Is it possible to define good and bad, and should we even try?

Discussion in 'Ethics, Morality, & Justice' started by SolusCado, Aug 11, 2010.

  1. SolusCado Registered Senior Member

    It seems to me that if you get to the core of what most people believe to be good or bad, you find that it is just that - a belief. By definition, beliefs cannot be proven, and I think any attempt to impose one's beliefs on others will create discord. Of course, one could argue that discord is good, and so beliefs should be imposed on others - so then you fall back to attempting to define good and bad.

    My supposition is that the words should be avoided at all costs because they are ultimately meaningless. They are too subjective to be used in a language meant to facilitate communication between individuals. Since they do not serve to improve communication, they should simple be eliminated from use.
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  3. spidergoat Liddle' Dick Tater Valued Senior Member

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  5. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

    I would think that a general consensus would be able to determine good and bad in society. As to your own views as to what good and bad are it is up to you to decide what you think they are. As an example I do not like milk that has soured and thin it is bad. That isn't only a belief but a fact as well that few can dispute. When it comes to things like emotions, love and relationships , then you must figure out what the good and bad points are about those you want to get to know.
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  7. sifreak21 Valued Senior Member

    i would say murdering someone is bad
  8. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

    Depends upon the situation. Say that someone kidnapped you and was beating you but you had the opportunity to grab a gun nearby you and kill them, wouldn't you do so?
  9. birch Valued Senior Member

    most definitions of good and bad depend on context. without context, it's meaningless.

    a knife can be used to kill or it can be used for surgery to heal someone. it all depends on context and usage whether something is considered bad or good.

    you have to consider the individual behind it and what their motives and intents are.
  10. SolusCado Registered Senior Member

    Regardless of context, you are all ignoring the fact that you have grown up in a society that has taught you that such things are bad. Murdering for example could be argued as a good thing in some cultures, in that it weeds out those who cannot fend for themselves, in theory producing a stronger race of people. (Look at the culture behing the fictional "Predators" as an example.) Good and bad itself is a meaningless construct without an agreed upon code of ethics. Arguments of context assume an agreed upon code. What if you don't even have that? (Real-world examples of THAT are too numerous to bother listing.)
  11. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

    Can you provide a link as to which society has that kind of rule of law? :shrug:
  12. SolusCado Registered Senior Member

    No, but that doesn't preclude it as theory. I use it as an extreme example. There are plenty of other forms of good/bad that do vary from culture to culture. Within each, it is the alignment to the rules that designates good and bad. Since anyone can choose to live by their own code of ethics, and there is no objective standard that can be used, why bother labeling things as good or bad in the first place? Legal and illegal would seem to be more accurate.
  13. birch Valued Senior Member

    but you are ignoring that those definitions of good or bad usually are organic. for instance, self-preservation.

    that is why the decisions people make have to do with what betters thier society as a whole rather. this can be argued in a number of ways from locking up troublemakers to economic policies.

    not everything is subjective. smoking is bad for anyone even if they choose to do that and there are many examples to numerous to list. and then smoking around others affects them too. drinking and driving is bad. promiscuity is bad as it leads to increased risk of disease. adultery is bad as it weakens family structure. child abuse is bad as it does the same ad nauseum.

    also, what is good or bad is not just a personal issue as no man is an island. what we do affects others too and how we affect eachother determines what is considered beneficial vs harmful. that's how code of ethics naturally develop. if everyone just did whatever they wanted to without any other consideration, rules or laws, then society would be total chaos.

    eugenics program might possibly would work. it would require getting rid of all disabled either mentally (this area is much unknown) or physically and those who are homeless and jobless. but it would also cull a lot of people who ended up that way by other's incompetence or by circumstances, meaning those elements would still be in society. those incompetents may not be apparent as they don't seem to be the root of the problem, we tend to look at the symptom without considering the source which is superficial. you can get rid of the symptom but without addressing the root, it will play out repeatedly with a new set of people in society. still, if ethics are not a concern, the culling can continue repeatedly.
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2010
  14. SolusCado Registered Senior Member

    You are ignoring the impact that thousands of years of society is having on today's culture. (And as long as we as a society continue to do so, our growth potential will be severely limited.) For example, such statements as "smoking is bad for anyone," "drinking and driving is bad," and "adultery is bad as it weakens family structure," assume that the outcome of these habits is to be avoided. Why is it to be avoided? In what way does the avoidance provide a "good"? You cannot answer that without an agreed definition of good - and just because the majority of civilization agrees to it doesn't mean it's true. At one point in time, virtually all of civilization saw slavery as perfectly acceptable. That wasn't in and of itself sufficient to truly label it as "good".

