children. He would never do that. But if a child wanted to… and he wanted to, that might be cute. Cute is not illegal. Children are cute.

So let’s design a little thought experiment to explore this kind of scenario. Imagine that this man got up to no good with this underage sex doll and no one else in the world knew of this and there were no consequences that came about from his particular behaviour. Would this make what this man did morally or ethically wrong? I once had a conversation with my good friend Rob Stroud about whether it would be wrong to write a note, a horrible note, about your partner but place that note in your pocket free never to be seen by anyone in the world ever again and then subsequently forget that you wrote that notes. And that note, let’s imagine, had absolutely no consequences to the world at large. Would it be amwrong thing to do

Let’s return to the scenario of paedophilia a little bit further. Imagine you are the designer of this doll or perhaps a computer designer who creates an online forum or game that allows a player to fulfil their paedophilic dreams. Now, to keep this thought experiment really tight, we need to assume that the person who plays with such a game or doll literally and definitely does not do anything outside of those scenarios. They do not interact with any underage children and they do not begin to convince anyone else to do equally nefarious things. Would there be anything that would make even  the designers of these playthings or the end consumers of these playthings morally reprehensible?

I suppose it might come down to the question as to whether thought crimes are themselves morally problematic. Although these “crimes” have a little more potency in the fact that they aren’t just within the minds of the perpetrators, they are actions carried out on non-living beings that are representational of living beings. But I’m interested to see where the moral aberration takes place here, again assuming that there are absolutely no tangible consequences to anyone else or anything else in the entire world.

In short, can an action without any consequences be seen as anything other than morally neutral?

Of course, this whole post rather depends on the potency of consequentialism is a moral framework. And there might be room for discussion there. Thoughts?

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...