Brave homophobia.

Is it possible?

Piers Morgan thought so, to the apparent shock of Mary Williams in what would otherwise be a non-article were it not for the issue it raises.

The problem is millenia old. It certainly bugged both Plato and Aristotle, who at times seem to endorse a theory of the unity of the virtues, which is normally interpreted to mean that you can’t have one virtue without having them all.

That might sound hugely counterintuitive. There is definitely a tendency for us to think that regardless of what else you can say about people that hold contemptible opinions, so long as they stand by their views and fight for them, they show bravery in doing so. We will not, of course, attribute many other virtues to them, but many might feel perfectly happy in conceding this positive characteristic.

Another example might make you think instead, however, that each and every virtue to be truly a virtue must be ‘about the right thing’. And so bravery isn’t really bravery unless it’s in the name of a worthy cause. The best thought experiment to support such a conclusion is considering the virtues of benevolence and justice. Now, it seems that the more you do for the needy in getting food to them, the more benevolent you are. But then it also seems that justice requires one to respect property rights. So what about the case in which one plays Robin Hood, stealing someone’s possessions for the sake of feeding the poor? Are we happy to say that this person is benevolent, if not just? And if so, doesn’t that mean there’s a sense in which the person who refuses to play Robin Hood fails to practise the virtue of benevolence, and opts for justice instead? And is that satisfactory?

It’s thoughts like this which suggest each virtue has a domain, both in the sense of a proper target and restrictions on its pursuit. And so insofar as bravery is utilised in the name of a bigoted movement, we need concede nothing to such a person. There’s no virtue there because this isn’t real bravery at all.


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