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What is Evil?

Enter here to explore ethical issues and discuss the meaning and source of morality.
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Lucretius
Posts: 262
Joined: July 26th, 2007, 11:19 pm

#21 Post by Lucretius » August 25th, 2007, 5:37 am

Latest post of the previous page:

Things like mistrust, jealousy, competitiveness, greed, manipulation, lust, and anger are all things innate our species. These aren't social institutions due for reformation. As soon as we understand this we can study the parts of our humanity which we find morally abhorrent. Study them and better understand them. Calling things good and evil is simplistic indeed.
"Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats." - H.L. Mencken

Compassionist
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Joined: July 14th, 2007, 8:38 am

#22 Post by Compassionist » August 25th, 2007, 8:13 pm

Felicia wrote:I don't believe in evil. It seems like a cop out, an easy way to stop thinking about the actual issues in any situation. Take slavery - a dreadful abuse, yes, but black people had slaves too. Take paedophilia - something like 70% of paedophiles were abused as children (why else would they so confuse the age at which one has sex?). Take crime - I can't remember the statistic but it was overwhelmingly more than half that a huge proportion of our criminal classes were in care or had some other kind of deep disturbance in their childhood.

M Scott Peck is right to characterise people who lack empathy as having a character disorder and that its often incurable. There's a frightening study of psychopaths undergoing therapy and actually behaving worse when they get out, because they understand more about people's motivation and therefore how to manipulate them. There's a story about the eminent psychoanalyst Bion being asked what would Hitler have been like if he had been analysed. He thought for a while and said, he would have won the war. (I've got another take on this one, though - if, as is really the aim of therapy, Hitler had become more empathic about the Jews, he might well have won the war, because it was after all Jewish scientists who made the discoveries about atomic bombs - he really shot himself in the foot, trying to get to rid of them).

If you go a few steps further and look at what happened to such monstrous people in early childhood you might begin to approach an explanation for such aberrant behaviours. I am not saying that such people should not be locked away: clearly, we have to be protected from them. But lets not confuse keeping society safe with the idea of righteous punishment. It makes us feel better to view the other as evil, bad, reprehensible or whatever. Then we can feel we're not so bad. This is group psychology, and is particularly endemic in religious societies, who are so excellent at looking down on others. Where I do not agree with Scott Peck is his idea of free will, that people can make a choice about what they do. I admit that it feels like we're making choices, but what happens is surely dictated by the combination of the genes we inherited and what ever we've experienced in our lives. Nothing else is possible. We operate at the point of a pyramid of experience and actually there is no choice ; we do what our experience and genes lead us to do.

So, for many reasons, I think the word evil belongs to fairytales and religions. Its just too simplistic.
I agree with you. Free will does not exist, cannot exist. Genes, environments, nutrients and experiences are integrated in the brain and its workings produce our thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behaviours.

Felicia
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Joined: August 3rd, 2007, 9:16 am

#23 Post by Felicia » August 25th, 2007, 8:44 pm

Precisely, dear Compassionist. You always write such good sense in every mail I've seen by you. :thumbsup:

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Lifelinking
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#24 Post by Lifelinking » August 25th, 2007, 9:12 pm

oh Compassionist I do like it when we get in to this territory:
I agree with you. Free will does not exist
No free will, no responsibility?



L
"Who thinks the law has anything to do with justice? It's what we have because we can't have justice."
William McIlvanney

Lucretius
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Joined: July 26th, 2007, 11:19 pm

#25 Post by Lucretius » August 25th, 2007, 9:29 pm

There is a difference between free will and freedom of choice. Free will as in freedom from causality isn't possible.

You might think you have free will. Even people who think free will doesn't exist still lives their lives as if it does. Free will is an illusion.
"Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats." - H.L. Mencken

Lucretius
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#26 Post by Lucretius » August 25th, 2007, 9:32 pm

from http://www.naturalism.org

"Responsibility and morality: From a naturalistic perspective, behaviour arises out of the interaction between individuals and their environment, not from a freely willing self that produces behaviour independently of causal connections. Therefore individuals don’t bear ultimate originative responsibility for their actions, in the sense of being their first cause. Given the circumstances both inside and outside the body, they couldn’t have done other than what they did. Nevertheless, we must still hold individuals responsible, in the sense of applying rewards and sanctions, so that their behaviour stays more or less within the range of what we deem acceptable. This is, partially, how people learn to act ethically. Naturalism doesn’t undermine the need or possibility of responsibility and morality, but it places them within the world as understood by science. However, naturalism does call into question the basis for retributive attitudes, namely the idea that individuals could have done otherwise in the situation in which their behaviour arose and so deeply deserve punishment."
"Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats." - H.L. Mencken

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Lifelinking
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#27 Post by Lifelinking » August 25th, 2007, 9:40 pm

Yes Lucretius, Compassionist and I have had debates about this before. I must admit I admire the certainty you chaps have about this area.


