What is your definition of evil?

Discussion in 'Ethics, Morality, & Justice' started by akoreamerican, Aug 26, 2018.

  1. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    A separate subject.

    So what? Is that a rationalization to make it OK?
    Because, if rationalizations are OK, then this whole problem of evil goes away.

    Most life consumes bacteria, microbes and plants. Only a tiny few consume other pain-feeling animals.

    To suggest there is merely a semantic definition between what a gazelle experiences and what a petunia experiences is to jump down the rabbit hole into existential paralysis.

    No pondering. They have certainly achieved a qualitative level beyond animals, yes. The invention of Right and Wrong, among other things.
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  3. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member



    These are all things endemic to humans, and humans alone. Humans invented evil.

    So, I - for one - am to say it's not "part of a universal process/harmony". It's only been around as long as modern humans.

    Heck, even Genesis of the Bible concurs with that.

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    Last edited: Aug 27, 2018
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  5. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    Of course it is. That's how humans codify the concepts of good and evil.
    Certainly. They can be shown what humans reward and punish. They may even (dogs, anyway) be convinced that human law is right, and feel genuinely ashamed of their canine urges.
    But we can't communicate or transmit the concept. No other species has the same internal values as any other, and no other that I know of has a native concept of evil. They don't need it, because they don't have our capacity for evil.
    We hardly ever agree. That goes with having big brains, different languages and various approaches to social organization. But no organized human society has ever, afaik, functioned without a moral code.
    I don't think so. I think morality (more accurately, the immorality of the adversary) has been bruited as the justification, but the real reasons for making war are more practical.
    I very much doubt that, too. A clash between camps. There are all kinds of loyalties, interests and ideologies in play which have little to do with a concept of evil. Even the markers of partisanship that are characterized by the other camp as symbols of "pure evil", in fact stand for something else entirely - often as not, something that the nether camp also espouses in principle.
    People have ulterior motives for labelling. If a can bears the label "creamed corn" and the content is dark brown, be skeptical; don't eat it.
    It would. But you still need your own.
    As long as it's either of those, we have trouble. Religious politics are never about right and wrong; they're about hegemony.
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2018
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  7. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    Encountering a word I've never seen before (esp. one less than a dozen letters) is about as common as hen's teeth these days. Thanks for the breath of fresh air!
  8. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    Cheers, mate!
  9. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    Not all justifications are created equal.
    Sometimes people are in the right, and faced with a genuinely wrong adversary - wrong by both sides's claimed moral code.

    But the connection between "wrong" and "evil" is complicated - evil is not simply a mistake, or a misjudgment. Most wrongdoing is not evil - even very bad wrongdoing.
    Also: in a sense, evil is not done by mere accident. It seems to involve betrayal, universally, and seems to be surrounded by cowardice among the complicit, always - so it involves strategy at least, even character.
  10. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    Maybe so, and maybe that's the reason for many of the foot-soldiers to join up, but that's not why nations go to war.

    Obviously: hence "the intent to do harm" - not to get something you need, not to strike back at someone who's hurt you, not an act carried out under the influence of mind-warping chemicals, not revenge, not rage: harm done soberly, sanely, deliberately. That's why 'malice aforethought' turns a homicide into first degree murder.
    In every sense! Accident can't be evil. If you hit and killed a pedestrian while driving drunk, it's not evil. You knew you shouldn't drink so much - that was irresponsible. You knew you shouldn't drive in that condition - that was reckless. But you did not get into the car resolved to find someone to run over. Bad, but not evil.
    The guy who waited until lunch-hour on a pleasant summer day to drive his van down the sidewalk on Yonge street to kill as many young women as possible - that's evil. Unless, of course his brain was controlled by a spirochete or something.
    Cowardice is a weakness - not evil. (And it's easy to call other people cowards when we don't know how well we ourselves would do in their situation.)
    Complicity for personal gain is quite another matter. Evil in the big leagues (gangland, political faction, business, religious hierarchy, dictatorship) usually relies for its success on many like-minded supporters.
    akoreamerican likes this.
  11. pluto2 Banned Valued Senior Member

    This forum is evil.

    Seriously sci forums is full of Internet trolls.

    I think that sci forums should be shut down for good.
  12. Beer w/Straw Transcendental Ignorance! Valued Senior Member

    Seriously, dude, see a doctor and get some anti depressents.
    sideshowbob likes this.
  13. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    Nations, like bulldozers, don't exactly have motives. Nations, as such, seem to go to war by accident almost.
    If breaking down motivation by person, the individual soldier's motives count.
    "Collateral damage". There's even a term of law: "Depraved indifference".
    Complicity to avoid personal loss is as much a factor.
    One common pattern: an initial draw of minor and easily rationalized wrong for worthwhile gain, getting one sucked into a situation of major wrong to avoid heavy loss as much as acquire major gain. Joining a gang as a teenager.
    The question then becomes the severity of threatened loss or promised gain that will bring a given person to do a given wrong. The odds. How big a risk or inconvenience will one absorb to save a baby.
    Of course. ?
    One can identify cowardice without projecting heroism by oneself. The point is not namecalling. Hiroshima, say: there are times when avoiding evil takes unusual courage.
    That would exclude, from the evildoers, those who harm as a regrettable necessity of getting what they want - as a means to an end, that they would rather not bother about if they didn't have to. I would not want to exclude all of them from the orchestra of evil - some of them earn first chair status.
    It also excludes the My Lai's, the pogroms, much terrorism - not coldblooded, not sane, not sober, and clearly (?) evil.
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2018
  14. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    That's one solution. Another is just not to log in.
  15. spidergoat pubic diorama Valued Senior Member

