How would you describe something that isn’t immoral but is still harmful to people and society?

What’s the best way to describe traits, behaviors and trends that don’t hurt other people (so they’re not immoral) but are nevertheless wrong, harmful and reprehensible for the individual and/or society as a whole?

As of now the only terms I can think of that fit what I’m describing are “toxic”, “sick” and “degenerate.” We clearly recognize that people shouldn’t do immoral things because they harm other people (lying, stealing, rape, murder, exploitation etc). No sane person would want to live in a society that was nothing but chaos and violence where everyone was as evil and brutal to each other as possible. That would be more like Hell than an actual society. If tomorrow they made something like the Purge legal where you could do whatever you wanted except it never ended the overwhelming majority of people would be upset and would try to change things back to the status quo.

It doesn’t take a philosopher or a genius to see that there are a lot of awful things about American society that shouldn’t exist either because of the effect it has on society as a whole or the effect it has on the person themselves. We can all name things a person shouldn’t do or the type of character people shouldn’t have or desire to have that aren’t explicitly harmful. It’s easy to imagine a completely peaceful society where people didn’t harm each other but was nonetheless a rotten and sad place to live in. As an example materialism, consumerism and hedonism aren’t immoral because no one is directly harmed like theft or assault but I wouldn’t want to be an excessively hedonistic and materialistic person and I wouldn’t want to live in a society like Huxley’s Brave New World where the population was made up almost entirely of shallow, ignorant people who only care for sex, drugs, mindless entertainment, gossip and other trivialities.

You’re making a distinction between hurting people and being harmful to people. I don’t understand that distiction.

Most folks use the terms ‘ethics’ and ‘morality’ interchangeably when discussing right and wrong, but not everyone. Some people make a distinction between the two words when comparing a behavior in religious terms versus legal terms…bearing false witness is an immoral sin in the eyes of the Lord; whereas a bank making an unauthorized purchase of stock is unethical and violates 12 U.S. Code § 603 and could result in a harm to the economy.

Too late there, buddy. Hate to break that to you.

Who’s to judge what “excessively” means? For most people, it just means “someone who’s way more hedonistic/materialistic than I am.”

Or, you could define “excessive hedonism” as pleasure-seeking that requires too much of a person’s energy that should be used on other things, but then those “other things” are likely to be obligations to family or work, and then the person’s excess hedonism would actually be harming others.

Or you could define “excessive hedonism” as someone who’d rather get stoned and have sex than read a good book or plant trees, but that’s just judgemental and silly.

So basically I’m not sure you’ve described anything that’s “not immoral but still harmful to people and society.”

I know American society is in many respects as bad as the society in Brave New World (except the hedonism, materialism etc isn’t mandated by the state) which I absolutely despise and is a part of what motivated me to make this post.


My idea of immorality extends way beyond just “hurts other people”, past “hurt oneself”, through “hurts animals”, and eventually out as far as “needlessly damages nice rocks”.

Agreed. These guys acted immorally IMHO.

I think you are defining “immoral” in an unusual way. That term would encompass everything you’ve described. I think you might be better off looking for a term that only encompasses direct, immediate harm.

‘Negative externality’.

Driving a car is not immoral. Driving a car is destroying the planet.

Is that what you are getting at?

I suppose tree huggers would argue driving a car is immoral, but we as a society don’t think it is.

The word I might use for the bad but not immoral is tasteless.

”Destroying the planet” isn’t how I think about environmental damage. And essential driving to fulfill family responsibilities, or take a friend to the hospital, isn’t immoral. But at some point beyond that, yes, driving is immoral.

Another example is taking a second vaccine dose before hundreds of millions of people who want a first dose have had the opportunity to get one. It’s perhaps not extremely immoral. And there’s an argument that favoring your own country’s safety is moral. Still, I find it morally troubling. And I say that as an immunocompromised person who has, under medical advice, had the jab three times.

I’m struggling with this.

Your idea of immorality — which I sort-of endorsed in my last post — makes everyone very frequently immoral. So why even try?

Observant Jains, who try hard to not even hurt insects, might be the closest exception. We had a Jain family next door for a long time, and they really were wonderful.

And yet they drove to work when there’s a bus stop on the corner.

So I’m thinking that I should put in another category than immorality the things my good neighbors do to help their family, their neighbors, and their country.

Imagine a person: this person has spent much of their life pursuing pleasure rather than more constructive or helpful endeavors. But they have met their financial and personal obligations, done their job, reached retirement, where they now have even more time to devote to the pursuit of pleasure.

Is this person’s behavior harmful to other people and to society – bearing in mind that they have done what was required of them in their life, and the time spent pursuing pleasure would fall in the same category as “disposable income,” i.e. extra time, not required for other activities? They may have done harm to themself, not developing as fully human as they might if they had acted otherwise; they may die alone and unloved. But who is qualified to judge this person as harmful?

I’m not really sure if this is part of what OP is asking, since there is a lot of verbiage and not much clarity in it. But it seems relevant to me.

It’s not clear to me whether the OP is primarily just objecting to other people amusing themselves in ways which the OP thinks are silly.

I don’t think it’s harmful either to the amusers or to the society for people to amuse themselves in ways that I think are silly. I’m sure they think some of what I like is silly. I would find a society in which people weren’t allowed to be silly to be oppressive, depressing, and arguably immoral.

Does it? By “hurts”, there, I meant “unjustifiably”. So merely killing animals for food, or mining rocks for ores, doesn’t necessarily make one immoral. But raising those animals in pain and suffering before slaughter, or yes, knocking over a beautiful rock formation for shits and giggles, does. And taking steps to mitigate damages counts, as well.

Selfish? It’s a very simple term but I think it covers it well enough.

You’ve used the qualifier of being ‘still harmful to people and society’. Not all immoral acts are harmful to other people and society. Not all immoral that violate laws. So when I think of context of causing harm to others in a broader sense (i.e. indirect consequences) the first thing to take into account is by the letter of the law there is no crime committed. Other people therefore can engage in the same conduct if they choose to. The choice of them not to because the act is considered wrong and harmful is something that is consciously made in the same way that the choice of someone to engage in that act is also consciously made. If in the process the person is aware of the negative effects it is having on others and still continues to do so regardless then it is a selfish act whereby their own self-interest count first whereas everyone else is putting others first.

It’s very difficult for me to figure out what you’re driving at here. Having said that, however, this sounds remarkably like the reasoning of people who steal office supplies from their company because “What’s the harm?”

“Social media”. Oh, wait, you wanted a description not an example.