Friday, April 20, 2007

Does evil exist?

Does evil exist in the world? Yesterday's post in which I quoted Dr Michael Hurd on the evil of of the Virginia Tech killer kicked off a discussion about the nature of evil, and whether or not we can judge someone as evil.

Can we? Well, I say that we can, and that it is something we each need to understand. As Andrew Bernstein says in his recent examination of evil, "it is crucially important to understand the nature of evil. Evil must be examined – as an act of self-preservation – to keep it from poisoning one’s soul with the slightest bit of pessimistic despair. In the face of evil run rampant, it is crucially important to protect [what Ayn Rand called] the benevolent universe premise."

But first, let's clear up something about the nature of evil. The religionists' monopoly on morality has confused many, many things about the subject, and one them of them is this very question: whether and how evil exists. Despite what many christians will tell you, 'evil' is not some supernatural 'Satanic' force that's out there in the world, any more than God's goodness or Wotans' power or Alberich's evil curse are some sort of force in the universe.

Fairy stories like these can help illustrate morality, but we shouldn't let them form our morality for us. Rational morality -- an examination of what's good and what's not -- does not pertain to and nor is it derived from the supernatural. Morality pertains to life here on earth. Good and evil reside in the actions of individuals who perpetrate good or evil acts.

Good (as I argued at length in a recent post) pertains to those actions and to those moral principles that when acted upon lead to the advancement, the furthering, or the flourishing of human life on earth. Life is the standard which lies at the heart of a rational morality -- individual, human life. According to this principle, all that which supports or promotes an individual’s life is good, and all that retards or destroys man's life is not good.

But 'not good' is not yet 'evil.' Evil is something much, much worse. Evil isn't just the mistaken, the error-ridden, the minor stuff-up -- that's just bad. Evil is a passionate dedication to destruction; a concerted commitment to the anti-life; a deliberate defiance of facts and reason and human values: a spitting in the face of existence.

Objectivists argue that the good requires a commitment to facts, to rationality, to productiveness. Evil men stand opposed to this: opposed to reality, to the rational, to every value on which human life depends. "The principle is clear," says Andrew Bernstein, "irrationality is self-destructive... Because of this, evil is metaphysically impotent: it cannot build, grow, create, or produce. Achievements require commitment to the laws and facts of reality. Evil requires the opposite."

But this poses an obvious question: If evil men cannot even sustain their own lives, how do they acquire the power to destroy? Andrew Bernstein answers this and much more in his superb five-part examination of Villainy: An Examination of the Nature of Evil -- including a controversial argument: that it is most moralists who are most responsible for most of the evil in the world.

I highly recommend it.

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17 Comments:

Blogger Greg Bourke said...

I'll tell you what's a big problem:
Thinking evil is safely locked away in historical events.

People generally agree that the Germans in WW2 were 'evil'. Most sane people agree that the Soviets were also evil.

When it comes to assessing evil in "real time" in your own social millieu then suddenly people flare and reject the idea of evil. Did it all go away on VJ day?

I'd cynically suggest that the popular interest in WW2 (see History Channel and Band of Brothers etc) and why the Nazis always get cited is driven by a nostalgia for apparently clear moral choices.
Well they weren't so clear at the time were they!!

It seems that the closer an event is to the present instant the less chance 'evil' will be identified. "Evil" always seems to be a yesterday event, embedded in history. Evil is never here today.

4/20/2007 01:16:00 pm  
Blogger Berend de Boer said...

pc: Despite what many christians will tell you, 'evil' is not some supernatural 'Satanic' force that's out there in the world,

I remember seeing a post on strawmen recently. Clearly not a monopoly held just outside libertarian circles.

Care to give a decent reference?

4/20/2007 04:01:00 pm  
Blogger Berend de Boer said...

pc: Good pertains to those actions and to those moral principles that when acted upon lead to the advancement, the furthering, orthe flourishing of human life on earth. Life is the standard which lies at the heart of a rational morality -- individual, human life. According to this principle, all that which supports or promotes an individual’s life is good, and all that retards or destroys man's life is not good.

Really weird reading that from someone for whom life in the womb is not sacrosanct.

But I suppose only people above a certain IQ, a certain number of body cells or just popping out of the birth canal are human.

PS: despite my criticism I really appreciate posts that discuss morality from a libertarian view point. I know little about that, so every piece is enlightement.

