Sunday, November 9, 2008

The problem of Evil

I left the apartment once all day today, and that was to pick up some Thai food for dinner right across the street from my building. My excuse? Chicago's decided that it's time to be winter, thank you very much.

So, quiet day. I didn't get out of bed until all my roommates had left the flat, and was home by myself until almost 8pm. Consequently, I got a little work done!

As part of my BA research, I've been reading an article called "Moral Monsters and Saints," by Daniel Haybron. The "problem of evil" that Haybron addresses (and that my post title refers to) is not what is usually meant by the phrase--that is, the problem that, if there is a loving, omniscient and omnipotent God, then how can evil exist? Rather, Haybron is interested in what we really mean when we call someone "evil." What is the difference between an evil person and a very bad person? Presumably, there is a categorical difference, meaning that no number of "verys" added on to "bad" will ever get you to "evil." If that makes sense.

Our instinct may be to call someone evil based on cruel actions they have taken. But how many evil actions make a person evil? Surely all of their actions cannot be evil (this is too demanding). And what about an evil quadriplegic, who is incapable of enacting her evils desires? Additionally, most evil actions (directed toward harming others) are not committed by evil people.

Inspired by the quadriplegic example, we may be inspired to base our definition instead upon motivation or will--the intent to cause harm. But, Haybron says, what of a man who takes a more voyeuristic approach, never causing any direct harm but taking pleasure in the cruelty people do to one another? He isn't motivated to cause harm himself, yet we would not consider him less than evil because of it.

In the end, Haybron argues that an evil person is someone who feels no genuine human compassion for the well-being of other people, and who has no better nature to which we can appeal--they truly have no good side. As such, an evil individual may do some things which look like the normal actions that any good individual might do, but these actions will never be in the interest of others. They need never commit a heinous act. It is their character that condemns them.

I've provided a remarkably brief summary; Haybron goes through many other arguments and gives a lot more support. If you have a question about any of this, I should be able to answer, if I've understood the reading. I find most of his arguments pretty convincing.

1 comment: said...

How about no interest in another, as a superior definition. This relates more to persons who possess power over others?