Evil and evildoers

No one is beyond the pale of redemption

Nothing is gained and much is lost if we describe the terrorists as evil,” a friend of mine argued recently. I disagree. Our difference can be traced back to a division in moral philosophy. My friend is a moral expressivist. He views moral judgments as expressions of feelings, desires and wants. We add nothing to the description of the situation, he says, when we name our enemies as evil. Instead, we should state what we feel about them and their act, and what we intend to do in response.

I, on the other hand, count myself among the moral realists. We emphasize the reality of value properties such as moral goodness or moral evil. If we drop words like “good” and “evil” from our vocabulary, say the realists, we seriously misperceive the character of some acts and may abandon our response to both the act and the play of power.


This article is available to subscribers only. Please subscribe for full access—subscriptions begin at $2.95. Already have an online account? Log in now. Already a print subscriber? Create an online account for no additional cost.

This article is available to subscribers only.

To post a comment, log inregister, or use the Facebook comment box.