The Nature of Men



Humanity has no real experience in pure evil, that is, evil for the sake of evil. If humanity commits evil acts it’s in pursuit of something good, they just get the good the wrong way. Evil is the perversion, or the corruption, of good. Evil cannot exist without good existing first. In fact, there is no definitive way to judge whether something is good or evil without having an infinitely good reference point. If no “absolute good” exists, then there are no moral absolutes by which one has the right to judge something or someone as being evil. Evil requires the existence of good.

Humanity’s experience in evil is found throughout history in criminal acts. The thief, the murderer, the drug addict, and the rapist; they are all trying to fulfill a want or a need, whether it be power, sexual gratification, material things, pleasure, an adrenaline rush, satisfaction, or any number of reasons not listed here. These things in of themselves are good. However, the pleasure, or release experienced in attaining them the wrong way is mixed with pain. What you have done stays with you, causing whatever good you may experience to be tainted, and you may have to change your morals to justify your actions. Self may be redefined in the process. This type of behavior can lead to one’s own destruction.

So we understand the evil nature of men, but they cannot be totally evil. However, we can only judge the murderer as evil if we have moral absolutes; otherwise it falls to each man’s definition, and each man’s definition is different. Whose definition, then, should we use? Using men as our yardstick isn’t useful, especially since evil is within every man.

Where do morals fall into human nature? Choice is the main ingredient in morality. Without it there are no morals, just behavior we emit. You can’t judge a man who has no ability to choose what he does. You cannot say his morals are bad. On the outside it may look that way, but if there was no choice on the inside then there is no morality. Without choice we are no better than animals driven by instincts.

Choice may not exist for two reasons: either the man is constrained by an outside force or his psychological makeup is abnormal. When I say psychological makeup, I mean the raw materials in the mind that men use to make a choice. This raw material is composed of feelings and impulses that at once present themselves in any given situation. If the raw materials of the mind are bent or twisted in some way, free choice is hindered.

Example:

Three men go to war. One of them suppresses the natural instinct for self preservation in pursuit of defending his country. The other two have an abnormal psychological makeup that presents itself in the form of abnormal fear. This fear prevents them from choosing freely which instincts to suppress and which to encourage. Both shrink from the fight and protect themselves.

Now let’s say that both of the men see a psychologist and have that twist in the mind corrected. With free choice in hand, one of the men chooses to suppress the instinct of self preservation and joins the fight accordingly. The other man decides that self preservation is still the best course of action and let’s other men go onward to the fight in front of him. We would say the latter man has bad morals. We could blame him now, but we could not blame him before.

Another example:

A necrophiliac is a man who has sex with dead bodies. Two men commit the act of necrophilia, but only one them has a bad psychological makeup. The normal man’s morals are violated and he feels bad about what he’s done. In an attempt to reconcile his actions with his morals, he may construct different morals that allow the action. If this continues, he may inflict psychological damage on himself and eventually become as bad off as the other man.

The man with bad psychological makeup feels his actions are normal and his morals are not violated, though we cannot say he has any morals with respect to his perverted act. Now let’s say that this man begins to understand that his actions are wrong. This is the moment that morality begins. In an effort to change, once he perceives a better morality, he may set an inward law within himself to never do it again. If he follows this correct morality, he may expend more moral energy than some people have done their entire lives. He is going against his nature. Change on the inside is harder on the mind, will, and emotions than just an outward change of action.

Which one is the greater moral work? Is it the psychologically normal man who stops looking at pornography because he is made to, or the psychologically abnormal necrophiliac who goes against his nature, and stops having sex with dead bodies because he has an understanding of better morals. Both men, over time, will not be 100% successful at either pursuit without help, but we would still say it’s important that they try. Notwithstanding, we are not qualified to judge whether a man’s actions matches his morals. We cannot see man on the inside. It would be nice, though, to have a referee to tell us when we are out of bounds.

To sum up, the nature of man has two aspects: men are basically evil (perverted goodness) and strive for good the wrong way; and man may or may not have a good psychological makeup that allows him to make choices on a matter. Man is going one of two directions in relation to his morals. Either he is heading towards inner peace in himself and others (actions being congruent with his inward morals), or he is at war with himself and others (actions not congruent with his inward morals), assuming his psyche is normal. Either he is becoming a hellish creature or a heavenly creature. Indeed, the end result of continually violating an inward morality is hell itself (figuratively). Humanity strives to follow the morals they have while experiencing success and failure depending upon the amount of one’s inner strength on a given day. Humanity must also do mental checks to make sure they have the right morals, and make sure their minds aren’t damaged in any way.

However, how did we end up in this continual inward war with one’s self? It’s quite obvious to parents that small children possess instincts, feelings, and impulses; but do not possess a conductor to set them to the right tune. Like a piece of music that indicates which notes should be played and for how long; a good morality that sets the “human machine” in the right working order regulates which instincts, feelings and impulses must be suppressed and which must be encouraged. We don’t have morality when we’re born, neither did our parents, or their parents before them. Yet, morality is taught as part of the nurturing process. Where did this inward war originate?

