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Controlling Ignorance: A Bitter Truth

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Michael Zimmerman, Professor and Philosophy Pre-Law Concentration Advisor (Creator)
Institution
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/

Abstract: When Auschwitz camp commandant Rudolf Höss had over two million people put to death, he was not to blame. When Adolf Eichmann delivered victim after victim to the concentration camps, he was not to blame. When William Calley led the massacre of hundreds of civilians at My Lai, he was not to blame. These are startling claims. Many find them outrageous. I think that they are probably true. It surely matters whether they are true. Evil is committed every day, sometimes of monstrous proportions, sometimes not. Those who commit evil are often punished for their actions. This is a natural response to what they have done, for the desire to see evildoers punished is primitive and instinctive. But we all recognize, in our calmer, more detached moments, the possibility that an evildoer does not deserve, indeed deserves not, to be punished because he is not to blame for his evil actions, and he is not to blame because he has an excuse. In such a case, a gross injustice is perpetrated if the evildoer is punished nonetheless. (It is just possible that such an injustice is morally justified, due to certain overwhelming, countervailing considerations, but, even so, the injustice remains undiminished.) I believe it likely that Höss, Eichmann, and Calley all had an excuse for their terrible deeds. The excuse was that they did not believe that they were doing anything morally wrong.

Additional Information

Publication
Journal of Social Philosophy, 33(3) (2002): 483-490
Language: English
Date: 2002
Keywords
blame, wrongdoing, culpability, punishment, excuses, evildoers, morals