• TheMadFool
    12k
    First, evil is simply a cause of suffering. Hence, natural evil and moral evil.

    Let's go on to discuss moral evil because there's an interesting paradox with regard to it.

    A person's dealings with others is tripartite in nature:

    1. Intention
    2. Action (cause)
    3. Consequence (effect)

    Take a look at the following:

    Scenario 1
    1. Intention (John wants to hurt Smith)
    2. Action (John sticks a knife in Smith's neck)
    3. Consequence (Smith dead on the floor)

    All 3 components are bad/evil. Verdict: John is evil/bad

    Scenario 2
    1. Intention (John wants to hurt Smith)
    2. Action (John befriends Smith, wins Smith's trust)
    3. Consequence (Smith is betrayed by John at a critical moment, ruining Smith's life)

    Only 2 components are bad (1 & 3). Friendship is good (2). There's one more immoral deed here viz. Smith is being deceived. Verdict: John is evil/bad.

    The paradox: A person whose intentions, actions, consequences of those actions are all bad is far far better than another person whose intentions are bad, actions are good, and consequences of those actions are bad - no pulling the wool over the eyes in the former.

    This odd state of affairs arises because it's either impossible or very rare for anyone to know the intentions of another person and actions/deeds are morally ambiguous (can be good/bad) depending on what the aims are.

    Resolution of the paradox:

    1. Ignore intentions: can't be known or really tough to get wind of

    2. Ignore actions: morally ambiguous

    Thus,

    3. Focus on consequences

    Hey presto!, we have utilitarianism or one of its variations.

    Why does this happen? Overt evil (scenario 1) has a short lifespan - once detected, they're immediately snuffed out. Thus, for evil to survive it must disguise itself as good actions, the classic wolf in sheep's clothing - covert evil (scenario 2) has no expiry date.
  • 180 Proof
    5.7k
    First, evil is simply a cause of suffering. Hence, natural evil and moral evil.TheMadFool
    Too facile, even equivocal. Nature causes nature itself (e.g. creatures, exploding stars, slipping tectonic plates, wildfires from lightening strikes, mass extinctions, etc) to suffer? :roll:
  • Jaymythos
    4
    By gratuitous I mean 'easily preventable harm, yet allowed to happen to the victim due to callous disregard or enjoyment'180 Proof

    Is this gratuitous state necessary in order for something to be evil?

    "Relative to the perpetrator's value system"? You mean like "just following orders"?180 Proof

    Following orders could be an example of -- but not sufficiently so -- of one acting to their value system. I mean to say, that this person is performing this harmful act in accordance to their conceptual beliefs, or value system. For example, a man is killing people as to release them from what he believes from a world of suffering. It is his belief that he will stay here in this world to suffer, he would off himself, but then he wouldn't be able to "help" others through his benevolent slayings. To the other, his act is evil, but to him he is doing the world good.

    Think. Doing evil – producing corpses or dehumanized automatons/beasts – is not as subjective as that; the more unthinking, the easier it is to excuse and to do it.180 Proof

    I'm not quite sure what you're saying, would you elaborate on this?
  • Joshs
    2k
    Nature causes nature itself (e.g. creatures, exploding stars, slipping tectonic plates, lightening strikes, mass extinctions, etc) to suffer? :roll:180 Proof

    Hmm. I like that idea. I was watching a blackbird attacking a crow today, and it made me think of the cognitive assessment the blackbird was making about the ‘evil’ the crow represented. Higher animals are fully capable of differentiating between playful
    fighting , an attack to show annoyance and a desire to kill
    the opponent. That is, they can to some extent understand the context of the other’s behavior as being benign or malevolent. Note , however, that what they share with humans who see evil all around them is a failure to see past the immediate harm to their interests.
  • TheMadFool
    12k
    Too fascile, even equivocal. Nature causes nature itself (e.g. creatures, exploding stars, slipping tectonic plates, lightening strikes, mass extinctions, etc) to suffer? :roll:180 Proof

    Great observation. Kudos to you.

    Self-Harm & Vincent Van Gogh (self-portrait with bandaged ear)
  • Jack Cummins
    3.6k

    I am replying to you because you enquired about the meaning of my battery running out in Wimbledon and also know that my mother is ill. Apart from being out in Wimbledon, as the womble of this site, and having to wait until I get home until I can charge up my phone, I think that my psychological batteries had probably run out too.