This is where I will give the atheist, evolutionist, philosopher, and religious man a chance to answer. I would be very interested in the evolutionists answer, though I doubt they have one. If they have no answer, I will continue with part two.

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36 thoughts on “The Nature of Men

  1. There are MANY items I take issue with in this article. As only one example, there are those who would assert that Evil is merely the absence of Good, and as such, Goodness is dependent on the existence of Evil. You can make equally compelling arguments for both ideas…

    There’s much more I want to address, but in the interest of contribution to the discussion, I’m going to forgo it and (try to) answer your question.

    First off, I’m probably a Philosopher (as opposed to atheist, theist, evolutionist, etc). Second, it should be noted that having an answer for this question means very little; it will be very easy to dismiss opposing ideas because the arguments being made rely on varying epistemologies (sense/perception vs divine revelation, etc). Thus, it may be helpful to know that I’m not asserting my answer is correct – only that I believe it to be so…

    Why is there an inner conflict? Simply put, everyone (regardless of theology) tries to balance needs vs desires. Children have to be taught morality because they lack the ability to distinguish between the two. on top of this struggle is the realization that individual wants/desires often conflict with those of the people around us.

    This occurs because we’re all pragmatic on some level. We want maximal results for minimal effort – satisfying the desire/need at someone else’s expense may lead to future complications, so that what seems to be an easy solution today may very well lead to more trouble tomorrow.

    We’re pragmatic (to an extent), and we realize that we lack the kind of understanding which would help us find the perfect solution. We realize our perceptions are limited.

    Thus, each person must weigh desires and needs against abilities and imagined consequences. All of this happens in a changing environment, such that we can never be sure we’ve arrived at the correct course of action.

  2. I agree with some things you said. But, before I go further, I have a question. You said, “Children have to be taught morality because they lack the ability to distinguish between the two (needs/desires).”

    Why do they “lack the ability”? Why do we, as humans, have this quality about us, that we have to be taught morality?

    1. In my mind, they lack the ability to distinguish between right and wrong just as they lack other abilities: language/communication, empathy, walking, etc. Children must learn how to do everything – I see no reason as to why distinguishing between right & wrong should be an exception to this rule.

    2. Children lack the ability because their brains are not fully developed. If you look at the work of Kohlberg, a developmental psychologist, you will find his moral stages. In fact, I will link them for you:

      http://faculty.plts.edu/gpence/html/kohlberg.htm

      Children, being children, perceive right and wrong as what will happen to them–will I be punished for this, or not? As they get older and become more aware of other people’s needs and desires in conjunction with their own, they move up in the moral stages unless they have a particular cognitive setback, such as sociopathy.

      1. My six year old tested at stage 6. But then, the child never showed synchronous learning but substantial leaps in what I had expected from studying child development. For example, the first drawing utensil was done with thumb and the first two fingers with highly intricate fine motor motor drawings of floor tile patterns. Before the age of two, the normal mouse was used with what any adult would consider ‘normal’ skill. The child by age five could explain to an adult how what we saw as the phases of the moon at a particular location revealed relative positioning of the earth between the sun and moon. In the Kohlberg testing, he offered unique answers that tended to address the intentional paradoxes with highly creative solutions.

        I was not the tester.

        I write all this to show that what we think are stages in development are not necessarily so, which means the idea of standard development built on the notion of increasing ability are… to put it bluntly, wrong. They sound very reasonable, and make good sense but are they, in fact, true? Do we develop morality or is our morality based on something more than environmental interactions?

        Daniel suggests god. That’s a typical “I don’t know” answer that pretends to be an answer but does not increase our knowledge. It’s a science stopper.

        Sociologists tend to favour social influences to explain (no surprise there), more often than not with the same level of “I don’t know” when the actual bits and pieces of the social notion are examined in evidential detail.

        My child did not ‘move up’ any ladder of moral development but according to the evidence provided started at the most sophisticated level. This is much stronger evidence to me that moral behaviour is the outward sign of an inward moral code where consequences and reasoning play a much more significant role than any exterior influence – whether that exterior influence is called god or society. The more disciplined the reasoning, the more sophisticated the moral code. And discipline of reasoning is not a matter of age and development but of neurology and effort.

        Meaningful answers – answers that increase our knowledge – to questions about morality will be found in the nuts and bolts of better understanding neuroscience.

      2. I think the point Daniel is trying to make is that we have to teach children morality but we don’t have to teach them immorality. If children “lack the ability (for morality) because their brains are not fully developed” then shouldn’t we be able to say the same thing about them concerning immorality? Most parents understand that you don’t have to teach a child how to lie. They somehow already know how to do that. A parent will, however, have to teach a child how to tell the truth. So I ask you, which one then (lying or telling the truth) is in the child’s nature? Clearly the trait that doesn’t have to be taught to the child is the child’s natural disposition. Breathing is the child’s natural disposition. Lying is the child’s natural disposition. Every child does it without first being coached on how to do it.

