Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Capital E

Many of the more vociferous debates in American politics can be described as a continuing conflict over whether something is actively harmful to a degree that warrants legislative action, or simply a failure to live up to some one other another person's standards for virtue. In other words, when is the answer to a given "bad act" simply "if you don't like it, don't do it," and when is it "the power of the society at large should be brought to bear against this?" This is a disagreement that is exacerbated by a general tendency of people to understand that there most closely held understanding of virtue are all about avoiding things that are actively harmful, either to specific individuals or to the society at large. This exists on all sides of whichever political divide one cares to name, so I'm going to dispense with providing specific (and partisan) examples.

While Americans tend to view themselves as a tolerant people, it's worth keeping in mind that this is not the same as being an indifferent people. And thus that tolerance has limits. And in a society that generally believes in the realism of moral categories, tolerance ends when Evil enters the picture. And many of the arguments that arise around whether or not this or that action is acceptable are really about if something rises to the level of actually being Evil. I tend to be bemused by such debates, as I am not a moral realist, and so for me, "Evil" is nothing more than a label that we apply to people, things and/or actions that we dislike to some degree or another - some people use it more expansively than others. And when one sees the opposition, intentionally or otherwise, advancing Evil, it's unsurprising that the opposition is not seen as principled.

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