Long before I have questioned these:
- How do we define good or evil?
- What is it that it takes for the public/somebody to do something good, or something evil?
- In primitive society, there wasn’t any morals or ethics exist, so where does good come from? And where does evil?
In the time of searching, I have come across different views on this.
These concepts though do not completely answer the questions, but they give some sort of insights of how good has been good and how evil has been evil.
From philosophy perspective, how we define a man’s action/doing right/good or wrong/evil can go three separate paths, as in above: Consequentialism, Deontology and Virtue Ethics.
Consequentialism believes that every action, every event’s nature should be ultimately judged solely by consequences, which means if the consequence can produce good results, then the action is just/right/good, vice versa.
Deontology is more or less the antonym of consequentialism: Deontology believes that whether it’s good or evil should be based on our existing ethics, norms or rules. The classic example of deontology is that, for example: A woman in an unaware state is raped by you, and later the woman forgives you and is thus satisfied with your action or being happy for pregnancy. Consequentialism would believe that this should be defined good since at the end, the woman is fine by the sexual intercourse. But for deontology, the existing ethics restricts someone to have sexual intercourse with another if it’s not consensual.
Virtue Ethics is another angle of viewing action’s nature, it believes that what a man does something good is because virtue compelling. He did what he did is because it’s a virtue. For example: John proactively babysat neighbor Marry’s child while she was sick. This is Virtue Ethics and it’s good because virtue of helping others is good and charitable.
It’s actually still quite complicated to simply stating the three approaches of good or evil, let’s follow this by a more descriptive example:
Suppose it is obvious that someone in need should be helped. A utilitarian will point to the fact that the consequences of doing so will maximize well-being, a deontologist to the fact that, in doing so the agent will be acting in accordance with a moral rule such as “Do unto others as you would be done by” and a virtue ethicist to the fact that helping the person would be charitable or benevolent.
Here, utilitarian the concept appears. An utilitarian is someone who believes in utilitarianism, a theory that focuses much more on something that can produce tangible, practical results. It’s the forebear of consequentialism. And a lot of people today, including me, are utilitarians – we all believe to execute things more efficiently and practically, to search methods and means to tackle a problem, directly. Of course utilitarianism is not just this much, it’s a vague and partial definition of utilitarianism.
Maximize well-being, this involves something else, other than these three concepts. To maximize well-being is Eudamonia – Plato’s “Fulfillment”. To say that whether or not we are doing good should be judged by whether we have produced a maximized good for our action. What is this maximized good? Definition-wise, a maximized good means maximize everyone’s happiness, or well-being, or simply provides them with the best of the best. If the involved people can be supplemented the most or the best, that means maximizing well-being is achieved. The “maximize well-being”‘s goal is to reach the most, which means it can go infinite close to the most’s well-being. Let’s say, if some situation happened, if you wanna reach “maximize well-being”, then you can produce a good result where it affects 60% of the whole, if 60% is the highest you can go, then we say you reached “maximize well-being”. If the possible highest rate is 90%, then these “maximize well-being” people will strive for the 90%, whatever it takes, to reach 90%, even though it proves difficult to get.
For me, to understand whether an action is good or evil shouldn’t have installed this mindset first, the “maximize well-being” mindset. This mindset is for the people who want the best out of best, I don’t want that and most certainly a lot of others don’t want that either. So this is actually false to say that to define whether it’s good or evil should simply judged by the “maximized well-being”. And it’s also wrong to say that maximized well-being if it’s under 50%, right? If the highest can be reached is 20%, what do you do? Is it still “maximized well-being”? Since it’s not “the most” of the whole now. If you say something is most, shouldn’t it go higher than 50%? Or in a general sense, higher than 70% is “the most” of all.
But either way, consequentialism is judged by the consequence is either good or bad. It can go “maximize well-being”, or it doesn’t.
Deontology focuses more on duties, rules that have been set by laws, our society’s norms, things like that. Rape a women is not good because the law forbids it, and you should enlist in military because it’s your duty to conscript for the country. And as the quote says “Do unto others as you would be done by”. If somebody is in need, you should help them otherwise you will not have help while you are at the same situation.
Virtue ethics focuses on virtues. So as for now, deontology and virtue ethics are quite similar for me. Because they all base on the existing ethics of the society, we society has existing rules, existing norms to follow. If you follow these, whether it’s for duty or for virtues should be all considered following existing ethics, following existing rules. Virtue ethics magnifies the effects of virtues, it inspires the most out of people, saying, if someone helped another, it’s benevolent and charitable. If you kept a promise, it means honest. At least, I have no idea should honesty, benevolence be either good or bad, because if you put these in thousands years ago, would people consider someone steals others properties dishonesty? Or not helping someone in need cruelty? Not benevolence?
These are the questions after all the concepts, I don’t think you can solely judge something by so called existing ethics, because that, comes from somewhere.
And you will find out that different cultures have different existing ethics, they believe those nuanced things differently. For example, Japanese think(or maybe thought, since nowadays Japanese are whitewashed pretty heavily, they have adapted western values.) Seppuku(belly-cut suicide) is loyalty to their superiors, but who would think that in any of the western countries? So in Japan’s case, seppuku would be deemed good, not evil, but otherwise would think that is insane, that’s wrong.
And there are holes, or least irrelevance to my questions in these three concepts.
What is it that it takes for the public/somebody to do something good, or something evil?
The three concepts all, take an aftermath route to define whether it’s good or evil, but my question is from or before the beginning of the action. I want to define the action’s nature by before it’s happening:
So what does it take for someone to do something good, or evil? What’s it in for him? And what’s it bad for him?
And for the last and foremost last question of how does it develop over time to time?
In primitive society, there wasn’t any morals or ethics exist, so where does good come from? And where does evil?
Try to imagine this, if in our primitive world, we started to believe stealing is good because it gathers more resources for us. Would the modern society not ban theft? That’s the question.
And ethics, or specific norms are developed over time. You will have this experience especially when everyone are put into a same environment, schools freshman year, the freshmen of a company, etc. Some norms would form slowly over time, but how do they develop? That is the question.
If you have different opinions on this, please comment below as we can discuss this!