Reflections on ethics & philosophical miscellanea
Maybe it's just owing to my being something of a moral relativist, combined with recollection of The Cult of the Suicide Bomber, but I'm still a bit hung up on the third footnote. Seems like in many, if not most, cases of "terrorists" killing "innocent" people, the persons in question have a claim to integrity based on a sincere appeal to a moral community they identify with; moreover, even where they don't dispute the "innocence" of their victims, there is, or at least can be, full acknowledgement of the otherwise "common sense moral restrictions" they are violating as the very basis on which the effectiveness of their measures is predicated. But then I guess this is to say that I lean heavily on the notion of integrity as a formal, second-order virtue.
Hi Rob. Thanks. Your worry is well-put, and there's obviously a complex issue here (which I obviously can't deal with in a footnote). Also notice, bearing Duncan's earlier remarks about "terrorists and fanatics" in mind, that I backed off that language in the revision, though I want to stick, as I put it, to a modestly "moralized" integrity. A couple thoughts:1. Bearing in mind Duncan's reminder (on the original thread) that many "terrorists" don't seem to understand what they're getting into, I think there's a real problem with appealing to the notion of a "moral community" that legitimizes (via its cohesiveness and meaning-conferring power, say) certain beliefs or practices, when it's clear that some members of the group are manipulating and in other ways deceiving other members (the operatives, say). Compare this to some of the things I say in "Standing by One's Convictions" about the revolutionary. (The problem becomes striking when the individuals advocating the violence and self-sacrifice aren't the ones doing the violence...)2. On "effectiveness of measures": this gets into the bigger problem of means and ends, and I don't think one could adequately address this issue just in terms of integrity. (So I wouldn't want to say that a utilitarian couldn't have integrity, for example.) Maybe it's enough to allow that any ascription of integrity to a terrorist (or a Nazi) is going to be very contentious, and even though I focus on a notion of integrity as an "umbrella" virtue (see "Integrity and Virtue(s)"), certainly we can talk about "integrity" (where the scare-quotes point to the contentiousness, or non-exemplary in certain respects quality of the case).
I like this. The second sentence in the final paragraph seems ambiguous to me (perhaps I just need another cup of coffee). Do the words "in action" go with the idea of exhibiting integrity or with that of a failure of steadfastness? Their position in the sentence suggests the latter, but the italics suggest the former.I think in previous comments I have said a few different things about terrorists, and maybe I should try to clear up what I think. (The film "Paradise Now" is quite good on the ambiguity there can be in the motives of terrorists, by the way.) Some terrorists are true-believing hardliners. Some don't believe at all and are forced into committing terrorist acts, e.g. through threats to their family. Some are willing to do some things (kidnapping, say) but not others (e.g. murder) and find themselves tricked into going beyond what they would choose to do. Some have few principles but want to do something exciting or violent. Some are not very thoughtful and pretty much just follow the lead of others. And so on. And, of course, people can belong to different types at different times. True believers can have a change of heart or a loss of nerve, for instance. Certain acts are undoubtedly acts of terrorism, but I'm not happy about talk of "terrorists" as if this were some species (like the "criminals" who alone will own guns if guns are outlawed). Of course, what I'm happy with doesn't matter very much, but I hope this adds helpfully to what I was trying to say before.
That all seems right, Duncan. I'll check out that film. Some time back, I watched a documentary called Suicide Killers by Pierre Rehov (see here, though it might, in a way, play into the problem you're raising). In it, you see some true believers, it seems, but also some people who seem confused. (I distinctly recall the interview with a young Palestinian woman, in prison for involvement with a terrorist group, determined to return to it when and if she got out, and who seemed to believe that by dying as a martyr she would become one of the 72 virgins to be enjoyed by a male martyr. This seemed bizarre for a few reasons.) But still, yes, I completely agree with the point about "species."
That sounds like an interesting documentary. Thanks for the tip, and thanks for your earlier offer re the Cora Diamond piece--I think I have it somewhere though.
Julia Loktev's closely observed yet insistently anti-psychological Day Night Day Night might also be of interest.
Brief audio of Shankar Vedantam ('The Hidden Brain') from a recent BBC appearance on the topic of suicide bombers and their loyalty to smaller communities.