- Ethical principles (i.e. concepts of good and evil) vary wildly among
cultures and ages, just like language.
- I think that human conscience is like language: we are born with the ability
to learn a language, but which language we actually speak depends on where
and when we are born. The human brain is "pre-wired" to speak a language and
to evolve a conscience, but society determines which language and which
conscience the child will adopt.
- Ethics (embedded in religious or secular laws) is the social definition of
conscience. I believe it is ethics that shapes our conscience when we are
- Each society's ethics has, in turn, been shaped by people. As adults we can
contribute to change the ethical laws.
- Morality changes over time because what is good for the community changes with changing environmental, economic, scientific and political factors. Morality varies among regions because what is good for the community varies from region to region.
- Behavior that hurts the community is deemed "evil". Evil is not felt
instinctively: it is learned from the community.
- Basically, the community acts as an organism that trains its members to
care for the organism via its members' faculty of conscience.
- Evil provokes fear or contempt for the person committing it.
In turn, the person who commits it feels shame or guilt.
This is evil with a conscience, and the community is capable of self-repairing
via those feelings of shame and guilt.
- If the person feels neither shame nor guilt, then the evil deed is even more
evil: it's a kind of evil that needs to be fought by the community with all
available means. It's evil without a conscience. It's evil that cannot be repaired.
- Society teaches us when to feel ashamed and guilty.
We are brainwashed into accepting a code of shame and guilt the same
way we are brainwashed to speak a particular language instead of any other.
Conscience exists from birth but is neutral: they way it gets activated is,
instead, a social construct.
The same process applies to young adults, who are "trained" in schools.
They end up accepting and, later, propagating the values that society has
Once a society decides that something is evil it is relatively easy to
brainwash the future generation to accept it as a dogma.
Mature adults are told by the government itself what is good and what is bad.
- A vast mechanism of punishment and reward
and of teaching virtues by example
creates the conscience of the
individuals. Each layer of authority molds the conscience of the lower level,
starting with the parents teaching their children what is good and what is evil,
and ending with the judicial system sentencing criminals to prison or death.
- The relationship between "good" and "natural" (the original state of humans)
is twisted at best. Sometimes
we encourage "natural" behavior (for example, exercise and eat vegetables),
and sometimes we condemn it (for example, settling an argument with violence
or having sex with a teenager).
- Civilization is the very definition of "unnatural".
Many ethical laws created by civilization go against (human) nature.
The more "advanced" a society is, the less "natural" it is; but almost all societies want to "advance".
It seems a natural instinct that humans want to become unnatural.
- If our behavior is determined by our genes, and our genes constitute our
"nature", then no behavior can be unnatural: we behave the way Nature programmed
us to behave. From a genetic viewpoint, "unnatural" is an oxymoron.
Nothing in nature is unnatural, by definition.
- If nothing can, ultimately, be termed "unnatural", then evil (if it exists)
is natural too.
- Our ethics is not "natural" ethics. We are not always sure that what
Nature does is good (for example, survival of the fittest and natural
catastrophes), even if the long-term advantages for life on the planet are
Everything in nature is natural, neither good nor evil: it's just the way Nature works. Good and evil are only relative to human society. We cannot call "evil"
a lion that kills a gazelle.
- It is not obvious to children that stealing is "bad" because stealing is natural. Animals don't pay for what they take.
- Several languages use the same word for "conscience" (moral feelings) and "consciousness" (everything of which we are aware).
Those languages assume that conscience and consciousness are one, that any
conscious being is also a moral being; i.e., that conscience only applies to
- If an alien race appeared that is not human at all, but is sentient, we
would probably apply to them our (human) concepts of good and evil.
- Do humans have a "natural" conscience before it is conditioned by a society's ethics? Of what would i feel guilty in the wild? Are there pan-cultural moral principles?
- Our conscience is affected by our ability to identify with others.
Humans can identify with the psychological state of others, even with
imaginary characters of novels and films. Therefore we can feel their pain.
If we are attached to the person who feels the pain, we have an instinctive
reaction to the event or person that caused the pain.
- Empathy constitutes the basis of universal conscience.
- The concept of what is good and what is evil changes over time within each
society. For example, sexual habits that were considered evil just a few decades
ago are now widely tolerated if not praised in Western society, and spreading
to other societies as well. These are not political revolutions but no less
important than the political ones. These revolutions change the way society
defines and punishes crime, and change the way parents raise children.
- During these revolutions some evil becomes good.
- Therefore some evil can be good, and there is no way of knowing it before
the transformation is complete.
- Evil (the violation of ethical laws) can come from both madness and
rationality. Western law considers madness an extenuating circumstance, i.e.
it is much more afraid of rational evil. The more rational evil is the more evil it is deemed to be; the more irrational the less evil.
- The closer one looks at the context the more diluted evil becomes. Evil acts are not the deed of one man but the product of a civilization.
- According to some, individual happiness is the ultimate good; but it seems
that happiness always comes at the expense of other people's unhappiness.
You cannot be happy unless someone else is unhappy. Society defines the
ultimate good as "happiness" of society as a whole.
- Society values sacrifice and generosity because they are more than good.
- Maybe the ultimate evil is to deny that evil exists and pretend that there
are always reasons for what happened, no matter how horrific.