Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Is wrongdoing an evil?

In my previous post, I said that murder is a counterexample to the privation theory of evil. For a murder is an evil, but a murder is not a privation. It may be that what makes a murder be an evil is a privation—say, the privation of justice in the agent—but the murder itself is not a privation.

But I wonder if one could save the privation theory of evil by severely narrowing the scope of what counts as an evil, so that instances of sin, suffering, error, natural disasters, etc. are not actually evils. Instead, the real evils are what I called “evilmakers” in earlier post. Thus, a murder is not an evil, but the privation of justice in the agent is the evil. An erroneous belief is not an evil, but the evil is its erroneousness, which is a privation of truth.

I don’t think I like this. It departs too far from ordinary language to say that murder or torture aren’t evils, but the privations of justice are. Here is one reason not to like it. Some evils cause direct harm to their victim, and torture is a paradigm example. But when we think of the paradigm harms of torture—namely, intense suffering as well as psychological and psychological damage—then these harms are not caused by the privation of justice. They are caused by the electric shocks, etc. So on the view that it is only the privation of justice that is an evil, the stuff that actually causes most of the suffering isn’t an evil. And while sometimes something can cause suffering without being an evil (e.g., when your well-meaning friend’s advice annoys you), torture doesn’t seem to be a case like that. It’s the torture as a whole that seems to be evil, not simply its injustice. Thus, it seems to me to be truer to say that the injustice is an evilmaker (and evilmakers are also evils), and the torture is an evil.

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