        Development then cannot be the issue because lying is a more complicated brain function than telling the truth. Creating a false story is more involved than just recalling what actually happened.

      3. Tim, you are making all kinds of assertions here based, as far as I can tell, only on your opinion that they are true. Can you, for example, show any evidence that either morality or immorality must be learned or that either is a ‘natural’ disposition? To me such an assertion is like suggesting that children intuit ‘up’ but need to be taught ‘down’; it makes little sense to me because without both we have no reference point for either.

      4. You’re right. These assertions are based on my opnion; which does not automatically make them wrong. My opinion also happens to be based on hearing them repeated from a lot of parents. This whole “intuit ‘up'” and “taught ‘down'” thing you’ve mentioned is precisely right. This statement you’ve made about having no reference point for either is something I heartily agree with. Without previous knowledge of “up” we wouldn’t know “down.” Without the truth we wouldn’t know lies. Therefore, for a child to lie, that child has to know the truth. That child’s brain does not have to reach some developmental stage before knowing both. However, the child does have to be conditioned to behave properly; to tell the truth even if it might hurt. It is not a lack of development. It is a lack of conditioning. The question Daniel is asking is – why is it that we don’t have to teach a child how to lie? We might imagine a world where children always tell the truth. For the child to lie, we would have to teach it how. But what parent in their right mind would do that? None would. Which brings us to another point in this dispute. It is regularly considered good parenting to teach a child to not lie. So not only does every child have to learn how not to lie. Parents in most, if not all cultures, feel it is necessary to teach them not to lie. These realities suggest that it is a problem of nature and that it is recognized by most everyone as a problem.

      5. I’m glad you think my ‘intuit thing’ is precisely right, but you miss the point: the child has to have BOTH in order to use either. You are suggesting that it ‘natural’ for the child to lie but not to tell the truth. That’s a really bizarre assumption. I suspect any evidence you might have is the kind that passes though your perceptive filters that blocks out all evidence to the contrary. Ever tried to get a child to lie about his or her age to get the lower rate of admission? Good luck with that.

        Your notion of ‘conditioning’ a child’s behaviour smacks of BF Skinner. The times, they have a-changed. There are all kinds of new child studies showing that morality emerges and is refined (or warped) by environmental and social interaction. In other words, morality is innate. What we teach out children is more a reflection of us and not necessarily indicative of a child’s needs, and insisting that children need to be ‘conditioned’ rather than simply and effectively taught using best practices is a throwback to an earlier and less enlightened time.

  3. In fact, there is no definitive way to judge whether something is good or evil without having an infinitely good reference point.

    This is a very common thinking mistake. Let me change the concept under consideration and see if you can find the problem:

    At this very moment, a certain number of birds flying about. Each bird weighs something. If I argue that a bird’s weight can never be known because we can never know the total weight of birds all together, then there are two facts in play.

    The first is that although we can never know the precise weight of all the birds in the air because of logistical problems of collecting all the data does not mean that there is not a single right answer. There is. We can deduce that such an exact weight could be totaled if we had the means to tabulate instantly. We don’t have the means, so we don’t have an exact answer, but that does not mean there isn’t a right answer.

    The second issue is that not having the precise weight does not in any meaningful way affect our ability to know a particular bird’s weight. The latter is not dependent on the former.

    So now we revisit your good and evil issue about requiring a reference point (and an “infinitely good” one, no less). In my substitution that reference point is like the total weight. If we assume it is there (by various deductive and perhaps inductive methods of reaching that conclusion) – that there is a reference point – then we don’t require to know what that is to be able to compare and contrast the morality of an action as somewhere on the spectrum of good and evil. We don’t need to know the precise weight of all birds to be able to determine the weight of a single bird and properly deduce if it falls on the lighter or heavier spectrum of weight for birds.

    Moral absolutes may be there but they are not required for legitimate comparisons to take place any more that the sum total weight of birds is required to legitimately compare a bird’s weight with others.

    1. Birds aren’t really an accurate comparison. A more accurate analogy would be a crooked line versus a straight line. You have to start with something definite and then you can identify the deviations. Birds don’t have deviations as far as I know.

  4. Like Daniel, I must take issue with your statement, Whateverman, Children have to be taught morality because they lack the ability to distinguish between the two.

    If you look at morality as knowing the difference between right and wrong, then children are quite capable of determining this difference as well as anyone without any specific moralinstruction. If you begin to research child development, you will find a rich assortment of studies showing exactly this.

    But one of the greatest problems with investigating morality is figuring out what we’re talking about. Is morality an idea? A set of social rules? Is it an effect caused by behaviour? A purpose? Is it a description of ethics?

    I urge people to look at morality not as some kind of philosophical arena about human ‘nature’ (whatever that is) but as a function – an expression – of our neurobiology. That – not theology – is where we will begin to put together the nuts and bolts of how morality is developed and expressed. And it is against this understanding of neurobiology that we will begin to legitimately compare and contrast human behaviour as moral or immoral.

