This is a long time discussion about evil and rationality and it has caused a lot of fights in the philosophical world. Mostly there is a notion in the ‘let’s be logical’ camp that if we are purely a society engaged in reason that we would always do good. The Nazis for instance were entirely rational in their systematic slaughter of the Jews if you take what they believed to be true as true. Rationality is truly a tool that can be used for good or evil depending on belief.
So the real issue then becomes where comes this belief or beliefs that are the foundation of what we are rational about? I mean the idea of good and evil then becomes something that transcends rationality and is something completely different from reasonable or unreasonable. Is such good or evil inherent in each person or is it something we learn which would explain why one person might think murder is always evil and others feel it might be justified in certain circumstances? There are after all people who follow a situational ethics and others who believe in absolute ethics. Where does this come from?
It is a good question to ponder. I can think so several instances when as a boy growing up I did things and later someone told me it was wrong to do them. I felt no sense of violating my conscience when I first did those things but after I was told those things were wrong, my feelings were different. I also had other times when I was about to do something but suddenly backed down because I felt it was wrong. I have no idea where this came from, nor do I remember what would prompt me to think some things were wrong to do. So is evil and good something we have instinctively or is it taught?
As I look at how I view human being, I find us a contradictory lot. I don’t see us as evil, good or even neutral. There seems to always be a tug of war between many forces as we make our decisions. I think we might all be born with a conscience, but a conscience can become seared so it no longer feels right and wrong, but also it can be pricked so it is more sensitive to right and wrong. The issue then is does one’s conscience start out leaning toward good or evil or is it neutral or something different. Is good and evil even the issue or perhaps something closer to home like can we view someone else as a human being or an object. All of us do both but we edge toward one or the other as our personalities develop. People can learn to see people as people but they also can be taught to see people as objects. Once again the issue clouds over as to whether we are born good or evil or it is something we are taught.
Perhaps this is the great puzzle of life that we wrestle with from the time we are born until the time we die. The one thing that is for sure is that rationality can be used to justify both. Evil and Good are definitely concepts that have something more to them than emotion, rationality or simply being what they are. I don’t know if we ever will find the answer, but it makes for a good discussion. Whatever good might be. 😉