I am not a scientist so please bear with me here, but as a reasonably well informed lay person I do not see such certainty within for example, the world of physics. In another thread I made the following points to Compassionist.

From what I can recall of such arguments, determinism is based on the premises that

every event has a cause
If this is so, there are no free actions
Thus there are no free actions

This has the look of being logically valid, and the conclusions seems sound, but only if the premises are true. The first premise seems pretty solid. Common sense tells us so (or does it?). And science, for a while, seemed to be leading us in this direction too with the clockwork world of Newtonian Mechanics. Yet it is apparent even to a non physicist such as myself, that modern physics challenges such a world view. At the micro level, really strange stuff (at least it seems really strange to the human animal - who appears to have evolved in such a way as to look for and see or assume causality in the world round about us) is seen to happen. Uncertainty, chaos, the possibility of multiple dimensions. In this sub-atomic world, statistical uncertainty and probability rather than determinism seems to hold sway.

When we begin to unpack what science knows and does not yet know about the world round about us, it does not seem to fully support the first premise that every event has a cause. If thought emerges from processes that occur to a great extent at the sub-atomic level, that would tend to rule out causal determinism, or at least 'hard' versions of it, with respect to consciousness and 'will' would it not?

As a non physicist, indeed as a non scientist, I am intrigued as to how one can be quite so sure, to the point of absolute certainty that there is causality behind events at the micro level, given that physicists will admit themselves to such differences in opinion.

But, even holding to hard determinism, as an old science teacher of mine was fond of saying;

"So, so what?"

Richard Carrier summed it up nicely for me when he wrote:

Even if my choices are entirely determined in advance, I still make decisions, and my decisions are still caused by who I am and what I know - my thoughts and desires and personality - just as they must be if I am to be "free" in any sense that matters. And because I am still their cause, I can still be praised or blamed for them. This is why compatibilism makes more sense: free will is doing what you want - nothing more, nothing less. And being responsible is being the cause - nothing more, nothing less. (Carrier,R.(2005) Sense and Goodness Without God - A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism, Author House. Page 109)

I think that this aligns to some extent with your last post Lucretius.


Kindest regards,


L
"Who thinks the law has anything to do with justice? It's what we have because we can't have justice."
William McIlvanney

Lucretius
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Joined: July 26th, 2007, 11:19 pm

#28 Post by Lucretius » August 26th, 2007, 3:14 am

I would just add that I am in no means 100% certain about anything. Within reason.
In this sub-atomic world, statistical uncertainty and probability rather than determinism seems to hold sway.


Who says these things are mutually exclusive? Just because we can't tell what an electrons speed and position are at the same time doesn't negate determinism.

Causality still exists. If you want to hold on to quantum strangeness as the last vestiges of freedom from causality then by all means do so. I just don't see evidence for it. If randomness exists at the quantum level how is this you? How is this your free will enacting a decision?

Yes people have choices. In the world we live in these choices seem free. You can choose vanilla or chocolate, coke or pepsi etc. These choices are because of cause and effect at the molecular level in your brain. You might think you could have chosen pepsi instead of coke that one time but the fact is you didn't and if we could rewind time you would have still chosen coke. Your choice at any given time is the response of your present brain state to the environment.

I think compatibilism is the branch Dennett would put himself under. I remember reading about it and pretty much agreeing with it. For what our purposes are even if free will is an illusion we act like it isn't.
"Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats." - H.L. Mencken

Lucretius
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#29 Post by Lucretius » August 26th, 2007, 3:38 am

I think I read something a few months ago that went like this.

There are 2 types of people.

1. Those that believe we have free will.
2. Those who think free will is an illusion but act like we have it.
"Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats." - H.L. Mencken

Compassionist
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Joined: July 14th, 2007, 8:38 am

#30 Post by Compassionist » August 26th, 2007, 7:45 am

Lifelinking wrote:oh Compassionist I do like it when we get in to this territory:
I agree with you. Free will does not exist
No free will, no responsibility?
Not quite. We do not have free will but we have constrained will, therefore, we have limited responsibility. The more constrained the will (e.g. in Down's Syndrome), the more limited the responsibility. Only omnipotence comes with omniresponsibility, omniculpability and omnisueability! If Jesus dares to return, I will be sure to sue!

