Ted Honderich: This is the 20th of May, 2011. A good day for var­i­ous rea­sons. It’s my wife’s birth­day and I remem­bered. But it’s also a good day for I think three larg­er rea­sons. One is that the Queen of England is in Ireland, rec­og­niz­ing at the behest of a British gov­ern­ment the atroc­i­ties we British have done to the Irish. Croke Park and all that. It makes one feel a lit­tle bet­ter about being British. 

A larg­er thing is that the President of the United States has reaf­firmed again this morn­ing that there is to be a Palestinian state, a state of the Palestinian peo­ple. It’ll hap­pen, I think. At least I so hope. 

The third thing is that the Arab Spring has hap­pened. And it con­tin­ues to demon­strate the pos­si­bil­i­ty, the real pos­si­bil­i­ty, of change brought about by pop­u­lar action; essen­tial­ly civ­il dis­obe­di­ence, but what goes with it. 

It’s a good day also to admit the great prob­lems that attend to think­ing about large ques­tions. Large ques­tions such as Palestine, and 9‍/‍11, and a num­ber of oth­ers. We need to try to approach these prob­lems in some sen­si­ble and ratio­nal way. We must not in the course of being ratio­nal lack all con­vic­tion while the worst are, as Yeats says, full of pas­sion­ate intensity. 

It’s a day to face the prob­lem of words. That is, how to dis­cuss and con­sid­er the large ques­tions at which I will be look­ing. A day to con­sid­er the thrall of con­ven­tion, and how to deal with it. Should the likes of me be restrained and restrict­ed to aca­d­e­m­ic or par­lia­men­tary lan­guage. That is a ques­tion that trou­bles me. But in a way I give an answer to it in a prin­ci­ple to which I will even­tu­al­ly get round, the prin­ci­ple of humanity. 

I said our sub­ject is large ques­tions. And the first of those is Palestine. And Palestine is a ques­tion because first of all of Zionism. Zionism as I define it. And that is the found­ing, or was the found­ing, and it is the nec­es­sary defense of Israel with­in rough­ly the 19481967 bor­ders. And I mean that course of action by Zionism, what­ev­er the larg­er inten­tions that might have been had by some of the pro­tag­o­nists. Zionism, right or wrong; Neo-Zionism, right or wrong. Neo-Zionism is some­thing dif­fer­ent. It’s the tak­ing from the Palestinians, at least their free­dom, in the last one-fifth of the home­land of which they are indu­bitably the indige­nous peo­ple. The first ques­tion then, Palestine, and Zionism, and Neo-Zionism. 

And the sec­ond ques­tion, Palestinian ter­ror­ism. Call it if you want Palestinian lib­er­a­tion strug­gle, but I shall stick to the ordi­nary usage. 

A third ques­tion, 9‍/‍11. We’ve had some time to think about it, what should we now be think­ing? Is there a moral respon­si­bil­i­ty shared by it by more than the terrorists. 

Fourthly our war in Iraq and the aftermath. 

Fifthly, such oth­er ter­ror­ism as 7/7 in London. 

Sixth, the assault, if that is not too mild a term, on Gaza.

Seven, the war on Afghanistan. 

And eighth­ly, the Arab Spring. 

You will guess that to do so many things will be to touch light­ly on many of them. But to touch light­ly from what I hope is a bet­ter foun­da­tion than some reflec­tion. It seems to me that there is a divi­sion of intel­lec­tu­al labor with respect to these very large ques­tions of right and wrong. And I have in mind that there is a con­tri­bu­tion to be made to these ques­tions clear­ly by his­to­ri­ans, say his­to­ri­ans of pop­u­la­tion. Equally I sup­pose, although it does­n’t come hap­pi­ly to me, a con­tri­bu­tion to be made by econ­o­mists. Thirdly, a con­tri­bu­tion to be made by jour­nal­ists, good and bad journalists. 

It seems equal­ly true, or at least this is my hope, that a con­tri­bu­tion can be made to the con­sid­er­a­tion of these ques­tions by my line of life, which is ana­lyt­ic phi­los­o­phy. And I under­stand it not as a mat­ter of great depth, or a mat­ter of mys­tery, or a mat­ter of inge­nu­ity or clev­er­ness, but as a con­cen­tra­tion on the log­ic of ordi­nary intel­li­gence. That is a con­cen­tra­tion on clar­i­ty, usu­al­ly the clar­i­ty of analy­sis, the analy­sis of notions and con­tentions. And sec­ond­ly, con­sis­ten­cy and that sort of thing, log­i­cal virtues. And third­ly com­plete­ness. Is it the case that ana­lyt­ic phi­los­o­phy so under­stood can make some con­tri­bu­tion to the con­sid­er­a­tion of these great ques­tions. That is a dream I have and it’s a dream that I’m always sad to think that I may awake from in the course of one of these talks. Let us see. 

You might think, being out­side of phi­los­o­phy and ana­lyt­ic phi­los­o­phy, that it is rather too ele­vat­ed and ivory tow­er a sub­ject to take for­ward reflec­tion on these ques­tions. It seems to me that many peo­ple sup­pose that even if phi­los­o­phy has a con­tri­bu­tion to make, it should pro­ceed by some oth­er way of think­ing, some oth­er dis­ci­pline, some oth­er prac­tice. And there are many of these that are sug­gest­ed. It is sug­gest­ed for exam­ple that we should be guid­ed by a prin­ci­ple of nego­ti­a­tion, always, rather than a prin­ci­ple which allows for recourse to force and indeed violence. 

Let me make a com­ment on this of a very brisk nature, rather like the com­ments to be made on oth­er things. Does any­one think that there is a prin­ci­ple of nego­ti­a­tion, as against the use of force or vio­lence, that is gen­er­al and over­comes every­thing else all the time? Does any­one think for exam­ple that the Russian tanks, as they entered Germany to end the Holocaust, should’ve halt­ed for a while and called up a con­fer­ence in Geneva instead? Does any­one think that the woman in the course of being raped, if you can hit him on the head and stop him, should instead remon­strate and put con­sid­er­a­tions to him? No one thinks either of those things. No one on reflec­tions thinks that there is a prin­ci­ple of nego­ti­a­tion of peace­ful con­duct of dis­putes which over­comes on every occa­sion the use of force or violence. 

