• Possibility
    2.4k
    Hitler was trying to create a master race and trying to get rid of people who he saw as not being pure.Jack Cummins

    To be honest, I don’t think it was all Hitler, it’s just easier to blame (purge) the leader. His ‘leadership’ was symptomatic of much of the thinking in Europe and the sentiment in Germany at the time. He was handed so much power (in his own country and internationally) simply because he had the audacity to embody with confidence - masquerading as a promise of strength - what so many in his country were thinking in their weakest moments. Trump did the same, and they willingly handed him the keys. That tells me humanity has yet to learn from this mistake. Do we understand yet what it means to give full rein to our capacity for ignorance, isolation and exclusion?
  • Amity
    2.1k
    Thanks, Possibility, that is indeed the story I was thinking of. I didn't know it was from the Huainanzi.
    Sorry for not @-ing you.
    I should have known that you would know, given our previous and worthwhile discussions :100:
    Amity

    I note you had to google it, just like what I coulda done :wink:

    It's all coming back to me now. I could also have included @Valentinus or @T Clark - the discussion I had in mind was his:

    https://thephilosophyforum.com/discussion/10427/my-favorite-verses-in-the-tao-te-ching/p1
    TC's focus was firmly on the TTC but at some point related 'stories' were introduced.

    For example: 'Cook Ding Cuts Up An Ox'
    https://thephilosophyforum.com/discussion/comment/511470

    Not so much about evil but more about:
    some people may have bigger shadows than others, or more particular obstacles in their life journeys than others.Jack Cummins

    How to navigate the obstacles along the path, the way.
    A useful sub-discussion with @Valentinus about the story and its meaning.
    https://thephilosophyforum.com/discussion/comment/512233

    We can see how this might relate to our navigating the real world.
    It isn't about some knowledge of a spiritual force, available only to the few.
    We have to make our way through events as they arise.
    There is no time to consult a manual, map or master.

    The question is how do we prepare ourselves for any tough bits ?
    We can't always.
    However, if we have internalised, experienced or practised a set of basic principles or morals, a way of looking at the world, then we might arrive at the best possible solution.
    Amity
    https://thephilosophyforum.com/discussion/comment/512273

    I have some familiarity with Taoism, but have not, at this stage, read as deeply on this tradition as I would like to.Jack Cummins

    Yes, I remember you showed an interest back then. As did I. But other things take over.
    I'm glad to be reminded of it. A worthwhile challenge at the time...another perspective...
  • Alkis Piskas
    398

    is evil subjectively constructed, or does it stem from objective aspects of life, beyond our own human thinking and meanings?Jack Cummins

    This is a very interesting topic @Jack Cummins!

    ***

    I assume that by "subjectively constructed" you mean something that is thought of as subjective in nature and it has such an application and value in life, in opposition of course to "objective".

    Assuming also that "evil" is mainly the opposite of "good" (i.e. it may be used also with some other meaning), if we prove that "good" is something objective, then "evil" would also be something objective. Right?

    Next, I will simply define "good" as something that helps, promotes and enhances survival in both the physical and mental planes. (If you are asking "Good for whom?", please read on.)

    Now a lot would claim that "good" and "moral" is something subjective and that "what is good for me may not be good for you". So each one has his (for brevity) own point of view and should act accordingly. This is a totally wrong viewpoint and unfortunately it is taken by many people on the subject of morality! Because they consider it as something personal, to be compared only with what the other person accepts as and believes is good.

    However, if one moves just a little out of this confinement of "self", and considers his family, he will immediately realize that he cannot apply "what is good for me may not be good for my family" anymore. Because he is part of his family and what is good for him must be also good for his family and vice versa. His actions must be directed more towards the survival of his family than towards himself. And in fact, helping his family he helps himself and becomes stronger.

    Moving a little more outside the confinement of the family, one interacts with his friends, his colleagues, his company, and all kinds of groups with whom he shares a common purpose. (He has accepted and agreed to that, implicitly or explicitly.) So, since he is a member of these groups, what is good for him must be also good for his friends and groups. Again, helping his groups he helps himself and becomes stronger.

