The Rhetoric of Moral Equivalence

Richard Shorten

in Evil in Contemporary Political Theory

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780748641963
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748652860 | DOI:
The Rhetoric of Moral Equivalence

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Undermining the distinctiveness of evil is a characteristic of political, as well as cultural, discourse. Ordinarily judgements of evil are a tool of political condemnation. As such they take their place alongside judgements of wrongdoing of varying degrees, from forgivable lapses to wrongful acts justified by necessity to criminal wrongdoing. But one feature of political rhetoric is that distinctions between degrees of wrongdoing are often undermined by claims of ‘moral equivalence’ that aim to blunt, revise and unsettle them. This chapter describes what is going on when public speech about wrongdoing is treated as a distinctive kind of political action, to examine moral equivalence as a feature of persuasive political language. It examines the conditions that inform the allocation, weighting and distribution of properties that convey wrongdoing in a political, rather than a strictly philosophical, context.

Keywords: political; discourse; public speech; wrongdoing; political rhetoric; moral equivalence; judgements of evil

Chapter.  10776 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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