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Secular Evil

 
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Masterweaver
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 25, 2010 7:12 pm    Post subject: Secular Evil Reply with quote

Let's get this out of the way:

God, Nirvana, Zeus, The Flying Spaghetti Monster, The Dolly Lama, The Bajoran Prophets, The Great Being of Fire in The Sky, Tarot, and any other faith you can think of are being ignored for this argument.

Now: What is Evil?

Go! *Sits back with popcorn*
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TFBW
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 26, 2010 7:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

(As per the parameters of your discussion, the following position statements all start from a basis of strict atheism.)

The Realist says, there is a moral reality which exists quite independently of any person or god. Even if there were a god, that god would be evil if he violated the dicta of this moral reality. Moral reality is as real and as intangible as the fabric of space-time itself.

Problems for the Realist: what sort of thing is moral reality? It is not like the laws of physics, which are inviolable, but rather a normative law which dictates how things ought to be. Why should we prefer being good over being evil in any case? North and South are real phenomena, but there is no innate reason to prefer one over the other. Why can't we simply ignore the existence of this moral reality entirely? What real bearing does it have on us? Why should we care?

The Error Theorist says that the Realist is sincerely mistaken. There is a somewhat common belief in a moral reality of this sort, but it does not in fact exist. The Realist is therefore judging actions as "good" or "evil" against an imaginary thing: a mirage; a phantasm. Strictly speaking, all the moral Realist's claims as to the goodness or evilness of things are therefore false. Statements about morality are a bit like saying that the present King of France is bald. This is not true because there is no present King of France.

Problems for the Error Theorist: this position is innately no better supported than the Realist stance. Both parties are tasked with the unenviable position of proving the existence (or not) of an intangible thing. The error theorist is perhaps a little more consistent with the spirit of atheism, which is arguably to deny the existence of all such mystic intangibles, not just the personal beings. The major problem, however, is that the error theorist must be able to take a list of all things he considers good and solemnly say to each, "this is not actually good; the goodness is merely an illusion." He must be able to do the same for all that he considers evil. In other words, he must sincerely consider his conscience to be a source of delusion.

The Non-Cognitivist takes the Error Theorist's position a little further. Not only is the Realist mistaken about the existence of moral reality, his statements about the subject are not even properly false. A statement like "X is evil" has the appearance of being a factual claim, but it's actually better understood as just an expression of disapproval for X. Thus, for example, the statement, "Hitler is evil" is neither true nor false, but rather just another way of saying, "down with Hitler!"

Problems for the Non-Cognitivist: it's hard to be sincere about this view without also embracing error theory to some degree. After all, there are lots of moral Realists out there who insist that "Hitler is evil" is a true statement of fact, not just a grunt of disapproval against Hitler. The Non-Cognitivist must consider these Realists to be in error. Perhaps the real difference between Error Theory and Non-Cognitivism is the attitude towards one's own conscience: the Error Theorist considers it to be a source of delusion; the Non-Cognitivist considers it to be a source of non-factual emotion, like an instinct. The Non-Cognitivist must not declare that anyone ought to feel a particular way about any particular subject, since that would be an appeal to a moral reality!

The Relativist, on the other hand, is quite a flexible beast. He is essentially a realist in that he believes moral statements are factual claims, classifiable as "true" or "false", but the truth value is not necessarily the same for everyone. Be careful with the distinction between the Realist and the Relativist, however: the Realist says that morality is dictated by a Single Invisible Law; the Relativist says that morality is dictated by some set of beliefs about morality held by some set of people. Perhaps Relativism would be better described as Moral Humanism, because it's generally dependent on the opinions of some set of humans. Thus, we have different kinds of Relativism: where a Realist would say, "it is evil for anyone to do X in situation Y," the Relativist might say, "no, it is purely a matter of personal judgement" (Subjectivism), or, "no, it is for society to judge" (Inter-Subjectivism). With Realism, a moral claim is either universally true, or universally false; with Relativism, what's true for you may not be true for me: opinion enters into it somewhere.

