Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

How do you define evil and malevolence?

Rate this topic


Black Wolf
 Share

Recommended Posts

  • 3 weeks later...

I'd define evil as a hostile disposition towards the values needed to sustain man's life and a voluntary rejection of reality for the sake of wish-fulfillment.

The altruist is at least passively evil since he rejects his own valuing faculty for the demands and whims of others, which leads to a profound loss of self-esteem and moral conviction. He may not be actively on the hunt for victims, but he experiences no outrage when confronted with deliberate evil; his default response is to rationalize, appease and accomodate. Worse, he'll be driven to discourage and demonize the efforts of those combating evil (or even promoting any sort of life-affirming value) since he believes such efforts are judgmental and needlessly antagonistic; privately, he has internalized the moral-practical dichotomy and associates evil with power.

Edited by Mister A
Link to comment
Share on other sites

To most people, saying that an action is "evil" means that it must involve at least some conscious disregard towards the welfare of others. Murder is considered evil, but taking harmful drugs is merely irresponsible. Because there is no conscious intent to harm another person, that act is not normally considered evil. However, when Rand discusses evil, she puts forth a different conception of evil, and it is under this understanding of the term that altruism is "evil" (and taking harmful drugs would be as well). In the Objectivist ethics, she states, "Since reason is man’s basic means of survival, that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; that which negates, opposes or destroys it is the evil." Thus, evil includes any action taken which is not wholly consistent with one's life as a rational being.

I think this definition of evil leads to frequent misinterpretation of what Rand was saying, because it diverges significantly from what is commonly understood by "evil." Rand's conception of evil focuses on a disparity between what is actually required for man's life and what one does. It focuses on a physical relationship between what one does and what is good for oneself. However, we know that knowledge is not automatic; there is no guarantee that the person doing evil recognizes this bad relationship. Thus, Rand's definition of evil does not necessitate any conscious recognition of "evildoing." If I give money to someone in a way which further encourages their dependence on charity, I am doing evil under Rand's definition, because my actions do not accord with a proper rational value structure. I personally find this to be very divergent from the normal conception of the term "evil." Most people would not call this evil. However, it is this conception of the term that allows Rand to call altruism evil, because it is a code that flouts the requirements of a flourishing human life. When Rand calls altruism evil, she is not saying that the practice of altruism involves a conscious intent to do bad, or that all altruists are aware of doing harm to themselves and others. She is merely saying that the code of altruism leads one to take actions that are not appropriate to one's own pursuit of happiness.

Now, she does very often motivate her altruistic characters with consciously evil motives. James Taggart wants Galt dead more than he wants himself to live, and Toohey reveals himself as consciously evil in his speech. However, this is not a necessity of altruism. Because knowledge is not automatic, there is no guarantee that everyone who advocates altruism is aware that it contradicts the requirements of man's life. In fact, most people are unaware of this. Practicing altruism does not require conscious evil. However, because it sets people's interests against one another, it very often breeds a malevolent attitude towards others. The prolonged practice of altruism can lead to a consciously evil mindset, but most people at least initially advocate altruism out of a feeling of goodwill towards others. People simply do not understand that altruism is ultimately incompatible with benevolence or good will.

Malevolence is a term which, even in Objectivism, retains its connotation of conscious disregard for the welfare of others. I would thus say that the Objectivist definitions of malevolence and evil are very different from each other, but malevolence is actually closer in meaning to what most people commonly understand by "evil."

In summation, altruism is inherently evil, in the Objectivist understanding of the term, but it does not require conscious malevolence on the part of the altruist, although it does tend to lead to that if practiced consistently enough.

Edited by Dante
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Is evil the same thing as malevolence?

I would say it is, as long as you agree with my definitions of course. As I understand malevolence, it is the biased judgement of any thing or things, or the entire Universe, based on the "Malevolent Universe Premise".

..What is "Evil"?

"The standard of value of the Objectivist ethics—the standard by which one judges what is good or evil—is man’s life, or: that which is required for man’s survival qua man.

Since reason is man’s basic means of survival, that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; that which negates, opposes or destroys it is the evil."

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/evil.html

Edited by Jake_Ellison
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 4 weeks later...
I'd define evil as a hostile disposition towards the values needed to sustain man's life and a voluntary rejection of reality for the sake of wish-fulfillment.

The altruist is at least passively evil since he rejects his own valuing faculty for the demands and whims of others, which leads to a profound loss of self-esteem and moral conviction. He may not be actively on the hunt for victims, but he experiences no outrage when confronted with deliberate evil; his default response is to rationalize, appease and accomodate. Worse, he'll be driven to discourage and demonize the efforts of those combating evil (or even promoting any sort of life-affirming value) since he believes such efforts are judgmental and needlessly antagonistic; privately, he has internalized the moral-practical dichotomy and associates evil with power.