Compassionist
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#31 Post by Compassionist » August 26th, 2007, 7:46 am

Felicia wrote:Precisely, dear Compassionist. You always write such good sense in every mail I've seen by you. :thumbsup:
Thank you for your kindness. :) The same applies to your posts.

Compassionist
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#32 Post by Compassionist » August 26th, 2007, 7:52 am

Lucretius wrote:I think I read something a few months ago that went like this.

There are 2 types of people.

1. Those that believe we have free will.
2. Those who think free will is an illusion but act like we have it.
I am in the second group. Compatibilism is determinism with cloaks on! "It is a popular misconception that determinism necessarily entails that humanity or individual humans have no influence on the future and its events (a position known as Fatalism); however, determinists believe that the level to which human beings have influence over their future is itself dependent on present and past." Quoted from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Determinism

I agree with you in that just because we can't know both the velocity and the location of an electron it doesn't mean that the electron itself is free from causality. Despite quantum uncertainty, chopping my head off would still result in my death. At macro level quantum uncertainty is replaced by deterministic certainty.

Lucretius
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#33 Post by Lucretius » August 26th, 2007, 5:39 pm

Again, if movement always is connected,
New Motions coming from old in order fixed,
If atoms never swerve and make beginning
Of motions that can break the bonds of fate
and foil the infinite chain of cause and effect
What is the origin of this free will
Possessed by living creatures throughout the earth?

-Lucretius, De Rerum Natura


There was a young man who said, 'Damn,
It is borne upon me that I am
A creature that moves
In predestinate grooves-
Not even a bus but a tram.'
"Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats." - H.L. Mencken

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Lifelinking
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#34 Post by Lifelinking » August 26th, 2007, 6:20 pm

:laughter: I like it
"Who thinks the law has anything to do with justice? It's what we have because we can't have justice."
William McIlvanney

Compassionist
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#35 Post by Compassionist » August 26th, 2007, 6:49 pm

:hilarity: A tram indeed!

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faithlessgod
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#36 Post by faithlessgod » August 29th, 2007, 12:41 pm

Hi y'all. New member here! This is an interesting topic, having browsed through this thread here a number of thoughts - some might have been covered but I am too impatient to wait for the start of a new interesting thread :)

Sin: This is a religious term as technically it means to go against god's will. So if there is not god, then there is no possibility of sin. Sin does not exist.

Evil as a noun This implies an entity or force and has evolved to become a religious and even secular term. In a secular morality it would implying that states of affairs have intrinsic value and some are bad enough to be described as evil. There is no good argument or the possibility of evidence - without begging the question - to support intrinsic value so nothing is intrinsically evil (or good or bad for that matter). It still has rhetorical use but does not imply that evil is something that exists.

Evil as an adjective This just means some action or result is very bad. Whether one is a cognitivist or non-cognitivist one could use this term, without implying that such a thing as evil exists (as in the noun above).

Free Will There is no free will as in some contra-causal personal force, I am a naturalist and there is no conclusive evidence for anything supernatural. We do not need free will to ensure responsibility and it is question begging to argue for free will because we require responsibility. A contra-causal free will would mean that we are determined by some spiritual force and would then be the total of our genetic, environmental and spiritual causes. A contra-causal free will does nothing more than adding a spritual determinism to the mix, it does not get rid of the issue of determinism and in fact makes it far worse. We could be spiritually determined to ignore the laws and precepts of our society. This just introduces a third bogus determination defense in a court of law:
a) It was my genes that made me do it
b) It was my dysnfunctional upbringing that made me do it.
c) It was spiritual destiny that made me do it, m'lord.

Responsibility We are responsible for what we do taking into account our biological and personal history including the interactions with the world and society we operate within. Since society holds us responsible (to some degree and this varies through time and from place to place), this is one of the causative factors that affects the decisions we do make.

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#37 Post by Compassionist » August 29th, 2007, 4:37 pm

Hi faithlessgod, welcome to the forum. I agree with what you are saying. We don't have free will. And yes, ascribed responsibility is part of the causal picture. Causality rules. I am skeptical of ghosts or spirits or souls or deities.

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animist
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Re: What is Evil?

