29
Jul
08

The Battle of Good and Evil…

Today I read (watched actually) the 666th post on the blog (or yolog) on the Blog of the Angry Aussie. For his 666th post, he decided to talk about the concepts of good and evil. Well worth listening to what he said if you have a few minutes, because he makes some excellent points.

If I understand what he is saying correctly, he feels that the ideas of Good and Evil are abstractions that have no real definable meaning, and that because of that, there is no such thing as absolute good, or absolute Evil. He raised some good points, with some compelling examples, such as the Nazis, and how none of them thought they were evil, and how evil actions are really a matter of perspective rather than any concrete idea.

But while I agree with a lot of what he said, I do disagree on some of the fundamental implications of his position. Hence this post. I do believe there is a universal definition of Good and a universal definition of Evil. And no, I’m not talking about universal good/evil in relation to, (for Instance) God, and the forces of good fighting against the devil and the forces of evil. I’m talking about how we define the basic earthbound humans daily battle with the moral and ethical questions that drive our actions.

There are a lot of things that are universal in this world. Laws of energy, nature, physics, etc. are inviolate. When we break one of those laws, it isn’t because we really broke it, but rather because we didn’t truly understand it to begin with. I think that universally applicable concepts of good and evil exist in the same way.

I believe that there must be some universally acceptable idea of good and evil, otherwise we would not be able to recognize the individual instances of one from the other, regardless of our individual beliefs. I think that this is a very important point. I think our problem is that we really do not understand the idea of what “Good” or “Evil” truly means at a universal level.

What this means to me, is that the biggest mistake people make with respect to defining good and evil is that they apply too specific a filter on what they consider good and what they consider evil. It is often a function of their cultural or religious belief system, or their cultural morals, or social normalcy, or any random thing they were brought up to believe.

None of these, from my perspective, are good ways to determine the benevolence or malevolence of a person or action, because they are all rooted in a human way of thinking that assumes the thinker understands the difference, or is the good guy. I believe that in order to truly define good and evil as universal concepts, we must learn to think outside of our petty differences, and in terms of a much, much broader picture, otherwise our definition of Good and Evil will, by definition, not be universal in any way, shape or form.

But then the question becomes, is it possible for a human to think in such broad terms? Well, I think so. After all, there are social laws that are universal. Laws that do exist, in one form or another, regardless of religion creed or belief system. A typical example is “The Golden Rule”. Do unto others and all that jazz.

Lets take Mr. A and the example of the Nazi’s. Sure, Nazi’s Germans never woke up every moring and said, “Today would be a great day to be evil.” No, they justified what they did using some altruistic sounding, though heinously misguided, rationalization.

Clearly, your average German walking the streets of Germany today would consider what the Nazis did evil. But why did the Germans of the time not think so? Was it because of a different perspective? And if it was, was that a reasonable perspective?

My answer to the first question is: because they were lying to themselves. And to the last two: No. No way in hell. Why? Because they violated the golden rule. Unless it makes sense to you that if another culture considers yours inferior, that they ought to take the initiative to wipe yours off the face of the earth, nobody can argue that it was a “good” thing.

It’s amazing how quickly peoples perspectives become irrelevant if you correctly apply the Golden Rule to the scenario. Things that people say makes sense suddenly contradict themselves under that paradigm, and the theoretical complications brought about by “differences in perspective” suddenly don’t mean much.

My point here is this. If a concept as simple, as straightforward and easy to apply (if you aren’t lying to yourself) as the Golden Rule, can be applied so universally, regardless of culture, creed and/or belief, then there must be some universal way to define actions that fall in line with the golden rule, and actions that violate it.

And if that exists, then, to my thinking, it follows that there must be some concrete definition to universal Good, and universal Evil… I think that most of us are usually just too egocentric to properly define it…

666-The nature of evil – [Angry Aussie]

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15 Responses to “The Battle of Good and Evil…”


  1. July 29, 2008 at 10:48 pm

    I think you got my point pretty accurately. One thing I didn’t say that would have been worthwhile (that I have more or less said at other times) is that every person *does* have an internal sense of good and evil or admirable behaviour and unacceptable behaviour. And this is a good thing.

