This is Chris from the community. I’m actually an old classmate of your teacher. I’m learning TONS from reading your posts. The creativity exemplified is inspiring and puts me to shame. As the leader of a church community, I’m fascinated by questions of truth and good and evil and I’ve noticed these terms popping up in some of the posts. I’m loving the dialogue on these all issues. Thanks for allowing me to be involved!
I don’t know how much I’ll be posting or commenting in the future but I’m hoping that this post stimulates more conversation on these important matters.
The Objectivity of Evil (?)
I assume these types of issues will be addressed in the ethics portion of the class. But here are some thoughts anyways. What if objective evil does exist?
By objective evil I mean that some behaviors are wrong for all people in all places regardless of culture, upbringing, or historical moment. Actions such as torturing children, genocide or raping women are truly evil regardless of public opinion, evolutionary benefit, or personal belief. Granted, this may not be an understanding of evil that is promulgated frequently anymore but let’s think about it anyways.
After all, it may be that it is only by embracing this definition of evil that we can rationally condemn events like the Holocaust, or the genocide in Rwanda as wrong for all people in all places at all time periods. If evil is simply a social construct and lacks any ‘objectivity’ that would relativize morality.
Relativism is, of course, convenient provided you are not the victim of a harmful action.
But wouldn’t denying objective evil (or good) mire us in moral relativism? Are we willing to embrace the consequences of this ethical position – can we even do so consistently?
I have doubts.
Moral relativism (often linked with cultural relativism) advocates that morals are also relative to different cultures and time periods explicitly denying any objectivity to our moral experience by which we can call certain cultures to account for depraved acts.
This ethical viewpoint logically requires the belief that there are cultures where torturing babies for fun, forcibly circumcising women, blowing up children, or burning widows on the funeral pyre of their husbands, would be good acts IF that particular civilization decided to label it as such. Calling those types of actions evil would then be a form of cultural imperialism; imposing our cultural values on another society.
As has often been pointed out, moral relativism (or what could be called collective subjectivism) casts doubt on the legitimacy of the Nuremberg Trials and it’s attempt to assess moral culpability for various Nazi leaders who were implicated in the extermination of six million Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and others. If individual societies determine moral values, what warrant did the western super powers who won the Second World War have to impose their perspectives on the German leaders? The Germans decided to kill Jews. The Americans (and others) decided that was wrong – but to each his own. And the relativist (or constructivist) has no grounds for arguing against the above statement regardless of how personally repellant and horrifying she may find it
Maybe this is worth considering: If a person’s moral theory forces us to call something ‘right’ (even if we personally disagree with it) when it is so obviously wrong (regardless of how anyone feels about it) it is time to change our ethical system, or framework. If the premise ‘all morality is culturally relative’ requires a conclusion you know must not be true, like, ‘Napalming babies is culturally relative’, it is time to abandon the premise
In one of Liam’s well-thought out responses to a comment on his post he mentioned the issue of blasphemy no longer being consider evil, indicating moral progress. While I believe moral progress occurs (do you?), let me suggest that when it comes to issues like blasphemy the difference is a change of belief not a change in moral values. I assume people thought (and think) that blasphemy is evil because it puts people’s souls at peril. The reason many people don’t think blasphemy is evil nowadays is because they don’t believe that ideas have eternal consequences, that people have souls, or that God even exists – if they did they would think it is a great evil to blaspheme still because of the intrinsic worth of human beings; in the same way that people today still (for the most part) think telling lies that destroy a person’s life is morally reprehensible. I would suggest this is a change in cultural beliefs about certain facts and not a change in moral values per se. The distinction being made here is subtle and bound to be misunderstood. But other examples could be given of this point but I’ll leave it there (think religious sacrifices vs. sacrificing men and women in war, and/or hunting witches vs. hunting spies and traitors. Maybe I will try and clarify this another time, if necessary, but the post is already too long. Maybe some one else can explore it).
Food for thought.