    If my thread discussion did appear a bit obscure it probably comes in the context of my mother being ill and awaiting tests, for which both I and her are fearful. I am struggling with how to help her cope with any bad news and that is what got me thinking about how we frame 'evil'. My mother does see life in terms of God, but does still struggle with how to view the 'evil' of suffering. I see this in a wider context but can see problems with any view of life which traces back suffering to our failings. But, I do believe that how we understand the forces of good and evil is not dependent on a religious perspective.

    Of course, our experiences of 'good' and 'evil' are related to the way in which we define them, but I think that the experience of suffering is central. I think that independently of whether we believe in any underlying divine force, we are still left with the quandary of whether there are any inherent principles of good and evil in the universe, even though these ideas are inevitably related to how we perceive good and evil in our own lives. Human ideas of these concepts are restricted to understanding, but we can ask whether they have any basis in any aspects of principles beyond the realm of our own thinking.
  • Jack Cummins
    3.6k

    I have only looked briefly at the responses on the phone since getting home , including yours, and will look at them more fully tomorrow. However, I just looked at your post which provides a link to Van Gogh and his severed ear. This makes me wonder about the whole nature of self destructive tendencies as part of human nature. Of course, the experiences of his were unique in many ways, but it does lead me to wonder about the origins of the destructive impulses.

    I am extremely interested in the psychoanalytic aspects of this, but I am not sure that it is limited there and may go beyond the psychological. It may go back to inherent principles and these may be reflected as aspects of human nature. I am wondering if there are any metaphysical aspects behind it, even if our own awareness of these aspects of life are extremely limited. I think that the whole question of natural evil and moral evil, and how they are linked, opens up so many questions, even if these aspects of life are disguised, or extremely ambiguous.
  • 180 Proof
    5.7k
    Is this gratuitous state necessary in order for something to be evil?Jaymythos
    Yes.

    To the other, his act is evil, but to him he is doing the world good.
    The burden, then, is on him to show he had inescapable grounds for what he did and that it was not gratuitous.


    I'm not quite sure what you're saying, would you elaborate on this?
    All I'm saying is subjective beliefs are insufficient to 'justify' causing gratuitous harm. Objectively 'producing corpses and/or unthinking automatons / beasts' requires extraordinary objective reasons to 'justify' – mitigate – the action as not evil (i.e. gratuitously harming or immiserating).
  • Banno
    14.2k
    We can't talk about evil without reference to Hannah Arendt. Evil is not seeing oneself as having a choice; the obedience of Eichmann the mere uncritical functionary.
  • jorndoe
    1.4k
    The nerd in me compels me to quote

    You say you are true evil? Shall I tell you what true evil is? It is to submit to you. It is when we surrender our freedom, our dignity, instead of defying you.Picard (TNG S1E23)
  • Jack Cummins
    3.6k

    I haven't read any writing by Hannah Arendt, but I think it I may have a downloaded book by her, so I will try to have a read of it.
  • Jack Cummins
    3.6k

    I think that your understanding of evil is really worth thinking about because it does seem to me that in so much of life we identify evil and put blame onto others. I think that acknowledging aspects of oneself is extremely important and facing guilt rather than simply projecting it. I believe that this applies to moral evil, but also, is useful for thinking about suffering. We probably need to accept it for what it is rather than trying to put the blame on anyone or even try to attribute it to any external power.
  • Amity
    2.1k
    I am replying to you because you enquired about the meaning of my battery running out in Wimbledon and also know that my mother is ill. Apart from being out in Wimbledon, as the womble of this site, and having to wait until I get home until I can charge up my phone, I think that my psychological batteries had probably run out too.Jack Cummins

    To backtrack a little for clarification.
    Here is my critical post re you mentioning the 'relative evil' of your battery running out:
    https://thephilosophyforum.com/discussion/comment/570189

    We can ask why some would agree/disagree with this. Some would 'like' it - see it as 'good'.
    For example - it needed to be said ( we might consider why but that would lead to other issues ). Others would 'dislike' - see it as 'bad' and e.g. make reference to my handle in an ironic way.

    We can ask why you edited the 'evil' bit out after this was criticised. But that's not terribly important.

    Re: knowing about your Mum being ill. Yes. We have discussed this in another thread. Unfortunately, I can become too involved in the affairs of others.

    Interesting to see it from this new angle.
    The physical and psychological aspects of life you are both going through which has made you think, not for the first time, about the evil of suffering.

    In such situations, some ask questions such as 'Why me - what have I done to deserve this ?'
    How they think of 'evil' or 'sin' in terms of religious belief, as you know, can add to the fear or anxieties already being faced.

