Author Topic: Can good be determined without the existence of evil?  (Read 1175 times)

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Offline Ataraxia

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Can good be determined without the existence of evil?
« on: February 22, 2014, 06:58:26 AM »
The question in the title is more directed towards the theists on this forum. If you could give your reasoning for your answer I'd be grateful. Thanks.
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Offline Philosopher_at_large

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Re: Can good be determined without the existence of evil?
« Reply #1 on: February 22, 2014, 03:34:51 PM »
The question in the title is more directed towards the theists on this forum. If you could give your reasoning for your answer I'd be grateful. Thanks.

Yes. Human beings have natural desires and acquired desires. Our natural desires are called "Needs" and our acquired desires are called "wants". All human beings are radically equal in that we all share the same needs, and thus the same rights. all human beings are capable of living a good as opposed to a bad life, and require first that these needs be met in order to do so.

This observation can be made without any reference or notion of "evil" as such. the good life and the good society are not supernatural concepts.
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Offline Ataraxia

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Re: Can good be determined without the existence of evil?
« Reply #2 on: February 23, 2014, 02:39:54 PM »
OK. Perhaps I could've been clearer but I'd use bad and evil synonymously for this exercise. To carry that forward, is it possible to live a good life if there is no possibility of an opposing bad life?
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Offline G-Roll

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Re: Can good be determined without the existence of evil?
« Reply #3 on: February 23, 2014, 03:28:42 PM »
No.

A good act is a human invention as is a bad act. I myself do not believe in a universal morality so I don’t believe everyone will agree to label a single act as good or bad the same.
We only act, our society then dubs that act as good or bad/evil. Each of us is an individual with our own concept of morality. So I don’t see how one human concept can exists without the other.

This thread seems cool and I hope it continues. Thought I would chime in although I don’t think it's what the OP is looking for.

Offline skeptic54768

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Re: Can good be determined without the existence of evil?
« Reply #4 on: February 24, 2014, 01:55:22 AM »
No.

A good act is a human invention as is a bad act. I myself do not believe in a universal morality so I don’t believe everyone will agree to label a single act as good or bad the same.
We only act, our society then dubs that act as good or bad/evil. Each of us is an individual with our own concept of morality. So I don’t see how one human concept can exists without the other.

This thread seems cool and I hope it continues. Thought I would chime in although I don’t think it's what the OP is looking for.

This basically solves the problem of evil. If there was no such thing as evil, there would be no good. People would just be existing instead of living. If there was NEVER a choice to do evil, there would be no way for anyone to freely choose to do good out of their own free will.

Do you want to live in a world where a man doesn't murder someone, (not because he hates murder,) but because he is forced not to murder by God? Should God reward someone who has thoughts of murder just because God stopped them? That would be awfully weird.

Imagine God stopped Dahmer before his first murder. Should God really say, "Oh great job you never murdered anyone?"
Matthew 10:22 "and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved." - Jesus (said 2,000 years ago and still true today.)

Offline Ataraxia

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Re: Can good be determined without the existence of evil?
« Reply #5 on: February 24, 2014, 05:49:30 PM »
No.

A good act is a human invention as is a bad act. I myself do not believe in a universal morality so I don’t believe everyone will agree to label a single act as good or bad the same.
We only act, our society then dubs that act as good or bad/evil. Each of us is an individual with our own concept of morality. So I don’t see how one human concept can exists without the other.

This thread seems cool and I hope it continues. Thought I would chime in although I don’t think it's what the OP is looking for.

This basically solves the problem of evil. If there was no such thing as evil, there would be no good.

This is close to my thoughts. If nothing can potentially be evil/bad then everything is good, but then good becomes meaningless because there is no contrast - no point of reference. Of course this doesn't just cover good vs bad, but a myriad of things.

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Offline G-Roll

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Re: Can good be determined without the existence of evil?
« Reply #6 on: February 24, 2014, 06:01:28 PM »
Quote
This basically solves the problem of evil.
You are welcome.

