About Me

My photo
Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Friday, March 25, 2011

The evil and hypocrisy of the Vatican - again

If you were in doubt as to what vile people are in control of the Roman Catholic Church, look no further. Here we have a Vatican hierarch, Silvano Tomasi, complaining that poor, dear homophobes get "vilified" for their homophobia. More specifically, this Silvano dude complains as follows:

When they express their moral beliefs or beliefs about human nature ... they are stigmatised, and worse -- they are vilified, and prosecuted.These attacks are violations of fundamental human rights and cannot be justified under any circumstances.

The most important thing about this is its one small grain of truth: you should not be prosecuted for expressing such evil views as that engaging in consensual homosexual conduct makes you a "sinnner", or "emotionally disordered", or whatever else these bastards want to say. Freedom of speech should enable you to say, quite legally, all sorts of ugly, vicious things.

Freedom of speech also should enable others to point out that these are, in fact, ugly vicious things ... and that only a vile person would say such things. When you say these things, it shows your true character.

Silvano wants his cronies to have freedom of speech. Fine. I agree. But he doesn't want the rest of us to have it. He's not only vile - he's a hypocrite, like the rest of his kind.


Anonymous said...

It's really incredible how these people at the Vatican have turned to the very values they have always fought against - human rights, freedom of speech and conscience - in order to defend their bigotry. Let no one be deceived, though; they haven't changed the content of their message one iota. And that's where it counts.

Anonymous said...

When I was 9 I was victimized by a 14 year old homosexual boy. At 19, a cousin propositioned me. I find the whole idea of homosexuality completely dirty and disgusting. I am homophobic. I dont care if it's in their DNA or not. Keep it to yourself.

--Necessarily Anonymous

Russell Blackford said...

I should have said "little lying shit", because I don't even believe the story.

Rorschach said...

Yeah, another instance of Catholic bigots claiming persecution. A skill they have mastered over 2 millenia. You have to hand it to them, they're pretty good at it !
Here in Australia, they cry persecution whenever any state government dares to question whether the big religious institutions should really be allowed to discriminate against, and be allowed to not employ, single mothers, homosexuals, and any other disgraceful human being that doesnt fit the job description for the cult. They claim that the mere fact of questioning this bigotry is an attack on religious freedom. Reality check on aisle 6 !

Anonymous said...

@Necessarily Anonymous:

Male kids get raped by women too. Therefore, keep heterosexuality to yourself.

Same argument, same imperative. Why is this argument invalid and yours not?

Hint: Don't even bother to try to argue that homosexuality isn't natural. It's been observed in many species. Ditto for rape.

Marshall said...

No argument with your thesis, but also here concerning attitudes of actual Catholics, that is people who go to church: "Catholics are more supportive of legal recognitions of same-sex relationships than members of any other Christian tradition and Americans overall." For me the question is how political organizations get away with acting against the interests/values of the people who are supporting them. Same issue with the Right Wing here in the states: a Populist movement in favor of Big Capitalism. Go figure.

....while posting, I see that NA's post is visible over there. Can't see why he deserves to be a "little (lying) shit" for saying he personally had some not-especially-bizarre bad experiences and is personally homophobic. One could well say "get a life", but why doesn't this fall under the Free Speech rubric?

Russell Blackford said...

Notice I didn't attack Catholics; I attacked the Vatican. It's interesting that Catholics in the US are less homophobic than the general population (which is mainly composed of Protestants), but the Vatican still provides the main source in the world of supposedly intellectual opposition to gays and gay rights.

I don't believe NA's story because it's just too easy to make stuff up like that when you're an anonymous, non-accountable person on the internet, and such stories just contribute to the general slander against gays. But even if the story (whatever it actually means - did a gay kid steal his lunch money and so "victimise" him?) it's no excuse for his homophobia. Heterosexual kids have done bad things, too - but it doesn't follow that we should hate heterosexuals or be disgusted by heterosexual sex.

He's a little shit because he has no excuse for his hateful attitude even if his story has some element of truth in it somewhere.

Anonymous said...


Since vile and evil are basically terms that get their strength from the insinuation that the person/position is strongly immoral, how can you, the error theorist, justify using the terms for people who disagree with you about what is and isn't moral?

