26 December 2009

Moral Justification of Immoral Acts

The cognitive reconstruction of the evil/immoral act is the most effective kind of moral disengagement (Bandura 1999). This is due to the fact that by legitimizing the act one not only makes an unacceptable act acceptable, one also goes a step further and turns the previous immoral and self-condemning acts into a source of positive self-evaluation. The term ‘moral justification’ means a cognitive reconstruction of the act, so that it is interpreted as serving a purpose that is in accord with socially and morally acceptable norms. Utilitarian thinking often plays a role in the moral justification: one acts contrary to moral standards, but one does it for a greater good. An illustration of moral justification is a police officer who justifies torturing an alleged terrorist, adducing that the ultimate goal of the immoral act is to obtain information in order to prevent potential terrorist attacks. Other strategies of justification rest upon highlighting the comparative advantages of the immoral acts in relation to the consequences of actions carried out by others, which are categorized as more harmful. For instance, a passive bystander may argue that his lack of intervention is much less harmful than the immoral act itself.

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