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Friday, October 31, 2014

Four Faces of Evil (continued)

In the last blog, I identified four evils. I use them as "ideal types" to help explain, but not totally exhaust particular characters. The particular may range between, among, or beyond these types and are better described in narratives and other art forms.

The types help me understand a bit more the undermining of a democratic government in Guatemala by the United Fruit Company and its US agents. They help me understand why Iran is attempting to become a nuclear power. They help me understand why the US is distrusted and hated by many throughout the world. And they help me think about ethics in politics.

To identify a behavior or a character or an organization as evil is of course a judgment--an affirmation applying evidence using criteria (principles or standards) that distinguish what should be done from what should not. Where those criteria come from and what they are is the work of ethics. Some say they are self-evident by the general population and discoverable in their morality. Some say they are revealed by God by prophets and holy scripture. Some say they are to be found in nature through the understanding of the human animal in science and philosophy. Some say they are negotiated by persons in community--local, national, global--and articulated in laws.

And so we collectively develop and adopt codes of ethics to guide the behavior of nations, organizations, and professions. We argue to these codes based on an understanding of human nature informed by science including biology, psychology, and anthropology. In this effort we glean data from diverse cultures including our religions and moralities. And we appreciate the role of conscience, the awareness that accompanies a person's behavior.

What is common about the four types of evils I identified? Is there a definition of evil that underlies all of them? I think so and, not surprisingly, it comes from my ethics of integrity.

My own ethical theory is based on an analysis of human existence as a tension between being and non-being (to be or not to be is the tension) with many dimensions: four of which I propose are 1) the tension between inner subjectivity and outer objectivity, 2) the tension between individuality of self-personhood and the communality of society, 3) the tension between past and future, and 4) the tension between real and ideal. In the dynamic tension of existence arises the moral imperative, an awareness that accompanies (con-science) every conscious human act of the holding in tension across (trans) inner and outer, self and other, past and future, real and ideal.

Evil is the collapse of that tension in which inner awareness and exterior perception are destroyed by the refusal to think about what we are doing.

Evil is the collapse of the tension across individual personhood and the personhood of others by identifying the social and its good with our selves.

Evil is the collapse of the tension between past and future by denying history and its influences and being careless towards the future and the consequences of what we are doing now.

Evil is the collapse of the tension between the real and ideal by denying or acting as if there is no ambiguity and that we are absolutely right because our concept of reality is the ideal.

Evil finally is the denial of conscience and the refusal of transcendence in the flight from existence between being and non-being.

In each of the four types of evil that I identified (banal, pure, trivial, sincere) I discover a collapse of the tension of existence in one or more of its dimensions. Can you?

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