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Absolute Evil

  1. Jun 5, 2003 #1
    This was discussed quite a bit, on the old PFs, and I'd like to revive the topic.

    Is it "evil" to sin against a person? If so, then all "heroes" are really "evil", as they must sin against their enemies, in order to acheive their [noble] purpose.

    However, this raises the question of purpose. If someone's purpose was good (in that it would lessen the suffering of more people than it would inflict suffering upon (this is just a quick definition of a "good" intention, and is subject to argument, if anyone disagrees with it)), then wouldn't their action be good, by default?

    Any/all replies are appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 5, 2003 #2


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    Fear, anger, hate, the dark side are they...
  4. Jun 5, 2003 #3
    Re: Re: Absolute Evil

  5. Jun 5, 2003 #4

    Firstly, you need to define what you mean by sin. Does this include actions which indirectly affect the outcome? If yes, then probably all actions affect future actions within the light cone, so every action could potentially sinful.

    This reduces to only direct actions. The heoroes were convinced that they were doing the right thing. Does this mean they were evil, as they thought that their actions were doing good in the long run.

    I think that your definition of evil is flawed. Whilst some sinful actions could be considered evil, some of them are not. So evil is a (not necessarily equal) subset of sinful.
  6. Jun 5, 2003 #5


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    Time to dig up that old line...

    Good and evil are subjective things, meaningful only within a given ethical perpective. There is no such thing as absolute evil unless you believe in the existence of an absolute moral code. If then, by soft deontological approaches it is possible for heroes to be good, or strictly speaking doing the less of two evils.
  7. Jun 5, 2003 #6

    very true FZ+.

    i find it hard to classify anything as evil. i can't think of a scererio in which someone does something truely evil. (at least to them it isn't evil and who's to say your definition is more true than theirs?) (and if to them they do think it's evil, then they probobly have a mental problem, which can be ascribed to biological irregularities. (chemical imbalances, eviornmental stress, ect...)
  8. Jun 5, 2003 #7
    Reality is the equilibrium that exists between the two extremes. By which we have the propensity to do one or the other.
  9. Jun 5, 2003 #8
    I would add that humanity's ability to judge what is and isn't evil has proven clouded on both the personal and the social level. From extreme injustices being perpetuated to self-destructive behavior, evil has proven one of the most desctructive concepts humanly conceivable.
  10. Jun 5, 2003 #9
    Ahh, the forbidden fruit ... "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil."

    While the thing that clouds the issue even more, even if only "socially implied," is that evil doesn't want to be seen for what it is, in which case it dawns the "cloak of disguise," making it all the more insidious.
  11. Jun 5, 2003 #10
    Want to know absolute evil? It is absolute knowledge. It may of being a poetic myth, but the acient hebrews had good reason to make the tree of knowledge THE original sin. To understand the truth to human existance is to realize that there really is no human justification. All things are as they are because they are. People in the end really have no place to take as a foundation or for a socity. Of course this realization gives you two choices, 1. appericate life and try to become a more advanced being, or 2. let go of moral laws and live absolutly what you want no matter what the cost with no compassion or conpunction in hurting others. Knowing how greedy and hedonistic people are, it is little surpirse that nature bestows the capacity of profound analytical insight to a VERY narrow spectrum off the human population. Like I've said to a friend some time ago, if everyone were an intellectual, our world would of come to a shkriching halt long ago.

    Just my two pessimistic pennies.
    (please forgive my spelling, I know it is horrid.)
  12. Jun 6, 2003 #11
    Re: Re: Absolute Evil

    To sin against another person is to cause some form of injury to that person.

    But you missed another important point, of my post: Purpose. If the purpose of sinning is good, then the sin becomes "good", doesn't it?

    Remember, in this thread I'm not stating any opinions (as you can see from my first post), I am just asking questions (and then, of course, arguing the responses - but, come on, that's just what I do :wink:).
  13. Jun 6, 2003 #12
    But I disagree with this (possibly just because it's an opinion, and I'm "supposed" to challenge it ). You see, if "good" and "evil" are subjective things, then it is definitely not "evil" (in some people's minds - remember, you said it was entirely subjective) to sin against someone else, while it definitely is "evil" (again, in some people's minds) to try to help them.
  14. Jun 6, 2003 #13
    Special Relativity of Evil:
    Helping others without being asked for that is no less evil. Eg:

    Master and his apprentice walked on a busy street, and apprentice noticed a snail in the middle of the road. He thought "someone's gonna smash it, so I'll make a good act and save it" and he took it up and put at the roadside into grass. "Why did you do that evil to snail?" master asked. "But it'd gonna die there!"

