On the nature of evil

Is it worse to do something wrong for personal gain (or some other selfish motive), or because you believe it to be right?

And I’m not talking about people trying to help and ending up making things worse cause they didn’t think it through properly, I mean something like (best example I can think of at the moment) the holocaust. Would something like that be worse if done for personal gain, or because it was believed to be right?

The question applies to ‘smaller’ things too; is it worse to shoot someone so you can steal their wallet or becuase you believe they deserved to die?

Actually, I’d say that it’s all even. I don’t think there is a scale of evil. It’s all bad, so to speak.

[sub]Pssst. Cumber, shut up. We agreed not to talk about this. I swear they’ll never find out about that cow.[/sub]

You have an interesting question. It intrigues me.

I am inclined to the response that it is the result of the action, not the reason or rationale that is to be judged when one considers evil. And in the short run, I suppose, which side won. If Hitler would have won, would the Holocaust have been deemed evil? One hopes so, but I wonder. Look at the dropping of the second atomic bomb. Look at the fire bombing of Dresden. Clearly deemed acceptable. Would they have been if the allies would have lost?

But I think we can agree that those who do evil knowing it to be evil are worse than your two alternatives. I am thinking about serial rapists and killers; those people who get a thrill from doing an evil act or a series of evil acts for the mere evilness of it.

And where does seemingly unthinking actions of the moment fall on this evil scale especially when they are carried out to a horrible extreme? I am thinking about the Mai Lai incident during the war in Vietnam. Here we had slaughter and rape not because the American soldiers believed in it, not for profit, and not for enjoyment. Yet the victims were just as dead as those in the death camps.

But this stance is just as fallacious as saying that (in a situation where you substitute “good” for “evil”) the ends justify the means.

Or just as true.

Merely because this observation is unpleasant, even horrible when one considers the possibilities, it doesn’t necessarily make it fallacious.

And I did suppose (in a rather hopeful voice), this was valid only when considered in the short run.

I would like to think our moral code does not necessarily exist merely because the Spanish Inquisition was more powerful than the Moors or Jews, or that the white man had better weapons than the Indians or that the Roman bureaucracy was extremely efficient and subjugating conquered populations.

I would like to agree with Plato as to an ideal “good”.

…and as we look back in the long term, possibly we can see the good versus evil in something of an objective vein. At least I would hope so.