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Old 12-12-2011, 02:17 PM
stephanie stephanie is offline
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 3,921
Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

Originally Posted by Simon Willard View Post
I don't completely recognize the connection between evilness and the justification of force.
I should read Chapter One of the book (at least), but I think it's related to the use of "evil" in political rhetoric. Usually when we start talking about leaders or countries as "evil" or (especially) comparing them to Hitler or the Nazis, the argument is that a use of force against them is justified. I think it may be, but not because they are "evil" -- it's a confusion of categories.

Ocean's point is relevant here, because often the point of injecting the label "evil" into the conversation is to say that whoeveritis must be stopped and cannot be stopped by other means, we cannot put the foreign policy issue into a pragmatic framework, based on interests and incentive. It's a black and white moral one, the only answer to which is force.

I would use force when it's beneficial to use force, without direct constraint by religious considerations.
I'm not talking about religious considerations (unless by that you mean the general framework about when force is justified).

Talking to Ocean has convinced me that I don't have the same response to the word "evil" that some people do.
But it's important that the use of the word "evil" and the shock when people resist the characterization or the conclusions the characterization is supposed to lead to makes it clear that your reaction is contrary to what is actually being said with the usual political rhetoric use of the term. When Saddam is described as evil (and I don't object to that, I disagree with that focus of Alan's argument), you are expected by the describer to have the kind of reaction Ocean is talking about. That's the point of it.

Perhaps it's because I'm not intimately immersed in religious traditions.
I don't think it's religion that is injecting this "extra" meaning onto the term, but simply how the term is used. It's the meaning that the person using the term intends to convey. That you don't have that reaction doesn't change it's rhetorical meaning, how the term is employed.

Indeed, when we focus on the religious use you have to be clear what you mean too, because it is possible to use "evil" in a much more neutral way than it is usually heard (due to the more causal English use as well as some other kinds of religious uses) within the context of a theological discussion. I'd point to my categories (1)(a) and (b) in my post to Ray -- "evil" could just mean contrary to good and an "objectively evil" act be one that's wrong, even if not especially extreme in scope. However, it's clear this is not how the term is used in political rhetoric.

I certainly do consider "evil" to be a stronger word than "bad", but I haven't grasped this business of word "categories". Categories come from context. I don't think of isolated words as being heavily fraught with categories. I use metaphors freely.
It's not the word, it's the nature of the discussion. This goes back to whether we are talking about the justification of force, however, which I think we are. Debating whether someone is "evil" is not the correct question whether discussing whether to use force. However, it often seems to be brought up as a way to avoid the issues that one would normally discuss (like whether it is beneficial, however one defines that) in considering the use of force. It gets trumped by focus on the sheer Evilness of that which must be stopped, any means necessary. That's one part of what I mean by confusion of categories. Contrary to Alan's argument, I see no harm in calling Saddam evil, certainly no merits to the "not as evil as Hitler" defense. I simply don't think Saddam's relative evilness vs. Hitler is relevant to whether Iraq was or was not a smart war or determinative of its justification.

On the other confusion of categories point, I think people often insist that acts or people are Evil in order to say they cannot be morally justified or excused. That's where people get upset about the considering of reasons for the actions of terrorists or some such -- as if by saying that they are more likely to attack us if we do X or Y that we are saying that that somehow lets them off the hook, makes them not morally culpable, their acts not "evil." My point is that when we are talking foreign policy, I'm not especially interested in the personal moral culpability of the terrorists. I am interested in ways that we could make attacks less likely.

For example, I often think Bob is wrong in his assumptions about what would, but that's different from the suggestion that by pointing out possible causes that we are saying terrorists are not morally culpable. I don't think the latter is Bob's point at all, and it seems disingenuous to me when people react as if it is. That reaction is often in connection with a claim that causes must not be relevant, because that denies "evil."

Last edited by stephanie; 12-12-2011 at 02:21 PM..
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