    ...But enough about Jan...
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  16. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    That's a complicated statement. I can't go along with a nation as mere tool: the operator literally cannot steer it against its will. But popular opinion can be manipulated; opposition can be eliminated; dissent can be intimidated into silence. The leadership always has motives, and they are rarely moral.
    That just means you can't always tell what's really going on.
    Only to the extent that they feel strongly enough opposed to face a firing-squad. The only way soldiers can actually affect a war is by mass desertion. Other than that, they're not judged on the war itself, but on their particular part in it: what they each do.
    The point being that the reasons for war - however cumulative and obscure in their origins - are not moral reasons. For both the population and the leadership, there is always something to fear, or something to gain, or both. They don't mobilize exclusively to stop another nation doing wrong.
    There may be evil somewhere, in someone, at work in the making of an accident. But that evil isn't at work on causing an accident; the accident is a byproduct of attitudes and actions that may contain evil. If so, the evil won't stop with one accident: it will go on to cause intentional damage, at which time it will be manifest, rather than merely suspected.
    I don't see a definition of evil in there. Yes, wrong is often cumulative. People are fallible, gullible, suggestible, corruptible.
    That's the reason we've devised scales of wrongness to inform our legal systems, as well as having a personal set of principles.
    I think one is often tempted to do so on insufficient information, or according to an unexamined definition of cowardice. I merely warn against being too facile in judgment.
    I don't understand the reference. Who avoided evil in that situation? Certainly, the top decision-makers did not: they knew; they planned; they gave the order. The pilots, I don't know about. The common people were never consulted, but going by the retrospective apologists, there would have been no great outcry against.
    I don't think it does exclude material gain, or the quest for power and status. I would, however, put them on a comparative scale.
    I would have to know the circumstances of each incident; can't form a blanket judgment.
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2018
  17. spidergoat pubic diorama Valued Senior Member

    I don't have a definition of evil. It's just what I call extreme immorality. But it depends on context. I don't think it's easily defined, even though I certainly recognize a few red lines.
  18. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    The more one finds out about what's going on, the more accidental most wars appear to be. Observation. Even the ones launched on purpose with long planning by one side quickly lose that original direction even on that side, as a rule.
    Or mass failure to cooperate, starting from before they were soldiers.
    The reasons that people fight in them are. That's how the North beat the South in Vietnam - moral superiority. That's a big reason the North won the American Civil War, and the Soviets beat the Germans in WWII.
    The operator(s) create its will, build it in. Often unwittingly.
    Likewise with bulldozers - one can only steer them within their design limits and capabilities. They have a "will" of their own.
    The more one finds out about what's going on, the more accidental most wars appear to be. They never go according to plan, even approximately.
    There is a level of indifference to suffering and harm that is - legally - "depraved". Someone who acts repeatedly with depraved indifference is doing evil, imho. Example, famous: the Holocaust. Example, less famous: US occupation tactics in Iraq.
    Not a definition, context.
    Nobody. Hence the point.
    A particular judgment of any given one makes the point.
  19. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    The comment I originally made was on motive: wars are not initiated for moral reasons.
    It wasn't a treatise on Clausewitz.
    Yes, sometimes - or they believe so. I covered that first go-around.
    That's an opinion. I don't consider strength/depth of conviction proof of moral superiority, but it does bolster morale.
    I'm not qualified or inclined to engage in a discussion of military conflicts through history.
    I merely cast doubt on the moral motivation of declaring wars.
    That's what I said.
    If you classify those as accidents, I can't address your vocabulary.

  20. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    Which is one reason the initiator so often loses them. Because they are often fought for moral reasons.
    People have reasons they do not even know or care about?
    I classify them as evil, regardless of intention.
    The evil of war is not limited to the declaration of it.
  21. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    They are never fought for moral reasons. War is bad. All of its effects are bad. Somewhere in the complicated and confused labyrinth of its antecedents, every war carries at least a germ of evil. Usually several, usually half-grown monsters.

    Do care about. Don't understand. Don't know how they've been persuaded to do something so horrible.
    That's why so many veterans don't talk about it afterward.

    So do I classify them as evil. I do not disregard intentions and I do not classify them as accidents.

    Of course not. Plenty of nefarious activities take place before, during, after and behind the scenes.
    And plenty of heroic, decent, honest and compassionate ones, too, but they're on a smaller scale than the bad stuff.
  22. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    Because they were betrayed. They were fighting for moral reasons, and what they did - under coercion - did not align with those reasons.
    Of course they are. Defense of home, family, etc, against armed and aggressive evil is common.
    Collateral damage. Depraved indifference. Neither intended or - properly speaking - accidental.
    But they are not necessarily intended by the initiators of the war, or anyone fighting the war - especially on a side that did not initiate the war.
    This business of reasons and intentions is vanishing into ether.
  23. geordief Valued Senior Member

    "Evil" as opposed to "bad"?

    What about taking pleasure in actions the doer realizes are otherwise considered bad by the common consensus?

    So ,yes a differentiated relative morality with different levels of "evilness"

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