Quote
Do you want to live in a world where a man doesn't murder someone, (not because he hates murder,) but because he is forced not to murder by God?
Lol it sounds like a safe place to me.

Quote
Should God reward someone who has thoughts of murder just because God stopped them? That would be awfully weird.

Imagine God stopped Dahmer before his first murder. Should God really say, "Oh great job you never murdered anyone?"
I dunno should god smite and destroy people? It would seem to be the more benevolent thing to reward someone for not killing someone rather than murdering them and eating their flesh. But I am not a really true really, really, real Christian so my logic is fucked.

Offline G-Roll

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Re: Can good be determined without the existence of evil?
« Reply #7 on: February 24, 2014, 06:11:19 PM »
This is close to my thoughts. If nothing can potentially be evil/bad then everything is good, but then good becomes meaningless because there is no contrast - no point of reference. Of course this doesn't just cover good vs bad, but a myriad of things.

I do think Philosopher hit a good point though. So long as people have needs if someone were to help the other person obtain those needs I suppose that would be a good deed. The opposite would be to take away a need or the ability to obtain that need as an evil act. Still I can't seem to move myself from thinking that good and evil are just what we label acts as a society.

For example If you saved a child from being raped by killing the rapists, would have you committed an evil act to kill the rapist? Some would say yes others would say no. I honestly don’t think there is a wrong answer because the majority ultimately will decide in most cases. Every individual will have their own opinion.

Offline Ataraxia

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Re: Can good be determined without the existence of evil?
« Reply #8 on: February 24, 2014, 06:22:59 PM »
This is close to my thoughts. If nothing can potentially be evil/bad then everything is good, but then good becomes meaningless because there is no contrast - no point of reference. Of course this doesn't just cover good vs bad, but a myriad of things.

I do think Philosopher hit a good point though. So long as people have needs if someone were to help the other person obtain those needs I suppose that would be a good deed. The opposite would be to take away a need or the ability to obtain that need as an evil act. Still I can't seem to move myself from thinking that good and evil are just what we label acts as a society.

For example If you saved a child from being raped by killing the rapists, would have you committed an evil act to kill the rapist? Some would say yes others would say no. I honestly don’t think there is a wrong answer because the majority ultimately will decide in most cases. Every individual will have their own opinion.

Yea, I agree they are just labels of actions and that Pal made a good point. However, this doesn't traverse the problem that without an opposite it has no meaning. If anything, it highlights the problem.
"God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh." - Voltaire

Offline Jesuis

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Re: Can good be determined without the existence of evil?
« Reply #9 on: February 24, 2014, 06:51:01 PM »
The question in the title is more directed towards the theists on this forum. If you could give your reasoning for your answer I'd be grateful. Thanks.
There are no Theists on the forum that is just a belief..

However regarding Good and bad. It is the evolution of a mindset that changes its perspective over time.
I remember reading when child chimney sweepers were made to do the dirty work and mothers agreed to send them there.. Now that is very bad thing to say or do.
At one time it was legal to own slaves people made their cases very clear in the legal systems of what they expected slaves to do and not to do. Now it is a very bad thing.
At one time it was good to to make your intentions known to a woman by action now that is a bad approach if I may say so.
Good and Bad are relative terms based on popular mind sets and the evolution of that mind set.

Reasoning : Left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse. There is an external force of compassion and awareness causing a more humane change in the mind set of the masses.
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Offline screwtape

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Re: Can good be determined without the existence of evil?
« Reply #10 on: February 25, 2014, 09:12:48 AM »
There are no Theists on the forum that is just a belief..

Let's please not derail this thread with topics that are already being argued elsewhere.

