'Walls are Immoral'

When Nancy Pelosi intoned that “walls are immoral,” she was not basing this contention on an analysis of moral permissibility. In fact, the left has denied there is such a concept as moral permissibility construed objectively. As a card-carrying member, Pelosi is most likely a relativist in matters of truth and morality and would assert that only “true for ___” and “moral according to ___” make sense. Thus, it is more than a bit odd for her to phrase her claim about the moral status of walls using what seems to be an objective concept of morality. Of course, a formula such as “walls are immoral according to Nancy Pelosi” or some such is much less convenient and would complicate the objective she had in mind all along of smearing President Trump and his supporters as “immoral.”

During my years in the classroom teaching philosophy, I did my best to draw distinctions, spot ambiguities and clear up confusions, which definitely helped students think critically in general and not just about the questions they expected on the test. So, how much of a confused mess is Pelosi’s slogan? Here’s a Moral Philosophy 101 list. This is all obvious stuff, and yet…

1. Moral concepts apply to actions not things. (They don’t apply to beliefs either, no matter what some claim.) A block of concrete doesn’t belong in the moral sphere any more than a bowling ball. We are able to reach the moral sphere only if we can specify a relevant action, in this case an action associated with walls such as “building a wall.” So, the claim that “walls are immoral” is confused right off the bat; it should have been stated as “building walls is immoral.” This makes for less convenient propaganda as well.

2. The debate whether it is morally permissible for the Trump Administration to build a wall on our southern border puts the cart before the horse. The morality of building a wall must first be determined in general by means of a principle specifying actions by type, from which application to specific cases can flow. It’s the same in jurisprudence. Statutes are written so as to cover categories of situations. Laws identifying individuals by name aren’t laws at all. They’re a witch hunt.

3. Similar cases should be treated similarly. Consistency and intellectual honesty, which the left habitually ignores, demand it. Thus, Trump building a wall shouldn’t be declared immoral while relevantly similar wall-building efforts are considered kosher (hint hint).

4. The morality of walls isn’t about the morality of this or that pile of bricks or block of reinforced concrete. We must ascend conceptually to a generic category, which in this case is the concept of a physical barrier. So, the claim that “walls are immoral” should be stated as “building a physical barrier is immoral.” This is also a lot less convenient than Pelosi’s original propaganda verbiage but it’s correct.

5. The moral status of an action quite often is a function of, or makes the most sense in the context of, the purpose for which it is done. Even “thou shalt not kill” is qualified to allow for exceptions in cases of self-defense.

6. With this point in mind, it is easy to see that it’s perfectly okay to install a physical barrier for purposes of preventing unauthorized or illegal entry, which is why such are installed. This can be a door with a lock or a gated fence around a property. Try getting homeowners’ insurance without a front door. Does Nancy Pelosi’s house have a front door? Yes, it’s a rhetorical question.

7. Certain types of physical barriers, though sufficient to prevent unauthorized entry, would be morally questionable. Thus, a front door with a knob electrified after dark or when owners are away is not okay to do, even with a warning. Nor can barbed or razor wire be installed on top of a residential fence, which county ordinances would forbid anyway (by and large). Unauthorized entry should be prevented without causing harm. If an intruder is injured falling off a fence, it’s his own fault.

So, taking into account the above admittedly elementary clarifications, someone who asserts that “walls are immoral” must defend the following proposition: “It is immoral to have a physical barrier built for the purpose of preventing unauthorized or illegal entry, built in a way that would not harm an intruder except for self-inflicted harm.” President Trump has asserted that this proposition is false. Arguments that he is right are easy.

A basic idea in science is that a generalization must be tested against situations falling under it. If tests find confirming evidence and no counterinstances, the generalization survives. This is a good idea in other contexts as well. Let’s try it out here.

First, let’s state the proposition above as a conditional, which is its correct form:

  • If B is a physical barrier built for the purpose of preventing unauthorized or illegal entry in a way that would not harm an intruder except for self-inflicted harm, then B is immoral.

The counterinstance here would be ten-year-old Timmy saying: “Daddy, daddy, it’s wrong for our house to have a front door!”

See, I told you it was easy -- which doesn’t mean it will stop Nancy Pelosi and her gaggle of geese from honking gibberish.

Arnold Cusmariu holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Brown University and is a regular contributor to American Thinker. He is certain he would not be writing this article while still in academia.