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Should people be punished socially for being rude and inconsiderate, etc?

September 22, 2011

Response from Sean Greenberg on September 22, 2011
I take it that rudeness and other violations of social norms do sometimes lead to the one who is rude being sanctioned implicitly--as others avoid that person and tell others that he is rude and inconsiderate--or even explicitly, in cases when one is in a position actually to reprimand the person for this behavior. Depending on what one understands by 'punishment', that can certainly constitute punishment; however, to be sure, that punishment is not normally meted out by legal institutions, because the norms of polite behavior--at least in most twenty-first century industrialized democratic societies--do not have any legal status and so are not enforceable. But the big question is whether even the social punishment that is meted out to those who are rude and inconsiderate, the gradual withdrawal of goodwill from them, is justified: I myself think that rather than shunning the person who is rude or inconsiderate, one should do whatever one can to bring that person in line with social norms. To be sure, even to attempt to do this is tricky, but I think that it should be undertaken. (Indeed, in general, I think that every effort should be made to rehabilitate one who offends against explicit or implicit norms. But making out a case for this view goes far beyond the scope of this answer.)


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