PDA

View Full Version : Do Good & Evil exist outside of Human society?



Ziljon
11-26-2008, 08:40 AM
I've been thinking about motives, about protagonists and antagonists, and about good and evil.

I'm confused. Are good and evil absolute or are they relative? And if they are relative, then how can they exist at all when the most common assumed definition for both of them entails being the opposite of the other?

Everything I come up with as an example of pure evil turns out not to be when attributed to nature (you try).

So what is evil? What is good? Do they exist outside of society, outside of consciousness?

Any thoughts?

AMCrenshaw
11-26-2008, 10:11 AM
I've been thinking about motives, about protagonists and antagonists, and about good and evil.

I'm confused. Are good and evil absolute or are they relative? And if they are relative, then how can they exist at all when the most common assumed definition for both of them entails being the opposite of the other?

Everything I come up with as an example of pure evil turns out not to be when attributed to nature (you try).

So what is evil? What is good? Do they exist outside of society, outside of consciousness?

Any thoughts?

in short, no.

I was once asked what the absence of evil was. Like this. "What, then, you un-Christian ...what, then, is the absence of evil."

And, being so witty, I said: "The absence of good." Ha-HA! I still believe that to an extent.

I think that good/evil are silly, perhaps arbitrary abstractions. But I also think they can be useful in creating happy and/or peaceful living situations.

Relativism is easy. Nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so. It means to some extent that anything goes (but some might say that there should be a recognition that anything goes for any-one). We create contexts/civilizations in our own heads: our own self-created contexts (none exist, really, but let's pretend) allow us never to be wrong. Whatever. Easy.

I believed in relativism for a while.

Then my queer mentor took me to Germany, to Berlin (see, he's a filmmaker) where hundreds of thousands of people were marched to their deaths, by nazis. Isn't what those people did evil? If so, were the people themselves evil? By God, they were Absolutely Evil, right? And perhaps in hell now?

But why? How?

This sort of absolutism is wishful thinking, and revealing of us. What does it say about we who wish for others eternal suffering? Hmm?


What else? There's more egocentrism: what benefits me, or pleasures me is good. What harms me, or causes me grief is evil.


What else? Simone Weil once said that goodness is in absorbing suffering, while evilness is in passing it on. I like that, but there's still this business of 'othering' that bugs me so.

What else? I think from the POV of, say, the universe, good and evil are human abstractions. If they exist, humans are made up of both. It might be that we can all find things we hate about ourselves. Things we'd call evil. And likewise, we still might defend our existence as if it is good! Is it more than self-preservation? Are we more than animals? More on that...

now: Well my take is that civilization (collective ID) deems what is to be done and what isn't. What isn't (violation of mores, norms; i.e., tabooooos) is other'd, is evil. A sociologist, historian, anthropologist, etc could tell you why this happens, or why what I've written is utterly wrong. Perhaps there are good reasons, for example, that Murder is widely known as ... ha ... taboo? Evil? Wrong?

We are, in part, animals. It could seem that our entire civilization is darwinian: we only use our reason to more effectively fulfill our desires. Will and power decide what is good and what is evil. But I don't personally believe that. My take is that there are elements of humanity (empathy, understanding, awareness, love) that make us capable of examining what brings the most happiness to the most people. But does that make these elements Good, really? No, I don't think so. Yet, "good or evil" does not dictate what I do. I personally (as an example) see suffering, feel it, and try to fill it. That is, as you might suggest, what I believe is human -- nothing good, bad, but human.




AMC

Ziljon
11-26-2008, 10:48 AM
Thanks for your input, AMC. Not the answer I was hoping for, but a well thought out argument all the same. I think your one line below summed up my problem most eloquently.


I think from the POV of, say, the universe, good and evil are human abstractions.

In the mean time I've spoken with a friend in Hawaii, my "Sidartha," and he suprised me with an immediate answer: "Oh, evil doesn't exist at all. There is only Good. We're responsible for our own evil, we make our own hell."

That seemed so profound to me. But then I wondered (after we hung up) what he would say to the father of a daughter who'd been sexually abused or worse. Could that father be blamed for 'creating' his own hell? For creating evil?

Or would my friend have said that the act itself was not evil; that the girl was just the prey to a predator, same as a doe to a mountain lion?

I still don't know.

AMCrenshaw
11-26-2008, 10:51 AM
Not the answer I was hoping for


It seldom is.

http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/poems/1413.html

AMC

AMCrenshaw
11-26-2008, 10:55 AM
Could that father be blamed for 'creating' his own hell? For creating evil?

Well, not for creating it: but perhaps for re-creating it. Or prolonging it. Consider that we attach ourselves to people and to things. More so we attach to what we think-of as those things. The daughter is now the daughter+/-: something I've attached myself to is harmed, is different. Considering this, though, the hell is warranted, isn't it? The outrage that certainly ensues is a result of compassion (suffering with). The pain felt is the pain of the other. The outrage is to injustice. But, what is there to "profit", say, from dwelling on (or, more aptly, in) one's own hell? None.



AMC

Calla Lily
11-28-2008, 11:28 PM
:scared: Ziljon, only for a fellow survivor would I venture into a philosophical thread. I utterly and abysmally suck at philosophy.

And my answer is yes. Good and evil exist outside of human society. The spiritual realm also contains good and evil. I realize that I'm applying my human definitions to non-human acts, and that spirits and other entities probably have different measurements by which they define good and evil. However, I believe that certain acts and desires are inherently evil (vivisection, torture, child rape) and the humanity or non-humanity of the perp is irrelevant.

Now I'm going to scuttle back to the horror boards, where everything is less scary than philosophy.:e2seesaw:

Ageless Stranger
11-28-2008, 11:35 PM
In short, no. We create these terms to describe acts that cause our emotions to stir. If someone kills a child they're "evil" is usually the first cry, whereas if someone save a child from a burning building, this is considered a good act and the person will often be described as good. If we didn't exist, if we were not conscious, there would be no good or evil. But then again, I'm not sure anything exists outside of human society.

Ziljon
11-29-2008, 01:52 AM
THanks for takin gthe plunge, Lily.


...I believe that certain acts and desires are inherently evil (vivisection, torture, child rape) and the humanity or non-humanity of the perp is irrelevant.

But vivisection, torture and child rape all happen in nature, don't they? A sea otter tearing the head off a shrimp and slicing open the abdomen. Aligators eating their young. (I don't know about the rape.) But you see what I mean.

Maybe Good & Evil shouldn't be grouped together. Perhaps that causes all the confusion.

I can see doing something simply for the sake of doing good. Doing good is sometimes its own reward. But I can't say that for doing evil. When someone does something 'evil' it's always for some other purpose; to acquire something, to horde something.

It seems to me that there can't be any 'evil' doctrine because that would suggest the followers obey the rules of said doctrine, which would make them, in essence, 'good' evil doers if they obey, and not evil, if they disobeyed.

Isn't the concept of evil kind of like saying: "Everything I say is a lie." No matter which way you look at it there's a contradiction.

I'm still leaning toward my friend's answer. Everything is good. Evil doesn't exist except in our own minds, our own perspective.

HeronW
11-29-2008, 03:03 AM
Pure good like pure evil is poetry, it's a mental construction. No one is pure anything, since flaws and foibles exist. Volcanoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes are inanimate though the actions produced cause death and suffering. Animals stalk, hunt, cripple prey to teach offspring to hunt, lay eggs in prey to raise new generations of wasps or flies, but it isn't done with malice. Intent, emotions, and actions are judged to be good/evil by whatever societal mores exist at the time.

ColoradoGuy
11-29-2008, 04:01 AM
The problem of evil is, of course, an ancient theological question. I think evil-doing requires consciousness of self-awareness, something which, as far as we know, animals lack. So they're off the hook.

Ziljon, it seems to me your friend's idea of evil is close to those of Saint Augustine (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/augustine/) and George Fox (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Fox). (I don't know the Eastern religious traditions well enough to comment on those.)

otterman
11-29-2008, 04:43 AM
If your definition of evil is the intentional harming of another for pleasure or to exercise power over them to satisfy an emotional need then, yes, it does exist outside of human society but on a very limited basis. Other primates (chimpanzees, for example) exhibit these characteristics. They are also capable of showing affection and caring--what can only be called goodness. I think for one to be evil or good, there must be the faculty for understanding what another feels--an ability to empathize--and that requires intelligence. That's probably why we see so few examples in nature; most animals don't appear to have the ability to emotionally put themselves in the place of others, even individuals of their own species. Sure, there's a lot of killing in the natural world and, although it seems cruel, it is only a manifestation of instinct, a natural act upon which survival depends.

AMCrenshaw
11-29-2008, 09:10 PM
Everything is good.

I can't agree. Have you read Candide? There's a satired quote that goes something like..."this is the best of all possible worlds." The problem with a statement like that is a temporal one. Only one present exists-- the past is perhaps now imaginary, the future the same; could be's, what if's, etc., are just imagined or real unfulfilled possibilities. That one present- and indeed one world- exists means that this world has no other to actually compare to. We can't call it Good or Evil- best or worst- it just is.

Some old aphorist (Lichtenburg, methinks) wrote that: God makes the animals; man makes himself. What does it mean?


If you believe in God, the whole business can get complicated. If God is good, is also His Creation? How could anything negate His will? So a shallow reading of that quote points to "man" being a god unto himself - and that's precisely what got the humans banished in the first place - but that it was God's own will that they become banished. They left and ignorant/blissful Paradise, will suffer for (however long) to presumably return to God after...realizing the Son, the Holy Spirit, the innate Goodness in the world, and the Father the innate- but superior?- Goodness of Heaven? Those who don't follow God's will are cast into the outer dark?

I don't know.

One of the interesting things about the question of evil is how often it relates to our sense of injustice, when something is taken away from one and given to another to whom it doesn't belong. Be it anything. These instances are usually all in the human realm.

But if you believe in God, you believe in his perfectly benevolent will -- "God will not cheat anyone", wrote Auden, "not even the world of its triumphs". Nearly all of nature (that which, you could say, carries out God's law?) is, then Good.


I think evil-doing requires consciousness of self-awareness

I agree. Genesis, at least (sorry to turn this toward theism; I hope that's OK), almost implies that self-awareness is sin itself.


AMC

Ziljon
11-30-2008, 12:33 AM
I wish I could add a poll.

Do Good & Evil exist?

And if you answer yes, please:

Define Good.

Define Evil.

Plot Device
11-30-2008, 09:20 AM
Define Good.

Define Evil.

Defining your terms needs to be your starting point before advancing to the question of the OP.

And since you'll probably never finish with this initial task of defining, you'll never get around to the target question.

[/devil's advocate]

[/yes, that mock close-tag was a smart-ass pun]



.

AMCrenshaw
11-30-2008, 09:27 AM
Does the question refer to whether or not good and evil are forces unto themselves?

benbradley
11-30-2008, 11:30 AM
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?


















The Shadow Knows!!!
< cue really, REALLY scary music >


Ahem...

And I suppose that (an introduction to an old radio drama) sums up how I feel about good and evil, and defines it for me. Both are in the "minds and hearts" of people, and do not exist (either as manifest, by "evil people" or as interpreted by other people judging them) outside of humanity.

So my answer to the question in the title is no.

About whether they are absolute or relative, I don't know. I'm not sure how to even apply these two words to good and evil.

Ruv Draba
11-30-2008, 02:11 PM
"Good" comes from a proto Indo-European base *ghedh- meaning "to unite, be associated, suitable".

We can all recognise many kinds of good because we have the same sorts of needs: food, shelter, health, clean water, safety, belonging, love, and opportunities to improve our condition...

As long as we understand customs, beliefs and methods, we are pretty adept at recognising when people are trying to do good for us -- we can learn to recognise what that looks like.

We also know what immediate bad looks like -- it looks like not having what we need. And we are very good at recognising when people are taking away what we need, or impeding our ability to get what we need. On this basis, if we understand how people think, we can recognise when they mean us harm.

The word 'evil' came from a proto Indo-European word *upelo-, meaning "uppity, overreaching bounds. It gradually took on a meaning of strong dislike or disparagement, and could mean bad, cruel, unskillful, defective, harm, crime, misfortune, disease. As you can see, it's a word laden with social and mythological meaning -- not just meaning associated with common human needs.

Because of its social and mythological dimensions this is not a word that will always translate well to different cultures -- and if it doesn't then I don't believe we can claim that its meaning 'exists' independently of human culture in the same way that the meaning of 'good' does.

I personally don't use the word in any serious fashion. I feel that the word carries overtones of ignorance, bigotry and malice. People can do good or bad -- can mean to do good or bad; but I don't believe that we can ever prove that they are or do 'evil', without buying into mythology.

(All etymologies are from www.etymonline.com)

JJ Cooper
11-30-2008, 02:26 PM
Good and Evil can only be defined as per individual beliefs. A good deed in my eyes and terms may appear as an evil act for others because of our differing beliefs. Likewise, an evil deed as determined by you ((abortion as an example (I am not trying to guess your stance on this topic)), will be seen as an act of good for another individual.

Bottom line; good and evil exist. Relative definition depends on your own beliefs.

