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Philosophy 101-A Debate on Good and Evil

Fusaki

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I'll admit that I'm pretty young compared to alot of the folks on these boards. I have less then a couple years in the army and I know that there are guys around here who really have been there and done that. But I'd like you to take a look at what I have to say anyways and tell me if I'm right, or just right out've 'er. I'd also like to see a thread going that gets outside of our current politics.

I'm having trouble seeing things in black and white these days. In both the political left and right people want to condemn certain groups, and are usually called evil in return. But that just doesn't fly with me. Evil is not an absolute truth. It changes with the times and the culture. The spanish inquisition, the suppression of Native Americans, the slave trade, and the exploitation of Africa are all things that seem pretty mean and nasty by today's standards, but at the time it was all just fine. So who's to say that 300 years down the road people won't look back and talk about how barbaric we all are? This even holds true within different cultures today. We look at the value your average Somali puts on life and think he's totally backward in his thinking, but I'm sure there are parts of the world I'd be hated for the poster of Britney Spears up on my wall. With these in mind, I can't bring myself to believe that good an evil is any more then a general philosophy that lets us get along with those in our immediate surroundings.

But when you're talking about deep stuff like this you need to look at the big picture. What do all humans have in common? Well, its definatly not self preservation. How many guys around here are willing to give their lives for their buddies? It could be that we all need food, or money to buy food, or stuff to sell in order to buy food. But why do we need food if self-preservation is not the lowest common denominator for the reason of existance. In my opinion, more important then anything else, is the need to procreate. We are willing to put the lives of our community ahead of ours, so that the community will live on. A mother will give up her last morsel of food to feed her child. The most powerfull of human emotions - love, is geared towards procreation. Its not only something that all humans have in common. Its something that all living things have in common, plants and animals. I'd imagine that any species that didn't put procreation on the top of its to-do list, would probably have died out already. So maybe that is the only "universal good", because all other things we normally think of as good (not to be confused with entertainment) are designed to promote procreation in one way or another.

So take that a step farther and consider war. Is it wrong for one country to invade another over farmland? Is it wrong to ensure that your offspring has an edge over someone else's? How is it different from a bear who kills another bear over territory? When animals go to war over resources, its called nature taking its course. How is that so different from human nature taking it's course? I don't buy the whole "we're so much smarter then animals, we should be above that" argument. Time and time again mankind has proved that it can just as cruel, if not crueler then any animal. Would it be right to redestribute all wealth in the world evenly, to give everyone a fair chance and having successfull offspring? Maybe, but if its all about survival of the fittest maybe not. Maybe seeking out the "universal good" involves taking what you can get to ensure that your own offspring lives on. But you can take that too far and it becomes Nazism (not that I really know that much about Nazis). The smart guy in the movie "A Beautiful Mind" said that whats best for the individual is whats best for the community. This train of thought makes alot more sense to me, because if my child were the last person on earth, he'd have a hard time procreating. By ensuring the survival of those around you, you increase the chances of surviving yourself.

So where do you draw the line between "your community" and "not your community". I wouldn't draw it at family, because inbreeding just doesn't work. I wouldn't draw it at your city, because thats still a reletivly small group of people. But I wouldn't draw the line at the world either, because if everyone in the world had an equal chance of surviving their genes you'd be back at square one fending for yourself again. Even at country level, you can't make everyone equal. The communists tried it, but there were the corrupted few in power who ensured that their genes would make it through natural selection.

And thats where I'm stumped.

So far it looks like this:

1) The mainstream understanding of Good and Evil is seriously flawed
2) Mankind's first job and the only "Universal Good" is to procreate.
3) Its human nature to ensure that YOUR genes survive natural selection
4) Natural Selection requires that a line to be drawn between the "haves" and "have nots" so the week can be weeded out.

So where do you draw the line between your community that you're willing to work with, and the folks you're willing to get an edge over in order to be in the group that survives?
 

CL84

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1) The mainstream understanding of Good and Evil is seriously flawed

I just don't think anyone really understands what 'is' good and what 'isn't' good at all. I think without bad there cannot be good, because well, in my oppinion, you can't really say something is good without comparing it to something bad. Example: right now I'm 'good' because well, I have food in my belly, a roof over my head, clothes on my back and things to do. But why is that 'good'? If I was starving, homeless and naked would that be 'bad'? I'd assume so, but only by comparison. Maybe cavemen thought that was a pretty sweet deal a long long time ago, but still, you can only really say what is good or bad by making comparisons like these.
Good and Evil, bad and good, poor and rich, all opposites. The world is full of a constant interplay of these opposites, and without them, the world would cease to exist. We need a balance all the time.
Let's use this example. How can God let all these things happen, like say...9/11. How could God let that happen, where was he? etc. That was a horrible situation don't get me wrong, but without things like that, we wouldn't really know how 'good' we have it. Would we? People are always trying to save the world and feed the hungry and cure aids and cancer and get rid of all the bad things completley and I see why, but I don't understand why. We 'need' the bad..we just don't want it. Theres a difference.

