Typically, philosophers interested in evil have typically been concerned with reconciling (or not) the apparent existence of gratuitous suffering with the existence of an omnipotent and omniscient and supremely loving and caring Deity. Undeniably, ‘evil’ functions as a mass noun: note the intelligibility of asking “Why is there so much evil in the world?” But ‘evil’ sometimes functions as an adjective and is used variously to describe persons, actions, desires, motives, and intentions; Joel Feinberg even speaks of “evil smells.” In (...) what follows, I shall consider the relationship between evil actions, evildoers—that is, persons disposed to perform evil actions—and evil people. Roughly, I defend the simple thesis that being an evil person just is being an evildoer. (shrink)
It is reasonably well accepted that the explanation of intentional action is teleological explanation. Very roughly, an explanation of some event, E, is teleological only if it explains E by citing some goal or purpose or reason that produced E. Alternatively, teleological explanations of intentional action explain “by citing the state of affairs toward which the behavior was directed” thereby answering questions like “To what end was the agent’s behavior directed?” Causalism—advocated by causalists—is the thesis that explanations of intentional action (...) are both causal and teleological. By contrast, non-causalism—advocated by non-causalists—is the thesis that explanations of intentional action are teleological but not causal. Familiarly, the problem of causal deviance plagues causalism. But while some have supposed that the problem is grave enough that causalism is bound to suffer a global breakdown, the rumors of causalism’s demise are greatly exaggerated. In what follows, I note that every instance of causal deviance is also an instance of teleological deviance and that teleological deviance is a problem for causalist and non-causalist alike, a problem that causalists may be better able to deal with. Or so I argue. (shrink)
I contend that there are two dogmas that are still popular among philosophers of action: that agents can only desire what they think is good and that they can only intentionally pursue what they think is good. I also argue that both dogmas are false. Broadly, I argue that our best theories of action can explain the possibility of intentionally pursuing what one thinks is not at all good, that we need to allow for the possibility of intentionally pursuing what (...) one think is not at all good, and that if we can intentionally pursue what we think is not at all good then we can desire it on similar grounds. (shrink)
Experience clearly suggests that most legal philosophers and ethicists are not surprised to be told that liberal states cannot permissibly prohibit same-sex marriage (henceforth: SSM). It is somewhat less clear just what the appropriate liberal strategy is and should be in defense of this thesis. Rather than try to defend SSM directly, I shall proceed indirectly by arguing that SSM prohibitions are indefensible on liberal grounds. Initially, I shall consider what I take to be the most powerful liberal argument against (...) SSM prohibitions and account for my reservations about it. Then, I shall propose an alternative argument with roots in constitutional law that since SSM prohibitions do not survive liberal scrutiny, they must be rejected. (shrink)
Some jurisdictions acknowledge, as a matter of positive law, the relevance of evil to capital punishment. At one point, the state of Florida counted that the fact that a murderer’s crime was “especially wicked, evil, atrocious or cruel” as an aggravating factor for purposes of capital sentencing. I submit that Florida may be onto something. I consider a thesis about capital punishment that strikes me as plausible on its face: if capital punishment is ever morally permissible, it is permissible as (...) a response to evil. Call this the Punishment as a Response to Evil thesis, or PRE. If capital punishment is not morally permissible as a response to evil, then, according to PRE, it is not morally permissible, period. PRE admits of at least two different readings: on the first, if capital punishment is ever morally justified it is justified as a punishment for evil crimes; on the second, if capital punishment is ever morally justified it is justified as a punishment for evil people. While this first version of PRE has found advocates in both philosophy and forensic psychiatry, I argue against this first reading of PRE and for the second. To secure this conclusion I appeal to an account of evil and evil personhood that I have developed elsewhere. (shrink)
Preliminary matters -- Appendix to chapter 1: evil and experimental philosophy -- Taxonomies of wickedness -- The structure of evil character -- The content of evil character -- Appendix to chapter 4: evil and social psychology -- Evil and moral responsibility -- Evil and abnormal psychology -- Evil and capital punishment.