    1. Hi Tildeb. First off, please don’t ask that I study and entire field of sociobiology in order to understand that you were right and I was wrong (per se). It would be helpful to me if you could suggest specific studies, or perhaps provide a link or two, which show that children are aware of right and wrong without having been taught it. Even if in a limited fashion.

      Second, children are also taught morality without there being specific instructions. They pick up on conventions and often put them into practice via mimicry, or perhaps they challenge the idea and wait to see what happens. Simply put, children learn morality from adults, even when those adults aren’t literally explaining right and wrong.

      It is in this sense that I believe they must be taught the difference between want/need. The teaching occurs explicitly as well as implicitly (IMHO)

      1. What I meant was that the material is rich in child development studies about morality (if you honestly wanted to learn about what evidence there is for moral behaviour in very young children) rather than assume you already know. Perhaps you are unfamiliar with the vast amount of material that draws into question what you think is true.

        (By all means begin here)

        Of course we have to educate our young because we have experienced the world and can offer very legitimate guidance by what we have learned. But I get a strong sense that you are suggesting that we need to teach children what to think as if that is necessary. That assumption carries a great deal of weight and effect, much of which I think is very negative and damaging to the healthy development of children.

        I am a proponent of teaching people how to think and let them decide for their own reasons what to think. That includes children. If nothing else, my method allows people to own what they think regardless of age, which makes them responsible for their choices. That seems to me to be a very legitimate parental goal in raising children to become responsible adults versus attempting to control children by instilling what to think to become acceptable adult versions of what the parent chooses. To my way of thinking, teaching children what to think creates physically mature children. That’s hardly a healthy outcome.

  5. First off, thanks for the link. I’ll be reading it over the next day or two. Yes, my knowledge of the subject matter is minimal, and as such, I don’t really have an inkling of whether there’s research available that contradicts my views. With a little luck, I’ll find some and have to re-evaluate them…

    More importantly, I think we disagree (in part) due to semantics. There’s a lot of overlap between teaching a child how to think and teaching them what to think. For example, at some age a parent can only teach the child “Don’t hit others” or “Hitting others is bad”. Once that child gets a little older, the parent can explain that what was previously taught as an “absolute” is in reality a moral grey area. Hitting another person when you’re being beaten up is not bad.

    So… yes, parents MUST teach children what to think, to some extent – but this is mostly because he/she is unable to understand the complexities of practical morality: “Hitting other people is bad, but in certain circumstances it may be necessary or even laudable”.

    Obviously, teaching a child HOW to think is better than the other option. I’m not disputing that.

    1. That you can appreciate the same action can be both moral and immoral depending on context is a fundamental baseline understanding about the expression of moral behaviour that I suspect Daniel does not share. He believes that moral absolutes exist independently of people and their circumstances, and attributes this notion as a necessary reality for there to be this sense of a permanent morality against which we can measure human actions/desires/behaviours… and that morality itself therefore offers evidence for god. This is baseless conjecture at best.

      The reason why I took issue with your solitary point that children require to be taught morality is because the mounting evidence is that this sense of right and wrong we conveniently call morality is a neurological function not revealed only by humans. Animals show moral behaviour, too. The claims by religious folk in particular that morality derives from religion is patently false – it is utterly and absolutely wrong and without any merit whatsoever – as is the notion that morality is unique to humans… as is the notion that we have to teach it to children. This moral ‘sense’ is revealed by (as well as developed in) children (and studied up the wazoo in child psychology) and shown to emerge through interactions with the world. Without question, our friend Daniel applies his moral sense to his religious notions and selects those moral bits he already agrees with and discards the moral bits he finds distasteful. In other words, morality precedes religious belief and in all likelihood precedes religious belief (meaning belief in supernatural agency) altogether.

      This is important because how we raise our children has such a powerful influence on the adults they become. I am relieved you agree that teaching children how to think is a better option, yet this emphasis on what to think drives most national educational curriculum. This false belief has a huge impact. That’s why most curriculums (curriculi?) also include this fuzzy notion called ‘critical thinking’ and actually places a fair amount of importance on its development. But when one talks to teachers, one quickly realizes most know very little about what it means and, therefore, are poorly equipped to foster it in the classroom. What it means in a nutshell is enabling students to develop different methods about how to think. Ask a math teacher to teach three completely different ways to divide (different algorithms) and most will be highly challenged to come up with two. Because our teachers have rarely been taught how to think, how can we expect parents who have no formal educational training on how to parent to do any better? And the reason why how we think is so important is because how we think determines what we think.

      For example, it is highly unlikely that friend Daniel can actually grasp why his religious belief so alters his ability to perceive the world as, say, a New Atheist who maintains no religious filter for incoming data. It is highly unlikely because his neurology has been groomed and wired and promoted and protected from being able to think critically about his beliefs. Any challenge to the actual beliefs will be assumed to be wrong from the getgo and he will spend time and effort explaining why he holds that assumption rather than, like you, admit that perhaps his beliefs are not all that well informed and be willing to learn anew, to re-evaluate prior beliefs in a new light, and perhaps change an opinion or belief or two.

