Appendix I to Epistemological Ethics: Commentary on "Evil -- The Social View"
Brian Matthew Kessler
1 December 1997
1) Is man free in the sense that he has some power to choose or is his every action caused? For example, if all events in the world, including a persons actions, are rigidly determined by forces beyond his control, then what is the point of someone making future plans in an attempt to guide the course of human events? And what of moral responsibility? If a person could not have acted differently, how is it possible to hold him responsible for the action.
The problem with defining man's freedom is largely a problem of defining the Self. If the Self is completely determined by previous causes, then my choices must be equally completely determined. If some component of the Self is subject to random changes, does this Self share a common identity with the previous Self? If some component of the Self is immutable, we may call that portion of the Self immune from cause and effect, but if its influence on the rest of the Self (and the decision making process) is governed by set laws, than it seems man's choices must still be equally determined as if this immutable portion simply were not there. On the other hand, if decisions can be arrived at somehow randomly, can the Self actually take credit for those decisions? It seems to me that all these later scenarios become moot points: Any attempts to isolate a portion of the Self or its decision making process immune from cause and effect turns out fruitless and if we were to isolate such a theoretical portion, it would be beyond knowing that this immunity ultimately exists.
Even if we assume the possibility of a true random act, it seems questionable that this could either increase or decrease culpability for this action. For, on the one hand, we may increase the responsibility of the Self because it has not the excuse of previous causes. On the other hand, we may decrease the responsibility because the rational part of the Self has lost control of its Self determination . In either scenario, the action committed still must be judged and reacted to in terms of the pleasure and/or pain it may cause.
Regardless of whether we believe in predetermination, we can not prevent our Selves from thinking or making decisions(1) and ultimately these decisions (even if predetermined; even if only in some minute or imperceivable way) will somehow guide the course of human events. The point of this or any activity may be logically reduced to nothing at all if we can assign the same value to life and/or existence; such may be ultimately unknowable. However, with or without a point, planning or failure to plan is unavoidable. Whether those decisions were predetermined before we began our thought process (or even possessed the thought to process) is a moot point -- we still perceive the process and we may perceive our Self influencing it, even if our Self has been determined by previous forces. And we will still perceive the feedback of our actions or our failure to act.
Even if we could prevent ourselves from planning, one might better ask, what is the point of assuming everything is predetermined and our plans will come to naught? On the one hand, if this is true, then the energy wasted in planning shall cause no harm. On the other, if this false, then the plans not made are but forfeitures where anything once to be gained has now been lost. Thus, one may only gain by planning and one may only lose by failing to.
As to the question of whether it is possible to hold him responsible for his predetermined actions, the answer seems to be an obvious "Yes". However, perhaps the question should be asked whether it is fair to hold him responsible and whether fairness should give way to necessity. If it is the nature of Mr. J. that he is a psychotic killer and therefore can not avoid murder when allowed to venture among the rest of society, it seems unfair that he should be punished for fulfilling his inherent nature -- on the other hand, the rest of society has a need to protect itself and must therefore put aside the question of what is fair for what is necessary.(2)
2) Determinism is the theory that everything in the universe, including man, is entirely governed by causal laws. It asserts that whatever happens at some specific moment is the outcome of something that happened at a previous movement, that is, that the present is always "determined" by the past. The laws of causality, which govern nature also govern the actions of man... From such sciences as physics, chemistry, biology, psychology and sociology we discover that man, too, is ruled by cause and effect. If a persons desires, as well as the actions resulting from them, are rigidly determined, then he is not responsible for his actions; he is merely the plaything of forces beyond his control.
Granting the above as true, which we can not know, one must then allow equal license for either society or individuals to react as desired or needed because they too are merely playthings of forces beyond their control. These reactions may involving holding the person as if he is responsible, not because it would be fair, but because it may be necessary.
Thus, in answer to the questions: Is fair necessarily good? Is unfair necessarily evil? It seems necessary that we answer: No, they are not. In order for the individual or society to protect themselves, it seems necessary to often go beyond questions of fairness. It is therefore more appropriate to label these contingently good and contingently evil, with the actuality depending on specific cases.
3) Predestination is the doctrine that God has decreed every event that is to take place, or at least that each person's destiny is fixed by divine decree. If God is omnipotent and omniscient then things must be determined by him. This means that events in nature and human conduct, including man's will, are determined by the sovereign will of God. The view of predestination is found in Judaic, Christian and Islamic religious thought.
