The Duty to Shut Up

Psychologists once conducted the following experiment.  Small children were left in a room with toys, one of which was particularly attractive.  Some were told that they would be punished if they played with the attractive toy.  Others were told that it was wrong to do so.  Some weeks later, the children were again left in the room.  Nothing was said.  Those that had been told that it was wrong to play with the attractive toy were less likely to play with it than those that had been threatened.  They had accepted the belief that it was wrong to play with the toy, rationalized it in their own way, and acted accordingly.

This story shows that human beings are vulnerable to moralists.

It shows that moralists have power.

It illuminates the fact that moralists ought to act responsibly.

Moralists disagree with each other and, as a matter of logic, at most one can be right.  If at most one can be right, most are wrong.  You don’t have to be right to act responsibly but you have to try.  They way in which to act responsibly is to proportion your affirmations to the evidence.

The set of moralists include preachers, teachers, ethicists, newspaper columnists, and television pundits.  It is obvious that many do not act responsibly.  If they cannot bring themselves to act responsibly, they have a duty to shut up.

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