Friday, May 13, 2005

An Evil Person


Dialectic poses the question "What constitutes an evil person", and goes on to ask for a definition of evil.

I don't think it's a pedantic response to say that people don't necessarily submit to classification so easily. Problems of identity and dualism aside, I would say that psychologically speaking people are rarely so single-minded.

I have argued before that morality is a construct of the interaction between our various emotional capacities, our intelligence, and our interaction with society. Things like empathy, care for others, self-love etc give us the ability to feel morally motivated.

Evil then is the reverse - when we are in some morally deficient mode of existence. Our feelings of hate, disgust, fear instead form the basis of our moral motivation, and we seek to play out those instead.

Another option is to be morally deficient, like a psychopath. Such a person lacks one of the requisite emotions, like empathy, which prevents them from feeling a moral motivation in the same way as the rest of us. They may as a result defy the usual good/evil distinction.

However, I would say that such a person is definately not good, and we may classify their actions as evil, on the basis of a normative understanding, or we may choose to classify them according to *our* morality, rather than to think about their subjective moral engagement with the world.

As a starting point, I would say that most people are good most of the time, although we all experience moments of evilness. An evil person is someone whose moral engagement is dominated by negative emotions - who feels the motivation to damage society, to hurt others - the negative equivalent of all the positive features of morality which one might identify in a "shopping llist" of moral qualities.



Anonymous Paul said...

I suggest that there are no evil people, only people that commit evil acts. I also believe that people will not knowingly do evil, ie that they do what they think is right, and that they are therfore mistaken rather than evil.

But that is just my opinion.


5/24/2005 10:32:00 AM  
Blogger MelbournePhilosopher said...

I think your first point is fair, and it's good way to talk because it avoids labelling people as "evil". It takes into account that a person is more than the worst thing they have ever done.

On the second point, I find it hard to believe that, for example, murdering ones parents to get the inheritance money, can be done believing it to be "right".

Finally - it's not just your opinion. It's your opinion! :)


5/24/2005 10:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Paul said...

The person planning to murder his parents would, I suggest, believe that the large sum of money coming his way would benefit him more than it would them. Or that he needs it more than they do and the only way to get it is to kill them. Or that they had been so nasty to him that the deserve to die, etc etc. When pressed, no doubt he would justify himself. That is if he is sane.


5/24/2005 05:09:00 PM  
Blogger MelbournePhilosopher said...

Maybe. I would suggest there is an argument to be made that he is, however, deluded, and would not in other circumstances - such as with regards to other people - regard those actions as right.

That, of course, is assuming what I am trying to prove.

I agree - no doubt the killer would justify themselves. But by what principles? I will ponder this further.

5/26/2005 02:10:00 PM  
Blogger marilyn said...

Hello: your commemnts have been very helpful to me since i am trying to understant somebody's behaviour, somebody close to me and the word evil came to my mind when i was asking to myself why is she like this, why she does the things she does and then comes to my face acting like an angel. I begun to understand. Thanks, Luz

4/20/2010 05:28:00 AM  
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5/09/2014 02:45:00 AM  

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