Monday, February 8, 2010

The Immorality of Commonsensical Marriage

(v1.3, with updates)

It's a return to Kierkegaard's Either/Or for this post, where we talk about marriage and pragmatism. For various and sundry caveats on my arguments concerning Kierkegaard's work, please check out my post here. Let me know if you need any clarification on source materials. It's going to be quite a challenge to consolidate about 85 pages of argument, but I'll do my best. Let's see how this works.

Let's assume you are married and I asked you: "why did you marry"? Kierkegaard's character, Judge William, argues-- quite well, I think-- that "it is always an insult to a girl to want to marry her for any other reason than that one loves her" (EOII 67). While he notes that there is "a multiplicity of altogether puny objectives, because they are not even laughable... for example, marrying for money, or out of jealousy, or because of the prospects, because there the prospect that she will soon die... I do not care to bring up all such things" (EOII, 80). However, he does explicitly address some more commonly given reasons.

~If you responded that you married "in order to contribute to the propagation of the human race", your response might be "both a very objective and a very natural reason", and yet it misses the point-- "such a marriage is just as unnatural as it is arbitrary" and there is no question that a man who marries a woman to "contribute to the propagation of the human race" has married for the wrong reasons (EOII 64).

~Judge William also argues it would be wrong to marry "to acquire a home" (EOII 70), to have people around so one is not bored and devoid of contact with others. If he "has become bored at home, has taken a trip abroad and become bored, has come again and is bored", he might long for marriage "for the sake of company" (ibid). Such a person "feels the emptiness of everything around him-- nobody is waiting for him when he is gone" (ibid). The Judge replies that "I have not married in order to have a home, but I have a home, and this is a great blessing" (EOII, 74). Such a person "always pleads that there is no one who is waiting for them, no one who welcomes them, etc.", but this reveals that "they actually have a home only when they think of being outside it" (EOII, 75)-- that is, one has encountered the "pain, sadness, and humiliation" or being "a stranger and alien in the world" (EOII, 77). Such a person "could not stand to see you wife... in dishabille [a state of debilitation], unless this costume were finery designed to please you" (EOII, 78), indicative of an underlying problem: "you will always be a stranger and an alien" (ibid). You would be regarded as "a welcome guest... you would be inexhaustible in attentiveness, inventive in all ways of delighting the family... it would be very lovely, would it not" (ibid). However, in the end, "no matter how proud you are, there is a humiliation here", because you would still be "alone in one's boat, alone with one's sorrow, alone with one's despair-- which one is cowardly enough to prefer to keep rather than submit to the pain of healing" (EOII, 77).

~Similarly, marriage for happiness or for sensuousness is problematic because it "seeks momentary satisfaction" (EOII, 20), and it causes one to think "that one can probably stand living together for some time, but it wants to keep an escape open if a happier choice comes along. It makes marriage into a civil arrangement; one needs only to inform the proper authority that this marriage is over and a new one has been contracted" (EOII, 22). This view of romantic love and marriage asserts, "I do not ask for so much, I am satisfied with less; far be it from me to demand that you go on loving me forever if you will just love me in the moment I desire it" (EOII, 21).

A person who "marries for this and that" reason is acting inappropriately; "commonsensical calculating" cannot determine whether two individuals ought to marry (EOII, 60). One might say that they have good intentions, but "the goodness of his [or her] objective [meaning, intention] is of no use, for the mistake is precisely that he had an objective" (EOII, 60). He asserts that "nothing else ever belongs to marriage but marriage's own 'why', which is infinite" (EOII, 58), for it is "sensuous but also spiritual, free but also necessary, absolute in itself and also within itself points beyond itself" (EOII, 57). Marriage's teleology (for the sake of simplicity, its destiny or goal) is in itself, internally.