4/20/2007 04:07:00 pm  
Blogger Berend de Boer said...

Sorry pc, tried to read Andrew Bernstein, but couldn't make it past the straw man attacks, and the distorted history.

4/20/2007 05:23:00 pm  
Anonymous James said...

"Sorry pc, tried to read Andrew Bernstein, but couldn't make it past the straw man attacks, and the distorted history."

Such as....?

"pc: Despite what many Christians will tell you, 'evil' is not some supernatural 'Satanic' force that's out there in the world"

Do you deny that is exactly what mainstream Christianity believes Berend....?

"Really weird reading that from someone for whom life in the womb is not sacrosanct."

Life in the womb does not possess rights...the living Mouther does....actual beings have rights , potential beings do not.Sorry but thats how it is... see reality and mans nature for further info...

4/20/2007 05:37:00 pm  
Anonymous Hamish said...

I think that your definition of evil sounds more like a sickness.

The problem with talking about 'evil' is that you're talking about motivations. It is implied that evil people do what they do because they will themselves to do it. If you motivations are not rational then surely you are sick, not evil.

No, I still do not believe that 'evil' exists - to claim that evil exists denies that there is a rational reason for even irrational behaviour. All you really seem to be doing is playing with definitions.

4/20/2007 07:38:00 pm  
Blogger Berend de Boer said...

James, on Bernstein's article:

1. a great scientist defends a theory that is controversial in his day.

Galileo wasn't particularly about the earth and sun.

2. The religionists are still with us, fighting to ban abortion, shooting abortion doctors, seeking to control the realm of personal morality.

Yeah right, religionists want to shoot abortion doctors. Perhaps, but after a proper trial one may assume, or do religionists actually believe that abortion doctors can be summarily executed?

3. There were the devout Christians who, desiring to take their diabetic son off of insulin and rely on prayer to cure to him

Sure, good example of how Christians actually think. They're all nuts.

4/20/2007 08:07:00 pm  
Blogger ZenTiger said...

James said: Life in the womb does not possess rights...

except that people have been sent to jail for murdering an unborn, like via a car crash or deliberate act.

And rights are not magical things that if violated a lightening bolt comes down and hits the person, they are simply rules we agree to support. We could easily decide to grant rights to a pre-born, and should. Taking steps to terminate/prevent a life from being born is arguably an evil act.

So what do you mean by "see reality and man's nature for further info"

because that sounds like an argument to give up on the idea of rights...I mean, with man's nature and all...

4/20/2007 09:19:00 pm  
Anonymous jc said...

Before we even knew who the shooter was, I was able state with some certainty on a newsgroup that he would have features of a loner, was bullied at school and had other characteristics that prove true. I was quoting some of the literature of course, of which there's much on shooters.

So, in fact, this guy falls into a subset of the "normal" population.. an entirely predictable subset that when something occurs, everyone who knew the perp. says "I always suspected/knew that".
I'm not sure "evil" fits the bill of a known entity with predictable behaviour (given a chance and opportunity).

I think Brad Shipton is evil, because he debauched very young girls and made a mockery of his oath and the Police. He worked at the moral level to destroy innocence and good and bring people down to his level.

The shooter did not destroy the innate innocence and good of the people he killed.. he terminated good lives without debauching them. The act is evil, but I doubt he was. But you might want to look at the situation of a society that recognised he was a potentially dangerous nutter, but were helpless to either commit him, kill him or jail him before he blew up.

JC

4/20/2007 11:00:00 pm  
Anonymous James said...

"Sure, good example of how Christians actually think. They're all nuts."

Well you said it Berend! ;-)


"James said: Life in the womb does not possess rights...

...except that people have been sent to jail for murdering an unborn, like via a car crash or deliberate act."

So what...? That doesn't mean an unborn has rights...it just means someone was judged to have broken the LAW as it stands.We don't have rights because we have laws....we have laws to protect pre existing natural rights. (If all is working as it should which it ain't at this time)

"
"And rights are not magical things that if violated a lightening bolt comes down and hits the person, they are simply rules we agree to support."