Problems for the Relativist: is morality anything more than a bunch of opinion? Why is this any more important than other people's opinions about colour, flavour, or music? Morality holds the connotation that one ought not to do certain things, but Relativism raises the question, "so what if I'm evil in someone else's opinion -- or even in my own opinion?" Relativism allows moral statements to be true or false within a given frame of reference, but it offers no substance or relevance to that classification.
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TFBW
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 04, 2010 4:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

As usual, I've leapt in and regurgitated stuff I learned in philosophy classes. Does anyone else have any thoughts on what evil is, particularly those of you with an atheist outlook?
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Caldazar
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 05, 2010 12:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well I'm not entirely Atheistic (more of an agnostic) but I don't believe in the whole "God has said so therefore it's evil" kind of argument. I believe it's really rather simple. Well not simple perhaps because it's actually quite complicated but if you break it down into it's larger parts "Evil" is yust a sum of evolution, culture, social norms AND personal beliefs. Now let me break each pat down to better explain what I mean. And I should say that I'm no expert on all the historical points and cultural aspects so if I get anything wrong please feel free to correct me.

Evolution: Killing another human of the same family/tribe/country is bad because it makes it less likely that you'll survive as a whole i.e. less people to hunt/gather food/work the soil and less people to mate with. On the subject of mating we could also bring in incest which is considered bad (everyone who's read some kind of medicine or biology and probably a whole lot of other people will know exactly why spreading the genes apart is favourable so I won't go into detail).

Culture and social norms: Most of these arise originally from an Evolutionary point but has since evolved in ways that can't be considered yust purely evolutionary which is the main reason why different countries have different sets of rules. The cultural part I'd say arise mostly from religion and historical aspects while social norms is more of a modern fine-tuning (these are of course my own definitions). We have many different cultures one of the biggest clashes at the moment being the one between the Caucasian Christians of the west and the Muslims in the east (yes both skin colour, geography and religion is important because they all contribute to us being significantly different).
One of the more significant differences is perhaps the view of women and polygamy. In the west we've probably had stronger women who can be seen throughout history making their marks (everything from big rulers like Cleopatra to Jean d'Arc who actually arose from a lower position in society). More importantly we had the big revolutions in the early 20th century when women had to take on a bigger part in society (working in the factories while the men were off fighting in the big wars) and hence demanded more rights in society. We've also historically much thanks to our religion had a few of the sacred marriage and monogamy as the standard.
On the other hand we have the Muslims who don't think Polygamy is a bad idea (however there are rules such as that you need to be able to support all your wives and that all your wives should be treated equally and so on). This sort of cultural has arisen much because men were out fighting and dying making the male/female ratio much in favour of the women. One could then ask himself the questions: "Would it be fair to only let half the women produce off-springs? And how would that favour the population as a whole?". Once again religion comes into play here with Islam giving the go ahead while Christianity strongly opposing it.

Personal beliefs: Now this can be seen on a very individual basis. there are always people who don't agree with the norms that society has set up yet they don't consider themselves evil...more likely they consider the people governing them as evil. But this can also be seen on a larger scale of influential people having a great impact on what society considers "Good and Evil". We have great rulers who dictate rules and change standards. We have revolutionary people and creators within religion like Martin Luther (the German not Mr King) and The prophet Muhammed. The emperor Constantine who decided to change the state religion of the Roman empire and subsequently the whole of Europe and who is also more or less responsible for what sections was admitted into the bible. And Of course we also have Abraham Lincoln and later Martin Luther King who heralded the change in the Americans view of slavery and the treatment of the black people.