What justifies, then, getting married, if not common sense rationality? Judge William (Kierkegaard's character, here) does not dispute the presence of many "hows"-- "how they are going to manage, how they are going to take care of the children" (EOII, 58) and etcetera. However, while he does not discredit these or downplay their importance, they are insufficient for justifying a marriage. He claims that "marriage can [justly] be undertaken with only one intention, whereby it is just as ethical as aesthetic, but this intention is immanent" (EOII, 66). The inwardness required by marital love has as its first principle" frankness, uprightness, openness on the largest scale possible", and "secretiveness here is its death" (EOII, 96). This is the first principle of love (ibid), and also the "life principle in marriage" (EOII, 106). A marriage is not justified by the "whats" of how well one can procreate, or be happy, or have a home. Rather, a marriage is justified for a man (and for his wife, if the appropriate pronouns are switched) when he says, "The primary question is not one of where I am going to find the money and at what percent but first and foremost is of my love, whether I have kept a pure and faithful covenant of love with her to whom I am united" (EOII, 113). Such a person "has the proper conception of who he is and what he can do, and only marriage gives the historical faithfulness that is every bit as beautiful as the knightly kind" (ibid). One who is in a justified marriage has an eternal love-- "the married man has not killed time but has rescued it and preserved it in eternity.... he solves the great riddle, to live in eternity and yet to hear the cabinet clock strike in such a way that its striking does not shorten but lengthens its eternity" (EOII, 126).

I want to close with a quote from the conclusion of the essay from which these sources are from-- "On the Aesthetic Validity of Marriage". He states, "Accept now, in well-prepared anticipation what is here offered to you as well tested. If you find it far too trivial to satisfy you, then see if it is not possible to prepare yourself better, see if you have not forgotten some precautionary measure" (EOII, 139). This topic is more difficult than romantic love to depict artistically or even through arguments, but "let your consolation be, as it is mine, that we are not to [merely] read about or listen to or look at what is the highest and the most beautiful in life, but are, if you please, to live it" (EOII, 126).


Andrea Lowry said...


What a wonderful and delightful post! I'm very intrigued.

What then keeps a marriage, or love, from being completely arbitrary then? Or is that the point of it all, that it should be that way?
If that is what Kierkegaard (or his character, rather) intends, why is his critique of marrying for propogation of the species that it is "just as unnatural as it is arbitrary" if arbitrary marriage is actually the point?

And I'm also unclear as to what love itself is, though hopefully we'll discuss this at the next club meeting! Isn't it just a feeling of glorified happiness, satisfation, fulfillment, and pleasure? Or is love something wholly else entirely? Or does it include these things, but there's ultimately something more to it?
What does Kierkegaard mean when he speaks of loving for the sake of of love itself?

Zach Sherwin said...


Thanks for the comment!

I'll, once again, start with the second question. Love is not defined as a feeling; rather, it is a "state", but in many ways an eternal (timeless, not repeating forever) state of the soul. Consider, in the post:

The "First Principle of Love" is also the "First Principle of Marriage", which has "frankness, uprightness, openness on the largest scale possible" (96); one can verify whether one has this love by asking in good faith and a state of earnestness, "whether I have kept a pure and faithful covenant of love with her to whom I am united" (EOII, 113).

While those things popped up in the post, they were organized differently and the post was dense, so phrasing it a different way will hopefully make it more clear.

As a matter of fact, Kierkegaard's critique of romantic (read: sensuous) love outside of marriage is arbitrary. What makes this different than married love? An excellent question; I don't have access to the book right now, but I have my notes handy, and will do what I can from there, combined with my knowledge.

Judge William, still in Either/Or Part II, writes: "The person who chooses himself ethically has himself as his task, not as a possibility, not as a plaything for the play of his arbitrariness. Ethically he can choose himself only if he chooses himself in the continuity, and then he has himself as a multiply defined task" (EOII, page 258). To be arbitrary, a decision must be made on meaningless/insignificant external criteria-- for example, my decision to wear a green shirt today was arbitrary, being based on insignificant and uncared-about external criteria, such as which shirt was closer and what mood I was in.

Marriage, on the other hand, if chosen ethically (on the basis of love), is chosen-- remember the definition from above-- on the basis of ethical inwardness and duty."The person who chooses himself ethically has himself as his task, not as a possibility, not as a plaything for the play of his arbitrariness" (EOII, page 258). Such a person "dares to employ the expression that he is his own editor, but he is also fully aware that he is responsible, responsible for himself personally, inasmuch as what he chooses will have a decisive influence on himself, responsible to the order of things in which he lives, responsible to God" (EOII, page 260).

In other words, you freely choose whether to love, but you are accountable to the most extreme degree imaginable for your decisions, and such decisions are necessarily not arbitrary-- because responsibility is established. An argument by analogy: my decision to wear a green shirt this morning was arbitrary, because it was made without significant criteria/responsibility. Last night, I freely chose to wear a tie, because I was responsible for this action and believed it to be significant.