There are lots of oth­er aids that the ana­lyt­ic philoso­pher might be told that he needs to make use of. Let me men­tion a cou­ple of them rather quick­ly. It’s of course said that inter­na­tion­al law is a recourse we ought to have in con­sid­er­ing Palestine and var­i­ous oth­er things. International law, as we know in the wake of Iraq—the Iraq war, is made up on the hoof by so called Democrats. That instance is enough to put in ques­tion any gen­er­al reliance on inter­na­tion­al law. 

What about the doc­trine of the just war. The doc­trine of the just war has cer­tain­ly been made use of, and good use of, by some per­sons. What it comes down to at bot­tom is the war or oth­er hos­til­i­ty or oth­er vio­lence is jus­ti­fied if it is self-defense. And what is self-defense? Well, it used to be tanks com­ing across your bor­der, infring­ing your sov­er­eign­ty. But now, of course, even in the UN it can also be self-defense where that is a mat­ter of the defense of a peo­ple from the infringe­ment of human rights. It’s there­fore the case that one has to decide when human rights are infringed. And to come round to a fur­ther method of guid­ing our thoughts on these great ques­tions, it seems to me that while reliance on human rights has been valu­able and has advanced argu­ment in many ways, it has nev­er arrived at the nec­es­sary propo­si­tion as to what is to be done when claims of human rights con­flict. It is, tru­ly and per­haps noto­ri­ous­ly the case, that both the Palestinians and the Neo-Zionists claim human rights are on their side, or that the infringe­ments of human rights by the oth­er sides, say the killing of inno­cents, is such as to decide the matter. 

I want to sug­gest that these com­mon ways of attempt­ing to deal with these large ques­tions are all of them in need of some prin­ci­ple of right and wrong. You need some artic­u­lat­ed and clear prin­ci­ple of right and wrong in order to decide which claims of human rights are defen­si­ble and which are not. 

But let me come quick­ly to the last of these, so to speak, helps that may be offered the philoso­pher think­ing about these mat­ters. And that help, of course, in this day and age is democ­ra­cy. We ought to turn to democ­ra­cy to set­tle these large mat­ters. We ought to be guid­ed by democ­ra­cy above all. 

Let me say again just a word about that. Just a word. There are many weak and sil­ly argu­ments for democ­ra­cy. There is one argu­ment at bot­tom which is fun­da­men­tal and if suc­cess­ful is strong. And that is the argu­ment would you can boil down into a sim­ple bit of English, as any good argu­ment can be boiled down. And the sim­ple bit of English is, two heads are bet­ter than one, and more heads are bet­ter than two.” With respect to judg­ments of right and wrong, with respect to per­son­al or pub­lic or nation­al or glob­al pol­i­cy, what you need is a con­sid­er­a­tion for more per­sons than a dic­ta­tor or any­thing of that sort. Two heads are bet­ter than one, and more heads are bet­ter than two. And it is read­i­ly assumed you have that rec­om­men­da­tion in the ver­dicts of the demo­c­ra­t­ic process. 

Let us look at that just a lit­tle while, a lit­tle while. Very clear­ly, the rec­om­men­da­tion of a deci­sion pro­ce­dure, which is the rec­om­men­da­tion that two heads are bet­ter than one and more heads are bet­ter than two. There’s a rec­om­men­da­tion that depends on there being equal and free expres­sion of the opin­ions or the judg­ments or the desires of the per­sons in the deci­sion pro­ce­dure. Nothing else will do. If of course the deci­sion pro­ce­dure is over­whelm­ing­ly weighed toward the whites or the blacks, or a class or any­thing of the sort, then the upshot can­not have the rec­om­men­da­tion of two heads bet­ter than one, more heads bet­ter than two. Is there an equal­i­ty of par­tic­i­pa­tion in our democ­ra­cies? And I have in mind those of England, France, America, and so on. Is it the case that there is some approx­i­ma­tion to equality. 

There are many short­com­ings of the social sci­ences, but one of the great­est short­com­ings of the social sci­ence of say eco­nom­ics and pol­i­tics is that there is no effec­tive con­sid­er­a­tion of a par­tic­u­lar ques­tion. Take the top decile, the top one-tenth in terms of wealth and income in our three soci­eties, and the bot­tom tenth in terms of wealth and income, and ask your­self what is their rel­a­tive eco­nom­ic pow­er, their pow­er in terms of wealth and income. And what is the polit­i­cal influ­ence and pow­er that flows from the dif­fer­ence between them. 

Now as I say, our econ­o­mists and our polit­i­cal sci­en­tists haven’t to my knowl­edge boiled down to real­ly answer­ing that ques­tion. I for­tu­nate­ly am a philoso­pher, but a philoso­pher I hope of some sense and judg­ment. And it’s clear­ly the case that the dis­par­i­ty in terms of wealth and income between the top tenth and the bot­tom tenth is such that there is a cer­tain upshot with respect to dif­fer­ences in polit­i­cal influ­ence and pow­er. The dif­fer­ences in wealth between the top and the bot­tom are as good as a hun­dred to zero, since the bot­tom tenth or effec­tive­ly a large part of it has zero sig­nif­i­cant wealth. Let me come around to the con­clu­sion rather quick­ly. It seems to me that an ade­quate inquiry by our social sci­en­tists who have not got around to it is like­ly to pro­duce the upshot that top tenth in our soci­eties in terms of social polit­i­cal influ­ence and pow­er has at least a thou­sand times of the influ­ence and pow­er of the bot­tom tenth. Remember that the bot­tom tenth has effec­tive­ly no mon­ey to spend on pol­i­tics, and the top tenth if you look at American fig­ures has amaz­ing amounts. 

Well you might say it is true that there is this strik­ing inequal­i­ty, or some approx­i­ma­tion to it. But still this deci­sion pro­ce­dure has the oth­er rec­om­men­da­tion. You’ll remem­ber I said that effec­tive deci­sion pro­ce­dures have the rec­om­men­da­tion first of equal­i­ty in the form­ing and expres­sion of judg­ments and opin­ions and desires, and sec­ond­ly there is free­dom. There is free­dom about the expres­sion of all that stuff. 

