RE: Evil ? (was: Hypostases (was: Natural Order & Belief)

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Fri, 15 Dec 2006 09:56:23 +1100

> From:
> To:
> Subject: Re: Evil ? (was: Hypostases (was: Natural Order & Belief)
> Date: Thu, 14 Dec 2006 05:52:59 -0800
> Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
> > Peter,
> >
> > We can discuss any subject rationally if we agree on axioms, but the problem is that
> > in matters of value, those axioms are ultimately arbitrary.
> So you say. I don't agree.
We could have a discussion as follows:
-Killing people because they can't provide for themselves is wrong.
-No it's not, it's efficient, and efficiency is good.
-But the wrong from the killing is not outweighed by the good from the efficiency gain.
-Yes it is, because there is no wrong from the killing.
-How could you say that? Would you like to be killed if you get old or sick?
-Maybe not, but I still don't think there is anything wrong with killing others.
-Isn't that inconsistent?
-Not at all. You seem to have plucked out the air this axiom that you have to do to others
as you would have others do unto you, which I don't accept. And anyway, would you give
up your objection to killing others if it would be guaranteed that you could not yourself be
similarly harmed?
-No: it would still be wrong. You could imagine yourself being harmed in their position.
-What a strange notion! I have to refrain from killing other people because I can imagine
that it would be unpleasant if I were in their position, regardless of whether it would be
possible for me to be in their position. Who is being irrational now?
-Look at the wider implications for society, then. Everyone will be worried about what happens
to them and their families.
-Not if they grow up knowing that that is the way it's going to be. People now know that they
and everyone they know will get old and sick and die, so what's the difference? In any case,
even if it makes everyone miserable, I don't care. Why should it be "bad" if most of the population
is miserable? That's another axiom you've plucked out of the air. Through most of history there have
been societies where substantial proportions of the population were slaves, or worse.
-Those were evil societies! We can see that now that we are more enlightened!
-You say they were evil, but I don't think they were evil, and the members of those societies didn't
think they were evil, not even the slaves, who simply accepted slavery the way today it is simply
accepted that some people are richer or smarter or taller than others.
-I simply disagree: causing suffering is evil.
-Causing suffering is not evil: allowing weak people to thrive is evil. Anyone with half a brain in his
head should be able to see that.
> > I believe that capital
> > punishment is wrong; not because it is not a good deterrent, or because it is irreversible
> > if a mistake is made, but just because it's bad, evil.
> You refusal to rationalise moral issues does not show that
> it is impossible for others to.
You can rationalise moral issues but eventually you reach a point such as "causing net suffering in the
world is bad" which can't be further rationalised, it just has to be accepted or rejected.
> > Other people do not agree with me.
> > I can't convince them, they can't convince me, because we disagree on an axiom.
> It is possible to have meta-arguments about axioms.
That's what we're doing.
> > If
> > someone could show me that violent crime has consistently decreased in places where
> > capital punishment has been introduced, and further demonstrated a causative link, then
> > I might have to concede that I was wrong about my facts, but I would not change my mind
> > about capital punishment being wrong, because in the *final* analysis every ethical and
> > aesthetic belief has no logical or empirical justification.
> Or because you have reasons, objective ones, that override the
> pragmatic consideration.
What could such an "objective" reason look like? And how would I justify that reason? In the
end, the chain of justification has to stop somewhere.
Stathis Papaioannou
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Received on Thu Dec 14 2006 - 17:56:40 PST

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