You might object that I can arbitrarily choose what to establish as significant criteria; Judge William notes that an ethical person "takes an essential responsibility for excluding what he excludes as accidental [arbitrary]" (page 261). Responsibility is crucial here. " only that belongs to me which I ethically take on as a task... [however,] if I refuse to take it on, then my having refused it essentially belongs to me" (page 260). So, you might say that you do not treat the feelings of others as significant criteria. You are therefore responsible (in an ethical sense) not for your treatment of the feelings of others, but for your refusal to consider that as a criteria.

There's all sorts of fun consequences that are entailed, but we'll save that for another day. Hopefully that addresses your questions, somewhat.

Anonymous said...

While an interesting metaphysical aesthetic, it seems that calling commonsensical marriage immoral could be harmfull to society if taken seriously. no doubt, the incredibly high divorce rate is due to couples marrying on principle alone. this creates a promise and duty most americans cannot keep. If utility was valued over responsibility, perhaps divorce would diminish because marriage would be founded upon pragmatic factors.

r.j.m said...

What happens when the rights of others, including your own, clash against moral duty/obligation? Also doesnt it seem like refusing to accept the criteria of other peoples feelings to a certain degree, make one violate other duties he or she may have (like being a good citizen, neighbor, or teamate)? How ought we prioratize our multiple conflicting obligations?

Zach Sherwin said...


Boy-- hard to believe that I wrote this a year ago! Time sure flies, doesn't it?

So, your questions:

1. What happens when the rights of others, including your own, clash against moral duty/obligation?

This is an extremely important question for Kierkegaard, in large part because it shows how he differs from Kant (though he is often described as being somewhat neo-Kantian). Kant famously argued for the Categorical Imperative, a rational standard against all moral positions can be evaluated. Kierkegaard was, presumably, skeptical of such things. I believe that he differentiated between social ethics (societal standards, i.e. Kant's CI) and morality (what is right or wrong). Usually, these two are completely in sync-- following traffic laws are both ethical and moral. However, there do seem to be times when the moral thing to do is not the ethical thing to do, such as an act of rebellion against the state. In these situations, one does not have any ethical standard to appeal to (this would require an argument, I know, but alas-- this is already an overly long comment). One must appeal to morality-- which is subjective, and requires a person to have a healthy moral life before one can communicate about it. It's possible for someone to know, ethically (through Kant, for example), right and wrong, but have no moral knowledge about it, due to their lack of subjective earnestness.

2. Also doesnt it seem like refusing to accept the criteria of other peoples feelings to a certain degree, make one violate other duties he or she may have (like being a good citizen, neighbor, or teamate)? How ought we prioratize our multiple conflicting obligations?

If we go with the ethical (objective) vs moral (subjective) paradigm mentioned before, it does seem like there are times when we do have conflicting obligations. I believe that Kierkegaard would argue that morality trumps, and can legitimately suspend, ethics. Unfortunately, one who attempts to suspend the ethical can, in fact, be mistaken, and it is difficult to know who is right. I believe that the standard for determining this is an evaluation of good faith; see my post here for that:

Hope that helps. Heck, I might even wind up making another blog post, at some point. Have a great day!

R.J.M. said...

I have two epistemological considerations

1. I’m hesitant to assent to the idea that what we know is good (in the moral sense) is different from what we know is right (in the ethical sense). Even if ethical knowledge is acquired after the moral decision is made, it seems to be the case that if a moral action is good, then it is the right thing to do as well, whether we have realized it yet or not. To say that ethical knowledge does not always hold moral knowledge makes me wonder if said ethical knowledge (one that does not hold moral knowledge) is actual knowledge at all since knowledge has to be believed; or in other words actually sensed by the body or thought of by the mind. So if I, in the most indifferent and neutral way I can possible say (P), “that under such conditions, ethical theory x says that such and such action is right/wrong” I cannot say at that time “I know P”. If we agree that belief is either a cognition of the brain or idea of the mind, or both that in all cases some sort of event is occurring. So in the case of my indifferent ethical statement P, the only ideas or sensation events occurring are ones pertaining to the movement of my mouth and lungs. If one says P is right/wrong in the ethical sense and has knowledge of it, that person also believes it to be so; and not simply unreflectively or mindlessly regurgitating sounds. Also, I must have some justification for P other than the truth of the belief state, itself. Likewise subjective knowledge that does not entail some sort of ethical justification is also not really knowledge because the belief event and the truth of it, is given double duty as justification. Unless someone is willing to change the general rule (that knowledge is a justified true belief) and instead turn it into a true belief only or justified truth only, then I don’t know how that person can actually say they have subjective moral or objective ethical knowledge at all.