    Human ideas of these concepts are restricted to understanding, but we can ask whether they have any basis in any aspects of principles beyond the realm of our own thinking.Jack Cummins

    What is 'beyond the the realm of our own thinking' ?
    What would be the consequence of our finding out ? More or less suffering ?

    If my thread discussion did appear a bit obscure it probably comes in the context of my mother being ill and awaiting tests, for which both I and her are fearful. I am struggling with how to help her cope with any bad news and that is what got me thinking about how we frame 'evil'.Jack Cummins

    I don't think that the title and topic of your thread is at all 'obscure'. It's an old and continuing concern in philosophy. Fascinating and comprehensive articles abound e.g. in SEP.

    The issue stems from thoughts/concerns about real life. Events such as you describe are common.
    For me, it is less about delving into all the philosophical theories/opinions but how these situations can be alleviated.

    I do believe that how we understand the forces of good and evil is not dependent on a religious perspective.Jack Cummins

    OK. So, you see good and evil as being forces. What or who is doing the forcing ?
    The trouble is many do see this as stemming from an Absolute Being.
    Life events - can be seen as a punishment or reward for behaviour. A judgement from on high.

    I think that independently of whether we believe in any underlying divine force, we are still left with the quandary of whether there are any inherent principles of good and evil in the universe, even though these ideas are inevitably related to how we perceive good and evil in our own lives.Jack Cummins

    Some philosophers might be left in such a quandary but it is of their own making.
    As you say, it depends on how we view life as either bad or good. This absolutism, or black and white way of thinking, I consider unhelpful as a method of coping with fears or sufferings.

    So, when people say e.g. when their phone batteries die that it is a kind of 'suffering' because they are not longer in touch with the whole wide world, or they can't be contacted, how do we react to this ?

    I'll close now by sharing a little:
    Like many, I have been in a similar situation as you describe - coping with ill and dying parents in hospital. I understand all about the suffering. I too wondered and hoped that I would find the right things to say or do. I know how it saps energy etc.. etc...

    The early realisation that negative events in my life - life in general - was not all about me, gave me a whole new perspective. 'Bad' things, as we know, happen to 'good' people and v.v.
    But not all is what it seems.
    There's a story out there - I think in taoism - which demonstrates this very well.
    Perhaps someone knows it and can share, I've forgotten - @Wayfarer @Fooloso4 @Ying ?

    The thing is to prepare yourself in any way you can to meet or foresee life's pain/pleasure.
    Like making sure your phone, your self is as fully charged as possible.
    It's your responsibility.
    :sparkle:
  • Ying
    331
    The early realisation that negative events in my life - life in general - was not all about me, gave me a whole new perspective. 'Bad' things, as we know, happen to 'good' people and v.v.
    But not all is what it seems.
    There's a story out there - I think in taoism - which demonstrates this very well.
    Amity

    There are many stories in the main texts of daoism. Not sure which one you're talking about. Do you happen to have some more clues?
  • Jack Cummins
    3.6k

    Actually, I think that I had probably edited my own post before it was criticised, or at least before I read the post you wrote, although it probably doesn't matter that much. I realised that it was a stupid thing to write about my mobile battery running out, because it is simply an everyday nuisance.

    But, I think that what I had not addressed in my thread introduction is what we consider to be evil, and we probably all think of it differently. In some ways, death may be viewed as an evil, but I am don't think that is definitive and, in many ways, extreme suffering may be worse. Probably, my own way of thinking about evil is based on atrocities, such as the way people were killed by Nazis in concentration camps or, the potential destruction of humanity through warfare or ecological devastation. For me, they seem to be the most extreme forms of evil possible. But, obviously, events in our own lives do matter and I think that these include loss of others through death, homelessness, severe injuries or blindness, but of course, we may see so many aspects of experience as devastating.

    As to whether good and evil are forces, you are right to query, 'What or who is doing the forcing?' It is our own binary thinking that is constructing the division, and there is certainly some relativity. What may be viewed as an 'evil' may be later viewed very differently because many events which are seen as 'terrible' at the time may be a trigger for positive developments.

    I am aware that my own thinking is tinged with my Catholic upbringing, but a lot ideas about good and evil, and its metaphysics, emerged in that context. We could say that 'The Book of Job' was addressing the problem. But, outside of Christianity, there is the idea of karma in Hinduism and Buddhism. Some interpretations of this see events as being 'punishment', but an alternative is to see it as being learning experiences. The idea is primarily the idea of cause and effect, or 'you reap as you sow. I have some familiarity with Taoism, but have not, at this stage, read as deeply on this tradition as I would like to.