This is excellent.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Evil" is anything which prevents to obtain values. However values themselves defined by standard of value. Since different people hold as a standard of value different things (like God, others, society, state, tribe, class, future generations, mother-earth etc...), their definitions of evil differ. That provides the ground for moral relativism and multiculturism. The only remedy for it is to define objective standard of value which Ayn Rand successfully did.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

I'm trying to convert some libertarians on another forum to Objectivism, or at least, rational egoism. As I suspected, a lot of them were religious libertarians.

"Isn't it something great to give up something of yours, even your very life, willingly, for the benefit of another who doesn't have what you have?" Why?

Because we are supposed to live as we would want others to live toward us along with living as we want to live. If I was starving I would want someone, anyone, to give me food if I couldn't earn it rightfully myself.

This sounds yet again like another decision that is made as a conclusion of rational self-interest.

If there were ever a time in which I were destitute, I would want there to be charities and organizations there to help me. So while I am making money, I send my money to charity and make charity possible.

" Shouldn't he do something even if the evils aren't his fault?" Why?

Would you have fought Nazi Germany in World War Two if you knew there were concentration camps. It comes down to the fact that if evil exists in human society, even if we never experience it, it is still there waiting to pounce on someone.

From movie theaters to radio at home, the moment many people heard that Pearl Harbor was attacked, they dropped whatever they were doing and walked right into a recruitment office. They did so because, upon rational evaluation, they decided they would rather maintain their individual rights based company than be dominated by a Shintoist and be forced learn Japanese. The latter, of course, entails that they will have to fight wars anyway. So the choice became: Fight for America, or eventually Fight for Japan once they dominate us.

I think you are assuming that making life the moral standard is inconsistent with taking action against "evil". But the military is not the issue here, obviously. First off, I think you and I have different definitions of "Evil". I consider evil to be an intention to take the incorrect action, or the incorrect action being taken. You're defining evil as poverty, and the homeless person is the victim of poverty, if I am interpreting correctly. Poverty itself is not evil. He may have been poor because of a result of some evil, but his poverty is not inherently evil. Never mind that, though, it seems the point you're trying to make is that we should take action against evil: not because it's in your best interest to prevent evil, but because you believe we have a duty to help others. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Why do we have such a duty? Who imposes that duty on us?

An act of philanthropy is not immoral, but why is the act of philanthropy the moral standard, and not pursuit of your own life? Why is Bill Gates honored for his philanthropy, but not for acheiving the ability to do so? The benefits that came from his philanthropy are a drop in the bucket in comparison to what he has acheived just by pursuing his own long-term happiness. Seattle has Bill Gates to thank for it's Metropolis.

Why can't both be a moral standard? Why can't we help others and help ourselves? Why can't we love ourselves and mankind?

Do you value mankind? Then to make Life and Mankind the moral standard is redundant. Pursuing your own values is a sub-category of pursuing your own happiness

----

So, How did I do? I had a little trouble with the "treat others like you want to be treated" stuff.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...

I'd define evil as a hostile disposition towards the values needed to sustain man's life and a voluntary rejection of reality for the sake of wish-fulfillment.

The altruist is at least passively evil since he rejects his own valuing faculty for the demands and whims of others, which leads to a profound loss of self-esteem and moral conviction. He may not be actively on the hunt for victims, but he experiences no outrage when confronted with deliberate evil; his default response is to rationalize, appease and accomodate. Worse, he'll be driven to discourage and demonize the efforts of those combating evil (or even promoting any sort of life-affirming value) since he believes such efforts are judgmental and needlessly antagonistic; privately, he has internalized the moral-practical dichotomy and associates evil with power.

That is an excellent definition.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...

A primary characteristic of an evil person is that he hates existence, almost as much as he hates himself. He seeks to obtain the benefits of the good, whilst simultaneously trying to destroy it.

Although an evil person is powerless without the good, he can certainly make life a living nightmare for him, due to the relentless drive to destroy for the sake of destroying, which is really just a cry for someone to end their existence.

You don't have to look very far to recognize it. It is all around us. I only wish that it didn't have to be this way; I'd be a lot more productive and happy if I didn't have to waste time fighting it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think the connection between evil and malevolence is complex. Malevolence means ill-will. It means wanting someone or something to be damaged or destroyed. Malevolence is a psychological phenomenon, an attitude and motive. However, malevolence towards something that is evil can't itself be evil.

