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Ethics / Philosophy

Happiness and Wrongdoing

This post is part of the series Happiness

In my previous post, I explained that while happiness was compatible with a lack of moral perfection it was not compatible with guaranteeing a continuation of perfect happiness. But is perfect happiness compatible with previous wrongdoing? Perfect happiness is not compatible with past wrongdoing unless there is supernatural help available.

There are three ways that previous wrongdoing might inhibit perfect happiness in the present. When we do something wrong, we inhibit our own goals by the same act that we intended to advance those goals by. The second way is that our awareness of our wrong action ends up creating guilty knowledge and (for most people) guilty feelings. The third way that wrong actions inhibit perfect happiness is by damaging our relationships with other people and within ourselves. If all of these things could be dealt with then it would be possible to gain perfect happiness after committing wrong acts.

Our goals can be inhibited in two ways. First, they can be inhibited by creating an immediate problem of some kind. This might be a debt, a obligation or even a prison term. Once this problem has been resolved, nothing remains that prevents our goals. Second, our goals can be inhibited by a persistent problem. Our reputations might be damaged, we might be unable to get our preferred kind of work or we might be deported from our favorite place of residence. These sorts of issues may not be so easily fixable.

Guilty knowledge and guilty feelings can only be fixed properly by restoring what our wrong acts have damaged and by paying an appropriate penalty. Since perfect happiness is not consistent with irrationality, it is not possible for a person to have perfect happiness, wrongdoing and lack guilty knowledge. So removing one’s guilt is the only way of properly fixing this issue. We must first admit that we have done wrong. This is simply assumed as we are aiming for perfect happiness. Second, we must restore what we have damaged as much as it is humanly possible to do in our current situation. Thirdly, we must restore the relationship we have damaged by paying a penalty so that it is obvious that we lost whatever we were trying to achieve by acting immorally. By doing this, we can remove our guilty knowledge.

The final effect of doing wrong is restoring what our wrong acts have damaged. Our wrong acts may have damaged our own thinking and emotions, our virtue, our bodies and awareness of what is right and wrong. Our wrong acts may have also damaged other people in those ways as well. Finally, we might have damaged the property of other people and our relationship with other people as well. This is not an exhaustive list. The wide variety of damage is just to show how wide the damage really is. It is this area that is most problematic. It is not humanly possible to fix this. While we might be able to restore $50 to someone that we stole from, a murderer cannot restore the life he has taken. Even the thief cannot restore the anxiety and trouble that his theft caused.

This means that unless some supernatural help is available, there is no way for perfect happiness to be compatible with past wrongdoing.

Continue reading this series:

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