: I thought I'd pose a question to you all, good old
: friends, proud Asylumites, and newcomers withal. What
: do you think of the nature of good and evil, in this
: world, in fantasies like Myth or even LotR, and might
: there be a difference between fiction and reality?
: What, exactly, is evil? Do you take the Sophistic view
: where evil and other such judgement is the fallacy of
: a society's relative understanding of another, or the
: Platonic view where there is a concrete, true reality,
: with enlightenment at its height in the ultimate Form
: of Good? Is it necessary to have evil exist in order
: to have good exist? Where might evil manifest itself
: today in this world, if at all? How is a good person,
: a bad person, or even an evil person defined?
: These are all questions that I've been thinking about,
: and I realized I'd love to hear all the wonderfully
: constructed and varied opinions as always tend to come
: from this group of pleasant individuals. I have my own
: thoughts, but I look foreward to hearing what you all
: have to say before I post my conclusions.
Ooh, it's been a while since we had this discussion. I'm sure all the old-timers have heard the various parts of my view on this a thousand times over, but I like to talk about them so here goes again.
I've worked out a couple of different ways of defining "good" and "evil" over the years. The simplest definition I could give is that balance is good, and extremes are evil. Applied to almost any axis one could think of, this seems to hold true. The classic case of the individual versus the collective - which should come first? Some would say obviously the good of the whole outweighs the good of the individual, but then others would say obviously the rights of the individuals must be protected at all cost. The compromise, which I believe most reasonable people would consider more sensible than either of these common knee-jerk reactions, is that the good of all the individuals collectively is of the utmost importance - that individual rights cannot heedlessly be infringed upon by the whole, but neither can the whole be sacrificed to serve one individual.
A slightly less obvious axis is that of creation and destruction. Most people would say, "Well obviously destruction is evil!" But consider: what if we never destroyed anything, and just kept creating? Take the example of cities... urban growth, cities getting bigger and bigger, buildings growing ever taller... is that neccesarily a god thing? And consider, what do we have to do to make room for these cities? We have to destroy what was in their place. Creation and destruction are intimately connected and one cannot usually be done without the other. It's just a question of what you're creating and what you're destroying, and doing enough of both in the right ways, that makes the difference.
Now, the other one that I'm sure D&Ders are going to chime in on here is the axis of chaos and order. Most people, again would go "clearly order is better than chaos!". But lets take this to extremes. Which is more orderly - a wild overgrown forest, or a clean-swept perfectly square parking lot? The parking lot is clearly more orderly, and though the forest certainly contains many interconnected orders within it, it is overall quite chaotic. But now, would you like your entire planet to be parking lot? Of course not. But would you like it to be all overgrown forest either? The "best" solution, the most good, is the balanced one - wilderness and development, mingled appropriately.
Take this last example even further and you find quite an interesting thing - what's the most clean, orderly structure possible? Keep arraying things in simpler and simpler forms, clearing space, removing irregularities, until all is nice, smooth... empty space. Now what's the most chaotic thing you can think of? Take the basic physics principle of entropy, which dictates that closed systems tend toward chaos, and follow it to it's end, what do you get? Again... empty space. Absolute chaos and absolute order are exactly the same.
This seems to apply elsewhere, as well. Since creation requires destruction and vice versa, absolute creation and absolute destruction would be exactly the same thing - some sort of changing of the entire universe, everything in it being destroyed and all new stuff taking it's place. Same thing with the individual and the collective - absolute individuality would be for there to be one and only one being. Absolute collectivity would be for everything to be... well, one being.
So the pattern here seems clear that any given "axis" of attributes is not in fact an axis, but rather a circle, with the two opposed qualities at two "poles", and the good (balanced) and bad (extreme) medians of those qualities on the two "poles" 90 offset from them. (I actually had an idea for the shape of the rest of the Mythworld based off this concept).
Now, if you've read this far already, there is another approach I have taken to the idea of good and evil, which I may be able to reconcile with the above as I type this, but don't count on it. The above deals more with states of beings, rather than of actions. This definition is based upon actions, as more of a... moral code of conduct, if you will.
The basic premise is that there exist beings, mostly humans in our experience but I'm trying to be general here, that have the quality we call "will". Will is the ability to see things not only as they are and act reflexively upon those circumstances, but to model in the mind another state of being, and desire for the current state to change to that state. "Good," in this definition is that which most accurately satisfies the largest number of wills.
Keep in mind that this definition is relativistic: what if the bacteria in the cheese that I ate with dinner tonight somehow have sentience and wills of their own, and desired not to be eaten? Does that make me evil? Of course not - I had no idea (and still have no idea) that there were thousands if not millions of sentient beings that didn't want to be eatin in my food. But from THEIR perspective, I am a horrible evil monster dead-set on slaughtering their entire civilization.
Obviously, if my cheese-bacteria are willfull and desire not to be eaten, then from a "higher" or more "enlightened" perspective - one which is more knowledgable about the wills of the universe, and knows that my cheese-bacteria are alive and don't want to be eaten - my action was evil. However, such a being should not consider ME evil for eating them, because I had no knowledge of their existance. I was merely short-sighted, unenlightened.
So a person's goodness or evilness depends not on their actions but rather on their intentions. This does not affect the goodness or evilness of the actions themselves, from an "absolute", omniscient point of view, however. If God knows that I accidentally killed millions of microbes against their will, then he knows I did something evil. But he would also know that I did not intend to infringe on anything's will in eating my delicious macaroni and cheese with romano dinner, and that I, therefore, am not evil.
Now, seeing how this definition defines good as fullfilling the wills of the most beings possible, actions to increase the number of known beings are good, and actions to limit that number are evil. Basically, you can't stick your head in the sand and avoid knowing the consequences of your actions so you can keep shouting "I'm really a good person! I didn't know any better!" when you are intentionally keeping from knowing better, which is in itself evil.
Taking into account the relativity of this definition, you can clearly see that unenlightened people and cultures are, from their perspective, perfectly justified in calling cultures which are attacking them evil. After all, their perspective only accounts for the wills of their own people. They are doing good in serving their people's best interests. Hell, even if they are the aggressors, they're still serving their "whole"s best interest, and thus from their perspective doing good.
But from the other guys' perspective, the first people are clearly evil, for daring to resist their attempts to better serve their own needs, or worse yet, for infringing on their very sovreignty! And still, from an outside perspective, accounting for a set of wills greater than either of these two parties, either side could be evil, or both could be evil, or neither could be evil.
Beyond even the aspect of relativity, there is the question of the individual wills themselves, and what sort of states they desire... and this is what ties back in to my first definition:
What if every sentient being in the universe desired for there to be one single collective individual being, and the universe to be made both absolutely chaotic and absolutely orderly by turning it into empty space, completely destroying the whole universe and creating something entirely different (emptiness) in it's place?
All these are things which, by the first definition on the good and evil of states, should be considered absolute evil. But the sum will of the entire universe wants it, unanimously! It should be the absolute good!
So what is then, good or evil?
Perhaps even this axis is itself not an axis but a circle, with balance, good, lying at one pole, extremes, evil, lying at the other. Between them, meanwhile, is a half-balanced... meta-good, and opposite it some sort of meta-evil. I would posit that the above scenario lies on the point of meta-evil, and our universe as it exists today is either at, or at least somewhere near, the point of meta-good.