2. If morality can trump ethics, and it is true that knowledge is a justified true belief, then it is impossible to know whether morality is right or wrong because that would entail some sort of justification to back it up (in other words some ethical consideration).

My response is long, but tell me if I abused or was misguided in applying knowledge to morality and eithics the way that I did. I already can see that applying current views of knowledge onto Kierkegaard is post hoc and somewhat uncharitable to his position; but still to a 21st century philosopher, how can the subject of both moral and ethical knowledge not have the same intrinsic goodness and rightness?

Zach Sherwin said...


1. I may have been unclear in my understanding of Kierkegaard's distinction between ethics and morality, which may be part of the issue (and a mistake on my part-- apologies). Per Kiergaard, ethics is both rational (per Kant and the CI) and objective (calculable even by a computer, if the computer had a sufficient set of data/algorithms/etc). Morality, on the other hand, is subjective, which means that it ought to have 100% knowledge of the ethical implications, but nevertheless with an explicitly personal duty that trumps the ethical obligation.

2. To clarify your epistemological argument-- are you objecting to the notion that one can non-subjectively know something? If belief is sufficient for subjectivity, and knowledge requires belief, all knowledge is subjective? Before I respond, I want to ensure that I understand the question. Let me know if I misunderstood.

3. Usually, morality is 100% in line with ethics (i.e., you should not beat your partner, you should not cheat, et cetera)-- there are very few circumstances when they are not in sync. As an example of when morality and ethics are not in sync, he would offer Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac in the Bible. Ethics certainly forbids child sacrifice, and he argued why even an alleged commandment from God is insufficient to make such an action ethical (consider how we'd treat it nowadays!) Per my reading of Kierkegaard, he may have argued that the action suspended ethics to fulfill a higher moral obligation-- but the obligation was subjective, and can't be universalized, so Kant/CI/Ethics are insufficient. That being said, he would hold that people are certainly obligated act in moral (subjective) earnestness, and to abandon morality for ethics is wrong. There are certainly things that are entailed by his position, but I would argue that the moral philosophy of Nietzsche prohibits legitimate moral communication, not that of Kierkegaard.

R.J.M. said...

1. I guess this was my question all along: What do you do if you have two conflicting yet explicit personal duties that both trump whatever ethical obligations one may have? Use utility as a criterion?
2. To clarify, I’m putting forth the notion that knowledge must have a subjective element (a belief state that is analogous to some sort of idea or sensation) in addition to the fact that it is actually true, along with some sort of justification (some reason, any reason, as long as the reason used does not simply restate the belief state and fact of truth). So in both cases of subjective and objective knowledge, a subjective element is necessary.
3. It is hard to believe that subjective knowledge contains 100% knowledge of ethical considerations given the definition of knowledge above, namely one must believe in each ethical consideration in order to have knowledge of it. For if you did believe in each ethical consideration, the moral duty trump card would be absurd (going against other beliefs you hold to be true). I guess the big problem for me is that the higher moral obligation, because it is subjective, cannot be universalized. So from an outsider’s viewpoint such obligations are mysterious and suspicious. It would be nice to have good faith in earnestness, but there are situations in which the most well-meaning of intentions turn awful. I had a friend that when he was a kid found a few kittens in his yard on a hot summer Sunday morning. Knowing that his parents would not let him keep them and that they would die if left to the elements he, with all earnestness and good faith, put them in the charcoal grill on his back porch while he was in church. Needless to say two hours later in the noonday sun those kittens were cooked, literally.

Zach Sherwin said...


1. Good faith (which does involve testing to ensure that your beliefs are accurate) should actually show which duty ought to take precedence. For example, in addition to the ethical duties to others, I have a moral obligation not to lie to them. However, in an Anne Frank situation, I would certainly not state where the refugees are hiding-- acting in good faith, I recognize that my moral obligation to protect the sanctity and quality of life trumps my ethical obligation not to lie. If Kant made a different decision, but acted in good faith, I don't know that we could morally fault him (although we might ethically do so). Can you give an example of when good faith would be insufficient to account for this?