    But, I definitely believe that we need to face up to evil within ourselves, rather than blaming others, as @Joshs points out. But, I am not thinking as that involving beating oneself up over things because that most certainly doesn't help at all. I believe that the best ideal is to be able to process the 'evil' aspects of life, in order to become the most positive we can be for our wellbeing and others. Personally, I am having a day indoors to restore my own 'psychological batteries' because I do think that we need time to process experiences rather than becoming overwhelmed by them.
  • Amity
    2.1k
    There are many stories in the main texts of daoism. Not sure which one you're talking about. Do you happen to have some more clues?Ying

    About a farmer ?
  • Amity
    2.1k
    I definitely believe that we need to face up to evil within ourselves,Jack Cummins

    What 'evil' is within ourselves ?
  • Jack Cummins
    3.6k

    I think that it was extremely unhelpful when human beings were cast under the doom and gloom of 'sin'. However, I think that we have destructive tendencies, to self and others. We also have the opposition between love and hate, but, hopefully most people don't swing to the full expression of hate. As many on this site are probably aware, I am influenced strongly by the ideas of Carl Jung and do believe that integrating the 'shadow' side is the ideal. I am certainly aware of my own shadow and try to work with it, but I don't think integration of the shadow is particularly easy. Of course, some people may have bigger shadows than others, or more particular obstacles in their life journeys than others. But, I think that it is best to go beyond blaming our circumstances and try to find the best balances possible.
  • Possibility
    2.4k
    The early realisation that negative events in my life - life in general - was not all about me, gave me a whole new perspective. 'Bad' things, as we know, happen to 'good' people and v.v.
    But not all is what it seems.
    There's a story out there - I think in taoism - which demonstrates this very well.
    Perhaps someone knows it and can share, I've forgotten
    Amity

    The story of the Taoist farmer I think you’re referring to is from the Huainanzi. It goes something like this:

    There was once a farmer in ancient China who owned a horse. “You are so lucky!” his neighbours told him, “to have a horse to pull the cart for you!” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

    One day he didn’t latch the gate properly and the horse ran off. “Oh no! What a disaster!” his neighbours cried. “Such terrible misfortune!” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

    A few days later the horse returned, bringing with it six wild horses. “How fantastic! You are so lucky,” his neighbours told him. “Now you are rich!” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

    The following week the farmer’s son was breaking-in one of the wild horses when it kicked out and broke his leg. “Oh no!” the neighbours cried, “such bad luck, all over again!” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

    The next day soldiers came and took away all the young men to fight in the war. The farmer’s son was left behind. “You are so lucky!” his neighbours cried. “Maybe,” the farmer replied.
  • Ying
    331
    The story of the Taoist farmer I think you’re referring to is from the Huainanzi.Possibility

    No wonder it didn't ring a bell. It's not one of the texts I'm familiar with.
  • Amity
    2.1k
    The story of the Taoist farmer I think you’re referring to is from the Huainanzi.Possibility

    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
    2.1k
    No wonder it didn't ring a bell. It's not one of the texts I'm familiar with.Ying

    Ah well, now you know :wink:
    A story about life philosophy, and attitudes towards any perceived 'evils' or sufferings.
    I think a good one, don't you ?
  • Ying
    331
    Ah well, now you know :wink:
    A story about life philosophy, and attitudes towards any perceived 'evils' or sufferings.
    I think a good one, don't you ?
    Amity

    Maybe.
  • Amity
    2.1k
    Maybe.Ying

    You got it :smile:
  • Jack Cummins
    3.6k

    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.
  • Amity
    2.1k
    What 'evil' is within ourselves ?Amity

    I think that we have destructive tendencies, to self and othersJack Cummins

    Is this what you consider 'evil' ?
    It is a natural feature of who we are, isn't it ? As well as its opposite. We create, destroy, recreate...
    It is recognised as such - and if it becomes troublesome then it can be addressed.
    Thinking of it as 'evil' is part of the problem.

    Of course, some people may have bigger shadows than others, or more particular obstacles in their life journeys than others.Jack Cummins

    Clearly.

    It is how the word 'evil' is used to judge others in e.g. 'the axis of evil', that can lead to atrocities.
    That is the problem.

