Friday, 28 September 2012

How the Good can be Worse than the Bad

I'm trying to finish a paper that I started a while ago and have not been working on for a while. I don't normally do that. What is different this time, is that I'm struggling to find a solution to the problem that I intended to solve, which is the following: let's say we could make people morally good by applying some simple device, like a morality pill: you swallow it and then you will be free of all anti-social impulses and will never (want to) hurt anyone again. If we gave this pill to everyone, the world would be a much better place, wouldn't it? No crime, no racial killings, no child abuse, no rape and torture. We would all be good simply because we would be incapable of evil. Now what is the problem with that, if any? The problem is that some people, including me, have this weird intuition that something important would be lost in a world in which people were incapable of doing anything bad. As if the very freedom to do terrible things to other human beings were more precious than the state of being good. What I haven't quite figured out yet is why exactly that freedom should be regarded as so precious that it is better to allow the occasional atrocities that humankind is prone to committing than to be without it. My intuition is that it has something to do with human identity and dignity, with the way we understand ourselves, as free agents and moral subjects, as ends rather than means to an end (even if that end is morality itself, or a world without human-caused pain). But at the moment my grasp and understanding of this is fuzzy at best. Has anyone got an idea? Or am I completely on the wrong track when I feel that there is a problem here?


  1. Hi Michael,

    My feeling is that if there was no bad stuff happing in the world an 'edge' would be lost, that a dynamics would be gone, which keeps life going, alive and awake. It's like something Hericlitus said, If you do away with contradiction you do away with reality. Same goes for evil.

    I also think we develop and progress through perverse means, meaning that we advance by being irrational first and then rational. It is like doing things backward. We can't go from A to B because that is too rational and simple. And with us taking a longer route we develop more purposely and convincingly.

    My feeling is that if there was no bad stuff happening in the world there would be no activity or action, which would make us complacent and lazy. With no such agitation Civilization would atrophy and die.

    All this leads me to say is that is why I have problems with "Unfit For The Future: The Need For Moral Enhancement".

  2. Yes, that's a good point. Remember the Eloi in H.G. Wells's Time Machine, and especially in the 1960 movie version with Rod Taylor. Very good no doubt, but also meek and very vulnerable, and certainly not interested in any kind of progress. On the other hand, has civilization ever truly lived? What exactly do we mean by "civilization"? Obviously it is supposed to be something good, but what exactly is good about it? What is the purpose of it? Where does all our activity lead us, or should lead us?

    1. Yes, I often think about the Time Machine and how docile and unproductive the Elois were. It could only be fiction because such an existence is improbable.

      Civilization is an accumulation of humanity's endeavors. But to me it is more than that. It is an organism, like a big brain. As I see it there is only one Civilization with sub categories.

      I imagined that if Civilization had a job description it would be social cohesioner. And that is what is happening in the world. It is growing more and more integrated and interdependent. Civilization is the main event and calling the shots. It is determined to survive and continue. Because Civilization is so determined there are two things is abhors from its nations and citizens, isolationism and complacency, which are obstacles to its survival and continuance. That is why it brought communism to an end as an alternative form of government, because of its inefficiencies and closed societies. With the end of communism Civilization was bringing a consolidation and a standardization to the world, which is essential if Civilization wants to evolve as one.

      Perhaps Civilization is preparing for something big, like going forth and colonizing outer space.