Pacifists Are Admirable Only if They're Right

Public Affairs Quarterly (forthcoming)
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The recent explosion of philosophical papers on Confederate and Colonialist statues centers on a central question: When, if ever, is it permissible to admire a person? This paper contends it’s not just Confederates and slavers whose reputations are on the line, but also pacifists like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Daisy Bates whose commitments to pacifism meant they were unwilling to save others using defensive violence, including others they talked into endangering themselves for the sake of racial equality. Other things being equal, that’s gravely immoral if pacifism is false, and we shouldn’t admire people guilty of grave immorality. So, it appears that we shouldn’t admire Bates or King, which is counterintuitive. To solve this problem, I explore several possibilities: that only selective traits of Bates and King are admirable, that Bates and King are admirable despite their grave immorality, and that Bates and King are admirable by virtue of their integrity. However, each of these proposals fails: the first because it inadequately captures our moral phenomenology (we admire people, not just their traits), the second because it ignores the extent to which gravely immoral commitments are constitutive of a person’s moral character, and the third because we ought not to admire people for acting on their immoral beliefs. The paper concludes, first, that either pacifists like Bates and King aren’t admirable or they are, and the latter presupposes the truth of pacifism. Second, I borrow from Vanessa Carbonell’s ratcheting-up argument from moral sainthood to argue that pacifists like Bates and King provide epistemic defeaters to the objection that pacifism is unreasonably costly. Thus, not only are pacifists admirable only if they’re right—they are right.



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Admiration and the Admirable.Linda Zagzebski - 2015 - Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 89 (1):205-221.
Pacifism and Moral Judgment.Kirsten Meyer - 2015 - In Ralf Stoecker & Marco Iorio (eds.), Actions, Reasons and Reason. Boston: De Gruyter. pp. 127-140.


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Blake Hereth
University of Pennsylvania

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