First, we have no way of knowing any god(s) exist(s) or that any existing god(s) have either the property of omnipotence or omniscience. But, for arguments sake, we shall grant these as true. Next, we must ask, is it necessary that God exercises these powers just because He has them? I have the power to walk to MS every day -- all the way from Union, that would be about a three hour walk and I therefore choose not to exercise this power. I have the power of knowing what is written in a letter that someone mailed to my father, but I have neither business nor interest, so I choose not to read it. Would God be incapable of refusing his abilities, even if this refusal would be negligent, irresponsible, and therefore immoral? And if God is omnipotent, could he not create Free Will? Of course, from there we can go to "If God is omnipotent, could He create a stone so heavy that He could not lift it?" If yes, why can't he lift it. If no, why can't he create it?(3) All this is too speculative, often too paradoxical, and therefore useless in regard to knowledge of Good and Evil. In any event, regardless of whether the prime mover is natural forces or God, reactions are just as necessary as actions, and therefore what can be said of Determinism is equally true if God shall have his hand in it.
4) Fatalism is the belief that some (perhaps all) events are irrevocably fixed, therefore, human efforts cannot alter them. It is the doctrine that the happenings in the world of nature and the events in people's lives are predetermined at the beginning of time, so no human will has a part in shaping the course of things. A man's lot is determined independently of his choices and actions; the future is always beyond his control.
It seems to me that Fatalism must be attached either to Scientific Determinism or Religious Predestination. Either we shall concede that natural forces have resulted in this, in which case it is the former, or we shall concede that it is a conscious (and therefore God-like) entity, in which case the later. Whichever way we choose, as stated above, we must still conclude that reactions are just as necessary as actions, and therefore what can be said of Determinism is equally true regardless of how things came to be fixed.
5) Difficulty in defining "evil"
See my previous document for a discussion of working definitions of necessarily evil and contingently evil, along with the implicitly defined actually evil.
6) Different Cultural and religious views
As our goal is knowledge of good and evil and not merely a belief system of good and evil, the below listed acts can only aid us in our quest if they can be shown as necessarily evil or necessarily good. If the case is contingent, then it is not known. It therefore becomes my role, not to prove what may be taken by some to be obvious, but rather to introduce an element of doubt. For if we can doubt it, then we can not know it and must discard it as evidence in our quest for good and evil. Only if we can not doubt it, will it then prove useful in establishing known good or evil. Therefore, for each of the below I will give argument on why each of the following are not necessarily evil; that does not mean I am saying the act is necessarily good, merely that from some viewpoints they may be seen as contingently good. One would do well, while following these arguments, to momentarily put aside any previous moral beliefs as we are attempting to establish a moral / ethical knowledge.
Although infanticide may seem cruel to our society, this belief is not universal. Consider:
"Certainly, such is the practice in numerous countries; it was the custom of the Greeks, it is the custom in China: there, the offspring of the poor are exposed, or put to death. What is the good of letting those creatures live who, no longer able to count upon their parents' aid either because they are without parents or because they are not wanted or recognized by them, henceforth are useful for nothing and simply weigh upon the State: that much surplus commodity, you see, and the market is glutted already; bastards, orphans, malformed infants should be condemned to death immediately they are pupped: the first and the second because, no longer having anyone who wishes or who is able to take care of them, they are mere dregs which one day can have nothing but an undesirable effect upon the society they contaminate; the others because they cannot be of any usefulness to it; the one and the other of these categories are to society what are excrescences to the flesh, battening upon the healthy members' sap, degrading them, enfeebling them; or, if you prefer, they are like those vegetable parasites which, attaching themselves to sound plants, cause them to deteriorate by sucking up their nutritive juices. It's a shocking outrage, these alms destined to feed scum, these most luxuriously appointed houses they have the madness to construct quite as if the human species were so rare, so precious one had to preserve it down to its last vile portion! ..."(4)
As Sade states so eloquently, other populations have doubted the evil of this act, and this doubt is not unjustified. There is room for debate as to when a person becomes human? At conception? At some arbitrary point during pregnancy? At birth? Upon receiving a name? Upon becoming symbiotic to it's care takers? Upon becoming self reliant? Putting aside that the term parasite is a loaded term, can we deny that unborn and small children are ultimately parasites, taking from their hosts and returning nothing of genuine substance. Even in it's later years as it becomes more symbiotic, it may still be more parasite than symbiot. Most of use would not question the destruction of a non-human parasite, such as a virus or bacteria in our body, a termite or a rat in our house. Is it of necessity that we tolerate a human parasite because of a perceived likeness to our Self? Particularly when we may be ill prepared or ill equipped to endure its wants and needs. In view of pending human overpopulation, destruction seems a logical and sensible solution for the greater good of both those who may otherwise have to care and provide for the parasite at their own expensive (thereby suffering an increase of personal stress and a loss of means for meeting their own needs) and for the rest of the population who would inevitably have to compete for work, food, shelter, and other goods (though the lose of one child may hardly effect any individual in that capacity, the total of all children who may be lost may be significant in reducing competition for the survivors).