    Finally, as a human being, and to live in harmony with his fellow men, he has to promote the survival of all as far as this is possible. (Because at this level he is facing also enemies with whom he has not made an agreement and with whom he may have conflicting purposes. Yet, even this can be often handled better by being "good" rather than "evil". But this is outside our subject.)

    Now it's time to switch "good" with "evil", which is the subject of the topic. But I believe it has now become already very obvious: Like "good", "evil" is not something subjective but rather objective.

    Ethics (and morality) is objective in nature and it has a single law: do the major good for the most. And so "evil" is the opposite: do the major damage for the most. They are both one-way streets.
  • Jack Cummins
    3.6k

    I was taught the view that what happened in Nazi Germany was down to Hitler and people I have come across who were alive at the time seemed to have believed that. However, it does come down to whether what people had been lead to believe in the news was true. I have also come across some ideas suggesting that Hitler was following certain thinking in theosophy, such as Madam Blavatsky's notion of a master race.

    But, one reason why I do wonder about the extent that Hitler was part of a much wider cultural movement is because I have read Jung's ideas about evil and some of the underlying ideas about the German race being superior are apparent in Jung's writings and many people reject Jung's views because of the way in which his views for this reason. And, Jung is not the only thinker of that time with such a slant to his writings.

    I do wonder if human beings are able to learn from mistakes. I am not sure that the leaders of many of our countries do look at past errors, because there is so much going on, that the agenda may be so narrow. We spend time thinking about the philosophical questions about good and evil, but I don't think that many of those in power do. But, that is one of the reasons I think that philosophy should be at the forefront of cultural life. At least, this site is a public one, so let's hope that some people of influence read some of the debates and think about important issues. I am sure that many aspects of our contemporary world will be seen so differently in retrospect, but let's hope that there are no catastrophic events which wipe out vast numbers of people before people wake up to evil which may be lurking in our midst. I know that some people fear that Nazism may be on the rise again.
  • Joshs
    2k
    I’m curious as to why you thought this would not be a popular view. I agree wholeheartedly with this description, and I think you’re being quite cautious in how you express it. The way I see it, to describe something as ‘evil’ is to admit ignorance, isolation or exclusion of some aspect to our experience. It identifies a limitation in our understanding.Possibility

    That’s very refreshing to hear. Let me be sure I understand you, though. Tell me what distinctions you might make, if any , between evil and blame in general.
    I include within the boundaries of blame the following: all feelings and expressions of blame aimed at another (or oneself in self-anger). These include: irritation, annoyance, disapproval, condemnation, feeling insulted, taking umbrage, resentment, exasperation, impatience, hatred, ire, outrage, contempt, righteous indignation, ‘adaptive' anger, perceiving the other as deliberately thoughtless, lazy, culpable, perverse, inconsiderate, disrespectful, disgraceful, greedy, evil, sinful, criminal.
    My argument is that the concept of evil. particularly in its theological guises, is a more foundationalisr version of blame ,but all of the varieties I mentioned above share central structure features with evil. I’m aware of only one writer who seems to support my view of blame as a failure of understanding. Every other philosophy I know of is essentially a philosophy of blame i. that it relies on a notion of capricious and arbitrariness at the core of human intent. This takes a wide variety of forms, ranging from concepts of social influence on the individual ( Marx, Foucault, etc) to internal sources of bias and influence such as drives and emotions.
  • Pinprick
    767


    Mary Midgley wrote a book called “Wickedness” that discusses what you’re asking. Her conclusion was that evil should be thought of as a negative, rather than positive, act; evil is the inability to refrain from causing harm, or the inability to basically “do the right thing.”

