Say the child of an ultra conservative father is homosexual, has kept it quiet for years but is quite sure that their father finding out would cause severe amounts of shame and anxiety that he might never get over.

Intuitively, it seems righteous to be open about it anyway because it seems 'right', but Im not sure how that aligns with Kants duty of nonmaleficence and if the "disutility" experiences by the father really were greater then surely utilitarianism couldnt justify it either?

So Im just wondering, if truths or actions that seems righteous at face value are still moral if the 'wrong' party experiences negative feelings.

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    It's a frequent problem in society, esp between intellects and feelers. Intellects are quite comfortable offering unvarnished truths & feelers are quite sensitive to this. Everyone has some degree of intellect/feeling. Isn't it prudent to be diplomatic in our delivery of truths; this is a trainable skill. Also some truths are better left unsaid if there's no gain in letting them out. If they need to be let out, one can find a way of doing so in the most non-destructive way to people more predisposed to feeling negative about raw truths.
    – Hex Heager
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 1:36
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    If you are asking about Kant, he proscribes lying to a murderer at the door to save the victim, so hardly a credible moral authority in such cases. A decision on coming out depends on many nuances (in particular, whether revealing the truth is a side effect of what has to be done for other compelling reasons, or is done solely for its own sake), but generally there is a time and a place for any truth, and there are even truths one should forever hold their peace about. No value should be turned into an absolute to the detriment of others.
    – Conifold
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 3:55
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    I dunno if we've made that much progress in our safari. Suppose we have, it's only a matter of turning the dials until Kant, Bentham-Mill are indistinguishable, oui?
    – Hudjefa
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 6:52
  • "A truth that's told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent." - William Blake
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 15:30
  • Good quote, I'mma add that to my collection Commented May 26, 2023 at 20:22

2 Answers 2


You might find this answer relevant: Are there any stoic suggestions around dealing with unneeded hard truths and happy unknowing minds?

I argue here that wisdom is the skill of solving apparent dilemmas: Wisdom and John Vervaeke's awakening from the meaning crises? So, bringing creativity of multiple kinds, to apparent impasses and contradictions eg: using self-knowledge and integrating together what is known, reframing, investigating definitions, connecting to wider themes, listening to unheard participants, challenging what is taken for granted. Etc, etc.

I would say then, a blanket response is exactly not the point. But the particular, like the father's own history and friends, and lived moments as they arise like by pointing at how judgement and excluding people can harm everyone involved as examples come up - a frequent theme say in the New Testament.. In the psychology of changing minds, it is found much more effective to find shared values to work from, than simply to confront, discussed in this Psychology Today article: Why Changing Somebody’s Mind, or Yours, Is Hard to Do.

It is worth noting that attitudes towards homosexuality in the past have generally been more complex than generally presented. For instance Queer readings of The Lord of the Rings are not accidents. Becoming a priest, was often considered a positive choice - Plato's view was that Platonic love between men is the best kind of love, but physically acting on it was the worst kind. That can at least be a way towards acknowledging some positives.

I'd be curious to hear about this ultra conservative father's experiences of society, social change, and motives for his views about sexuality. That must be an essential first step, towards understanding the values in common.

  • Oftentimes parents get over it when their kids do unexpected things. If they don't, it's their loss. It is up to the more spiritually advanced person to deal with a difficult situation.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 15:34
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    @ScottRowe: When we have ceased changing, we have ceased living.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 17:56
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    I've been living a lot the past 20 years.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 18:22

When conflicting information is encountered, the mind enters into a state of cognitive dissonance. In this state, the mind seeks to relieve the discomfort, usually by (a) denial, (b) action, or (c) accommodation. In practice, the last option is generally the most mentally expensive and painful, especially if it involves rewriting or downgrading the self-concept. Accommodation is about restructuring the mental model, worldview, or schema-set to support new information. For the example given in the question, this process is likely necessary as the father's worldview must be updated to accommodate the new data. Since worldviews are comprised of a complex web of interconnected mental schemas, this process can take a while and involve fair stress.

Accommodation can be broadened beyond mental knowledge, beliefs, and values to include social restructuring, where relationships, affiliations, and maybe laws and institutions are reconfigured. That is, both individuals and groups may undergo periodic revision when encountering internal contradiction.

On the matter of ethics, one of the key features of mental or systemic restructuring is cost. We might say the process brings temporary dysfunction and distress. If we assume utilitarianism based on minimising distress, then there appear to be at least two core factors:

  1. Entity scope -- the causal or mental boundaries of being, or the circle in which suffering is measured.

  2. Time horizon -- the temporality, or time-span, in which suffering is to be minimised.

In the short-term, highlighting contradiction and other conflicting information can be expected to bring more suffering than wellbeing. Similarly, say in the case of violence, protecting the will of one entity may go against the will of another -- thus shifting or reallocating suffering from one place to another. On the other hand, if we broaden the scope of consideration, different measurements may unfold. By measuring longer-term, the net effect may show overall increased wellbeing. And by measuring both the victim and aggressor together, we may find that preventing violence lowers overall suffering. These net benefits are especially likely if care is taken in mode of delivery.

In general, resolving morally significant ignorance is net beneficial. But often that benefit requires using larger entity scope and longer time horizon. So remember to consider the broader set of affected parties, as well as the longer-term. Furthermore, remember to consider the available ways of deliverance.

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