JJ

ColoradoGuy
11-30-2008, 07:12 PM
. . . but I don't believe that we can ever prove that they are or do 'evil', without buying into mythology.
Or theology, which are the same thing to many, although not to me.

Don Allen
11-30-2008, 07:27 PM
There is only natural selection. No good or evil outside humanity. However I would contend there is fate, luck, and aberration, (if I spelled that right) (if it's spelled wrong, then I don't believe in it) anyway, fate=poor choices good choices. Luck= right place right time, wrong place wrong time. The thing I can't spell= Mental disease. ex. A lion that kills without purpose, eating.

FYI Spell check broke, dictionary lost.....

donroc
11-30-2008, 07:38 PM
Of course, we may call it evil when the cat deliberately poops on the bed because it is pissed that you went away for a few days and left it alone even with adequate water and food. :e2cat:

roncouch
11-30-2008, 08:10 PM
Good and evil are such broad terms, I'm unable to come up with an intelligent response to the question as it applies to humanity - much less outside our society. We should not judge non-humans according to our standards of right/wrong, good,evil, etc. When a female black widow spider kills her mate after sex, it's not evil...she just does it.

Ruv Draba
11-30-2008, 11:17 PM
Or theology, which are the same thing to many, although not to me.Not the same thing, I'd say. Mythology is the stories that every culture and religion holds. It includes both secular and sectarian myths. Theology is our understanding of the world on the presumption or belief that some of those myths are truth. Theology is grounded in mythology, but is not the same thing.

There are people who believe in evil who don't believe in deities for instance -- I'd say that they're holding to myth without holding to theology; on the other hand I don't know any theologians who don't also appeal to myth -- they'd have nothing to talk about. :)

I realise that the word 'myth' can mean 'false story', but that's not its only meaning. I mean it in the sense of 'legend or lore' -- a story received by tradition and custom.

What gives 'evil' overtones of bigotry in my eyes is not that it's grounded against a particular myth, but that it asserts the supremacy of one culture's myth over another and thereby creates social divisions. `Evil' is meaningful within a shared mythology, but not outside it. It's really easy for people to agree on 'good' and 'bad' in an inclusive fashion. It's really hard (I'd say impossible) for them to agree on 'evil' in the same way. `Evil' is very simply `bad' that is also `taboo' due to certain myths.

Noah Body
12-01-2008, 12:06 AM
I voted yes, though I do recognize that "evil" acts vary from one society to another. Good? The variance seems to be a bit less.

ColoradoGuy
12-01-2008, 11:16 PM
A bit of a side step, but here is a link to one of my favorite blogs (http://edgeofthewest.wordpress.com/2008/12/01/moore-moore-moore/#more-5853) written by some very smart people, most of whom are historians but one or two of whom are philosophers:

"I want to focus on the relationship between two questions: first, do moral properties– properties like rightness or goodness– fit into our best picture of the world, in particular with the picture drawn by the natural and social sciences? Second, how do moral judgments and concepts function? That is, what’s going on when we make judgments about, for example, an act’s being right or wrong?"

Angelinity
12-01-2008, 11:46 PM
good and evil are human perceptions. you will notice that definitions of what is good and what is evil will vary form culture to culture; sometimes the gap is so deep, that what one culture sees as a virture will be deemed deadly imoral by another.

you can answer the question yourself by observing the world outside human culture/society -- is it evil for a lioness to kill in order to feed her brood? it is necessary, no more, no less. how would a human perceive the same situation -- if they absolutely had to kill another in order to survive, the deed would no longer appear evil to them, they would have to rationalize it so that they can go on surviving.

however, as a writer, you must adhere to the mores and morals of your audience. your audience does not care for perceptions of good and evil that do not conform to its own expectations, hence, you ought not ask whether something is either good or evil, but whether your audience will perceive it as either good or evil.

gorgias of leontini
01-06-2009, 05:43 AM
first, do moral properties– properties like rightness or goodness– fit into our best picture of the world, in particular with the picture drawn by the natural and social sciences?

Oh this is silliness because rightness or goodness is not defined, so how are we to discuss it? If rightness exists within a human-created ethics then obviously it does not fit within the natural world, unless of course you conceive of humans as being within the natural world, then of course their (varying concepts of) good fits into the natural order, if one could call it that.

If rightness is a matter merely of knowing what is red and what not is red (so that we can all agree to stop at the light at appropriate times) then rightness is a matter of civilization. What existence does rightness have in the animal kingdom, one could wonder.

I'd like these things defined so that we can discuss them.

William Haskins
01-06-2009, 06:10 AM
yes. good and evil exist. this is not a theological issue for me.

good drives past a stranded woman in the rain and wants to help her. evil drives past a stranded woman and wants to rape her.

good wants to protect and care for his family. evil wants to harm the family and take its possessions.

i agree with others who say no person is all one or the other. good and evil exist on a continuum, but there is a line of demarcation there.

as for evil existing outside of human society, i believe it does in some other primates. i have seen video of chimps ambushing and ganging up on a member of their own group, beating him brutally even beyond death.

my opinion is that they have self-awareness and a know it is a conscious act of malice.

KTC
01-06-2009, 06:16 AM
I don't believe it exists outside the human experience. Any other beings are just being themselves...they don't judge their actions as good or evil. Animals are just being animal selves. I think with any other animal in the animal kingdom there are rules by which each tribe lives. It is a hierarchy kingdom and the weak are sometimes pruned out for the betterment of the whole tribe. These concepts are not good/evil...they are necessary for life. NO...good and evil are not breathing out there beyond the walls of the human mind. They do not exist.

ColoradoGuy
01-06-2009, 06:26 AM
I'd like these things defined so that we can discuss them.
So define away.

C.bronco
01-06-2009, 06:28 AM
Good and evil are choices. Not everyone is consistent.

KTC
01-06-2009, 06:33 AM
Good and evil are choices. Not everyone is consistent.


Yes, but outside the human experience...they are not choices. They do not exist.

gorgias of leontini
01-06-2009, 10:06 AM
Even if they are choices, who ultimately decides what is good and what is evil? If God Hisself is real, which I can't believe while I am awake, then we have the Good Book to tell us what is right and what is wrong. Otherwise we have our intuition, reason, and record.

How good are our instruments, though? Let us say that Good and Evil are ectoplasmic forces in the universe. We would be able to experience them, though not seemingly directly, through our senses (touch, smell, sight, hearing, taste). So when a man drives by a woman on the street, it is the Good ectoplasm that, like the smell of cookies, draws him to the side of the road to help her. The Evil ectoplasm, on the other hand, would be the cause of/reason for a man raping that same woman. Essentially- and I choose that word ever-so-carefully- we are programmed with a tendency one way or another: our brains have been trained, in a number of ways, for a number of reasons, to be more open to the Good ectoplasm, so we are more Good than Evil. The ectoplasm is like air: we breathe in something related to what we breathe out. People in Good ectoplasm release Good ectoplasm, but not always. People are born with bad lungs, wicked minds, and black hearts, after all.

Or, if choice is involved, however shallowly, we are the ones who generate more ectoplasm. There were originally two (way back, don't mind how or why), and relatively little amounts of it. Like a bacteria, the ectoplasm somehow grew in places it seemed quite unlikely. As humans grew, their brains reproduced the ectoplasm in a multitude of ways through their actions, reproduced so quickly that we could not keep track of it. Then we wrote myths about it. We tried to find out which actions produced which ectoplasm. Now, it seems, there are more ectoplasmic forces than we can keep track of, even if we can keep track of a few (10% tithe is Good; genocide is Evil).


All that I've said seems quite unlikely, yet anyone who says that Good and Evil exist in the world must mean this or they mean otherwise that they are involved in a system of signification, a fundamentally arbitrary one (whose origins otherwise we can only speculate through dead Adamic or Vedic language). By arbitrary I come to say that it barely exists at all, except the way pots of gold exist beneath rainbows. I've chased the rainbows all day; I've found skittles, but no gold.

Homewrecker
01-08-2009, 08:51 PM
W00t! Great thread. I think good & evil are culturally defined and limited to the sapien realm.

This discussion reminds me of Eddie Izzard's riff on evil. . .

“I am an evil giraffe, and I shall eat more leaves from this tree then perhaps I should, so that other giraffes may die”

and

“But with dogs, we do have “bad dog.” Bad dog exists. “Bad dog! Bad dog! Stole a biscuit, bad dog!” The dog is saying, “Who are you to judge me? You human beings who’ve had genocide, war against people of different creeds, colors, religions, and I stole a biscuit?! Is that a crime? People of the world!”

“Well, if you put it that way, I think you’ve got a point. Have another biscuit, sorry.”

Cheers!

ABekah
01-08-2009, 10:39 PM
I'm feel like I'm stepping into a landmine here, but these are my beliefs:

As a Christian, I see "good" and "evil" as being "holy" and "unholy." Probably a different definition from what most people think of as good and evil. But I believe that God is perfectly holy and can not tolerate being in the presence of anything unholy (sin). Hence why Lucifer was banished. I believe God gave His creation free will--there was only one rule in the beginning, and we failed.

There's more to the story, but I've tried to keep my response limited to answering the question posted.

gothicangel
01-13-2009, 03:05 AM
No.

Good and evil are arbitrary terms. They are subjective and as much a construction as gender or sexuality.

It is something that I've been think a lot about lately for my crime novel. In labeling someone 'evil' we are attempting to linguistically signify the devil. Now I'm more interested in what motivates people to behave in such a manner.

Also; 'evil' is a western term so can we apply it to all of humanity? I'm a Daoist - I don't believe in good or evil; only light and dark. Does these terms apply to me if they do not exist in my reality?

KTC
01-13-2009, 03:08 AM
“But with dogs, we do have “bad dog.” Bad dog exists. “Bad dog! Bad dog! Stole a biscuit, bad dog!” The dog is saying, “Who are you to judge me? You human beings who’ve had genocide, war against people of different creeds, colors, religions, and I stole a biscuit?! Is that a crime? People of the world!”

“Well, if you put it that way, I think you’ve got a point. Have another biscuit, sorry.”

Cheers!


Homewrecker! There are no bad dogs. Only bad pack leaders. This is another thread topic, of course. But there are NO BAD DOGS. (-;

Don
01-13-2009, 03:31 AM
Good and evil are human constructs, and lay the foundation for our morality.

The non-aggression principle sums up the difference between good and evil behavior succinctly. Evil is the initiation of physical force, the threat of such, or fraud upon persons or their property.



It holds that "aggression," which is defined as the initiation of physical force, the threat of such, or fraud upon persons or their property, is inherently illegitimate. The principle does not preclude defense or retaliation against aggression.


I like the way Heinlein addresses the issue of morality, so forgive me a few more quotes.



Morals — all correct moral laws — derive from the instinct to survive. Moral behavior is survival behavior above the individual level.

Correct morality can only be derived from what man is — not from what do-gooders and well-meaning aunt Nellies would like him to be.




All societies are based on rules to protect pregnant women and young children. All else is surplusage, excrescence, adornment, luxury, or folly, which can — and must — be dumped in emergency to preserve this prime function. As racial survival is the only universal morality, no other basic is possible. Attempts to formulate a "perfect society" on any foundation other than "Women and children first!" is not only witless, it is automatically genocidal. Nevertheless, starry-eyed idealists (all of them male) have tried endlessly — and no doubt will keep on trying.




I now define "moral behavior" as "behavior that tends toward survival." I won't argue with philosophers or theologians who choose to use the word "moral" to mean something else, but I do not think anyone can define "behavior that tends toward extinction" as being "moral" without stretching the word "moral" all out of shape.

Selfishness is the bedrock on which all moral behavior starts and it can be immoral only when it conflicts with a higher moral imperative. An animal so poor in spirit that he won't even fight on his own behalf is already an evolutionary dead end; the best he can do for his breed is to crawl off and die, and not pass on his defective genes.

The next higher level is to work, fight, and sometimes die for your own immediate family. This is the level at which six pounds of mother cat can be so fierce that she'll drive off a police dog. It is the level at which a father takes a moonlighting job to keep his kids in college — and the level at which a mother or father dives into a flood to save a drowning child… and it is still moral behavior even when it fails.

Evolution is a process that never stops. Baboons who fail to exhibit moral behavior do not survive; they wind up as meat for leopards.

The next level in moral behavior higher than that exhibited by the baboon is that in which duty and loyalty are shown toward a group of your own kind too large for an individual to know all of them. We have a name for that. It is called "patriotism."

sunandshadow
01-19-2009, 09:39 AM
What, no choice for 'there is neither good nor evil'?
Edit: nvm, I read it wrong...

I would personally define evil as anything which causes someone pain. A virus like HIV would be an example of a nonhuman source of evil; a person torturing an animal is a slightly more arguable example of evil which does not have a human victim; but evil requires a human to be in the equation somewhere because only humans can define some object or event as evil.

reenkam
01-19-2009, 06:56 PM
In the mean time I've spoken with a friend in Hawaii, my "Sidartha," and he suprised me with an immediate answer: "Oh, evil doesn't exist at all. There is only Good. We're responsible for our own evil, we make our own hell."

Wouldn't the second bolded part meant that, Yes, evil does exist? Regardless of where it might come from or why or any of that, wouldn't this mean it's around.

