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Abstract concepts sign of the times

Sir -- In his correspondence (Letters, Sunday Independent, June 12, 2011), Pierce Martin, in the context of the suitability of Senator Norris for the presidency, pointed to an interesting, if not entirely compelling, distinction between libertarianism and libertinism.

The problem inherent in concepts of this nature is that they are by definition abstract, and as such their meanings are susceptible to shift, or perhaps more accurately, drift, with the norms and fashions of their times. The changes may be intrinsic to the concepts themselves, or, more perversely, they may merge. These apparent inconsistencies, one imagines, form the basis of Oscar Wilde's brilliant epigram: "The vices of today are yesterday's discarded virtues."

Ironically, Wilde is perhaps his own best exemplar. Towards the end of the 19th Century he was sentenced to two years' hard labour for homosexuality, something quite inconceivable in today's 'enlightened' times.

William Barrett,

Surrey, UK

Sunday Independent