General Question

ragingloli's avatar

Do you think that objective "Good and Evil" exist?

Asked by ragingloli (46757points) April 21st, 2009

I think that there is no good and evil, only conflicting interests, opinions and goals.
For me, the concept of Good and Evil is a pathetic and simplistic escape route out of interpersonal conflicts that would require complex lines of thinking and balanced decisions.
For me, Good and Evil is a tool for people to ease justifying hurting, damaging and killing others when they stand in the way of their own personal agendas.

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19 Answers

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

It really doesn’t. Good and evil is completely subjective.
For example, many Middle Eastern residents often think the US is evil where as many American people think the Middle East is evil.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

Nope but the words are nice, short and juicy to describe what has positive result versus negative result.

Jayne's avatar

Nah. I believe that the distinctions between human and non-human, alive and inanimate, self and other, are entirely arbitrary. Given this, it would be rather silly to pass judgment on the moral character, whatever that means, of the interactions between those entities.

SeventhSense's avatar

Well no I don’t think they are truly objective concepts but there are true sociopaths like Adolf Hitler and truly benevolent people like Jesus Christ. These may approach the most objective a definition we have of these concepts.

Qingu's avatar


They are subjective. Clearly, everyone has their own ideas about what’s good and what’s evil.

However, I do believe that certain behaviors and ways of thinking are more adaptive than others, and that we can measure this at least vaguely. Now, adaptive is different from good; it’s an amoral term. Instead, I think people’s concepts of good and evil evolve to become more adaptive as time goes on.

For example, look at slavery and genocide. Thousands of years ago, these practices were wholeheartedly acceptable (even codified in the Bible). 200 years ago, most Americans were fine with slavery. Now, these things are considered unspeakable evils in America. It’s tempting to believe that we just figured out we were wrong. But realistically, this sea change happened largely because of technological progress. Industrialism made slavery rather pointless (it also allowed women to join the workforce, leading to the suffrage movement). The new morality, which prized a productive capitalistic workforce over slaves, was better adapted.

Meanwhile, slavery still exists in poor countries, and genocide is currently happening in Darfur. Which society’s conception of good and evil are more adaptive—ours, or Darfur’s? I think ours is, pretty clearly, and so over time, I think our belief that genocide is immoral will eventually replace the Sudanese janjaweed belief that it’s okay. The trick is that it’s a package. You can’t promote our morality without also promoting the technological and social structures that underlie it.

Qingu's avatar

@ragingloli, I think you’re too harsh on the terms “good” and “evil.”

I’d call genocide and slavery “evil.” In no way are such practices acceptable today. I’d also call things like education and charity without strings attached “good.” Ayn Rand be damned.

Now, I realize that some barbarians living 2,800 years ago would disagree with my conceptions of good and evil. At the same time, I believe I can rationally support the idea that my society’s view of good and evil is more adaptive than the view of 2,800 year old barbarians.

asmonet's avatar

Why does this question pop up every other day now it seems?

No, I don’t think so.
Good and evil will always be subjective.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar


I’m pretty nihilistic.

DrBill's avatar

Only good exist.

Evil is the absents of good.

LostInParadise's avatar

I don’t think it makes sense to speak of evil people, but I do think it is convenient to speak of evil acts. It is appropriate to say that some of the things done out of greed or lust for power or intolerance can be classified as evil.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

@DrBill couldn’t good be the absents of evil then?

dynamicduo's avatar

Good and evil are only concepts that exist by means of humans defining them. Furthermore, these concepts are so tainted with culture and time, that they can end up changing dramatically over thousands of years. So we must consider the context where we are using the concepts, as @Qingu illustrates.

I like to reduce everything down to value. What value does good and evil have to me? It’s handy to use the concepts of them in regular day to day communications, but I don’t consider them to have any lasting long term value to me. I don’t strive to be a good person in the same way that I don’t strive to not be a bad person. I simply am who I am.

Zuma's avatar

I think you first have to answer, “In what sense is anything objective?”

Certainly, a radical phenomenologist would say that everything is “subjective.” But such a statement does violence to well-established conventions which draw distinctions between subjective and objective, in a way that renders both terms meaningless. This convention holds that “subjectivity” applies to the world as it appears to us, while “objectivity” applies to the world as it is.

To say that we live in a world of subjective appearances does not categorically preclude that there is an independent objective reality that shapes the world as it appears to us. Indeed, the term “objective” refers to this latent structure of the world.

Nobody has ever seen an atom, yet in the totality of our knowledge, we can be reasonably sure that they exist. Why? Because we can specify rigorous experimental proofs. In other words, we can contrive a set of circumstances in which the world of appearances behaves, with convincing regularity, in a manner that can only be reasonably explained by a specific underlying reality. In that sense, convention allows us to speak of atoms as objective facts—as opposed to fantasies, opinions, impressions or suggestions.

In other words, “objectivity” refers to the verifiable latent structure of the manifest world, as revealed not in appearances but in the totality of our knowledge. Just as we can infer the existence of atoms organizing our experience of the material world, so too we can infer the existence of things like “norms” and “mores” as the objective organizing principles of our social experience. In fact, these norms and mores are so real to us that we are willing to go to war to preserve or abolish them.

So, notions of “good” and “evil” to the extent the are embodied in norms and mores, can be said to be “objective” insofar as they organize our perceived social experience.

