Goals and values
Things are a trifle complicated, therefore. But they are made more complicated by the fact that we use "values" and what is "valuable" in at least three senses; and so it would be well to make them clear, so that we can eliminate ambiguity as much as possible from what we are talking about.
First of all, when people talk about something like "the value of life," or when they say that "life is a value," they precisely do not mean that life is something that is (a) useful, and may be more or less useful than other things, or (b) that it is something admirable, and may be more or less admirable than, say, honesty or courage. What they mean is that it is something that demands that it be respected and not interfered with.
In that sense, a value is an absolute, and is to yield to nothing else whatever. Values-to-be-respected are in fact rights, and they "supersede" other values in the sense that no value of any other sort can yield to them. You can't justify killing someone in the name of your own health, your own happiness, or even "the greatest happiness of the greatest number" (which is one of the places where utilitarianism comes a cropper); the only thing that could justify your killing someone is that you might perform the act which led to his death to defend yourself or others against a violation of another equally serious right. We will see how this can be done consistently in the fifth part. But no matter how much better it might be for everyone concerned, you cannot kill someone, or deprive him of any right, for any good purpose.
But then if values-to-be-respected, or values in this absolute sense, are in fact always rights, then why don't we call them rights rather than values? Life is something to which people have a right, not something which is of "supreme value." In fact, as I will show later, it is a necessity, not a value at all; because you can't morally choose to stop living bodily (and of course, you can't actually stop living, because your life is eternal). Calling it a "value" risks classifying it with those things that can be weighed in the balance with other values, and those things which are more or less useful to some purpose.
So from now on, I am not going to use "value" in the sense of "value-to-be-respected."
Secondly, we speak of moral values, such as virtues. These are "values-to-be-admired." Thus, honesty is said to be a "value," and so is courage and cleanliness and generosity and so on. These are not exactly absolutes, except in comparison with their opposites. It is obviously immoral to be dishonest, and so dishonesty is to be shunned, however advantageous may be the dishonest act; but you can be more or less honest. For instance, in regard to telling the truth, you must avoid deliberately saying what you know is false, but this does not mean that you can't keep your mouth shut and not actually tell the truth--or that if you tell it, you have to tell "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" (unless you have sworn to do so in a law court, of course). Similarly, you can be a little courageous without going so far as to put your life on the line; and this is perfectly legitimate in cases where the latter is not demanded. You can be generous and still keep some of the finer things of life for your own use; you don't have to go so far as to "sell all you have and give the money to the poor."
These, however, are not values, strictly speaking, but moral ideals. They are acts which are objectively consistent with what it means to be a human being (and so are morally right acts); and so the habit of performing them is a moral virtue, and one who has these virtues has trained himself to act consistently with his nature. They are not something useful for acquiring human excellence, but are a spelling out of what that excellence is.
The reason they are ideals is that they carry an "ought" along with them; because you have to have them (to some extent) if you are going to avoid being immoral (choosing to act in a morally wrong way). But they are abstractions, and as such have no limits, and consequently can't in fact be put into practice by anyone. That is, no one can be completely honest, in the sense of never giving anyone the impression that he is anything but what he in fact is. But the virtue of honesty eschews any hint of hypocrisy, deceit, or cheating.
Yet we use them as standards for judging people's conduct. I remember one nun on our Rank and Tenure Committee who wanted to withhold promotion from a faculty member who had knocked himself out teaching, publishing, being on committees and all sorts of things, because she had the impression that he was "really" doing all this because he was ambitious, not because he was a loyal member of the college; and she didn't like the dishonesty she thought was there. Needless to say, I had some pointed remarks to make to her about her view.
Hence, these virtues in their unqualified form are used as standards for evaluation of human conduct; and there is a certain objectivity to them, in that they are the opposites of what is inconsistent behavior. But first of all, insofar as they are standards, they are not values, but simply ideals; they are not "worth" anything in themselves, but are just what the person who judges think are what "real" human beings ought to be.
