When asked to describe wartime atrocities, terrorist acts, and serial killers, many of us reach for the word 'evil'. But what does it really mean? Luke Russell defends a new account of the nature of evil action and persons. Although the concept of evil is extreme and often misused, it has a legitimate place in contemporary secular moral thought.
Adam Morton, Stephen de Wijze, Hillel Steiner, and Eve Garrard have defended the view that evil action is qualitatively distinct from ordinary wrongdoing. By this, they do not that mean that evil actions feel different to ordinary wrongs, but that they have motives or effects that are not possessed to any degree by ordinary wrongs. Despite their professed intentions, Morton and de Wijze both offer accounts of evil action that fail to identify a clear qualitative difference between evil and ordinary (...) wrongdoing. In contrast, both Steiner's and Garrard's accounts of evil do point to qualitative distinctions between kinds of action, but it is implausible that either account correctly characterizes evil. The most plausible accounts maintain that evil actions have a necessary connection to extreme harms, and this suggests that evil is not qualitatively distinct from ordinary wrongdoing. (shrink)
ABSTRACTHieronymi and Zaibert think that forgiving requires resolving not to inflict any further punishment. Murphy, Garrard, Allais, and Pettigrove suggest that it is always possible for a victim to forgive a perpetrator while continuing to punish. In this paper I defend a middle-ground position: the non-adversarial account of forgiveness, according to which forgiving is sometimes but not always compatible with continuing to punish. When the perpetrator accepts continued punishment, it is no obstacle to forgiveness. But if the victim continues to (...) inflict punishment that she knows is rejected by the perpetrator, she is still holding the wrong against the perpetrator, and has not yet forgiven. (shrink)
We are often encouraged to forgive those who have wronged us. Before we can decide whether this is what we ought to do, we had better figure out what forgiveness amounts to. This article surveys recent philosophical disagreements over the nature of forgiveness. Is it only victims who can forgive the wrongs that were done to them, or can third parties also forgive? Is it possible to forgive yourself? When you forgive, what is that you are forgiving? Do you forgive (...) morally wrong actions, or do you forgive wrongdoers? Can you forgive things that were not actually morally wrong? How do you forgive? Do you forgive by having a change of heart towards the perpetrator, by losing your anger and resentment? Or do you forgive by changing the way you treat the wrongdoer, by withholding punishment, or by achieving reconciliation? Or do you forgive by declaring “I forgive you” to the wrongdoer? (shrink)
It is intuitively plausible that not every evildoer is an evil person. In order to make sense of this intuition we need to construct an account of evil personhood in addition to an account of evil action. Some philosophers have offered aggregative accounts of evil personhood, but these do not fit well with common intuitions about the explanatory power of evil personhood, the possibility of moral reform, and the relationship between evil and luck. In contrast, a dispositional account of evil (...) personhood can allow that evil is explanatory, that an evil person can become good, and that luck might prevent evil persons from doing evil or cause non-evil persons to do evil. Yet the dispositional account of evil personhood implies that some evil persons are blameless, which seems to clash with the intuition that evil persons deserve our strongest moral condemnation. Moreover, since it is likely that a large proportion of us are disposed to perform evil actions in some environments, the dispositional account threatens to label a large proportion of people evil. In this paper I consider a range of possible modifications to the dispositional account that might bring it more closely into alignment with our intuitions about moral condemnation and the rarity of evil persons. According to the most plausible of these theories, S is an evil person if S is strongly disposed to perform evil actions when in conditions that favour S's autonomy. (shrink)
