Re: Evil ?

From: Brent Meeker <>
Date: Wed, 13 Dec 2006 11:51:51 -0800

1Z wrote:
> Brent Meeker wrote:
>> 1Z wrote:
>>> Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
>>>> Bruno Marchal writes:
>>>>> Le 12-déc.-06, à 11:16, Stathis Papaioannou a écrit :
>>>>>> Bruno Marchal writes (quoting Tom Caylor):
>>>>>>>> In my view, your motivation is not large enough. I am also motivated
>>>>>>>> by a problem: the problem of evil. I don't think the real problem of
>>>>>>>> evil is solved or even really addressed with comp. This is because
>>>>>>>> comp cannot define evil correctly. I will try to explain this more.
>>>>>>> I agree that the problem of evil (and thus the equivalent problem of
>>>>>>> Good) is interesting. Of course it is not well addressed by the two
>>>>>>> current theories of everything: Loop gravity and String theory. With
>>>>>>> that respect the comp hyp can at least shed some light on it, and of
>>>>>>> course those "light" are of the platonic-plotinus type where the
>>>>>>> notion
>>>>>>> of goodness necessitates the notion of truth to begin with. I say more
>>>>>>> below.
>>>>>> Surely you have to aknowledge that there is a fundamental difference
>>>>>> between matters of fact and matters of value.
>>>>> Yes. Sure. And although I think that science is a value by itself, I am
>>>>> not sure any scientific proposition can be used in judging those value.
>>>>> But then, I also believe that this last sentence can be proved in comp
>>>>> theories.
>>>>>> Science can tell us how to
>>>>>> make a nuclear bomb and the effects a nuclear explosion will have on
>>>>>> people
>>>>>> and the environment, but whether it is "good" or "bad" to use such a
>>>>>> weapon
>>>>>> is not an empirical question at all.
>>>>> Hmmm..... This is not entirely true. We can test pain killer on people,
>>>>> and we can see in scientific publication statements like "the drugs X
>>>>> seem to provide help to patient suffering from disease Y".
>>>>> Then it can be said that dropping a nuclear bomb on a city is bad for
>>>>> such or such reason, and that it can be "good" in preventing bigger use
>>>>> of nuclear weapon, etc. Again, we don't have too define good and bad
>>>>> for reasoning about it once we agree on some primitive proposition
>>>>> (that being rich and healthy is better than being poor and sick for
>>>>> example).
>>>> OK, but the point is that the basic definition of "bad" is arbitrary.
>>> That isn't "just true"
>>>> It might seem
>>>> that there would be some consensus, for example that torturing innocent people
>>>> is an example of "bad", but it is possible to assert without fear of logical or
>>>> empirical contradiction that torturing innocent people is good.
>>> People don't want to be tortured. Isn't that empirical proof?
>>>> There are people
>>>> in the world who do in fact think there is nothing wrong with torture and although
>>>> they are not very nice peopel, they are not as a result of having such a belief deluded.
>>> I think they are. Can you prove they are not?
>>>>> Recall that even the (although very familiar) notion of natural numbers
>>>>> or integers cannot be defined unambiguously in science. Science asks us
>>>>> only to be clear on primitive principles so that we can share some
>>>>> reasoning on those undefinable entities.
>>>> But there is a big difference between Pythagoras saying 17 is prime and Pythagoras
>>>> saying that eating beans is bad. You can't say that "prime" and "bad" are equivalent
>>>> in that they both need to be axiomatically defined.
>>> Badness can be axiomatically defined (treating people as means rather
>>> than ends,
>>> acting on a maxim you would not wish to be universal law, not
>>> doing as you would be done by, causaing unnecessary suffering).
>> But such a definition doesn't make it so.
>> I think discussions of good and evil go astray because they implicitly assume there is some objective good and evil. In fact all values are personal, only individuals experience suffering and joy.
> Only individuals can add numbers up, that doesn't make maths
> subjective.
That depends on how you mean "subjective". Math is objective in the sense that everybody agrees on it. But it's subjective in the sense that it depends on minds (subjects). Good and evil are not even objective in the sense of universal agreement, except possibly in the self-referential form such as, "My suffering is bad." So I think concepts of good and evil need to be built on the more fundamental personal vales.
>> Rules such as Kant's (which by the way says you shouldn't treat people *only* as ends) are attempts to derive social, ethical rules that provide for the realization of individual values.
> Kant's is explicitly more than that.
Sure. I was just correcting the common misquote.
>> But individuals differ and so ethical rules always have exceptions in practice.
> All that means is that you can't have rules along the lines
> of "don't tie anyone up and spank them" since some people
> enjoy it. It doesn't stop you having more abstract rules. Like
> Kant's.
But the problem is justifying the rules. For example there is a rule here that it is wrong to drive your car more than 70mph. It's a rule balancing risk of accident against time spent traveling. Yet more than 80% of the people break this rule. Their personal balance of risk and time is different.
>> Everybody can agree that *their* suffering is bad; but that doesn't show that making other people suffer is bad
>> - it is necessary for society to be able to punish people.
> "X is bad" doesn't mean you shouldn't do it under any
> circumstances.
But then what does it mean?
Brent Meeker
So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable Creature, since it
enables one to find or make a Reason for every thing one has a
mind to do.
      --- Benjamin Franklin, Autobiographical Writings 1791
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Received on Wed Dec 13 2006 - 14:52:23 PST

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