Furthermore, to what degree someone "ought" to measure up to these standards is a matter for each person. You might think that a person who doesn't tell you his faults is not being honest, because he's not being completely open, while I might be content as long as he doesn't actually lie, and call that honesty.
In point of fact, we have no right to use these standards to judge anyone else's conduct, as we will see in the fifth part, because we have no way of knowing how much the other person knows about the situation or what is called for by the situation, and to what extent his actions actually followed his choice. Hence, even if a person says what is false, and you happen to be aware that the day before he uttered this false statement he knew what the facts were, you don't know whether at the time he uttered it he remembered, or whether, even if he remembered it, he did not blurt out his falsehood without being able to prevent himself.(1) Hence, even if your standard of honesty involves simply not saying the opposite of what is the case, you still can't use that as a way of saying that someone's conduct is immoral. This is what Jesus was getting at when so often he commanded his followers not to evaluate other people's conduct.
But be that as it may, these "values-to-be-admired" are moral standards rather than "values," because they are certainly not means to human "worth," but rather the manifestation of it; and as to human "worth," this does not mean that the person who is virtuous is "more valuable" as a human being than one who is less virtuous, as if the less virtuous person were somehow expendable or to be looked down upon or slighted because he didn't measure up to the other's conduct. A human being is to be respected because he is a human being, not because he "deserves" respect because of his conduct, as if rights were something that you earned, and not something you had by nature, however shabbily you treat your nature. That is, if there were eleven people in a lifeboat that held ten, and one had to be thrown overboard to avoid having everyone drown (which can be not immoral, but let us not discuss that here), to use the fact that one person was more virtuous than another as the criterion of whether he should be kept in the boat, while the less virtuous person had four others back at home who depended on him, and to chuck out the less virtuous person on the grounds that he wasn't "worth as much as a person" would be immoral. (Actually, if the other were really virtuous, he would volunteer to jump overboard in order to avoid having someone else make the choice of who to force over.)
I am not necessarily denying the place virtues and moral standards have in a person's life. What I am saying here is that they shouldn't be confused with values, because such things don't admit of comparisons among themselves, really. Honesty is not "more" of a virtue than courage or generosity; you must have enough of all virtues that you don't deliberately do what is positively immoral; but you need not have any more than this minimum of any virtue; and what human freedom and self-determination precisely means is that within the range of human conduct, we each of us pick out the life style we want to live at, emphasizing some virtues more than others; and no one is to tell us, based on some abstraction, that the life we have picked is either reprehensible or "worse" than some other life style.
That is, "better" and "worse" are not the same as "higher" and "lower," unless one freely chooses to make the highest (least limited) act the "best," and set it up as a goal for one's life (in which case, you should probably be a philosopher, as Aristotle pointed out). What is morally legitimate but lowly (like lifting weights) is not "objectively worse" than what is more spiritual or "higher." And similarly, if a person wants to be honest in the sense of not being a liar without being perfectly open and candid, then he is not "worse" objectively than someone who goes out of his way to make himself absolutely clear.
As I said at the end of the third part, the curse of this world is standards. Have goals, but forget about standards; accept reality for what it is; and if it wants to go beyond itself, help it realize the potential it is trying to realize; but don't look at it in relation to your fantasy about how things "really ought" to be.
Therefore, let us confine values to what "valuable" things have; and, to repeat the definition in Chapter 5 of Section 3 of the third part 3.3.5:
The value of any object or act is that aspect of it by which it can lead to a chosen goal.
In this sense, the economists are right in their notion of the "utility" of values; values are precisely the usefulness of something in bringing you to where you want to be. I will discuss this further in the next section (and the next part) in dealing with economics.
Now if you recall the brief discussion of values under Conclusion 11 of Chapter 6 of Section 3 of the third part 3.3.6, I pointed out there that, though the goals the values lead to are freely chosen and therefore subjective, you can't make something lead to the goal just by wanting it to. Either the object has the ability to get you where you want or it doesn't.
