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What essentially is Good and Evil?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Justme, May 6, 2012.

  1. Justme

    Justme Banned

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    It seems to me that the term Good and Evil are largely overused and carry such backward connotations that they really reduce the power of the story behind them. I have always looked at the two forces in the context of what they've brought about on the real world and think they should be titled according to what effects the two bring to bear on the natural world. I really don't have the time to work this out, but wanted to share my thoughts with you guys and see what you think of the concept.

    My mine observation is that evil is concentrated so as to bring anything gained by it to a single source. That the main thing that occurs is the disruption of the norm in a way that reduces the freedoms of those targeted. I first thought to rename Evil as Chaos, but Chaos has a way of granting more freedoms than it takes.

    Good is basically concerned with orderly nurturing those it effects in a way that appeals to the greatest ammount of people. Something that Democracy was supposed to do, before the advent of the two party system.
     
  2. Hans

    Hans Sage

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    In many stories it just seems to be a case of "Winner writes history".
    The good guy wins in the end and thus has the opportunity to write down his story, present himself in a very good and his opponent in a very bad light.
     
  3. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I don't think "Good" is always a utilitarian concept, wherein the benefit to the greatest number of people carries the day. I think that something that falls within that definition can also be Evil under some circumstances. Many evils can be perpetrated by subjugating the autonomy and value of the individual out of concern for the greater whole,
     
  4. Hmm, I think it refers to what we (arrogant humans) judge in our opinion to be right and wrong, selfless acts and selfish acts, actions that are admirable and actions that are shocking, what our moral compass tells us is ok or not, acts for the benefit of others and acts for the disregard of others. Or something like that. And I think it sometimes makes us as writers lazy. We can apply the good/evil theory to our work and save ourselves a whole lot of effort and time, use it justify and give reason to the way things are in the story and why they happen. Well, that doesn't mean it doesn't work, thats just my humble opinion.
     
  5. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    ugh.... I hate stories that consider good and evil as quantifiable things. >< You can only rely on your own morality. Nobody thinks themselves to be truly evil, they view their actions as justified or neccesary. The macro concept of good and evil is a result of a large mass of individual's concepts of good and evil happening to be similiar. This leads to a loop as each individual's sense of good and evil is reinforced by the mass of humanity sharing their belief as well as increasing the size of the mass by the weight of their beliefs shapping those of the humans around them.
     
  6. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    This is nonsense, particularly in the realm of fantasy, where you certainly can have absolutes of good and evil if you want them.
     
  7. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    just because you can have something doesn't mean you should.
     
  8. Justme

    Justme Banned

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    What I was trying to get at is that these two polar opposites are far too ancient and far too polarizing to really add depth to any story. You say one or the other and it would seem to me that the reader would just insert their own world views of what these represent to them, instead of being engrossed in the plot of the story. It is our world that we are describing and we should be able to characterize these two concepts in a manner that will leave us as the tour guide and they the tourist, within our universe. I, personally have some Atheist friends that the very words, Good or Evil turn them cold. Then there are those that believe that Good and Evil don't really exist and can literally take their minds completely off the story, which might be the end of their attention span.

    I want to create a whole new concept that can produce the sense of universal negativity that Evil should bring to the reader and the virtue of rightness that the word Good should bring, without the baggage those two labels carry. I want something fresh, but gives little doubt what the character pertains to. There's got to be something out there that can be simply used, but profound.
     
  9. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    So you want to call a rabbit a smeerp? Sorry, but no matter what you call it, if you treat it as a black and white morality split that's what reader's are going to see it as.

    You can get away with a black and white world. That still falls under your average reader's willing suspension of disbelief, but it seems to me that lately it's been taking more and more suspension of disbelief to fit that. It is entirely possible that having good and evil as actual things is the one thing that pushes your reader's disbelief too far, and when that happens you've lost that reader.

    Having good and evil be actual things prevents any form of empathy for those considered evil.

    I think it should go without saying that I am NOT a fan of D&D's Good/Evil, Law/Chaos alignment system >: /
     
  10. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    Sorry, I'm trying to figure out what you're saying. So correct me if I'm wrong. Are you saying you want to redefine or rather find a new definition of what good and evil are without calling them good and evil?

    Define norm. What is normal? Also are laws taking away one's freedom to commit crimes like murder, theft, etc. considered evil? Sadly, things like murder are are every day norms in some places.

    So good is what ever is the most appealing to the most people? So if 51% of a population agree murdering the other 49% is appealing for what ever reason then it's considered good?

    Am I interpreting what you said right?
     
  11. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    ha~~~ It just struck me how wonderful being a writer is ^^ one moment you could be trying to figure out the proper arch of an arrow, the next you could be debating the very nature of good versus evil.
     
  12. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    If this is the yardstick for determining what you write, you'll never write anything. No matter what kind of story you come up with, you'll be able to identify a group of people who won't like what you've done. I know people who read only crime stories, and other who read almost exclusively the type of fantasy that has well-defined good versus evil. I know other people who hate that and like the stories where everything is relative and all shades of grey. I am in a Fantasy group on Goodreads, and there are people there who bemoan works where morality is relative and grey, however. They want to stories where good and evil are absolutes (and those types of stories sell very well; if you go through your bookstore you'll see a lot of them on the shelf).

    To me, you should decide what you want to write based on what interests you and what speaks to you. For every person who is left cold by one direction you choose, there will be another left cold by the other direction.