  2. July 30, 2008 at 7:37 am

    You make some very valid points phyreblade.

    A ‘good’ question is why such a narrow perspective has arisen in the first place. That’s why a speak of the conundrum on Mr A blog. Mr A wrote recently about Atheism and Theism and but there is also Deism. Then you have Agnostic and Gnostic. Gnostic Christians (those that were persecuted by the Romans) have a different view on the Old Testament and this is where the conundrum lies. They believed that the Serpent in Genius is the true God and God in Genius is the Devil. If this is true then the whole perspective of such things is rather warped and would indicate millenniums of ignorance. This view would make it more understandable why God could punish, demand sacrificed, etc, etc.

    I’m anticipating a frightful response with these words. I think I need to start a blog.

  3. July 30, 2008 at 10:34 am

    @Mr A.
    You have indeed alluded to your belief that people do have an innate sense of good and evil. And I agree this is a good thing. I think that also proves though, that there is such a thing as a universal way to determine good or evil. I think the real problem is that a lot of people learn to ignore it and rationalize their negative actions…

    @absoluteparadox
    I have a theory about all of that. And it is all related to our ability (or lack thereof) to think in non egocentric terms. All religious texts or belief systems have a major failing. They had to be put to paper by a human (or many of them) and also have to be interpreted by humans in order to be acted upon in any practical way.

    Humans have a rather all pervading propensity to flavor whatever it is they have been told, seen or heard with what makes sense to them. It’s a basic side effect of how our minds work. Unfortunately this also has the effect of tainting the meanings and interpretations of everything we are shown or told.

    I think that the vast majority of the evil that is done today in the name of any belief system is due to simple human misinterpretation, both from the writer of the texts (the inspired) as well as the interpreters…

  4. July 30, 2008 at 11:22 am

    Defining evil… What a wonderful mental exercise.

    Let’s go with the premise that good and evil can be objectively defined.

    Then good and evil could occupy a scale with absolute evil on one end and perfect good at the other. Where are we on this scale? Do we live out lives meandering in a grey area between the two with society and cultural shifts moving us along one way or another?

    Maybe the discussion should start with the golden rule.

    Buddhism:”Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.”
    Christianity: “Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them.” – Luke 6:31
    Confucianism: Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself
    Islam: “None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”
    Taoism: “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.”

    Seems pretty well covered in most religions, and atheists even call it the ethic of reciprocity.

    The most basic examples of the golden rule would apply to murder. So, one would have to assume that murder would be evil, except in the case of self defense.

    However, how does that apply too war? Is each and every soldier individually responsible for each killing they do by their own hand? Or are only the leaders held responsible? Is every attack justified by self defense? What about a preemptive strike?
    Is war a collective form of justifiable homicide? This kind of thinking makes my head swim.

    Maybe an absolute value to evil is valid if a concession was placed in favor of necessity. Is it an act of evil to blow up a city to end a war as a preventive measure to save even more lives? Are evil deeds justified for the common good? If so, does evil apply to murder only when it is an individual choice for personal gain?

    Sorry for the long comment, but this is great stuff. Not many people are willing to go for the fences and take on a really big topic. Best of luck.

    -pf

  5. July 30, 2008 at 7:35 pm

    @pf,
    LOL I’ve never been one to shy away from tough questions. 😀

    But you’ve got my drift exactly, your examples are exactly the kind of thing I was talking about that lends me to believe that the idea of a universally applicable definition of good/evil is a reasonable one. I also agree with your analysis of killing. In an of itself, it is neither good nor evil. It is the reasoning behind the action that determines it’s malevolence/benevolence.

    War is an unique case that I have actually spent a lot of time thinking about. Now What should be obvious to everyone is that if everyone were being true to the concept of the golden rule, there would be no need for war. I therefore concluded that war is pretty much a byproduct of a way of thinking that contradicts the principles of the golden rule, and in an ideal world, the idea of war would be an abomination.

    In the real world however, war is sometimes necessary to keep evil at bay. But much like killing, the decision to go to war must be made for the right reasons. Not because of greed, hatred, fear, insecurity, prejudice, intolerance, egocentric ideologies or ignorance. It must be an act of self defense, or survival. A last resort against others who would rob you and yours of your freedom or your life.