Hence, the value is something objective. In spite of the fact that it is relative to something which is subjectively adopted as a goal, it in fact leads toward it whether we think it does or not. Many people don't see the value in philosophy, for instance, because they don't understand how it can help them to fulfill themselves. But in fact, as Socrates pointed out, "An unexamined life is not worth living," and philosophy can help a person assess more clearly what his goals are and what in fact leads to them, so that he won't inadvertently be at cross-purposes with himself. Philosophy has this value, irrespective of whether a person realizes it; and examining your goals and the reality of the world is a value toward being happy, whether you know it or not.
We can, then, restate Conclusion 11 of Chapter 6 of Section 3 of the third part 3.3.6 a little differently as our first conclusion of this chapter.
Conclusion 1: Values are objective, but personal.
The value is an objective property some object has; but whether this property is a value to a given person depends on whether the person has as his goal what it leads to. Thus, a symphony ticket may be a value to me and not a value at all to you, because you don't have listening to classical music one of your goals; by the same token, a ticket to a football game may be a value to you, but it has no value to me, because I am not interested in watching football. The point is that in either case, the ticket will get you in to the concert or the game, and without it you can't get in; and so it has the property of enabling the particular act in question. Where the "personal" aspect comes into play is whether that act is one of your goals or not.
As a kind of corollary of this conclusion, we can draw another:
Conclusion 2: A person does not "choose" or "develop" a value system. He chooses a set of goals, and these automatically carry with them the system of values implied in getting there.
The values are implicit in the goals; but in choosing the goals, you do not know what the values are that will get you to them. Hence, you must study the world and find out what objects in fact lead you to where you want to be, and at the same time don't lead you away from some other goal of yours--or lead you also into some inconsistency with yourself. For instance, it might be that you could increase your income and buy that car you wanted if you embezzled some money from your company. That might be the most efficient way of achieving this particular goal, and it might also be that you would be very unlikely to get caught. Hence, embezzlement is a value leading to the goal you want to achieve.
The trouble, of course, is that it also is an act that is inconsistent with you as pretending that something which is not yours is yours; and, as we saw in Chapters 3 and 4 of Section 4 of the third part 3.4.3 3.4.4, this means eternal frustration along with achieving the goal of getting the car you want. Hence, even if taking this life alone into account, it is a value to embezzle, still, taking the whole of life into account, you will be worse off for doing it than you are now; and hence, it is going to lead you away from where you want to be, taking everything into account. (Of course, since you're free, you could say, "I would rather be frustrated in any other aspect of my life, even eternally, in order to have that car," in which case, the embezzlement would be a value again.)
The point is that those who are immoral are not people who "don't have any values." They certainly do, and are very often much more aware of what their values are than those who are honest; it's just that either they are looking only to this life, or they don't care about what happens to them eternally, and have their eyes focused on very narrow goals instead of their lives as a whole, in which case what are disvalues for the honest people are values for them. Everyone has a set of values, because we can't go through life without making choices, and choices imply goals and the means to get to them--and these are values.
But the whole trend nowadays of decrying the "lack of teaching of values," and proposing to give a "value-centered education" to correct the decline in morals in our society is misguided, especially when the whole project involves "values clarification" and doesn't make any statements about what is right or wrong but about the person's being clear about "the kind of person he wants to be." I have nothing against this; but it's no way to cure moral decline, especially in public schools, where the one thing that can make it to your advantage to be moral--a life after death--can't be mentioned.
A person who comes to college so that he can take business administration and get a better job generally has a very clearly defined set of values; he knows what he wants, and he knows how to get there. He sees pretty clearly the kind of person he wants to be: a modern-day Babbitt; and if others want to make him look "culchured," then their cringing over his crassness is just their tough luck, as long as he can buy and sell them ten times over.