Can there be free­dom when there is not equal­i­ty? Let me be very quick with anoth­er vignette, if you like. Suppose you and I are in seri­ous con­flict about some­thing. Really seri­ous con­flict about some­thing. And we become star­tling­ly more unequal as time pass­es. And we end up in the sit­u­a­tion where I have a gun and you have no gun. And so our equal­i­ty with respect to pow­er and influ­ence is extreme­ly large. What has hap­pened to the free­dom of the per­son who’s on the wrong end of that equal­i­ty? The free­dom has reduced to zero. Equality and free­dom run togeth­er. They run togeth­er. And if there is the star­tling inequal­i­ty in our democ­ra­cy, there is equal­ly the star­tling want of freedom. 

I call our democ­ra­cy hier­ar­chic democ­ra­cy,” which now seems too mild a term. But nonethe­less, what I want to say is that it is not a deci­sion pro­ce­dure to which we can look in arriv­ing at an answer to our fun­da­men­tal ques­tions of right and wrong. There are things to be said for democ­ra­cy, hier­ar­chic democ­ra­cy even, to which I will return in con­nec­tion with the Arab Spring. But to think that one should be guid­ed with respect to the fun­da­men­tal ques­tion of right and wrong, the find­ing of a prin­ci­ple of right and wrong, by our democ­ra­cy, is almost mad. Our democ­ra­cy after all, to take sim­ple instances, elect­ed Hitler. It pro­duced the war on Iraq, the war on Iraq. A sav­age war in which untold num­bers of inno­cent per­sons were inten­tion­al­ly killed. I shall come back to that. 

Let me now say that these aids or rec­om­men­da­tions for our reflec­tions are not of great val­ue to it. And we need to start straight in and attempt to find a prin­ci­ple of right and wrong. And I want to pro­pose one to you. It’s great rec­om­men­da­tion to my mind is I sup­pose that it is true, moral­ly true, but a pri­or rec­om­men­da­tion is that it is not metaphor­i­cal. It is not rhetor­i­cal. Nothing of that sort. There’s no vagary of respect­ing each per­son as not only a means but also as an end, Kant’s great prin­ci­ple of right and wrong. There’s noth­ing of the mere chat­ter, the mere pub­lic rela­tions chat­ter, of the prin­ci­ple of con­ser­vatism in this coun­try as of this day. The big soci­ety, under­stood by no one and of course intend­ed to be under­stood by no one. We need a prin­ci­ple which is effec­tive and clear. Unmetaphorical, unelu­sive. We need some­thing that stands in the way of self-deception. And it’ll be a prin­ci­ple, as it seems to me, that begins with plain ideas of bad lives and good lives. And I shall define for you, or oth­er ges­ture at a def­i­n­i­tion for you, of what it is to have a bad life. 

A bad life is one that is to some extent deprived. You’ll notice I’m not going to slow down to spec­i­fy the extent. A bad life is one that is to some extent deprived in terms of what I take to be the six fun­da­men­tal human goods, the six fun­da­men­tal human desires. People have made lists of these desires, and there is a cer­tain con­gru­ence about most of them. But mine is sim­pler than some, and it says that these fun­da­men­tal human goods, these fun­da­men­tal human desires, are first of all life of a decent length. Life of a decent length. That means no more than ongo­ing con­scious­ness of a decent length. Seventy or eighty years rather than thirty-five, for a start. 

A sec­ond of the great human goods is for bod­i­ly well-being. Not being in pain. Not being blind. 

Third is for free­dom and pow­er. Freedom and pow­er in many set­tings. Now, one of them is going to be with­in a soci­ety or with­in a peo­ple. And I’ve touched on that mat­ter in con­nec­tion with hier­ar­chic democ­ra­cy. But there’s also free­dom and pow­er in less­er set­tings, right down to the per­son­al. Relationships between men and women, say, indi­vid­ual men and women. 

A fur­ther great good or fun­da­men­tal human desire is for respect and self-respect. It seems to me that few things are more impor­tant than it. Few things are more impor­tant than escap­ing the con­de­scen­sion and vile feel­ing of those who regard you as a nig­ger,’ or a Paki,’ or a Jew,’ or what­ev­er. Respect and self-respect in many forms. 

There are the goods of rela­tion­ship. Being a mem­ber of a soci­ety. Being togeth­er with one per­son at the oth­er end of that scale. 

And final­ly there are the goods of cul­ture. Being able to read, if you know the val­ue of being able to read. 

These it seems to me are the great human goods, a spec­i­fi­ca­tion of them. It won’t trou­ble me a lot if you think that my list is in some way inad­e­quate since the one that you pro­vide in place of it can­not diverge great­ly from it. 

We come now to the prin­ci­ple which is based on this con­cep­tion of the great human good,s and more impor­tant­ly on the con­struc­tion of bad lives. Bad lives, as I said to you, are bad lives which are deprived to some extent. That is going to be a mat­ter of deci­sion rather than dis­cov­ery. We’re on about the for­mu­la­tion of a prin­ci­ple of right and wrong. Bad lives our lives that are deprived to some extent, in terms of the six great human goods. And what the prin­ci­ple of human­i­ty says effec­tive­ly is this: that the gov­ern­ing prin­ci­ple of right and wrong is that every­thing should be direct­ed to the get­ting and keep­ing of peo­ple out of bad lives. Everything should be direct­ed to the get­ting and keep­ing of peo­ple out of bad live. 

A slight­ly fuller state­ment of it, indeed a full state­ment oth­er for present pur­pos­es and one that con­tains a detail or two that will be impor­tant to us lat­er is this: The right thing as dis­tinct from oth­ers in any con­text, pri­vate, pub­lic, what­ev­er, the right thing is dis­tinct from oth­ers. The action, or the prac­tice, or the insti­tu­tion, or the gov­ern­ment, or the polit­i­cal action, or the soci­ety, or indeed the pos­si­ble world. The right thing is the one that accord­ing to the best infor­ma­tion and judg­ment at a time, the right thing is the one that accord­ing to the best avail­able infor­ma­tion and judg­ment at a time is ratio­nal one. Is the ratio­nal one. By which I mean the one that is effec­tive with respect to secur­ing an end and does not defeat the secur­ing of that end. The right action is the one which accord­ing to the best infor­ma­tion and judg­ment at a time is the ratio­nal one in the sense of being effec­tive and not self-defeating with respect to the end, as you will antic­i­pate, of get­ting and keep­ing peo­ple out of bad lives. 