    Personally, I’m not sure “evil” should ever be used as a noun. It’s purely descriptive, in my opinion. So, my best definition would be that evil is a description of an intention, act, and/or consequence (thanks @TheMadFool) that the speaker abhors. I suppose if one is inclined to superstition, then things like natural disasters could also be considered evil, but that seems silly to me. Nature is indifferent.
  • Pinprick
    767
    I definitely believe that it is important to separate the nature of 'evil' acts from the people who have committed them. I have worked in some forensic settings with people who have committed very serious crimes and I found that this separation of the act from the actor was essential . It can be difficult to suspend judgements on people, especially if they seem to show the worst possible tendencies. But, I think that many people find some psychological reassurance by projecting evil onto those who reveal the worst side of human nature. But, I do think that it is worthwhile going beyond labelling certain people as 'evil' because they are just people, even if they do behave in extreme ways which we view as being monstrous.Jack Cummins

    I agree strongly with this. I used to work in a drug testing facility and found the majority of the participants easy to get along with and friendly. Some of these people were pedophiles, wife beaters, neglectful/abusive to their children, etc.

    When I first started getting interested in philosophy/psychology I wondered a lot about my own capacity to commit horrible actions. I wondered what environmental circumstances could cause me to do X. More often than not I could imagine some scenario where I felt like I could have become a X if A,B, and C would have happened to me.

    It’s a bit macabre, but it actually allowed me to become more empathetic, and feel a broader sense of humanity. Now I’m at the point where I don’t feel like anyone is better than me, but I’m also no better than anyone else, at least that’s what I strive for. Anyway, just thought I’d share. :smile:
  • Tzeentch
    1.2k
    In order to make sense of good and evil, one must start with the concept in its most simple form: within the individual.

    Personally, I don't find the concept of evil very helpful. Individuals do what they believe is good for them. The problem is that for all sorts of reasons they can be wrong.

    Good < > Not Good ("Evil")

    Wisdom < > Ignorance

    (Self-) Honesty < > Deceit
  • TheMadFool
    12k
    I know that it is hard to define evil precisely. I know that you say it is a Zen moment by not knowing what evil is. The only problem which I see is that by simply saying that you don't know what it is it makes it harder to even begin to think about the reality of evil in world affairs. Perhaps you just don't think that the word 'evil' is not particularly helpful as a starting line, but I am not sure whether or not this is what you meanJack Cummins

    It's like this. In my first post in your thread, I ran with the standard definition as it appears in the relevant Wikipedia page. You're astute enough to notice that evil (and good) are hedonically flavored concepts - to cause suffering is evil and to bring about happiness is good. You get the idea. Good & evil rendered as such is a very old idea as far as I can tell.

    However, another moral theory, Kantian deontological ethics, completely ignores everything, hedonic value included, except, in this case, how a particular action might look if it were made into a universal law. Evil in Kantian terms is failure of duty which will be exposed when one acts in ways that violate the so-called categorical imperative.

    So, yeah, I'm utterly bewildered as of this moment as to what evil is. Can we wed utilitarianism (hedonic) and Kantian ethics (non-hedonic) and come up with a definition of evil that's consistent with both moral theories? Just to complete the set, virtue ethics would have us believe that evil is what a bad (irrational) person would do.

    To sum up, Kant and Socrates seem to be on the same page - evil is just another name for irrational. Kant would've said evil is simply a logical contradiction in keeping with his wishes to reduce morality to logic. Socrates, since for him rationality is the highest virtue, would've concurred as then irrationality is the worst of vices, the heights of irrationality a contradiction.

    Being democratic about it hedonically defined evil loses to evil as unreason 1 to 2 by vote count.

    Just so you know, I maybe in complete denial - I must've encountered evil but I simply refuse to accept the truth of it. Such things happen right, truthseeker? Sometimes truth is so painful/shocking that...