There's nothing wrong with his values, as long as he's moral. So what he needs is not "values clarification," he needs to be taught a course in ethics, in which it is made very obvious that there is in fact a hell, so that instead of just being uncultured, he doesn't become another Sammy Glick in What Makes Sammy Run. What that well-intentioned book didn't tell you, as it left Sammy alone at the top after stepping on so many faces to get there, was that there are lots and lots of the people Sammy stepped on who are lonely too, and far from the top--and there are lots and lots of Sammys who have lots and lots of friends, because it's lots and lots easier to have friends when you've got money. If there's no hell, then the people who decry the moral decline in our society are either fools or jealous.
Value-centered education as practiced today is another one of those pious lies, like the one told about George Washington's chopping down the cherry tree and then answering his father, "I cannot tell a lie; I did it with my little hatchet." That never happened; it was made up to teach kids not to lie. The reverend who perpetrated this fraud on children had values, because he knew that the best way to make them behave was to show someone they admired doing the things that were desirable; but I find it difficult to enter into his moral frame of mind if, to achieve such a noble goal, he would do the very thing he was teaching children to avoid.
All this shouldn't be taken to imply that I think that what are called "positive role models" shouldn't be held up before children and others, so that they can have an idea of what really human goals are, see that they are achievable and that those who achieve them are happy, and that they themselves can be happy pursuing this route rather than imitating the pimp in the pink BMW. By all means, give them examples of virtuous people to look to and imitate, and show virtue for what it is, not hypocritical sanctimony. But this is different from teaching morals, and indicating why you had better not be immoral if you know what the whole of life is, and based on that, what side your bread is buttered on. And certainly when people get to college, role models take a back seat to reason; and reversing the value system that is very rational in this life takes more than questioning "What kind of person do you want to be?"
Put it this way: value clarification isn't a value if what you want to improve is a person's morals.
With that said, let us look a bit at goals, since we obviously have rather large numbers of them, generally speaking. If they are subjectively chosen, how do we go about choosing them, and more significantly, how do we rank them, so that we can tell which ones to spend more effort pursuing?
I mentioned under Conclusion 9 of Chapter 6 of Section 3 of the third part 3.3.6 that importance was the name given to the relative position of goals with respect to each other; and that importance itself, like the goals, was also subjective. Let me spell this out a bit.
One goal is more important than another if the other will be given up or postponed in order to achieve it.
Thus, we have our ranking by being faced with alternatives, in which one goal has to be given up in order to achieve another. This can, of course, happen either in fact or in imagination. For instance, if you have only twenty-five dollars of "entertainment money," and you are faced with buying a ticket for the symphony or eating a restaurant dinner, then you are forced to choose which is more important for you, because you can't have both.
There is nothing objective which can help you choose, supposing both to cost the whole twenty-five dollars. Then how do you do it? Arbitrarily. You may give reasons for your choice, as, for example, that hearing the symphony will "nourish your spirit," while eating the dinner panders to the "flesh"; but another person could say that letting his ear drums be rattled by air vibrations just to see connections among the emotions twanged by them is pretty stupid in comparison to feeding his body and at the same time noticing esthetic connections between the emotions connected with what affects his taste buds. Yes, you skeptics, there is an art to dining; and it is very like music.
Ultimately, what is more important is what "fits" better your ideal of the "real true you" which you have been gradually constructing over the years; and this is self-created and is not imposed on any of us by the facts.
Conclusion 3: Importance is subjective, not objective. Nothing is objectively important.
"Now wait a minute!" you say. "You can't mean that staying alive is not objectively more important than hearing a concert!" Oh, yes I can. You're confusing what is essential with what is important, and assuming that essential acts are the "most important" of all, as if staying alive was a goal we have, and the primary and overriding goal of our lives. But, as we will see shortly, things like staying alive and not being maimed and being healthy and being able to breathe breathable air are in an entirely different category from goals; we don't choose these things and strive after them, we presuppose them and work from them. These are not freely chosen ideas of what I want my individual life to be; they are the minimum for any human being to be able to live at all; and the minimum is clearly not a goal.