So the first bolded part doesn't really fit anymore...


Personally, I'd say they both exist and can exist outside of human constructs, though the exact idea of what is good and what is evil would be personal, for humans and animals alike.

sheadakota
01-19-2009, 07:21 PM
Perhaps I misunderstand the OP- But I take 'outside human society' to mean those other than human- animals?

If this is the case then no- good and evil do no exist outside human society- Good and evil are human creations, they exist because we give them the means to exist- we define the actions and label them.

Animals may do certain actions that we might label good or evil- but in their society, do they consider it so? Dolphins and Chimps have been recorded commiting actions we wouls label evil- murder of their own kind- our label-our definition-Do I think those species consider the actions evil?
No- I don't. They are no punished, they are not ostrcized by their their own kind- they do what they do and life goes on, no judgements that we are aware of, but as a different species we will never know the true ins and outs of another specie's social structure.

ColoradoGuy
01-19-2009, 09:53 PM
Wouldn't the second bolded part meant that, Yes, evil does exist? Regardless of where it might come from or why or any of that, wouldn't this mean it's around.

So the first bolded part doesn't really fit anymore...


Personally, I'd say they both exist and can exist outside of human constructs, though the exact idea of what is good and what is evil would be personal, for humans and animals alike.
There's a theological tradition going back to St. Augustine in the 5th century that evil is not a thing in itself, but a lack of something. In his construct, it was distance from God, from the Good. George Fox in the 17th century had a similar view -- there is an Inner Light (the Good) in all of us. Evil happens when that Inner Light is ignored. In both world views evil requires human involvement.

Ziljon
01-19-2009, 10:05 PM
I came across this recently. Similar to what the Colorado Guy pointed out. I wonder if it can really be attributed to Einstein, though.: Does Evil Exist? (http://www.hbingham.com/religion/evil.htm)

(Just pasted from the link above)

Does Evil Exist?

Does evil exist? The university professor challenged his students with this question. Did God create everything that exists? A student bravely replied, "Yes, he did!"

"God created everything?" The professor asked.

"Yes, sir," the student replied.

The professor answered, "If God created everything, then God created evil, since evil exists, and according to the principal that our works define who we are then God is evil."

The student became quiet before such an answer.

The professor was quite pleased with himself and boasted to the students that he had proven once more that the Christian faith was a myth.

Another student raised his hand and said, "Can I ask you a question professor?"

"Of course," replied the professor.

The student stood up and asked, "Professor, does cold exist?"

"What kind of question is this? Of course, it exists.

Have you never been cold?"

The students snickered at the young man's question.

The young man replied, "In fact sir, cold does not exist. According to the laws of physics, what we consider cold is in reality the absence of heat. Everybody or object is susceptible to study when it has or transmits energy, and heat is what makes a body or matter have or transmit energy. Absolute zero (-460 degrees F) is the total absence of heat; all matter becomes inert and incapable of reaction at that temperature.

Cold does not exist. We have created this word to describe how we feel if we have no heat.

The student continued. "Professor, does darkness exist?"

The professor responded, "Of course it does."

The student replied, "Once again you are wrong sir, darkness does not exist either. Darkness is in reality the absence of light. Light we can study, but not darkness. In fact we can use Newton's prism to break white light into many colors and study the various wavelengths of each color. You cannot measure darkness. A simple ray of light can break into a world of darkness and illuminate it. How can you know how dark a certain space is? You measure the amount of light present. Isn't this correct? Darkness is a term used by man to describe what happens when there is no light present."

Finally the young man asked the professor. "Sir, does evil exist?"

Now uncertain, the professor responded, "Of course as I have already said. We see it every day. It is in the daily example of man's inhumanity to man. It is in the multitude of crime and violence everywhere in the world. "These manifestations are nothing else but evil."

To this the student replied, "Evil does not exist sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God. It is just like darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is not like faith, or love that exist just as does light and heat. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God's love present in his heart. It's like the cold that comes when there is no heat or the darkness that comes when there is no light."

The professor sat down. The young man's name? -- Albert Einstein

AMCrenshaw
01-19-2009, 10:38 PM
What an interesting logic. To say Evil is an absence of God, or of Good, must assume that God or Good exists:

Heat does exist. Light does exist. If God exists (a big IF), this logic is excellent. Since gods may or may not exist, this logic is clunky at best.

AMC

Ruv Draba
01-20-2009, 03:11 AM
I wonder if it can really be attributed to Einstein, though.: Does Evil Exist? (http://www.hbingham.com/religion/evil.htm)Most unlikely.

Einstein was deeply religious until the age of 12, when he discovered that a lot of his religious beliefs were contradicted by his science texts. In his teens he rejected the idea of a personal god, though he wrote of God often and never had much time for atheists either. You can find some of his comments on morality and religion here (http://www.einsteinandreligion.com/moral.html):


All men should let their conduct be guided by the same principles; and those principles should be such, that by following them there should accrue to all as great a measure as possible of security, satisfaction, and as small a measure as possible of suffering.In other words, his view of morality was largely secular and pragmatic.

Einstein's tertiary education was in the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School, where he studied maths and physics, and flunked French, chemistry and biology. He studied topics so advanced that much of the time he studied alone. Before that he studied under a Prussian education system in Münich -- not the sort of place where you could contradict a teacher. Moreover, the whole dialogue looks contrived for rhetorical effect rather than recorded.

This has all the hallmarks of a dialogue fabricated for instructional purposes, then misattributed to steal some authority.

Higgins
01-21-2009, 08:01 PM
There's a theological tradition going back to St. Augustine in the 5th century that evil is not a thing in itself, but a lack of something. In his construct, it was distance from God, from the Good. George Fox in the 17th century had a similar view -- there is an Inner Light (the Good) in all of us. Evil happens when that Inner Light is ignored. In both world views evil requires human involvement.

As a fantasy writer, I need something like good and evil to excuse the cosmic rhetoric of some moments in my plotting. Ultimately, though, the judgement that X is good or evil implies a high degree of irony in that while we know evil is icky and that good is pleasant, the real plot fun is in those times when good is icky (time to get an injection or a cancer removed or a mudbath or shoot a badly injured animal) or evil is pleasant (Mister Thumpkins seems very friendly but when he has you over for dinner, he eats you).
Anyway, from a fantasy writer point of view, I rely on some running tabulation of goods and evils that the reader keeps and often finds misleading but fun.

Ruv Draba
01-22-2009, 12:42 AM
As a fantasy writer, I need something like good and evil to excuse the cosmic rhetoric of some moments in my plotting.I don't know if you write high fantasy, Higgins, but a lot of high fantasy does that, from Tolkien and Lewis onward. Low fantasy though, generally doesn't. Whether it's Conan, Elric or Thieves' World it's still the sympathetic bad guy and the unsympathetic bad guy duking it out. What keeps us interested is how ruthless and clever and tragically doomed they are.

While high fantasy has enjoyed a strong recent tradition, in terms of moral struggles the ancient historical fantasies seem more low to me than high. The tales of Heracles or Beowulf are stories of admirable bad-boys, while the Iliad is a story of good guys on both sides, and the Odyssey is more about trying to get home from strange lands than Making the World a Better Place. It's not really until Mallory and a couple of his predecessors that good vs. evil becomes embedded in characters -- then there's a slew of moralistic fairy-tales picking it up until Tokien, who kicked off the current fashion.

Which leads me to my question: why? Why have heroic good vs evil stories become popular? They seem so ubiquitous today that we see them as the quintessential fantasy. But are they? Every culture has morality tales, but not all morality tales insist that all the good lives on this side of the fence, while all the bad lives on t'other side.

Crom forbid that I of all people get postmodern in this forum, but is high fantasy about our morality or our xenophobia?

Higgins
01-22-2009, 12:53 AM
I don't know if you write high fantasy, Higgins, but a lot of high fantasy does that, from Tolkien and Lewis onward. Low fantasy though, generally doesn't. Whether it's Conan, Elric or Thieves' World it's still the sympathetic bad guy and the unsympathetic bad guy duking it out. What keeps us interested is how ruthless and clever and tragically doomed they are.

While high fantasy has enjoyed a strong recent tradition, in terms of moral struggles the ancient historical fantasies seem more low to me than high. The tales of Heracles or Beowulf are stories of admirable bad-boys, while the Iliad is a story of good guys on both sides, and the Odyssey is more about trying to get home from strange lands than Making the World a Better Place. It's not really until Mallory and a couple of his predecessors that good vs. evil becomes embedded in characters -- then there's a slew of moralistic fairy-tales picking it up until Tokien, who kicked off the current fashion.

Which leads me to my question: why? Why have heroic good vs evil stories become popular? They seem so ubiquitous today that we see them as the quintessential fantasy. But are they? Every culture has morality tales, but not all morality tales insist that all the good lives on this side of the fence, while all the bad lives on t'other side.

Crom forbid that I of all people get postmodern in this forum, but is high fantasy about our morality or our xenophobia?

High fantasy is just another level of narrative irony to play with. In your own analysis of Conan you imply a High Fantasy reading. Moreover, while good and evil may not be written all over the Iliad...it is written all over the Odyssey, perhaps because the Odyssey digs at more complex sexual issues than simply the importance of sulking after being deprived of one's rightful sex slave.
Odysseus is a complicated guy and the traces of good and evil (there's no doubt that the Suitors are very bad and that Athena is not just good but has a good sense of humor) help the reader navigate a wildly complex narrative. I think the Odyssey is a deeper story than the Iliad and good and evil help the reader make sense of it.

Ruv Draba
01-22-2009, 01:04 AM
In your own analysis of Conan you imply a High Fantasy reading.Only if 'bad' equals 'evil', which I've stipulated earlier (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showpost.php?p=3011912&postcount=23) it's not. Every culture loves its bad boys, from Gilgamesh to Arnie.


I think the Odyssey is a deeper story than the Iliad and good and evil help the reader make sense of it.Well, there's certainly the Reclaiming Rightful Property theme, and there's a bit of xenophobia around the other contenders, but does that also make it a Good vs Evil theme? Or is each construction equally valid?

Higgins
01-22-2009, 01:30 AM
Only if 'bad' equals 'evil', which I've stipulated earlier (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showpost.php?p=3011912&postcount=23) it's not. Every culture loves its bad boys, from Gilgamesh to Arnie.

Well, there's certainly the Reclaiming Rightful Property theme, and there's a bit of xenophobia around the other contenders, but does that also make it a Good vs Evil theme? Or is each construction equally valid?

Hmmm. Let's make evil simpler and go from there. I can't remember all the ins and outs of the Odyssey so...
Let's suppose a cosmic order where if certain rules are broken very bad (and let's just say plain evil) things happen that entail huge amounts of destruction. This is to bring in vast metaphysical consequences to simple taboo violations...but that's a simple way to get evil out of a cosmic order. Thus we have: violate taboo and produce evil versus leave cosmic order alone and maintain good by inaction. Any story is going to have to involve the taboo violation and the cascade of evil that results at least if we embed the story in that simple cosmic context. So there's one lesson: the Higher the story the more cosmic the evil. This leaves us with a few left over ambiguous/ironic thematic elements such as: the Innocent Taboo violator and the Virtuous Bringer of Terrible Retribution. So just one step down from a fairly clear if simplistic idea of evil (taboo violation with a cascade of destructive consequnces) we are well on our way to enlisting the reader to track all of this. So here's another lesson: at each drop in level (from say cosmic structure to cosmic value) all the indicators of good and evil can potentially flip and this is the sort of thing that readers like to follow. It gives an aesthetic release like resolving a chord in music. Or so it seems to me.

Ruv Draba
01-22-2009, 08:08 AM
Let's suppose a cosmic order where if certain rules are broken very bad (and let's just say plain evil) things happen that entail huge amounts of destruction.Hubris (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hubris)would be the prime example in Greek myth, so let's take a look.

Hubris was considered the worst of all sins, and a bad enough taboo that Greek societies would kill for it -- and unsurprisingly, gods punished people for it in Greek myth too -- the myth of Arachne (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arachne), for instance. (There's also an Hellenic flood story based on hubris that I couldn't find... maybe someone has a link?)

Any story is going to have to involve the taboo violation and the cascade of evil that results at least if we embed the story in that simple cosmic context. So there's one lesson: the Higher the story the more cosmic the evil.Even so, while Greek myth has many salutary lessons on the 'evils' of hubris, and hubris certainly leads to the death of thousands in some tales, it's more assigned to individuals than cultures. The Iliad is clearly epic, heroic fantasy, and Greek notions of sin are peppered throughout, yet it's not a war of 'good' culture vs 'evil' culture. Even the Persian wars weren't described as wars of good vs evil, despite the high stakes and all the pro-Hellenic jingoism.

So is 'evil culture extirpation' a more modern creation? Sure, we've had genocide in our story-telling since Ashurbanipal (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashurbanipal) at least -- but genocide based on ideological rather than pragmatic arguments?

