Does evil know it is evil?

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Deckard
 
Reply Wed 3 Feb, 2010 05:28 pm
Assuming that there is such a thing as evil, do evil people necessarily know that they are evil? Can a person that does not know that s/he is evil still be called evil? Can a person be evil if s/he doesn't believe there is such a thing as evil? Well you get the point.

For this discussion please assume provisionally that there is such a thing as evil.
 
Jebediah
 
Reply Wed 3 Feb, 2010 05:35 pm
@Deckard,
Some people think they are doing good when really they are doing evil.

But I think there are plenty of people who know what they are doing is wrong. They just don't care enough, and act selfishly. Or rationalize it in some other way. And maybe feel guilty sometimes.
 
Deckard
 
Reply Wed 3 Feb, 2010 05:37 pm
@Jebediah,
Jebediah;124790 wrote:
Some people think they are doing good when really they are doing evil.


Can a person who does evil but thinks s/he is doing good be called an evil person insofar as s/he did the the evil thing?
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Wed 3 Feb, 2010 05:38 pm
@Deckard,
Deckard;124789 wrote:
Assuming that there is such a thing as evil, do evil people necessarily know that they are evil? Can a person that does not know that s/he is evil still be called evil? Can a person be evil if s/he doesn't believe there is such a thing as evil? Well you get the point.

For this discussion please assume provisionally that there is such a thing as evil.


Why should they know it necessarily? Many people who are evil would deny they are evil. You don't think that Hitler woke up each morning like the Joker, do you? He did not rub his hands together, laugh evil, and ask himself, what evil can I do today? It was Satan who said (In Milton's, Paradise Lost, "Evil, be thou my good". But those who are evil never acknowledge it to themselves.
 
Deckard
 
Reply Wed 3 Feb, 2010 05:58 pm
@kennethamy,
What would Kant say? The only thing intrinsically good is a good will. Does it follow that the only thing intrinsically evil is an evil will?
 
Arjuna
 
Reply Wed 3 Feb, 2010 06:01 pm
@Deckard,
Deckard;124789 wrote:
Assuming that there is such a thing as evil, do evil people necessarily know that they are evil? Can a person that does not know that s/he is evil still be called evil? Can a person be evil if s/he doesn't believe there is such a thing as evil? Well you get the point.

For this discussion please assume provisionally that there is such a thing as evil.
There's the idea (Plato?) that at the moment you act, you think what you're doing is right. So when you act, you become a vector. Right is the name of the pointy end. Wrong is what's other than right.

Only in retrospect can you say you did wrongly. That's comparing the actuality to the ideal. The scales of justice are used to weigh the two. The further away the actuality is from the ideal (imaged as the scale out of balance), the more evil the action was.

We can also look forward to future action and judge it, but notice how when we do that, we're looking at the action as if it's already happened. You can't actually judge an action in the future because there's nothing to judge.... so we pull the future into the present in our imaginations.
 
Deckard
 
Reply Wed 3 Feb, 2010 06:34 pm
@Arjuna,
There is also the concept of virtue and habit as opposed to isolated act. It is certainly possible to develop evil habits unwittingly and perhaps unwillingly. Does that make you evil insofar as you have those habits? I think so. Again assuming that there is such a thing as evil. Denying the existence of evil may be the only way out of conviction.
 
Jebediah
 
Reply Wed 3 Feb, 2010 06:46 pm
@kennethamy,
There was an interesting talk I heard by the guy who ran the stanford prison experiment. He talked about a set of things that's required for normal people to do something evil. It was something like:


  • unthinkingly taking the first step
  • lack of oversight
  • someone else having responsibility for the actions
  • pressure to perform
  • new and unfamiliar situation


...and a few others.

I would not describe the people like that as evil.

Sociopathic+anti-social personality disorder types are better described by the clinical terminology.

Some people do terrible things out of fear and selfishness. But I think again, we have better words than "evil" to describe them.

I think evil is better left as a descriptor of actions. We can always use bad.

Describing someone or some group as evil can actually be the same kind of all or nothing thinking that leads to evil actions being done.
 
Deckard
 
Reply Wed 3 Feb, 2010 07:33 pm
@Jebediah,
Jebediah;124804 wrote:

Describing someone or some group as evil can actually be the same kind of all or nothing thinking that leads to evil actions being done.


But thinking in shades of gray can lead to the kind of equivocation and rationalization that allows evil actions to continue. I like your post anyway. Standford Prison Experiment is relevant to the OP, also Eichman in Jerusalem: Banality of Evil comes to mind.
 