Now, I see I’m in dan­ger of not fin­ish­ing in an hour, which I pro­pose to do. So if you think I’ve been mov­ing at some speed up until now, things are going to go a lit­tle bit quicker. 

Let me make some remarks about this prin­ci­ple of human­i­ty, which I am need­less to say going to wield, if that is the verb, in deal­ing with the large ques­tions we have in front of us. The end of the prin­ci­ple of human­i­ty is not equal­i­ty. It is not rela­tion­al. It is get­ting peo­ple out of a cer­tain absolute state, the state of bad lives. Equality has nev­er been a fun­da­men­tal human prin­ci­ple. No one thinks that an qual­i­ty where every­body is in a state of denial of the great goods, an equal­i­ty where every­body is in a state of denial of the great goods would be bet­ter than an unequal dis­tri­b­u­tion where every­body is a lot bet­ter off. The prin­ci­ple is not one of the qual­i­ty. It is one of what comes with equal­i­ty. Something to which equal­i­ty is a means. And it is that con­di­tion of life of not being in a bad life. 

Another remark or two. It’s of course a con­se­quen­tial­ist prin­ci­ple. It says that what is right is what has cer­tain con­se­quences. And in this it seems to me it is the only kind of seri­ous moral argu­ment there is. The only kind of seri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion as to right and wrong. It is not, obvi­ous­ly, the prin­ci­ple that the end jus­ti­fies the means. It is not the prin­ci­ple that the end jus­ti­fies the means. It is a prin­ci­ple to the effect that what jus­ti­fies the means is the end and the means. The ends and the means. The means must be accord­ing to the best avail­able judg­ment and infor­ma­tion, the ratio­nal means, the unself-defeating means, to the end of get­ting more peo­ple out of the state of being in bad lives. 

Let me say final­ly that it is clear­ly true that this prin­ci­ple is one for which a great argu­ment can be pre­sent­ed but it may fall short of proof. I’ve some­times thought there is a proof pos­si­ble for it but I won’t attempt that at this time. Let me mere­ly say that it has I think much to be said for it. And one sec­ondary but tremen­dous rec­om­men­da­tion is that it is rel­a­tive­ly speak­ing clear as a bell. If you con­sid­er oth­er moral prin­ci­ples, they are by com­par­i­son want­i­ng inde­ter­mi­nate­ness. And they thus also allow for the pos­si­bil­i­ty of even peo­ple of rea­son­ably good inten­tions deceiv­ing them­selves, delud­ing them­selves, into what they ought to be doing. It’s a lit­tle hard to delude your­self about what you ought to be doing if the prin­ci­ple you are con­sid­er­ing is get­ting and keep­ing peo­ple out of bad lives, lit­er­al­ly defined. 

There’s no tripe about free­dom gen­er­al­ly in there, as in the case of con­ser­vatism. There’s no tripe as with lib­er­al­ism of some kind of rea­son­able­ness. I should say, since we are now in a peri­od of coali­tion of con­ser­v­a­tive and lib­er­al gov­ern­ment, that lib­er­al­ism ran true in form­ing its coali­tion with the con­ser­v­a­tives rather than with a half left-wing par­ty. And that is because it has always been faint-hearted. It has nev­er had a res­o­lu­tion to go with what it has some­what has, some­what bet­ter impuls­es than the impuls­es of the con­ser­v­a­tive tradition. 

I might say that it runs true, absolute­ly true to its found­ing thinkers and doc­u­ments. You might think lib­er­al­ism, at least in the English tra­di­tion, is owed most impor­tant­ly to John Stuart Mill’s essay on lib­er­ty. And that essay on lib­er­ty said at its cen­ter that every­body is to be left at lib­er­ty with­in a soci­ety, at lib­er­ty with­in a soci­ety to do any­thing they want so long as they did not harm any oth­er indi­vid­ual. And it’s won­der­ful­ly and absurd­ly true that Mill offered no effec­tive def­i­n­i­tion of what it is for A to harm B. He did­n’t for exam­ple say, as you might have thought, that what it is for A to harm B is for A to do some­thing which offends against the prin­ci­ple of util­i­ty, the prin­ci­ple of util­i­ty. He did­n’t say any­thing. Liberalism, like con­ser­vatism, has no clear and deter­mi­nate prin­ci­ple. A sec­ondary thing to be said for the prin­ci­ple of human­i­ty is that it has this strength.

Let me just say one thing about util­i­tar­i­an­ism while I am near the sub­ject. I said the prin­ci­ple of human­i­ty has supe­ri­or­i­ty over all oth­er prin­ci­ples of right and wrong. And you’ll remem­ber the prin­ci­ple of util­i­ty is this one: That we ought always to choose the action or have the pol­i­cy or have the soci­ety which pro­duces a greater total of sat­is­fac­tion, a greater total of sat­is­fac­tion, over any oth­er alter­na­tive. It’s been obvi­ous from the begin­ning that the pol­i­cy that pro­duces the great­est total of sat­is­fac­tion, may be a pol­i­cy which rests on the vic­tim­iza­tion of a minor­i­ty. It may turn out that you have a choice of soci­eties which is such that the soci­ety with the great­est total of sat­is­fac­tion has with­in in a slave class. That objec­tion to util­i­tar­i­an­ism has nev­er been ade­quate­ly met. 

