At what point is alienating others around you who believe opposing moral viewpoints socially acceptable? Is it okay to reject a friendship (or any relationship) based on their ethical compass?


If a person who felt very strongly about human rights (not necessarily a female) meets a misogynist, it wouldn't seem socially unacceptable for the former to disassociate themselves from the misogynist.

However, if an atheist meets a member of the Christian faith, or vice versa, and chooses to alienate the latter simply on the grounds of religious belief, that seems rude and unfair.

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  • It depends on your ethics. – smartcaveman Nov 20 '13 at 21:09

In practice, you just have to read off the answer from the society you find yourself in. For example, it is generally not considered okay to alienate yourself from people on the basis of race in the U.S.; although I have not experience it firsthand the accounts I read indicate that it is okay in Israel for not-particularly-religious arabs and Jews to segregate from each other.

(Religion is a particularly tricky case because people often do not behave in accord with what they profess to believe, so it often would come down to alienating someone because they have a different set of incorrect and non-predictive rationalizations for their behavior than you do...seen that way, deciding that alienation is rude sort of makes sense as a way to circumvent pointless animosity or lack-of-cooperation.)

But there is also the question of when it should be socially acceptable, which leads one to ask what social acceptance is good for anyway, and what our ultimate goals or moral principles are. Here, again, it really matters what those goals or principles are. For example, one could without much difficulty argue that a utilitarian should engage, not alienate, those with other viewpoints as the best way to get the other person to act in a way that maximizes whichever good that utilitarian is trying to maximize. (Actually, the answer would always be alienate or engage depending on whichever will result in the best outcome, as defined by said utilitarian.)

I'm not sure we know enough to make such decisions wisely, however. Studies of social shunning by individuals or groups are pretty few and far between; it's hard to know what the impact would be. Even principle-based systems of morality need to know the consequences of actions now and then.


One way to look at this is: at what point does my friendship with this person abridge his/her or my effort to bring about the kind of future judged to be 'best'? Stated differently, at what point do our purposes diverge? I'm probably channeling Aristotle and his polis here, through MacIntyre in his After Virtue:

This notion of the political community as a common project is alien to the modern liberal individualist world. This is how we sometimes at least think of schools, hospitals or philanthropic organizations; but we have no conception of such a form of community concerned, as Aristotle says the polis is concerned, with the whole of life, not with this or that good, but with man's good as such. It is no wonder that friendship has been relegated to private life and thereby weakened in comparison to what it once was. [...] Friendship' has become for the most part the name of a type of emotional state rather than of a type of social and political relationship. (156)

Thought of in this way, you might find your imagined 'best' future challenged by finding people who don't seem to 'fit' in it.

Now, the above is a teleological way to view things. MacIntyre argues that it's basically either this or "every man on his own"—i.e. a Nietzschean competition of my will vs. every other person's will. I'm inclined to agree: ultimately either we're working together, or we're working against each other. I'm pretty sure there are other views on the matter, though.

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