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Author Topic: Evil. Is there a good explanation of what it is?  (Read 3701 times)
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« Topic Start: April 11, 2009, 07:26:14 pm »

A lot of people have "This is Evil. This Isn't."

but do you have a workable definition for what evil is - in and of itself.

Is such a definition even valuable?
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« Reply #1: April 11, 2009, 08:26:04 pm »

do you have a workable definition for what evil is - in and of itself.

A Stoic perspective is that to be either good or evil a thing must be within a person's capacity to control. Otherwise, it is a matter of moral indifference. From this perspective, the only evil is to act contrary to one's basic nature. Unfortunately, this just transfers the definitional issue from 'evil' to 'basic nature'. According to most Stoic writers, it boils down to an assertion that we all know what is truly the right thing for us to do at any given point and to do otherwise is evil. Stoics counsel that if you feel deeply that the act you are engaged in (or are considering engaing in) is wrong for you then it literally is and it is immoral for you.

To a Stoic, it is not possible for something external to the self to be evil. External things (e.g. weather, other people's behaviour, other perople's points of view, physical distress or pain) just are; they have no intrinsic moral quality to the Stoic. Hamlet's assertion that nothing is good or evil "but that thinking makes it so" is a quintessentially Stoic perspective.

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Is such a definition even valuable?

I believe so. Without a shared definition of evil we are unable to usefully discuss the myriad things in the world that it is applied to. Understanding what 'evil' is is fundamental to understanding how it may be minimised (a goal that most people seem to agree is desirable). For example, if 'evil' is failing to act in accordance with the revealed will of a deity, then it's removal involves ensuring that all people know and understand that revealed will and that they understand the consequences of failing to act in accordance with the deity's revealed will. If 'evil' is failing to act in accordance with one's basic nature, then minimising it centres around increasing your understanding of that nature and in learning how to live in accordance with it and to not attach undue significance to externalities.

Both are useful perspectives shared by significant chunks of humanity at one time or another, but it's very hard to have a healthy discussion about a matter that touches on 'evil' without an agreement that one or the other defintion is in play.
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« Reply #2: April 12, 2009, 08:36:00 pm »

A lot of people have "This is Evil. This Isn't."

but do you have a workable definition for what evil is - in and of itself.

Is such a definition even valuable?


I believe this topic or a similar one was on the old forum once.  Most people seemed to believe there are universal 'evils'.  I'm not sure that is correct as evil varies from country to country, philosophy to philosophy, by culture. Some form of murder might be universal, but that may be the only one.
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« Reply #3: April 13, 2009, 08:55:25 am »


but do you have a workable definition for what evil is - in and of itself.


I'm inclined to think of evil as 'intentionally inflicting intense suffering without good excuse'. Also, 'almost complete disregard for the possibility of causing intense suffering'.

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Is such a definition even valuable?

Hrrrmmmm. I think it's definitely valuable as rhetoric, and maybe valuable as a way of categorising some wrongs as more serious than others...not sure about anything else.
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« Reply #4: April 13, 2009, 10:04:25 am »

but do you have a workable definition for what evil is - in and of itself.

Is such a definition even valuable?

I define evil as any action taken knowing that it will bring physical or emotional pain or distress to an innocent being. I'm willing to forgive in cases where the person commiting the act doesn't realize they're bringing pain to innocent lives. If they simply choose to ignore the fact now thats an entirely differnt case all together.

To answer your second question. How can we be good people if we don't define the opposite?
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« Reply #5: April 13, 2009, 10:19:58 am »

To answer your second question. How can we be good people if we don't define the opposite?

Is being good merely "not being evil", then?
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« Reply #6: April 13, 2009, 02:37:17 pm »

A lot of people have "This is Evil. This Isn't."

but do you have a workable definition for what evil is - in and of itself.

Is such a definition even valuable?


