Moral equivalence

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Moral equivalence is the claim that two radically different ethical actors are really doing the same thing and that they should be judged and treated the same way. For example, if two schoolchildren are scuffling and hitting each other in the playground, a judgment of "moral equivalence" by the teacher may result in separating the two and (perhaps) punishing them both equally (for "fighting").

The problem with moral equivalence as an ethical doctrine is that it completely sidesteps the crucial issue of right and wrong; see good and evil. If one of the children in our example was a notorious school bully, and the other child was fighting back in self-defense, then it would clearly be wrong to punish them both equally.

If we believe that evil is defined by taking advantage of another person for one's own benefit, then an aggressive move (like a schoolyard bully beating up a little kid) is an evil action. It is clearly wrong.

Moral equivalence is ideologically similar to Einstein's Equivalence principle.

Liberals frequently use moral equivalence to attack conservative values while having nothing to say about the damage that liberal values have done to society.[1] For example, liberals have used moral equivalence to attack Christianity (such as by bringing up the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition) when the real damage done by Islam over the centuries and into the present is pointed out by critics of Islam, as an attempt by liberals to minimize, excuse and ignore what Islam has done.[2] Likewise, liberals have attacked capitalism and free enterprise (both of which create prosperous societies, which liberals have benefited from but conveniently ignore for the sake of their narratives) using moral equivalence when the damage done by the unworkable systems of socialism and Communism (the latter of which has been responsible for the deaths of more than 100 million people to date) is brought up by critics, also an attempt by liberals to justify and defend socialism and Communism.


The phrase "moral equivalence" originates with William James and his 1906 speech "The Moral Equivalent of War".[3]


  1. Moral equivalence revived at the Washington Times
  2. "Christianity and Judaism Breed Terrorism Just Like Islam", Says Egypt’s Top Muslim Cleric
  3. (2007) The Right Word in the Right Place at the Right Time: Wit and Wisdom from the Popular "On Language" Column in The New York Times Magazine. New York: Simon and Schuster, 206–207. 

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