Friday, May 21, 2010

Why Do Still Need The Concept Of Evil?

In this secular, modern age, it's become fashionable in many circles to demote the concept of evil from a universal moral absolute to a cultural construct that's a product of the contingent norms and values of particular societies and thus differs across them. Implicit in this second definition of the term is the idea that people in one culture can't presume to pass moral judgment on those in another.

There is a certain psychological appeal to this, insofar as it allows liberal-minded cosmopolitan elites to feel good about themselves and avoid confronting in serious detail the more unsavory aspects of a number of ethically fraught issues which they'd prefer not to think about (e.g., abortion). And as someone with a great appreciation for the diversity of human cultures in the world, and a respect (for the most part) for their different traditions, I see a grain of truth in it, at least insofar as it applies to small-bore issues like dietary restrictions, codes of dress, and the like. That westerners as a rule don't eat dog meat does not ipso facto make the consumption of dog meat immoral, and I don't see how we can presume to judge cultures in which people do eat it.

In some cases, however, this nice, non-judgmental, situational, value-neutral attitude is utterly inadequate. All the Socratic parsing and moral relativism in the world are of little avail when there are still people like this in the world.

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