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According to popular wisdom "Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely".

If one is considering ethics, and one argues that power must be evil because it can corrupt people, is this a fallacy or are there merits to the argument?

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    It is not a complete argument. There is an hidden premise: "everything that can corrupt people is evil". – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Feb 6 '18 at 19:28
  • Hi, welcome to Philosophy SE. Please visit our Help Center to see what questions we answer and how to ask. Is this a HW question? We do not answer those unless more context is given, your own thinking on the issue presented, and specific difficulty identified. – Conifold Feb 6 '18 at 21:16
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA another premise is: nouns can be objectively judged as good/evil – ngn Feb 7 '18 at 0:54
  • @ngn - "nouns" ? – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Feb 7 '18 at 7:40
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    I would argue that, contrary to the well-known adage, power does not corrupt; it simply gives greater means to those who are already inclined to do corrupt things. – user3017 Feb 7 '18 at 11:52
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Since there is no argument in 'power must be evil' or in 'Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely', both of which are only claims, neither can be fallacious (if no argument, then no fallacious or logically erroneous argument).

'Power corrupts', by the way, derives from Lord Acton, who said: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.'

Power

This is a vague and imprecise concept. It can be precisified in at least three ways:

1.'A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do.' (R. Dahl, 'The Concept of Power', Systems Research and Behavioral Science 2(3), 201–215.

2.'A has power over B to the extent that A can control the range of choices of action available to B.'

3.'A has power over B to the extent that A can determine B's self-perception and therefore of the choices of action that B can conceive.'

Adapted from Steven Lukes, Power: A Radical View (London: Macmillan) 1974.

You have to decide which concept of power is in play: 1., or 2., or 3., or all three or some subset.

Modalities

Your (mis-) quote from Acton makes merely a contingent claim. It says what is possible and actually the case. In contrast, in your question on whether 'power must be evil', a stronger modal claim is at stake: not merely that it is possible or actually the case that power is evil but that necessarily it is evil. Mixed modalities produce a double vision in answering your question.

The limits of philosophy

I can't see that, apart from (a) clarifying what a fallacy is, (b) supplying a conceptual framework for the discussion of power, and (c) sorting out the mixed modalities in your question and text, philosophy alone can take us any further towards an answer.

Your question definitely raises interesting matters and involves philosophical issues, but the resolution of your question lies, I think, beyond the scope of philosophy.

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Aristotle would have said that generation & corruption are both aspects of change.

Power is neccessary to the individual and to the social body. When it is used well, it generates strength; and when it is used badly, it generates weakness, that is it corrupts.

We say power corrupts because it magnifies the deficiencies and flaws

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Aristotle would have said that generation & corruption are both aspects of change.

Power is neccessary to the individual and to the social body. When it is used well, it generates strength; and when it is used badly, it generates weakness, that is it corrupts.

We say power corrupts because it magnifies the deficiencies and flaws of he who wields it, as well as his virtues. Power that is wielded well often let's the virtues of others to flourish. The Dao would say that he who rules withdraws, and the people believe that they rule themselves, not seeing the hidden hand. Whereas power that is wielded badly is often very visible.

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This is a very important concept in the political arena. In fact, politics, in the broad sense of term, can almost be defined as the art of acquiring and using power.

The maxim "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" appears to be very accurate in the "real world." Yet it is possible for very powerful people to be "good."

Three very important things to add to the discussion are ethics, group membership and balance.

ETHICS: Immoral or amoral people who are very powerful are more likely to manifest behavior most people would describe as bad.

GROUP MEMBERSHIP: The Roman empire treated Romans better than the peoples who were conquered by Rome. Roman aristocrats were treated better than common Roman citizens, and the emperor typically treated his relatives better than other people.

BALANCE: The term "absolute power" suggests a lack of checks and balances. In fact, most people are limited to some extent by laws, peer pressure, etc.

If the laws or peers are themselves corrupt, then a power broker is more likely to be corrupt.

When an entire socio-political system is unbalanced, one might expect an increase in government power and corruption. Examples include the latter stages of the Roman empire as well as the United States today.

This may not directly answer your question, but it hopefully helps put things in perspective.

Keep in mind, also, that power can be used for good. Parents use their power to protect their children, and leaders may marshal powerful military forces to protect their people from invaders.

In summary, power isn't good or evil. It's something that can be used in a positive or negative way depending on a number of variables.

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