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.

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