But let me men­tion anoth­er one. What is this hap­pi­ness, or sat­is­fac­tion, or well-being? What is that gener­ic stuff which we are to guide our­selves by, as dis­tinct from the great human goods, those clear­er things, like a decent length of life? Well of course, no one has ever said very much about what hap­pi­ness or sat­is­fac­tion or what­not is, and we now have util­i­tar­i­an­ism tak­en fur­ther into the future with the help of the London School of Economics, where a chap whose name for­tu­nate­ly I’ve for­got­ten had said util­i­tar­i­an­ism comes to this: we ought to attempt to make peo­ple hap­pi­er. And we can do this amongst oth­er things not by chang­ing the world, not by giv­ing them longer lives, or food, or relief from pain, even, but by chang­ing their atti­tude to their cir­cum­stances by way of neu­ro­science and indeed by way of Freud, it seems. Well, that is to me a grotesque and sil­ly pol­i­cy. But I men­tion it to you know not to dis­dain it but to dis­dain util­i­tar­i­an­ism, which is suf­fi­cient­ly vague as to allow for this sort of nonsense. 

Enough of that. What we have so far is that we have great ques­tions in front of us. One of them about Palestine. We have a divi­sion of intel­lec­tu­al labor, or so I hope, where ana­lyt­ic phi­los­o­phy can play a part. And it can play a part per­haps with­out the aid, and must play a part with­out the aid of var­i­ous things that are rec­om­mend­ed to us like say a prin­ci­ple of democ­ra­cy. It can advance, accord­ing to me, by way of the prin­ci­ple of human­i­ty. And that prin­ci­ple is the one that you now have in front of you. 

I come toward our ques­tions, our batch of large ques­tions, our large prob­lems. Let me begin by defin­ing ter­ror­ism. And maybe it will be sim­plest to define it first in a way that is now prin­ci­pal­ly accept­ed in our dis­course, includ­ing our dis­course of intel­li­gence. Terrorism is the killing of inno­cents, or is cen­tral­ly the inten­tion­al killing of inno­cents. If you take part in dis­cus­sion or reflec­tion on the Middle East and in par­tic­u­lar on Palestine, you will find this refrain offered by Neo-Zionism non-stop. We, the Israeli state, we are the Democrats and the Palestinians are the ter­ror­ists. And what are the ter­ror­ists? They are the killers of inno­cent people. 

Consider now for a moment any war. Consider the Iraq War. It’s the case that this def­i­n­i­tion of ter­ror­ism has the inten­tion of putting it out of court by putting it into a favor­able com­par­i­son or con­trast with war. It’s worse than war because ter­ror­ism is the inten­tion­al killing of inno­cent peo­ple. Let us stop just for a moment and ask what inten­tion­al killing is. And let me depend again very quick­ly on a vignette, a snap­py lit­tle exam­ple. It’s from the English press, it hap­pens every once in a while. 

A man’s wife leaves him and he can’t han­dle it. And he goes to the house she’s in, and he’s got petrol and a rag to put through the let­ter­box. And as he gets around there he sees the clean­ing woman go in. He knows his wife’s in there and he sees the clean­ing woman go in. But, in his vile rage he goes ahead, and two peo­ple are dead. two peo­ple are dead. And he ends up in court and he says in effect to the judge, I did­n’t intend to kill a clean­ing woman. That is very unfor­tu­nate. I intend­ed only to kill my wife, my ter­ri­ble wife.” 

And the judge in any decent legal sys­tem says, You’re accused of two mur­ders, right­ly, because you did some­thing of which you could know that the rea­son­ably pre­dictable upshot was two deaths, not one. You are charged with two murders.” 

And of course the fam­i­ly of the clean­ing woman, when he sends them a note of con­do­lence and says, I’m sor­ry about that but I did­n’t intend to kill your moth­er,” they dis­dain and loath him and say, right­ly, in ordi­nary English, Fuck you.” 

Now, by that vignette we have a sense of what inten­tion­al killing is. It’s killing with rea­son­able fore­sight. The Iraq War in par­tic­u­lar is a war which involved the inten­tion­al killing of untold num­bers of peo­ple, the untold num­bers of peo­ple. It is absurd to take up a def­i­n­i­tion of ter­ror­ism which attempts a con­trast between ter­ror­ism as the inten­tion­al killing of the inno­cent and war as only at worst the unin­ten­tion­al killing of the innocent. 

Let me then define ter­ror­ism in a way which allows for more effec­tive reflec­tion. And it’s a sim­ple def­i­n­i­tion which inci­den­tal­ly is shared by such nota­bles as Noam Chomsky and indeed the American Army, as he points out. And what it is real­ly, I think I add one thing to it: Terrorism is killing and oth­er vio­lence. Secondly, it is smaller-scale than war. Thirdly, it has a polit­i­cal and social aim; maybe the aim of real­iz­ing the hope of a peo­ple. Fourthly, is against nation­al or inter­na­tion­al law. And fifth­ly, it is pri­ma facie wrong, since it is of course killing and destruction. 

So, ter­ror­ism: killing and oth­er vio­lence; small­er scale than war; polit­i­cal and social aim; against nation­al or inter­na­tion­al law; pri­ma facie wrong. And that’s it. Well obvi­ous­ly ter­ror­ism by that def­i­n­i­tion must amongst oth­er things include state ter­ror­ism. There’s no restric­tion on who does it. State ter­ror­ism is part of ter­ror­ism as defined. 

As for anoth­er con­sid­er­a­tion, it will be clear that there is some­thing relat­ed to ter­ror­ism, which is ter­ror­ist war. And that is the same as ter­ror­ism, except with respect to the sec­ond clause. Terrorism, the def­i­n­i­tion of it in its sec­ond clause, was smaller-scale than war. All that stands between ter­ror­ist war and ter­ror­ism is the scale of the activities. 

You’ll notice I speak of ter­ror­ism rather than self-defense, or lib­er­a­tion strug­gle, or any­thing of that sort. It’s not that I think that those terms are out of place. It’s not that I think those terms are out of place. What I hope to do rather by tak­ing up the use of the term ter­ror­ism” that I do, tak­ing up the term ter­ror­ism, is to avoid the charge that I am mak­ing things easy for myself with respect to the ques­tions that we’re look­ing at. 

Now, let us come on to those large ques­tions. And with the prepa­ra­tion we have, the prepa­ra­tion I hope that will rec­om­mend itself to if you like a con­cen­tra­tion on ordi­nary log­ic, let us con­sid­er these large questions. 