    There is plenty more I could say on the subject of eugenics, but I don't really think it is applicable to my initial statement, so I will leave that for another thread...
  15. birch Valued Senior Member

    your post is a perfect example of abstract relativism that is groundless, so therefore no different than imagination.

    the perfect example is you made artificially irrevelant that 'smoking is bad'. this is not subjective or even relative.

    what you don't realize is what you are saying is no different than doing nothing at all or letting cards fall as it may. what will be, will be.

    therefore, you have no point to argue but think you do because society will do what it will just as now.
  16. SolusCado Registered Senior Member

    Not at all - I am suggesting that we as a society have become so wrapped up in taking for granted the "wisdom" of the generations before us that we rarely (if ever) stop to think for ourselves. We have yet to define the ultimate goal in our thoughts and actions, so we don't have an agreed-upon direction, making our choices meaningless. Back to the smoking example - what if the continued smoking served to kill some people off earlier than otherwise, but in the process we were able to advance natural selection to the point where our entire society was resistance to lung cancer, and due to increased air pollution in general such a resistance became necessary for survival? In such a scenario, smoking at this stage would be "good" (if the ultimate goal were to advance the evolution of our species). I toss this out as an example to show that the concept of this being a pointless argument is not valid at all. Until we start thinking for ourselves, everything we say is pointless. We may as well still be stuck in the 15th century.
  17. Light Travelling It's a girl O lord in a flatbed Ford Registered Senior Member

    The key here is that when many people have the same subjective opinion it appears as objective but in fact it is not. In other words collective subjectivism is not objectivism. A table can be measured and recorded as objectively existing, peoples thoughts on good and bad cannot. The fact that a majority agree on what is good and bad does not prove objectivity.

    The key here is your word ‘like’, it is bad because you do not like it. The fact that others agree with you does not make it objectively bad.

    You do not define your definition of bad here. I assume you mean making one ill, but consider the fact that some people enjoy smoking more that the risk of being ill. They prefer to die doing what they enjoy rather than live in what is for them a barren world without cigarettes

    For the person that is hit by a drink driver his subjective view is that it is bad. For someone who enjoys drink driving his subjective view is that it is good.

    Again many people enjoy promiscuity and consider it good. Others, doctors or partners of unfaithful lovers consider it bad. Subjective

    Your premise for calling it bad is that family structure is good, again subjective statements.. Maybe a communal rising of children is better and family structure is bad. Looking at our societies record can you really say family structure is the best way. Older tribal cultures used communal structure not family. Entirely subjective.

    They do, and it is.

    It does, look at our history.
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2010
  18. Lori_7 Go to church? I am the church! Registered Senior Member

    i think that an absolute definition of good and bad exists. and i would propose that, in a very general sense, it is "whatever perpetuates life is good, and whatever perpetuates death is bad". but in a specific sense, there are a hell of a lot of contingencies involved in that definition, and mankind doesn't have access to the perfect and comprehensive knowledge required to make a determination in it's entirety, obviously. i think that is what god is for. and when communion with god is restored, mankind will have access to that perfect and comprehensive knowledge.
  19. SolusCado Registered Senior Member

    @Light Travelling - Thanks! You took the time to spell out that for which I did not.

    @Lori - The fact that I disagree with your proposal is evidence that good and bad do not truly exist in the fashion we understand them to be. I acknowledge that they exist as a measure of alignment to a specific code, and to that end I would call good and bad that which is in alignment with the universe as a whole - which frankly, utimately ends in death. In any case, I don't see how the perpetuation of life over death means anything at all. All must die so that some may live. That has been a facet of life since the very first life began. I COULD paint this in a theological light as well, but I think that only muddies the waters for those who believe there is no god, and don't want to bring in that red herring.
  20. Pit JAADD Registered Senior Member

    I always thought that life is much more shades of gray than black and white morality. For instance, giving food to starving children is good. While murdering an innocent person is bad. But when we get to where most people make their daily moral decisions, its arguable. For instance, is abortion good or bad?
    (On a personal note, I've always felt that it should be allowed at a minimum for rape or danger to the mother, but it's debatable beyond that.)
  21. Trooper Secular Sanity Valued Senior Member

    It is a comparison that one judges as good or evil, in as far as it concerns him, or those around him.
  22. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    On the possibility of objective morality

    I would not pretend that the subjectivity of such words as "good" and "bad" have not been already introduced to this discussion. However, I would suggest that this subjectivity, this relativism, occurs in part because there is nothing firm against which such words might be compared. To wit, philosophers and scholars have suggested, quite reasonably, that something like progress, which implies an attribute of goodness, can only be measured according to the desired goal. That is, if I, living just north of Seattle, should wish to travel to Portland, Oregon, I might measure my progress according to how far south I have traveled. Certainly, I might travel the same number of miles east, and the journey be pleasant, but my progress, as such, would be more toward Portland, Maine; indeed, following I-90 east would generally take me farther from my goal, and this is no progress at all, but rather makes the intended journey more difficult.