No....they are moral sanctions to freedom of action in a social context.Man's Rights are inalienable in the fact that we are created as human beings with a nature specific to us as a species...(law of identity).Genuine human rights are "negative rights"...meaning they are not claims on other human beings except in a negative sense...that is that others do NOT act to violate them, not that they must provide you something or serve you in some way.The rights to life, liberty,property, and to pursue happiness are the only rights that don't collapse under the law of non-contradiction.In other words they don't require the violation of the exact same rights of any other person to be upheld...just that you leave the person alone and NOT act in any way.


"We could easily decide to grant rights to a pre-born, and should."

You could try but it would mean nothing as real rights are not granted by human beings...objective reality determines what is a right for humans and what isn't...you have them by virtue of being alive as a human being."Granted rights" are nothing of the sort...they are permissions...which can be revoked.And who has the right to grant these new "rights"?

"Taking steps to terminate/prevent a life from being born is arguably an evil act."

So I would submit is an act of rape that starts the process in the first place.Personally if I was the victim in that situation I would treat the "life" the same as if it was cancer and have it removed..

If its by an action against an un-consenting mother, ie: a punch in the guts or some other forceful means then yes its an evil act as defined on this thread by me and others

But in a consensual situation its the mother who is the property owner of the body that's concerned....she has the final say.I agree that abortion is a nasty and seemingly desperate act that should happen as infrequently as possible but that's the world we are living in...

"So what do you mean by "see reality and man's nature for further info"

Because that's where real human rights come from....our human nature...meaning that which makes us human and imposes boundaries and conditions on living that we must respect and deal with if we are to live as HUMAN beings's, ie: Eating certain things but not others,sleeping when we are tired,thinking about what is and what to do about it,reasoning based on the thinking,and forming concepts from that which we then put into action to achieve objectives that will sustain and enhance our lives.

"because that sounds like an argument to give up on the idea of rights...I mean, with man's nature and all..."

Quite the reverse...see above.

4/21/2007 12:34:00 am  
Blogger Berend de Boer said...

James: Rights are inalienable in the fact that we are created as human beings with a nature specific to us as a species

James, I agree that rights cannot be granted. And you make the case.

So when exactly does something get human nature? When it pops out of the birth canal? When it reaches the age of reason? When exactly becomes human nature human nature?

4/21/2007 06:58:00 am  
Blogger Greg Bourke said...

JC.
Good point about Brad Shipton.

4/21/2007 11:31:00 am  
Anonymous Wicket said...

I think Brad Shipton is evil, because he debauched very young girls and made a mockery of his oath and the Police.

And what is that oath?

4/21/2007 12:16:00 pm  
Anonymous jc said...

“I, [name], do swear that I will well and truly serve our Sovereign Lady the Queen in the Police, without favour or affection, malice or ill will, until I am legally discharged; that I will see and cause Her Majesty’s peace to be kept and preserved; that I will prevent to the best of my power all offences against the peace; and that while I continue to hold the said office I will to the best of my skill and knowledge discharge all the duties thereof faithfully according to law. So help me God”

4/21/2007 01:16:00 pm  
Anonymous James said...

"So when exactly does something get human nature? When it pops out of the birth canal? When it reaches the age of reason? When exactly becomes human nature human nature?"

That is a grey area for me personally...like I said I wish abortion was even needed to be considered as an option in 99% of cases....

But lets no forget that many potential live are aborted naturally too...if you believe in a God why does he do that?

4/21/2007 02:26:00 pm  
Blogger Berend de Boer said...

james, strange argument. Because sometimes a tree falls upon someone, killing him, it means we may kill randomly as well?

Your grey area means your content that human life is killed, or isn't it that grey after all?

4/21/2007 11:00:00 pm  
Anonymous James said...

"James, strange argument. Because sometimes a tree falls upon someone, killing him, it means we may kill randomly as well?"

Ahhh no Berend...it means that God/nature also snuffs out millions of potential beings.It seems that many are destined to never be....if there's a God as you say why does he do this...?

"Your grey area means your content that human life is killed, or isn't it that grey after all?"

I think that terminating a clump of cells or a bearly formed feotus is not on the same scale of consideration compared to terminating a third trimester pregnancy.Leaving it that late (Medical complications aside) is very unpleasant and "wrong" In my view....the "child" is virtually born.BUT... the Mother still owns her body and as property owner with the trump rights she can do so.Personally I would attempt to persuade a woman in that situation to give birth and adopt the child out as its 90% there so why not?

But as I said above I wish it wasn't done, or as nearly so often as now...

4/22/2007 02:20:00 am  

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