On the other hand, if one develops a malevolent attitude towards life itself, he becomes evil. Evil aims to defeat the essence of good, the possibility of good. That is why Kant, who sacrificed reason to religion, may be called evil. Toohey was evil, because he attacked whomever and whatever proved man's life is feasible. He wanted life to be tragic, so he could offer solace. That made people dependent on him, made him "powerful."

On the everyday scale, people who cheat and steal are criminal, immmoral, and despicable, but they may not be evil. Their aim is to acquire goods. They evade facts, and twist priorities. They violate fundamental rights, but they aren't trying to eliminate those rights. A teacher, on the other hand, who, told by a student that there's an error in the book, says, "Shut up," is evil. Her attack is on the mind itself, and thus man's viability.

The significance of this is that while I would define evil as malevolence on a philosophically large scale, mundane actions are not ruled out as being evil.

Mindy

Edited by Mindy
Link to comment
Share on other sites

An act is an act. A phenomenon. It has no ends. You can just describe what happened and, sometimes,the consequences. Based on the short or long-term consequences, you may tell whether a particular act lead to an enhancement or to a decline in life qua man.

People, on the other hand, have ends.

A volitional being has ends, or is not volitional.

Any judgment of a man's morality has to consider his ends.

A morality deprived of its ends is a Kantian morality. Isn't it?

"Be moral because you owe to be moral" instead of "Be moral because you value life qua man".

There was a time when the connection of smoking and lung cancer or COPD was unkown or in dispute.

At that time, smoking (the act itself) was evil, but smokers could not be accused of being evil. They did not intended to follow a path leading to destruction of their lives qua man.

Man end's are sometimes clearly identified through the observation of a single act. But sometimes they are not. Sometimes we have to resort to the consideration of previous acts, a systematic way to act. We resort to the known behaviour of the man: to his character.

In the case of altruism, for example, I know friends who practice rational self-interest 90% of their time, but support taxes and perform now and then acts that are not mere charity but involve certain degree of self-sacrifice. Their character is obviously in a different category than that of Mother Teresa, which was maybe one of the most perfect model of evil). My friend's support to taxes and those infrequent, small acts of self-sacrifice are still evil. But those friends of mine have not an evil character.

Edited by Hotu Matua
Link to comment
Share on other sites

An act is an act. A phenomenon. It has no ends. You can just describe what happened and, sometimes,the consequences. Based on the short or long-term consequences, you may tell whether a particular act lead to an enhancement or to a decline in life qua man.

People, on the other hand, have ends.

A volitional being has ends, or is not volitional.

Any judgment of a man's morality has to consider his ends.

Yes, we are considering deliberate acts.

My friend's support to taxes and those infrequent, small acts of self-sacrifice are still evil. But those friends of mine have not an evil character.

We would say they have mixed premises.

The issue of character that you rely on here is interesting. Your friends' altruistic acts are, perhaps, reckless. Would you say therefore that their character is reckless? Perhaps this should be a new thread.

Mindy

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I would say that acts that are reclkess enough, commited with enough frequency during enough time are evidence of a reckless character.

Let me use the analogy of a soccer team.

The "standard of value" of a soccer team is to score more goals than those received, so that matches and tournments can be won.

To score goals the team has to do certain things. To defend properly and accept few goals, the team has to do certain things.

According to their standard of value, all actions that lead the team to score goals, or to keep the enemy from scoring goals, are good. All actions that do the opposite are evil.

Is the Spain national team a good team? Yes, it is. Inthe last World Cup it scored more goals, received less goals, won more matches and finally won the Cup.

However, they lost their first match (against Switzerland, I believe). Sometimes they made mistakes. Sometimes they failed in scoring goals or failed to defend well. All these were "evil" actions, according to the standard of value of a soccer team. However, the overall assessment of the team is very positive. The "character" of the Spanish national team is the character of a champion.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

On the everyday scale, people who cheat and steal are criminal, immmoral, and despicable, but they may not be evil. Their aim is to acquire goods. They evade facts, and twist priorities. They violate fundamental rights, but they aren't trying to eliminate those rights. A teacher, on the other hand, who, told by a student that there's an error in the book, says, "Shut up," is evil. Her attack is on the mind itself, and thus man's viability.

Apropos this.... in 6th grade an extra credit math problem was given.... a pencil and an eraser together cost $1.10, and the eraser cost a dollar more than the pencil. What were the prices?