In Uneasy Virtue, Julia Driver advocates a consequentialist account of the virtues. In so far as her view is , Driver's account is superior to the psychologically rich theories of virtue offered by Aristotle, Hume and Kant. However, Driver is also committed to about virtue: a trait is a virtue only if it has instrumental value. In contrast, I argue for a form of minimalism, according to which a character trait counts as a virtue if it has either instrumental or (...) intrinsic value. The common intuitions about virtue that Driver takes to support her actually fit better with disjunctive minimalism. Admittedly, disjunctive minimalism is a messy account of virtue. However, this messiness would be a problem only if we drew a tight connection between virtue and right action, and we have good independent reasons for thinking there is no such tight link. (shrink)
In his book The Myth of Evil, Phillip Cole argues that we ought to abandon the concept of evil. Cole claims that the concept of evil forms part of a dualistic worldview that divides normal people from inhuman, demonic, and monstrous wrongdoers. Such monsters are found in fiction, Cole suggests, but not in reality, so evil is of no explanatory use. Yet even if there were actual evil persons, Cole maintains, evil would be a redundant, pseudo-explanatory concept, a psychological black (...) hole that is of no use in our explanations of why people do wrong. Contrary to Cole's claims, evil does have the requisite form to function as an explanation, and thus, if there are any actual evil actions or persons, evil will be explanatorily useful. Cole is right to suggest that evil cannot provide a complete explanation for any actions, but none of our virtue or vice concepts can do so, and they are none the worse for that. Cole is also right to suggest that the concept of evil is often used to play certain narrative roles, but he fails to see that evil can play those roles only if it has an explanatorily useful form. While it is true that evil could be paraphrased out of explanations of actions without any loss of information, that does not show that the concept is explanatorily redundant. In fact, Cole's preferred alternative explanations of extreme wrongdoing that eschew appeals to evil are themselves inadequate because they fail to account for the directed and intentional nature of some extremely wrong actions. (shrink)
Situationist experiments such as the Milgram experiment and the Princeton Seminary experiment have prompted philosophers to warn us against succumbing to fear of embarrassment and sliding down slippery slopes. Yet it would be a mistake to conclude that situationism is all bad news for moral agents. Fear of embarrassment can often motivate right actions, and slippery slopes can slide us away from wrongdoing. The reason that philosophers have seen situationism as bringing all bad news is that they have focused on (...) the very demanding moral goals of virtuous and autonomous action, while ignoring important moral goals that are less demanding. Fear of embarrassment does undermine virtuous and autonomous action, but that very same fear can help us to act resolutely and rightly, and allows us to manipulate would-be wrongdoers into doing the right thing. This is good news. (shrink)
In his book The Myth of Evil , Phillip Cole claims that the concept of evil divides normal people from inhuman, demonic and monstrous wrongdoers. Such monsters are found in fiction, Cole maintains, but not in reality. Thus, even if the concept of evil has the requisite form to be explanatorily useful, it will be of no explanatory use in the real world. My aims in this paper are to assess Cole’s arguments for the claim that there are no actual (...) evil persons, and, in so doing, to develop a clearer framework in which to think about evil personhood. While Cole is right to claim that there are no actual evil monsters or supernatural demons, he underestimates the extent to which ascriptions of demonic monstrosity are figurative rather than literal. Hence, a lack of actual monsters does not imply a lack of actual evil persons. More plausibly, Cole suggests that the concept of evil implies an unrealistically dualistic worldview, with purely evil people on one side and ordinary people on the other. Since no one is purely bad, Cole claims, the concept of evil fails to refer to actual persons. Cole is wrong to think that the use of extreme moral concepts is incompatible with fine-grained moral evaluations across a broad spectrum between the extremes. Nor is Cole sufficiently careful in unpacking the various ways in which a person might be considered purely bad. I will argue that some actual persons are extremely bad, that it is very likely that some actual persons are fixedly bad, and that quite possibly no actual persons are thoroughly bad or innately bad. It is plausible that a person is evil only if he is extremely and fixedly bad, but Cole is wrong to suppose that a person is evil only if he is thoroughly and innately bad. Thus, even if we accept Cole’s claim that no actual person is thoroughly or innately bad, it still seems very likely that some actual persons are evil, and hence that evil can be an explanatorily useful concept. (shrink)
