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An introduction to good and evil

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  • 11 months later...

But in Christianity Satan is god of Earth and the flesh.

I haven't read your whole discussion (yet), but if you think this... I fear that you misconceived Christianity entirely and utterly. This is why St Augustine turned from Manicheanism, which was like that, to Christianity. And this is why the Gnostics and Cathares clashed with Christians (although there was much more diversity among them as some borrowed from each other, so maybe it's like saying "New Age").

If you want my view, this kind of good-bad dissociation forms good material for fundamentalism, making "Satan" out of wordly enemies ("You disagree with me? That's because you're on Satan's side!").

EDIT: That's funny... I've just answered to a thread with the last post from 2006

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  • 11 months later...

The scholarship here is certainly well thought out, but, as sometimes happens with scholars, they concentrate on the forest, and ignore the trees.  I'm very familiar with that, because of my own father, a Biochemistry professor.  When I took high school chemistry, I brought my questions to him.  He wanted to help me, but couldn't come down to my level, hard as he tried to do so.  It only made me more confused.  He was no help at all, but I adored him anyway!

It isn't enough just to say that certain things are imposed on people from the cradle as "good" or "evil," and then to claim that that alone doesn't necessarily make it so.  There's something more to it than that.

When you tell a child he may not lie, you are teaching him generic morality.  Religions all have their own moralities, which I am not including here.  Generic morality is the thing which makes civilization possible at ALL.  Without it, we'd all be living dog-eat-dog.  I suppose a person can choose anarchy over civilization, but he wouldn't be welcomed in a civilized society.  How can you have a civilization if anyone can lie to anyone at any time?  Or kill or steal?  Of course, they do lie, kill and steal anyway, but without a rule against doing so, there'd be pure chaos.

For people to live among one another, interactions are inevitable, even desirable.  Living in communities, rather than alone, confers many tremendous benefits to everyone involved.  It comes at a price, though, and that price requires refraining from indulging in any form of behavior we please.  We must now temper certain urges, for the sake of stability of our society.  It was the origin of the Golden Rule.  With civilization goes the question of how to keep people from killing one another on a whim.  Before people can even begin to form communities, then, they must first agree on a few basics.  Generic morality, group acceptance of certain things as good or evil must precede civilization.  It is the "grease" which smooths out human interactions.  Without it, friction would prevail, and the society would crumble.

It is the nature of human nature that makes these rules imperative.  We are essentially bestial, inclined to serve our visceral instincts, and some of them are distinctly unlovely.  That might be fine as long as we don't try to live cooperatively.  But cooperation has such huge benefits that people wanted to live together.  But what, then, should they do about those bestial and visceral instincts?  Merely being basic to our natures did NOT make them acceptable or beneficial to ourselves, particularly in a collective and cooperative setting.  Generic morality tells us which of those instincts we MUST override, for the sake of living smoothly together. Those who don't would end up being kicked out.

Nor are these generic moralities random.  They must all be relatively the same, because they address the same bestial and visceral urges inherent in all of us, and seek to tone them down for the sake of the benefits civilizaton brings; i.e., for our OWN good, literally.  The destructive instincts within us are universal, so the problems they'd cause are also universal.  Therefore, for any society to succeed, it must recognize these universal conflicts and devise a way to keep them from destroying the society.  Each culture may develop its own STYLE for controlling those urges in us, but they are still dealing with the same, universal, problem.  It is a thread that binds all civilizations together, no matter how different they seem to be on the surface.  They must ALL deal with the human inclinations to steal, kill, lie, take someone else's mate, etc.

Those basics are things like not killing (except when attacked), not stealing, not lying, etc.  Unless the bulk of the people involved adhere to these basics (and thus defining good and evil accordingly), they would not be able to live together.  Period.

So we can indeed say that certain things ARE good and evil, at least if you're looking at it from the point of view of civilization, and not some esoteric cosmological viewpoint.

If civilization is desirable, then certain behaviors in people MUST be regarded as evil.

Therefore, to have civilization at ALL, killing, stealing and lying MUST be accepted as evils.  It is inescapable.  Other things, too, like moving in on someone else's spouse.  Things which are guaranteed to set people at one another's throats tend to be included in generic morality, no matter where you go in this world.