Most of the class got it wrong (1.00 and 0.10). After a lot of acrimony from the students, the teacher took a vote on it, and wrote the wrong answer into his copy of the book (the master copy which had the answers). I wonder if he continued to give that wrong answer in subsequent years.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Apropos this.... in 6th grade an extra credit math problem was given.... a pencil and an eraser together cost $1.10, and the eraser cost a dollar more than the pencil. What were the prices?

Most of the class got it wrong (1.00 and 0.10). After a lot of acrimony from the students, the teacher took a vote on it, and wrote the wrong answer into his copy of the book (the master copy which had the answers). I wonder if he continued to give that wrong answer in subsequent years.

Exactly! Can a mind survive that?

Mindy

Link to comment
Share on other sites

He seeks to obtain the benefits of the good, whilst simultaneously trying to destroy it.

I think wish-fulfillment is an integral part of an evil mindset; the drive to satisfy a desire without asserting your own existence. This is deeper than simple laziness since often the evil person would paradoxically invest more energy (and risk more danger) snatching at crumbs that don't belong to him than working honestly to earn an entire loaf.

IMO, this could be traced back to a failure at forming a healthy self-concept; the evil person conceives his 'self' as a chaotic force of nature like a hurricane or mudslide. Integrity and value formation become impossible in this toxic mode and the mechanism of evasion is automatized to sustain it; keeping the evil person in a semi-conscious daze lest he endure a Jim Taggart-style meltdown.

Edited by Mister A
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I would actually define evil (as opposed to immorality) as inflicting undeserved harm on others. Hurting yourself isn't evil, it's just stupid, but it's your right to do so if you decide that you want to or you're just too lazy to think about it. It can't be evil to do something that you have a RIGHT to do--evil is WRONG, not right. It would be evil, however, to attempt to escape the consequences of your immoral behavior because the only way to do this is to inflict undeserved harm on other people.

I agree that malevolence is an attitude. A malevolent person is one who hates values and the good--someone who hates the good for being the good and WANTS to see harm come to other people. It has nothing to do with malevolent universe premise--some people who hold this premise are very benevolent in their actions but they think that they are ultimately doomed (a sucker) and perform benevolent actions from duty instead of understanding the connection between benevolence and their own life. I see examples of this attitude everywhere, from self-proclaimed "nice guys" who insist that "nice guys" always finish last and so forth, yet they persist in being a doormat despite the fact that it brings them only grief.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I would actually define evil (as opposed to immorality) as inflicting undeserved harm on others. Hurting yourself isn't evil, it's just stupid, but it's your right to do so if you decide that you want to or you're just too lazy to think about it.

You're thinking through the prism of altruistic premises here; in altruism, you can be the most miserable, self-destructive rotter of a human being imaginable but as long as you limit the destructiveness to your own person, you're entitled to a moral blank check.

It has nothing to do with malevolent universe premise

I totally disagree. A malevolent person believes in a malevolent universe just as firmly as your "benevolent" altruist except he identifies far more with the malevolence rather than its deterministic victims.

The men who accept that dichotomy but choose its other side, the ultimate products of altruism’s dehumanizing influence, are those psychopaths who do not challenge altruism’s basic premise, but proclaim their rebellion against self-sacrifice by announcing that they are totally indifferent to anything living and would not lift a finger to help a man or a dog left mangled by a hit-and-run driver (who is usually one of their own kind).

“The Ethics of Emergencies,”

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

I would say that acts that are reclkess enough, commited with enough frequency during enough time are evidence of a reckless character.

Let me use the analogy of a soccer team.

The "standard of value" of a soccer team is to score more goals than those received, so that matches and tournments can be won.

To score goals the team has to do certain things. To defend properly and accept few goals, the team has to do certain things.

According to their standard of value, all actions that lead the team to score goals, or to keep the enemy from scoring goals, are good. All actions that do the opposite are evil.

Is the Spain national team a good team? Yes, it is. Inthe last World Cup it scored more goals, received less goals, won more matches and finally won the Cup.

However, they lost their first match (against Switzerland, I believe). Sometimes they made mistakes. Sometimes they failed in scoring goals or failed to defend well. All these were "evil" actions, according to the standard of value of a soccer team. However, the overall assessment of the team is very positive. The "character" of the Spanish national team is the character of a champion.

Are you're saying that the definition of evil depends of what you hold as your standard of value, and thus not objective?

Then what if you hold the wrong standard, or a standard of value that is evil, is its opposite evil (the good) in that case?

I've come to rightly accept that evil is solely that which is destructive to human values. Man's life (qua man) is the standard of value that a rational person needs to hold, if he wants to live.

PS: I'm not trying to be a smart ass, even though I may come across as one.

All the best.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...