Thanks.
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Offline Anfauglir

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Re: Can good be determined without the existence of evil?
« Reply #11 on: February 25, 2014, 11:09:50 AM »
The question in the title is more directed towards the theists on this forum. If you could give your reasoning for your answer I'd be grateful. Thanks.
Good and Bad are relative terms based on popular mind sets and the evolution of that mind set.

Yes, I'd agree with that.  To answer Ataraxia's question, I really don't think it IS possible to dfine good without bad - or bad without good, come to that.

If it is good to (for example) not hit people, then it is conversely bad TO hit people.

Whatever I define as good, then in general the opposite is by default bad - I can't think of any behaviour where the opposite is impossible.  Of course, sometimes there's a third option (giving food is good, taking food is bad, doing nothing is.....which?), but never just one.

Does this solve the problem of evil, though?  If Yahweh created nothing, ever, would there still be good and evil?  Perhaps in the I/Not I sense, but if there's nothing BUT I.....?  This could also explain the "I created evil" passages in the Bible - not as a "I deliberately created bad stuff", but as an admission that "I created stuff, and while much is good, the mere fact of creation created the possibility of bad".

Still, I don't believe it gets Yahweh off the hook.  Skeptic asks if I would want to live in a world where people simply COULD never be murdered as an interventionist god would stay their hand, every time?  The answer is yes - yes, absolutely I would.  Along with all the rape and abuse and other horrific things that go on around the world, I would absolutely be happy in a world where those people were stopped prior to the act.  Go and talk to any abused child, Skeptic, any raped woman, and ask "would you be happier if the person who had harmed you had been unable to do it?"

Doesn't preclude punishment by your god, either.  Nobody is stopping them thinking the thought, and starting to do the deed.  Just that the blows do not land.  That god could still punish in the afterlife - but without allowing many, many others to suffer in this one.  What a thought that would be.
Just because you've always done it that way doesn't mean it's not incredibly stupid.
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Offline Truth OT

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Re: Can good be determined without the existence of evil?
« Reply #12 on: February 25, 2014, 12:04:37 PM »
The question in the title is more directed towards the theists on this forum. If you could give your reasoning for your answer I'd be grateful. Thanks.
Good and Bad are relative terms based on popular mind sets and the evolution of that mind set.

Yes, I'd agree with that.  To answer Ataraxia's question, I really don't think it IS possible to dfine good without bad - or bad without good, come to that.

If it is good to (for example) not hit people, then it is conversely bad TO hit people.

Good and bad are definately related (opposite sides of a single coin) in many respects, but IMO the two can also be mutually exclusive. Each CAN be defined without invoking the other.

For the hitting people example one could say that it's neither good or bad to not hit people. Not hittting people is to good or bad what atheism is to religious faith. One can say that hitting people is 'bad' due to dread of being hit most people have as well as the undesired consequences (pain) that results from being hit. The collective society judges hitting as a bad thing due in large part to those reasons. Contrast that with the acts of either stopping a person from hitting another person or providing assistence to a person that has been hit, both acts that are considered as good mainly due to the relief (service) those acts provide. Good and bad are IMO based on expectations and resulting consequences and how we are a collective society view those two aspects.

Offline Anfauglir

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Re: Can good be determined without the existence of evil?
« Reply #13 on: February 25, 2014, 12:35:21 PM »
....it's neither good or bad to not hit people.....

Initially I thought "seriously?" - but this is the kind of "3 options" I was referencing.  Hitting people = bad, stopping people being hit = good, plain old not hitting people = neutral (though I'd veer towards good). 

Honestly though, I still can't think of an example of a behaviour that is "good", that does not have an absence or an inverse that is not by definition "bad"?
Just because you've always done it that way doesn't mean it's not incredibly stupid.
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Offline Truth OT

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Re: Can good be determined without the existence of evil?
« Reply #14 on: February 25, 2014, 01:56:44 PM »
Honestly though, I still can't think of an example of a behavior that is "good", that does not have an absence or an inverse that is not by definition "bad"?