We must either do that, and accept those basic moralities, or we can say goodbye to civilization itself.

We can, of course, choose not to accept them, and try to live in civilized societies anyway, but we'll usually get in trouble if we do that.  The only way to live without those basic moralities is to live as hermits, or in extremely small family-based groupings.  Living with no rules at all.  It didn't take humanity long at all to realize how destructive a rule-less society will ALWAYS be.  If destroying your own beneficial civilization can be called evil, then it is only fitting that the destructive behaviors be regarded as evil, too.  In the absence of religion, evil can be defined as "that which destroys."  Good, then, would be "that which is constructive."

The trouble is that most of us tend to define good and evil along religious lines.  Those have nothing whatever to do with generic morality.  Those generic moralities are indeed defining good or evil, unless we're willing to give up civilization.  Because they are what make civilization possible at ALL.

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Oh, nonsense. We just have to free the workers from the control of the owners of the means of production and let them form a collective and let everyone be free to find their own niche and everything will be ROSY RED and we'll re-educate the deluded and there will be no more evil or worrying over right and wrong and we'll destroy this world of violence, raze it to its foundations, and and and <i>a zatyem...mih nash, mih novihy mir postroim, kto bihl nichem, tot stanyet fsyem!</i> :P

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  • 4 weeks later...

Good post, faster. I think I've argued something similar on this board; that the common rules found in all societies throughout history amount to something of a universal law.

But since those rules tend to be fairly self-evident and not controversial, the label isn't much good in debates  ;)

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  • 3 months later...

I watched this thread for a little, and I'd like to add something for thought, too. Note: Examples below are NOT real, but the message in them is:

-Let's say I were really hungry and hadn't eaten for days; I walk into a supermarket and walking into and past the produce section I take an apple to sustain me. I continue to walk the store, eating, and when I am finished, start walking towards the door, tossing the apple core into the trashcan near the door. I know it's wrong, but is it evil?

-I am walking down the road and I see a man is laying on he side of the road next to his car, obviously wounded and bleeding pretty bad. I do what first aid I know and after I'm sure I've done my best, begin to search the man for ID or medical information. I find something and make haste to get the man back into his car and begin the drive to the hospital. Once he's been admitted I realize I am hungry. I don't like hospital food, so I get BACK into the man's car and drive a few blocks to McDonalds, have myself a bite, pop back home to give the wife something to eat as well and let her know what happened, stop real quick to put some gas back into the car, then head back to the hospital. I'm sure this isn't evil, but is it wrong?

-Let's say I have a friend who's really REALLY seriously thinking of killing herself. I don't want to lose a friend, since I have so few, so I tell my wife what's happening and go over to her house and try to talk some sense into her. She finally agrees not to do what she had planned, as long as I sleep with her. I obviously refuse, since I am married, so she grabs a knife and begins to threaten to kill herself again unless we have sex. Reluctantly, I begin to strip, just to save her life. Neither of us are evil and neither of us are wrong; Right?

-Last one: I am a crook and have been for many successful years. I became one just to keep my wife and three kids comfortable after a lawsuit and bankruptcy wipes us clean. I've managed to rob every store in town and never got caught, until I make one more attempt and am cornered by law enforcement. Instead of putting up a fight (for my family), I go ahead and give myself up knowing they will search my home and find some stolen stuff my family has need of. I give up not because I don't want to try any more, but because I'm tired of the lies and the sneaking about. Am I wrong in giving up? Am I right? Wouldn't it be considered evil to stop trying to keep the family alive and happy? Or is it a good thing I gave up, even if it means my family looses important things they use, merely because it's now evidence? Was the officer evil for stopping me from keeping my family alive? Is HE wrong?

The above situations are obviously made up, but they point out a flaw in our way of thinking. We have set in mental stone what is right and wrong, good and evil. We each have our own way of viewing this mental stone from different angles, different points of view. I personally believe every single one of us has the answer right from the start, yet not one of us are completely correct. However, if we ALL shared (and accepted, mind you) other views and angles of this mental stone, we would find out every single one of us missed the truth WAY back when we first began to consider the differences. On the same token, we would discover we all are also right on the money, collectively speaking that is.