I don't see the issue here as being one that can be explained by the commonalities like you use in your car analogy. This isn't a matter of choosing the Pinto or the Honda for people who have generally the same basic notions of what makes a car valuable. This disagreement arises from fundamentally different ideas of what morality is and what it can cover (the issue of whether private behaviour that affects no one can be called immoral, for example, drives a lot of this).

Since you, it seems to me, don't have an objective way to classify them as being strongly immoral enough to qualify for "evil" or "vile", are you really justified in saying that?

As for hypocrisy ... you might have a point. But then again, the reply might be that people bash them for attacking the beliefs of others and defend those they attack, and yet few defend them when the attacks are on them. There may be plenty of hypocrisy to go around.

Anonymous said...

I don't like to just follow-up on my own comment, but my previous one will probably look at least in part like a tone criticism ... and, in part, it is.

I do think that this sort of comment does raise an interesting issue for error theory, so I'd like to see how they can be reconciled, conceding that they probably can.

However, at least in part my motivation -- and possibly the iniital one -- is a reaction to this sort of strong rhetoric to someone who simply disagrees with someone else over fundamental moral principles. If something things that they are advocating for the moral position and you call them vile and evil, they are quite likely to quite rightly get upset about that, and starting with that rhetoric is more likely to lead to a shouting match than an interesting discussion about your differences. I don't think that in this case satire or exaggeration count as mitigating factor.

So I don't see those terms as being useful unless one can objectively justify them as being true, and so if one can't then perhaps they aren't terms that should be tossed out cavalierly, as they don't seem to aid discussion at all.

Or, maybe they can. I'm open to arguments that I'm wrong about that.

Russell Blackford said...

I never said that they have acted in breach of a standard that is objectively binding on them whatever their desire sets may be, such that they are making something like a factual mistake about the world or an error of logic.

I didn't even use language that easily lends itself to being interpreted as making such a claim. I didn't, for example, make a thin claim such as "What they did was morally wrong." Even if I had, and so (perhaps) conveyed something that is, strictly speaking, false, I'd also have been conveying an evaluation against standards that I think are perfectly non-arbitrary, and which I think would be widely shared among readers of this blog. I prefer not to use that kind of thin moral language, but I don't necessarily go as far as Richard Garner and ask others not to use it.

Rather than saying that what the Vatican did here was "moral wrong", I said it was "vile", "ugly", "vicious", and "hypocritical".

You can agree or disagree about the particular evaluations, but to the extent that I'm committed to metaethical error theory (which is not necessarily total as we've discussed before) it certainly doesn't prevent me making and expressing those sorts of evaluations.

None of our evaluations - of the merits of a novel or a car or a movie star, or anything else - are objectively and inescapably binding on all rational creatures irrespective of their own desire sets. To the extent that we convey that they are, we are saying something that is, strictly speaking, false. But that doesn't stop us from making perfectly rational, non-arbitrary evaluations, or inviting agreement with them, or expressing them in ways that make clear how strongly we feel. In fact, I'm all in favour of the non-cognitive aspects of normative language. We can gush over a wonderful novel, for example, without believing that every other rational creature is objectively bound to make the same evaluation. We can rave about the beauty of the sunset over Cable Beach without thinking for a moment that every other rational creature in the universe must also find it "beautiful" on pain of being simply mistaken or something of the kind. The same applies to people's actions and characters. Nothing stops me from saying that Hitler was evil, though I don't think for a minute that my evaluation of Hitler must be shared by every rational creature in the universe (a cruel warlord on a distant star system might make no mistakes of fact or logic while considering Hitler a great role model, if it found out about him). In fact, I'd rather say that Hitler was "evil" than that his actions were "morally wrong" - the former makes the point better, while the latter sounds, apart from anything else, much too weak.

That's my meta-ethical (and more generally meta-normative) view in a nutshell. I don't see anything to the contrary in, say, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong ... but if Mackie said something somewhere that disagrees, then fine. I don't necessarily agree with Mackie on every point. It's not like his writings were holy scripture or something.