and sexual slavery
Slavery, in America, has become a loaded term. It should be noted that for a man to use another as a slave does not necessitate that a slave be forcefully stolen from his home and then brutally abused and neglected. Consider slavery (as traditionally practiced) in much of Eastern Asia. A couple may sell their own child into slavery in order to secure needed finances for themselves. The child would then be assured of a roof, food, and a relatively secure life. Freedom would have been an alien idea to the slave who would neither pine for it, nor know what to do with it. The slave would then feel insulted and abused if his/her master wanted to be rid of him/her. The family would also be placed in an awkward position in having to resume possession and responsibility for the former slave.
Slavery only seems immoral if we accept that people are inherently equal. If we do not accept that proposition, there seems no reasonable argument against it. For why should we not domesticate a lesser human as we might domesticate a plant or animal in order to serve our needs?
Sex, though to a lesser degree, under the influence of Puritanism, has also become a loaded term. While it may be viewed as filthy and degrading to some, to others it is as close as the average man may get to having a mystical experience (a Jewish perspective); or it may be taken as a necessary ingredient in a healthy person's life (an Asian perspective). In some parts of Asia (such as Thai Land), as much as ten percent of the population is involved in the sex industry -- this is not viewed as a degradation, but rather an exchange of two vital necessities: sex for money.
Once we have accepted slavery and sexuality, then why should we not accept sexual slavery? If we may breed domesticated plants and animals, then so too should it be with domesticated slaves. And if domesticated slaves may be bred with each other by their master's will, then why not with their master or his friends upon his will? And if the slaves may be subjected to sexual intercourse for the purposes of breeding, then why not for mere pleasure? Thus, by not accepting humans as equal, nor by excepting sexuality as wrong, there seems nothing wrong with sexual slavery.
As members of a country with a powerful military, we may easily scorn the less conventional methods used by the less powerful in order to achieve military aims. However, assume that you are a member of a population that perceives itself to be oppressed. Your people are allowed no significant formal army. Diplomacy has failed to answer your needs -- perhaps those needs can not be answered peacefully because of the competing and incompatible needs of your oppressors. Shall you merely suffer your oppression, even as you watch it kill your friends and family? Shall you organize a suicide mission for a direct confrontation against your oppressor's army? Either of these would be unacceptable. You have but one realistic alternative: Strike the oppressor's civilian population with the hope, however vague, that this will create an unbearable pressure and therefore the oppressor shall attempt to come to terms with your oppressed people. You may be aware that innocents will suffer, but innocents are already suffering and you must choose your friends, your family, and your people over the friends, family, and people of your oppressors.
c) Female genital mutilation
Perhaps a disgusting act from our Western perspective, but consider the perspective of a people where even the women consider themselves inferior to the men and believe the act should be done to themselves. First, we should question who we are that we might think to interfere with the willfully accepted practices of another society? Secondly, we may perceive that the operation does some good for the community. Female genital mutilation effectively prevents the female from seeking sexual pleasure. This serves the community in several ways. Most obviously, the woman shall not seek their sexual pleasure from any man other than their husband since they shall not be able to find any more pleasure from one man then the next. This has several benefits: it will help to prevent the spread of venereal disease and will help insure the legitimacy of children. It will also prevent rivalry between females for the company of either their husbands or other men. All this may increase the general health and help to keep the community stable. Also, during sexual unions, the female will be working to serve her husbands pleasure and neither shall have the distraction for concern over her own since she will be incapable of knowing any. In this, the husband may become happier with his wife because she produces more pleasure for him; therefore, he may treat her better in other ways.
Once we have accepted sexual slavery as a permanent condition as being less than necessarily evil, can we call it necessarily evil when the slavery is but a temporary condition? And is rape necessarily other than a temporary sexual slavery?
