Originally Posted by Simon Willard
OK, Stephanie, here's how I would try to smoke out this Wolfe guy. I would ask him if he would be troubled by an appeal, by Roosevelt to the American people, to engage in war against an "evil" Hitler-led Nazi regime.
Based on what he said, why wouldn't he be?
I think Alan was saying that it makes sense to talk about "political evil" but that we aren't rigorous enough in our definition. My argument is that when we talk about "evil" we aren't rigorous in that way, because we are fundamentally talking about something else. Alan seemed to be saying that it was wrong to call Saddam evil and not Hitler, because Hitler was evil in a way that called for intervention -- the ideas of the threat, of expansionism, perhaps of the Samantha Power type arguments (I agree with Wonderment that a diavlog on that topic would be interesting), etc.
My response -- although I admit I should check out his book first -- is that the problem isn't that we are too loose about "evil" and it ends up not related to the kinds of political problems that lead to the use of force/intervention. It's that by using the term "evil" we are really talking about something different, the category error, and something that is often not well defined or used in the same way by people. Thus, there's nothing wrong with calling Saddam evil and the "as evil as Hitler" argument is silly or pointless. The mistake is in thinking that calling Saddam evil means that you've made a valid argument for war.
There's also a more general problem with the way that terms like "evil" are used in our rhetoric that is related to this, but I don't agree with Alan's approach to it as I understand it. I simply do agree with him that he's talking about the problem that exists.
Given that there may be situations like this, how does one know which situations may justify this mixing of categories for their rhetorically persuasive effect.
I don't get the "justify the mixing of categories" thing. When I say there's a category error, I mean one is not addressing the issue one claims to be addressing. If one is supposedly talking about reasons to use force and starts with "so and so is evil," that simply is a failure to address the issue.
I don't really think we should
use terms like "evil" as loosely as we do, at least without being clear what we mean. However, I think when we are in a war we generally will, it's almost impossible not to, as a society. Again, I think this goes to that diavlog a while ago with Scott Atran about the impossibility of approaching war rationally.