The Asymmetry of Good and Evil

The 2015 Barry Taylor and David Lewis Philosophy Lecture, presented by Philip Pettit.

Philip Pettit is L.S.Rockefeller University Professor of Politics and Human Values at Princeton, and Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the ANU.

Speaker

Professor Philip Pettit

Description

We do good to one another by bringing about welcome consequences and, in particular, by bringing about welcome consequences that are disposition-dependent. Thus we give one another respect by acting out of the beneficent disposition not to interfere in one another’s personal choices: by ensuring that we conform to standards of respect in our behaviour. But while we do evil to one another by bringing about unwelcome consequences, these are rarely disposition-dependent: they do not require that we act out of a maleficent disposition or that we conform to standards of malice in our behaviour. This observation helps to explain the Knobe effect whereby we ascribe intentionality more readily to presumptively bad actions than to good. Thus to help the environment requires acting out of a helpful disposition, ensuring that you conform to beneficent standards. To harm the environment requires only that you create an environmental cost, breaching those standards: it does not require that you act out of the disposition of an environmental vandal, ensuring that you conform to a vandal’s standards.