In this journal, Luke Russell defends a sophisticated dispositional account of evil personhood according to which a person is evil just in case she is strongly and highly fixedly disposed to perform evil actions in conditions that favour her autonomy. While I am generally sympathetic with this account, I argue that Russell wrongly dismisses the mirror thesis—roughly, the thesis that evil people are the mirror images of the morally best sort of persons—which I have defended elsewhere. Russell’s rejection of the (...) mirror thesis depends upon an independently implausible account of moral sainthood, one that is implausible for reasons that Russell himself suggests in another context. Indeed, an account of moral sainthood that parallels Russell’s account of evil personhood is plausible for the same reasons that his account of evil personhood is, and that suggests that Russell himself is actually committed to the mirror thesis. (shrink)
However liberalism is best understood, liberals typically seek to defend a wide range of liberty. Since same-sex marriage [henceforth: SSM] prohibitions limit the liberty of citizens, there is at least some reason to suppose that they are inconsistent with liberal commitments. But some have argued that it is the recognition of SSM—not its prohibition—that conflicts with liberalism’s commitments. I refer to the thesis that recognition of SSM is illiberal as “The Charge.” As a sympathetic liberal, I take The Charge seriously (...) enough to consider and ultimately reject it. Ultimately, I contend that The Charge is simply misguided and that arguments for it either fail to find support in some liberal principle or else find support from some illiberal principle. (shrink)
Almost everyone allows that conditions can obtain that exempt agents from moral responsibility—that someone is not a morally responsible agent if certain conditions obtain. In his seminal Freedom and Resentment, Peter Strawson denies that the truth of determinism globally exempts agents from moral responsibility. As has been noted elsewhere, Strawson appears committed to the surprising thesis that being an evil person is an exempting condition. Less often noted is the fact that various Strawsonians—philosophers sympathetic with Strawson’s account of moral responsibility—at (...) least appear to have difficulty incorporating evil persons into their accounts of moral responsibility. In what follows, I argue that Strawson is not committed to supposing that being evil is an exempting condition—at least, that he can allow that evil persons are morally responsible agents. (shrink)
Some philosophers have argued that the concepts of evil and wickedness cannot be well grasped by those inclined to a naturalist bent, perhaps because evil is so intimately tied to religious discourse or because it is ultimately not possible to understand evil, period. By contrast, I argue that evil—or, at least, what it is to be an evil person—can be understood by naturalist philosophers, and I articulate an independently plausible account of evil character.
It is plausible that being an evil person is a matter of having a particularly morally depraved character. I argue that suffering from extreme moral vices—and not consistently lacking moral vices, for example—suffices for being evil. Alternatively, I defend an extremity account concerning evil personhood against consistency accounts of evil personhood. After clarifying what it is for vices to be extreme, I note that the extremity thesis I defend allows that a person could suffer from both extremely vicious character traits (...) while possessing some modest virtue as well. By contrast, consistency theses rule out this possibility by definition. This result does not suggest that extremity accounts are flawed, however, since, as I argue, the thesis that evil people must lack moral virtue altogether effectively defines evil people out of existence and prematurely privileges skepticism about evil personhood. Ultimately, I contend that an extremity account is most consistent with common intuitions about putative evil persons as well as plausible assumptions about aretaic evaluations of character quite generally. (shrink)
A number of philosophers have been impressed with the thought that moral saints and moral monsters—or, evil people, to put it less sensationally—“mirror” one another, in a sense to be explained. Call this the mirror thesis. The project of this paper is to cash out the metaphorical suggestion that moral saints and evil persons mirror one other and to articulate the most plausible literal version of the mirror thesis. To anticipate, the most plausible version of the mirror thesis implies that (...) evil persons mirror moral saints insofar as the characters of each are marked by similar aretaic properties: suffering from extremely vicious character traits—in a sense to be explained—suffices for being evil whereas possessing extremely virtuous character traits similarly suffices for moral sainthood. (shrink)