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What is Evil?

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What is Evil?
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max10192Posts: 1Joined: Mon Jan 09, 2012 4:21 am Gender: Cake

Post What is Evil?

This is my firs thread here so bear with me if im not familiar with proper text structure.

To start off, i am a 19 year old kid living in Chile.

All my life i was told that god exists, that jesus loves me and all that stuff. I always believed it, until one day i saw my older brother mock my mother for asking him to pray. he said "praying has never worked and it never will". That made me question everything, and it snowballed. Now i am 100% atheistic, and dismiss any and every religion. But this has brought me many questions, to some i yet dont know the anwser, and some thoughts that i have yet to organize so they make sense. For me, human behaviour was always classified as "good" and "evil". It was the way of the world, and it made sense to me. People were either "good" or "bad". Now, that i no longer believe in an objective morality, and that i understand human behaviour as something so much more complex than simply "good" or "bad", i find that i am struggling on being able to say what is actually evil, or condemnable behaviour.

Now, i want to establish some differences. I know the law, and i mostly agree with it, but simply out of convenience. If we want to thrive as a society, we need to punish those that act in a way which harms the greater good. Killing does not help us move forward, therefor we punish it. So does stealing, rape, and so on. But then i see on the news some guy that, for example, raped and killed a girl. Everyone says he is evil and should never see the light of day again.

Is he really?

is someone who commits murder a "bad" person?

I mean, we dont choose the way we are. People are born attractive, they dont choose it. People are born smart, tall, funny, shy. Sure nurture has an inmense impact on the development of our personality, but then again, we dont choose when, where and with who we are born, so our environment is just as much incontrolable as our birth itself. So can i really consider someone bad or evil for simply acting the way they are? sure a murderer may premediate the act, and he may be aware that killing is wrong, but he does it anyway. can we blame HIM? can we really say its HIS fault?
A normal person would simply not commit murder ( we can argue that circumstance makes the criminal, and that with the right variables any normal person could be a killer, but for the sake of the argument, lets not) so someone that commits murder must have something wrong with them. Be it genetic, messed up childhood, they have something "off" in them. So how can we say that ANYONE is bad, under any circumstance? anyone that would commit a crime, is commiting it because of whatever has brought them to it. so who am i to say thats wrong?

can you guys tell me your thoughts on this? i would love to hear more about it
Mon Jan 09, 2012 4:53 am
SparkyUser avatarPosts: 148Joined: Wed Mar 18, 2009 2:17 amLocation: New Zealand Gender: Male

Post Re: What is Evil?

This video series (I have only put a link to the first video in the series here), while not addressing all your questions, is very good I think and covers most of what you have talked about.

Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.
~Andre Gide
Mon Jan 09, 2012 12:39 pm
Anachronous RexLeague LegendUser avatarPosts: 2008Joined: Mon Jun 07, 2010 4:07 pmLocation: Kansas City, MO Gender: Male

Post Re: What is Evil?

It's not a rigorous definition, but I tend to borrow the late Hitchens description of evil as a surplus value of cruelty. That little bit of extra sadism that is tacked on after you've already made your point.

Now as for the question of how we can assign wrongdoing in a deterministic universe (assuming that this is a deterministic universe, and, hey, it may well be), I know that Daniel Dennett does a lot on this. I recommend that you look that up if you're interested (fair warning though, he can be a bit boring), but the short version is you assign it in much the same way that you might determine better or worse software on a computer.
Our prefrontal lobes are too small. Much too small. That's a problem of the birth canal, I'm very sorry to say for those that like their birth canals... tight.
-C. Hitchens.
Mon Jan 09, 2012 2:34 pm
nudger1964Posts: 185Joined: Sat Nov 13, 2010 4:02 pm

Post Re: What is Evil?

i think most of us that believe the universe is probably deterministic also feel we can accept that and then go on to largely ignore it for the sake of having a functional society.
Tue Jan 10, 2012 11:22 pm
NothPodcasterUser avatarPosts: 335Joined: Mon Aug 30, 2010 4:25 pmLocation: the Nether-regions Gender: Male

Post Re: What is Evil?

If I recall correctly Dennet says something like this (correct me if I'm wrong) :

Before something happens it isn't determined that it would happen. But after it has happened, it could not have not happened, or happened any other way.
Wed Jan 11, 2012 12:53 pm
devilsadvocateUser avatarPosts: 246Joined: Sun Aug 08, 2010 8:28 pm

Post Re: What is Evil?

First of all, welcome to the forum Max!

"What is evil?" is really huge question, and I can't claim to know answer to that, but here are some thoughts about the ways we can go to justify punishment. In general we have two modes of reasoning behind punishment, forward- and backward-looking.

The former is what you already described. That is, the threat of punishment for harmful actions leads to better functioning society, as does imprisonment of persons, who do these harmful actions, by quarantining and protecting the society from them. Notice this justification survives determinism as it doesn't matter whether the persons acted on their free will or if their behaviour was determined by their genetics, childhood, education etc. Nobody would invite an earthquake to their dinner party, even though we know that earthquakes cannot choose what they do. And in fact, we'd build prison walls around them if we could. By the same reasoning we don't invite people, who do harmful things, to our society.

Backward-looking justification for punishment, on the other hand, focuses on what people deserve. ie. Murderer, rapist, thief needs to pay for the harm they have caused. Somehow justice demands that they have to be harmed in proportion to the damage they have done. This view, though, falls flat on it's face if determinism is true. There's no moral reason to punish people for what they ought to have done, or not have done, if they couldn't have chosen otherwise. We don't punish people for getting ill, instead we try to help them. Similarly, murdering or raping could be considered symptoms of genetics and education, and by the same reasoning we shouldn't punish criminals, but rehabilitate them.

