The Difference Between Good and Bad?

The Difference Between Good and Bad?

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This is a discussion on The Difference Between Good and Bad? within the Critical Thinking & Philosophy forums, part of the Topics of Interest category; In my philosophy of science class we recently discussed ethics in science, mostly regarding fraud, testing etc., but we've been ...

  1. #1

    The Difference Between Good and Bad?

    In my philosophy of science class we recently discussed ethics in science, mostly regarding fraud, testing etc., but we've been asked this:
    How do you tell the difference between good and bad?
    Essentially I see this as what differentiates right and wrong, but I think this is a very tricky topic.

    Obviously an individuals thoughts on right/wrong or good/bad would depend on the context, their own experiences, perceptions, their religion, morals expectations and the way they view societies expectations/perceptions etc. Yet there are many things that the majority of the population would agree are right or wrong (i.e murder). Do you think we all came to these agreements through simultaneous reasoning? Or do you think it was the result of people's opinions mimicking those of the greater society?
    How do you think most of the universal morals came to be?

    Also does anyone else agree that the common argument that man created religion could also be applicable here - in the way that man created the terms 'good' and 'bad' and thus there is no predetermined good or bad, but instead just our individual interpretation of it?
    And if you do agree, how do you think 'good' and 'bad' or right/wrong first became part of the human thought process?

    I know I'm rambling here, but basically i'm asking: What is your interpretation of good and bad? How do you think the terms have evolved?

    (Also, I'm not sure if this topic has already been discussed, because I had my suspicions that it might have been, but couldn't find a thread for it. But if it has, sorry!)
    Roland Khan and strangestdude thanked this post.

  2. #2

    in the way that man created the terms 'good' and 'bad' and thus there is no predetermined good or bad, but instead just our individual interpretation of it?
    Yeah, values can't exist independent of subjects. So the terms good and bad, and the foundation of any ethical framework is inherently subjective... Hume showed this with the is-ought problem.

    Here's something I wrote from a previous thread;

    I'd define myself as a consequentialist (goal implies ought) whose goal is sentient well-being. And I refine my ethical framework based on philosophical inquiry and empiricism.

    Like Sam Harris (also a consequentialist) points out to critics of his moral position;

    Human beings aren't atomized, our well-being is largely depended on the well-being of others. The majority of us form emotional attachments and feel empathy.

    And a moral framework is constructed by a hierarchy of values, and we construct this hierachy based on cost-benefit analysis. ie. we often determine that although we beleive an action is unethical, it would be of greater detriment to human fulfilment to legislate against it because that would impede on a higher value of self-determination.

    But I'd like to emphasize that I don't believe that there are any easy answers when it comes to constructing an ethical framework - socially and/or legally.
    I think many people intuitively agree with a consequentialist position as a framework for ethics. Many religious people try to exhort the beneficial consequences of adhering to their ethical framework.

    I think because many societies held/hold well-being as part of the goal of their moral framework it can explain why many societies agree on many ethical imperatives - like the golden rule, prohibition against murder, etc. I agree with Sam Harris; even if it's indeterminable in practice - in principle, we are constrained by the structure of universe and our biology, so there is a right and wrong answer to what is conducive to well-being.

    And we evolved as a social species, we are inclined towards social cooperation (whether in a positive or negative form), and so we created guidelines for behaviour (morality).

    Just my thoughts, I'm under no illusions that there are easy answers when it comes to morality. But I think that many atheists/agnostics are consequentialists.

    Here's the humanist position...

    Humanists endorse universal morality based on the commonality of human nature, and that knowledge of right and wrong is based on our best understanding of our individual and joint interests, rather than stemming from a transcendental or arbitrarily local source, therefore rejecting faith completely as a basis for action. The humanist ethics goal is a search for viable individual, social and political principles of conduct, judging them on their ability to enhance human well-being and individual responsibility, ultimately eliminating human suffering.
    - Secular ethics - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Last edited by strangestdude; 03-26-2012 at 10:37 AM. Reason: grammar worse than normal :-)

  3. #3

    Here's a good talk about secular morality by Sam Harris.

    kemmicals and Grunfur thanked this post.

  4. #4

    Thank you for that!
    You've pretty much cleared that up for me! (:
    strangestdude thanked this post.

  5. #5

    Yeah I like Sam's position (though I've yet to read his book on the subject). It's a straightforward consequentialist framework, that I think most people can agree on (it's worth noting that Sam considers critical thinking part of the scientific method).

    I also recommend a short book by contemporary secular philosopher Simon Blackburn called; Being Good (135 pages). It's a great little book showing how we can create an ethical framework from a secular position.

    A thought experiment that I came across that I believe is indispensible when thinking about ethics is the veil of ignorance.

    I hope it doesn't seem like I'm trying to 'force' you in to believing anything, because that's not my intention - I'm just passing on some of my 'pop philosophy' research regarding secular ethics.

  6. #6

    Great question.

    I wondered the same thing a while ago so I looked into it. You're right, "right and wrong" are just abstract concepts that only exists in each of our minds.

    Say someone was raised being told that sharing was wrong, hurtful, rude, and mean. Upon meeting others who feel the complete opposite, who would be the "bad" one? The one who sticks to his/her moral values? if so then *both* ,even though opposite, are "good". Another example, if you were raised by a terrorist group and murder was something you saw every day as a child would you be evil for being insensitive towards violence? I don't think so.

    Where do most of our morals come from? Well logic and history tells us that most of our morals came from evolving to live in communities. Those who were deceitful, selfish, and apathetic towards others typically didn't do very well in groups and were often ostracized. So what became "good" was honesty, kindness, selflessness etc.

    It's troubling to think that no one has a concrete internal compass of "good" and "bad", but sometimes the truth is uncomfortable

    Just my opinion :)

  7. #7

    There is no such thing as good and bad other than a state of mind. Good and bad don't exist innately. We consider killing bad, because of our value on pain and death. But, the actual process of killing if we perceived pain differently or if it changed, would not have the same effect. With that said, good and bad are based on our own values. We obtain these values through interaction, experience etc. But all of these values in the end are not actually existent. Yes, right and wrong exist. But good and bad don't. Its subjective.

  8. #8

    Good------------Personal Perception------------Bad

  9. #9

    Good and bad do not exist, only action and the consequence of it as we live and learn what we must within our lifetime. One kid may think swallowing metal nails is good while he bleeds internally, learning that eating nails can kill you in the process. One person can think that killing is bad yet support the death penalty to kill killers, the consequence being that they appear as hypocrites. Same with people who keep children from playing with toy guns yet advertise to them about the military once they're 18, or people who know the human ego is running rampant and that it's destroying what's around us, yet they do as they please for their benefit and nobody else's (basically screwing others over). Good and bad are subjective, based off of one's personal values, and therefore cannot exist as a precedent for everybody.

  10. #10

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