Off the top of my head an example that comes to mind as a "good" behaviour that may not have an equal and opposite "bad" behavior would be a random act like sending flowers to your significant other's workplace on a random day. That would by and large be considered as good and NOT sending flowers randomly wouldn't be considered bad. WHat would the opposite bad behavior be?

Offline Ataraxia

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Re: Can good be determined without the existence of evil?
« Reply #15 on: February 25, 2014, 03:08:30 PM »
Direct opposites aren't required for good and bad to have meaning because the concepts are points of reference. If there was no concept of one then the other follows suit.
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Offline SevenPatch

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Re: Can good be determined without the existence of evil?
« Reply #16 on: February 25, 2014, 08:43:13 PM »
I wondered about this topic myself, and started a thread a while back here

I think even if everything we generally think of as evil today somehow ceased to exist, our concept of good would still remain.

It would change though, doing nothing instead of helping someone might be perceived as evil.

It also depends on what we mean by evil, is stealing 10 dollars from grandma's purse evil?  It is certainly wrong, but I wouldn't call it evil when compared to brutally murdering people or someone intentionally drowning kittens.

So let's say, brutally murdering people and drowning kittens ceases to exist.  Would stealing 10 dollars from grandma's purse become evil?

We sometimes say that government is a necessary evil? 

I think the problem of evil is really a problem of unnecessary evil.  Some evils may be necessary in order for us to distinguish between good and evil.  Where as unnecessary evil existing makes zero sense if there is a god (well unless the god is sadistic and completely insane).

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Offline skeptic54768

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Re: Can good be determined without the existence of evil?
« Reply #17 on: February 26, 2014, 02:25:47 AM »
I wondered about this topic myself, and started a thread a while back here

I think even if everything we generally think of as evil today somehow ceased to exist, our concept of good would still remain.

It would change though, doing nothing instead of helping someone might be perceived as evil.

It also depends on what we mean by evil, is stealing 10 dollars from grandma's purse evil?  It is certainly wrong, but I wouldn't call it evil when compared to brutally murdering people or someone intentionally drowning kittens.

So let's say, brutally murdering people and drowning kittens ceases to exist.  Would stealing 10 dollars from grandma's purse become evil?

We sometimes say that government is a necessary evil? 

I think the problem of evil is really a problem of unnecessary evil.  Some evils may be necessary in order for us to distinguish between good and evil.  Where as unnecessary evil existing makes zero sense if there is a god (well unless the god is sadistic and completely insane).

Well, if you think about earthquakes, they are necessary for the Earth's cycle. If you hate earthquakes, then you don't care about the Earth and you basically don't want to survive if you don't care about the Earth.

Are earthquakes evil? Not hardly.
Matthew 10:22 "and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved." - Jesus (said 2,000 years ago and still true today.)

Offline Ataraxia

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Re: Can good be determined without the existence of evil?
« Reply #18 on: February 26, 2014, 03:00:29 AM »
I think even if everything we generally think of as evil today somehow ceased to exist, our concept of good would still remain.

Sorry to snip the rest of your post, but I just wanted to respond to this bit.

I agree here, but only because the concept of evil would still exist. Like I said, good vs evil/bad is just one example of needing an opposite to give meaning to concepts/ideas.

Regarding this specific example and how in ties in with religion, specifically Christianity, this is what I hear quite often - that we need to experience the bad to appreciate the good. Now Chrisitianity or religion obviously doesn't have a monopoly on this idea, but it is one I think they've got right (for once  ;) ).
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Online Azdgari

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Re: Can good be determined without the existence of evil?
« Reply #19 on: February 26, 2014, 03:11:00 AM »
Well, if you think about earthquakes, they are necessary for the Earth's cycle. If you hate earthquakes, then you don't care about the Earth and you basically don't want to survive if you don't care about the Earth.

Are earthquakes evil? Not hardly.