      I don’t expect you to read dozens of child development texts to begin to gather data to then apply to your belief about kids and morality that may be wrong. I suggest you grant people who hold academic expertise in the subject a privileged place in helping you form an understanding of their consensus and be willing to grant a level of trust to that expertise. That’s what I do when I visit my doctor about medical issues or the veterinarian about critters, or a lawyer about law, and so on. Their expertise is quite handy. But no matter how many witch doctors I attend, not one can show me evidence of demonic possession. No matter many how priests, rabbis, imams, and other clerics I visit, not one can show me evidence of supernatural agency. My critical faculties appreciate that belief without evidence is a necessary recipe for good people to do terrible things. I owe it to others to do my small part in not promoting exactly that.

      1. I’m not trying to prove God’s existence here. I’m trying to “flesh out” the nature of men. Also, no one enters this world without a filter, atheists included. None of us hold objective reality and give it to others. You also trust in your teachers thereby admitting to me that you have no first hand evidence or experience in the things you defer to your teachers about. But, let me be clear here, I’m challenging your filter by what I’m saying here. And I want to know your answer to the beginning relationship between men and evil.

      2. What you’re talking about here, Daniel, is descriptive words as if they represented real things rather than conceptual relationships. That is why you use human acts and then describe them with these words but falsely assume that in order for the conceptual relationship to have merit one must have a concrete thing to anchor each end of the conceptual framework. That’s like (to use your previous analogy) requiring a line to have two known absolute ends in order to determine whether or not the line is straight or curved. The former has nothing whatsoever to do with the latter. One does not require some absolute goodness in order to compare the morality of an act to be more on the goodness side that the evilness side.

        The act is first and foremost what it is. The motivation, the circumstances, the goals behind that act can be judged under various rubrics and it is in this judgment that we introduce the notion of morality – a conceptual relationship between an act’s effect (consequence) and the motivation for its production. In philosophy, this is called consequentialism. The tram studies are particularly revealing about the human response that cross cultural, gender, religious, and linguistic boundaries! (I think the author is Hauser) We soon find out the the relationship between the person who is judging various acts and the consequences of the act itself are both important but not essential considerations: what is most important, it seems, is how the judgment makes us feel about the individual committing the act. (And this has everything to do with mirror neurons, but that’s another post.) Clearly, how we feel about our place to judge the acts of others is highly relevant in any inquiry about expressions of morality and not any kind of reliance or use of some hazy notion of an absolute morality from which we draw our conclusions.

        Harris – one of my favourite New Atheists – is coming out with a book on morality. His thesis is that we can establish a ‘science’ of morality, a way to describe the various moral landscapes and be able to compare and contrast various moral expressions as either higher or lower on a benchmark scale. There has been widespread criticism that an ought cannot be drawn from an is so I am looking forward to reading his book to see for myself how he gets around Hume’s position that keeps morality and acts as separate except by convention. Because Harris is a doctor in neuroscience, I suspect he will introduce the world to the biological science behind why we feel what we do when we make moral judgments. Neuroscience – not theology – reveals human ‘nature’: why we are the way we are and why we do the things we do is better understood as a brain function than as one about whether or not various acts meet the intentions of a supernatural creator based on a divinely inspired moral code.

        As for the filter you say I have, of course I have many. The difference is, I recognize that my perceptions are ALWAYS affected by them. I can safely conclude that any certainties I have are wrong and that I must keep skepticism even about what I honestly think is true available. My allegiance is to what’s true first rather than what I believe may be or wish were true, and what’s true is backed by the highest probability of whatever is probably accurate, probably correct, making the conclusion probably true. That’s as good as it gets.

      3. Tildeb, I agree with most of what you said IRT my ideas and my understanding of the issues, and of the issues in general. I haven’t spent enough time here at this blog to characterize Daniel’s opinions, so I’m going to remain on the fence for the time being).

        I’ll reiterate two things: I still believe children must be taught morality, but our disagreement is mostly semantic: I readily concede that they ALSO learn about morality from much more than listening to authority figures tell them what to do and what not to do.

        Neuroscience has always fascinated me (even while being tough to fully digest), so this window into child development sounds pretty interesting too. I’ll check it out more – thanks for the input.

  6. Whateverman,

    You said, “evil is merely the absence of good.” The problem with this statement is that it is not played out practically by men. Good still exists in evil actions. In fact, good is the goal meant to be achieved by these actions. Example:

    Hitler committed genocide and killed many people. What was his goal: to create a perfect society. Is a perfect society good? Yes. He just used evil means to get there.

    Ted Bundy killed and raped women. What was his goal? One can speculate either sexual gratification, a feeling of power, or any other reason. Certainly sexual gratification is good, as is power.

    The liar lies to be free of guilt or blame. Freedom from these things are good, but to deceive yourself or others by saying something is so when it is not, gives a false reality. Operating on a false reality is not good for the “human machine”.