To say that good and evil are only “conflicting interests, opinions and goals,” is like saying that a mugging is a conflict of interests, opinions and goals between a mugger and his victim. It is true, but by no means the whole truth in the rich totality of our knowledge about the norms which encode our moral notions of good and evil.

When you say that good and evil are merely subjective concepts, you effectively deny that there are any underlying norms and mores that shape our experience of them. Good and evil are grounded in survival issues. For example, we generally describe things that promote our survival as good, and things which threaten our survival as evil. Accordingly, acting in good faith preserves the social fabric and social capital; acting in bad faith destroys trust and social cohesion and threatens the survival of the group and everyone in it.

Slavery and cruelty are not evil simply because they offend our sensibility, they offend our sensibility because they are objectively evil. They destroy the independence of individuals which is a necessary condition of collective intelligence of our mass market-based culture. In other words, acts of bad faith impinge adversely on the “wisdom of crowds” phenomenon in ways that directly threaten the survival of our market-based society and culture. Moreover, this was always the case, even when it was not apparent to slave-holding barbarians in ages past.

Jayne's avatar

@MontyZuma; I don’t think that anyone who argues for a subjective morality denies the fact that there is a universal morality, shared by almost all people and tending to improve the survival and prosperity of our species. They simply state that there is nothing fundamental about this morality, that there is no basis for the judgments that murder and theft are “bad”, that altruism and sacrifice are “good”, or that the survival of the species is even desirable; in my case, this is because I take a reductionist philosophy, in which the universe is the sum of its constituent physical components, and that in such a universe no greater value can be put on one collection of particles than on another, and it is meaningless to say that what occurs to that collection is somehow “good” or “bad”. To some extent this is a meaningless and pointless philosophy; I still follow and advocate the norms of morality, simply because that is what I am instinctively driven to do, and in any case a philosophy such as mine implies that it is in no way “bad” for me to completely ignore it in daily life. But it does mean that one cannot make a decision simply based on what is “right” or what is “wrong”, as this is as arbitrary as a flip of a coin. Instead, a system of morality should be constructed to a specific end; happiness for the greatest number of people, for instance. This is similar to the morality that has evolved over time, of course, except in this case it is deliberate, hopefully, more reliable, and is situation specific; each decision is made according to its effect on the ultimate goal, not according to its “moral value”. Such a system would not, for instance, permit the banning of embryonic stem cell research on the grounds that it is somehow taking sacred human life.

SeventhSense's avatar

@Jayne @MontyZuma
Excellent and well constructed arguments. Monty did bring up an excellent point and one which we can’t overlook. I don’t believe that it was anyone’s intent to ovelook basic morality but it was perhaps glossed over in this thread with a wide brush:
To say that good and evil are only “conflicting interests, opinions and goals,” is like saying that a mugging is a conflict of interests, opinions and goals between a mugger and his victim. It is true, but by no means the whole truth in the rich totality of our knowledge about the norms which encode our moral notions of good and evil.

Instead, a system of morality should be constructed to a specific end; happiness for the greatest number of people, for instance.
Yes I imagine that this is ultimately what we are aiming for in all civilized nations. The problem with relativist arguments towards morality or a system whereby the ends justify the means it is possible to justify horrendous abuses en route. The Nazi party in Germany is a perfect example. The end in their case being a purified and perfected race through the elimination of “undesirables”. As long as we have authorities it will necessitate clear distinctions between right and wrong to avoid abuses not necessarily from ourselves but from the ruling parties. Might has been shown again and again to usurp rights from individuals. Ideals of good and evil are a type of authority which wrest this power back to those with less power.I can’t believe your only 17!

wundayatta's avatar

I had a girlfriend named Good. She seemed like she was all there. Completely objective (and she was great in bed, too). Gradually, strange things started to happen. I’d see her on my right, and when I turned to talk to her, she wasn’t there. She was on my left. She said she’d been there all the time, but I swear she switched positions.

Good had a sister, even hotter than she was: Evil. Evil used to come over, and every time my girlfriend left the room, she’d move close, put her hand on my thigh, stroking it. Once, we were sitting next to each other at the table, and she moved her hand much higher up my leg. Well, I knew right from wrong, so I kept on fighting her off, but sometimes my thinking got rather clouded, and I wouldn’t stop her. Of course, my body responded as any straight guy’s body would.

But Evil was a bitch. She’d broken up more relationships than I could count. I tried to talk to Good about her, but she wouldn’t have anything to do with it. As far as she was concerned, her sister was a saint. Anyway, I hate to admit it, but sometimes I’d be screwing Good, and thinking about Evil. Good was really hot, but Evil was hotter.

One morning though, I found myself waking up in a hospital. They were pumping me full of all kinds of drugs. They said I was walking naked into a rest room at a Walmart. I vaguely remember thinking this woman I was following was really into me. I felt bad, because I knew it would hurt Good’s feelings. Evil wouldn’t care, of course.

I tried to tell them about my girlfriends, but the docs said they were a delusion. Just voices in my head. They said that Good and Evil didn’t exist. But I knew better. After all, I’d slept with both of them.

mattbrowne's avatar

I believe in universal human rights.

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

ISmart's avatar

yes, some just don’t care abut others but only themselves.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

Depends on facial hair.

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