Not on a natural Earth, you're right.  A created Earth could be made without plate tectonics, without the need for such slow, ongoing large-scale convection of flowing and flexing rock that yielded the continents as we have them today.  Only an Earth that had to grow on its own without divine intervention for billions of years needs to have plate tectonics.
« Last Edit: February 26, 2014, 03:25:51 AM by Azdgari »
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Offline penfold

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Re: Can good be determined without the existence of evil?
« Reply #20 on: February 26, 2014, 03:14:45 AM »
This basically solves the problem of evil. If there was no such thing as evil, there would be no good.

... If nothing can potentially be evil/bad then everything is good, but then good becomes meaningless because there is no contrast - no point of reference. Of course this doesn't just cover good vs bad, but a myriad of things.

To answer Ataraxia's question, I really don't think it IS possible to dfine good without bad - or bad without good, come to that.

There does seem to be an agreement among you all that in some way good requires an opposite bad to be meaningful. Not only do I disagree but I think that this line of argument fails by its own standard; that it I do not think that good and bad are opposite at all!

First off I hope we can all agree that there are no metaphysical objects called The Good and The Bad (apologies to Plato). Rather "good" and "bad" are words (usually operating adverbs though sometimes adjectives and occasionally as nouns). To understand what is meant by "good" and "bad" is not then some metaphysical project but involves an investigation into how they are used in language.

If it is true that "good" and "bad" are in fact opposites, and involved in each other's meanings then it should be possible to take every proper utterance of "good"[1] and replace it with "not bad" (and vice versa "bad" -> "not good"). Moreover if your theory that they are opposites is correct then it follows that to if I change "good" to "not bad" (or vice versa) I will not change the meaning of the statement.

Here are just a few examples where this standard is not met:

"That food is bad" goes to "that food is not good" - Here we loose the sense (which is primary in the former and barely present in the latter) that the food in question might pose a danger to health.

"That feels good" goes to "that feels not bad" - Obviously these two utterances have different scope; the former we would only apply to things which feel really positive, the latter could apply to things which are merely not painful.

"He had a bad accident" goes to "He had a not good accident" - the former gives us information, not only had 'he' had an accident but it was 'bad one'. Whereas the latter is little more than a tautology - after all what accident is good!

There are other language considerations which should also point us to the conclusion that "good" and "bad" are not really opposites or involved in each other's meaning.

(1) They possess an asymmetry of grammatical forms - eg I can do something "badly" but not "goodly"; "Good" can be used as a statement giving permission[2] whereas "Bad" does not operate as a denial.

(2) They have very divergent etymologies (ie their pairing is recent) - "good" from the germanic gut meaning right or proper whereas "bad" comes from the old english baeddell meaning womanish or hermaphrodite.

Conclusion:

While "good" and "bad" can operate as opposites (eg. "good dog" vs "bad dog") in many cases they don't; thus it cannot be that the meaning of one relies upon the meaning of the other.

My suspicion is that the only reason we innately feel as though they should is a covert metaphysical hangover; a sneaking (and incorrect) suspicion that "good" refers to The Good and "bad" to The Bad. However we should purge such baseless metaphysics from our thinking; else we have created God by another name.
 1. Excluding, of course, technical, slang and other non-ordinary uses
 2. eg Person a:"I want to send that email" // Person b: "Good"
« Last Edit: February 26, 2014, 03:18:15 AM by penfold »
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Offline Ataraxia

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Re: Can good be determined without the existence of evil?
« Reply #21 on: February 26, 2014, 03:30:03 AM »
penfold,

That's not a bad point. ;) I have myself in the past made this point with like and hate - just because I say I don't like something, doesn't mean I hate it. The same with belief - just because I don't believe something, doesn't mean I believe the opposite. 