    Think of any other evil action. The goal is goodness. The means are corrupt or perverted. To say that evil is the principle thing, is not accurate because men do not pursue pure evil with evil acts. There is no profit for “self” in such business, no advantage, no reason that men would choose. Observably, men pursue good things with evil actions. I conclude that evil is the perversion or corruption of good. Logically following this path, I also conclude that good is the principle thing, and evil needs it to exist. What’s more disturbing than this is the implication of what men are born with. That is what I want to get at, the origin of men’s relationship with evil.

    1. Daniel wrote the following: Hitler committed genocide and killed many people. What was his goal: to create a perfect society. Is a perfect society good? Yes.

      Think very carefully about asserting that Hitler’s GOAL was good. I don’t know of a single rational person who would agree. He wasn’t just aiming for the perfect society, he was aiming for HIS interpretation of what such a society would be like.

      No one works towards a generically perfect society. They all work towards specific ideas of perfection. And so, I find it a little ironic that you’d chide me for being impractical and then going ahead to claim working towards an unrealistic ideal represents “good”.

      Hitler’s GOAL was evil, and so were his actions.

      Whether evil requires good or good requires evil is very much open to debate…

  7. Whateverman,

    On what basis do you call what he did evil? You have to have some idea of what “good” is in this area to know where he deviated. You call “his interpretation” of a perfect society bad, but what yardstick are you using? Hitler had his own yardstick too. What’s the difference between you and him? Why is your’s better?

    Knowledge of good is required for us to recognize any deviation from it. Obviously, you feel that you know “good” better than Hitler did and I would have to agree.

    1. On the basis that I know how I would’ve felt if I were a Jew.

      I know that his goal was as destructive (if not more-so) than it ever could possibly have been productive; Hitler would have gladly tossed Einstein into the ovens for the sake of attaining an unrealistic ideal of perfection.

      I know that no policy which treats one race/class of human beings as “sub human” can ever hope to be just, and it (the policy) certainly shouldn’t be labelled as ‘truth’ or ‘good’ or ‘perfection’.

      I know that the pursuit of justice & perfection never requires deception in order to gain support. The German people were brought on board by religious messages and nationalistic patriotism. They were misled about their country’s place in the world, and the nature of the perfect society. To gain their support, they were told exactly what they wanted to hear, rather than what they needed to hear.

      No truth EVER requires deception to communicate.

      These are the standards by which I judge Hitler’s goal to be evil.

  8. Whateverman,

    Sorry it took my so long to reply. I was traveling.

    Your basis for discerning good from evil is empathy, the absence of deception and destruction, a sense of justice, equal treatment, and the straightforward nature of truth.

    I don’t find fault with this list. However, I do find fault in men. No man can empathize perfectly so that he knows how to treat his fellow man perfectly. Our empathy has limits.

    To avoid deception and destruction man must be free of such things in his own mind. You don’t have to look very long at this world to realize where the deception and destruction comes from. Humans. The problem is that we sometimes can’t even recognize what we are deceived about. Even scientists will admit they only think a certain way about something because they have not yet been shown a more perfect way, and even that may be shown to be wrong in the future. It is the same with our minds. They are not completely free from deception or destructive ways.

    Men cannot be relied upon to execute justice perfectly either. Man’s agenda gets in the way.

    I have yet to find equal treatment practiced everywhere.

    As for truth, men possess only partial truths in this world. No one is in possession of the whole truth of our existence, the world, or the universe. We walk around with imperfect views of reality, but still feel what we think is right because that is all we can see. I cannot rely on this.

    Don’t think that you aren’t lumped in with these imperfect people, Whateverman. I’m right in there with you. No man can look at this list and say, “I have conquered everything. I have done these things perfectly.” Therefore, I cannot put my trust in men or myself. As I said, each man’s yardstick is different, and measuring good and evil with them is not useful. Humanity needs an infinitely good reference point to judge correctly. Without the reference point, it’s all subjective and open to interpretation because we can only work with the tools and mind that we have, and don’t forget, the capacity for evil is within all of us.

  9. Daniel, I agree that we’re imperfect, and that evidence of this imperfection is seen in nearly every aspect of human society. Our systems of justice, our governments, our art, the things we take pleasure in, the sciences, religions, philosophies, educational systems, etc.

    There’s no doubt. We do things imperfectly. In the short time Ive been alive, I don’t think i can claim to have seen any perfect thing anywhere.

    But… there’s a vast gulf between acknowledging our imperfection and asserting that perfection is required to combat it. It’s patently false that we need perfect knowledge to understand things (for example); the law of gravitation is incomplete, yet it’s taught us so very much about aspects of the natural world. Our justice system is flawed, yet it routinely puts dangerous people behind bars and helps keep us safe.

    I have NEVER encountered a moral absolute that wasn’t relative or subjective. When people say “Doing X is always wrong”, if you pick at this idea, you’ll find exceptions. Murder is never cut-and-dry; hitting people isn’t always wrong; lying can be justified.

    In my experience, we CLEARLY do not need moral absolutes in order to tell the difference between right and wrong. This will occasionally result in changing standards, but there seems to be no viable alternative.