One could also view these 3 corner stones in how firm they are. Evolutionary Evils for example are not very open for change. Murder, Theft and Incest is something we're not very likely to change our view of...sure we might give some leniency in specific cases but on the grander scale we're very unlikely to change our views. Cultural and Social norms on the other hand are slightly more susceptible to change although it usually takes a longer period of time for these changes to settle in and they sometimes have to be enforced with violence (i.e. all major shifts in religion). Personal Belief is the one most easily swayed, with some introspection I think most people will realise that their views of Good and Evil has probably changed ever so slightly over the years and as we become older those changes might be fewer and go more slowly but I think that throughout our lifetime we constantly re-evaluate our view of the world and what we consider Evil and not.

So yah that's some of my ramblings and my view of the origin of Evil and why the world looks like it does today. This of course does not take into consideration if there is anything such as "True Evil" e.g. what religion tend to dictate as the word of God but I think that is a discussion more suited for one of the other topics in here.

Edit: guess this puts me mostly in the category of Relativism
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Wyldewynn21
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 15, 2010 3:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

There are alot of ways to look at this, but i'm just going to go with my own view point. I'd have to say the whole good, evil, and morals are all from someones point of view. What may seem evil and bad to me may be good to someone else. Depends on how they were treated and taught by parents, social mediums, local community, religous beliefs, and thier peers. If they were always taught stealing was bad and evil then they might grow up thinking that. If you live in a society with laws saying what is good and what is bad then you have a basis on how to know what might be right or wrong. I know what i think is right and wrong and have my own morals. To me I think theyre pretty good ones, but someone else will probably think im wrong.
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YawningMan
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 03, 2010 1:43 am    Post subject: Very simplified view. Reply with quote

I formed an overly simple idea of what evil was back in the day when I read The Lord of the Rings.

Evil is defined by any kind of malicious will directed at humanity and/or order. In the case of fantasy, this includes any races friendly to humans.

Humans can be evil, too. By this definition, they would be considered traitorous.
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Leorobin
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PostPosted: Fri May 21, 2010 4:12 am    Post subject: Re: Secular Evil Reply with quote

I was originally just going to post this, just because it wasn't noticed or if it I was, it wasn't mentioned:
Masterweaver wrote:
The Dolly Lama

The Dolly Lama!!! = The Dalai Lama.

Just a correction of something I have seen way too frequently and it really bugs me. I apologize it this remark is felt as offensive, it isn't my intention. Now to justify my post:

I was raised under a catholic family with a mix of cultural, social and religious norms. As I grew I began investigating and eventually catholicism lost some credibility. Still under the vigilant eye of my parent I learned what was 'right' and 'wrong' until I screwed it up again by reading history books and religious books of other groups. My overall view of evil has very much stayed the same despite this, although I've come to accept things that I would have ruled as evil once. So I think what we think of evil can change as we grow and learn and/or experience new things.

I agree that evil can be seen as subjective. We can take two individuals and tell one that slapping people is a good way of greeting someone, and tell the other that shaking hands is a good way of greeting someone. If we make them meet each other, both will end up offended and believing the other one was rude or 'evil'.

My view of evil is everything that goes against what you see as good, regardless of what this is. I think evil is a personal 'label'. We can't truly 'label' others as good or evil without having a complete knowledge of their own view of good and evil.
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Caldazar
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PostPosted: Tue May 25, 2010 7:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Problems for the Relativist: is morality anything more than a bunch of opinion? Why is this any more important than other people's opinions about colour, flavour, or music? Morality holds the connotation that one ought not to do certain things, but Relativism raises the question, "so what if I'm evil in someone else's opinion -- or even in my own opinion?" Relativism allows moral statements to be true or false within a given frame of reference, but it offers no substance or relevance to that classification.


I never did address this point in my topic arguing for my mostly relativistic point of view. I guess I don't really see it as a problem because the opportunity of being evil in one time is what might cause a change for something that in a later time will be seen as good. Or perhaps something that is more common is for things to be viewed as good while doing it (different kinds of "treatments" for mentally ill people comes to mind) but that in retrospect is seen as evil.