However, using the good/bad example, here I think we are alluding to the neutral position. We are finding something neither good or bad, but depending whether we say something is not good or not bad, we are swaying towards a more positive or negative connotation. I understand what you are saying, in that nothing is as black and white as good and bad, but the point is they are the labels we put at the opposite ends of the scale. Remove one and there is no scale, there is no grey area and everything becomes black and meaningless.
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Offline penfold

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Re: Can good be determined without the existence of evil?
« Reply #22 on: February 26, 2014, 05:29:53 AM »
However, using the good/bad example, here I think we are alluding to the neutral position. We are finding something neither good or bad, but depending whether we say something is not good or not bad, we are swaying towards a more positive or negative connotation. I understand what you are saying, in that nothing is as black and white as good and bad, but the point is they are the labels we put at the opposite ends of the scale. Remove one and there is no scale, there is no grey area and everything becomes black and meaningless.

I suppose it is the existence of a 'scale' what I object to - it smacks too much of metaphysics. It is interesting that you've chose to associate "good" with "positive" and "bad" with "negative". Again I think this is to oversimplify the complex jobs the utterances of "good" and "bad" do.

I have some sympathy for you idea of neutrality; but I would reject the notion that certain objects/actions are "neutral" on some scale. Rather I would suggest that in most ordinary situations[1] actions/objects do not require any qualification at all. We need qualifies like "good" or "bad"[2] when there is something out of the ordinary going on. It is not that most objects/actions are neutral it is that they don't require qualification.

Looking at the uses of "good" and "bad" we can see that this must be correct. After all we never hear talk of "bad murders" or "good kindness" - murder, in the ordinary course of things is "bad" so we don't need to qualify it (Except of course when the murder is especially bad - ie outside of the ordinary use of the utterance "murder" - the exception which proves the rule!). We only use "good" and "bad" to flag up qualities of objects/actions out of the ordinary - not to place them on some scale.

In this way we can talk of the meaning of qualifies without needing to refer to some ghostly 'scale' of 'goodness' (which at best are metaphysical concepts - at worst metaphysical objects). Rather "good" and "bad" merely act as qualifiers to help us pick out and communicate features of an object/action which are out of the ordinary.
 1. Ordinary in terms of the ordinary uses of those objects/actions in utterances.
 2. Or any other of the related but different words: "positive", "negative", "right", "wrong", "well", "poorly", "moral", "immoral", "amoral", "benevolent", "selfish" etc...
« Last Edit: February 26, 2014, 05:32:53 AM by penfold »
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Offline Anfauglir

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Re: Can good be determined without the existence of evil?
« Reply #23 on: February 26, 2014, 09:50:51 AM »
I suppose it is the existence of a 'scale' what I object to - it smacks too much of metaphysics. It is interesting that you've chose to associate "good" with "positive" and "bad" with "negative". Again I think this is to oversimplify the complex jobs the utterances of "good" and "bad" do.

I agree with a lot of what you're saying, but not sure I understand this?  If we're not going to associate "good" with "positive", is there any meaning to the words at all?
Just because you've always done it that way doesn't mean it's not incredibly stupid.
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Offline penfold

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Re: Can good be determined without the existence of evil?
« Reply #24 on: February 26, 2014, 10:35:50 AM »
I agree with a lot of what you're saying, but not sure I understand this?  If we're not going to associate "good" with "positive", is there any meaning to the words at all?

We can associate "good" and "positive" we do so by respecting their similarities, however we must equally pay attention to their differences. The mistake is not to associate them, but to assume they are interchangeable because they 'refer' to the same thing.

Of course words have meaning, and their meaning is obvious to any speaker of the language; I don't need to explain to you what "that was a good meal" or "she is a good woman" mean - though, and this is interesting, it is also obvious to both of us, without explanation, that the meanings of "good" in these two sentences are subtly different.

What meanings words have is usually obvious[1]. The interesting question is how do words acquire these meanings?

