The "Might Makes Right" Fallacy: On a Tacit Justification for Violence
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"Might makes right," so the saying goes. What does this mean? What does it mean to say that humans live by this saying? How can this saying that is considered by almost all as an expression of injustice play a justificatory role practically universally and ubiquitously? How can it be repulsive and yet, nonetheless, attractive as an explanation of the ways of the world? Why its long history? I offer a non-cynical explanation, one based on a re-interpretation of the saying and of both recognized and unrecognized related phenomena. This re-interpretation relies on the notion of a tacit justification for violence. This non-cynical, re-interpretive explanation exposes the ambiguity of the saying and the consequential unwitting, self-deceptive, fallacious equivocations that the ambiguity makes possible under common conditions. While this explanation, furthermore, focuses on thinking factors--specifically on fallacious thinking, on humans' unwittingly and self-deceptively committing the fallacy of equivocation--it does not deny the possible role of non-thinking factors; it only tries to show that the thinking factors are significantly explanatory. What is the ambiguity? "Might makes right" expresses two principles. The first principle is the common meaning, namely, that the dominance of the mightier over the weaker is right. This principle is generally considered to be not a definition of justice but an expression of injustice. The second principle, which is almost universally shared in a tacit and unreflective way, is a principle of life, namely, that it is right for any living being to actualize its potential. This second principle is originary and thus primary, while the first principle is derivative and thus secondary. The use of all powers, natural or social, can be ultimately derived legitimately or illegitimately from this primary principle. A common manifestation of "might makes right" is the unwitting abuse of power, an abuse that is not recognized as such by the so-called abuser, but that is rather suffered by this latter, who misapplies the second principle in situations that fall under the first principle, thereby unwittingly living by the saying, tacitly justifying abusive ways by it. This unwittingness calls for critical control and forgiveness.