I’ve been reading Donald D. Hoffman’s The Case Against Reality: How evolution hid the truth from our eyes. At one point Hoffman uses a Wittgenstein quote to raise a point about how our senses can deceive us, and this got me thinking about distortions in our moral perceptions, too. Hoffman makes the point that from the basis of our everyday perceptions of the world it is very natural to experience the earth as the unmoving centre of the universe; to believe that the sun goes around the earth. This quandary was once put to Wittgenstein, whom replied, ‘what would it have looked liked if it had looked as if the earth turned on its axis?’. This gap between perception and reality then made me think that something like this can occur with our moral sense. How best to treat addiction, for example, is just such a case in point.
At a basic level of moral opprobrium, the reaction of many people towards addicts seems to be that they should be ‘punished’, or shunned in some way to deter them from their habit, when in actual fact it seems that a harm reduction model treats people’s addiction problems best. Some people balk at this, “Why should my hard-earned taxes be wasted on these addicts?”, they might say, but it is more effective to help people rather than condemn them. To paraphrase Wittgenstein, what would addiction look like if it looked like people deserved help?