What I am skeptical of (especially with 'concept-words'[2] like "good", "bad", "positive" and "negative" etc...), is the view that these terms acquire meaning by referring to some abstract idea or standard which we somehow share. It is this view I find too 'metaphysical'. Rather I think that these words acquire meaning through use. Language is not then some set of signs pointing at abstract entities, but rather it a collective enterprise, an evolved system which allows for adequate communication between individuals. Just like physically evolved organisms, it contains inefficiencies and even contradictions, but like evolved organisms it is flexible and robust.

To expect that words like "good" and "bad" are neat concepts capable of rigorous analysis is the same kind of error as was made by early biologists who assumed that nature was designed to some celestial plan. 'Meaning' emerges from language in the same way that 'purpose' emerges from chemistry. We don't need a metaphysical account of, say the meaning of "good" any more than we need a metaphysical account of the purpose of the eye.
 1. It is instructive to think of cases where they are not. Ins such cases we engage, not in a 'hunt' for something unknown word(s) refers to, but instead examine the unknown word(s) uses.
 2. In fact I suspect this is the case for all words...
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Online Azdgari

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Re: Can good be determined without the existence of evil?
« Reply #25 on: February 26, 2014, 12:57:43 PM »
Would it not be fait to define "good" and "bad" as, rather than "positive" and "negative", things that are "valued positvely" and "valued negatively"?
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Offline penfold

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Re: Can good be determined without the existence of evil?
« Reply #26 on: February 26, 2014, 01:57:25 PM »
Would it not be fait to define "good" and "bad" as, rather than "positive" and "negative", things that are "valued positvely" and "valued negatively"?

Well, of course you are free to, but that would be a pretty artificial restriction. While there are many undoubted cases where one could substitute "positive value" for "good" without doing any violence to the meaning; there are also many instances of the use of the word "good" where it means more that merely "positively valued" and so a substitution would change the meaning.

"That was a good move." - A 'move' in game already has positive value (unless it is a "bad move" - ie out of the ordinary see post #22) a good more means more than that.
"He's a good lay" - Again, sex ordinarily has positive value, a good lay is values even above this ordinary standard.
"Iago is a good villain" - While you might try and squeeze the idea of 'positive value' into this, the idea of a 'good villain' contains more scope than 'a villain with positive value' - in fact that latter contains a deal of ambiguity absent in the original; the meaning has changed...

There are also instances of the word "good" which are really very remote from the idea of "positive value" - try swapping them in these cases:

"I wish you good day."
"Good luck."
"Good grief."
"Goodness is its own reward" (obviously the substitution here leads to contradiction!)
"Good!" (as in an affirmation of an action: eg. Person a: "I sent the email." // Person b: "Good.")

Similarly one can find instances where "positive value" is used but a substitution of the word "good" changes the meaning:

"My bank account has a positive value"
"Drinking wine adds positive value to the experience of Jazz."
etc...


You will be in a quandary then. Either you must accept that your definition is very limited (so much so it really is no definition at all!); or you must argue that all the cases where substitution cannot be made are 'improper' uses of "good" or "positive value" and I would have no idea how you could achieve such a goal.

More to the point why do we need to have a neat definition of "good"? We need a basic one to fill the gap in the dictionary maybe and to help infants get a grasp of it; but you know and I know what we mean when we use it. It is only theologians and philosophers who 'play dumb'...
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Online Azdgari

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Re: Can good be determined without the existence of evil?
« Reply #27 on: February 27, 2014, 01:44:43 AM »
I must not have communicated effectively.  I didn't say "possessing a positive value".  I meant "valued positively" - indicating an action, rather than a state.  Someone evaluates something positively with respect to a standard; that thing is then "good" at achieving that standard.  Sometimes the standard is their personal morality, in which case "good" takes on a moral meaning.  Sometimes the standard is whether or not it helps win a game, in which case "good" has a practical meaning.

