"It is right in principle that those should be the best loved who have contributed most of the elevation of the human race and human life. But if one goes on to ask who they are, one finds oneself in no inconsiderable difficulties. In the case of political, and even of religious, leaders it is often very doubtful whether they have done more good or harm. Hence I most seriously believe that one does people the best service by giving them some elevating work to do and thus indirectly elevating them. This applies most of all to the great artist, but also in a lesser degree to the scientist. To be sure, it is not the fruits of scientific research that elevate a man and enrich his nature, but the urge to understand, the intellectual work, creative or receptive. Thus, it would surely be inappropriate to judge the value of the Talmud by its intellectual fruits."

- Albert Einstein, Amsterdam: Querido Verlag, 1934

It was Friedrich Nietzsche who once said that everything that is good was once upon a time considered evil. In some way I agree with that statement and in another I do not, but I understand what he meant to the point of using Nietzsche's idea as inspiration for the following write-up.

When I say I agree with his statement I mean that there are certain things in life which we hold good because we think they are sacred, or that they would necessarily improve our happiness, or that the good thing is simply analogous to common sense or acting out of the supreme confidence of intelligence. Or that the good thing or way of seeing something will help us along our (ultimate) objectives. However, since no one will ever know everything and escape being stupid to some measure we must resign ourselves to the fact that whatever we believe is good for us is a result of the faith we have that it is so.

Everything that does not fall within the ambit of us making a good moral judgement thereon we see as being necessarily evil since this is the way our minds work. It might be that the sorting of a thing into possibilities which the limits of our intelligence impose upon is dangerous. ie. The problem of whether a thing is good or evil may simply not apply, it is of such small consequence that it is really pointless bothering about such an expensive moral principle (closely related to the idea of thinking too much). To see things in black and white is a dangerous tendency. It may be that we see a thing as being evil because we do not understand it, or display a lack of thinking prior to casting a hasty moral judgement or as the case usually is: we act out of stupidity or ignorance.

When I say I do not agree with Nietzsche's idea we inch closer to the idea of what human nature is. When we attempt to express our idea of ourselves we set up artificial limits beyond which we refuse to consider what we are capable of. For the person who believes in the traditional sense of the word good, this might mean that he describes himself as one who would never ever lie or commit murder or sleep late on a school night. And when such a person comes across what he sees as something which his value system describes with the label evil he becomes shocked, and says to himself that that is not what human nature is. That the action he sees before him is an aberration of what is normal. See cultural relativism or the problem of what to do on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

It is important to note here the distinction between the actions of a person and the person himself because this consideration has important implications for the concept of punishment and reward. We must consider whether the person had enough free will to exercise in such a way that he could control the outcome of the event he either started, got caught up in, or is being blamed for. The more will to power it takes someone to cause something to happen the more we can say that that person is responsible for his actions. Because as you know, accidents happen and people make mistakes. We should apportion whatever judgement we have about a person by looking at how much that person was/is really responsible for his actions.

However, the question of what human nature really is begs us to ask the following question. If I knew something to be evil, if I knew that the action I was about to commit was really and truly evil, then would I go ahead and commit it? That really depends on what you're about to do and what you want to ultimately achieve. And it's important to see that casting a judgement has a lot to do with what you're about to do. The context of your judgment must be taken into account. As though what you're about to is in some way connected to how you will judge your action. It is really pointless to think too far ahead and predict and prepare for every little combination of possibilities which might come your way. That is the same thing as thinking too much. Usually this leads to the concept of utilitarianism which tries to answer the problem of good and evil with try to find what is ultimately in the best interests of as many people as possible.

Let's explain by way of an example. A man threatens my life, he is armed with a loaded gun and I have reasonable intelligence at my disposal to believe that he will in fact shoot with the expressed intention to kill me and that attempting to negotiate or just walking away from the situation, is impossible to do. I have a loaded gun pointed at him too. This is a classic it's either you or me-situation. While it's against my idea of being good, or what is human nature, to kill the man I have to ask myself if the lesser of two evils is that I should allow myself to be killed in favour of a higher (self-defeating) moral principle or should I exercise my instinct to self-preservation and do the right thing.

