META: The problem of "Good vs. Evil"

Martin Phipps martinphipps2 at
Mon Feb 18 21:58:15 PST 2008

On Feb 19, 5:29 am, Tom Russell <milos_par... at> wrote:

> There's a fourth view you're neglecting, and that it that we are
> neither good nor evil in any abstract way, but that we are all capable
> of good and evil acts.  In this view, _actions_ are good or evil and
> people are not.

I suppose I could just be misstating your own position.  In any case,
Christianity does tell people that they are all "sinners" who need to
be "saved".  The Old Testament also made a point of declaring it
"evil" to worship any other gods.  This belief is reflected to this
day in Islamic Law.  When I claim that people are essentially good I
am distancing myself from people who say we are essentially evil.
Obviously we are capable of "evil" acts, the problem being that people
define "good" and "evil" from the point of view of their own

> On Feb 18, 12:38 pm, Martin Phipps <martinphip... at> wrote:
> > It should be noted that the idea that people are essentially good is
> > supported by scientific research.  John Paul Scott, way back in the
> > fifties, did experiments with mice and found that mice will not attack
> > other mice unless provoked.
> Unfortunately, he then tried to repeat the experiment with a pack of
> wolverines.  It didn't turn out nearly so well. :-)
> Aggressive or violent behaviour is ingrained deeply in certain
> territorial animals, such as housecats and wolverines,

You really, really don't seem to like cats, lumping them in with
wolverines. ;)

> just as some
> animals are programmed with a desire to eat their young or their
> mates.  It's not a "taught" behaviour but rather genetics.

Close.  He repeated the experiment with dogs and found that different
breeds show different levels of aggressiveness, as measured by the
frequency of fights among dogs in the same litter.  He found that when
he cross bred dogs then the offspring showed levels of aggressiveness
that were in between.

But he made the distinction between aggressiveness and aggression.
His point was that there is no inherent need for violent behaviour,
not like there is need for food or sleep, that any species of animal
will behave non-aggressively until provoked.  The difference appears
to be the threashold of stimulus required to provoke aggressive
behaviour: a wolverine will attack before a pitbull and a pitbull will
attack before a poodle.  You'd probably have to kick a poodle into a
corner to get him to bite you.  On the other hand, if you leave a
wolverine alone, he'll leave you alone and that would probably be a
good thing.


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