Forgiveness theorists focus a good deal on explicating the content of what they take to be a shared folk concept of forgiveness. Our empirical research, however, suggests that there is a range of concepts of forgiveness present in the population, and therefore that we should be folk conceptual pluralists about forgiveness. We suggest two possible responses on the part of forgiveness theorists: (1) to deny folk conceptual pluralism by arguing that forgiveness is a functional concept and (2) to accept folk (...) conceptual pluralism and focus on a revisionary conceptual ethics project. (shrink)
This paper addresses the question of whether the concept of evil is philosophically adequate. It sets out a secular conception of evil that is sufficiently clear to be used in philosophical theorising. Evil, so conceived, is not merely a fiction or an illusion, but is a moral property possessed by some actions and some persons in the real world. While several philosophers have claimed that it is inescapably dangerous to use the concept of evil, the reality is that the concept (...) of evil, when used carefully, is not prohibitively dangerous. Evil actions are not merely the opposite of good actions. Rather evil actions are are a small subset of extreme moral wrongs. (shrink)
ABSTRACT: McDowell argues that the shortcomings of recent theories of experience are the product of the modern scientistic conception of nature. Reconceive nature, he suggests, and we can explain how perceptual experience can be an external constraint on thought that, moreover, has conceptual import. In this article I argue that McDowell’s project is unsuccessful. Those wishing to construct normative theories, including theories of perceptual experience, face the normative trilemma—they must choose one of three styles of theory, each of which exhibits (...) a distinctive weakness. If we view McDowell’s approach in light of this choice, we see that he cannot adequately explain the link between experience and the world itself. I conclude that the real problem with theories of experience flows not from scientistic naturalism, but rather from the inconsistent demands we place on normative theories in general.RÉSUMÉ: McDowell soutient que les défauts des théories récentes sur l’expérience sont engendrés par la position scientifique moderne sur la nature. En reconcevant la nature, suggère-t-il, on est en mesure d’expliquer comment l’expérience sensorielle peut être une contrainte extérieure sur la pensée, contrainte qui joue, de plus, un rôle conceptuel. Je soutiens dans cet article que le projet de McDowell se solde par un échec. Ceux qui souhaitent élaborer des théories normatives, y compris des théories sur l’expérience sensorielle, font face au trilemme normatif — ils doivent choisir un type de théorie parmi trois types qui trahissent tous une faiblesse particulière. Si l’on envisage la démarche de McDowell dans la perspective de ce choix, on s’aperçoit qu’il ne peut expliquer de manière satisfaisante le lien entre l’expérience et le monde lui-même. J’en conclus que le véritable problème des théories sur l’expérience ne découle pas du naturalisme scientifique, mais plutôt des exigences incohérentes auxquelleson soumet les théories normatives en général. (shrink)
With the media bringing us constant tales of terrorism and violence, questions regarding the nature of evil are highly topical. Luke Russell explores the philosophical thinking and psychological evidence behind evil, alongside portrayals of fictional villains, considering why people are evil, and how it goes beyond the normal realms of what is bad.
ABSTRACT In ‘Forgiveness: An Ordered Pluralism’, Miranda Fricker aims to show that two seemingly incompatible conceptions of forgiveness are unified insofar as they ascribe the same moral function to forgiveness. Both Moral Justice Forgiveness and Gifted Forgiveness, she maintains, remove redundant blame feeling. In reply, I contend that Fricker’s two targets do not actually share the same function. Gifted Forgiveness of unrepentant wrongdoers often removes blame feeling that is anything but redundant. Fricker’s argument depends on the mistaken assumption that resentment (...) and blame have a single function. Once we see that they are polyfunctional, the question of when resentment and blame are redundant becomes far more complicated. If we want to figure out when and why we ought to forgive, we must carefully distinguish moral ideals concerning forgiveness from definitional questions about the nature of forgiveness. Once we do so, Fricker’s neatly ordered pluralism dissolves into a messier set of options. (shrink)