    That is the only time I can see war being a reasonable option. As regards to the responsibilities of war, this is perhaps the trickiest aspect of it all. I believe that the CIC of any sovereign nation is generally responsible for the deaths of war, AND should still be bound by the tenets of the golden rule. HOWEVER, that does not absolve the individual soldier of the moral responsibility of acting in the spirit of a person defending themselves or others, and not that of a sadistic serial killer, in any war that a CIC has deemed necessary.

    In my opinion, any universal standard for good or evil, by definition, cannot really have “concessions” per se, as much as conditions. But I see what you are driving at. I think they must be explicitly defined such that an act is evil only because it meets certain criteria. IE, killing is not inherently good or evil. Killing for self gain is bad.

    Killing in self defense is not automatically good either, unless there were no other options. By this way of thinking there should technically also be “good” killing, e.g. mercy killings, etc. But only if there is no other way, and the values of the person being killed dictate that the killing is warranted. In this way, and more importantly, regardless of how *anyone else* feels about assisted suicide, for example, we have still upheld the Golden Rule in relation to the needs of the killee.

    I think the idea of moral and ethical universality still stands, since, as you can see, while there is still no simple answers to complex questions like these, it is still possible to discern the “good” acts from the “evil” ones. It just takes a little deeper, less egocentric, thought about what it means to do for others as you would have them do to you…

  6. July 31, 2008 at 7:09 am

    There are two other aspects of good vs. evil that need to be explored.

    One is the idea that there is no evil, only a lack of goodness. An analogy or two is in order here. Darkness is not a measurable quantity, only the amount of light. Cold is not a thing to be dispensed or stored, just the lack of heat. Likewise evil can be thought of as a void or what is left when goodness is missing or not in sufficient quantities.

    Another more popular thought, is that there is no good only evil. Life, health and longevity are natural states and it is the presence of evil that causes all harm. Goodness is simply the lack of evil. Disease can be thought of as evil, a healthy body would never die is it were not for of evil. Evil can be thought of a necessary for the circle of life, as with out death and decay there would be nothing for the living to feed off of.

    This would make evil necessary for life, which is good. So the real challenge may be not to measure or define evil but to come up with a way to describe what is good.

    -pf

  7. July 31, 2008 at 9:50 am

    Very interesting thoughts.

    I personally think it is a mistake to attempt to equate the ideologies of good and evil in a one to one fashion with laws of physics, or of nature. While I think there are commonalities between them, in terms of their universality, there is one major difference between them that makes any comparison meaningless.

    The universe (nature, physics, thermodynamics, etc) does not, indeed cannot, violate it’s own rules. Humans, on the other hand, can. We operate not only in nature and on a physical level, but on an intellect driven, ethical and moral level as well. We are the only species on the planet that is capable of doing so, and so we are in the unique and sometimes irritating position of not having any realistic natural examples to follow.

    Thus I feel that examples like the behavior of light and dark, heat and cold, cannot really be used to describe the concepts of evil or good as it pertains to humans, because it is only with humans that these concepts are relevant or actionable. In nature, energy will never decide not to flow from an area of greater energy density to one of even greater density if it has the option of an area with a lower energy density. I.E. You cannot heat a piece of steel with a block of ice. Nor will a shark ever decide to try and walk. Or pigs fly for that matter… 🙂

    Humans, on the other hand, have those choices and often actively seek to do that which they should naturally be unable. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but the challenge then becomes how do we use this ability, this gift of choices, responsibly. And that is where the debate of good/evil becomes relevant.

    For this reason I also do not agree that Evil is defined by a lack of goodness. Or that there is no good, only evil. For one thing, they are not natural phenomenon, and do not conform to natural laws like that of conservation. You cannot balance the existance of evil against that of good. They exist as unique and discrete variables, that are only circumstantially related to one another. An absence of good is just as likey to be a result of apathy, as opposed to pure evil.

