Morality’s public desire

Consider the moral principle common to all these:

-A woman yells at her children and is ashamed when she realizes she would never yell like that publicly

-A working husband fantasizes about having an affair with an intern. He notices that one component of the fantasy is that both the fantasy itself and the action that would realize it cannot be publicly known, and he realizes something wrong in this.

-A gang member wants to perform some humane act but doesn’t, because he is afraid that the other gang members might find out about it.

Shame is clearly a component, but I’m interested in the basic need to make one’s moral choices in public.

The public character of acts differs. There is an obvious sense in which sexual relationships aren’t public. For all that, spousal sexual relations are public in a way that extramarital affairs or co-ed hookups aren’t since marriages are public, and the public knows what marriage entails.

Actions that can’t be done publicly require an evil either in the action or our peer group, and this evil creates a dissonance that is particularly hard to avoid and needs to be addressed more or less immediately.



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