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What essentially is Good and Evil?

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

  1. Fnord

    Fnord Troubadour

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    Indeed, and this seems to be where the concept of free will had to be introduced in order to make all four "consistent".
     
  2. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    And even then one might wonder why god didn't create beings with free will who at least choose to do less evil, on the whole, than we humans do.

    And "freewill" as an argument doesn't address so-called physical evils.
     
  3. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    No, that's not why free will exists at all. Free will exists because God is Omnibenevolent, which by definition means that He needs something distinct from Himself to be the recipient of that love. Evil is not a paradox because "evil" is undone at the end of time. In fact, the weight of evil will be used to enhance the good. It is just a tool employed for a time to help us understand how much we want the good.

    But I'll point out, you are starting to break the rules and attempting to prove other beliefs wrong.
     
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  4. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    The interesting question is, why that tool? If you are dealing with an omnipotent being, presumably the same end could be accomplished without all the human suffering in the interim.
     
  5. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    That's an interesting enough question. The thing is, at root, because God loves you, you're given a choice: Love Him in return, or don't. That's your free will. Our perceptions of good and evil are that choice being reduced to micro-elements and playing out over a lifetime.

    Because nothing in this world is absolute, it means something a little weird: In this world, you cannot fully say yes, and you cannot fully say no. Even the most arduent of atheists cannot reject God with every aspect of his being; even the most devout Christian cannot - this may be slightly simplified for illustration - accept Him fully with every aspect of his being.

    Rather, by giving you complete immersion in both good and evil, without really even explaining what the difference is ("Knowledge of Good and Evil" refers to Practice with them, not a proper education), you're given a greater opportunity to choose the right path with some piece of who you are, before being forced to make an absolute decision.

    Basically, to play off the concept of love for a moment, you're given a little bit of space in your life without God (i.e., evil) as a process of seduction.

    ((edit))

    I have to go, I've now promised my wife to leave this thread alone until after Mother's Day.
     
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  6. Fnord

    Fnord Troubadour

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    I suppose when we're debating such a broad topic (especially concerning good, evil, and morality in general) that's kind of an inevitability.


    That seems, in itself, as something that is not very benevolent. And while it's certainly not unique to Christianity (or Abrahamic religions in general), it seems akin to someone leaving a bunch of loaded handguns on a school playground and then stepping away and taking no responsibility for the actions that ensue because the consequences are just acts of free will outside of the person who left all those guns there. We certainly don't allow such activity to go unpunished in our society and we definitely don't consider the person who commits such an act as a benevolent or well-meaning individual.
     
  7. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    It's one of the more popular ones to bring up, yes. Even more broadly, the same argument is used to apply to the existence of "natural evils" (disasters, "acts of god" [sic]), and, more broadly still, of pain in any form.

    The usual response is along the lines Devor mentions: evil is an unavoidable component of any system involving free will. To which I would agree wholeheartedly.

    The response doesn't work as well if extended to natural evils or pain. Those putting these forward as problems (usually in addition to the evils committed by freely acting agents) primarily employ slippery slope arguments: if our omnipotent, omnibenevolet being is truly as represented, then the system ought to include the absolute minimum of these collective "evils"; anything in excess of that is gratuitous, and ought not to be allowed by an omnibenevolent being. Yet it seems that there are any number of places where an "evil" could have been less than it actually is, and still produce the desired results, whatever those might be.

    Which is usually followed up by the statement: therefore, god doesn't exist. QED.

    Which is bull.

    In the first place, even if this were accepted as a "proof," it would not prove anything about the existence of a deity; at best, it would demonstrate that one or more of the attributes assigned to said deity is incorrectly stated.

    It's actually worse than that, however–because slippery slopes slide both ways. (That, by the way, is a phrase of my own creation: I'm quite proud of it. I'm sure it's been stated in other forms throughout history; I just like the way mine rings. ;) ) The proponents of the argument from evil/pain can claim that it seems there could be less evil/pain in the system, but they cannot demonstrate that the system, in fact, does not include the absolute minimum necessary for it to function. In other words, while it seems possible that the system ought to work with fewer evils than exist, it seems equally possible that there could easily be more evils in the system than actually exist. So why aren't there? Because of divine benevolence, perhaps?