But beyond this: is not rape dictated by nature? The urge to have sexual congress is one of our most primary and strongest urges; arguably most other urges may even be a displacement of this primary urge. It is only under social constraints (and that of only some societies) that we consider whether the congress is either acceptable or pleasurable to our partner -- in some societies, it has been the very conquest that actually makes the marriage. In many societies it has been perfectly acceptable to commit rape amongst enjoying the spoils of war. Some woman have even been known to enjoy being raped and fall in love with their attackers (this happens most in societies where woman feel repressed against their own natural sexual instincts and they therefore feel incapable of giving the very consent some might call necessary in order for the act to be allowable).
/ God created me to be a slave
If slavery is not necessarily evil, then it is of no consequence if God exists and God created you for that particular purpose. Of course, one may question whether a moral god could do such and remain a moral god. If we accept Krishna, for example, through our many incarnations we must experience all things, including both being slave and being master. The karma of having been one will make necessary the inevitable balance of becoming the other. While this may be fair, it is easy to question the morality of the godhead Krishna, as Krishna would not have us all follow the path of Goodness through every incarnation, but rather teaches there are different paths in life and we must each follow our own, even when it divers from the path of Goodness. Of course, this very tolerance can equally be used as an argument on behalf of Krishna's morality.
The most notable properties of this case is Dahmer's acts of murder and cannibalizing his victims. It seems to me, that if we accept the inequality of people, then if Mr. K. perceives his life would be better by killing Mr. L., then it may not be necessarily evil that Mr. K. commits this murder. In fact, murder is not a universal evil: Beyond issues of war, some societies have actually existed were a young boy must commit so many murders before he will be considered a man. If we accept the idea of karma, then a man who commits murder in one life time must be a victim in another and therefore Mr. K. may be a karmic agent. If we accept death as final, Mr. L. does not suffer from his death. If we accept the idea of an immortal soul, then either (A) a just God shall send Mr. L to either just reward or just punishment for his life -- therefore Mr. K. has either done Mr. L a favor or he has done one for the rest of the world, (B) an just God shall treat them not as they deserve to be treated (in which case, who is in a position to judge Mr. K.?), or © Mr. L. shall reincarnated in some other form and is therefore essentially unharmed. In fact, all this depends on Mr. L. actually existing, which from Mr. K.'s perspective may seem as less than necessarily true.
If we accept murder, now that the person is dead, does it not make sense that his material being may be consumed either for pleasure or for nutritional value? Is it not more criminal that we should attempt to rob nature of its ingredients for creating life than that we should use these ingredients to perpetuate life? And if they may be used to perpetuate the life of a worm or a plant which may ultimately perpetuate the life of a human, then why should it not directly go towards feeding and perpetuating the life of a human?
f) Homeless children in Rio
Those who have the power shall take what is necessary for their own existence to be enjoyable. There is nothing inherently wrong that these people should enjoy their life; on the other hand, it seems wrong that they should suffer the alternative: to be miserable. It is not necessarily their own fault that they have been encultured to a higher standard of living or ambition and they would necessarily suffer if they were to be without this status that they have grown used to. As the earth has limited resources, this means those who are less powerful may have to make do with less resources or perhaps even without. If it is not necessarily wrong to commit infanticide, then perhaps it is wrong that they must suffer homelessness rather than enjoy the peace of the dead. On the other hand, perhaps there is goodness that they were spared from that final deprivation of life and they should be grateful for it; if it is the only life they have ever known then they may not even feel so deprived for their lack of a roof. It may even provide them with a more simple, therefore less stressful life, than that enjoyed by others.
1. Even to decide not to choose, if and when possible, is still a choice. Return
2. According to the Islamic religion, everything is God's will. This includes both any evil act and the punishment of God's instrument for performing the act. Here we see that punishment is not only considered possible, but mandatory. Depending on the crime, punishment may not actually be necessary except to fulfill God's mandates. This seems decidedly unfair and can be used as evidence towards proving the immorality of God. Return
3. The proposed answer "He can't lift it because he does not choose to" is senseless. To say "He can not lift it" infers "He, whether he wants to or not, is incapable of lifting it". For example, if someone asks me to lift a mountain, regardless of whether I should choose to, I would be incapable of performing the feat. Return
4. Sade, Marquis de, Three Complete Novels: Justine -..., pp. 470-471. Return