The same applies to other error theorists. E.g., I respect Richard Joyce but find plenty to disagree with in his writings. Although I have some sympathy for Richard Garner's call to live beyond morality, guided more directly by our sympathies and our curiosity and other aspects of ourselves on which morality is built in the first place, I'm by no means sure that anyone can do that completely or that most people can do it even to a large extent.

Anonymous said...


Well, the word I focused on was "evil", which to me conveys strong immorality. But your reply is clearer, and I was thinking about this today and made a blog post on it, and so I want to see if this summary from it fits your idea (your comment suggests it would):

"At the end of the day, the sanest way for relativists to approach this in my opinion is to take the Humean or Prinzean notion of sentiments and say that when they call someone evil, all that is doing is expressing the sentiment that they find that action incredibly objectionable. But it doesn’t say anything about whether it actually is so objectionable, or whether the target of the accusation should in any way consider themselves or their position evil."

Is this a reasonably accurate statement of your position?

Russell Blackford said...

Well, Prinz is a moral relativist, and I don't think moral relativitism is quite right. Not even a moral relativism as sophisticated as Prinz's (which is basically an elaboration of Gilbert Harman's).

I think "evil" means something like "extremely harmful" cum "malevolent", and there is also the expression of extreme dislike or even shock accompanying it. But I think there's more than that. When we use such terms there is also the implication that something is not just shocking to me but shocking to others in these parts or in this conservational context. At the least, it invites others in the conversational context to be shocked, with the expectation that many or most of them actually will be.

Hitler, of course, made many actual errors of fact. But we could imagine a super-Hitler who was genocidal without making any such errors. I think it would be perfectly appropriate to refer to him as "evil" even while being perfectly aware that he was not making any logical errors or being in error about any facts about the world.

Again, psychopaths make errors about the world - e.g. they don't properly understand the way they make others feel, and they tend to misjudge various other things. But we can imagine a super-psychopath, or perhaps a rational man-eating Martian, that makes no errors at all ... but which it would be perfectly appropriate for us to call "evil".

Compare the word "bad". If i say that a car is a "bad" one I'm not just expressing some kind of emotional attitude to it, or reporting that I have such an attitude, or even that it is such as to produce such an attitude in me. I'm saying that it has such features as to be counterproductive to the requirements that we tend to have for cars in these parts or in this context. So I am referring to such properties as its poor fuel consumption, unreliability, instability when cornering, etc. "Bad" sums up all of these.

Note, though, that someone who is not interested in these things might not be bound by my evaluation. Someone in my audience may only care about whether the car makes a good sculpture in the front garden or something. But knowing this should not stop me from warning my friend against buying a car that I describe as "bad".

In some contexts, there's not really a lot of room for rational disagreement about evaluations because the requirements in question are pretty unambiguous and agreed. Two soldiers discussing the merits of bayonets are going to have a very clear idea on what features are required in a bayonet (or so I imagine). But there is always room for at least some slippage. And when it's a judgment of something as complex as the merits of a person's character or the merits of a novel, there's room for a lot of slippage. We only make a Mackean type error if we don't realise this and think that, for example, our individual requirements in a novel or in a person's character are the only ones that are rationally possible. They probably won't be - they may well be rational and non-arbitrary, and we may be able to persuade many people in many contexts to share them; however, they are not going to be inescapably binding on all rational creatures regardless of their desire sets.

GTChristie said...

I'm surprised. "Necessarily Anonymous" tells a personal story about being abused and -- rightly I think -- testifies that, as a result of this abuse, he came away with a lifelong aversion. I have no doubt there are stories like this which are true, whether anyone believes this particular story or not. What surprises me is, the response is so venomous without anyone stopping to consider objectively that person's subjective point of view. Suppose the story had been "I've been held up at gunpoint, therefore I am deathly afraid of guns and I believe there should be no guns in society. If you like guns, keep it to yourself." It's a justifiable response, even if it has some logical holes in it. The argument has the same form as NA's. And the point is, rather than condemning the victim for his conclusions, it is more humane to understand the trauma, and how such a person must approach life in the aftermath. So I think that was a bit cruel and over the top to call him a little shit, and if "what you're up against" is people who really have been abused and say so, then you are up against the truth. To call him a liar because you don't believe the story is ad hominem too. I think you hit a clinker here.