The earliest 'genocide the evil' myths I can think of date from the Crusades perhaps -- and even then, they're moderated by counter-myths like the tales of the noble Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saladin). Yet by the 20th century, Tolkien whose epic is redolent with laments about the military-industrial machine and its impacts on pastoral Britain, had no problems writing genocide into his High Fantasy good-guy narrative, and CS Lewis was right there with him. Kill the evil orcs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orc); winnow the irredeemable (and very Persian-looking) followers of Tash (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tash_(Narnia)).

So just one step down from a fairly clear if simplistic idea of evil (taboo violation with a cascade of destructive consequnces) we are well on our way to enlisting the reader to track all of this.Are we, or is this a 'it's inevitable because we do it' argument?

each drop in level (from say cosmic structure to cosmic value) all the indicators of good and evil can potentially flip and this is the sort of thing that readers like to follow.Or put another way, it's evil if Your Guy did it first and strategically, but My Guy can do it tactically in retaliation and be considered clever and good. Hollywood action movies love to use that little gem. On the other hand, you won't find a lot of it in Mallory, say... The good guys win only while they're acting good, and their flaws come back to bite them anyway. Good and bad behaviour scale right up through the narrative, but as with Greek tragedies, long-laid basilisks eventually come home to roost.

Higgins
01-22-2009, 08:15 PM
The Iliad is clearly epic, heroic fantasy, and Greek notions of sin are peppered throughout, yet it's not a war of 'good' culture vs 'evil' culture. Even the Persian wars weren't described as wars of good vs evil, despite the high stakes and all the pro-Hellenic jingoism.

So is 'evil culture extirpation' a more modern creation? Sure, we've had genocide in our story-telling since Ashurbanipal (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashurbanipal)at least -- but genocide based on ideological rather than pragmatic arguments?



Ashurbanipal was following a long tradition in Mesopotamian mass terror. The Sumerians had practiced mass impalings and even had a word for the horrific mass slaughter ment to inspire utter terror. Eventually they cut back on such things and the Assyrians were comparitively restrained though they still ran a empire based on ethno/theo-centric terror.
The Persians (after knocking over the Babylonians who had briefly taken over from the Assyrians) had a very different Empire, possibly because they relied on a sophisticated Aramaic-speaking elite and/or because they carefully inserted Persians among the regional elites in a kind of feudal fashion (feudalism being an administrative advance over driving hundreds of thousands here and there to die in the service of one's savage god) AND of course the Persians were at least incipient Zoroastrians and absolutely believed in absolute good and evil and tolerated other religions perhaps because of ideological reasons associated with the realm of Good and Evil defined by Zoroastrianism as Objective aspects of the cosmos.
Herodotus of course, grew up among the Persians and wrote his history of the Wars (just the first few of many)
between the Persians and the Greeks and made the hometown girl Artemisia (from Halicarnassus like Herodotus) who fought for the Persians and escaped from Salamis...a heroine...so its no wonder the Persians don't look particularly depraved in his story. Nor did the Persians in general look particularly evil to anyone else -- Cyrus the Great is the only person named as a messiah in the Septuagint for example.
Herodotus does call the Persians "barbarians"...but apparently this is just a generic term for non-Greeks and not a cultural condemnation.
So the notion of a totally evil other (super)culture (like the vaguely Oriental/Assyrian bad guys in Tolkien and CS Lewis) may be something more in tune with modern ideological structures which don't have any explicit elitist agendas unlike say Xenophon who is a pro-Persian Greek with an elitist agenda.

Ruv Draba
01-23-2009, 01:42 PM
So the notion of a totally evil other (super)culture (like the vaguely Oriental/Assyrian bad guys in Tolkien and CS Lewis) may be something more in tune with modern ideological structures which don't have any explicit elitist agendas unlike say Xenophon who is a pro-Persian Greek with an elitist agenda.Zoroastrianism is the first known religion with a serious eschatology (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eschatology)... and its Hell is a forerunner of the Abrahamic versions of Hell. They consigned all their damned into a lake of molten metal, while true Zoroastrians skate (figuratively, not literally). If that isn't an elitist 'chosen people' agenda, what is? (Zoroastrianism is alive today by the way -- but you have to be born into the religion)

Notwithstanding all that though, in terms of myths about cultures extirpating cultures for moral reasons (as opposed to gods doing so), I'm still struggling to find a really solid pre-Tolkien example. Yet it's become the staple of High Fantasy nowadays, from Middle Earth to Star Wars.

Why do we need Holy Genocide in our myths nowadays when our ancestors, who often fought wars for survival and not just empire, apparently didn't? I don't feel that we're less elitist than our ancestors (consider the rise of nationalism in 20th century Europe for instance), and I don't fully see the connection anyway. I can't see that genocide is a sign of more sophisticated morality -- rather, it seems more simplistic than the treatments of the Iliad, say. What's the attraction of greater tribalism in the last century? I'm still trying to fathom.

Higgins
01-23-2009, 06:01 PM
Zoroastrianism is the first known religion with a serious eschatology (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eschatology)... and its Hell is a forerunner of the Abrahamic versions of Hell. They consigned all their damned into a lake of molten metal, while true Zoroastrians skate (figuratively, not literally). If that isn't an elitist 'chosen people' agenda, what is?


An elitist "chosen people" ideology is never a genocidal ideology. The whole point of Zoroastrianism or Judeo-Christian Humanism or 18th century Navajo ceremonialism or Calvinism is that the value of a person comes from positive behaviors that situate them in a very specific relationship with evaluative structures in the cosmos. In an elitist "chosen people" ideology a person's value comes from an inventive set of behaviors that are assumed to have internal correlates. I suppose (as do quite a few others) that the growth of mass ideologies with rather superficial ways of evaluating people is part of the world's current love affair with wiping out whole ways of life, whole cultures, whole ethnic groups.

Ruv Draba
01-24-2009, 01:26 PM
An elitist "chosen people" ideology is never a genocidal ideology. The whole point of Zoroastrianism or Judeo-Christian Humanism or 18th century Navajo ceremonialism or Calvinism is that the value of a person comes from positive behaviors that situate them in a very specific relationship with evaluative structures in the cosmos.Except that with modern Zoroastrianism at least, you have to be born into the faith. (And perhaps in older versions too -- or perhaps not.)


I suppose (as do quite a few others) that the growth of mass ideologies with rather superficial ways of evaluating people is part of the world's current love affair with wiping out whole ways of life, whole cultures, whole ethnic groups.I've been tippy-toeing around the religion/genocide question and will continue to do so because several modern religions have to wrestle with the morality of that belief in a pluralistic world.

But with respect to myth in a literary sense you're suggesting that xenophobia engenders the Last Battle sort of good/evil myths... which is exactly what I'm wondering too. I see your argument for how that might occur, but what's the evidence that xenophobia is indeed a cause -- that it's not caused by something else like certain kinds of imperialism or oppressive occupation, say, instead? We can safely guess where Lewis got his Last Battle from, but did Tolkien get his final battle from Revelations, or from staring at the ruins of Europe?

Higgins
01-26-2009, 07:43 PM
Except that with modern Zoroastrianism at least, you have to be born into the faith. (And perhaps in older versions too -- or perhaps not.)

I've been tippy-toeing around the religion/genocide question and will continue to do so because several modern religions have to wrestle with the morality of that belief in a pluralistic world.

But with respect to myth in a literary sense you're suggesting that xenophobia engenders the Last Battle sort of good/evil myths... which is exactly what I'm wondering too. I see your argument for how that might occur, but what's the evidence that xenophobia is indeed a cause -- that it's not caused by something else like certain kinds of imperialism or oppressive occupation, say, instead? We can safely guess where Lewis got his Last Battle from, but did Tolkien get his final battle from Revelations, or from staring at the ruins of Europe?

Modern Zoroastrianism has the problem that it has been legally redefined by being submerged in an Islamic context. Since it was originally an "evangelical" faith, conversion must have been possible originally.

I think Tolkien and CS Lewis built their evils with the mass ideologies of fascism and stalinism in the back of their minds. And Tolkien gave Mordor plenty of Assyrian names (Barad-Dur certainly seems to relate to Assyrian such as Dur-Sharrik (Fortress (Dur) of Sargon).


http://oi.uchicago.edu/i/highlights/OIM_A7366.gif

semilargeintestine
01-26-2009, 09:54 PM
This is slightly off topic, but it always makes me laugh when I see the term "Abrahamic version of hell", because Abraham was a Jewish convert who didn't believe in hell (and yes, I realize that Christianity and Islam fall under the heading of Abrahamic religions).

Anyway, I am not very well versed in religions apart from Judaism, so I will refrain from speaking on them. Personally, I believe--as do others on here, I'm sure--that good and evil are just terms we have given to describe things we like and don't like. When one questions whether or not it exists outside humanity, I think that it does, but that you cannot apply the same constraints we do. I think you also cannot expect it to be on the philosophical level that we place it. Zebras don't like when lions attack them, but I don't think there are zebras sitting around wondering if the lions think they are being good or evil.

Anyway, humans invent a lot of things based on our higher level of consciousness and ability to observe things of which other animals may not necessarily be aware. The difference between good and evil is just one example.

Ruv Draba
01-29-2009, 11:34 PM
Modern Zoroastrianism has the problem that it has been legally redefined by being submerged in an Islamic context.I only know one practising Zoroastrian and she has no Islamic identification at all. Her definition is cultural rather than legal.


Since it was originally an "evangelical" faith, conversion must have been possible originally.Yes, but perhaps within a limited ethnicity -- somewhat like traditional notions of Judaism. You must be of the tribe to be of the faith. My friend believes that you must be Persian to be Zoroastrian -- though as with all ethnic identification questions, 'Persian' is hard to define. :)

semilargeintestine
01-30-2009, 03:42 AM
Actually, converts to Judaism are considered to be just as Jewish as those born into the faith. What makes one Jewish is the acceptance of the Torah. When a person does that, they are Jewish as far as the community is concerned. Don't forget that Abraham himself was a convert. That makes it difficult for anyone to consider converts of being on a lower level.

Obi_1_Kinobi
03-25-2009, 02:18 AM
There's no such thing as pure good and pure evil. There are times we're at peace and there are times we're at the brink of insanity. It's just a matter of how you handle yourself. We tend to lean to our crazy side every now and then, of course.

Dale Emery
04-03-2009, 11:40 AM
So what is evil? What is good?

Good is that which you perceive satisfies your needs. Evil is that which you abhor, which you perceive to thwart your needs (especially that which you perceive to have an intention to thwart your needs).


Do they exist outside of society, outside of consciousness?

No.


Any thoughts?

A judgment of good or evil says little about the thing itself, and more about the judge's attitude toward the thing (and, perhaps indirectly, about the judge's needs that the judge perceives to be met or unmet by the thing).

Dale

shackleton
08-12-2009, 12:55 PM
Aren't the last two options a bit dodgy? I mean, surely you can't have good without evil? If you could, you could have a one-sided coin, or black without white. Don't words need to have a binary opposite to work?

Romantic Heretic
09-07-2009, 04:19 PM
Good and evil are human concepts. They are infinitely variable according to culture and individual.

They do serve a purpose though. They help the individual and the society to survive. Those with poorly imagined concepts of good and evil don't survive.

Rufus Coppertop
10-09-2009, 05:48 AM
Does fast exist? Does slow exist?

Good and evil are adjectives.

Good people exist, evil people exist. The attributes themselves don't exist except as qualities of the substantives to which they are attributed.

If I have a fast car, does that mean that fast exists? How much does the fast weigh? What size box can I keep it in? Why can't I lend some of it a friend whose car has broken down?

Rufus Coppertop
10-09-2009, 05:51 AM
Good is that which you perceive satisfies your needs. Evil is that which you abhor, which you perceive to thwart your needs (especially that which you perceive to have an intention to thwart your needs).

Or the needs of humanity or the needs of earth or the needs of life.

Archullus
12-22-2009, 09:24 PM
Do good and evil exist outside of society?
I think it depends how you draw the lines. Concepts such as good and evil belong to the society writing the rules. The writ (or cultural mandate) of humanity extends to the four corners of the Earth, but not much further.

Could I imagine a universal definition of good and evil? Only in the event of a dominor vox. In such a circumstance, our values and belief systems would necessarily be subservient... consider where we are technologically.

What I would I like to believe in is not the same as what logic suggests to me.
I would like to believe in a compassionate God and some of the other baggage that comes with it.
Logic suggests to me that is only a matter of time before the radio / TV plume of transmissions (nearly 200 light years across at present) is tracked back here. The prospect of being 'discovered' is daunting and at the very least would bring the failings of our belief systems into sharp relief.

Footnote: I write more on this here (http://www.lulu.com/content/7951137)

Ganesha
01-27-2010, 08:33 PM
good and evil exist while One is in duality

ColoradoGuy
01-29-2010, 01:27 AM
good and evil exist while One is in duality


Can you explain what you mean by this?

DWSTXS
01-29-2010, 02:54 AM
Not the answer I was hoping for -


Does every question have an answer?

If there is nothing to unlock, is a key still a key?

Rufus Coppertop
03-12-2010, 07:19 AM
If there is nothing to unlock, is a key still a key?

No, but it might be a weird little knife.

Rufus Coppertop
03-12-2010, 06:39 PM
Can you explain what you mean by this?

A possibility.