    Also, if you're writing with fantasy you are dealing with all sorts of things that don't exist in the real world. An absolute good/evil morality is just another of those things (at least from the point of view of some people; I know plenty of people who believe in moral absolutes of this sort in real life). My advice is to write the story in a manner that is true to your own vision. Don't worry about alienating niche groups of readers on one way or another. That's unavoidable.
     
  13. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Nor does your point of view mean one should not. There's no good reason, outside of subjective preference, to go in either direction.
     
  14. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I agree that this isn't a good measure. Great "evils" can await you down that road. In the political sense, that's why countries have Constitutions defining certain rights that can't be eliminated by the mob mentality of a majority.
     
  15. Justme

    Justme Banned

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    What I am looking for is something new and innovative, not something that everyone can agree on. I'm trying to sidestep the stereotypes that people have constructed around certain terms. What I gave were just examples of some who would read more into the story than was actually there, because of the baggage they carry. I know that almost everybody carry's some sort of ideal, which is why I'm looking for something that would diffuse many of these as possible.
     
  16. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    So you're looking for a blue and orange morality? Blue and Orange Morality - Television Tropes & Idioms In that case I suggest taking a look at how real life non-ape animals live and try to imagine the morality of a society based off evolved forms of those animals. For instance, in a society based off praying mantis' killing your husband after mating wouldn't be considered evil.
     
  17. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I hear what you're saying, and I don't think the approach is a bad one if done well. I'm not sure how you quantify how many of these viewpoints you can diffuse, though. Looking at the books on the Fantasy shelves, for all we know you'll attract the most interest with a more black and white approach. There has been interesting articles examining how so many of the bona fide cultural phenomena are black/white and good/evil stories.

    Whichever approach you take, if you just put together the best story you can I think you'll be fine.
     
  18. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

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    I think the concept of good and evil are subjective and should only be taken into context of the norms of the society/culture it comes from. Anything at all can be considered good or evil under the right circumstances. Many would consider honor killings (like some middle eastern cultures do) evil because is it basically murder for some percieved slight, but how is it that many cultures embraced similar practices? The samurai for example would behead their most honored adversaries or someone who caused dishonor on their house and yet in movies they make it seem a glorious thing when; according to our western ideals, it is murder. If brought to modern times, and a person was to just behead someone, they'd go to prison for life.

    I think in a general sense; Good refers to anything beneficial to the majority of the population within the culture or provides them something positive in their life.

    Evil is something that takes something away (unless it's replaced by something better) from the culture or creates an environment of hostility or negativity within the population. Also things that cause unwarranted harm to a person or persons can be construed as evil, but only because it is generally opposite of the "normal" range of behavior within a culture.

    For the drows; murder, violence and chaos would be "Good" and the "normal human/elf behavior" would be evil because it opposes them. In anything there are two sides (and ofter shades of gray in the middle) and normally neither side believes they are truly evil, even someone as "GOOD" as Alexander the great was considered by some to be "evil"; those he conquered and oppressed still hate him, but he was doing god's work... so it really depends on the context.
     
  19. ascanius

    ascanius Inkling

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    Why does a single source matter? reference to the devil? Or do you mean that evil is when someone/something takes from another such as theft? Then by that definition infants/children are inherently evil. Also if it is about reducing freedom then any and all government is evil along with any and all society. The restriction of freedom cannot be used as a measure of evil because then it would mean that if there is no restriction of freedom, anarchy, there is no evil even when someone does terrible things because they can. Utilitarianism is popular simply because it is expedient, well at least how I see it.

    As others have pointed out careful, this definition is very dangerous, Hitler, ring a bell. Utilitarianism and John Stewart Mill, essentially what you are saying, is spurious. The "aught clause," he asserted that People act this way instead of aught to act that way. semantics, maybe, but terrible acts have been done by those averring they are doing it for the greater good. NO ONE does anything to benefit the greater good, they look out after themselves. Altruism doesn't exist, except for a possible few cases.

    Sorry but this statement really, really bugs me, pet peeve. First America is NOT, nor ever was a democracy. Democracy was a failure, the only time it ever worked was when Athens was under iminent threat from a foreign power and Athens was a true democracy. Polybius gives a very nice description of democracy likening it to a ship where all the sailors are the captain. The USA is a constitutional republic which is entirely different.

    First what do you mean by backwards? there needs to be a forward, which is?, for there to be a backward. Second it sounds like you have a problem with connotation that you do not want to include in the story. I've had that problem but my question is are you looking to redefine good and evil in your story? If that is the case then your best bet would be to do it through the cultures in your story, how people view things about themselves and the world.

    You might want to read some philosophy such as Aristotle, Kant, Mill, Nietzsche and countless others. They'll give good information on morals and various arguments for and against them. Kant is particularly interesting with his assertion that Duty is the defining moral value of right and wrong. Nietzsche, cannot remember which of his writings, gives a very nice history of moral values.

    So if someone can justify their acts does that make the act not evil? If the act is not evil....well then things get interesting. Or does it just make it acceptable. If it makes it acceptable then how that act is viewed does not matter the act would still be evil. Having to justify an act confers an intrinsic evil, if it was not so then no justification is necessary. You don't justify a just/good act.

    You can say the same for the idea that morality is personal and subject only to the individual. I think a more precise explanation is simply people are stupid.
     
  20. Kelise

    Kelise Maester

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    It doesn't make the act not evil - it's simply saying that people act because they deem it necessary to act that way - they feel reason or have been driven to react/act. It doesn't excuse them.

    Not many people wake up one morning wondering how they can be evil in general. They need motive and a goal to begin with.
     
    Last edited: May 7, 2012
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