But let me say one last thing, which is to me a lit­tle dis­con­cert­ing. But to avoid the dis­con­cert­ing with respect to seri­ous inquire into right and wrong is to fall into bed with our inane politi­cians. Those lads who spent some time in PPE, which course of action or rather which course of study phi­los­o­phy, pol­i­tics, and eco­nom­ics in the University of Oxford has had no dis­cernible effect on either their intel­li­gence or their moral intel­li­gence. There are dif­fi­cul­ties about reflec­tion on right and wrong. One I’ve already touched on. It’s hard to prove the prin­ci­ple of human­i­ty that I’ve giv­en to you. But there’s anoth­er one that I want to men­tion now which is equal­ly… Well I would­n’t say unset­tling. But it’s the truth to be recognized. 

If the door opens and some­body’s got in here and he looks pret­ty sane, but he says, Excuse me a moment. Just stop the cam­era and I’ll give you a lit­tle infor­ma­tion. The prin­ci­ple of human­i­ty has a con­sid­er­able short­com­ing. It’s not as good as my principle.”

And I say, Well let’s have a upshot of your prin­ci­ple quick­ly. I don’t want the full for­mu­la­tion because we’ve got to get on with our busi­ness here, but give me an upshot or two of your principle.”

He says, Well I’ll give you the most excit­ing one. And it is that in cer­tain cir­cum­stances, it jus­ti­fies the tor­ture of a child by a man for the pur­pos­es of his sex­u­al excitement.” 

And we get him out of the house fast. But, the inter­est­ing point is a log­i­cal one. It’s the case that the direc­tion of argu­ment is not always from a gen­er­al prin­ci­ple which we all use to a par­tic­u­lar con­clu­sion. It’s the case that some­times the direc­tion of the argu­ment is the oth­er way, from a par­tic­u­lar propo­si­tion to a gen­er­al con­clu­sion. And we know that this char­ac­ter’s prin­ci­ple, which we don’t have to wait to hear about, is refut­ed by the fact that it has that one par­tic­u­lar upshot. That is true I think of the prin­ci­ple of human­i­ty. I’m com­fort­able with its upshots myself, but I don’t sup­pose that it’s an easy mat­ter to draw those con­clu­sions, or that the direc­tion of argu­ment is all one way. 

One oth­er thing in antic­i­pa­tion. It seems to me that right and wrong, moral­i­ty, is eas­i­er than the fac­tu­al world, is eas­i­er than fac­tu­al inquiry. I haven’t got any doubt about the prin­ci­ple of human­i­ty. None at all. I’ve got a lot of doubt about what fol­lows from it. Because judg­ments of fact, judg­ments of prob­a­bil­i­ty as to upshots of actions, are hard­er than form­ing an effec­tive prin­ci­ple of right and wrong. And the cen­tral case, to get the sto­ry into view very quick­ly, is that judg­ments as to the prob­a­ble suc­cess, the prob­a­ble effect of ter­ror­ism, are hard­er than estab­lish­ing the prin­ci­ple of right and wrong. 

Let me nonethe­less go on and say things about our eight at least large ques­tions. The first of those I said was Palestine. And the first of sev­er­al ques­tions there, three to be exact, is Zionism, which was defined for you as the project, the project of estab­lish­ing Israel with­in its 19481967 bor­ders, and the per­pet­u­al nec­es­sary defense, the per­pet­u­al nec­es­sary defense, of Israel with­in those bor­ders. It seems to me that that project was jus­ti­fied and right on the basis of argu­ment from the prin­ci­ple of human­i­ty by way of sev­er­al fac­tu­al premis­es. Zionism was right then, and remains right now. 

The sec­ondary premis­es, which you may antic­i­pate, are first of all the Holocaust. First of all the Holocaust. It was the case that some com­pen­sa­tion was owed to the Jewish peo­ple as a result of the Holocaust. The cor­rect com­pen­sa­tion would have been the carv­ing of a state of Israel out of Germany, indu­bitably so. It was­n’t then, so to speak, a pos­si­bil­i­ty with­in what I laid some stress on: pos­si­ble infor­ma­tion and judg­ment at the end of the Second World War. It was­n’t then a pos­si­bil­i­ty, a real­is­tic possibility. 

Another con­sid­er­a­tion, more impor­tant with respect to Zionism, is that what­ev­er you think of the foun­da­tion of the Jewish state in 1948. It’s now the case that the Jewish peo­ple have their lives deep in too much of Palestine. However it began, it’s the case that the prin­ci­ple of human­i­ty will respect that engage­ment with that place. I’ll come back to this jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of Zionism a lit­tle lat­er on. 

But I turn now to some­thing else which is Neo-Zionism. And that as I said in the begin­ning is the tak­ing from the Palestinians, the indige­nous peo­ple of Palestine, the last one-fifth of their home­land. That is Neo-Zionism. And effec­tive­ly, there is noth­ing more vile than Neo-Zionism. I use that term part­ly because that is the per­cep­tion of the world. And late­ly, as indeed of this day, the repeat­ed per­cep­tion of the President of the United States. It’s an incred­i­ble idea that you have a dif­fi­cult case in Palestine. That there’s right and wrong on both sides between the Palestinians and the Neo-Zionists. Nothing like that. Nothing like that at all. 

And to come now third­ly to the third mat­ter in con­nec­tion with Palestine. That is Palestinian ter­ror­ism. And it seems to me not mere­ly arguable but open to being estab­lished that Palestinian ter­ror­ism, with­in his­toric Palestine, Palestinian ter­ror­ism with­in his­toric Palestinian, which obvi­ous­ly includes Israel, is right and jus­ti­fied. And more than that, the Palestinians have a moral right, a moral right, to their ter­ror­ism against Neo-Zionism with­in his­toric Palestine. 

My defense of Zionism, as you may know, has got­ten into me into trou­ble with Palestinians, some of whom have man­aged to stop a lec­ture or two. And it’s got me into a lot of trou­ble of course with Neo-Zionists. But, it’s the case that it seems to me that both of these things are obvi­ous­ly true, all three of these things are true. Zionism has a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion; Neo-Zionists is vile; Palestinian ter­ror­ism under the cir­cum­stances described is their moral right. 