Assume you were born into a world where everything was great, no murder no killings no rape no war no cancer or aids no anything, EVERYTHING WAS GREAT. WOW, all of a sudden, someone in the world figured out how to get rid of all the bad, congrats, excellent, good for that person. Now there is no 'bad' in the world. Or so we'd all assume. If we were all born into a world where all the things we say that are evil didn't exist, we'd right away start calling the things that are actually 'good' bad, and the things that arent as bad as the things we just said were good, good. No matter what, there will always be opposites, without opposites, the world just wouldnt work. In my oppinion. There can't be a perfect world. There has to be killings there has to be war there has to be rape death and destruction. But with that, there has to be good as well. Like....uh...clowns..and uh..video games...and ..uh...love? You get what I mean.


2) Mankind's first job and the only "Universal Good" is to procreate.

Mankind's job is to live. Like every other living thing in the world. If you are alive you are meant to live. If you are dead, your job is to be dead. Everything has a meaning of course. I wonder if there is something out there that exists, but does not have a meaning?
I don't even know if I'm making sense or on topic here so I'll attempt to move on.

3) Its human nature to ensure that YOUR genes survive natural selection

Have you survived natural selection? Have I? And would we know it if we did?

4) Natural Selection requires that a line to be drawn between the "haves" and "have nots" so the week can be weeded out.

What colour is the line? That's my question.  ;D  :dontpanic: Maybe even consider that, with the whole idea of natural selection drawing a line between haves and have nots, maybe natural selection itself has a line in the middle of it. So sure...theres natural selection, and in natural selection theres a line between haves and have nots, maybe theres natural selection and artifical selection. Theres a line between that.... blahblah
anyways...the weak are always weeded out sure. Of course they are, but where do they go? Everyone has a job, everyone has a place, there is a need for stupid people and weak people and the people who  don't make it etc... Without stupid people there wouldn't be smart people, without strong there wouldn't be weak. We need these two comparisons, I don't know of anything in this world without an opposite, or something to compare to at the least.

All in all, I ramble alot. I think I have the magic ability of saying the same thing 100 times. I bet someone could sum up everything I've said in less than 2 sentences. Maybe even one. yah yah..I'll stop talking now....

 

Brad Sallows

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Without going into things too deeply, there is a difference between "good and evil" and "human perception of good and evil".

Good intentions, acts, and outcomes; and evil intentions, acts, and outcomes, always retain the same quality (morally) of good or evil (absolutes).  Whether the moral element is perceived correctly as good or evil is a function of the moral development (advancement) of the person making the judgement.

The idea that good and evil are not absolutes (relativism) is simply a weak excuse to rationalize bad behaviour.  Moral (and cultural) relativism are worthless guiding philosophies because at the extreme relativism must deny its own worth.  In short, relativism is an absurdity.
 

Spr.Earl

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As my Mother said to me as a Teenager many moon's ago:

"We all know what is right and what is wrong and in side when you have done something wrong you will know and you will pay for it in way or another"
 

Fusaki

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Whether the moral element is perceived correctly as good or evil is a function of the moral development (advancement) of the person making the judgement.

But moral development is not like a road that some people have travelled farther down then others. It's more like a tree in which people's own experiences lead their moral growth off in different directions. For example, someone who had a family member killed in a robbery might feel different about morality in ths justice system then a mother who feels that her incarcerated son is a victum of a society that would rather punish then rehabilitate. While both these people see the actions of criminals as wrong (a perspective that would fall near the trunk of the "morality tree"), their life experiences lead them off on different moral branches.

So who is to say who is right?

Moral (and cultural) relativism are worthless guiding philosophies because at the extreme relativism must deny its own worth.  In short, relativism is an absurdity.

Thats a new thought... please explain.
 

Brad Sallows

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The point is that one's moral judgement should be informed.  One should not simply feel differently according to one's experiences.  "How I want things to be" (egoism) is not a worthy moral philosophy.

To determine "what is right" is the essence of moral philosophy.

>...please explain

Try a web search for these: "moral relativism", "deontology", "teleology", "cultural relativism".  A little reading should illuminate.
 

Kirkhill

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1) The mainstream understanding of Good and Evil is seriously flawed
2) Mankind's first job and the only "Universal Good" is to procreate.
3) Its human nature to ensure that YOUR genes survive natural selection
4) Natural Selection requires that a line to be drawn between the "haves" and "have nots" so the week can be weeded out.