However there are still consequences and this is where my three different views on morality come together. From an evolutionary point of view doing things that other humans considered evil (like murdering) would result in one out of several unpleasant consequences. You could for example get killed or exiled. It might also cause grave consequences for your next of kin (and in the name of evolution I'd say our offspring is what we live for).

So perhaps murdering someone yust because you feel like it isn't such a good idea, however if you believe strongly enough that a person (a dictator for example) is by himself evil and that by killing him you'll change society into something better for the coming generations then perhaps even your own death might be worth it. In years to come people might look upon you as a hero of the people. The question then becomes was the murder an act of evil or an act of good? By the laws and the current cultural and social norms in that country it was most certainly an act of evil. By the dictators personal beliefs it was definitely an act of evil while as seen from the perpetrator's point of view it was an act of good.

And what does evolution say about this? because isn't evolution what has guided the upcome of both social norms and personal beliefs? Well I would personally say that evolution has given us both tools. Both the tool to realise that by working together we'll have an easier time mating and gathering food and that in order to do so we also need to realise that certain behaviours are unfavourable in the long run. However it has also given us the tool to be individuals (a bee for example would never kill it's queen while a human might) and this is also favourable because one person alone might by word or action change the mind of an entire nation (or enough of them to force a change at least) and this is also favourable or we would get stuck doing the same things we always have.

TLDNT:

I guess my point is that the relativists view point work because actions have consequences and that actions are viewed by the laws set by the social and cultural norm as good or bad yet personal belief might change these laws and norms.
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ANTIcarrot
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PostPosted: Sun May 30, 2010 12:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

While good and bad are difficult to define, happiness and sadness refer to physical states within a brain, and are theoretically detectable directly. All aspects of morality must in some way relate to these brain states. (If an act makes people neither happy nor sad, then it has little if anything to do with morality.)

Hence I would define evil as behaviours which bring about a net increase of 'sad' brain states.
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TFBW
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PostPosted: Mon May 31, 2010 11:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

ANTIcarrot wrote:
While good and bad are difficult to define, happiness and sadness refer to physical states within a brain, and are theoretically detectable directly. All aspects of morality must in some way relate to these brain states. (If an act makes people neither happy nor sad, then it has little if anything to do with morality.)


Congratulations. You are a utilitarian. Your patron philosopher is John Stuart Mill, my favourite atheist.

To celebrate this formulation of morality, I suggest we find a sad and lonely person whom nobody would miss, and a psychopath who takes pleasure in killing people. If we permit the psychopath to kill the sad and lonely person quickly and painlessly, we will simultaneously increase the amount of pleasure in this world, and decrease the sadness. A good and noble plan, yes?
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Bezman
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PostPosted: Mon May 31, 2010 2:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

TFBW wrote:
ANTIcarrot wrote:
While good and bad are difficult to define, happiness and sadness refer to physical states within a brain, and are theoretically detectable directly. All aspects of morality must in some way relate to these brain states. (If an act makes people neither happy nor sad, then it has little if anything to do with morality.)


Congratulations. You are a utilitarian. Your patron philosopher is John Stuart Mill, my favourite atheist.

To celebrate this formulation of morality, I suggest we find a sad and lonely person whom nobody would miss, and a psychopath who takes pleasure in killing people. If we permit the psychopath to kill the sad and lonely person quickly and painlessly, we will simultaneously increase the amount of pleasure in this world, and decrease the sadness. A good and noble plan, yes?

Ah, nice one, but easily dismissed!
(First a minor and pretty useless nitpick: that act would rather decrease the amount of displeasure in the world, or increase the amount of net pleasure, being measured as "total pleasure minus total displeasure". But I and everyone else understood perfectly well what you meant.)

What you write is either a simplification or a misunderstanding.
First of all, there are known cases where people that are sad and/or lonely (and missed by no one etc) have changed their status to happy and non-lonely, which do not include death. Wink
Killing this person would deny him or her that possible change. I would like to call that "potential happiness" for now until I see where my reasoning is going.