2. Well, you're right, although this brings us to territory where we might end up getting into a whole new issue: is all knowledge subjective? I believe (per Fear and Trembling) that Kierkegaard would say yes. Thus, it's impossible to have objective knowledge, although subjective knowledge might only manifest objectively. So, for example, you're a philosopher, and you claim to have objective knowledge that God exists or does not exist, due to the ontological argument/problem of evil (respective to which position you hold). Which of these is a justified true belief? Kierkegaard might hold that neither is objectively true, because they require a subjective response. He would not ask you if you think God (or Santa or Dr. Papazian) exists-- he would ask if it is subjectively true to you that he/she/it exists. His concern is, I believe, honestly not about scientific knowledge; his concern is with philosophical knowledge, which could potentially edify. You may intellectually hold a belief about deontology, but how does it manifest?

3. The cat example is certainly unfortunate, but the kid acted in good faith. His parents probably scolded him (severely), but I suspect that his judgment was preventative in nature, not punitive. The kid should be taught to know better in the future, but he did what he thought was right. If you were in a similar situation (thought you were saving a life, but actually destroying it), would you morally blame yourself if you made the best decision possible?

Let's try it the other way; assume that Booth was attempting to assassinate Lincoln. Booth receives a gun in the theatre, which he has every reason to believe is fully capable of killing Lincoln. He goes right behind the president and shoots-- but the gun jams! Is Booth legally responsible for murder? No-- he's only responsible for attempted murder. Morally, however, is he not responsible for murder? Does it matter whether the action went through, or only the good-faith decision he made to commit the immoral act?

R.J.M. said...

1. Here is a problem for the deontologist: There is an empty speeding train. Down the tracks, five people are tied down and are immobile right in front of the train’s path. The only possible way for you stop the five from being killed is for you to hurl an innocent bystander onto the tracks which in turn derails the train. If you hurl the bystander, you cause him/her to die. If you abstain, you cause the deaths of the five people. What would you do?

2. It seems that whichever order you choose, you violate some sort of ethical axiom and moral intuition. I was thinking about this situation for a while, and figured that if there is a difference between what the world is, and what I say it is, then I would have to hold the possibility that my subjective thoughts and feelings may be wrong. This would even include what I thought was knowledge. So concerning what philosophical knowledge Kierkegaard may be interested in, it would be possible that what I tell him is wrong and objectively not the case. Also, in the case of the ontological problem/ argument, I have to be comfortable with the idea that I may have made a mistake. And in both cases I would be prepared to revise what I said if given objective information. I would hesitate to call the information (data) given to me knowledge, but definitely useful in pointing me towards the Truth, where knowledge also lays.

My question for Kierkegaard would then be: does he hold that, because neither ontological position for the existence of God is objectively true and only the case that they may be subjectively true, is objectively the case? In other words the very act of saying something in a way for another individual to understand seems to assume there is an objective truth that both may latch onto. So the statement “all knowledge is subjective” is kinda strange to me right now. In the definition of knowledge I gave before, I clarified that all knowledge has a “subjective element” but it must be qualified by “being actually true”. So does Kierkegaard want me to believe that his stance on moral understanding is actually the case (as in objectively the case)? Or only true for him?

3. I talked to my friend’s sister about this last night and she said her parents definitely used it as a “teachable” moment. She also said that he did at the time blame himself for the situation but was eventually relieved by the fact that nobody ever held the situation against him since he acted with good faith. From what I can gather, his ethical knowledge has oriented itself with his moral feelings and would probably side with Kierkegaard. For me, it would be hard to not blame myself forever because it seems pretty obvious that “the best decision possible” would not include putting them in the hot grill. Although as a general rule, holding on to guilt like that may limit the enjoyment I can get out of life and cause harm to the people I live. So I would try my best not make the same mistake, and use that good faith as a tool to lead a better life.

4.I think that Booth is morally responsible for murder in this case. He held ideas in his mind that caused him to pull the trigger. The mechanical features of the gun seem to be outside the realm of Booth’s responsibility so the most crucial action is the thought that allowed him to contract the muscles of his finger. Had he tripped upon walking up to Lincoln or had an involuntary muscle spasm that cause him to fire before he planned to do so, he would be morally responsible for attempted murder no matter how earnest he was in trying to kill the president. This to me is an important difference because if all that was needed was good faith to commit immoral acts, then the guilt would be paralyzing. I may hold for short periods of time, even for a brief second, full commitment to ideas just by entertaining their possibility in my mind. The fact that they did not lead to any ideas that would actually bring about their full force makes them limited and not equal to the actual damning ideas.

Zach Sherwin said...


