Annie has asked, in a comment made to Hate Speech and the Presumption of Innocence:
Would you please clarify . . . how and whether you make a distinction between condemning an act from condemning a person? If you don't make a distinction, would you elaborate as to why you don't? Thanks-
I think that condemning an action is as absurd as condemning a refrigerator or a chair. It only makes sense to praise or condemn a person. We may premise our praise or condemnation on the fact that the person performed or failed to perform a particular act. However, it is the person that we praise or condemn, not the act.
When I write about the tools of morality, I typically write about praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment. The absurdity of praising or condemning an action is easily illustrated by the absurdity of rewarding or punishing an action.
It is not even conceivable that we might invite an action to the front of a room or before a gathering of its peers so that we may provide it with a medal or a plaque of recognition.
Similarly, when it comes to punishment, it is absurd to fine an action, or to imprison an action, or to execute an action for its crimes.
We reward and we punish people.
We assign rewards and punishments based on actions. However, the reward and the punishment is directed at the action. It is directed at the person based on "the fact that you have demonstrated that you are the type of person who would perform such an act."
Clearly, a strong piece of evidence that a person to demonstrate that he is the type of person who would perform a particular action is for him to perform the action. We take the act as a reliable indicator of the quality of the person who performed it. However, it is still the person that we praise, condemn, reward, or punish – not the action.
Then we have the question of how we determine whether a given act provides evidence that the agent is somebody we have reason to praise, condemn, reward, or punish.
Acts that show that a person has desires that tend to fulfill other desires are acts that show that the person is somebody we have reason to praise or reward. Our reason comes from the desires fulfilled by desires that tend to fulfill other desires.
Acts that show that a person has desires that tend to thwart other desires are acts that show that the person is somebody we have reason to praise or reward. Our reason comes from the desires thwarted by desires that tend to fulfill other desires.
However, we do not praise or condemn desires either. We face the same problem – how do you praise or condemn a desire? Even here, we praise or condemn people – based on what that person’s actions (or non-actions) tell us about his or her desires.
(Technically, I hold that a person is a bundle of desires. Consequently, praising or condemning a person is the same as praising or condemning a bundle of desires. However, this track would take us deep into the philosophy of personal identity, where we do not have room to travel at the moment. As Eneasz says, you cannot disentangle a person from his desires.)
This slogan that one should "hate the sin but love the sinner" is nonsense rhetoric that certain groups of people adopt in order to deflect the charge of hate-mongering. In fact, only persons can be condemned or punished – never actions. Only sinners can be condemned, never sins. People who lie to themselves (by claiming they condemn actions and not persons) do so in order to blind themselves to the evil that they do. However, people who refuse to see the evil that they do still do evil. The wrongness of their actions does not depend on their willingness to see them as wrong.