• outlier
    For many months now a particularly deep and difficult question has been on my mind – what is good, and what is bad (in the sense of us living creatures).

    After many days of thought, I concluded that pain was bad, and happiness was good. Of course my answers may perhaps seem rather obvious, or even ridiculous that I even doubted the apparently obvious conclusions – but I felt I needed to know exactly why this was the case. And here is what I found:

    I took the question right back to life and death. Is death bad? For if death is not bad, then pain is not bad either. Same with life. Is life good? For if life is good, happiness is good.

    Pain is associated with death in the sense that pain is a warning sent from the brain to alert a creature that they will be wounded (resulting in a risk of blood loss, infection, and thus leading to likely death (depending)) or they will die instantly or within a short time frame. Thus, pain is a warning of death.

    Why do creatures fear death? Why does a creature receive warnings when death could be close? Perhaps this is because of a living creature's natural instincts to continue on with life, to be able to experience the activities that promote the feelings happiness. Happiness seems to be what animals live for. But does this mean happiness is the greatest emotion of them all – an emotion that does not rely on a creature to be successful in the uncontrolled battle of life, but simply alive? For creatures are capable of feeling happiness from the smallest things. Whether it be a harmonious combination of sounds (music, in the case of humans) or the warmth of sun after a cold night.

    This brings me to my final question. Would there be happiness if there was no pain? Would we not be able to contrast times of difficulty with the blissful times of joy? And thus life would just be mediocre? I conclude we need not worry about this questions, for there will always be pain, fear and death. These feelings (or warnings) and occurrences are just the result of living in an unplanned, uncontrolled universe with a vast array of possibilities. But I do believe we humans have earned a “gift” that no other living thing is yet able to possess, and that is the ability to not have to inflict pain or fear onto any other creature (excluding non-animal life, as we still have to eat). What is such a terrible shame is that so many people have not realised this gift, and refuse to take advantage of this priceless treasure.
  • LD Saunders
    Is pain always bad? Would you undergo a painful surgery to save your life? Is happiness always good? If it made you happy not to study hard for a test, would that be good? Doesn't context matter?
  • Terrapin Station
    Good--things one approves of, things one prefers or things that one feels are worthwhile or valuable in the long term, even if one would prefer other things at the moment.

    Bad--the opposite of the above.
  • Herg
    Happiness can sometimes be bad, but only when it causes greater unhappiness later on. (You are happy lazing in the sun instead of studying for your exams, but then you fail your exams and end up miserable in a dead end job.) Pain can sometimes be good, but only when it prevents greater pain later on. (You don't enjoy the pain of the needle in your arm, but it stops you experiencing the worse pain of a serious illness later.) Except in such cases, it seems odd to suggest that happiness might not be good or that pain might not be bad. Surely happiness is self-recommending, by its very nature. Surely pain is self-discommending.

    I infer that our notions of good and bad are not entirely subjective. It would be irrational to suggest that pain is good, except in cases where it is instrumental in preventing something worse. I find myself unable to be a thoroughgoing moral subjectivist. It flies in the face of what I know about happiness and pain. (But I'm not a thoroughgoing moral objectivist either.)

    As for death, since death as far as I know is non-existence, it can only be neutral. The reason animals fear death is not because death is bad to experience, but because the fear of death is in their genes; animals whose genes don't prompt them to fear death don't survive to pass their genes on, so the genes that don't prompt fear of death have generally died out.
  • Nathaniel
    The concept of good or bad is quite a big package to unpack. Good and Bad are relative terms, only getting quantified through to experiencers eyes, whether or not the perceived outcome was beneficial or harmful. So in terms of a living creature "Good and Bad" are subjective to said creatures desired situational outcome.

    Take for example: You miss a plane you needed to catch.
    The plane crashes killing all the passengers.

    Missing the plane initially is considered a bad outcome however adding in more information that situation has now become a good outcome. With the situation barely altering. Remember if you had caught the flight it was a favorable outcome right up until it crashes. So the concept of "Good or bad" is far too liquid to nail down a specific definition.
  • Bitter Crank
    Good food is better than bad food.
  • matt
    better meaning ‘more good’? I wouldn’t challenge the statement that good food was more good than bad food. But at least we’re getting somewhere.
  • Bitter Crank
    Now don't get all deep on me. I was just being flippant.

    But in terms of what is good and what is bad for living creatures (like our esteemed selves), "that which helps us flourish is good". Good food, fresh air, quality sleep, exercise, clean water, adequate shelter, and so forth. Infectious diseases (strep, staff, pneumococcal, plague, malaria, ebola, zika, etc.) are bad because they either stop us from existing altogether or they impede our flourishing. So are serious injuries.

    We could list pages and pages of specific things that contribute to flourishing, or do not, but the general principle is sufficient.

    So, good food is better than bad food -- we flourish more with good food. Good sex is better than bad sex. However as Seinfeld says, "Even when sex is bad its, you know, OK."
  • hks
    You have lots of different questions rolled up into one. And this clutters the matter. Try uncluttering it.

    Good vs not good is an ethical issue.

    Pain vs pleasure is an Epicurean issue.

  • Tim3003
    In Darwinist terms, and for an advanced society like ours, life is good, death is evil. As pain tends to towards death it is bad; and happiness, being life-affirming, is good. 'Good' here means good for the social group, not necessarily for the individual concerned. This line of reasoning gets quite interesting when you consider acts of self-sacrifice - eg heroism, or criminality like murder. You can work out a numerical coefficient of the 'goodness' of an act, and one for the 'eviliness' of an act, and so grade criminals - and saints!
  • outlier

    Very true! It's a vastly interesting subject, that has many "levels" to it. I shall certainly continue thinking about it and consider all the different scenarios. Thanks for sharing your view!
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