    Master replied: "You can't know that. Maybe it had enough will to cross the road, maybe it was escaping from poison, maybe it was desperately moving towards food. By placing it back where it started you didn't help it, you just zeroed its enormous effort, and broke its determination and will. Maybe now it will die." Apprentice wanted to undo his evil act and to put the snail back where he found it. But master disallowed that too: "That would be evil act again. Must've been its fate that a stupid moron came to its life and undid its effort. By placing it back you'd leave it confused, weak and naked. It'll have no 'will force' and get smashed probably. Now it must itself find its strength, gather it and attempt another crossing. Maybe it'll find it and survive.
    See, you can't just walk around and think that you can help others, because you can't possibly know what is good, and what is evil. It doesn't matter if you mean it well, if you are not asked for it, its evil. Hardest thing to people is to let others be. They help others, preassuming that others are weak and *need* help. But by that attitude, they make others weak, and thats doing real harm. Thats evil."

    Most evil in this world comes from stupid understanding of what is good. Yes, to sin another person isn't necessarily evil. When lion sins against a human, noone thinks that lion is evil. Its one human forcing other feel and believe its weakness and helplessness thats evil.
    I agree with FZ, evil depends on given ethical perpective - paradigm. Some other perspective might have no concept of evil at all. For eg. animal world, math.

    Heroes are not evil if they respect their enemies. Ethic code of warriors. But acting upon a good purpose of reducing suffering isn't automatically good. It may turn out to be stupid and also evil.
  15. Jun 6, 2003 #14


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    Isn't that what the major anti-communist mentality of the 70s consisted of? :smile: In some cultures, it is considered to be an insult and encouraging weakness to help someone. Instead, you must present a cold front to force them to improve.
  16. Jun 6, 2003 #15
    Wouldn't that also suggest that Superman was a moron? Or, at the very least, terribly naive?
  17. Jun 6, 2003 #16


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    No, you missed the point. It doesn't suggest that at all. It suggests that in some cultures, the actions of superman are too idealistic and unwise - it suggests there is not an universal goodness or badness. Most of the people in the cities where Superman helped believed he was good, and as an entertainment piece, I think you are meant to consider superman to be the good guy. But if some idiot starts messing about around my backyard wearing his underwear on top of his pants, I most definitely am going to call the police. :smile:
  18. Jun 6, 2003 #17
    Actually I was interjecting my own thoughts here and, while I wouldn't go so far as to say he was a moron, he was at the very least, naive. He wasn't much of a hero in that sense either, in that it didn't require him to make "the sacrifice," and he always had the ability to reconstitute himself and never suffered any long lasting ill-effects from his encounters.

    That's a good one about the guy in the underwear though!
  19. Jun 7, 2003 #18
    Someone should debunk that crossing over guy with some coin flips- that's very funny Praetor, that should be on a tee-shirt. If true, I feel humanity is often underestimated in it's capacity for change. Evil is a self-terminating function. Your spelling doesn't matter, it's the concepts that count.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 7, 2003
  20. Jun 7, 2003 #19
    You still run into the purpose behind the action (or in this case, the inaction) of the "hero".
  21. Jun 8, 2003 #20


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    Ok, let's fall back out the capitalist ideology point. Much of the idea at the basis of extreme free market systems and capitalism is that the act of exploitation for personal gain is a natural part of good business. The nature of economics is to make money itself, and this brings overall stability at the cost of personal well being. Attempts to control it with altruistic basis are evil because they undermine this basis of social action. In this way, ruthless business management is good, and naive idealistic dealings with others in mind is evil. Everybody is out there for themselves, and it is better to follow the flow of the money. Greed is good. Kinda like Machiavellian ethics, eh?
    Are they amoral? No. They often have a strong system in place. Wasting money for example is evil. It's just different from many other people's.
    The point is that every does what he thinks is the most good of all possible acts, by their personal moral system. But that good is subjective, not objectively out there.
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2003
  22. Jun 8, 2003 #21
    IMO, religion aside, there is no absolute Good or absolute Evil.
    If I were to kill an enemy of my society, I would be a hero in my society but an evil murderer in my enemy's society. Where is the good and the bad in that? There is none.
    If I were to kill a good man in my society, I would be an evil murderer in my society but in my enemy's society I may be a hero. Where is the good and the bad in that? Ther is none. In short it is subjective and situational.
    As a religious person I believe that there are good and evil deeds; but "good" and "evil" are adjectives not nouns. The only sin against God is to knowingly defy God's will. The only sin against ourselves is to do that which we ourselves concider bad or evil.
    As a libertarian, the only bad or evil is to intentionally do harm or cause harm to another.