Now if you could isolate this killing from the rest of the world (don't know how, maybe putting the psychopath in cryogenic sleep until he/she is needed again? Very Happy For starters, dunno what to do with all other staff necessary for such an act... ), and merely inform the rest of the people in the world that:
"Action has just been taken that resulted in a net increase of the total world happiness".

If the general plan/trick was that no one would EVER know that such killings ever happened, then it could possibly work precisely as you suggest, yes. But in real life, it does not work that way. People would get to know that this act happened, and the message it would tell people would be something like:
"if I ever get sad and lonely, I will be killed by a psychopath, denied of any chance to get happy ever again"
IMO, I would say that such knowledge would in fact decrease the overall (and net total) amount of happiness.

Also, this act would decrease the "total potential overall maximum happiness rating" by -1.0.

Loose semi-rhetorical ponderings: Following your suggestion, wouldn't any person that reaches this state be killed in that way, until there is no one left?
Where is the border between "happy" and "sad" people? We have no means of measuring it today even, have we?


So, back to the original scenario. What if we offered the sad person "treatment" (I am not specifiying technically how, and that is not necessary for this argument, let's just call it "remedy" for now) and the person refused the treatment, would that change the outcome? Still no, since a person in that state of mind could possibly make a bad decision.

What if we then FORCED remedy onto the person, and THEN asked if he or she still wanted to be killed "for the good of the happy world"?
And the person answered "Yes"? Hm. Very unlikely scenario, since the need to kill the person (as if there ever was a need! Laughing ) would be gone... unless you classify the person as "potential to become sad and lonely again", and thus offering a pre-emptive killing?! Question Rolling Eyes
Omigosh...
No, the "remedy" itself MUST be seen as the right way to increase or keep:
a) the total level of world (net) happiness
b) the total potential maximum level of world happiness

So. I have come to the end of my current trail and need new bearings. What type of *-ian am I? Very Happy
Where is my reasoning loose/imperfect?
The answers may help me develop the above reasoning further.
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Caldazar
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 01, 2010 11:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

oh Stuart Mill now there's a name I recognise...he keeps popping up along with Kant in every seminarium on ethic I've had. And in the end the basic Utilitarian view is flawed in the way that net-happiness is impossible to correctly calculate. It still holds some good thoughts though especially when put within boundaries of specific rules (like not killing people for starters).

Oh and speaking about killing people a better example than the psychopath thingy would be to kill the same overly-depressing-loved-by-noone person and harvest his organs that could potentially save the lives of several well-to-do people with big families and lots of friend giving a huge net-gain in happiness.

Anyway back to my point the utilitarian view is as I said in some view a very reasonable philosophy and one that is partially incorporated in modern medical ethics (two of the basic principles within medicine is "You shall do as much good as possible" and "you shall do as little harm as possible"). It works well when viewed on a person by person basis and even within closed systems (for example some areas of medicine and research receive greater funding because they are more likely to save people's lives). Yet there is another view within medicine (at least in Sweden) that partially clash with Stuart Mill's philosophy and that is the part about all humans being equal and deserving of the same treatment. This is the tricky part especially since the hospitals have limited resources (both staff-vice and money-vice) and this is where you have to try and balance the utilitarian view against the equal rights view, Should we put our resources on expensive treatments that saves a few lives or should we put our resources on cheap treatments that improves the quality of life of a big amount of people.

I guess what I'm trying to highlight here within the utilitarian view and conflicting theories is the difficulty of measuring the total net-good since there are so many aspects of it and since even when the result is clear it might conflict with some of our basic desires (like in medicine the desire to save all lives).
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TFBW
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 01, 2010 4:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi, Bezman. I'm not sure I can give you a point-by-point analysis today, but here are some things to consider.