As I say, I will discuss this later; but for now, take my word for it at least tentatively, and consider that goals deal with your personal, freely chosen life style, and in that case, since you have chosen it, importance (i.e., what comes closer to being the core of that lifestyle for you--what you consider is "most yourself") is up to you, and there are no facts to force you to consider some aspect of yourself as "more to be developed" than some other facet--always supposing that you don't develop one facet in such a way that you contradict yourself in some other respect (which would be immoral).
This is a very radical statement, I realize, especially for someone who holds that morals are objective. But it is true nonetheless. For millennia people have been trying without success to discover what "the good really is," and what is "really important" in life, only to have other people flatly disagree with them--and people who, very often, have tried out the life style in question and found it wanting. I happen to have been, as I mentioned, a Jesuit--I suppose you would call it monk--and found the life very beautiful, even though, because of my peculiar personality, I was not suited to it, and it was thought better that I should leave. I was taught that it was the "life of perfection," and that those who were called to it were the luckiest people in the world; and in many ways, I would go along with this. But I know many other people who have been there and left who think that it is anything but a desirable life, and look back on their years in the seminary with contempt as something wasted. If importance is objective, then they are idiots. But they certainly aren't, many of them, idiots in other respects; and many have not abandoned their Christian beliefs either.
There is also the fact that people can give enormous importance to what just about everyone else calls insignificant and trivial. They tell the stories of people imprisoned in solitary confinement, who spend their days like Doctor Manette making shoes until being deprived of the leather and tools makes their whole life fall apart; or who pass their time walking back and forth in their cell, counting steps and pretending they are walking from Boston to Los Angeles, and imagining where they have got to--and who resent being taken out for questioning, because it puts them a whole day behind in the journey that has taken over their life.
And then there are the stamp-collectors who are all but willing to kill to find the one stamp that will fill up the gap in the collection, or the bird-watchers who endure cold and colds to catch a glimpse of the rose-breasted grosbeak, or the fishers whose idea of perfection is to spend a whole day sitting in absolute silence with a rod sticking from their hands, waiting for the pike to think that the bait is actually food. Or the football players, who think that nothing can compare with bodies crunching up against each other; and if a few of your bones are crunched in the process, so what? Or even the politicians, who think that the world turns on the windy debates they have with other politicians as they fiddle while Rome burns.
The importance any person gives to any activity is simply silly to a person who has a different set of priorities; and what this should have indicated to thinkers is that priorities are subjective, not objective, not that everybody but philosophers are cretins. If anybody is almost universally laughed at for having screwed-up priorities, it is the ivory-tower philosophers, who can get excited over whether existence is or is not really distinct from essence, or whether (as one philosophy professor I heard recently snidely remarked) "entity" is itself an entity or not.
It doesn't follow that what is higher or more spiritual "ought" to be more important than what is a more limited type of activity; and this cannot be stressed too much, since we have had thousands of years of people's believing just the opposite. Studying philosophy is more important than running a bank successfully only for the person whose goal is achieving the greatest development of his own personal intellectual capacity, rather than for one whose goal is to see to it that people have a safe and profitable place to keep their money, and who can borrow reasonably what they need. I hasten to add that "being useful to others" is also not objectively more important than seeing to your own personal development--because in the final analysis, making your own actions over into a value for others means that you are subordinating your fulfillment to their own subjectively created idea of their own fulfillment; and what is "objectively more important" about your giving up your own goals so that others don't have to? I'm not decrying any of these; merely pointing out that there is nothing objective that would single one out over the other as what we ought to take as our goal. We are free, and as long as our goals are not self-contradictory, then we can pick any set we want and rank them any way we want.
Having ranked goals, then, how do we rank values?
One object or act is more valuable than another if it leads to a more important goal.