Duality is self and other. Objectifying others arises from dualism. Evil is objectifying others, rather than allowing them to be the subjects of their own lives.

wrangler
03-12-2010, 09:42 PM
I've been thinking about motives, about protagonists and antagonists, and about good and evil.

I'm confused. Are good and evil absolute or are they relative? And if they are relative, then how can they exist at all when the most common assumed definition for both of them entails being the opposite of the other?

Everything I come up with as an example of pure evil turns out not to be when attributed to nature (you try).

So what is evil? What is good? Do they exist outside of society, outside of consciousness?

Any thoughts?

I've read a great deal of literature and books on the oldest people living here on earth (The Bushman) who are descendants of the first human beings. In a book, titled The Old Way: A Story of the First People, the author asked the elders of the tribe about good/evil.

the elders told her that they regard stealing, jealousy, murder and anger as normal facets of the human spirit and treat it as such. If a man steals something from another male in his tribe, the issue is resolved amongst the elders. And that's it, literally.

If a man in a fit of anger, kills another member from his tribe, this too is resolved by the elders. And at most, the "murderer" would have to give to the widow and any children that came from that union whatever the elders deemed the man to be worth at the time.

They would not believe in shunning the person who killed another in anger, because they are extremely dependant emotionally on the sense of belonging and companionship.

Remember, these are the same people whom whenever we see them on television are always in a circle together, dancing together, hunting together, feasting together. So they would not make someone an outcast for taking his brothers life.

However from what I've read, cases of murder are extremely rare. One other thing that I think is worth mentioning, is the main reason something like murder is rare is, from a young age they are taught to supress their anger, feelings of agression and fears.

(1) because they hunt wild animals and animals smell fear, anxiety and excitement

(2) they did everything together as a tribe therefore they believed in maintaining peace at all costs. Being unable to control your emotions could cause more harm than good.

These people do not believe in god, or evil the way we do. As many people have already stated, we have attached certain feelings and beliefs to these words, but a member of the Bushman has no concept of what "wrong" or "good."

wrangler
03-12-2010, 09:43 PM
One last thing, Drake ducks rape

http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A22547838

AMCrenshaw
03-14-2010, 08:33 AM
Hmmm

Avisek
04-15-2010, 11:00 PM
I believe in these two sayings -

'There is no white. There is no black. There are only different shades of gray.'

and

'The world is what you believe it to be.'

Hitler slaughtered thousands of Jews. So many people were killed, families destroyed, people were marked as unfit to live not for what they've done, but just because they were born in a certain family. He will be remembered as the best example of Satan on earth forever. So can we call him evil. Dark evil, or black. Maybe to Hitler, the killing of Jews was a way of cleaning up the Earth. He might have considered Jews to be the black filth that made the wonderful white world a dirtier place to live in. So he might have considered himself to be a God and went ahead to clean up the Earth. Why would he think in this way is of course another question.

Religion has caused more death throughout the ages than anything else. Yet we all consider religion to be sacred because we associate it with God and everything pure, so its supposed to be good. White.

My point is that any action can be called good from a certain perspective, and bad from another. So its basically gray, someone who thinks in a certain way might think its white, to someone else it might be black.

For the record, I hate Hitler and I am not against religion.

M.Austin
04-29-2010, 12:39 AM
I believe good and evil are strictly opinionated.

For example, I think if I saw a grown man rape a child -- I would murder him without thinking twice about if what I was doing was right or wrong. =P

ColoradoGuy
04-29-2010, 02:05 AM
I believe good and evil are strictly opinionated.
I don't know what you mean by this statement. That it is a matter of opinion? That it is relative?

For example, I think if I saw a grown man rape a child -- I would murder him without thinking twice about if what I was doing was right or wrong. =P
So in this example you think good and evil are innately obvious to any observer of the situation? Interesting you use the term murder, rather than kill. The first is a crime, suggesting that you would commit the crime, but the second is not necessarily so.

The Otter
05-02-2010, 03:26 AM
I tend to think of ethics and morality as being in a similar area as mathematics. Math, obviously, cannot exist without humans. Numbers and equations are not "real" in any physical sense and don't exist outside of human minds. But math still describes and explains reality. 2 + 2 can't equal whatever we want it to, it has to equal 4, because otherwise math ceases to be meaningful or useful as a tool.

In the same sense, a system of ethics is a tool to help an individual or a society achieve a desirable state of being. It might not be "real" in the same sense that a desk or a carbon molecule is, but it has to be coherent and consistent and based upon reality. Otherwise it's useless.

mgoblue101415
06-11-2010, 07:33 AM
Evil does not exist outside of human society.

Evil and good are concepts manufactured by humans.


Is a jaguar evil for killing a deer? Is a hawk evil for killing a sparrow? Is a weed evil for killing a lawn?


Good and evil were created in order to categorize those who respected society and its laws and those who did not. For what reason would you go against society unless there was something wrong with you? Unless you were evil? With the progression of religions good and evil were used to scare and control people into abiding by their rules (for the record, I am Christian, I just have issues with most organized religions.)



So... No, outside of human society, good and evil do not exist, as the concept of good and evil is completely a human creation.


And even if you subscribe to the belief that people can literally be good and evil... It would still be something that existed only in human society. Animals, weeds, nature... They all "kill" because it is inherent. It's not a conscious choice they make. There is no concept of good and evil in nature. Humans make choices, therefore they can be held accountable for their actions, be they good or bad.


So, either way, good and evil do not exist outside of human society.

Jorge A.
06-11-2010, 07:57 AM
Some dude (Sagan) said: "With billions and billions and billions of stars in our galaxy and billions and billions of galaxies....Tahdah, life on other planets. If there is life on other planets, then some of it must be self aware. So yes, the answer is yes. Evil ALIENS!

Ruv Draba
06-11-2010, 11:00 AM
IMath, obviously, cannot exist without humans.It's hard to argue that math is cultural when independent cultures produce the same sort of math. Math language is certainly cultural, but the concepts in math are actually based on concepts we find in nature. The word "six" for counting sheep is one we made up, but the number of sheep in a particular flock is independent of the observer. If we agree on what a sheep is, we'll also agree on how many there are in the flock.


In the same sense, a system of ethics is a tool to help an individual or a society achieve a desirable state of being. It might not be "real" in the same sense that a desk or a carbon molecule is, but it has to be coherent and consistent and based upon reality. Otherwise it's useless.Yes, but morality isn't simply a means to an end. It's to do with humans identifying what a good end should be. Key tools we use to discover good ends are our sympathy, our empathy and our knowledge of resources, cause and consequence.

Drachen Jager
06-11-2010, 11:39 PM
Even inside human society there is no good and evil.

We are all just products of our genetics and our environments. We are animals just like any other. A dog or a coyote is not evil for killing a baby, it's just being an animal.

I think trying to attribute, 'pure', qualities to humans is just another way that people use to try and separate us from animals, we want to feel superior. Truth is, we're not. We just have superior brain function.

Ziljon
06-12-2010, 08:39 AM
I wonder if any cops have responded to this thread? Would they have a different perspective, I wonder, being on the front lines so to speak?

mgoblue101415
06-12-2010, 11:38 AM
I wonder if any cops have responded to this thread? Would they have a different perspective, I wonder, being on the front lines so to speak?

I'm sure a lot of cops, say in the US, would say they have seen some evil acts. Course, there are cops around the world who have done things that some people would consider evil.

Even within human society "good" and "evil" are subjective. A certain time... A certain place...

Human sacrifices weren't seen as evil within the societies performing them. They were actually good. Something to appease the gods or to ask favor of them. Many people now, however, look back at such things and consider them evil.


Some cultures send their elderly off into the jungle or tundra so they don't take resources from those who aren't on their last leg. Most in "civilized" countries would find that a bit evil.

In America many people send their parents or grandparents off to nursing homes. There are people in other countries around the world who would view that as evil.

If someone has a mental illness and he or she commits unspeakable acts, does that make him or her evil?

And at what point does someone become "evil". The person who shoots the clerk during a robbery... Is he/she evil? Kills the clerk and a customer... Evil? Clerk, a couple customers, and the person whose car he or she jacks... Evil?

Hitler was evil (yeah, okay, I did it... I lowered myself to ad Nazium)... He was responsible for the death of about 6 million Jews, plus a few million more civilians. But then you take Stalin... Responsible for over 20 million deaths. Mao... Around 50 million deaths. I mean, compared to Stalin and Mao, Hitler was the guy killing just the clerk. So why is Hitler considered so much more evil than Stalin or Mao?

Because it's all subjective. Different human societies have different views of evil. And the fact that there is no one universal agreement or view of evil, IMO, just proves that evil, and with it, good, are concepts created by humans.

Jorge A.
06-12-2010, 09:44 PM
Hitler was evil (yeah, okay, I did it... I lowered myself to ad Nazium)... He was responsible for the death of about 6 million Jews, plus a few million more civilians. But then you take Stalin... Responsible for over 20 million deaths. Mao... Around 50 million deaths. I mean, compared to Stalin and Mao, Hitler was the guy killing just the clerk. So why is Hitler considered so much more evil than Stalin or Mao?

You know I've wondered this myself at one time or another: what is it about Hitler? I've come to the conclusion that it was the methods. The holocaust was systematic, recorded, controlled; murder turned into an industrial process; maximally efficient cold technology indifferently killing millions. I think many people find this terrifying. The millions starving at the hands of Stalin we can understand or relate to, even one man shooting another makes sense in a primitive sort of way. the mechanization of slaughter is inhuman.

Ruv Draba
06-13-2010, 09:53 AM
You know I've wondered this myself at one time or another: what is it about Hitler?Hitler founded modern politics with his use of propaganda, spectacle, supremacism and a hated enemy. He came to power democratically and we hate him because in him we recognise what we don't wish to acknowledge: the worst of ourselves.

Synovia
06-15-2010, 10:48 PM
One last thing, Drake ducks rape

http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A22547838

Plenty of animals do.

Adolescent lions will find a new pride, kill the dominant male, kill the cubs to bring the females to heat, and rape the females.

Some snail species shoot sperm projectiles at each other (most snails are hermaphroditic), essentially trying to impregnate the other snail, while avoiding becoming pregnant. (in the article I see)

Summonere
06-17-2010, 08:44 PM
St. Augustine thought that evil was the absence of good (City of God, was it?).

Nietzsche though that “evil” was a man made construct (Jehnseits von Gut und Böse).

Men perpetrate evil when they know better but do it anyway.

When they don't know any better, they're not evil, merely feral.

Monkey
06-18-2010, 07:15 PM
For certain values, those values being my view of good and evil (since that's certainly debatable topic) and my belief in the nature of animal emotion and thought (also a debatable topic), I can give this question a definitive "Yes."

There are many stories like this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofpYRITtLSg&feature=player_embedded where an animal (in this case, a dog) does something unnatural for its species, showing, IMO, both reasoning and emotion, to consciously do good in the world.

And there are also stories (that I have no desire to seek out or link to) where they go just as far out of the norm to do evil.

I have had a horse fight a pack of dogs for my safety, and have seen a skittish horse stand stock-still when jumped on from above by my small son. I've seen a dog who loves to hunt lick and stand guard over a baby possum, and a dog who had long since given up puppy-rearing produce milk for an orphaned puppy. To me, all those actions showed either reason or emotion that I would consider "good".

On the other hand, I've seen a pack of dogs tear a cat limb-from-limb for nothing more than sport, leaving pieces of its mangled body everywhere and slinking away afterwards, tails between their legs (I was about eight at the time, and this pack wasn't mine.) To my mind, that sort of senseless destruction, not for food or even territory but simply for the thrill, is "evil". And it's not the norm in animal society any more than it is in human--if, indeed, we insist on separating the two.

I would say that I don't think an animal would have the thought process equivalent to "I will do this, because it is good" or "I refuse to do this, because it is evil", but on review, I can't even make that distinction. Generally, I would say that the rules are what matter, as in a dog working VERY hard not to pee on the floor of a locked house because it would be "bad"--"bad" here mostly means "against the rules". It's a matter of trying to figure out how a dog figures "good and evil", and now we're WAY too esoteric, because you'd have to believe as I do to get that far. :tongue

But not too long ago, there was a study done (I'll try to find and link it later--right now, breakfast calls) where dogs who had been taught to sit on command, and did so reliably, were split into two groups. Both were commanded to sit, but only one got treats. The non-treated dogs soon started refusing to sit, eying the treats of the others, presumably because the treatment was unfair.

When the experiment was repeated with Apes, they got similar results, except that while for dogs, the only distinction that mattered was "treat/no treat", Apes would cease to preform if one group received a treat that was perceived to be "better".

To me, this shows a sense of fairness, and a willingness to operate against "the rules" if they are perceived as "unfair". Since I have also seen animals "act out" (such as a housetrained cat peeing ON THE STOVE BURNER or a dog who literally peed ON THE MAILMAN that he hated) in ways that were clearly against the rules, but also seemed to be protests against "bad" things, be it "unfairness" or just things they saw as "bad", I believe they have at least a sense of "good" and "bad" that goes beyond the rules, and that this judgement originates within them, from their own thoughts.

DavidZahir
07-19-2010, 10:09 PM
I think Good and Evil do exist, but they are manifestations of judgments made by conscious beings. Rather like "beauty" and "justice".

