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Objects are morally neutral

by BrainPolice

I've always been a stickler for the notion that objects are morally neutral. This notion usually comes to play in debates about gun prohibition, to counter people essentially claiming that guns are causal determinant for violence in and of themselves, but of course they truly aren't causal determinants, only instrumental means. A gun can be used to murder someone or to defend someone from an attempted murderer. In either case, the moral neutrality of objects has implications more far reaching than the issue of gun control. For example, there is the idea among some people that money is the root of all evil, but money is only a means and object that one can use for a plethora of purposes, both good and bad.

In the case of both the gun prohibitionist and the "anti-monetarist", an object is claimed to be intrinsically and absolutely evil merely because sometimes certain people may use them towards negative ends, and the abolition of the object is proposed as a solution. The problem is that no such intrinsic value exists in such objects, and morality judges actions, not tools. There is nothing about such tools in and of themselves that can be rationally assigned with moral properties. What matters from the perspective of morality are the actions that people engage in while using such objects. While the nature of an object may certainly be to facilitate a particular end, it is only the end in question and the way in which the object is used that can be morally judged, not the object itself.

Some may nitpick and try to find exceptions to the rule by pointing to something such as nuclear weaponry, which can function for nothing but mass destruction. But once again it would not be the mere existence of the object itself that can constitute immorality, it would be the decision of an individual to make offensive use of them. Isolated from any decision on the part of people and interaction between people and the object, the object has no moral significance whatsoever. Personally, in an ideal world I'd like all nuclear weapons to be jettison into the sun. Of course, I don't except that to happen. But all the same my own weariness about nuclear weapons does not stem from a moral condemnation of the object itself, but an awareness of the general danger of the object itself when used by human beings.

The moral condemnation of objects would seem to naturally lead towards primitivism the more consistently that one applies it. What is contemporary industrial civilisation but the extensive use of objects for the purposes of mass-production to appease human needs and wants? Instead of opposing power or institutional frameworks or bad ideas, the neo-luddite puts all of their energy into opposing objects, tools, instruments. They misplace blame entirely, effectively ignoring the role of individual action. They only emphasise the negative possibilities for how objects can be used while acting as if they have no positive use.

It should be fairly obvious why objects cannot be assigned with moral properties. Objects are not moral agents, they do not have consciousness or willpower, they do not think or act. A rock cannot be blamed for anything, it makes no sense to assign responsibilities to it. A rock can only be an instrumental tool for something that one can blame a human being for. It is possible for a rock to be thrown at someone to harm them, and it just as possible that a rock can be turned into a statue or carving or used to build a building. Indeed, treating objects as moral agents leads to absurdity, as such objects would have to be regarded as if they were human beings. Surely one doesn't want to end up at the reductio ad absurdum of arresting objects for disturbing the peace.

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