    It is often discrete decisions and actions that occur for either of them to exist, and contrary to how nature operates, they often feed themselves, IE, good spawns more good, evil spawns more evil. Even apathy often spawns more apathy. You do not necessarily get more evil if there is less good. So, at least from what I’ve observed, the idea of measuring good in terms of a lack of evil, or any variation thereof, makes little sense to me…

    One of the themes of the second ideology you described was to equate undesirable things with “evil”. Personally I do not subscribe to that way of thinking because I think it is a flawed one. The fact that something is undesirable, painful or harmful does not automatically make it evil. There are a lot of things in life thay we may not like, but are good for us.

    Likewise, there are a lot of virtuous actions that may, as a side effect, or even as an end result, cause us pain. The pain does not make it “evil”, no more than the emotional high that a sadistic killer gets out of killing someone make his actions “good”. So I do not believe we can define good and evil in terms of the pleasure, displeasure, desirability or undesirability of the outcomes of an action. It must come from it’s intent, and how well it satisfies the golden rule.

    I therefore also don’t believe that it is the presence of evil that causes all death, pain, and harm in general. A lot of it is nature, simply following it’s own laws, as it must, and attempting to achieve balance. This is neither good nor bad. It is no more evil than a person who likes the color red. It is what it is. No more, no less. There is some component of harm that is caused by evil, but there are also components of harm that are caused by good as well. So I do not believe harm, in an of itself, can be a defining characteristic, or even a reasonable measure, of either evil or good.

  8. July 31, 2008 at 4:13 pm

    Ok Mr. Smarty pants; you shot my silly ideas full of holes now it’s your turn. Lets here you take a shot at an objective definition for evil.

    BTW this is such a great subject I may have some fun with it on my own blog. On the lighter side of course, if you don’t mind that is…
    -pf

  9. July 31, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    Something to consider: “good” and “evil” are human mental constructions. This does not make them any more or less real, by the way. All such mental constructs are the direct result of human evolution- both physiological and social. In other words, all these mental constructions were at some point important to the survival of humans- either individually or collectively.

    Heroism, for example, is rarely an individual survival trait. It is almost always a survival trait for groups of humans, however. As a result, humans are genetically and socially predisposed to admire heroic actions and emulate them, because those actions increase the survivability of the group. Most humans are not completely driven by these ingrained reflexes, but they do influence the attitudes and actions of most humans.

    Given that heroism is a mental construct which is also a survival mechanism for our species/society/culture/family, it follows that the concepts of good and evil are also related to human survival at some level.

  10. July 31, 2008 at 8:02 pm

    @archvillain
    Good points, I agree about the realities of good and evil. I would also go so far as to say that, so far as humans are concerned, they are realities that are extremely relevant to our survival. In fact, this is one of the things that I think is a key component of defining good and evil.

    @pf
    LOL Not my intention to shoot anything full of holes… I try to avoid doing that where possible 😀 Actually, there was a period of time when I also tried to reconcile the ideas of good and evil using the laws of nature, but after I kept running into contradiction after contradiction whenever I did so, I realized it was the completely wrong way to go about it.

    So far as coming up with a universal definition of good and evil I think Archvillain has actually touched on one of the key components. All of the ideals of “good” appear to have one thing in common. Selflessness. So I think that is a good start. However we can also have an evil act of selflessness, so that selflessness would also have to adhere to the Golden Rule, not just for the recipient of the selfless act, but for everyone else.

    In other words, it seems that the ultimate goal of acts of “good” is the betterment of everyone and everything else (effectively humanity, the planet, even the universe as a whole, including oneself), whereas acts of “evil” are geared towards individual, personal gain without any regard for, or even at the expense of, everyone or everything else (Ironically, sometimes even oneself).

    Conceptually, it’s an almost irritatingly simple solution. Not so simple in practice…

  11. July 31, 2008 at 8:04 pm

    @PF
    Oh, and please feel free to make light of whatever suits your fancy… I claim no monopoly on any of the things I post about… 😀

  12. June 21, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    Hello, I’ve been thinking about good and evil a lot lately. And I have to think good and evil is subjective without any absolute truth.

    but before i make my argument i’m wondering if anyone is still interested in this subject or watching this form?


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