Let me say just one or two things about a moral right. What is it to have a moral right? Well we can answer that ques­tion, I think this is not all that unusu­al, by reflec­tion on a legal right. What is it to have a legal right? To have a legal right to the get­ting or the keep­ing of some­thing is to have the sup­port of the state, to have the sup­port of pos­i­tive law, in the get­ting or the keep­ing of things. What is it to have a moral right to some­thing? It is to have the sup­port, in brief words, of the moral law, of moral decen­cy, of in my view the prin­ci­ple of human­i­ty. That is a part of the argu­ment for the moral right of the Palestinians to their terrorism. 

But let me say one fur­ther thing on and then to press on quick­ly. Virtually every­body, every­body that it is pos­si­ble to dis­cuss these mat­ters with…I put aside many Neo-Zionists but I am quite hap­py to do that. Virtually any­body out­side that Netanyahu cir­cle thinks the Palestinians have a moral right, how­ev­er they express it, to a viable state. That came even to the view of George Bush, not quick learn­er or a thinker of great depth. So, vir­tu­al­ly all of us think the Palestinians have a moral right to a viable state, a moral right to their econ­o­my in the last one-fifth of their his­toric homeland. 

Can you accord to some­one a moral right to Y, if you don’t accord­ing to them a moral right to X, where X is the only means of get­ting Y? And I put it to you rather quick­ly that you can’t. You can’t. To assign a moral right to some­body with respect to Y is, to speak quick­ly, to give your con­fir­ma­tion of sup­port for their get­ting Y. If it’s the case that the only means is X and you do not give your con­fir­ma­tion and sup­port to the means Y, you can­not in con­sis­ten­cy main­tain that you give your sup­port to their moral right to the end. 

I see that we’re run­ning a lit­tle late so I’m going to move with some speed through our remain­ing large questions. 

I turn to 9‍/‍11. And let me say that it had as part of its end, a sig­nal part of its end, oppo­si­tion to Neo-Zionism. And thus it had as a part of its ends an oppo­si­tion, whol­ly justified. 

I would also like to say, as a decent philoso­pher should, a philoso­pher capa­ble of escap­ing if you like the con­straints of con­ven­tion which drag down and weak­en almost all of the reflec­tion on these mat­ters in the world, that 9‍/‍11 was owed to a man as hon­or­able in his dif­fer­ent rage. 9‍/‍11 was owed to a man as hon­or­able in his dif­fer­ent rage, his rage for exam­ple against Neo-Zionism. Owed to a man as hon­or­able in his dif­fer­ent rage as some of his oppo­nents. He’s dead now. But it’s impor­tant to think in sev­er­al ways about him. 

I think with respect to 9‍/‍11 also that he was wrong. He was wrong. That 9‍/‍11 was wrong, indu­bitably wrong. And it was wrong for a clear rea­son which can be sup­plied from the think­ing we’ve engaged in. What is right or wrong is what accord­ing to the best infor­ma­tion and judg­ment at a cer­tain time is a ratio­nal means, that is an effec­tive and not self-defeating means, to the end of get­ting and keep­ing peo­ple out of bad lives. It was, I put it to you, ratio­nal­ly antic­i­pat­able that 9‍/‍11 would issue in American revenge. It would issue in some­thing like Iraq. The tak­ing of hun­dreds of thou­sands of inno­cent lives. It was thus an offense. An offense against right­ness. An offense against decen­cy. It was as vicious as a thing can be to car­ry for­ward 9‍/‍11 despite the fact that a man could have hon­or­able impuls­es in doing so, have an hon­or­able rage. 

The war on Iraq…well, was just a ter­ror­ist war. The pre­tense that it was legal was no more than a pre­tense. The pre­tense that it was being done by a democ­ra­cy was a cha­rade. It was done by a hier­ar­chic democ­ra­cy in the case of England. The war in Iraq was a ter­ror­ist war, but that is not a mat­ter of the great­est impor­tance. It’s not a mat­ter of the great­est impor­tance that some­thing is war, or ter­ror­ism, by the def­i­n­i­tions I have giv­en you. Or a mat­ter of the great­est impor­tance that a war is ter­ror­ist or not terrorist. 

What is the case is that the war on Iraq was an offense against human­i­ty. It was an inhu­man­i­ty. It was a vile­ness [indis­tinct] an inde­cen­cy of that kind. We have a trade in the ideas of moral mon­sters at the moment. And there are moral monsters…there’s one of them in Libya: Gaddafi. He’s said to be a moral mon­ster. I put it to you that by the lights of the prin­ci­ple of human­i­ty, Blair has a greater claim on the name of moral mon­ster than Colonel Gaddafi. People are to be judged by their con­se­quences. People are to be judged…what they can antic­i­pate ratio­nal­ly. The war on Iraq is enough to make a man a moral mon­ster far in excess of Colonel Gaddafi. 

I said at the begin­ning that one prob­lem in dis­cussing these mat­ters is the use of words, the use of lan­guage, the use of emo­tion, or the expres­sion of emo­tion. Parliamentary lan­guage, aca­d­e­m­ic prose, restraint. I don’t know how to deal with that in gen­er­al. But I do think that avoid­ing judg­ments such as the one just made on Blair must be a fail­ing. The answer to the ques­tion of how to con­duct one­self in terms of the prin­ci­ple of human­i­ty will be the ques­tion of whether it is ratio­nal to express one­self in cer­tain ways. I think it must some­times be ratio­nal give the full expres­sion to judg­ments which fol­low from the prin­ci­ple of humanity. 

7/7 and relat­ed ter­ror­ism, that is ter­ror­ism out­side of Palestine, I haven’t got a gen­er­al view about that ter­ror­ism. But I cer­tain­ly hold the view that 7/7 was a mis­take. Because it was going to issue in so to speak more bad lives. By a con­sid­er­a­tion begin­ning from the prin­ci­ple of human­i­ty and tak­ing into account the fac­tu­al premis­es which are more dif­fi­cult, it is the case that 7/7 was­n’t a good idea, to say the least. It was wrong. I note in pass­ing that the effec­tive ene­mies of such ter­ror­ism are the likes of me, not the likes of Blair. I am against both this ter­ror­ism and the caus­es of this terrorism. 