Dosed
 
Reply Wed 3 Feb, 2010 11:37 pm
@Deckard,
In Meno, Socrates says that there are those who know evils to be evils and desire them still. Yet there are some who do not know that the evils are, in fact, evils, and believe them to do them good. The latter are still considered virtuous, according to Meno, to whom virtue is the desire and power of attaining good.

Going off of this Socratic view, I think that the only ones who can truly be called "evil" are those who know the good, but do the bad anyway. those who do not know the good cannot be called evil, as the bad is all that they know. those who are virtuous are those who know the good and the bad, and choose to do the good. (lil bit of aristotle in there too, I guess.)
 
Deckard
 
Reply Thu 4 Feb, 2010 12:16 am
@Dosed,
Dosed.;124834 wrote:

Going off of this Socratic view, I think that the only ones who can truly be called "evil" are those who know the good, but do the bad anyway. those who do not know the good cannot be called evil, as the bad is all that they know. those who are virtuous are those who know the good and the bad, and choose to do the good. (lil bit of aristotle in there too, I guess.)


Adam and Eve could not have known it was evil before they ate the fruit because it was that very fruit that dispelled their blissful ignorance...and yet they were cursed anyway. (I present this as allegory not evidence.)

I want to avoid getting bogged down with discussion about biblical allegory so another more straight forward and more secular statement of the principle is the ancient maxim.

Ignorance of the law excuses no one
.

Similarly, ignorance of evil excuses no one.
 
Dosed
 
Reply Thu 4 Feb, 2010 12:26 am
@Deckard,
Adam and Eve weren't "ignorant of the law." God told them not to eat it. They did anyway. They were aware of the good and evil of the situation. I don't quite see how that example follows.

Also, ignorance of what law? perhaps political law, but the moral law? I suppose you are going on a more deontological route with this, then. *goes on to dust off metaphysics of morals* Razz
 
Deckard
 
Reply Thu 4 Feb, 2010 02:02 am
@Dosed,
Dosed.;124839 wrote:
Adam and Eve weren't "ignorant of the law." God told them not to eat it. They did anyway. They were aware of the good and evil of the situation. I don't quite see how that example follows.


I guess I tend to equate "ignorance of the law" with "ignorance of good and evil". How are they different?

If Adam and Eve had knowledge of the law but not yet any knowledge of good and evil then they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil even though they knew it was illegal. After they ate some of the fruit their eyes were opened and they understood that what they had done was evil and they were ashamed. Can we really say they new what legal and illegal meant before that moment?

If they knew the law before hand what did the law mean to them? Let's leave the snake out of this for the moment.

A: God said don't do this.
E: Why not?
A: God said you will surely die.
E: What is death?
A: I don't know but it's evil.
E: What's evil?
A: I don't know.
E: Why not eat the fruit then?
A: Because we should obey God.
E: Why should we obey God?
A: Because that's what it means to be good.
E: What does good mean?
A: I don't know.
E: Why don't we eat the fruit then?
A: I don't know.
E: Let's do it then.
A: OK lets!
 
Pepijn Sweep
 
Reply Thu 4 Feb, 2010 02:27 am
@Deckard,
Is a wronq-doer evil? What morality you applie? Do good intentions give an excuse for im-moral or un-social actions. Was Faust rembered for his medical practice? I know it's a fictional figure, like Dorian Grey. Can ignorance lead to bad decissions? Are these decissions evil?
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Thu 4 Feb, 2010 07:12 am
@Deckard,
Deckard;124797 wrote:
What would Kant say? The only thing intrinsically good is a good will. Does it follow that the only thing intrinsically evil is an evil will?


I don't think that has much to do with your question. Your question was about what people think of themselves. I don't know what Kant would say about evil will. He did think that what motivated the action contained the morality of the action.

---------- Post added 02-04-2010 at 08:16 AM ----------

Deckard;124846 wrote:
I guess I tend to equate "ignorance of the law" with "ignorance of good and evil". How are they different?

!


So if I am in England, and I happen to drive on the right rather than on the left because I am ignorant of the traffic laws I am ignorant of good and evil? What happened to malum in se, and malum prohibitum, which you thought was a good distinction?
 
Arjuna
 
Reply Thu 4 Feb, 2010 08:18 am
@kennethamy,
A story similar to Adam and Eve is Pandora. They both describe the birth of evil. Pandora was just curious. The snake tells Eve that God knows that when she eats from the tree, she will be just like God: knowing good and evil.

