Monday, April 20, 2009


I don't know who comes up with these ideas. I like it though.

I'm at school, just before my last class. It's the lab for analytical chem, which I would be done with by now, but the results I got from this latest experiment were not close enough to the actual value, so instead of getting out by quarter after eleven, I'm done at four fifty. It took me three weeks to get everything done last time, but I'm hoping to get it all done between this week and the next. We'll see how that goes. On the bright side, I had a minute between my last class and lab, to check blogs and internets after getting lunch and going over some stuff for lab. I could have missed out on Poohstein.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Knowlege of Good and Evil

So, I've been studying ethics for almost two years now, and it makes you think.

First though, as the ethics bit is going to be a little long, two things:

1. I saw an SUV today with "I love my wife" written on the back and rear side windows. My first thought was that it was really sweet. My second, was that I wondered if he's just trying to get out of trouble, and what he might be in trouble for.

2. Too bad about heaven's defense going down. I understand, and I'm hardly one to criticize anyone's blogging, but it was always an interesting read. If you're still reading other's blogs, Berserk, you should know my mother-in-law is going to miss yours.

Anyway, ethics. For anyone who doesn't know, I'm planning on going to medical school after I finish my BA. My major is chemistry, and I'm minoring in philosophy. I have I have about a year left for my degree, including two more classes before I'm done with my minor, and with the exception of Language Logic and Persuasion, all my philosophy classes have been largely about what is good, what does it mean to live a good life, and how can we judge between right and wrong. This semester, I'm taking Ethical Theories, which is no exception. There are a lot of ideas of a lot of famous dead guys about the good, but although some claim to, no one really seems to answer the question, "what is good?"

We don't go over them much, except a quick mention, but there are ideas that good is not real, but just more of a loose code that helps populations function as a coherent society, or that good is just something that those in power use to keep those under them in line. In reality there is no such thing as right or wrong. I can't really get behind any of those lines of thought. I don't have a solid reason, but it seems wrong. I would like to believe that good exists. Even allowing that assumption though (and I'm not sure why an assumption should be allowed), it's not clear what good is.

Some theories are subjectivist. Good is subject to the beliefs of the majority, or to individual preference. You would say that murder is wrong because the majority believes it's wrong, or that taking care of one's children is good because you feel good when you do it. The problem with subjectivism is that by definition it is subject to the group or individual. What is good can vary from group to group, individual to individual, or moment to moment. If good is subjective, then really there is no good. There are only preferences.

An interesting division of subjectivism is religious subjectivism where good is subject to the will of the divine, and good and evil are defined by the decrees of divinity. As a religious man I can appreciate the idea that God gives directions or commands which it is right to follow, but I can't get behind the subjectivist idea that good can be defined as what is loved by God. In Plato's Euthyphro, when confronted with the theory that what is good is what is loved by the gods, Socrates asks whether it is good because it is loved by the gods, or it is loved by the gods because it is good. The answer Plato leads to, which I agree with is that the good must exist independently, and logically prior to God's love of it.

So, if the good exists, and is not subjective, it must be something objective, and real, although possibly abstract or indefinable. Objectivists though can only seem to dance around this "good" thing, without really saying what it is. In Principia Ethica, G. E. Moore said, "Good is good, and that is the end of the matter," before going on for a whole book attempting to explain what good was. In Plato's Republic, Socrates says that it is impossible to explain what good is, but he makes an interesting comparison between good and the sun, where as the sun (or light) is the source of sight, but it is not the eye or the object being seen, good is the source of understanding although it is not the mind, or the thing that is understood (try to explain what something is without explaining what it is good for). Also, as the sun is evident to everyone yet cannot be looked at directly, goodness is evident to everyone, yet cannot be directly examined.

Socrates believed that everyone was motivated by a desire to do good (which is not the same as saying that good can be defined by desire). People who did wrong just had a misunderstanding of what was good, or a poor judgement between which of two goods was greater. Socrates didn't believe that evil existed so much as things that were less good existed, similar to the physical concept that darkness and cold do not exist, just less light or less heat.

Of course, while these ideas are interesting, they don't do much to answer questions about what actions are right or wrong.

So, the reason I'm putting all this into such a long post, is that I'm curious what any of you think about this. Is good something that is real? Is there any way to tell what is right and wrong? Is it a waste of time to even try to figure any of this out?