That is not to say forward-looking, or consequentalist view of punishment doesn't have it's problems. If we, for example, adopt the greater good view and consider all actions that promote general well-being as good and actions that are harmful to it bad or evil, we could be facing some very counter-intuitive scenarios. If a killer is very unlikely to kill again, say a wife of old couple kills her husband because she can't stand the snoring, should we let the murderer go free? It's very unlikely she will kill again and punishing her would only lead to more suffering. Or, if situation arises where punishing an innocent would lead to increased happiness, is that really the right thing to do?
Jazz isn't dead, it just smells funny.
Sun Jan 15, 2012 9:22 am
Master_Ghost_KnightContributorUser avatarPosts: 2630Joined: Sat Feb 21, 2009 11:57 pmLocation: Netherlands Gender: Male

Post Re: What is Evil?

Good questions are never easy to answer, and pretending have all the answers when you don't prevents you from actually having any.
Let me give you my prespective of things.
Keep in mind the context of you in society, and lets imagine that someone decides to murder someone else.
The murderer before it decides to put in practice its murderers intent may have considered certain factors like "what he has to gain and what he has to lose" and see if it pays off for him or not, and in the end of that process it decides that it does and goes to kill anyways.
Now why you as a member of society should go after that murder and prossecute him? Well because that murderer will not be the only one with killing intent, neither might it be its last kill. And because other people go after him to punish him, it not only stops the murderer from killing someone else but does much more than that. Because prossecuting that murderer will give a clear message to anyone else with the intent to kill other people that we will punish them if they try it. So when they put that into consideration they may decide that it does not pay of and so they don't do it.
So you as a member of a society wanting to persecute criminals actually serves as a deterrent against crimes that may even be perfored against you.
Of course this isn't 100% effective and don't get me wrong this isn't the main deterrent of crime, most peope don't comit crimes because they really don't want to, but it still does a very good job to keep some people in line.

There is a generalised missunderstanding of the justice system, that it is there to punish people and that somehow that brings justice back. Sending people to jail doesn't bring back the people they have killed, it doesn't restor wat they have damaged or stolen, to those who have lost what have they gained? What justice did they got?
The justice system is there to prevent crime, either by preventing dangerous criminals from keeping to freely comit their crimes or by intimidting other people from commiting crimes.
Either "there is some degree of freewill and that criminals really decided to commit those crimes" or "that the events of the world conspiered to make a criminal seam to decide to commit those crimes" didn't really factored into it. It is objectively true that we are better of without those people who are unecessarilly cruel or that directly and counsceously play a role into harming other people, we are beter of without this sort of people we call evil.

Now "how do we know what is wrong and what isn't?" is another matter altogheter.
"I have an irrefutable argument for the existence of...." NO, STOP! You are already wrong!
Sun Jan 15, 2012 2:21 pm
g0dh4xUser avatarPosts: 27Joined: Wed Dec 07, 2011 3:12 pmLocation: Dark Side. Gender: Male

Post Re: What is Evil?

There are no such things as good or evil.
Wed Feb 01, 2012 11:17 pm
The Felonius PopePosts: 324Joined: Wed Feb 08, 2012 12:19 amLocation: Arizona

Post Re: What is Evil?

Personally, I am a moral nihilist. I truly don't believe there is such a thing as a real, objective morality. The whole concept

of morality is simply a poorly defined set of complex human ideals. World concepts of good and evil are poorly

defined and vary from civilization to civilization and from person to person. Doesn't a flexible, secular code of ethics based

on individual opinions make more sense than some absolute, often paradoxical dogma overseen by some spooky,

judgemental father-figure?
Wed Feb 08, 2012 2:32 am
NeanderthalUser avatarPosts: 24Joined: Mon Jan 16, 2012 10:05 pm Gender: Male

Post Re: What is Evil?

You will have a hard time finding someone who will not share your basic ethics and morals. You can dig up the most backwards stone age tribe from the middle of nowhere and their basic ethics and moral will nicely map to your own. Good and evil are not arbitrary concepts dependent on culture or civilization. Millions of years of evolution has molded our brains to what it is today.

Moral and ethics can't be modeled as a formal system which one can compute with, deduce stuff from - and it certainly isn't arbitrary.
Wed Feb 08, 2012 11:14 pm
CosmicJoghurtPodcasterUser avatarPosts: 808Joined: Tue Oct 26, 2010 7:59 pm Gender: Pinecone

Post Re: What is Evil?

First, given that you are not a native English speaker, nor am I or are many other people on these forums, it is required that we agree upon a definition of evil. Heck, even native speakers usually have different definitions.

If you define evil as something that has an objectively negative effect on society/a person/the universe/whatever, then I think we all agree that a rapist and murderer has commited evil acts. This is the definition most people agree on.

If you define evil as something which is morally reprehensible, i.e morally wrong, that you should not do, then that is up for debate. Is doing evil deeds something that no one should do? What if the person thinks it's morally right, should they personally do it because they think that it's the right thing, even though no one else agrees?
Perception of reality results in interpretation of reality which results in a deformation of reality.
Mon Feb 20, 2012 6:15 pm
mick1le2pickUser avatarPosts: 104Joined: Fri Aug 17, 2012 12:42 pm

Post Re: What is Evil?

I'd say anything that causes more suffering than joy
Fri Aug 17, 2012 12:53 pm
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