When New Labor came to pow­er, it’s said with respect to crime, it was against crime and the caus­es of crime. Soon as 9‍/‍11 hap­pened, that refrain was giv­en up, it was nev­er heard of again. And it was nev­er heard of again because some­body might say what about the oppo­si­tion to ter­ror­ism and the oppo­si­tion to the caus­es of ter­ror­ism. But I stray a lit­tle bit. 

Let me come around quick­ly to Gaza. Gaza was anoth­er mon­strous attack on human­i­ty. It’s the case that it is a stu­pid lie to say that it was a case of defend­ing the lives of Israeli cit­i­zens. The best means and the obvi­ous means of defend­ing the lives of Israeli cit­i­zens, if you offer the pre­tense that is what you are gov­erned by in what you do, is to aban­don Neo-Zionism and give to the Palestinians what is their moral right, a state. Anyone who thinks That the ques­tion of Palestine is com­plex or dif­fi­cult, and that there’s right on both sides, they ought for exam­ple to read a decent book. One that comes to mind as Michael Neumann, The Case Against Israel, one of many hon­or­able Jews per­fect­ly capa­ble of see­ing the vicious­ness of Neo-Zionism and what must be done against it.

Afghanistan, I thought myself that it was an unavoid­able response, an unavoid­able response on the part of Americans to 9‍/‍11. Ought implies can. Ought implies the pos­si­bil­i­ty of being able to do oth­er­wise. I’m inclined to think the Americans had no choice but to respond in some such way. to 9‍/‍11. I equal­ly think that the con­tin­u­a­tion of the war is of course stu­pid and moral­ly stupid. 

Finally, the Arab Spring. The Arab Spring, that good news. It’s a thing to wel­come, but a thing not to be thought about sim­ply. We live in a soci­ety whose con­ven­tions drag down thought and dis­cus­sion in every way. I want to revert for a moment to the prin­ci­ple of human­i­ty. Which says that there are six great human goods, six fun­da­men­tal human desires. And they were for going on liv­ing, going on being con­scious. Secondly not being in pain and bod­i­ly ill-being; not being blind and so on. Thirdly, free­dom and pow­er. Fourthly respect and self-respect. Fifthly the goods of rela­tion­ship. And sixth­ly the goods of culture. 

The Arab Spring until now has been direct­ed to a form of one of those goods. A form of one of those goods. The third one, free­dom and pow­er with­in a soci­ety or a nation. Nothing is said of the oth­er five. No doubt it is eas­i­ly and of course false­ly assumed that real­iza­tion of the oth­er of the great human goods will fol­low on achiev­ing free­dom and pow­er in the form of hier­ar­chic democ­ra­cy. I take it that is the aim. One nev­er hears what they’re in favor of, except it’s free­dom and democ­ra­cy. And I take it since they have the sup­port of Mr. Cameron and Mr. Clegg and the rest of that crew, it is hier­ar­chic democ­ra­cy that we’re talk­ing about. Well, that can restrain one a lit­tle bit. But nonethe­less, I take it the prin­ci­ple of human­i­ty must inevitably give us sup­port for the Arab Spring. 

And final­ly to come round to us, what are we to do? Should we think of an English Summer to fol­low an Arab spring? Should we think of an English Summer some year? And I am one who very much is in hope of that. The prin­ci­ple of human­i­ty gives you the upshot that you should speak, and think, and argue, and escape con­ven­tion, and engage in civ­il dis­obe­di­ence, and rise up when there’s any hope of doing so in order to pass beyond hier­ar­chic democ­ra­cy to a democ­ra­cy that will have some chance of real­iz­ing the end of the prin­ci­ple of human­i­ty. It’s for all ratio­nal means to the end. The ratio­nal means must include mass civ­il disobedience. 

An English Summer of mass civ­il dis­obe­di­ence. I’m for it, and you think of course I’m a lit­tle unre­al. But then, peo­ple were all unre­al who thought that the Eastern oli­garchies and what­not were sol­id and secure. The future’s pos­si­ble. It’s more open than we think. I think myself of a cam­paign of mass civ­il dis­obe­di­ence which has in it a colonel of the British Army, and he’s a colonel who fol­lows in the foot­steps of a man of whom you may have a mem­o­ry. And he is Colonel Rainsborough, who said the great­est thing in the his­to­ry of English polit­i­cal think­ing, and that is, For real­ly I think the poor­est he hath a life to live as the great­est he.” 

Well, I think we need an English colonel to suc­ceed him. And he should engage in mass dis­obe­di­ence, or pro­mote or stim­u­late some mass civ­il dis­obe­di­ence. And he should do so not by lead­ing a rev­o­lu­tion or by armed action, by shoot­ing at peo­ple, but by ges­ture. Gesture is the begin­ning of effec­tive civ­il dis­obe­di­ence, as in the case of all the suc­cess­ful dis­obe­di­ence we know. Well, he should take his tank to Parliament Square. No doubt he’s in a bar­racks in Pimlico some­where around there, and he should take his tank to Parliament Square and park there for a while. Until the tele­vi­sion gets there. It would turn out of course that there weren’t any shells in the tank and he did­n’t intend to start action, vio­lent action, of any kind. And he would dri­ve his tank back to the bar­racks in Pimlico and take his penal­ty for his civ­il and oth­er disobedience. 

We need some­thing like that, as it seems to me. I can’t see that there’s much oth­er chance for the achieve­ment of the end of the prin­ci­ple of human­i­ty, any oth­er chance of some­thing like an English Summer. 

Thank you for lis­ten­ing. I always feel that I don’t do very well on these occa­sions. But I did bet­ter writ­ing a cou­ple of books. Let me escape con­ven­tion in anoth­er way by men­tion­ing them to you. Anyway, their titles. Depends whether you’re in America or here in these parts. And it’s a book called, I’m sure, Humanity, Terrorism, Terrorist War Palestine, 9‍/‍11, Iraq, 7÷7. Or, if you’re in America, Right and Wrong, and Palestine: 9‍/‍11, Iraq, 7÷7 Thank you for listening.


Help Support Open Transcripts

If you found this useful or interesting, please consider supporting the project monthly at Patreon or once via Cash App, or even just sharing the link. Thanks.