In the last few posts, I carefully explained the distinction between the circumstances, content and intention of an act. I explained how these distinctions were useful in distinguishing between good and bad actions. But since I am speaking of harm, these distinctions can be applied to harm as well. Harmful actions are those actions that are contrary to human life in their content, their intention or because of their circumstances.
The content of an act is harmful when that act causes harm simply because of what the harm is. Harm is opposed to life. So if an act causes harm, then it is an act against life. The ultimate case of harm is one that ends someone’s life, but lesser harms may not be that severe. So it is best to define harm by content as that which is contrary to life.
The intention of an act is essential to what an act is. When combined with the content of an act, this distinguishes between acts that are intrinsically bad and those that are not. So when the intent is to act contrary to life, then the act is evil. If the intent of an act is not contrary to life but the nature of act is contrary to life, then the act is evil as well. Otherwise the act is not evil. If the act is required for life, improves life or repairs life then it is good. Otherwise the act is conditionally good.
The circumstances of an act determine whether or not a conditionally good act is good or evil. So if the act is contrary to life because of the circumstances, then the act is evil. Otherwise, the act is good. So this discussion clearly uses the distinctions I have made when distinguishing between good and evil acts.
The problem is that this entire discussion depends on what is meant by “contrary to life”. In order to know what is meant by that, especially in regards to speech, it is necessary to know what human life is. It is also necessary to know how one could act contrary to what a human life is. Once we are aware of this, we will know what harm is and why harm is wrong.
Since this entire discussion is about the morality of speech, it should be limited to a discussion of those living beings that are capable of speech. But the only living beings that are capable of speech – as far as we know – are human beings. Non-human animals cannot speak, but either imitate us or use association to assign things to other things. Speech requires more than that. Human beings are rational creatures – we can assign symbols to things as types rather than as tokens. It is this particular ability that is called ‘rationality’.
Next, I will discuss what a human life is.