As I understand it, this is how the word is actually used in almost every instance I've observed.  And it does sub in, if you don't abuse syntax:

"I wish you a good day" -> "I wish you a day that you would value positively"
"Good grief" -> a figure of speech, so why did you include it?
"(have) Good luck" -> "(have) luck which you would value positively"
"Goodness is its own reward" -> "That which you would value positively is its own reward" (sensible, rather than contradictory)
"(that's) Good!" -> "(that's) Something I value positively!"

Most of the awkwardness in those examples is due to them being so short that they're not sentences.  English is very accepting of one- or two-word sentences that thus do not follow proper sentence structure (eg. "Good luck!") but substituting synonyms for those words can lead to seeming nonsense.  This has nothing to do with the aptness of the synonym, but rather to do with the grammatical oddness of the original wording.
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Offline penfold

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Re: Can good be determined without the existence of evil?
« Reply #28 on: February 27, 2014, 03:18:32 AM »
Azdgari, thanks for the really thoughtful reply; you make a strong case. I thought I would start a couple of remarks on your excellent analysis of my examples:

"I wish you a good day" -> "I wish you a day that you would value positively"
I think here you have restricted the meaning of the original. For example the former clearly contains an idiomatic aspect of bidding farewell which is not present in your reformulation.

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”Good grief" -> a figure of speech, so why did you include it?
Because it is a valid use of “Good” – on what basis do you exclude it? (Other than by assuming the definition you are seeking to establish?) In fact I would say the use of “good” in “Good grief” is strongly related to the “good” in “Good luck” and “Good” – in all these cases it is this exclamatory aspect[1]  of good which is lacking in your analysis.

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"(have) Good luck" -> "(have) luck which you would value positively"
I strongly dispute that the former is referring to a ‘thing’ called luck (it is interesting you felt the need to add the “have”) whereas the latter is nor for that matter to the idea of possession. I notice here you have also been forced to modify the tone here – should it be “luck which you would value positively” or “…you do value…” – again different meanings both of which are present in the original. See also “good grief”.

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"Goodness is its own reward" -> "That which you would value positively is its own reward" (sensible, rather than contradictory)
If something is valued as positive it is by reference to an external standard so this is a contradiction – a clash of inherent worth with external value!

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"(that's) Good!" -> "(that's) Something I value positively!"
Again you’ve felt compelled to add words, which is suspicious. Here I think you’ve changed the meaning substantially – you would never use the latter utterance in the manner which you would use the former. See also “good grief”.


However I think there is a more serious question underlying all of this which you touched on nicely.
Quote
Most of the awkwardness in those examples is due to them being so short that they're not sentences.  English is very accepting of one- or two-word sentences that thus do not follow proper sentence structure (eg. "Good luck!") but substituting synonyms for those words can lead to seeming nonsense.  This has nothing to do with the aptness of the synonym, but rather to do with the grammatical oddness of the original wording.
I think you are wrong to assume that all utterances can or should be ‘sentences’ which have a set reference.[2] The fact that a substitution of a synonym (and I do not deny that in many, if not most, cases “value positively” makes for a decent synonym of “good”) leads to seeming nonsense is important. To write it off to ‘grammatical oddness’ is unfair. If words are the material of utterances grammar is the form; both play a role in meaning. This is obvious - we know that changing a grammatical relationship changes meaning (eg “The sailor kicked Granny” ->  “Granny kicked the sailor”). The fact that your substitutions could be attempted at all shows how far your synonym works, but equally the fact that the substations left us with phrases we would never ordinarily utter show us the limits of your synonym. It is those limits that would lead me to conclude that the relationship between “good” and “value positively” is onot one of definition (ie it is not a perfect synonym).
 1. It is worth noting that in all three cases we would ordinarily add the exclamation mark if writing them down "Good Grief!", "Good luck!", "Good!"
 2. What about "I do" at a wedding, or "I bet", or "f**k!" - surely you accept these are perfectly good uses of english?
« Last Edit: February 27, 2014, 03:25:39 AM by penfold »
"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away." - P.K.D.