    By the way, justice, no matter how you try to put a positive spin to it, is ultimately (guilty) people suffering. The million dollar question then is, is evil simply justice? There are metaphysical ramifications - (bad) Karma and the rest.
  • Jack Cummins
    3.6k

    I do actually understand you being bewildered by what 'evil' is because I think that the nature of good and evil is one of the most complicated areas of philosophy. I have been reading the various replies on the thread yesterday and have been experiencing writer's block or brain fog thinking about it before writing replying

    Yesterday, after reading a very impressive post by @Alkis Piskas, even though he did not mention Kant, it lead me to think how Kant's ideas have definite bearing on this topic. You have introduced a very helpful discussion on his thoughts about good and evil. If I think about my own history of thinking on the topic I believe that my own connection between morality and metaphysics it goes back to the connection which Kant spoke of.Of course, he developed his ideas in connection with a theist framework. However, beyond this, his connection is based on the idea of a priori principles. I am wondering how true or helpful a priori logic is a starting point for thinking about the principles of good and evil, and of course, Plato's ideas about underlying ideas.

    I believe that it may involve juggling ideas about such objective principles with the practical expression in ethics in real life where it really matters, such as in issues of justice. Perhaps objective principles and moral subjective feelings can both be incorporated, to give a balanced perspective.I also do plan to read Hannah Arendt, as recommended by Banno. But, I do believe that it is a very difficult to think about and it may not be simply that, as you say, 'truth is painful', but also hard to fathom, However, the truth is painful when it becomes evident in the reality of suffering oneself, or witnessing the suffering of other people or other creatures.
  • TheMadFool
    12k
    hard to fathomJack Cummins

    The love-evil paradox

    1. To love is good.
    2. To love to cause suffering is evil.

    Go figure! That's one of the reasons, truthseeker, why evil is unfathomable.
  • Jack Cummins
    3.6k

    I believe that you have a useful basis for thinking about evil starting from our experiences and relating it in a wider way to others. Here, I think it involves think about our own suffering and connection it to potential evil of others who may suffer. This may be an existential approach, involving wisdom and compassion.
  • Jack Cummins
    3.6k

    The question is whether evil is purely an intention or a consequence though, which is of course a classic philosophy debate and, of course, the former is traced back to Kant. Personally, I think that both measures need to be taken into account, which enables juggling of objective and subjective aspects. I think that to see good and evil purely from an objective or subjective point of view alone is restrictive, and in all aspects of life we need to be able to consider both aspects, and this may be the creative aspect of it.
  • Jack Cummins
    3.6k

    I think that it can be a challenge to work with people who have committed terrible crimes. But, I think that it is easier to work with those who show remorse than those who are actively harbouring malicious intent. I have definitely thought about what circumstances would lead me to do all sorts of things, which is a bit macabre, but I do have a gothic streak. If I can, I will see if I can read 'Wickedness' by Mary Midgely as it I am sure that it is very interesting.
  • Jack Cummins
    3.6k

    I am glad that you have mentioned your post to @Trey because his thread is based on the same theme as mine, and he wrote his thread only about 12 hours after I began my one. He would probably find a lot of detailed discussion on this one, although he must be aware of it as has often been riding along next to mine. I was impressed by your post and do plan to give a more detailed response, but I had a lot of replies to write.
  • Trey
    39
    I was unaware of Jack thread. I think the reason people harbor harmful intentions is because they are Trying to get back at God for putting them in a shitty world with stupid people. I quiet frankly feel that way sometimes
  • Jack Cummins
    3.6k
    That's interesting because I thought that you had started it as an alternative one. I have read some of yours but you may some relevant discussion on this one, because I have been extremely impressed by the quality of some of the replies which I have received.
  • TheMadFool
    12k
    an intention or a consequenceJack Cummins

    Both matter. In fact an intention is consequence oriented, something you already know of course, right? It's the intervening action/deed - the link as it were between intention and consequence - that an evil person tries to pass off as good. This is the oldest and most powerful weapon in an evil person's arsenal dear Jack. Be careful Jack!



    objective and subjectiveJack Cummins

    I fail to see how the distinction matters Jack. Are you saying that if I torture somebody to death over a period of weeks like some serial killers have been known to do there'll be someone who'll think that this isn't evil? I'd like to know how that could be possible. Any ideas?
  • Amity
    2.1k
    Live eviL180 Proof