Unfortunately, this format makes it difficult to carry out a multi-faceted discussion. I'll do my best to respond to everything, but apologies if I fail to do something justice along the way.

1. Where Kierkegaard succeeds (and so many others fail) is that he can account for the difficulty we have in making that decision. Those who take a strictly objective approach (a la Kant) to morality can formulate technical responses, but if this were to actually occur, would anyone perform a Kantian moral calculation? Further, it accounts for legitimate disagreements. Some might choose to abstain; some might choose to hurl the bystander. Moral objectivists are stuck. The subjectivist responds-- it's not what you choose, but how you choose, that's important. Thus, he's not concerned with establishing what you; he's concerned with establishing how you make the decision. It's almost a sort of meta-morality.

2a. You say that data/information points us toward the Truth, but what is this Truth? How do we know what it is, if we've found it, or if we haven't found it? If you say that Truth is objective, are you not assuming something about Truth that may not be true?

2b. This is controversial, but a straightforward reading of Fear and Trembling yields the axiom, "Subjectivity is Truth". If "is" refers to equality, Truth is by extension Subjectivity. When evaluating knowledge claims with regard to subjectivity, we like to place emphasis on "belief", but Kierkegaard would shift the emphasis to "truth". The sorts of truths that can be known subjectively, such as that God exist, are actually untrue if known objectively. He would argue that if you objectively love your son, your wife, or God, but not subjectively, it is not true that you love them. The veracity of these statements is tied up not only in their ontological presence (the "what"), but also their ontological method (the "how").

3. You can certainly feel bad or blame yourself without presuming moral guilt. I agree with your account, I think.

4. I'm a little bit unclear about where you're going with your response to my Booth argument. You state: "his to me is an important difference because if all that was needed was good faith to commit immoral acts, then the guilt would be paralyzing." Are you objecting that good faith is insufficient for a malicious action to merit moral accountability because the guilt from every-day life would be paralyzing? Perhaps this is a good thing! Perhaps entertaining certain thoughts/emotions is actually dangerous, and we ought to hold ourselves accountable for the internal just as much as we do the external. This could work both ways, too. Should I be credited for being a morally upright individual if I accidentally tripped, knocked someone over who was about to be shot, and saved their life? Not at all! However, if I saw them about to be shot and chose (in good faith) to dive and try to save them, I would be performing a morally upright action.

How is good faith insufficient for evaluating the morality of an action? It may actually be insufficient-- I don't necessarily agree with this account of Kierkegaard-- but I look forward to hearing your response, all the same.

Anonymous said...

I think I may have been misleading, because I do not think that truth is objective. What I do believe is that there is an objective truth that can be known universally, and the more our morality is in tune with this truth the better.

I made a mistake. Earlier I lumped your term 'good faith' with 'faith' in general. As you mentioned befor good faith is communicable and must be tested. My issue is that, unless one's earnest faith has been seriously tested, we cannot know if it is good. So there may be some of us hurumphing around claiming to be virtuous and of good character, yet never had our metal tested. Why not align our moral intuition with universal knowledge? That way we don't have to deal with testing our moral metal and make good moral and ethical decisions right off the bat.

Zach Sherwin said...


1. What does it mean to know something universally?

2. Your second paragraph makes an excellent point-- as you say, "unless one's earnest faith has been seriously tested, we cannot know if it is good". This means that we should not quickly/haphazardly condemn others, but should take a cautioned, reasoned approach before accusing others of acting immorally. I would, personally, much prefer this to the brazen manner in which much moral argument occurs in everyday life.

You propose an alternative, aligning morality with knowledge, and claim "that way we don't have to deal with testing our moral metal and make good moral and ethical decisions right off the bat." Is that what we want, though? Do we want to be able to make snap judgments about another's moral character, rather than test it? Sure, we must make assumptions to get by (and those assumptions should be made in good faith), but I would not want to make a claim about a person's moral turpitude until I am sure I have sufficient information.

One thing I interpret Kierkegaard to argue for is a sort of extreme moral accountability (via the Judge in Either/Or), and he holds that we are accountable not only for our choices, but our willingness to engage in choices. In other words, you must choose whether or not to report a cheater. If you choose not to choose (willful ignorance), that itself is a choice. However, this sort of accountability is difficult to measure by others, and it's unlikely that we can perform a complete valuation of another with 100% accuracy.

Is that not right, from a pragmatic approach? Is there a reason why we would not want to live with this sort of approach? What about a theoretical one-- are there further issues you see?