  10. Additionally, when Christians speak of absolute morality, experience has shown me that there’s only one absolute Christian moral principle: whatever God says is good, is good.

    That’s it. There’s no other principal we can point to and say or know with surety that there will never be an exception. For example, God has killed people in the Old Testament – and according to Christians who interpret this book semi-literally, he did so justly. it wasn’t murder, it was a righteous killing. If this is true or not, it’s pretty easy to imagine the parents of a child who’d been killed like this thinking God’s actions were unjust. Whether they were right or wrong, God’s actions are just whether we human beings agree with this or not.

    This means that we must accept everything God does as just, regardless of whether it appears just or not.

    Correct?

    If so, then God could tomorrow tell us to do something repulsive, and we would have to accept it as just and good. You might say that He would never do this, but you have no authority to say it. God has changed his mind in the Bible, and really, he can do whatever he wants, regardless of what we think of it.

    This means that murder isn’t always wrong (because God could reveal that the death was Just). Lying isn’t always wrong, because God could be influencing how we think and believe (aka. hardening our hearts). Stealing isn’t always wrong, because we may be taking items for some purpose given to us by this same deity.

    Really. I highly doubt you can show me any moral absolute that never has exceptions (beyond the absolute I listed above). I would be very interested to see if you can think of one…

  11. What a fascinating blog!!

    You ask a lot of great questions – ones for which I’m not sure we can ever know the answer to … aaaaaand while I was trying to construct what I was going to say I just had a peek through the comments … I admire the passion you all have with written debate.

    I’ve learned that the more I learn the less I know. 🙂 And as such I’m not a big debater anymore. The world is so colorful and multi-sided – things that seeemed so absolute are now shades of grey.

    I just try to focus on what I can do to leave a positive impact and worry less about what is definitively right or wrong.

  12. Whateverman said, “I have NEVER encountered a moral absolute that wasn’t relative or subjective. When people say “Doing X is always wrong”, if you pick at this idea, you’ll find exceptions. Murder is never cut-and-dry; hitting people isn’t always wrong; lying can be justified.”

    A moral absolute is an action free from corruption or perversion, free from evil. It’s not a blanket statement, but a statement of the quality of the action. In this way, a moral absolute has no exception since it is a guide for when you can and cannot do an action. An action done in complete goodness has no critic. Any deviation from the goodness will be criticized. All actions may be permissible at certain times, but they are not permissible at all times. Why? The absence or presence of evil.

    People who instruct others never to do a certain action, say so because most of the time the action is done, it is done in an evil way. Though their blanket statement may be incorrect, I do not blame them for it. They’re usually trying to protect the ones they love. When you’re young, it’s better to learn to follow the rules, and when you’re mature enough later on, learn how to break them.

    Concerning your complaint about God… that’s really between you and him. Make peace with him or not. I’m OK with not understanding every part of him. I will say, though, that I haven’t actually jumped to God in the conversation, you did. You’re not wrong in thinking that that’s where I’m headed. It’s just not in the near future.

    You also said, “It’s patently false that we need perfect knowledge to understand things”

    I will say this is true. If you are content with the partial answers that imperfect knowledge gives, then your statement is fine. You express a desire to remain subjective. I prefer to stretch beyond myself since I can only find partial answers in myself and others.

  13. I wont further the conversation, because I think I’ve said and heard most of the important stuff. I would like to clarify a few things, however:

    1) I don’t have a problem with God. Any problems I have involve how people understand this deity; it’s the understanding I take issue with, not the deity him/herself.

    2) I *am* content with partial understanding, but I strive to improve it whenever possible. Rather than me being content with subjectivity, I was trying to show that the theist’s claim of “objectivity” is merely a way of saying “The rules are god’s: he makes them, he can change them and we can’t do anything about it. As such, all standards divine are relative to God’s desires. Calling them objective is a misuse of the word.”

    Beyond that, I’d like to comment that I’ve been involved in plenty of religious debate, and so far, this blog is a pleasant surprise. No doubt, we disagree on some fundamental level, Daniel, but I really enjoy the fact that everyone seems to be listening to and responding to everyone else – rather than the two sides simply talking AT each other.

    Thanks everyone.

  14. I’m a little put off by the idea that an evolutionist wouldn’t be able to answer your question. (I only saw one–I assume that is the one you want answered?) If you want an answer to the beginning of this ‘inward war,’ I would think a sociologist or an evolutionist would be first on your list.

    Let us start by defining morality. This is according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

    1. descriptively to refer to a code of conduct put forward by a society or,
    —some other group, such as a religion, or
    —accepted by an individual for her own behavior or
    2. normatively to refer to a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons.

