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Just WordsLillian Hellman, Mary McCarthy, and the Failure of Public Conversation in America$
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Alan Ackerman

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780300167122

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: October 2013

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300167122.001.0001

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Choice Words and Political Dramas

Choice Words and Political Dramas

(p.184) IV Choice Words and Political Dramas
Just Words

Alan Ackerman

Yale University Press

This chapter discusses models of moral language that shaped political disputes during the Cold War. Philosophers have long debated the permissibility of various kinds of lies. The chapter reveals that the most serious complaint against lying, voiced by Kant, is that it violates the rights of the person to whom it is addressed and subverts the principle of respect for persons. Kant says all lies are immoral and insists on a categorical duty to be truthful. The chapter argues that the publicity of the Hellman–McCarthy case was not incidental to, but emblematic of, debates about moral language and their ramifications for civic community. It meant that justification on both sides had to extend beyond citing one's own conscience. Both parties asserted that the other's dishonesty had done real harm to the country.

Keywords:   moral language, permissibility, civic community, dishonesty, publicity

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