In Defence of Philosopher Tully Borland

Philosopher Tully Borland wrote an article arguing that Alabama citizens should still vote for Moore even if the allegations against him were mostly true. It’s a provocative argument, but it is still sensible and arguable. It’s worth the read.

It is therefore surprising that this argument led to venomous abuse and slander toward Borland, with some writers accusing him of defending pedophilia and the molestation of children. These charges are not just false, but also immoral and unbecoming of those who make them.

Not all of Borland’s critics were as outrageous and evil, such as his critics at the National Review, but they’re still wrong. Really wrong. Here I will examine some of the arguments from Borland’s critics, giving reason to dismiss their charges and arguments against Borland.

For the sake of understanding, if you haven’t already read Borland’s piece, please do it now. Otherwise, you won’t understand what I’m talking about. It’s an issue that has gained national attention, and it has even been reported by the Washington Post and Fox News.

On the False, Stupid Charge of Defending Pedophilia and/or Child Molestation

First, let’s deal with the matter of definition. Pedophilia is a sexual inclination toward pre-pubescent children, but the girl in question is no less than 14 years old. And 14-year-old girls, though young, are not pre-pubescent; hence, attraction to them is not pedophilia. Consequently, even if Borland were to defend attraction, pursuit or coercion of that girl, it would not be a defense of pedophilia.

But of course Borland did not defend the sexual pursuit or coercion of that girl as good or permissible: He clearly stated that if Moore did to that girl as alleged, then Moore is a “dirtbag”. Borland also said that if it were his daughter, he’d kick Moore in the nuts. Hard. Quite clearly, then, Borland believes that such actions are bad, which thus implies that they’re neither good nor permissible. So I say again: Borland did not defend that.

From that article, the most we can say is that Borland seems to believe that the adult pursuit of young teens is not an intrinsic evil and that it is not wholly bad, that it can have some merit in some circumstances. That’s not to say that such a pursuit is good or permissible. It’s just to say that the act is not wrong in respects to its moral object and that it can have some justification, even if that justification were ultimately insufficient. Nothing about this defends pedophilia or the molestation of children as good or permissible– nothing at all. If you believe otherwise, you don’t understand his points or you suck at logic. Maybe both. And if you’re a philosopher who should know the difference, then you’re an ass. I’m looking at you, Brian Leiter. See here.

On the Charge of a False Binary

David French said this:

Alabama’s choice isn’t binary. Our choices never are, and if you continue to believe that lie then you’ll forever be trapped by other people’s mistakes. Vote for a third candidate. Write someone in. Or stay home. Don’t lift one finger to put a credibly-accused sex criminal in the Senate.

French is right: Alabama voters are not faced with an absolute binary. They’re thus free to stay home or vote for a third candidate. But so what? Borland did not argue otherwise. Instead, his point is that an Alabama voter is faced with a binary between Moore and Jones as the only viable candidates. No other candidate stands a good chance, because most of the other voters are voting for either Moore or Jones. Therefore, if you’re a voter, you could stay home, but that wouldn’t challenge the binary between viable candidates –most of the active voters will still vote either Moore or Jones. Hence, you’d still be stuck with either Moore or Jones whether you stay home or not.

And knowing that you will be stuck with either Moore or Jones, you prudentially and morally should act in a way to effectively prevent the man who poses a greater and far graver evil to human life and good. Given Jones’ horrible and radical views on abortion, it is he who presents a far greater and far graver evil. Thus, voters should vote for Moore to effectively repel Jones.

Let’s be clear: This vote is less a vote for Moore as it is a vote to help effectively secure power away from Jones; hence, we shouldn’t think that this vote affirms Moore as a worthy or good candidate. It is just that the risk of Jones attaining power is too great to vote otherwise.

But is it Evil?

Does this mean that we’d be doing an evil to prevent a great evil? No. Even if we suppose that we know Moore is guilty and is now lying about his involvement, there is nothing evil in itself about voting for a man who once, 40 years ago, abused a minor and now lies about it. That is, there is nothing intrinsically evil about it. Thus, if it were evil, it’d be evil given our motive and/or the circumstances. But our motive and our circumstances are fine: We would not voting him because of his previous behaviour or his lying – we’d vote for him despite that past behaviour only because a far greater and graver evil now looms. So I don’t think voting for him in this circumstance is evil or bad. It’s not an ideal choice, of course. In fact, it would suck. But it is not evil.

And let me be clear on this point: In many other circumstances, where such a grave evil does not loom, it likely would be morally illicit to vote for Moore (supposing the allegations are true). I admit that much. But that’s not the scenario facing Alabama voters today. Thus, we shouldn’t act as though it is.

But there is still more to say in this issue. Federalist contributer Hans Fiene produced an article entitled If Voting for Roy Moore is the Lesser of Two Evils, It’s Still Evil. In it Fiene writes this:

We are the ones responsible for the names on the ballot. We are the ones producing those who seek to represent us. If there is nary an upright candidate to elect, we have only ourselves to blame. Even if our side is the lesser of two evils, we are still responsible for creating that evil.

and then this:

But Moore didn’t magically fall out of a “Law and Order: SVU” episode onto the Alabama ballot. The tribe chose him. Yes, the tribe chose him before these accusations became public. But if one concedes that Moore is guilty, as Borland does, then the tribe is still to blame because it fostered a culture where, for several decades, no women felt safe coming forward and where a predator could stalk his prey with impunity.

Likewise, whatever credit the tribe might have gained for being initially unaware of Moore’s sins, they lost it when they got behind their new culture war captain instead of mutinying against him with all their might after learning of his transgressions.

