Disaster and Debate

In: Journal of Moral Philosophy
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Faced with a national tragedy, citizens respond in different ways. Some will initiate debate about the possible connections between this tragedy and broader moral and political issues. But others often complain that this is too early, that it is inappropriate to debate such larger issues while ‘the bodies are still warm.’ This paper critically examines the grounds for such a complaint. We consider different interpretations of the complaint—cynical, epistemic, and ethical—and argue that it can be resisted on all of these readings. Debate shortly after a national disaster is therefore permissible. We then set out a political argument in favor of early debate based on the value of broad political participation in liberal democracies and sketch a stronger argument, based on the duty to support just institutions, that would support a political duty to engage in debate shortly after tragedies have occurred.

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