What appears to draw her in is the prospect of learning something new.

We could divide people by those who can hear a law and obey it, and those who have to learn the hard way. Since I'm in the latter category, I can testify that it's not coming from evil intention. It's just that other people's knowledge can't be my knowledge. After several decades, I really haven't made a whole lot of headway in learning to trust other people's knowledge, although experience tells me that I'd save a lot of energy if I did.

I think what Jedediah said is right to the point: there's a process by which anybody can become evil. People who do torture for a living aren't born, they're made. Avoiding that fate can come from inside, but that requires knowing one's own potential for evil. The innocent one doesn't know that he can be evil. So he doesn't understand the signs that it's happening. He may have to taste evil first before he can understand how to avoid it.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Thu 4 Feb, 2010 10:41 am
@Arjuna,
Arjuna;124871 wrote:
A story similar to Adam and Eve is Pandora. They both describe the birth of evil. Pandora was just curious. The snake tells Eve that God knows that when she eats from the tree, she will be just like God: knowing good and evil.

What appears to draw her in is the prospect of learning something new.

We could divide people by those who can hear a law and obey it, and those who have to learn the hard way. Since I'm in the latter category, I can testify that it's not coming from evil intention. It's just that other people's knowledge can't be my knowledge. After several decades, I really haven't made a whole lot of headway in learning to trust other people's knowledge, although experience tells me that I'd save a lot of energy if I did.

I think what Jedediah said is right to the point: there's a process by which anybody can become evil. People who do torture for a living aren't born, they're made. Avoiding that fate can come from inside, but that requires knowing one's own potential for evil. The innocent one doesn't know that he can be evil. So he doesn't understand the signs that it's happening. He may have to taste evil first before he can understand how to avoid it.


I don't think it is that you don't trust others' knowledge. It is that you don't think they have knowledge. If you thought they had knowledge, wouldn't you trust it? But, you don't say knowledge of what. I am sure that when you go to a physician, you trust his knowledge. Otherwise, why would you go to him?
 
Arjuna
 
Reply Thu 4 Feb, 2010 11:17 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;124896 wrote:
I don't think it is that you don't trust others' knowledge. It is that you don't think they have knowledge. If you thought they had knowledge, wouldn't you trust it? But, you don't say knowledge of what. I am sure that when you go to a physician, you trust his knowledge. Otherwise, why would you go to him?
So you're saying I'm a know-it-all. Very insightful.

The thing about doctors is you have to search for a good one. So many don't know any more than how to slap a bandaid on.
 
Dosed
 
Reply Thu 4 Feb, 2010 12:06 pm
@Deckard,
Deckard;124846 wrote:
I guess I tend to equate "ignorance of the law" with "ignorance of good and evil". How are they different?

If Adam and Eve had knowledge of the law but not yet any knowledge of good and evil then they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil even though they knew it was illegal. After they ate some of the fruit their eyes were opened and they understood that what they had done was evil and they were ashamed. Can we really say they new what legal and illegal meant before that moment?

If they knew the law before hand what did the law mean to them? Let's leave the snake out of this for the moment.

A: God said don't do this.
E: Why not?
A: God said you will surely die.
E: What is death?
A: I don't know but it's evil.
E: What's evil?
A: I don't know.
E: Why not eat the fruit then?
A: Because we should obey God.
E: Why should we obey God?
A: Because that's what it means to be good.
E: What does good mean?
A: I don't know.
E: Why don't we eat the fruit then?
A: I don't know.
E: Let's do it then.
A: OK lets!



I see your point in the Adam and Eve scenario. Having said that, I still maintain my original stance. I believe that actions cannot be judged alone. Intentions must be taken into consideration. This is where deontology hits a snag. If a person does an evil without knowledge that it is an evil because they believe it will achieve a good, I do not believe that they can necessarily be called evil. Again, intentions must be taken into consideration. Actions cannot be judged alone.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Thu 4 Feb, 2010 12:45 pm
@Arjuna,
Arjuna;124899 wrote:
So you're saying I'm a know-it-all. Very insightful.

The thing about doctors is you have to search for a good one. So many don't know any more than how to slap a bandaid on.


No, only that apparently, you do not think that some others have know things.

I agree that some physicians know more than other physicians. But, what I said is that you think that some physicians know things, otherwise you would not be their patient.
 
 

 
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