Bartholomew
07-20-2010, 03:18 PM
The universe seems to consistantly and easily produce life. Which leads me to think that activity that kills life, without somehow supporting life (EG, hunting for food) is evil.

I'm not suggesting that trophy hunting is evil, by the way. The joyful emotions and the thrill of victory are good from at least one perspective, and are probably neutral.

And then this line of thought leads me to believe that there is almost no purely evil activity - even the worst cases of genocide and mass murder were committed with the intent of protecting or furthering a certain group.

So your pure evil comes from things like the Son of Sam and, um, a black hole?

I confused myself, and I need more coffee.

talkwrite
06-07-2011, 12:04 AM
I have found that good and evil not only both exist, they co-exist. Sometimes in the same person. The definitions of these words have been subjective over the ages. What at one time is/was evil in time with a change in perspective can be then considered acceptable and good . Look at how societies make laws and reform them. I have worked in both law enforcement and in the court system for over 30 years. It all gets down to the choice of behavior and the choice of reaction. And then it is defined as good or evil.

Outside of human society the rule is instinct. That is until your environment forces you to change that instinct. And the media reports mass suicides of mammals and so on.
Again, just my view of that landscape.


I've been thinking about motives, about protagonists and antagonists, and about good and evil.

I'm confused. Are good and evil absolute or are they relative? And if they are relative, then how can they exist at all when the most common assumed definition for both of them entails being the opposite of the other?

Everything I come up with as an example of pure evil turns out not to be when attributed to nature (you try).

So what is evil? What is good? Do they exist outside of society, outside of consciousness?

Any thoughts?

indiriverflow
06-11-2011, 10:30 AM
Good and evil are utterly relative to perspective.
Food is good. Not having it is evil. Having too much and getting fat is also evil.
Poison is evil. In small amounts, it may kill an infection, making it medicine and therefore good.
A specific example is snake venom, which is both cure and disease.

Killing is evil. Killing Osama bin Laden, to most US patriots, was good. Celebrating his death, in my opinion, is evil.
Good is that which acts in our self-interest or interests which we emotionally endorse, fighting that which we oppose.
Evil is that which frustrates self interests or the interests we endorse, or enhancing that which we oppose.

I think cops are evil. I think they are collectively more evil than the criminals they exist to apprehend. That does not mean they can't do good things, or that they don't think of themselves as anything but the paragon of good.
Other people think cops make them safe and that locking up people who break laws is good. The person being locked up usually feels otherwise. I think that two evils are being done when a criminal is arrested.
Many cops would think I am evil for having this opinion. Most consider their actions to be a victory for good.
I did have a cop give me five bucks once when he found me sleeping in a ditch.
So even this great evil is not absolute.

Arcadia Divine
06-13-2011, 12:20 PM
Slightly off topic i think, but, a lot of my friends tend to associate good and evil with holy and unholy or light and dark. I cringe at this because to me they're saying that there's only those two categories, which in my is wrong. To me everyone, from religious leaders to the guy you passed walking down the street has booth good and evil inside them. Everyone makes decisions in both areas. That said there's is no truly good or evil, there's always in between

Arcadia Divine
06-15-2011, 10:40 AM
religion started off as philosophy and then forgot that it was a philosophy and took itself too seriously.

Thus the religious wars?

ColoradoGuy
06-15-2011, 11:41 PM
religion started off as philosophy and then forgot that it was a philosophy and took itself too seriously.


Care to elaborate what you mean by this? Or offer anything in support of your viewpoint?

justkay
08-04-2011, 11:34 PM
Does evil exist? Yes, but it is a uniquely human concept, something that only the higher functioning, human brain is capable of.

Applied to nature, 'evil' evaporates into just the way things are. You've got your slot in the food chain or you're standing in the wrong spot when lightning strikes - that's not evil - that's life. Sharks aren't being evil then they eat dolphins (although the dolphins may disagree) and lightning has no evil intent when it crashes to the earth.

Only in the minds, and at the hand of humans, does evil exist. That's one of the disadvantages of having a highly developed frontal cortex - that particular area of our brain makes us creative in ways that (we assume) other creatures haven't attained. It also gives us the capacity for evil.

A simplistic comparison: we're born with the ability to speak a complex and complicated language which has allowed our species to thrive - it also allows bratty kids at the mall to scream their little heads off. Unfortunately, you take the good with the bad.

Evil is a human ability and completely subjective. Only humans can define what's evil - and trust me - that definition has shifted several times over the millenia.

In centuries past, if a witch was burned at the stake that was considered a public service, not evil.

Fortunately, as our species has developed and become more sophisticated, our definition of evil is more clearly defined. Most of the (sane) people in the world today understand that burning witches isn't a good thing after all - but we live very fragile lives and we are plagued by that huge frontal cortex.

Tomorrow, the majority of the world's people may decide that witches are responsible for all the world's woes - and the burning will begin all over again. :Shrug:

Evil is as human does....

QuantumIguana
01-19-2012, 09:28 PM
To say that good and evil 'exist' implies that they are nouns. Good and evil are more appropriately adjectives. Without runners, running would no longer exist. Without people acting in a way we describe as moral, morality would not exist. If someone punches me in the face without provocation, I would call that evil. But why would I call it evil? Not because some rule said so, but because it hurts, and I don't want to be hurt. But imagine some alien society living on a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri, where a punch in the nose is their equivalent of a handshake. There is no harm for them, so it wouldn't be evil. Now, if this alien visits here, and punches the ambassador in the face, there may be a diplomatic incident, but the alien hasn't acted evilly, although there was harm. The alien acted out of ignorance, but acted in good faith.

We don't condemn acts because they are evil, we describe acts as evil because they cause harm.

kborsden
01-20-2012, 06:20 AM
I believe what we define as 'evil' is simple nature or the composite of natural environmental influence and behaviours; 'good' is idealistic thinking.

In this sense, we are all evil, but we teach and adapt to rules against it, struggle to be better. In a world without those rules or imposed morality, we would be no better than beasts. As was previously said, it's the curse of having an evolved mind... but I see 'good' as the cursed notion and not 'evil'.

robjvargas
01-20-2012, 08:29 AM
Good and Evil are choices in given circumstances. We can argue about their definitions, but since they do indeed define choices, then yes,they exist.

QuantumIguana
01-20-2012, 09:59 PM
Don't be too hard on the poor beasts. For any social animal, there are ways that they need to conduct themselves, or face negative consequences. We used to think that the alpha male was an absolute dictator, but we've learned that the alpha male can't do it all on his own, that he has to make alliances and keep the other animals reasonably happy in order to remain in power.

RPecha
01-31-2012, 07:21 PM
Good and Evil, Right and Wrong... whether someone or an action is one or the other all depends on point of view. Thus it is a relative abstraction. I will give the best example I can think of, and I refuse to list hitler/nazis because it is an extremely overused statement.

A tyrannical government is formed. The man who leads/formed it didn't go around saying I am going to be evil. In fact he did it in order to prepare for and make sure the nation survives a big war most people didn't believe would happen. The populaces themselves viewed the man as evil and most were to scared/unable to do a thing. They put the label onto the leader of evil. (Yes, it is ripped from fable 3 but it is a good example. The king was genuinely trying to make sure the kingdom survived a war he kept on warning about but noone would even believe him, not even the populist. So in fact he did what he must to ensure the kingdoms survival, even if it was extremely unpopular. Then the player character actually stumbles upon the truth when trying to build a resistance against the evil tyrannical leader.

It all boils down to doing an unpopular act to insure as much of the population as possible survived. He found out about the threat while on an expedition and tried to get people to come together on the issue. Noone believed him, meaning the so called "peaceful/good" solution failed. He then did what he had to do to insure the survival of his kingdom.

The same can be said of society in general. Society is too stupid to realize that if you are different, it doesn't mean you are an evil threat that must be dealt with harshly. I could go into a huge rant about sheep but I won't. I will just leave it at that.

Baconbits
02-06-2012, 12:44 AM
Good and evil are only subjective perspectives based on that one individual's vision. There is no concrete good or evil, simply an opinion of the how a specific circumstance relates to the perception of the observer.

Let's use something simple as the example. Bank-robbery. Most people are going to put this squarely into the "bad" column. It's against the law to take something that doesn't belong to you without paying for it, or so goes the mentality of ownership. However, to the bank robber the idea of robbing said bank holds no concrete "bad" to it. Justifications as to why it is okay generally present, but the person internally must go against societal conditioning. We are taught guilt from a young age, taught to share what we have, but at the same time we are instinctively possessive of our own belongings. That is the paradox, taught to share with others, yet taking something from someone else is wrong. Level of selfishness and resentment of authority also comes into play. Then there's also the thrill seekers who steal for the fun of it, the game, the guys that are pros. Their lack of cultural moral compass is their reason.

I'm not out robbing banks, because I lack the motivation to plan it. I can honestly see where it might be thrilling, though I'd much prefer a different type of heist, rather than up front bank robbery, that runs too much of a personal survivability risk. But I don't do this. Not because I view it as bad, or that society views it as bad, but because I don't want to. It really doesn't get much simpler than that.

Let's take something even more personal: Cheating. Most people have either been in a relationship where their partner has had some sort of cheating activity, or they themselves have cheated. Some view it as bad, evil, a sin even, where as others don't care much. A while ago I read a book except that listed the 17 reasons people cheat on a relationship. But again it's all perception. A lot of people carry on affairs never to actually get caught, but then confess, making relationship uncomfortable with mistrust and anger. If the act was never found out about, things would continue on as normal, and maybe things weren't bad.

But there is such an emotional entanglement with something like that, that it is hard to classify as evil.

Things others have listed, like killing, rape, torture, those types of sadistic behavior, causing pain results in pleasure kinds of people. They aren't like normal people. It's as if their tie to the thing that makes us human is cut, and they lack that thing we call compassion.

A bank robber, while doing something dangerous and socially wrong, may still have compassion. They may be able to feel compassion towards their loved ones, and to select people, but to general humanity lack a sense of concern or compassion. But these are again, all subjective things based on the perspective of the observer.

It takes a human perspective to observe action and determine it's place on a moral scale. Outside of human perception there is no good or evil, there just is the nature of the universe.

QuantumIguana
02-13-2012, 08:04 PM
In any case, evil doesn't have explanatory power. If you have a character who does evil acts just because he or she is evil, then you're into Snidely Whiplash territory.

Greed, selfishness, wrath, these are some possible motives for someone to do or be inclined to do evil acts.

kborsden
02-14-2012, 06:23 PM
True Evil, the evil that deserves a capital letter, absolute Evil does indeed not have any explanatory power--that's what makes it so evil, the fact that it happens and is done, carried out or executed without reason or purpose, evil for the sake of it; for the enjoyment of it.

Goodness on the other hand always has a reason. We do good things to be good people, to get into heaven, to benefit others, or even because we feel it must be done in order to improve our standard of life--this is because we strive for goodness to escape evil, the evil around us, the evil within us.

So, to reiterate an earlier post, yes; evil exists outside of human society and any sense or notion of philosophy or society in any form, but 'good' is a human notion designed to assist us in feeling better about what we do within the restriction of societal rule and to enable us to distance ourselves (arrogantly) from the beasts.

Lhipenwhe
02-14-2012, 11:21 PM
Good and evil exist in the minds of men, and as a viewpoint are inherently subjective from person to person. For me, it has no existence besides what we give it and/or assign. I give it the same weight as I give in other intangibles, such as 'justice' and God; it's only as useful/productive if people put thought and effort into it.

Of course, I'm against murder, rape, theft, and other crimes, partially due to my upbringing and partially due to not wanting to commit said crimes. I consider myself fortunate that I live in a society that's against the same things.

Lucas
02-16-2012, 03:18 AM
The interesting thing is that you could do a good action for the case of being good, and then you would negate the meaning of that action.

While you could commit an act of conscious evil, and it would be even more evil because you do it for the evulz.

An example.

An aspiring politician saves a boy from drowning, not because of the boy, but because the boy is a mean to getting elected because there are people with cameras at the beach.

Another example.

A little kitten is approaching an old bitter hag. The hag lures the kitty with sweets and then takes a pair of scissors to cut off its tail, so it would slowly bleed to death in terrible agonies before her, and she is doing that for no other reason than that she gets pleasure from watching the kitten scream and die slowly before her.

To return to the topic, I do believe that good and evil do exist (even though I didn't a few years ago). Very few actions are purely evil or purely good.

A purely good action would be akin to doing something for someone else and not gaining anything on it or even losing on it on a personal basis.

A purely evil action is not to do something bad towards anyone because you win something on it, but because the pleasure of seeing someone else suffer is the reward in itself.

QuantumIguana
02-16-2012, 08:31 PM
Whether good or evil exist is a different question than whether actions can legitimately be described as good and evil. Running does not exist apart from runners. If every person stopped running at the same time, running would no longer exist. It would exist again once someone ran again. We would still have the idea of running in our minds, but the idea of running is not running.

I believe it is the same thing with good and evil. There are things that are harmful, and we call them evil, and there are beneficial things, and we call those good. But good and evil are properly adjectives, not nouns. We can use them as nouns, but that is a figure of speech.

