B: Actually, it depends on what you mean by “wrong.” People generally disagree about exactly what things are “wrong,” or “bad,” or “evil.” In fact, we’ve said a couple times before that no two people completely agree on everything. There are some few things that just about everybody agrees on. For instance, can we all just agree to allow people to be as free as possible? If we want to be free, then, nobody should be allowed to do things that take away another person’s freedom, as we’ve said recently.
But outside of that, upon what can we agree to make law? Even if everybody did agree on something else, suppose there came along someone who didn’t agree with it; why should it be disallowed, as long as the person isn’t taking anybody’s freedom? For instance, suppose that literally everybody decided that homosexual behavior was “wrong.” Should it be, then, that we make a law barring it? And how do we respond to the prospect of someone who decides he wants to practice homosexual behavior, even though in doing so, he infringes on the freedoms of no other person? Why should any portion of his freedom be denied, when he denied nobody else of their own?
Here’s another example: racism. Most people these days seem to think it’s a bad thing. But what if some few think it’s not? Should we bind them by a law barring it? Why should we, if those who believe it’s not so bad aren’t taking anybody’s freedoms away?
A: They have to be taking somebody’s freedoms away, just by the nature of racism.
B: Really? What if I say I don’t like somebody, simply because of his race? That sounds like racism to me. Is it his freedom to be liked by me? Shouldn’t I be the one to determine those people I like and don’t like, for whatever reason I choose?
One also readily sees another complication with this particular example of racism, and that is that not everybody agrees on what constitutes racism and what doesn’t. For instance, I might call someone “black,” which seems an acceptable term to me – why not; people call me “white,” and it doesn’t bother me at all. But some might think my use of the term “black” is racist, if it doesn’t happen to be in line with the currently-accepted term for people of that race, who have ancestors who lived in Africa.
How can we possibly punish people for doing “wrong,” when we can’t even agree on what’s “right?” And even if we agreed upon one thing as being “wrong,” why should we outlaw it if it doesn’t take anybody’s freedoms away? If we did, wouldn’t it lead to the government being the supreme moral authority? In that case, anybody who disagrees forfeits some of his freedom. People will thus be disallowed the freedom to disagree with the government – in short, his freedom of opinion, or belief, or religion, is abridged.
Therefore, let’s restrict ourselves instead to this maxim: “let everyone be free, insofar as freedoms of others aren’t infringed upon,” according to the definition of freedom given before, even if it means allowing people to do things that might appear “wrong” in another’s eyes. Otherwise, nobody is truly free1.
- “Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes” – attr. to Mahatma Gandhi (disputed). ↩