A shortish version that I hope makes sense -

Evil is considering only the ends and not the means.  It is justification beyond all sense.  It is allowing a hopeful future to overshadow the wrongs that must be done to obtain that.

It is also the belief of one's own value as so far above everyone else's that what happens to them is irrelevant compared to what happens to you.  It is putting one's own wants above other's needs.
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« Reply #7: April 13, 2009, 03:17:58 pm »

Is being good merely "not being evil", then?

I don't believe you have to go above and beyond the call of duty to be a good person just avoid being evil. so yes.
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« Reply #8: April 18, 2009, 12:23:17 pm »


In Buddhism of the Tibetan and Theravedan types, there really isn't "Evil." The Dalai Lama has said the closest thing to it would be ignorance: the fundamental ignorance of what causes suffering and what alleviates it, the "not knowing any better."

Instead, there's the idea that everyone--me, you, the bum on the corner, the woman next door, everyone--has the right to be happy, and everyone has the right not to suffer. First, we need to accept that there are "afflictive emotions" that cause suffering, either to ourselves or to others, and then that there are ways to alleviate or even eliminate these negative emotions, thereby increasing our happiness and that of those around us.

I'll point toHealing Emotions for more information, for those interested. It's a dialog between HHDL and ten Western thinkers (including Daniel Goleman and Robert Thurman, the two names that jumped out at *me* in particular) about the effect emotion and the mind have on the body. This subject (evil) comes up in the very first chapter.
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« Reply #9: April 18, 2009, 06:26:30 pm »

In Buddhism of the Tibetan and Theravedan types, there really isn't "Evil." The Dalai Lama has said the closest thing to it would be ignorance: the fundamental ignorance of what causes suffering and what alleviates it, the "not knowing any better."


this is true in shakta tantra as well. What creates the conditions for evil is ignorance and ego-generated attachments.
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  The power of Fire,
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  The power of Air,
  for the ability and wisdom to know the difference.

  And the power of Earth,
  for the strength to continue my path.

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« Reply #10: April 18, 2009, 07:26:07 pm »

this is true in shakta tantra as well. What creates the conditions for evil is ignorance and ego-generated attachments.

::nods:: The attachments, speaking in Buddhist terms, arise from the ignorance. If one is no longer ignorant, attachments are not as likely to arise. (I won't say they don't, because they certainly can; but knowing is half the battle, as it's said. And, once they do, it's more likely one will *realize* what they are, and then hopefully take steps to sever those attachments.)
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« Reply #11: April 18, 2009, 08:10:25 pm »


Here's something to ponder on the subject:

http://www.diggercomic.com/?p=314
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« Reply #12: April 19, 2009, 12:17:20 am »

Here's something to ponder on the subject:

http://www.diggercomic.com/?p=314

yep. There is always the illusion of reason, and the reality of no reason Smiley
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Goddess grant me:
  The power of Water,
  to accept with ease & grace what I cannot change.

  The power of Fire,
  for the energy & courage to change the things I can.

  The power of Air,
  for the ability and wisdom to know the difference.

  And the power of Earth,
  for the strength to continue my path.

http://rosejayadal.blogspot.com/
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« Reply #13: April 19, 2009, 02:33:36 am »

Here's something to ponder on the subject:

http://www.diggercomic.com/?p=314

Just going to say, awesome comic. I now read the entirely thing in.. a lot of hours. *rubs eye* A lot of interesting, personal revelations for me in it too.


</off topic>
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« Reply #14: April 20, 2009, 08:29:39 pm »

Evil is considering only the ends and not the means.  It is justification beyond all sense.  It is allowing a hopeful future to overshadow the wrongs that must be done to obtain that.

It is also the belief of one's own value as so far above everyone else's that what happens to them is irrelevant compared to what happens to you.  It is putting one's own wants above other's needs.

Both of those would have to be included in a broad view of what constitues evil.  Particulary in my minds eye view is the considering the ends not the means.
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