Evil out of pure malice is frightening because it is lacks reason, we can't predict it. We can lock our door, and that will keep out a person doing rational evil: a person wanting to rob our homes will see that it is not worth the trouble. But an irrationally evil person may not be dissuaded by any lock, and not think about possible consequences to himself or herself.

But still, there can be worse evils than pure malice. Malice can have limitations, but evil done out of greed or ambition is boundless.

robjvargas
02-16-2012, 09:33 PM
I believe that good and evil do exist as opposite ends of a spectrum. Those ends are never fully reached, but they are still there.

I disagree with Lucas that the suffering is the point of enjoyment in an evil act. I'll use a non-human example.

Orcas eat seals. But every now and then a pair or more of Orcas have been observed tossing a seal body around after it's caught. They'll smack it with their tails, fling it with their teeth. And the seal doesn't always die quickly. Nor is the seal eaten when the Orcas finish. Not always.

That's a moment of evil. It's a moment of enjoyment, of entertainment, completely, possibly deliberately, ignorant of the suffering of the seal. Clearly, we don't *know* this to be the case. But as observed, I stand by that characterization. The seal's suffering may indeed be the point of the enjoyment. But even if not, there is still a case to be made for evil in the act.

Lucas
02-16-2012, 10:43 PM
Orcas eat seals. But every now and then a pair or more of Orcas have been observed tossing a seal body around after it's caught. They'll smack it with their tails, fling it with their teeth. And the seal doesn't always die quickly. Nor is the seal eaten when the Orcas finish. Not always.

That's a moment of evil. It's a moment of enjoyment, of entertainment, completely, possibly deliberately, ignorant of the suffering of the seal. Clearly, we don't *know* this to be the case. But as observed, I stand by that characterization. The seal's suffering may indeed be the point of the enjoyment. But even if not, there is still a case to be made for evil in the act

Disagreed.

Amongst some youths, its seen as a masculine thing to kill animals. In some cultures, like Spain, there are traditional celebrations were animals are killed in painful ways to fulfil som religious function.

That is of course revolting, but it isn't done out of malice. It is rather a cultural framework that accepts that.

The same with the Orcas, though on a somewhat more basic and primitive level. The seal is not seen as a living being that could feel pain by the Orcas, but as a toy ball.

Indifference cannot really be called evil. Neither hate.

Evil is when someone gets joy because they have caused suffering for someone else, and the suffering in itself is the point of all of it.

Greed is more some kind of nauseating grey mist that kills people. It is reprehensible, but I wouldn't classify it as evil.

I prefer a caleidoscope before a dualism.

QuantumIguana
02-17-2012, 02:08 AM
We don't call a child evil for pulling a cat's tail. We teach that child that the cat has feelings, and that they shouldn't pull the cats tail. To be evil, the child would have to understand that the cat had feelings, and pulled the cat's tail with the intent of causing pain. True evil requires empathy. The orcas just aren't thinking of the seal's feelings, they aren't capable of it.

Looking across species probably isn't the best example. Social species have rules of behavior, and if those rules are broken, there are consequences.

Greed is far more evil than some monster who does evil out of desire to harm. Far more damage can be done by the greedy person. The greedy person doesn't have anything personal against you, he just wants something, and doesn't care a bit if you have to suffer for him to have it.

robjvargas
02-17-2012, 03:24 AM
We disagree on the definition of evil, then, Lucas. I remember the saying, paraphrased, that the evilest thing Satan has ever done is convincing us that he doesn't exist. Another saying along those lines is the idea that the way to Hell is paved with good intentions.

That's sort of analogous here. The act of satisfying one's self, to the exclusion of all other considerations, that's evil. It's true that we have to teach children certain acts are not to be carried out, like the pulling of a cat's tail. The child may not BE evil for it, but I submit that the act itself remains evil. If the child refuses the lesson, does the act somehow become OK because the child rejected our teachings on it?

There are actions and activities that are good, and those that are evil. People can reach in both directions without ever having the intent of it. So, too, can animals. And we don't have to *become* good or evil to do it.

Lucas
02-17-2012, 04:33 AM
We disagree on the definition of evil, then, Lucas. I remember the saying, paraphrased, that the evilest thing Satan has ever done is convincing us that he doesn't exist. Another saying along those lines is the idea that the way to Hell is paved with good intentions.

That's sort of analogous here. The act of satisfying one's self, to the exclusion of all other considerations, that's evil. It's true that we have to teach children certain acts are not to be carried out, like the pulling of a cat's tail. The child may not BE evil for it, but I submit that the act itself remains evil. If the child refuses the lesson, does the act somehow become OK because the child rejected our teachings on it?

There are actions and activities that are good, and those that are evil. People can reach in both directions without ever having the intent of it. So, too, can animals. And we don't have to *become* good or evil to do it.

I separate between evil actions and actions which have evil consequences.

For example, if we say that I am an Italian prince in the 16th century, and I am assassinating a political opponent, I might do it for "the best of my family" (which isn't overally evil), but the effects are still heartbreaking for the family of the political opponent.

I never used a kid dragging a cat in the tail. Remember that I stated that even an audience watching animal torture as a part of a tradition aren't per definition evil.

What is in itself evil is if an adult human being, with the knowledge what physical and mental pain animal cruelty is causing, is willfully engaging in an act of animal torture because the pain and anguish it leads to.

Intelligent people often assume that when other people commit actions that are morally or socially unacceptable, the reason must be either ignorance or some kind of mental problem.

While I agree that most acts of everyday evil we all experience or see in our everyday lives (someone spreading rumours, a kid beating another kid, a group of girls freezing out a new girl with unfashionable clothes) are based around ignorance or stupidity, there do exist rare specimens of psychopaths who are doing such actions with the calculated understanding of the pain that it causes.

I don't believe that there are evil people in the Christian sense, just people that commit good or evil actions. Some people, however, choose to commit so many evil actions that it almost becomes a part of their being.

The most evil character in the fantasy world I have created is not evil because he doesn't understand good as a concept. He understands it, and rejects it. He desires power not for the sake of power, but because he wants to satisfy his sadistical sexual desires without any consequence whatsoever.

robjvargas
02-17-2012, 04:50 AM
I separate between evil actions and actions which have evil consequences.

So do I, but that lead me back to the question posed in the thread title. Which is the context of my point.

Can it exist outside the human context?

And I say yes. Whether we speak of an animal being evil, or just that evil acts can exist, yes.

Lucas
02-17-2012, 01:46 PM
So do I, but that lead me back to the question posed in the thread title. Which is the context of my point.

Can it exist outside the human context?

And I say yes. Whether we speak of an animal being evil, or just that evil acts can exist, yes.

Probably.

Our culture is originally built on the idea that humans somehow are especially connected with an external deity which has provided us with morality.

DamnStraight
02-19-2012, 03:17 PM
A human's perception concludes good or evil. No human, no perception, then no good or evil.

robjvargas
02-19-2012, 03:33 PM
Probably.

Our culture is originally built on the idea that humans somehow are especially connected with an external deity which has provided us with morality.

Oh no. Monotheism is a relatively modern philosophy. At least relative to polytheism.

In fact, some of the earliest cave paintings are hypothesized to have been drawn to gather in the spirit or energy of animals.

Even if we are unique in our ability to perceive good and evil, its origins derive from nature, the world, the universe.

Lucas
02-20-2012, 01:08 AM
A human's perception concludes good or evil. No human, no perception, then no good or evil.

That assumes that animals don't have perception, which is really a specieistic variation of solipsism.

DamnStraight
02-20-2012, 05:10 AM
That assumes that animals don't have perception, which is really a specieistic variation of solipsism.

I believe animals do have a perception. I believe their minds exist outside of humans, but animals don't have the faculties to understand good or evil. I have yet heard of an animal doing acts that could be considered good or evil.

robjvargas
02-20-2012, 06:49 AM
I believe animals do have a perception. I believe their minds exist outside of humans, but animals don't have the faculties to understand good or evil. I have yet heard of an animal doing acts that could be considered good or evil.

Hmm... (http://www.google.com/search?q=dog+saves+family)

Does an act require the animal's perception of the act as good or evil in order for the act itself to be good or evil?

I don't think so.

And there are acts where a perspective shift can alter the character of the act. Like a mountain lion repeatedly letting a rabbit or a fawn go, then catch it all over again, all the while progressively crippling the prey...

Until we see the lion cub, and how the mother is trying to teach the cub to hunt. And to kill. After all, nature doesn't provide dry-run simulations.

Helen Taft
02-22-2012, 03:59 PM
Grace, charity and kindness are good as they require a deliberate act of self-denial, forgiveness or some sort of self-sacrifice (especially for the first two).

Animals do not murder, they kill to eat or defend themselves or their territory. Natural disasters/accidents do not murder as they are not deliberate.

Torture for the sake of giving pain (and getting a thrill for doing so) is not known in nature. I imagine there are some animals/fish/insects that inflict pain on a prey because they require live food, but again the intent is to eat and so survive. The motive is still not evil.

In nature a sex act is instinctive and NOT twisted into desire for kids/old people/dead bodies/pain etc

I definitely believe good and evil exist.

robjvargas
02-22-2012, 06:03 PM
I don't accept that a natural element must *intend* to inflict pain for it to be evil. Again, I point to the saying that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. There is truth in that saying. It would not surprise me to learn that some of history's worst tyrants began their reigns with beneficence.

So I accept your statement with torture for the sake of giving pain is not known in nature ("in nature..." I don't accept that term, either. Man has choice, but man, too, is nature, though that's a point for another time). I just don't accept the condition you place in that statement as being the only means of carrying out evil acts.

Does the seal in this video (http://youtu.be/eEhQ5nauXgY) really care about the orca's intent? Does it ever get an opportunity to examine the moral implications of being flipped through the air?

No, I don't think orcas are evil as a species, or even as beings. But that does not exclude them, or other species, from carrying out evil acts. And if an act can be evil, then evil does, in fact, exist "outside of human society."

Helen Taft
02-22-2012, 07:04 PM
Hi, you raise interesting points but I think we many end up agreeing to disagree.


I don't accept that a natural element must *intend* to inflict pain for it to be evil. I do believe and am fully convinced evil is a conscious decision to undertake an act knowing it is wrong, and that pain or suffering is being inflicted. A seal suffers while it is hunted for food, yes. Unfortunately for the seal it has a natural predator that wants to eat! The motive however is purely to eat, not to cause suffering. The motive is not evil.

Can you really equate the hunting of seals by natural pedators to the holocaust? Or a serial killer or a paedophile, or a serial rapist who attacks not even through a real desire but purely to cause pain, bring about dominance and to cause terror and humiliation in his victims? Evil IMO is the sole property of human beings because it goes to MOTIVE. We conciously act against our knowledge of right and wrong and justify it according to our own wishes or needs regardless of the pain and suffering of others. This IMO is evil.


Again, I point to the saying that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. There is truth in that saying. It would not surprise me to learn that some of history's worst tyrants began their reigns with beneficence.

And as their intentions morph to the point of knowingly causing suffering and pain then they are encroaching onto the territory of knowingly doing an evil act.


So I accept your statement with torture for the sake of giving pain is not known in nature ("in nature..." I don't accept that term, either. Man has choice, but man, too, is nature, though that's a point for another time). I just don't accept the condition you place in that statement as being the only means of carrying out evil acts.

I may be misundertanding you here. My belief is that an evil act is one undertaken when in full knowledge and acceptance of bringing about suffering to others (as in my second paragraph regarding serial killers and extermination camps etc.)

Animals prey on others for food, attack when territory is invaded, but the point is not to cause pain or suffering, but to survive and defend itself. Not evil just hard, brutal nature. Tragic for the seal, but not evil.

Human beings are capable of evil because we know right and wrong and act over and above the need to eat and survive.


No, I don't think orcas are evil as a species, or even as beings. But that does not exclude them, or other species, from carrying out evil acts. And if an act can be evil, then evil does, in fact, exist "outside of human society."

I disgree with you for the above reasons. IMO the root of evil is about motive and not the result. The seal is dead because the orca needed to eat. The young mum is dead because the murderer didn't like the way she was talking to the store clerk and decided to punish her to salve his pride! etc

Ziljon
03-01-2012, 08:18 PM
Hi, Ziljon here.

It's been a while since I chimed in. So much has happened. I've changed quite a bit since I started this thread, and so has my perception of reality.

I'm in a place now where I see that neither good nor evil exist, everything just is and only our perception changes.

As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

robjvargas
03-02-2012, 03:26 AM
Hi, you raise interesting points but I think we many end up agreeing to disagree.

Maybe. And fair 'nuff.


I do believe and am fully convinced evil is a conscious decision to undertake an act knowing it is wrong, and that pain or suffering is being inflicted. A seal suffers while it is hunted for food, yes. Unfortunately for the seal it has a natural predator that wants to eat! The motive however is purely to eat, not to cause suffering. The motive is not evil.

Except that the seal isn't always eaten. As I've said before, I think I just define evil outside the norm. I won't argue the correctness of that. But that's how I see it.

Others hear John Lennon say, "Imagine all the people living for today." And they sigh wistfully,thinking of a perceived better way. I see the LA riots after the Rodney King verdict.

