Dark Lilly Archive - Good and Evil 2

  2017-12-12


READERS’ PROJECT

 

A definition of good and evil

 

ESSAY NUMBER TWO

 

[Editor’s note: the numbering does not imply any grading and is solely for the purpose of identifying each article on this subject.]

 

 

Good and evil are moral concepts. Morality is the doctrine of man’s moral duties. The study of moral philosophy is the study of ethics. Good and evil are also theological concepts. Theology is the study of religion and the body of doctrines concerning God, including God’s attributes and relations with humanity.

 

Strictly speaking, morality is conformity to conventional rules, or apart from, inspiration and guidance by religion, or other spiritual influences. Custom and conventional rules may be partly or fully determined or originally shaped by theological considerations. But, when theological considerations are forgotten and custom continues by virtue of social inertia, custom is no longer the province of theology, but of morality in its own right. Morality enforced by state sanction is known as “the law”.

 

Custom determines what the conventional rules of morality are. Customs arise for a number of anthropological, sociological, theological, political and other reasons, and customs change and vary within the groups that constitute any given society. Because customs, and hence morality (what is considered to be moral behaviour) changes and varies, one cannot rationally posit an “absolute morality” in purely moral, i.e. ethical, i.e. human terms.

 

An absolute morality must, by virtue of it being absolute, descend from an absolute in order to be valid. Humans are many things, but one thing they are not is absolute. That is, they are not free from restriction or relation. They are not unlimited, independent or unconditional. If an “absolute morality” is based upon a thing that is anything less than absolute, then it is a lie.

 

Many religions, especially the revealed religions (Christianity, Islam, etc), recognise this and claim the rules, theology and practice they follow proceed directly from God, and so are unquestionable. It is from religion that the first ideas of absolute morality, and hence absolute good and absolute evil, proceed.

 

The existence and non-existence of an external, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, absolute being (who may or may not take a personal interest in humanity), who is generally known as God, has been the subject of some debate over the years, and it is not proposed to resolve the matter here.

 

What is certain is that, if a God does exist, then the possibility of an absolute definition of good and evil exists. It is also possible that such a definition would have nothing to do with humanity in anything but the most abstract and impersonal terms, and that would be rather depressing, in the way that it was rather depressing to discover that the Earth isn’t the centre of the Universe.

 

In any event, the definition would itself have to be derived from what is known to be absolutely true about God. Since opinion varies as to the existence, let alone attributes of God, the resulting definition would at the very least be rather suspect.

 

Abandoning the quest for an absolute definition of good and evil, one might, of necessity, look for other premises that relate to the fundamentals of the human condition or fundamentals of dynamics or any fundamental at all. Some of these will be useful, others not.

 

One might, for instance, base a moral system on the premise that the continuation of the human race is the ultimate good and the extinction of the human race is the ultimate evil. Being human, this has a certain charm.

 

One might attempt to relate humanity to the cosmos by basing an ethical and/or magical/religious system upon the premise that the first force in the cosmos was by definition the prime good and that the first restriction on the prime force was the prime evil, albeit that a restriction of force is necessary to enable work.

 

In each of the two cases above, the premise one assumes is determined by what one wishes to achieve. Good and evil cease to be abstract concepts and become means of action that are consistent with the objective which is itself predetermined by the premise structure.

 

By taking this road, one finds that the nature of the question has changed and that this will be our salvation! Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.

 

The original question was “define good and evil”. This implies that “good” and “evil” are things in themselves that exist, in some sense, independently, when even this cursory examination of the matter has tended to indicate that “good” and “evil”, in order to be meaningful in any real sense, must be assigned values rather than examined for values. “define +x and –x”. The question is meaningless unless other conditions are appended to it or other assumptions are made.

 

There is no good but the good you define for yourself. There is no evil but that which prevents you from achieving what you conceive to be the good. There’s more to it than that, of course, but isn’t there always? And that’s when the fun starts.

 

 

From the Dark Lily Journal No 7, Society of Dark Lily (London 1988).