Good post Ghostwalk. And when you get it all figured out perhaps you can let us all in on the DS solution. I don't know what it is.  But it says something that you are thinking about these things.

I think I can agree with points 1,2 and 3.  No problem.

Its your point 4 that has me a bit bothered.  It suggests an artificiality.  A man-made, imposed differentiation and that way, to me, can lie racism, religious warfare, eugenics and all manner of nastiness.

For me I see a natural dividing line between the "haves" and "have nots". A line that results from accident or circumstance as much as anything.  Or in my forebears day on "God's Good Graces".  Canada has water, Somalia doesn't.  Alberta has oil, Ontario doesn't.  One bear's valley has berries, the other's doesn't.  

When the valley doesn't have berries, as you noted, the genes of the bear are threatened.  The bear will then go for a wander to find more berries.  Wanders into the next valley where there are lots of berries.  But there is already a bear there.  Wanting, needing those same berries.  If there are enough berries to share then fine, just like Kodiaks when the salmon are running, they can feed side by side.  But when there aren't then it's every bear for itself.
 
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Yard Ape

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Ghostwalk said:
But moral development is not like a road that some people have travelled farther down then others. It's more like a tree in which people's own experiences lead their moral growth off in different directions. For example, someone who had a family member killed in a robbery might feel different about morality in ths justice system then a mother who feels that her incarcerated son is a victum of a society that would rather punish then rehabilitate. While both these people see the actions of criminals as wrong (a perspective that would fall near the trunk of the "morality tree"), their life experiences lead them off on different moral branches.
Yes &  no.

Logic is a better base than emotion for ethical decisions (because emotion has difficulty looking at both sides or looking at proportional effects).  We can look at the pros/cons of punishment & rehabilitation, and we can find the middle ground that will most benifit society.  Is there a point where greater punishment does not bring greater returns (or where it becommmes abuse)?  Are some people beyond rehabilitation.

Everyone developes thier ethics along thier own route, but society's morals are built over generations.  Debate exists where society has not yet found the answers.  Sometimes society is wrong, but in those cases debate will not die away.  You've presented the example of slavery.  Years ago it was not seen as wrong, but even then a few ethical people knew to argue against it.  Thier arguments eventually won.  

Comparing morality of different peoples is also more complex than you make it out to be.  If someones basic needs (food, water, shelter) are not being met, then thier survival instincts can give a much differnt perspective of what is right (is it okay to steal if it is your only way to survive?).  Some people may feel that they are ethical as long at thier actions have no vicitms, but other people feel a sense of responsibility to help the less fortunate come closer to thier standard of living posibly through charity.  Some people belive in "global justice" which means working for what is right for all (not just self, family, group, etc).

The people who do belive in global justice clearly do not fit your mold.  Mother Teresa or a member of the ICRC in the middle of  war.  These are the people who put thier time and effort to defending the rights of people who cannot do it for themselves (in thier own countries or internationally).  Perhapse they work to stop oppression of women in some countries, or risk thier lives to defend freedom.

In this sense, ethics is like a spectrum (considerate of self, considerate of others, considerate of global good) and a person can fall anywhere in that spectrum.  However, just because two people are at the same point in the spectrum does not mean they share the same opinion on all issues.  (Maybe it is possible to sit on differnt parts of the spectrum on different issues.)
 

gate_guard

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cl84,
Read Kant's work called the Metaphysical Elements of Ethics, it might provide you with some insight into the questions your asking.
 

Spr.Earl

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The trouble to day is that we who live with in our own Countries are subjected to what is right and wrong according to culture but yet we all know inside what is right and wrong.

IMHO when I ever meet one who studies philosophy or psych. I walk way because they in their own world and not mine!!

What makes people go wrong is "POWER" over our own and that's when we lose all reason as human being's!!

Plain and simple,we are a avaricious animal with the instinct to rule the pack.
There is no diff. between us and what we call Animal's.
But we take it to the extreme by killing our own yet in the so called animal world they don't.

We are only animal on this earth that kill's it own!

Think about it!!
 

Gunnerlove

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Not to downplay your last statement however I belive that Chimps also kill their own species but also use sticks and rocks as weapons.

http://sbecker.web.wesleyan.edu/courantop-eds.html
 
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NavyGrunt

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Thats silly lots of animals kill members of their own.  ::)
 

CL84

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Thanks gate_guard. I will really look into that.

I know we all know what 'is' good and what 'is' bad, it is a natural feeling you have, you just know it.

Here's a question for all you philosophy heads, what 'is' is? lol >:D
 
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