In the first example I'm trying to point out that some things aren't really serious enough to bother with in the discussion of good vs evil, right vs wrong. Survival is never wrong. Could be at that time I was so hungry, I couldn't think straight enough to ask if there was any way I could get an apple; Why I might have even thought of it, yet out of fear of the dreaded "No." decided not to bother asking. I was really hungry after all. (A mis-judgment call?)

Example number two shows a mere slip of judgment, that's all. I am doing a good deed for someone, sure. I even make sure I know the guy's name and where the information is so the staff can get the paperwork done AND contact family. The situation truly begins when I use the man's car. It's not mine, but I've been walking for years and really tired of it. I have the keys, and the man's not using it. It's again a matter of judgment; I even put gas in the (stolen/borrowed) car.

In the third example, I try to demonstrate the desire to be a friend, yet at the same time try to maintain my own personal values. In the end, the only doubts will be from those who instantly see me as 'unfaithful to my wife'. Again, a poor judgment call, since I could have began to let her think I was going thru with it, and when the opportunity came up, over powered her and contacted those who could help her better than I could.

The last one is really interesting. To even begin to steal was a bad choice, considering there are MANY ways to get aid for free. But the family does come first, as most realize, and that's where the wrong begins and the right ends. How am I supposed to care for my family if I get caught? Yes, I may have been lucky up to the last 'job', but I should have thought about getting caught earlier. Another thing that was missed was the possibility of my wife going to jail as well as me as an assistant to the crimes (she DID take and use the stuff and never reported me.) Not to mention potential loss of the kids...

Bottom line of what I'm trying to say is that everyone truly knows what is right from wrong, and what is good or evil. We just refuse to even look sometimes and check it out. Some of the things we think are evil or wrong are in fact not; While other things we think are ok and acceptable aren't. Problem is, however, what is right and good to one for whatever reason, may be wrong and evil to another for the same (or a different) reason. We each need to take the time to examine EVERY situation that comes across our paths and make the judgment call necessary. Do I take the apple? Will I drive the car? Is there an alternative solution to my problem? Is it really necessary to do what I'm about to do?

(This post is obviously open for discussion...)

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Props to the last post there. Was well thought out and well written.

And I agree with the reasoning, but I would argue that it isn't taken to its logical conclusion. If each person observes a different facet of the morality stone (excuse me borrowing the metaphor), one could argue that each person's interpretation is at the same time both correct and incorrect, yes? Fair enough. But this presupposes the existence of the stone.

As far as I can determine, morality is a matter of priorities. A man who prioritises preservation of life over fidelity would argue that saving the suicidal woman by sleeping with her is the morally correct path. Someone who prioritises respect of ownership over life would argue that stealing the apple was the morally wrong path. And what you seem to be advocating is a method by which these priorities could be... brought together. A way for everyone to share everyone else's priorities, for want of a better term. Infidelity would still be considered wrong, but in cases where a life was at stake it would be... overruled. If the suicidal woman holds the knife to her throat throughout intercourse (and there's a happy image), thus preventing any overpowering, then the 'evil' of infidelity is offset by the 'good' of saving a life.

However. This ranking system of priorities presupposes the existence of some moral guideline of which each person's personal morality is but a facet. Otherwise what authority could it have? Without the guideline, the moral rock, all you have is a collection of often contradictory moral points of view. Some people would condemn the thief, others the society that forces him to steal. Some would see the adulterer punished, others would praise him for saving the life of a troubled friend.

Here's the important bit: How do you decide which person's point of view is closer to the moral truth? When determining what is morally good, do you start with the preservation of life or the preservation of truth? The two can be contradictory after all. What is worth more on a moral scale, happiness or generosity? Which evil is the most despicable, betrayal or enslavement? There's no guideline, no rule, no method by which to determine the true shape of morality from human points of view.

And for that reason I would argue that there is no moral rock. Or if there is, we cannot determine its shape. Each person lives by their own rules, but they can no more justify themselves than they can justify condemnation of others.

These posts always get away from me. I hope the point got across.

I'm sure there was a reason I was avoiding this thread... Ah well, if it was important it'll crop up sooner or later.

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  • 10 months later...

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