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How Would You Know Good If There Was No Evil


People often say: "How would you know light without dark?" Or "how would you know good if there was no evil?"

People say this to mean you need both. Often in the context of philosophy or religion when asked why an all good god would allow evil. I completely disagree.

If you're living in only light, who cares about dark? What good does it do to know about dark? But you know about light. You live in it. You don't need dark to know light. And the opposite is true as well; if you live in darkness you don't need light to know dark.

So what about good and evil? Do you need evil to know good? No. If you are loved, respected, living in a good society with nice people it is obvious. You'd be happy. Why do you need evil?

You don't. You know when you're happy, when others are good to you, etc. Emotions tell us either that we have a need we have to resolve, or that we've resolved a need. You feel good when you've had a good night's sleep, eaten after you've been hungry, helped someone in need, etc.

We want to destroy evil. There is no reason we need it. And yet that's what people who claim we need evil to know good are saying. They are saying we shouldn't get rid of evil. To me, that's absurd.

Do you need good to know evil? Hardly. Hurt me and I know it's evil. I don't need to know what feeling good is like to know pain. The two are individual opposites, not symbiotic. Removing one doesn't remove the other.

People often add that we need bad times to learn how to make good times. You need conflict to make you stronger.

Yes, in this world that's how it works now. We have conflicts and see/experience evil. And we do learn by overcoming them. But were we able to get rid of them, we wouldn't need to know how to resolve them, they'd already be resolved.

You can't have perfection if there is any imperfection at all. And that's what we strive for, isn't it? That's why governments modify laws, why we fight for rights and justice. Why we tried modifying behavior/morality through religion and in countless other ways.

And it's worked. In the bronze age over 50 percent of people died violent deaths at the hands of others. That number has decreased dramatically from century to century as people experimented, evolved mentally, socially, etc.

Now it's down to around one or two percent. That's amazing. Do we miss it? Hardly.

Not so long ago slavery and genocide were socially acceptable. Discrimination by sex, skin tone, shape of eyes, religion, or whatever, was acceptable even in the 1900s. No more. At least not in most places.

We're very slowly getting rid of evil/conflict. We have come a long way and have a long way to go. But if history teaches us anything, it's that there's hope.

No we don't need evil/conflict to know good. And the more we get rid of, and the sooner it's gone, the better off we and our offspring all be. And even without it we'll know we're getting closer to perfection.

But that won't be for a long time yet. Let's hope we don't destroy the planet before get there.


Ron Hooft (author) from Ottawa on December 27, 2020:

Good comment. You could say, as some do, that good and evil are purely subjective. And they are. But they have an objective side.

If I harm you, you know it and feel it. You will likely want revenge of some sort even if just seeing me in jail. There may be an escalation of violence. Others may be brought into the conflict. Perhaps hurt or killed in the process.

What's wrong with any of that? It's a high energy state that can't be sustained.

It all starts with the atom. Every atom has to try to achieve its lowest possible energy level. In interactions levels rise. This makes them merge with each other when they can, and both find new lowest possible levels together, creating a new substance. It's also the basis of entropy.

So what do humans do? We like peace, security, being loved, freedom, etc.

How do you have freedom if you're constantly scared your neighbor is going kill you? Thus we make social contracts and laws to protect everyone's freedom, including our own.

What we have to give up for it is the right to harm others, and includes discrimination, us against them, etc.

So evil is doing intentional harm. Yes it's subjective. The objective world doesn't have intent, so if a coconut hits you on the head it wasn't an evil deed, it was cause and effect.

It wasn't an accident either. Accidents are subjective too. They only happen when something other than you'r intent happens. You turn a corner and hit another car. You didn't intend to, so it was an accident. But objectively it was cause and effect. Not intentional, and not accidental.

Yes, all subjective creatures are selfish. But humans are smart and have come to know that it is in our best interest to be good to each other, to create social contracts that say: I promise not to harm you or yours if you promise not to hurt me or mine.

Of course not everyone is on board and think it's in their best interest to steal from others or kill them.

Good makes you feel good. Evil objectively harms others, as well as subjectively harming them. And it's an unsustainable high energy state.

Pain; mental or physical is both subjective and objective. So is morality.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on December 27, 2020:

I liked your article and the concept which you have brought out. Evil will always balance good but then in some peoples mind what is evil and what is good is a matter of perception.

Ron Hooft (author) from Ottawa on December 24, 2020:

Thank you for reading. ;) I think there's hope. The real evolution I'm hoping for is what I call the logical mind. Again, we still have a very long way to go, but we are getting there.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on December 24, 2020:

This is an interesting article, Ron. I agree with you. We don't need dark to appreciate light. I hope we don't destroy the planet.