Long long ago it might have been considered evil to believe that the earth was anything but flat, in fact some principled people killed some un-principled people who were brave enough to believe otherwise. If you study history carefully you will find many examples of this kind of thinking.

To really know what is good, what the essence of being good is we must try and find what it is that has never, never ever, changed in the whole intimate history of humanity or even in our own short personal histories. For that thing, is the ultimate good. And as you study the changing perceptions you have about that history you will find that your idea of the ultimate good is not static or objective, that it subject to change and has always been quietly changing - sort of like the way a bird's beak chips a mountain down in the classic explanation of infinity (only much faster). So you see, trying to look for good as a thing is really pointless. You age, your intelligence increases, you become more wise, things that affect you happen, you see more (or less) of the world and your whole worldview consequently changes. This says alot about the concept of free will, and the idea of believing in a god(s) represented as an unchanging idol(s). This is probably why some religions, such as Islam, Judaism, certain sects of Christianity forbid the representation of God in any worldy form. Although that assertion is open to interpretation.

I guess it all boils down to whatever you think and decide as long you are willing to take responsibility for what you do. Me? I use The Golden Rule. I treat other people in the way I would like to be treated.

I started this write-up by saying that Nietzsche observed that everything that is good started out as evil. I'll end off by admitting that I wonder about the things we think are good, that are in fact evil and should have stayed so.

In doing anything, a person performs action which effects the world; yet how is one to know or judge whether such actions are "good" or "evil" and what responsibility, if any, does a person have for the consequences of any given action they perform? Every living form extant upon this planet is involved in action of some sort at this moment. Whether building, thinking, breathing - even molecular movement. From these actions results the majority of the world we interact with and learn from. Each action creates a reaction (which causes a reaction). A consequence, be it positive or negative, large or small. Humans are differentiated from most creatures because they have the ability to comprehend this concept via the perception of self. Ego and intelligence, giving us enhanced ability to perceive and choose.

In a society which seems consumed with focusing on reactions instead of actions or the thoughts behind them, much possible objectivity and understanding is lost. Often people become inundated with the somewhat idealistic concept of absolute right and wrong or good and evil. Since such concepts are widely varied and relative not only to each event and the circumstances surrounding it, but each individual, group, culture, and race, there can be no finite definition of what is good or right. It depends upon personal judgments, which are inherently limited by the individuals experiences and nature - heredity and environment. The purpose and value behind the actual action itself is all too often lost in judgments lacking both knowledge and objectivity, then further confused by the maze of trying to decide whether the results of the action were good or evil. Ironic, really, when you consider the fact that a person can directly control only their actions and not the consequences that come from them. While we might have a good idea of what we personally consider right or wrong, there is no higher source apparently avaliable for questioning on such minor issues. To regain personal objectivity it becomes necessary to become detached.

"...a man who is good for anything ought not to calculate the chance of living or dying; he ought only to consider whether in doing anything he is doing right or wrong..." -Socrates

Detachment to the relative ideas of good and evil and the results of action rids oneself of many paradoxes and restores much objectivity. Further detaching oneself from the idea of self and ego ("I" and "mine") furthers this. The importance of actions starts to rest on why they are performed, not upon the reactions they cause. This detachment encourages individual thought and responsibility. The forging of a personal code, if you will. Wherein if a person acts following their code or nature, they perform "good" actions, regardless of the outcome of such choices. Amusingly enough, were you to turn the tables and forget the lack of anything truly definable as good or evil, it would be those lacking knowledge of themselves and a personal code which would be those people performing "evil" actions - regardless of the good which might come from such action.

If action is placed above consequence, and the futility of trying to perceive and define good and evil in a finite way accepted, it might become that knowledge, or more accurately wisdom, is more valuable than gold. Inner knowledge being of more value than any other. The ability to act in accordance with this knowledge would be more valuable than any skill. Large amounts of both things would surely lead to happiness, though the same could not be said of either gold or skill.

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