#38 Post by animist » August 20th, 2010, 5:17 pm

I do believe in "evil", and I think there are lots of different kinds of it - eg natural disasters (which are evil in their effects even though noone is to blame) and at the other extreme, evil (ie malevolent) thoughts which the subject suppresses and so ensures have no consequences. I think philosophers do still use the word, so whoever claims it is just a biblical concept is simply wrong in fact; there maybe is just no other word to oppose "good". "Sin" really is a stupid religious word, however. I also think there is (can be) free will, ie to do good or evil, and that denying it is meaningless unless you think that murderers etc should not be punished; it is nothing to do with causality, which is a scientific concept, though obviously we take into account a person's background when judging whether, or how far, they should be made accountable for evil actions.

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Re: What is Evil?

#39 Post by Compassionist » August 23rd, 2010, 2:15 pm


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animist
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Re:

#40 Post by animist » August 24th, 2010, 5:49 pm

Felicia wrote:I don't believe in evil. It seems like a cop out, an easy way to stop thinking about the actual issues in any situation. Take slavery - a dreadful abuse, yes, but black people had slaves too. Take paedophilia - something like 70% of paedophiles were abused as children (why else would they so confuse the age at which one has sex?). Take crime - I can't remember the statistic but it was overwhelmingly more than half that a huge proportion of our criminal classes were in care or had some other kind of deep disturbance in their childhood.

M Scott Peck is right to characterise people who lack empathy as having a character disorder and that its often incurable. There's a frightening study of psychopaths undergoing therapy and actually behaving worse when they get out, because they understand more about people's motivation and therefore how to manipulate them. There's a story about the eminent psychoanalyst Bion being asked what would Hitler have been like if he had been analysed. He thought for a while and said, he would have won the war. (I've got another take on this one, though - if, as is really the aim of therapy, Hitler had become more empathic about the Jews, he might well have won the war, because it was after all Jewish scientists who made the discoveries about atomic bombs - he really shot himself in the foot, trying to get to rid of them).

If you go a few steps further and look at what happened to such monstrous people in early childhood you might begin to approach an explanation for such aberrant behaviours. I am not saying that such people should not be locked away: clearly, we have to be protected from them. But lets not confuse keeping society safe with the idea of righteous punishment. It makes us feel better to view the other as evil, bad, reprehensible or whatever. Then we can feel we're not so bad. This is group psychology, and is particularly endemic in religious societies, who are so excellent at looking down on others. Where I do not agree with Scott Peck is his idea of free will, that people can make a choice about what they do. I admit that it feels like we're making choices, but what happens is surely dictated by the combination of the genes we inherited and what ever we've experienced in our lives. Nothing else is possible. We operate at the point of a pyramid of experience and actually there is no choice ; we do what our experience and genes lead us to do.

So, for many reasons, I think the word evil belongs to fairytales and religions. Its just too simplistic.

Felicia - are you still active on TH?

Nirvanam
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Re: What is Evil?

#41 Post by Nirvanam » August 25th, 2010, 3:59 pm

Nice topic...I should've noticed it earlier but anyway here I am.

I read the thoughts of the guys here on 'evil', also how religions, ideologies including Humanism talk about evil. I have some questions for the people who understand their religion and for Humanists as well: Why is God considered to be separate from evil? Why do atheists argue that if God was there then why does evil exist...that if God was this all powerful entity then why does he/she/it allow such evil people and evil acts to be done?

Is evil a necessity? You bet it is! Without evil, there is no good. Like I say many times...there is no evil or good (at least in absolute terms). Given that we live in a relative universe, and all our experiences are based on relativism, there hasto be evil for us to experience good. Similarly there hasto be good for us to know what is evil. Without everything else, I don't exist!

The words 'evil' and 'good' are associative terms as in they are used to qualify something...an act or an event or an object/subject (a,e,o,s). Inherently the (a,e,o,s) is neither evil nor good. They are being assigned the quality/attribute of evil/good. This is necessary for us to make meaning out of the (a,e,o,s). Associating meaning to a (a,e,o,s) is based upon our understanding of the universe and our own preferences of things in the universe. Since our own understanding of the universe is constantly changing which leads to our preferences also changing constantly, this leads to our own definition of evil/good changing constantly. The final outcome is that we perceive (a,e,o,s) as evil/good. So, you see, one particular qualitative attribute basically creates the illusory description of the (a,e,o,s). Essentially, the (a,e,o,s) just is...everything else is our "creation".

On Free Will...I am unable to understand why people say Free Will does not exist, that in a causal world there is no Free Will. Maybe it has got to do with how they define Free Will. So can someone please define Free Will so that it gives us a frame of reference to discuss it (Compassionist wanna have a go at it?).

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