    "Give a man a fish and you feed him for one day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him the rest of his life."
  23. Jun 8, 2003 #22
    Good point rocye.

    You see that is just the problem. There is NO good or evil in some indepandant sense. The only good or evil is a personal one, the one choice is weather we do or not do what we know to either be good or bad. We CAN NEVER justify our choice, we can only ever make it. There is no justicifation for either good or evil. Which is why like I said before is why nature makes VERY sure that 99% of the population isnt aware of this fact.
  24. Jun 8, 2003 #23
    here's my definition of good and evil. i am defining this from the human perspective only.since humans are extremely social animals i shall use this hierarchy:- IDIVIDUAL< SMALLER SOCIAL GROUPS<LARGER SOCIAL GROUPS.
    for example a nation is a larger social group than a family etc.
    an action by an individual by which
    1)a group placed lower in the hierarchy is benefitted but a one placed higher up is harmed then the action is EVIL.
    2)a group placed higher in the hierarchy is benefitted irrespective of its effects on a lower group, then the action is termed as GOOD.

    the assumption made here is that the degree of harm done or benefit reaped remains the same. this is not always true. in an overpopulated country it may be desirable to kill of the old and infirm so as to relieve the burden from the youth. but here the benefit reaped by the larger group(youth) is far lesser than the harm done to the smaller group(the old). hence the action is evil. thus a summing up of cumulative effects need to be done and this summing up, being neccessarily qualitative leads to all the confusion surrounding our moral code as the parameters of the society change with time. thus one time in India it was natural to burn a woman alive after her husband's death as a widow was no longer considered 'human'.today such custom is despised by all throughout the country.

    also there is the question of what is beneficial and harmful to us. i say any act whose cumulative effect reduces the chances of survival of the human species with time is harmful and vice-versa.thus if an youth commits suicide he becomes a dead end in human evolution. as he dies without passing on his DNA, and we loose a little of the diversity that is the lifeblood of any species. so his act reduces our chances of future survival by a minute extent. so his act is evil.
    NOTE-some may find this a harsh application. actually i was using just two words good and evil in place of a whole host of in-betweens like heroic(extreme good),selfish(mild evil),criminal,benevolent,cowardice etc. as bringing so many words will confuse the issue.all the above are varying degrees of good or evil.
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2003
  25. Jun 8, 2003 #24
    So in a way you are saying,Praetor, it's like when a president calls on some highier authority to give justification to attacking another nation, this act is most likely a lesser bad(may be the general consensus) but it could be very bad as well and it's such a complex thing that human tendency is to call on some highier authority to give certainty and justification to their actions weather it be the words of a religion or the words of Einstein, the Supreme Justice or whoever it is still wrong, but it is the fair attempt of humanity to make a complex decision that is percieved to lead to a greater good or lesser evil or more improvement or avoideness of more destruction or pain. Wrong because it leaves no room for doubt, so many wars fought with the conviction of a religion that they could do no wrong, but even then if the religion weren't there might the war have occured anyway? It's my guess it would, and probably have been more brutal, because it's not religion that seeds war but some kind of human instinct to power and control, everyone has some tendency to believe whatever they want to believe from their religion or from science or such to give justification to their actions or convictions, but underneath this lies hidden motives and agendas often of a self-centered nature and perhaps stemming from the lizard brain-some good some bad. The reasons behind our reasons behind our reasons all point to one place, "what is good for me".

    That is interesting about economics Mad Scientist, if moral theory is true it should apply to economic theory soundly and seems a great application of this. One thing that gets me is the tendency for companies to mutually monopolize the system and create products designed to fail or at least be sub-standard in efficiency. I mean cars have been out a long time and they keep getting more complicated to work on and with more gizmos but they tend to last just as long or not as long as the cars of yesterday. I really don't want a car that can move faster than 100mph in 6 seconds, just one that is efficient and lasts, but that's just me.
    This gives me the impression that a kind of barrier has been reached in the stardard of living, things have gotten so complicated that it's more difficult to see the difference between an engineered to fail car and one that will last longer as the difference between a shovel and an ox drawn plow. Nobody wants to put the 10 shovelers out of work, but everyone knows it's more efficient to buy 1 ox and 1 plow, and in the long run the 9 shovellers will start making widgets or something useful.
  26. Jun 8, 2003 #25
    And yet a greedy one is still, even if inadvertantly, harming another person.
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