Why not prosecute adulterers?

Tauriq Moosa wonders:

Why is it moral to intervene in cases where physical violations are occurring but not, say, relationship violations? Physical wounds can heal, but as we all know, emotional ones can be worse. And if it is the case that we’re morally allowed – or bound – to prevent significant harms to others, and if emotional “wounds” can be worse than physical, why aren’t we allowed to stop infidelity from occurring, even if they’re strangers?

No doubt it is thoughts like these which someone like Jeremy Waldron could use, as I posted earlier, to get liberals on his side when it comes to acts like hate speech. Perhaps there is simply no good reason to define ‘harm’ so narrowly that it only encompasses physical violence.

For what it’s worth, my hunch is that there is no good moral reason, in principle, to only conceive of harm in physical terms. The liberal reluctance to expand the definition must surely stem from other more pragmatic worries. Like the problems of proof and strict definition, which could leave me liable to punishment for saying or doing something that somehow mentally scarred a particularly sensitive soul. What if we safeguard against such situations by saying only ‘reasonable’ mental harm is considered? Well, the eternal debate as to what constitutes ‘reasonable’ mental pain begins. There are no such problems in establishing the harm of rape.

Am I missing something obvious here? Is there a simple solution to this puzzle which justifies our intuitions?


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