Social Norms and Aberrations: Violence and Some Related Social Facts

Simpson, Evan (1970) Social Norms and Aberrations: Violence and Some Related Social Facts. Ethics, 81 (1). pp. 22-35. ISSN 1539-297X

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Much excellent philosophical anthropology has shown that certain sorts of behavior must be considered unacceptable because incompatible with social cohesion. Violence, cruelty, rudeness, and other behavior which indicates lack of respect for persons tear at the fabric of society, and it may be supposed that for any group there is a point beyond which the accumulation of acts of violence, cruelty, or even rudeness, implies distintegration, below which point there is stability, and around which point crisis or an unsteady equilibrium exists. By a series of small and plausible transitions the putative empirical generalization, or regularity, represented in such terms may be transformed into a statement about the normative attitudes of persons in stable groups. The generalization may in the first place be more strongly construed as a statement of law governing any society. The weakening of bonds between persons implied by the prevalence of behavior of the kinds in question means that societies not only do not but cannot survive a certain excess of it. Such a natural law may in turn be reflected internally by certain regulations-civil laws and customs-prohibiting such behavior, or, more strongly, by internalized rules with which most persons not only act in accordance but also accept as stipulating what one ought to do or avoid. The observable frailty of social constitutions is thus reflected from within as a family of obligations -of differing strength depending upon the seriousness of the kind of behavior-to refrain from violence, cruelty, rudeness, and similar acts, at least so long as there are no alternative means to an important and justifiable end. Such behavior may have its place, but that place must be an unusual one, a situation involving imminent disaster or an intolerable condition responsive only to extreme measures. To pass from regulations to internalized rules in this way is to suggest that the essentially prudential considerations upon which reasonable regulations are based are reinforced by conceptual ones which make it impossible rationally to value violation of such regulations. That such reinforcement occurs is undeniable, but it is not well understood why, or universally believed that, resistance to it is irrational.

Item Type: Article
Item ID: 1718
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Philosophy
Date: October 1970
Date Type: Publication
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