    You're Pure Evil, so you are ! :naughty:
    Like a Storm.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2d5P6Tk2yNE

    Wipe that smile off your face
    You immaculate disgrace
    'Cause heaven knows
    A prayer won't save you now

    You wear the halo of a saint
    To hide the venom of a snake
    Built your kingdom on a lie
    So watch it all come crashing down
    (Now)

    You prophet of hate
    You profit from faith
    Truth-less, two-faced, two bit
    Fuckin' hypocrite

    How does it feel?
    How does it feel?
    The day has come
    To pay for what you've done
    Sinner revealed
    Tell me how does it feel?
    So pure within your soul
    Pure evil

    If your blackened heart believes
    In the righteous words you speak
    You know heaven will send hell for you
    And bring you to your knees

    You prophet of hate
    You profit from faith
    Truth-less, two-faced, two bit
    Fuckin' hypocrite

    How does it feel?
    How does it feel?
    The day has come
    To pay for what you've done
    Sinner revealed
    Tell me how does it feel?
    So pure within your soul
    Pure evil

    Pray to your god
    Pray for your soul
    Pray as your throne burns slowly now
    Pray to your god
    Pray for your soul
    Pray as your throne burns slowly now
    (Pray to your god
    Pray for your soul
    Pray as your throne burns slowly)
    Now

    How does it feel?
    How does it feel?
    The day has come
    To pay for what you've done
    Sinner revealed
    Tell me how does it feel?
    Truthless, two-faced, two bit
    Fuckin' hypocrite
    How does it feel?
    Tell me how does it feel?
    So pure within your soul
    Pure evil

    The day has come
    To pay for what you've done
    The day has come
    To pay for what you've done
    Pay for what you've done
    Pay for what you've done
    Pay for what you've done
    What you've done, what you've done

    Songwriters: Kent Brooks, Matt Brooks, Chris Brooks
    For non-commercial use only.
    Data from: Musixmatch
  • Jack Cummins
    3.6k

    But torturing someone over a period of time would involve the subjective experience of the person suffering as an end, and clear long term intent to harm. So, in the scheme of things, it would be seen as falling into the darkest regions of the spectrum of 'evil' acts. I am not trying to be pedantic, because all these factors would play so much weight in any legal evaluation of repeated a acts of torture.
  • TheMadFool
    12k
    But torturing someone over a period of time would involve the subjective experience of the person suffering as an end, and clear long term intent to harm. So, in the scheme of things, it would be seen as falling into the darkest regions of the spectrum of 'evil' acts. I am not trying to be pedantic, because all these factors would play so much weight in any legal evaluation of repeated a acts of torture.Jack Cummins

    Jaaaaccckk! Are you defending torture?
  • Jack Cummins
    3.6k

    Perhaps, I did not explain clearly enough. I was trying to say that torture would be classified as being one of the most severe crimes, taking account of all factors. The end of the victim receiving repeated acts of torture and the ongoing malicious intent of the person perpetuating it.
  • Tzeentch
    1.2k
    I believe that you have a useful basis for thinking about evil starting from our experiences and relating it in a wider way to others. Here, I think it involves think about our own suffering and connection it to potential evil of others who may suffer. This may be an existential approach, involving wisdom and compassion.Jack Cummins

    I would consider it more of a placeholder than a basis. "Do unto others..." is generally a creed that if lived by will avoid at least the greater kinds of excesses, however it does not suffice, in my opinion.

    After all, just because one wishes to be treated in some way, does not mean that that same treatment is wished for by or good for another.

    Unless we know a person and we know them well, it may be difficult for us to tell what that person really needs; what is truly good for that person.

    As such, I think voluntary interaction in the widest sense of the word is key. Voluntariness in physical interactions obviously, but also intellectual interaction.
  • Jack Cummins
    3.6k

    I think that it is a problem that human beings don't all wish to be treated or have their needs met in exactly the same way is one of the complexities of life. I think that is even one of the problems of the categorical imperative because while we may think about universalisation we don't all want to do the same as each other.

