Days later, at the National Rifle Association’s convention in Texas, CEO Wayne LaPierre acknowledged the Uvalde victims before arguing against gun control legislation. His reasoning pivoted on the concept of evil: “If we as a nation were capable of legislating evil out of the hearts and minds of criminals who commit these heinous acts, we would have done it long ago.”
First, there’s still some confusion about whether to locate evil out in the world, or within the human heart.
The 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant, for example, defines evil as an inner moral failure, which might lurk behind even the most acceptable-looking acts.
Philosopher Gary Watson helps illuminate this paradox in his essay “Responsibility and the Limits of Evil.” Blame involves attempting to hold people responsible as members of a shared “moral community” – a network of social relations in which people share basic norms and push one another to repair moral expectations after they are violated. Taking responsibility, in Watson’s view, involves a kind of competence, an ability to work with others in community.
Evil, however, implies being beyond redemption, “beyond the pale” of this community. Calling someone evil signals a total lack of hope that they could take up the responsibility being assigned to them. And some people do seem to lack the social bonds, skills and attitudes required for responsibility. Examining the life story of a notorious school shooter, Watson reveals how his potential for belonging to a moral community had been brutally dismantled by chaotic abuse throughout his
If evil implies such a complete absence of the skills and attitudes required for moral responsibility, then calling people evil – while still holding them morally responsible – is paradoxical.
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