That should have been pretty obvious. At one time, I thought that there were two criteria for a greater value: that the goal is more important, or that it leads more efficiently to the same goal. But the greater efficiency is only more important if you want to achieve the goal and get on with other things; and so greater efficiency is a value depending on whether achieving the goal sooner is also a goal. It might be that a person would take a longer time getting a degree (by studying part time instead of full time, for instance) because he would rather have the extra time to work, or simply because he likes the college atmosphere and is in no hurry to leave it. Hence, the only thing I can see that makes one object more valuable than another is that the goal it leads to is more important than the goal of the other value.
Notice that, though values themselves are objective, in that they do in fact lead to the goal whether we think they do or not, the relation of values to each other as greater or less is not objective, because that relation depends on the importance of the goals, which is subjective. This is significant enough to make a formal conclusion of it:
Conclusion 4: No object or act is objectively more valuable than any other object or act.
This will figure very heavily in the discussion of economics, which is to follow this section. It is almost universally assumed that there is a "real value" for an object, and if you happen to be able to buy it for a price below this value, then you've either made a shrewd bargain or cheated the seller, the way the colonists bought Manhattan Island from the Indians for a few colored beads.
There was no cheating going on. Though the beads were abundant in Europe, they were unique among the Indians; and just as people have given up fabulous sums for things like the Kohinoor Diamond (a lump of carbon), or a painting by Van Gogh (a piece of canvas), why shouldn't the Indians, who had the whole of America to roam around in, part with this island for something comparable--especially when they were mere visitors to the island themselves?
In fact, one of the fallacies in making a science of economics is the assumption that, if large numbers of people happen to agree (at the moment) that X is more valuable than Y, then this momentary consensus confers a certain objectivity on the value of X with respect to Y. Unfortunately, however, people can shift their priorities (what they consider important) with blinding speed, and what was very valuable to large numbers yesterday becomes worthless today. Who buys hats any more? When I was a child, a man had to have at least one, and women had to have dozens; then came hair spray. Thus, economics, for all its indifference curves and use of the calculus, can't in fact be used to predict things; because prediction in the realm of what's more or less valuable (and hence what the market price of things will be) is an exercise in mob psychology, not in finding out what the "real" value of something is. And forecasts by economists bear me out; if weather forecasters had the same record of accuracy as economists, they'd be on comedy shows, not the nightly news.
This is enough, I think, to show that the position I have taken based on an analysis of how we think in terms of values and goals is empirically verifiable. You would expect economics to be a very soft science indeed if value-ranking is purely personal, and if it is just coincidence or the desire people have not to be different from others that makes one person's ranking of values more or less the same as someone else's. Ten tons of subjectivity do not make one ounce of objectivity.
Each of us, then, has his own value system, based on the relative importance of the goals we have, which in turn is based on the subjectively created ideal we have of the "real true self." It follows from this:
Conclusion 5: It is morally wrong for one adult to force another to act in conformity with the forcer's value system.
The essence of being human, really is that, within the limits of our genetic potential (our basic human nature), we can make ourselves be whatever we want to be; and this means in practice that our goals in life and their relative importance must be left up to each one to choose for himself.
Now of course, you can't force a person to choose, because he's free, and it's a purely mental act, so that you would never even know what his choice was unless he told you. But you can force him not to be able to carry out his choice. And this is what is meant by "forcing him to act in conformity with your value system." If he wants to play baseball and you want him to be an engineer, and you cut off his income or send goons to rough him up if he goes near a baseball field or puts a glove on his hand, then you are saying that your idea of what he is is what is to prevail over his; and so you are human and he isn't. Unless you can show that in fact he is doing something that he doesn't realize--that he's not compos mentis, and the choice he's making isn't what he thinks it is (as if he has been brainwashed by some cult, as seems to have happened recently in some cases), then he can make of himself whatever he pleases, as long as it doesn't interfere with anyone else's rights.
