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The greatest vice?

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Hugh LaFollette

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History teems with instances of “man’s inhumanity to man.” Some wrongs are perpetrated by individuals; most ghastly evils were committed by groups or nations. Other horrific evils were established and sustained by legal systems and supported by cultural mores. This demands explanation. I describe and evaluate four common explanations of evil before discussing more mundane and psychologically informed explanations of wrong-doing. Examining these latter forms helps isolate an additional factor which, if acknowledged, empowers us to diagnose, cope with, and prevent many ordinary and serious moral wrongs. In so doing, I do not assert that the explanations of first call are never appropriate. I claim only that their role is smaller than many of us reflexively suppose, and that the role of the later feature I identify is more significant, in part, because it supports and amplifies the more mundane and psychologically informed factors prompting wrong-doing.


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University of Oxford. Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics.

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