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Edward Burke said

  1. Apr 10, 2003 #1


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    Also known as enigma's signature...

    "The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."
    -Edmund Burke

    Now, what do people think about this? I disagree with it, of course, but that could be just me.

    The problem I see is that everybody judges themselves as good, and there is in reality no such thing as an absolute sense of good and evil. How can we tell who are the good men who should do something? Did Hitler consider himself good?

    IMHO, this statement reduces to the sense that doing things that are wrong are better than doing nothing. And I think this is a philosophy that has disproved itself throughout history. Good intentions prove the impetus for killing and death far more than otherwise.

    Anybody agree/disagree?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 10, 2003 #2
    It's the western antithesis of the classic Taoist concept of wu wei wu or "do without doing". Many have criticized wu wei wu as being lame and encouraging people to sit on rocks and do nothing. The simple fact is when either statement is taken out of context they are as meaningless as say run in circles scream and shout. As philosophical principles they can be wonderful or terrible.
  4. Apr 10, 2003 #3
    Good is a relative concept. Everyone has his own idea of what's good and what's evil, and the statement "The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing" makes sence in this context. If one is doing something you consider evil and you do nothing, the evil will prevail. However, from the evildoer's point of view his actions will be good and you trying to stop him will be evil (as was the case with Hitler), so naturaly he will try to prevent you from stopping him and will be following the same principle as you would be.
  5. Apr 10, 2003 #4

    Les Sleeth

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    Since I've participated in this debate with you before I will try to come up with new arguments.

    It seems like you are saying that when people act, they do things motivated only by thoughts of good or bad. But I do not believe most people are thinking about good and bad when they act, except for the rare few who actually isolate good (or "bad" in the case of satanists and such because bad is good to them) and then consciously pursue it.

    Most people act to serve themselves and those they love or are committed to; because it is important to them makes it "good." This is a completely different issue that any universal concept of good or bad.

    To come up with a universal "good" is much more difficult (i.e., than self-serving good). You say there is no such thing, but I am certain you are wrong.

    Forget about morality and religion and all that. Just think of it as what enhances situations. That is what we all want . . . for our situations to be enhanced. If it enhances, it is good; if it diminishes, it is bad.

    It just so happens that much of morality has developed from wisdom about what improves life and what hurts it. Screw your neighbor's mate . . . well, spouses have a tendency to sense all that lust and excitement not normally present, and so start looking around for who's intruded. While it might be exciting for the clandestine two, it also may overall destroy families and neighborhood harmony, and so create lots of misery for a little pleasure.

    So, I am saying "good" is what improves life and "bad" is what detracts from it.

    I don't think Burke meant that at all. You have to remember he lived to see the American and (first years of) the French revolutions, England's colonization policies, and the beginning of the Naploeonic era. As a Paliamentary member, and recognizing the excesses of power, Burke preached justice and fairness toward colonial populations (India in particular) even though he seemed to fully support the monarchy. So I believe in your quote he was saying that when evil is unchecked, it is emboldened. A large part of the character of evil is to exploit any absence of strength. So, say nothing, be afraid of confronting someone like McCarthy or racist propagandists and guess what will happen?
  6. Apr 11, 2003 #5
    Personally I love this quote, but I'm not really up to debating about whether its correct becuase good is relative or whatever, I just think its quite an inspiring quote on a personal level. I'm told also that JFK was also rather fond of quoting this.
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