    The lack of a good argument on one side does not prove the other, of course. But in my experience, those who argue for the non-existence of a deity can, at best, do no better than those arguing in favor of the existence of said deity, and in general their arguments suffer from the same flaws as the ones they purport demonstrate their own positions.

    Note finally that all the arguments against deities go out the window if one is simply willing to drop the "omni"- from in front of the deity's attributes. I honestly fail to see what is lost by changing "all" X to "most" (that is, "unsurpassed by any other") X: "most powerful," etc. Does a deity really need to be able to do the impossible, so long as it can do anything and everything that is possible, and to a greater extent than any other being is capable of doing? I'd still be sufficiently impressed by such a being, I can assure you.…

    -

    Here are some links, for anyone wishing to pursue the issue, to one of the more recent and better-known discussions of the problem of evil–which popped up in my Philosophy of Religion class (my term paper for which was a refutation of the arguments of the critics). The first is a (poorly-scanned) paper by John Hick, addressing the problem; the other two are portions of a paper attempting to refute Hick, and a bullet-point summary of the complete paper (I couldn't readily turn up the entire paper: it might be out there somewhere). My refutation of Madden and Hare was along the lines indicated above: that all the objections they bring against Hick apply in reverse, and with equal strength, to their own contentions.

    http://hettingern.people.cofc.edu/Introduction_to_Philosophy_Fall_09/Hick_Problem_of_Evil.pdf

    Madden and Hare: Critique of Hick

    http://hettingern.people.cofc.edu/P...adden_and Hare_Critique_of Hicks_Theodicy.htm

    (I would point out, in passing, and for whatever it's worth, that the Lewis quote I gave earlier is from his own work on the same topic, The Problem of Pain.)
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
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  8. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    I could argue that they are, in fact, "authorities" in the sense of "sources commonly appealed to for support"–but I won't, because I happen to agree with you, and because arguments from authority are at best weakly inductive, and are most often fallacious. I would only add that the same is true of any human writer–that is to say, of any source of anything any of us have ever read.

    Again, no argument. I've ripped Aquinas up before myself, albeit not on this particular contention. I was merely citing them to demonstrate that even among theologians the notion of omni-whatever is often viewed as limited by the possible.

    -

    (By the by, you might want to check Aquinas' views on triune nature before you go blanket-rubbishing him. Not that being wrong about some things makes him wrong about everything, of course… nor the reverse. Just mentioning it.)
     
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  9. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    I think it's important to point out how christian-centric this conversastion has become. I imagine a large part of this is that most english speaking people are most familiar with the christian religions even if they don't practice them. At this time, I don't have much to say about the other religions in the world, but I still think it's important to mention that Christianity isn't the only religion in the world.
     
  10. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    Did he? Or did he do what he did because he already knew, courtesy of his vision, that was what he was going to do? If his vision of the future was accurate, he couldn't not do those things–regardless of whether or not they made sense to him.

    Indeed, what would have "made sense" would have been trying something different… since he already knew that following the path he foresaw led to doom. The only rational reason to remain on that path is if he knew it produced the best possible outcome of all the various choices he might make. And if that was what he saw, then all those future "choices" were made at that instantnot later on, as they appeared to come up as "choices"–and his life, and all history, became predestined from that point forward.

    And if he did not see all possible futures, but only a single future, he is guilty of surrendering to a belief that the future he foresaw was immutable… in other words, he came to believe at that point (if he did not already) that the future he saw was destiny, fate, what have you, and there was nothing he could do about it.

    Nor does it really help to say that he made the choices that "made sense to him." All this does is suggest that those choices were predetermined even without foreknowledge: he makes the choices he does because those are the choices he would make anyway–inevitably.

    Prescience is a trap. The last real choice Odin ever made was to drink from the well. In doing so, he surrendered his "free" will to the perceived inevitability of the future he foresaw.

