Paper delivered at the Moral Evil in Practical Ethics Conference, Oxford 2012.
A striking feature in historical instances of collective evildoing is the role played by narratives assuring the perpetrators that they are entitled to harming their victims. Pursuing what according to outsiders and conventional morality is to be condemned as blatantly wrong, is perceived by the perpetrators as the exact opposite: taking what is rightly theirs, giving the victims what they deserve. As a result, instead of regret there is pride, instead of feelings of guilt there is self-righteousness. Is this simply a reminder of the impact of ideology on perpetrators - recalling that the latter are also the creators of the former? Or do we need to move beyond the workings of ideology to appreciate what is going on here? More bluntly, the question may be put as follows: Are agents who report that they are morally right in doing what non-members of their group regard as utterly wrong, sincere or in bad faith? A deeper philosophical issue is buried here: To what extent is morality - crudely, the way to make the distinction between right and wrong - a group construction relative to the interests of its combined authors and addressees? Is morality epistemically self-sufficient, closing in on itself, as it were, without having to take recourse to a reality outside itself? Concentrating on the notion of entitlement as crucial to this issue, the paper will answer the latter question in the negative, and in doing so will argue the case for moral realism.