12 Jul 2009

Pussyfooting Around Evil

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In a recent post on John Calvin, Tyler Cowen wrote something that caught my eye: “Here is one reason why there is “evil” in the world…”

If you go read it in context, Tyler isn’t (I don’t believe) putting “evil” in quotation marks to mean “evil as Calvin defines the term.” No, I think Tyler is trying to be very non-pushy, and doesn’t want to impose his own views on his readers, who after all may not share Tyler’s theory of morality.

I think this is a very dangerous habit. The reason it jumped out at me is that in grad school I once wrote in a LewRockwell.com article something like, “Even though I agree the world would be ‘better’ if heroin had never been invented, even so it doesn’t follow that armed men from the State should go around punishing heroin users.”

And I know for me (at the time in my super rationalistic worldview), the reason I put “better” in quotation marks was that I was a scientific guy and knew the is/ought distinction. I believed it was just a convention of language to say some state of the world was “better” than another, let alone to label a particular action as “good.”

This is dangerous stuff. I don’t recall Tyler ever putting “social welfare function” in quotation marks, to denote the fact that some non-economist readers might object to its very existence, and yet he seemed to deny this commonsensical existence to evil.

One of my favorite lines from The Usual Suspects was, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled, was convincing the world that he didn’t exist.”

(Note to readers: It was an accident that the post on salvation came out on a Saturday. I clicked on the Post Options and changed the time to early am, and I thought I had changed the date to Sunday. But I must have forgotten to adjust the date. So sorry for any atheist readers whose eyes were seared with the J-word.)

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