Monday, March 29, 2010

"Good" vs. Evil

A few days ago or so it dawned on me that I don't know a proper antonym to the word "evil." Sure, one may immediately respond that "good" or "moral" would be fitting, but I don't think they're appropriate given how intense the word "evil" sounds, and by intense I mean the degree of badness this particular word connotes.

For example, take the word "bad." When we say "bad" we have a certain degree of meaning attached to it. In the moral context, when we visualize its referents we see children standing by broken vases, dogs having wet on the floor, taking candy from a baby, and so on. "Evil," however, makes us visualize murderers, rapists, dictators, and the like. "Bad" and "evil" are both similar to each other in that they both present the same end of the moral spectrum, but they differ in their intensity in that we speak about much much worse things when we speak of "evil" than we do "bad."

As such, I believe that "good" and "moral," while they do denote the opposite end of the moral spectrum, don't go far enough in that opposite direction to match the intensity of "evil." When I visualize its referents I see children having done their homework, adults being responsible for their own well-being, a layman developing his intellect through study, and so on, but nothing that could counter villainy.

I have received two good responses in regards to this conundrum already, but I'm not entirely convinced. Ms. Zawistowski recommends "normal" and Mr. Fleming recommends "righteous." "Normal," while I agree it is technically correct to call such a person that when he is acting completely and consistently moral, seems to have too much of a morally neutral connotation. "Righteous," on the other hand, seems to be the proper word, but may perhaps be more appropriate in comparative situations against those in the wrong, as opposed to signifying a man's moral status independent of the moral statuses of those around him.

I ask my readers then: What would be a good antonym?

1 comment:

  1. The proper antonym to "evil" is the word "good". It's the lack of concern with ideas and the attempt to bypass the entire field of morality in today's culture that has degenerated the term "good" to mean something it doesn't. The culture has reached such a non-philosophical non-conceptual stage where the dominant moral trend is not even altruism (which most merely pay lip service to), but rather a rejection of morality as such. Avoiding immediate physical pain is a more accurate description of what most Americans are living for.

    [On a side note, Americans at large do experience some joy and do want to live for more than the avoidance of pain, but simply do not have the freedom and philosophical tools necessary to live for their own rational values.]

    America is at an ugly cultural transition point where people are attempting to live without ideas. There is presently an intellectual and moral vacuum.

    So, if one takes the avoidance of immediate physical pain as one's purpose in life (as an approximation of a moral code), good simply means any action that does not involve inflicting direct physical violence on oneself or another (or derivatives such as directly destroying or stealing property, such as smashing a vase or stealing someone's purse).

    A proper view of morality is that fundamental questions are either-or. So if one accepts rational egoism, then any actions not guided by or supporting one's long-range productiveness (within one's hierarchy of values) are evil. So it's not only evil to murder, but also to live "range of the moment" or to live for others. Passivity and conformity are evil.

    To be good is to pursue long range productive work as one's central value, to be rationally selfish over the course of one's life. An isolated action by a person, out of context, does not indicate the person's moral code. One must be morally judged by the extent to which they use their mind over the course of their life. "Good" requires a constant commitment to reason, productive achievement, and one's own happiness.


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