First up, my suggestion shouldn't be understood as a systematic programme for increasing global happiness: it was just an opportunistic "good deed", like an anonymous donation. You're right that having a serial killer on the loose is likely to make people tense and miserable, so it's not a thing that could be practised openly or extensively. On the other hand, perhaps we should allow the local friendly psychopath the opportunity to offer his services as an executioner for people who want to commit suicide. This kind of idea has appeared in science fiction from time to time as "suicide booths": you check in, but you don't check out. I'm just improving that by allowing someone to take pleasure in the death, if that sort of thing happens to float their boat.

It's actually a pretty normal human reaction to be disturbed by all this desire to kill or die. It's repugnant, and seems innately wrong. You could try to defend a utilitarian view of morality by saying that the mere fact that other people will be distressed by the process makes it wrong. We need to start qualifying and quantifying the property that we're trying to maximise, I suppose. As Caldazar has pointed out, we are ill-equipped to do this, and as you have pointed out, we have different things that we could be trying to maximise, such as future potential or current actual happiness.

Personally, I think utilitarianism puts the cart before the horse. I agree that perfect morality produces maximum happiness -- it's why heaven must be a perfectly moral place -- but just saying that you want to maximise happiness doesn't provide you with an actual method for bringing about this aim. Utilitarianism expresses a goal that sounds simple and obvious, but nobody can agree on the details of how to go about it. A true morality provides the means whereby the goal of happiness can be attained.
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lacavin
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 02, 2010 8:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

TFBW wrote:
You're right that having a serial killer on the loose is likely to make people tense and miserable, so it's not a thing that could be practised openly or extensively. On the other hand, perhaps we should allow the local friendly psychopath the opportunity to offer his services as an executioner for people who want to commit suicide.


You may be interested to know that this actually exist in my country. In Switzerland, suicide is legal, and assistance to suicide is also legal, within very well defined bounds.

Because letting killers on the loose is a bad idea (he may kill people who do not want to), for instance, the person helping must have no personal interest in doing it. The person helping can bring to the person that want to die a poison, serve a glas and even provide a room with amenities as desired.

But because you need to be sure, absolutely sure, that the person wants to die, it is obligatory that the final gesture is accomplished by the person that wants to die. That means you are not allowed to help the person drink, he/she needs to take the glass himself from the table to the mouth. This is debated because it means paralysed people cannot be helped to die.

More info on Exit for example.

By the way, for my opinion on the topic, see the older thread.
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PsychotiChicken
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 29, 2010 3:37 am    Post subject: Re: Very simplified view. Reply with quote

YawningMan wrote:
I formed an overly simple idea of what evil was back in the day when I read The Lord of the Rings.

Evil is defined by any kind of malicious will directed at humanity and/or order. In the case of fantasy, this includes any races friendly to humans.

Humans can be evil, too. By this definition, they would be considered traitorous.


Using the term "order" in association with "good" is extremely dangerous. Thinking this way can enable you to commit genocide, torture, and a wide variety of oppressive actions. At best maintaining order can only be as good as the persons (or beings) currently in power. I would argue that people at the top of chain of command structures are often just as "forced" as those at the bottom. Authoritarian structures will naturally drift toward evil unless there is a substantial effort to resist.

There are times when the situation calls for standing up and doing something disorderly. People (beings?) who are burdened with authority and/or responsibility should know that their actions may be questioned that way they can decide for themselves what "good" means and can act accordingly.

I also feel a need to defend Tolkein. In The Hobbit the dwarves, elves, and humans were about to massacre each other. If the goblins had been delayed a few hours the outcome would have been a catastrophic disaster for all of the characters in the story. Bilbo Baggins not only questions authority but defies it and takes direct action. He robs the dwarf king and delivers the goods to "the enemy". The trilogy is loaded with examples. The witch king of angmar is grounded by the woman ordered to stay home. Denethor makes a mockery of authority and order.
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