    I do believe that universalisation is about general issues of justice and fairness, but does need to allow for listening to the needs of individuals. I believe that one of the problems of advice is that it often involves assumptions that the person giving the advice knows what is good or bad for the other. I believe that is why counsellors avoid giving advice and try to listen and enable individuals to make their own decisions about their lives.
  • TheMadFool
    12k
    Perhaps, I did not explain clearly enough. I was trying to say that torture would be classified as being one of the most severe crimes, taking account of all factors. The end of the victim receiving repeated acts of torture and the ongoing malicious intent of the person perpetuating itJack Cummins

    Phew! :sweat: :100:
  • Philosophim
    557
    Glad to chat with you again Jack, glad you've been well. To me, good is what we "ought" to do, and evil is what we "ought not to do". In other words, "This should exist, and this should not." But why do we think certain things should exist while others do not? Taking it from a purely human standpoint, we would come up with a myriad of opinion. That won't do. We need something more concrete. Something more primitive.

    Why should humans exist at all? Which then I can say, why should life exist at all? Which leads to, why should anything exist at all? And there is our final question, the base upon which we can build our logic. An interesting fact, is that much of the "substance" that resulted form the big bang is gone now. After billions of years, its cancelled out or gone the way of entropy. But not the matter that's stuck around. That stuff, which we're made of, has stubbornly refused to go into the dark. That matter, is what life is built off of. That matter, is what we are built off of. And that existence, is what ethics is built off of.

    The matter around us continually seeks to remain as it is. Forces jostle around, elections shift and molecules combine and break apart, but the underlying matter and energy remain. Life is a combination of matter that continues to seek its own continuation, even in the face of outside forces. Thus the prime directive is, "Should I continue to exist?" Life does with rudimentary intelligence. Humans come along and can see how it is. They can decide. Should I continue to exist? Most of us choose yes. That is good. Existence is good.

    You also might realize that existence extends outside of yourself. And there is existence within interacting with yourself, and other existences. A fly alone and a human alone are two existences, but when they come together, they create a third interaction of existence that could not be otherwise. You see it in the atoms that form into different molecules. The interactions of so many different expressions of that existence. This is good as well.

    At that point you might realize that if one can preserve one's own existence, and promote other existences where you can, then that would create more existence, and thus more good. Sometimes there must be destruction, or a change in the makeup of matter to preserve some existences over others. Life must continue to obtain energy to live, which means something else must lose it in return. What must exist and what must be destroyed are the constant calculus of morality.

    I have a feeling no one person can answer that calculus. I have a feeling there is no one theory that will apply to one situation, but to many situations. The one thing that I feel confident in, is the underlying goal and result of all of those theories should be to preserve and/or create as much existence as possible.
  • Alkis Piskas
    398

    Thank you, @Jack Cummins. I look forward to your response!
  • Jack Cummins
    3.6k

    I think that you are really describing a utilitarian approach to ethics, but more from the standpoint of the view that the individual subjects should be thinking of their own lives in terms of the greater good. I think that it is useful to think about, but the only problem is that it is prescriptive. I think that it may be easier to apply to the principle of evil than good in the sense of people wishing to avoid doing evil. I believe that is because most people fear evil to a large extent, although for some there may be some attraction to it in a gothic way, or as an act of rebellion. However, for many people there is a deep fear of evil. This may go back to the Christian idea of the devil. However, I believe that it exists beyond that as a fear of the 'dark' side of reality.
  • Jack Cummins
    3.6k

    I think that your idea of evil being 'trying to get back at God' for being in the world is one which some people have, even if they don't believe in a God literally. It may be about a general attitude of anger. Camus speaks of metaphysics rebellion, as a general approach of rebellion. This is also connected to his views of suicide and that can be seen as a form of metaphysics of rebellion in the face of the absurdities of existence.
bold
italic
underline
strike
code
quote
ulist
image
url
mention
reveal
youtube
tweet
Add a Comment