So for me, evil is a state of self absorption, of an abrogation of consequence. Either or both of those can be present either in an act or in a being.


Can you really equate the hunting of seals by natural pedators to the holocaust? Or a serial killer or a paedophile, or a serial rapist who attacks not even through a real desire but purely to cause pain, bring about dominance and to cause terror and humiliation in his victims?

No, I can't. But I don't have to. For me, evil isn't *just* a binary condition. It has nuances and degrees. There *can* be a "more" and a "less" evil, while both items are still evil.

And as I point out, there are documented cases where the whales hunted for something other than eating. If someone were to find another source for that act than the self-absorption I admit to presuming, then the context changes. Until then...

To put it simply, perhaps *too* simply, there are misdemeanor evils and there are felony evils. More, I'm sure, but that's sufficient for this discussion.


Evil IMO is the sole property of human beings because it goes to MOTIVE. We conciously act against our knowledge of right and wrong and justify it according to our own wishes or needs regardless of the pain and suffering of others. This IMO is evil.
I don't disagree that this is evil. I just think my view of it goes beyond. Motive, for me, can be involved, but doesn't have to be.

I'll use a human example: Over the past few years, there have been a few well-publicized cases of mothers killing children because of post-partum depression. In at least one case, the mother believed that she was helping the children. Under your definition, neither the mother nor the act are evil because that motive of right and wrong cannot apply. Under mine, the mother can be understood for the illness she suffers, while the act is still an evil act.

I derived this attitude from observing an acquaintance who sank into schizophrenia. That never got to the fatal stage. Still, I couldn't condemn the acquaintance, but neither could I excuse the act. So I rethought my ideology on evil. The seal/orca example, when I later learned of it, seems analogous.


And as their intentions morph to the point of knowingly causing suffering and pain then they are encroaching onto the territory of knowingly doing an evil act.

Here's the core of our disagreement, I think. Not that your description above is wrong. I agree with it. It just seems to me that you cannot divorce the act from the actor. But what if Hitler (or Stalin, or Pol Pot, or Noriega, pick a name) truly thought he was saving his country with his acts? Are those men, or their actions, now less evil because they didn't have the intent of evil?


I may be misundertanding you here. My belief is that an evil act is one undertaken when in full knowledge and acceptance of bringing about suffering to others (as in my second paragraph regarding serial killers and extermination camps etc.)

So far, not. We agree this far.


Animals prey on others for food, attack when territory is invaded, but the point is not to cause pain or suffering, but to survive and defend itself. Not evil just hard, brutal nature. Tragic for the seal, but not evil.

Ah, but the seal isn't encroaching, and it isn't always eaten. Sometimes, so far as we know, orcas beat and kill a seal as a form of play. It's still the way of nature. But I submit that such an act is evil still.


Human beings are capable of evil because we know right and wrong and act over and above the need to eat and survive.

Dogs (cats,even monkeys, and other animals, I believe) act to alert to fires, or to a human's impending seizure. It's tough to bring up any particular example, because it's possible in any particular case that it was more we people recognizing an animal's response than that the animal was actually alerting us. Still, I believe that those are acts of good. And, to paraphrase from the original Oh, God! movie, I can't imagine a coin with just one side.

So maybe you're right that we cannot divorce intent from action. I just don't agree with it based on what I see in this world on BOTH sides of that coin.

Kehengto
03-05-2012, 04:15 AM
Personally this question boils down to a theology perspective. Looking at the human race, every civilization had a measure of what was good and what was evil, but at the core there was a moral sense that developed it.

Personally I believe there is an absolute measure to which is good and which is evil by which all will need to account. (For an expounding of this please PM me and I would glad to discuss this further on a one on one basis.)

That said, the lines can be blurred or even forgotten if an absolute is not established or not recognized. So I can understand the issue because of that.

To quote ceasar: "what is truth?"

In essence the question of good and evil revolve around that question. If truth is relative, then so is good and evil. With no absolute who can say which is which?

In regards to the original question: I voted yes, and as soon as I find resources to support my stance I shall cite them.

names
11-23-2012, 10:00 AM
I agree with kehengto. I have a book called In Praise of Meekness, Essays on Ethics and Politics. If you ever want to read up on it, somewhere in this book it mentions that theology of past civilizations suggested good and evil existed. Thus sprang the idea. Norberto bobbio uses his arguments to suggest a lot of the time as a central theme morals are the government's priority, he uses this as supporting background info on where people made judgments based on values. In other words if the end justifies the means in cases of driscrimination of the weak and oppressed.

max929
12-30-2012, 09:37 AM
I've been thinking about motives, about protagonists and antagonists, and about good and evil.

I'm confused. Are good and evil absolute or are they relative? And if they are relative, then how can they exist at all when the most common assumed definition for both of them entails being the opposite of the other?

Everything I come up with as an example of pure evil turns out not to be when attributed to nature (you try).

So what is evil? What is good? Do they exist outside of society, outside of consciousness?

Any thoughts?

Good and Evil are relative. They depend on each other to define one another. You cannot measure good without first measuring evil, and vice versa

If you accept that answer the next question you have to ask is how do you want to quantify your measurements...from a utilitarian prospective or an isolationist view point? Is it the greatest good for the most or the greatest good for the individual...

Lastly, good and evil are strictly human constructs. They are abstract and intangible. They are hypotheticals we have to imagine for them to exist. They don't exist in the universe...for example, if an asteroid hits earth and kills all the life on it, the universe didn't intend to kill all life, that is just what happened...a mathematical equation of velocity+mass+trajectory=boom

Abacas
01-03-2013, 09:40 PM
I don't think so that, Good and Evil exist out side of our society. As these are always with us and between us. Infect, goods and evils are someone out of us, as people do have different nature, behavior, ethics, code of conduct and values. Which actually sometime act as good or evil.

StevenHarvey1990
02-05-2013, 01:56 AM
I love these debates.

I'm going to say neither good nor evil exist. Not limited to existence outside humanity. I don't believe they exist. Period. The key here is belief. There is no right answer or wrong answer.

This is purely a hypothetical but let's say ... I go out of my house now and butcher the first person I see. Who's to say that is 'evil' or 'wrong'?

Doesn't matter the reason, who it was, how I did it, if I ate their ear or whatever.

Only PEOPLE would give that action or series of actions a meaning or describe it a certain way. Generally speaking that would be described as sick, disturbed, criminal and evil.

My point is no matter who or how many people say "Oh that's evil" or "That's proof that evil exists" it doesn't make them right, or by contrast wrong.

We are animals. Sophisticated or civilised, yes. We all have primal urges and desires, be they sexual or otherwise. Look at the Oedipus complex (not saying I believe it). Many would deem a Mother/Son or Father/Daughter sexual relationship 'wrong'. If and I stress IF it's a natural instinct as Freud would suggest then what is so wrong? Are the people who repress these natural urges not wrong then?

The same could be argued with someone like Ed Gein. Is he wrong? Is he really evil?

My opinion ... No!

Like someone said it's all relative or subjective. One mans definition or more importantly opinion is not right or wrong it's just an opinion or belief.

There can be no correct answer is where to leave it I think. One of those topics, like many philosophical topics, that can only go round in circles.

anne_tedeton
06-18-2013, 07:59 PM
Oh, man. I love debates like these.

This is a hard question, because the definitions of good and evil are different across cultures. What is socially acceptable (good) in one culture may be abhorrent in another, and our concepts of good and evil aren't static. They change and evolve over time. Some things that were considered to be good hundreds of years ago are considered evil now. In first-world countries, we typically don't stone people who have affairs anymore. The rules have changed. They never stop changing.

Of course, it could be argued that our morals are wrong, but given that good and bad are dependant upon culture, that argument can get a bit tricky.

There's also the problem of some people having no innate moral compass. Whether you argue for nature or nuture, some people just have no distinction between good and evil. You could argue that good and evil are simply split into reward/punishment, but that's more of an end result of behavior.

Even that becomes tricky. Psychology steers away from labelling people and behaviors as good or evil. You're either "normal" or "mentally ill." And if sociopathy, a personality disorder, is considered a mental illness, well, that makes things even trickier, doesn't it?

But there are certain irredeemable behaviors that remain somewhat static across time and culture--murder, cannibalism, rape, incest, stealing, lying, etc. Given that there's general agreement surrounding particular behaviors, it could be argued that a predominant "evil" does exist. "Good" seems to be the means of resistance. As to which is humanity's natural state...well, that's a whole different argument.

If you really want to give yourself nightmares, Lars von Trier's Antichrist posits something truly upsetting--that humanity was not created by God, but by the devil. The film goes waaaay beyond the concept of original sin. I needed brain bleach after watching it because the content was so disturbing, but that particular idea was the most upsetting part of the whole film.

TL;DR I personally think good and evil are socially determined concepts. We can't be fully certain as to whether morality is a part of a person's natural state, but we can agree that certain behaviors are either acceptable or unacceptable.

BoltzmannBrain
09-21-2013, 01:25 AM
I am pleasantly surprised to see such a debate exists on a writing forum. As a cognitive scientist in training, this question is of quite some interest to me.
Personally, I am a moral relativist. There is no inherent morality, only the values we choose for ourselves.

GroundSquirrel
03-17-2014, 11:53 PM
What we deem good or evil are personal and societal norms. Most Westerners nowadays would feel that killing a child because of physical and/or mental abnormalities is an evil, however that's exactly what the Spartans did.
Many still look at homosexuality as a sin or an evil, but many of us see that it's a natural occurrence in the natural world and, thus, not an evil. Unless we're going to start labeling natural occurrences as evil.

DjentlemanJoe
01-05-2015, 03:31 AM
It is my belief that good and evil are entirely human concepts.

They are also both a matter of perspective.

robjvargas
01-05-2015, 06:41 PM
Good and Evil, the general ideas, are universal. The devil... ahem... is in the details.

I think all species with any level of self-awareness understand that there are personal and societal priorities. The priorities *should* represent the survival and even the flourishing of the society. That would be good. The personal, where it interferes with the societal, that's evil.

Of course, that doesn't mean that society is right. I'm just saying that the society will normalize certain things, and that normalization will be perceived as good.

kuwisdelu
01-06-2015, 02:50 AM
Good and Evil, the general ideas, are universal.

Are they?

I'm sure plenty of cultures don't have a concept of evil.

At least, not in the Christian sense.

marinapr9
01-06-2015, 03:12 AM
What we deem good or evil are personal and societal norms. Most Westerners nowadays would feel that killing a child because of physical and/or mental abnormalities is an evil, however that's exactly what the Spartans did.
Many still look at homosexuality as a sin or an evil, but many of us see that it's a natural occurrence in the natural world and, thus, not an evil. Unless we're going to start labeling natural occurrences as evil.

Societal beliefs, traditions, mind sets, religions etc aren't the essence of what is dark and light in human nature. Good and Evil, I believe, exists in us all regardless of our upbringing and outside influences. You just can't pigeonhole it.

robjvargas
01-06-2015, 09:19 PM
Are they?

I'm sure plenty of cultures don't have a concept of evil.

At least, not in the Christian sense.

That's the details thing I mentioned. If we're limiting to a strictly christian view, I agree with you.

But I think all societies see a "good" and an "evil," whatever the definitions of those may be.

Once!
01-10-2015, 06:38 PM
Interesting question.

I think there has been an evolutionary process from "good and bad" to "good and evil".

At its simplest and most personal level, something is good if it makes an individual happy. It puts food in our bellies, it gives us lots of opportunities for bedroom Olympics, it allows us to bring up kids, it keeps us warm and safe. Or, as Conan and Genghis would have it, what is best in life? To crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentations of their spouses or significant others.

At this level, something is bad if it stops you from being happy. Hunger, disease, an absence of rumpy-pumpy, not safe, not warm. Dead.

These definitions are modified when we start to exist as a group of people rather than as individuals. A "good" person helps other people to be happy. They contribute to group happiness, food, sex, warmth, shelter and so on. A "bad" person does not contribute.

When our thinking about group interactions becomes more complex we start to elaborate on what we mean by a bad person. We define degrees of "badness", from a misguided person who makes a mistake all the way through to a person who deliberately goes against the best interest of others.

And from this we get the concept of evil. A very very bad person.

This means that someone can be both good and evil. As the cliché goes, one person's freedom fighter is another person's terrorist.

Does good and bad exist outside humanity? I think it does, but again it depends on your perspective. When a shark takes a seal, the shark community will see it as a good thing; the seal community will see it as bad. The definition of good and bad will vary depending on whether you are inside someone else's belly or they are in yours.

kobold
01-18-2015, 12:06 AM
Killer whales, too, devour seals, yet, after feeding, have been observed (and filmed) returning a last seal unharmed to the shore where it was first taken, all the while tossing it back and forth in what would seem to be a cruel form of play. Find it if you can; it looks like kids at 'catch'.

And the open mouth of a killer whale would seem to resemble a toothy grin. That doesn't mean the animal is happy, or even that it could formulate in its brain the concept of happiness (or anything else).

A dog can look as though it's smiling, but that doesn't mean it isn't about to bite you.

How's that for muddying the waters? Pun intended.