Fiene confuses the moral questions. Borland is answering the question of whether an Alabama voter should now vote for Moore within the present circumstances. Borland’s point is that such a vote can be just and that they should vote for Moore. Whether voters or Republicans are to blame for Moore having kept his spot on the ballot after the allegations is another moral question, one that is distinct from the moral concern of whether voters should now vote for Moore.

Put it this way: It might have been bad for Republicans or voters to keep Moore on the ballot, or to not reject him wholesale after the allegations, but regardless of that potential failing, Moore is still is on the ballot and a greater and graver evil looms. Thus, an Alabama voter now has to consider the choice between Moore and Jones regardless of who is at fault for the origin of that choice. At the end of the day, then, it might be that voters or Republicans acted badly by not rejecting Moore at the onset of these allegations while still justly voting for Moore on Election Day.

And if that were the case, the evil wouldn’t rest in a vote for Moore, but only in the voters’ failure to act against Moore at the onset of the allegations. Thus, the title of Fiene’s essay is incorrect: It is not evil to vote for Moore if he is the lesser evil. In fact, it is the good and just decision.

One Last Point

Within that same article I linked to earlier, David French from the National Review also said this:

But if you believe this election will make any material difference in the prevalence or legality of abortion in the United States, then you need a civic education. In fact, it’s far more likely that electing a man like Moore will damage the pro-life cause.

It’s unclear to me how Moore’s election would harm the pro-life cause, but the idea isn’t that this election will make a material difference, but only that it could make a material difference. And we know that 1 senate vote has, in fact, made a material difference about 11 years ago regarding a constitutional amendement for flag desecration; hence, we know that one senate vote matters.


Borland is either largely correct, or at least not wrong for the reasons given by his critics mentioned here. Alabama voters should vote Moore in, not because Moore is good or worthy, but because the only other viable candidate is a far greater and graver evil.


  1. “We would not voting him because of his previous behaviour or his lying – we’d vote for him despite that past behaviour only because a far greater and graver evil now looms. So I don’t think voting for him in this circumstance is evil or bad. It’s not an ideal choice, of course. In fact, it would suck. But it is not evil.”

    The conclusion seems unnecessarily modest. Given the “graver evil” that “now looms”, surely it would be acceptable, if non-ideal and sucky, to vote for a candidate who is going to diddle one more kid in the future. He’ll probably diddle some kid regardless, and as long as you stay on the right side of the doctrine of double effect, that will just be collateral damage and you’re in the clear.

    • Anon,

      I see no good reason to think that he likely will do any such thing.

      I’m aware of the rates of recidivism for sexual offenders, which are nowhere near as high as many people think, but these are rates across populations. They’re not informative about the probability of a particular person reoffending.

      Regarding the question of whether it would be permissible to vote for him if it were knowingly true that he’d reoffend (again, presuming he offended in the first place), that question is beyond the scope of this blogpost and is not necessary to defend Borland.

  2. What would you say to those who say “the abortion issue shouldn’t be your deciding factor, given that Moore is a terrible candidate, there has been little movement at the federal level for abortion changes post Roe v Wade, and given that neither Moore nor Jones will change this lack of movement”?

    • I don’t know what will happen, and neither does anyone else. I just know what might happen and I know that 1 senate vote matters.

      It’s also not just about legislation but the power senators have on committees and voting people in, especially now that they changed the rules on Supreme Court justice nominations, requiring just a simple majority. If another justice retires, Trump has a clear path to a solid conservative majority on the US Supreme Court.

      It’s also not just about all of that either. It’s also about representation. Voters should prefer Moore’s representation over Jones, given his detestable and current views on abortion.

  3. But if you believe this election will make any material difference in the prevalence or legality of abortion in the United States, then you need a civic education

    It isn’t about changing the legality of abortion, but with the material and formal cooperation with evil involved in voting. To vote for a candidate who advocates mass murder of unborn babies is to at least materially cooperate with mass murder. A vote for Moore in no way cooperates with 40 year old charges of sexual misconduct.

  4. I have a few thoughts here.

    I was once a firm NeverTrump-er.

    I didn’t like the title because there was always one caveat; if Trump were elected and proved me wrong about who he would be as president I would consider supporting him in 2020. Trump has been elected and, to a significant degree, has proved me wrong about my expectations of him.

    With that said, I don’t think the anti-Moore folks on the ostensible right are in any way in a comparable position. With Trump, he had a known history of supporting liberal candidates and liberal positions, as well as a number of known questionable personal characteristics. He had no governing experience on which to prove any past conservative cred, all we had was his word for it that he had changed.

    With Roy Moore, we have a history of someone who has gone to the mat for traditionalist conservative positions for years. We also do not have a known history of personal problems prior to these allegations.

    Many people on TheRightScoop, which is one of the few havens of the NeverTrump movement (and my erstwhile solitary political internet home, which I’m not garnering more and more disdain for, although I remain there) oppose Moore. It has come to my attention through discussions with them, that for the most part these are people who disliked him from the beginning because of his past on the state Supreme Court. To me, that’s a boon on his record, not a failing.

    Additionally, I believe the allegations against Moore are false, and I think rationality demands that verdict on the evidence that I have seen. I also tend to agree with Borland’s analysis that what he was accused of doing wouldn’t make him as bad as his opponent. It is also a sad day in America when the GOP en masse calls for him to step aside over these allegations, but we have abortion supporting GOP senators (i.e. Murkowski, Collins) that are not similarly being asked to step aside.

  5. It would seem that “But abortion is murder” is not a sufficient argument in favor of a candidate for the majority of voters in AL. Republican candidates will need better arguments in support of their candidacy. Perhaps republican philosophers might be useful? Signs point to No.

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