    Likewise with the generic concepts of good and bad. Against what standard do we compare such words?

    Herein lies the difficulty of defining good and bad. As long as we agree on the standard by which such words are measured, we can generally agree on what is good or bad about a given outcome.

    But, human diversity being as it is, such agreement only goes so far, and beyond that becomes difficult to establish or maintain.

    These differences of perspective are, for instance, why I revile some fairly common political outlooks in my society as wrong, bad, or evil. That is, the greed inherent in the conservative or libertarian outlook on individual empowerment within society carries us farther from what I consider a reasonable goal.

    And here we must entertain thoughts of how that goal is construed. Many would suggest that morality is presently without an objective goal. And insofar as morality reflects, say, "God's will", or some other arbitrary assignation, I would agree. Buth this anchorless condition need not be. While we cannot establish ultimate and unadulterated moral truth, we can cerainly observe the Universe as it is, and speculate or even hypothesize about the nature of that abstract truth.

    Such as the idea of "survival of the fittest": implicit in this natural principle is the perpetuation of species. Without that driver, a species "goes the way of the dodo"; that is to say, if a species fails to adapt appropriately and sufficiently, it disappears into extinction. Indeed, examples of counterintuitive behavior among non-human animals abound. A certain species of walrus comes to mind, in which aged cows have been observed to sacrifice their individual lives to draw predators away from the young, who fled into the ocean. Enough examples exist that one can reasonably suggest that perpetuation of species, if not the true purpose of life, stands somewhere very near to it.

    And in such a context, which can at least be argued to be objective, as we can observe, hypothesize, test, and conclude various aspects thereof with some respectable degree of objectivity, we might discover some more fixed and utilitarian ground for defining right and wrong, good and bad, and various acceptable deviations therefrom.

    Thus, my criticism of some of the politics of my human or, in a more local context, American neighbors derives from a perception that certain outlooks so elevate individual importance as to either ignore or subjugate the social tendencies of our species. We might apply such considerations to everything from tobacco smoking to taxes to war. Or corporate executive remuneration. Or abortion. Or even laws governing contracts and transactions.

    I might, for the sake of clarity, posit that the problem with excessive elevation of the individual is that it might demand the hampering of our social endeavors, in the context of perpetuity of species, by subordinating or ignoring such considerations in pursuit of what is, ultimately, ephemeral gratification.

    And while my opinion of such outlooks is hardly definitive or binding, I would hope it suggests something about the potentials within such an attempt to derive morality, right and wrong, good and bad, and other such ideas, from observable nature.

    That we have no firm anchor for such comparisons is obvious. That it must be so is less clearly established.
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2010
  23. birch Valued Senior Member

    ^uh, that's why in my original post, i stated 'context' as well there are some things that are not subjective or relative. pouring bleach down your throat is harmful, so considered bad.

    still, definitions of good or bad have to do with the fact as what we do affect other people not just ourselves.

    what dumb rationalizations that have been going on in this thread. of course, if we don't affect other people then we can do anything or not do anything even to preserve ourselves.

    why live at all or have any standards using that reasoning. lol

    but yes, definitions of good or bad also evolve and change as society reevaluates as it's not perfect.

    erroneous logic, actually. i used a similar analogy in another thread but in this topic, it doesn't fit.

    the reason why is because those who have the urge to smoke or are irresponsible can be argued that they are less intelligent so in effect are propogating these people as well unless they fail to reproduce. also, perhaps they have addictive personalities which is a further weakness.

    so, again for all practical purposes good and bad is defined by how we affect eachother and in the larger scheme how we affect the planet we live on.

    hmm? no shit, sherlock. does that "obvious" really need to be pointed out or established on sciforums or anywhere?

    fire is neither good nor bad. throwing yourself or another into fire causes pain, damage and death. relative closeness can warm you.

    i'm sure you act in ways all day long as well as others to preserve themselves.

    i've noticed and it is typical that people use relative or groundless rationalizations as a way to justify thier own values, no matter how they affect others.

    in that vein, it is what it is but to say that there is no reason to understand the contextual concepts of good or bad when we live it daily is purposely blind.
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2010

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