    The phrase "axis of evil" was first used by U.S. President George W. Bush in his State of the Union address on January 29, 2002, less than five months after the 9/11 attacks, and often repeated throughout his presidency, to describe foreign governments that, during his administration, allegedly sponsored terrorism and sought weapons of mass destruction. The notion of such an axis was used to pinpoint these common enemies of the United States and to rally the American populace in support of the War on Terror. The countries covered by the term were Iran, Former Ba'athist Iraq, and North Korea. In response, Iran formed a political alliance that it called the "Axis of Resistance" comprising Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.Wiki - Axis of Evil
  • TheMadFool
    12k
    @180 Proof @Jack Cummins

    WTF? Zen moment for me. I don't know what evil is! :chin: :scream:
  • Possibility
    2.4k
    I believe that the thinking of blame and evil always represent our failure to understand the other’s motives from their pint of view, and never represent an accurate depiction of the other’s thinking. Blame and evil aren’t explanations , they are nothing but question marks nWby on earth did the other want to do something so terrible? Why didn’t they feel strong enough guilt at the prospect of performing those actions so as to prevent them from going through with it? I know that I have been tempted by such things but I was able to resist. This question mark of blame flies by many different labels and accusations. For instance, when we call the other lazy, inconsiderate , selfish, recalcitrant , immoral, criminal.

    In sum, we blame the other for our failure to understand them. Perhaps this failure on our part is the true basis of ‘evil’ and all of the violence that emanates from it
    Joshs

    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.

    Probably, my own way of thinking about evil is based on atrocities, such as the way people were killed by Nazis in concentration camps or, the potential destruction of humanity through warfare or ecological devastation. For me, they seem to be the most extreme forms of evil possible. But, obviously, events in our own lives do matter and I think that these include loss of others through death, homelessness, severe injuries or blindness, but of course, we may see so many aspects of experience as devastating.Jack Cummins

    But, I definitely believe that we need to face up to evil within ourselves, rather than blaming others, as Joshs points out. But, I am not thinking as that involving beating oneself up over things because that most certainly doesn't help at all. I believe that the best ideal is to be able to process the 'evil' aspects of life, in order to become the most positive we can be for our wellbeing and others.Jack Cummins

    I think it’s important for us to at least strive to understand how atrocities such as Nazi concentration camps can happen - it’s part of facing up to this aspect of our own capacity as human beings. When we isolate this kind of behaviour as ‘evil’ or ‘inhuman’, I think we fail to acknowledge the full scope of human potential. Watching Brexit and Trump from the outside demonstrated for me how this kind of ignorance still has the ability to blindside us to a certain extent.

    More personally, one of my most profound moments of self-reflection was the realisation that those aspects I hated or feared most in the world reflected what I had refused to accept about my own capacity...the remnants of catholic guilt.

    No wonder it didn't ring a bell. It's not one of the texts I'm familiar with.Ying

    Most English translations of Huainanzi are piecemeal, often only translating one chapter or even one story, so I’m not surprised. I vaguely recalled the story, but I had to search ‘Taoist farmer’ to find the original source.
  • Jack Cummins
    3.6k

    I definitely believe that understanding how atrocities, such as the German concentration camp come about is essential and @Amitys reference to the 'Axis of Evil'is useful. I think that the way in which people are viewed as evil is part of the problem and how there is often an emphasis on trying to eradicate evil. Hitler was trying to create a master race and trying to get rid of people who he saw as not being pure. There was a whole war on terror and it is hard to know what is yet to come, including tensions between the West and China. Obviously, it is extremely complex because injustices have to be addressed, but there are so many potential problems which can arise, in addressing the problem of 'evil'. This is particularly true with the advances in weapons of mass destruction.

    I am from a Catholic background, so most of my own thinking is influenced by my own sense of guilt. I think that a lot of people are a bit dismissive of the whole idea of a Catholic guilt complexes. But, I know that I experience it and most friends I have who are Catholics do so as well. Some Catholics probably don't, and aren't they lucky, and I am sure that many other Christians do too. I think that sometimes guilt can get in the way of seriously thinking about capability for good and evil, because the guilt itself can become the problem in itself. I'm not sure that confession really helped very much as it can be just a superficial process, and I can remember that when I really wanted to talk about issues they were far too complicated to try to explain in a confession box. I did have open confession a couple of times which felt like more helpful and felt like counselling. In fact, when I did some psychotherapy based courses it was surprising just how many of the students came from Catholic backgrounds.
  • Jack CumminsAccepted Answer
    3.6k

    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 mean.
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