    (P.S. Mimir's well, not Ymir's. You were close. ;) )
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  11. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    Ultimately that only limits his freewill, not anybody else's. And it wouldn't matter if he knows the outcome if it still seems like the best option regardless of everything else.

    The worse thing is to do something just because of forknowledge, that only leads to self fullfilling prophecies.
     
  12. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Actually, I was referring to their authority as representatives of the Christian faith. I'm Catholic, but Aquinas, in particular, is a pet peeve of mine - he was a Catholic, and a Saint, and a Doctor of the Church, but every time I look to him on a subject, he happens to be somewhat wrong. There are authoritative statements of the Catholic faith, but for some reason people prefer to quote weaker authorities.

    I'll read the footnotes in an Encyclical - not that I read very many of them - and that's enough of Aquinas's quotes for me.

    Protestants don't often have as many clear authoritative statements, and even fewer which cross denominations, so quoting Lewis is probably as fair and as close to an authority as you can get - if, y'know, I were still Protestant.
     
    Last edited: May 13, 2012
  13. James Chandler

    James Chandler Minstrel

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    Do not be too quick to dismiss "Biblical ideals" or ideas about Good and Evil as a source of morality for your writing. If nothing else, they give the reader something familiar to hold to. More importantly, don't confuse the use of religion and religious teaching for the repression of others with the actual ideals themselves, regardless of the source of those teachings. Hypocrisy and failure to follow teachings of good and evil are a rich source of dramatic tension.

    Are Good and evil absolutes? Irrelevant. So, be careful of sliding into mental masturbation about the issue. Good and Evil cannot exist without context, they can only really exist within the CHOICES we make. The choices we make are going to be based on any number of things which inform our perspective. A volcano destroying a village is not evil, but a warlord destroying the same village probably is. Does it matter to the villagers? What if the volcano was triggered by an "evil" wizard? What about a "good" wizard who triggered the wrong volcano? What if the "warlord" was really engaging in a mercy massacre days before the volcano blows in order to prevent a more painful death? Be careful of sliding into mental masturbation about the issue, at least in your writing. If you want something "new," you're really talking about a new set of cultural definitions of what constitutes evil choices vs. good choices.

    Good Luck
     
  14. James Chandler

    James Chandler Minstrel

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    Maybe absolute good is avoiding what would qualify as Evil or Bad...
     
  15. James Chandler

    James Chandler Minstrel

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    ...In which case there is no true good or true evil. There is only survive or not survive. If there is no afterlife, it does not matter how you live your life or what suffering you cause for others. We're all just philosophizing meatbags.
     
  16. James Chandler

    James Chandler Minstrel

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    At the risk of starting a debate, this is simply not supported historically. There are many societies today who engage in practices we consider barbaric which have been around for thousands of years.
     
  17. Phietadix

    Phietadix Archmage

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    I disagree. All great strides in humanity is admitting we don't know something and trying to find out why.
     
  18. mbartelsm

    mbartelsm Troubadour

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    I believe it boils down to balance, you could say order and chaos, but complete order is not that nice, you could say freedom and oppression, but then again, complete freedom is anarchy, and that's not that good either.
     
  19. shangrila

    shangrila Inkling

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    What is Good and Evil? A line in the sand that can be changed whenever one feels like, and ultimately gets washed away by the tide anyway.
     
  20. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi,

    What are good and evil? Well technically good simply means 'of God', so good is essentially doing his will. This ofcourse assumes the God exists. For those who doubt then yes, good and evil are relative. There is no moral authority to decide what is goos and what's evil, there's only the collective judgement of people. And unfortunately people, even millions of people can be wrong. Consider slavery. At one stage it was actually considered a 'good' thing, since it brought civilization to the 'benighted savages'.

    In terms of writing a story therefore, how you define good and evil will depend on the society that you create, and whether they are religious, and what the tenats of their faith are. If their faith says throwing children to the wolves is what their lord demands, then that is good. To oppose this, to go against it would be evil.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
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