    I would posit that the concept of morality, as we know it, dawned with the birth of society. Just as humans worked out how to make tools, how to farm, they also worked out how to build a society. Society would be worthless if everyone were allowed to kill each other, steal, trespass–but there were great benefits to society, as well; farming allowed for a greater food supply, and society allowed for people to work the farms. Farming also allowed for cultivating flax and sheep for textiles. Society allowed for the division of labor, and also for added protection by living in a group rather than striking it out solo. To make it work, people had to concede some things. They had to concede to, well, rules. As societies got bigger, the rules expanded and became more complex–they became law, and a justice system was established to punish those who break the law. With these laws, rules, and standards, grew our sense of morality.

    If one doesn’t think that morality grows with a culture, look at issues such as slavery. We had slavery in America for centuries, at least 250 years and many say 400. It took this long for the Northern states to finally stand up and do what most of us now consider to be “the right thing.” Were they all immoral people? I’d say not all, although we certainly see it that way now. Their morality had yet to grow to include abolishing slavery. The people who did start the movement to abolish slavery were thinking in the highest echelons of Kohlberg’s moral stages; when morality comes from there, goes beyond the laws in place, it can bring great advancements in moral thinking.

    Hitler was brought up before, and the question of the morality of what he did. Hitler, without a doubt, was on the lower end of the moral scale because his actions were selfish and discounted the suffering he created for many people. To want a “perfect society” is one thing; what he wanted was the genocide of those that he felt were “unclean,” those that he felt shouldn’t have been as successful as they were because they weren’t “pure.” It’s a mistake to confuse the motivations of Hitler as being something righteous. He did not want to build something good, he wanted to destroy and conquer. He wanted power and glory for Germany, and he wanted to make it “pure.” Many countries moved to stop him because this idea offended their moral code, and they wanted to protect themselves from living under such a regime.

    Religion has also gone a long way toward instilling morality in people, and I won’t discount that, although I do think that in some modern people, it severely limits moral thinking. Religious texts would not be full of rules and regulations if the people of the time hadn’t needed them. We think now, oh, okay, murder and cheating and stealing, these are obviously bad. We’ve grown up with these ideas and don’t question it for a moment; at the very least, even if a person doesn’t think it’s morally wrong, they know it is illegal. When the texts were written, many people didn’t have a clue that these were morally wrong–if they did, the rules would be unnecessary. It’s another example of how morality has grown with society. These religious laws have been transformed from things that you don’t do for fear of being punished to everyday common sense.

    We’ve come a long way as far as morality is concerned; it’s always based on humanity, though, which is never perfect and never absolute. As we have great people come along and show us how we can be better as humans, we incorporate new ideas into our morality, which is ever-evolving.

  15. Greengeekgirl,

    You said, “I would posit that the concept of morality, as we know it, dawned with the birth of society.”

    I agree to an extent. Society is made of groups of “selves”. The flaws in society comes from flaws in each “self”. Our need for morality runs deeper than just for society. If a man was alone on a desert island all of his life, he would still contain within him the same flaws that saddle the rest of humanity. The flaws may not show themselves outwardly, but they would still be there. In fact, inwardly, the man may be worse off than if he had another human to keep his “self” in line. There is nothing to stop this man from thinking that he is the center of the universe, being filled with pride, uncharitableness, hate, or any thing else.

    Humanity is flawed from the inside out. Basing morality on humanity is not a good practice. Looking for morality in man is like looking into a warped mirror. You look good only if you haven’t seen a perfect mirror.

    1. You keep asserting that Humanity is flawed from the inside out. This is a very christian viewpoint based entirely on a very specific (and I think badly skewed) interpretation of the Genesis creation myth to allow for a letter ‘redemption’ to give the death of the christ some larger meaning. Umm… no thanks.

      As a parent, I think if anyone had stepped forth at the birth of my beautiful child and informed me that beyond doubt that infant was naturally flawed, I suspect my fist would have acted before my brain kicked in. How dare someone make such an assumption! It is without merit to assert as if were true for everyone from the time of their birth – as if it were perfectly natural to assume a character defect ordained by god in order to manipulate a helpless infant from the get go into being a good christian by submitting to a will that has caused such a flaw – supposedly out of some kind of perverse love. It surely is not an unconditional love. The whole psychology is badly warped and causes unnecessary suffering as people vainly try to fix what ain’t broke.

  16. “as if it were perfectly natural to assume a character defect ordained by god in order to manipulate a helpless infant from the get go into being a good christian by submitting to a will that has caused such a flaw – supposedly out of some kind of perverse love.”

    God didn’t make us flawed. You may get some help on this issue if you research what Christianity says about our beginnings and how we got this way.

    1. Of course he did or he is either not omnipotent or not omniscient. I granting him the benefit of the doubt on your behalf. You can claim woman led man astray, in which case you are passing the buck and back to the same old tired refrain of everything being someone else’s fault with “But she said it was okay!” Or you are granting a very peculiar kind of ‘free’ choice to man, designed apparently with a lively and inquisitive mind but placed in a stuporous and stultifying environment with unexplained rules and at least one active agent to undermine those rules. This renders that free ‘choice,’ the results of which are already known to an omniscient critter by definition, no choice at all but a pre-ordained act. As I wrote, this reading of the myth is bizarre, inconsistent, and highly prejudiced against women and snakes.

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