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International Journal of Applied Philosophy

Volume 32, Issue 2, Fall 2018

Patrick Fleming
Pages 231-241

On Street Harassment (or Why It Can be Wrong to be Friendly to Strangers)

This paper argues that it can be morally wrong to be friendly to strangers. More specifically, the paper argues there is a salient pro tanto moral reason against being friendly to strangers in virtue of the structure of interaction. By ‘a salient pro tanto reason’ I mean a reason that is not always decisive, but it is often significant enough that it ought to factor in moral deliberation. My argument is perfectly general, but it is presented to shed light on one specific practical problem. By considering this issue I think we will be able to see what is distinctly wrong with street harassment. I hope to explain why this sort of behavior is morally problematic. Basically, even in its most benign cases, street harassment attempts to place a moral burden on a stranger to respond in kind. The stranger may not wish to bear this burden and that is why there are reasons against creating this burden. It is wrong because it involves treating others as if they owe you attention and acknowledgment, which is to treat strangers as friends.