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abstract In this paper I consider the nature of the purported vice of moralism by examining two examples that, I suggest, exemplify this vice: the first from Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter; the second from David Owen's account of his experience as European negotiator between the warring parties in the former Yugoslavia. I argue that in different ways both these examples show the kind of human weakness or failure that is involved in the most extreme version of moralism, a weakness that involves an inability to see or acknowledge those one seeks to judge as real, morally accountable, human beings.