The only time you can morally restrict the activities of a non-insane adult is when this is the effect of an act which defends someone else against a violation of a right involving equal or greater damage to that other person. Thus, you can force a thief to work to make restitution for what he has stolen from others, or you can put him in prison to defend society against him--or even kill him if that is an act of defense of people's lives; because, as we will see in the chapter on ethics, the violation of the person's right in these circumstances is an unchosen side-effect of the choice to protect the others from damage. But you can never choose to impose your value-system on him; this is to make him your slave, when he is free.
Children and the mentally incompetent do not fall under this restriction, however, because (and insofar as) they do not understand the relation between their acts and their real effects as opposed to the effects they intend to have. Children do not see this, first of all because they lack experience in knowing what effects acts have, and secondly because they think abstractly, and believe that by prescinding from unpleasant consequences, they won't happen.
Children, then, have to be taught to make informed choices, and cannot be allowed to choose things based on their blind and abstract view of what is entailed in the choice, because this sort of thing makes them unfit for what they are going to be faced with in the adult world, and they will probably ruin their lives in the quest for fulfillment. Furthermore, since children do not have a clear idea of what their possibilities are, they must be exposed to various (of course moral) life styles so that they can realize that they are possible for them, and that if they should choose one of them in the future, they will not be cut off from pursuing it because of inadequate preparation.
Conclusion 6: Children and mentally incompetent adults must be forced to live according to a value system that is not their own at the moment.
The purpose of the forcing in the case of children, as I mentioned just above is (a) to teach them the concrete consequences of choices that they make, (b) to show them the potential they in fact have for various different life styles, so that when the time comes they can know where their talents and interests lie, and (c) to give them a preparation for any legitimate life style so that if they choose it when the time comes (even if it is not the one most consistent with their native abilities), they will be in a position where they can pursue it.
When does "the time come"? When the child is capable of realizing what is entailed in a choice, and how it in fact will affect his future in this world and his eternal life, and when he is prepared to begin serious work toward developing himself toward a place in society. That is, when society can begin expecting things from him, and is not solely concerned with doing things for him. Since our society is becoming more and more complex, the actual age at which this being on one's own where one cannot be forced any longer to act according to alien value-systems is later and later; it is generally somewhere around age twenty now, I would say.
Of course, there is not an abrupt transition from childhood to adulthood, really. From their teens, many children are working, where they are expected to do things irrespective of the personal development that comes from them; and certainly, by their teens, most children are pretty capable of realizing that acts have automatic consequences and our choices do not control our futures in this world in an absolute sense. As children grow older, they should be given more and more control over more and more significant aspects of their lives; and, for instance, by the time they enter college, their parents should not be the ones who decide on what their major is to be, or what career they are to be headed for. It is hard for a parent when the student picks something like drama for a major, because it is so obvious to the parent that, however talented he may be, "making it" in this field is like playing the lottery; but, having pointed this out to the child, it is up to the child to make up his own mind.
Persuasion, then, even toward other adults, is perfectly legitimate; but it should be done with respect, recognizing that the other need not have the same idea of relative importance that you have, and simply informing the other of whatever reasons you have for seeing some things as more desirable than others. But trying to prevent an adult from doing what he sees is desirable is to dehumanize him, as I said.
Now of course, those who are not mentally competent are also people who have to be forced to live according to someone else's value system, because they are in the position of being permanent children. They should have as much control over as many aspects of their lives as they can handle, but should not be allowed to make major decisions on their own, precisely because they make them in an fairy-tale world, and not in the world that actually exists.
In both of these cases, each person must be handled individually, because some children are more mature than others, and some retarded or insane people are more competent than others. The point I am making is that the fact that they are free beings and therefore capable of making free choices does not mean that they should be left alone, because they are making uninformed choices and the act they choose often contradicts their intentions (or even contradicts the rights of others that they don't see).Next
1. Which is not to say that you might not have a pretty good idea of the probabilities, if you know the circumstances in which the act was performed; and it is legitimate to protect yourself from similar acts by him in the future. It would be supremely imprudent to entrust your child to someone who has had credible allegations against him of child molestation. But this does not mean that you know that he was immoral; that is between him and God.