Wednesday, 16 July 2008

"My problem of evil"

An article to read and ponder:

... what Dr Cole, who is of a very different political stripe from me, does not appreciate is that his naturalistic account of evil (to the effect that what is called evil requires no special understanding beyond that we apply to all other human traits and conduct) does not lead to conclusions that he would easily find acceptable.

If the connection between evil acts and the life experiences of those who commit them is so strong and intimate that it is morally exculpatory, in other words that those who act evilly can do no other, and if as a matter of empirical fact there is no procedure that can reliably reform them, then the case, in the name of public safety, for ferociously long and incapacitating prison sentences, until time has done its work, is made. In other words, the connection between exculpation and penal leniency is a psychological one in the minds of penal liberals, not a logical one dictated by evidence and argument. The more circumstances ‘determine’ criminal behaviour, the more firmly ought criminal behaviour be repressed.

Only if we accept that there is something deeply mysterious about human freedom – are that men are free, despite our inability satisfactorily to explain exactly what we mean by it – can we dare to hope that neither ferocity nor prolonged incarceration will always be necessary for people to change.

But sometimes they will be necessary. That is why we shall always have to exercise judgement, and can lay down no hard and fast rules as if life could be lived out of a book of recipes.

as for the naturalistic theory of evil, it raises the hope, or rather the mirage, of a society so perfect that no one will have to be good (to use T S Eliot’s formulation). And that mirage has been responsible for as much evil as the concept of evil itself.

I confess that the problem is too difficult for me to solve. I am not philosopher enough – and neither, it seems to me, are most philosophers. I own myself defeated, but I shall go on using the word just like everyone else, as if its signification and implications were perfectly obvious. Read more

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