GTChristie said...

But that doesn't stop us from making perfectly rational, non-arbitrary evaluations, or inviting agreement with them, or expressing them in ways that make clear how strongly we feel. In fact, I'm all in favour of the non-cognitive aspects of normative language. We can gush over a wonderful novel, for example, without believing that every other rational creature is objectively bound to make the same evaluation.

Is this the same Russell Blackford who, previously in this thread, attacked a commenter for expressing a strongly held belief in exactly the fashion described?

And now that I read this entire thread again, I notice that commenter expressed no hatred, but basically said "Leave me alone." It's homophobia. Fear. Not hatred.

I guess I get uncomfortable with phrases like "little shit." It's so ... unbecoming.

Oh well. On to meta-ethics.

Russell Blackford said...

GT, you're a lot readier to excuse people like "Necessarily Anonymous" than I am. We've all had bad things happen to us, but that's no excuse.

Now, back to metaethics - a view something like the Harman/Prinz, etc., one isn't, for all that I said above, that far away from what I see as the content of ordinary judgments of "good" and "bad" that we might make about cars, bayonets, sunsets, etc. In some isolated, culturally-closed society, perhaps people think that their judgments about equivalent things are binding or "just correct", but few minimally sophisticated people in modern, culturally-open societies are likely to think that in most cases, even if they tend to come out with slightly confused explanations of what they do think.

Where I move towards error theory about morality, rather than some form of moral relativism, however sophisticated, is that it does appear to me as if people are thinking and conveying that idea of objective bindingness in many of their moral judgments - often in the very judgments where there should, rationally, be the most room for different people to have different requirements and for there to be a lot of slippage.

How much this happens, or conversely how far some kind of sophisticated relativist semantics could be applied to moral judgments as Harman and his followers argue, remains to be seen.

I do see room for people to contest the classic error theory claim that all thin first-order moral judgments are just false. That's how the claim gets taught to undergraduates, and even how it is often expressed in journal articles and academic books on metaethics. But Mackie himself explicitly refused to say something this simple ... right there in Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong ... and I think you can still classify yourself as an error theorist without accepting such a simple view. Or else Mackie himself was not an error theorist! His view, to the extent that I can reconstruct it, was more that all thin, first-order moral judgments include some false content - perhaps along with some true content in some cases and also along with some non-cognitive content. Even that may be too simple a theory, thought it sounds plausible to me. In any event Mackie was certainly not as simple as the "Mackie" taught to undergrads.

Russell Blackford said...

Sorry, NA, you had your chance. I won't be posting your comments after that first one. Turning up here to express your disgust at homosexuality was not a good idea at a blog that strongly supports gay rights.

Russell Blackford said...

And this raises a more general point. I very seldom ban people or refuse to publish comments, but I reserve the right to do so and don't even feel that I need to give an explanation.

I'm not the government. If for some reason I won't let you comment here, you can express your views elsewhere.

As I say, it's rare that I refuse to publish a bona fide comment no matter how much I disagree with it. But one thing this blog will never do is provide a platform for people who want to express or justify their homophobia.

You can put that down to ideological commitment, or to the possibility that I've had some life experiences of my own that have intensified my feelings about it, or whatever you like. But that's how it is.

Kirth Gersen said...

I'm no error theorist -- all that is too many stages removed from the ground for me to spend much time following it in circles. So I feel perfectly justified in joining our host in describing these people as "vile" and "evil" -- because we can see the woe they cause -- real human misery, not theoretical, philosophical contradictions, but actual, observable fallout.

Marshall said...

Here's a reference to a study of attitudes towards same-sex marriages in Australia that gives remarkably the same numbers as the study of Catholic attitudes in America. Curious! The hierarchy is evidently not enforcing common moral opinion in America so much.

I was also thinking that you have half the Catholics or Australians who think homosexuality is bad and are willing to enforce their opinion in the civil law. You have another quarter who see no problem with homosexuals and are willing to accommodate them. That's 3/4 who are just going with their own flow. Then you have one quarter who see homosexuality as bad, but are willing to accommodate homosexuals anyway. I suggest that it is these last folks who are the future (if any) of a humanist society, who should be given every possible encouragement.