What Is Good And What Is Bad?


Let’s think some more about an earlier topic. When I published my post on “Ethical – What Does It Mean To You?”, I gave an example using 9/11 and how from one point of view, it was a bad thing, but from another point of view, it was a good thing. This is a puzzling dilemma since I don’t want both views to be “good.” How can we resolve this problem of having the determination of right and wrong based on relativism? This dilemma, I suppose, falls into the category of moral relativism, which is a long study that I am not prepared to jump into at this time.

Now, since I’m not prepared to discuss moral relativism and trying not to over-simplfy things, I think we can start distinguishing good from bad by relating it to LIFE. By this I mean, if it is good for life, then it is good; if it is bad for life, it is bad. Using this test, the event of 9/11 was bad for life; therefore it was a bad thing. When we bombed Iraq, it was bad for life, therefore it was bad. When we develop policies to reduce AIDS in Africa, it is good for life, therefore it is good. When we reduce carbon emissions, it is good for life, therefore it is good. ETC…

I realize this is not complete, but I think is has possibilities. I’m sure we can run into some moral dilemmas where we can have bad for one “side” and good for the other. One that comes to mind is the debate about abortion. To abort is bad for life (of the fetus), but good for life (of the mother, if her life is in danger, for example). And, there are possible problems with different “kinds” of life. For example, to kill a chicken is bad for the life of the chicken, but the food it provides for the the human is good for the life of the human.

I think this determination of good and bad is a complex problem. Having mentioned the words “complex problem,” reminds me of a quote from H. L. Mencken that I use often, “For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat and wrong.” I know that we cannot always expect a simple solution, but in order for us to start the process of determination, I think we need to have some fundamental principle with which to begin. So, though I have not solved the dilemma of what is ethical or not, I do think we at least have a starting point by using the test of LIFE. Again, I know this is only a starting point, but just because a problem is complex, we shouldn’t stop seeking a solution AND we should keep trying to make our thinking fit reality. WOW!

What do you think?



3 Comments on “What Is Good And What Is Bad?”

  1. Using “what is good or bad for LIFE” is going to have its own problems. Everyone is going to apply the “test” from their own point of view. For example, the folks that perpetrated 911 believe that their desired end result justifies the means, and is good for life in their point of view. Of course most of the folks that will read this hold a different point of view, and speaking just for myself, I can’t see their point of view at all, thus the action is bad.

    The same holds true however, for things that we can relate to. For example, I am a big time horse lover, but there is a huge argument in the horse world about the good or bad of horse slaughter. Shutting down horse slaughter houses seems good, but the unintended consequence is the large increase of unwanted horses. What was supposed to end inhumane treatment (slaughtering) of horses results in long term suffering of mistreated, uncared for horses. Good or bad? Hummmmm


  2. Rich,
    A very nice and well thought out comment. I appreciate and respect what you wrote.

    I don’t think you pointed out any new problems with the test of life. Having stated that, perhaps LIFE, as define on the website that was “hyper-texted,” will help. If using the test and one element is life and the other isn’t, then life “wins out” as a beginning classification of good. If both are life and one is a “lesser life” (I hate having to write lesser life) then the lesser loses. That’s the case in my chicken example. Regarding the horse example, I think the horses should be treated like chickens. Now, I know that doesn’t set well with the horse lover, but what about the chicken lover? :-) BUT, this is only meant as a beginning for determining good and bad. Back to the case of the horse, another consideration might be the health of the horse. They shoot horses with broken legs, don’t they? At least they do in the western movies. :-)

    Your mentioning of point of view is important. The logic that has to be used is definitely “fuzzy” at the best. What are we to do with determining good and bad? Use only faith in God? Use only one point of view? Use only the oldest? Use only the strongest? Use only the ….

    This is a complex problem and I didn’t mean to give a simple solution. My intent is to give a “starting principle” for determining good and bad. The final determination will be based on multiple points of view, related information, concepts, inferences, consequences based on what is determined, etc….

    Of course, this is just my opinion which has changed due to your good comment. It’s that old “writing for learning” thing again. :-)

    Thank you for taking the time to comment in such an insightful way. You have helped me.


  3. Just to be clear, this horse lover prefers efficient and regulated horse slaughter houses to large numbers of suffering unwanted horses. Much as I love ’em they continue to be livestock, but our special relationship to them demands our respect.

    Actually I like your “life” test principle for determining and assigning good and bad values. I like to think of goodness or badness as a continuum much like a number line, where zero would be neutral and + values relative good values, some (gooder) or should I say better, and assigned a point higher up on the number line, and – values bad in the same way. In other words, ideas, events, actions are relatively good or not so good, or bad or worse. Your “life” test is a way of determining +, _ or 0 placement on the good-bad scale. The absolute value of placement is certainly a function of point of view and probably many other factors. (Does my years of forgetting mathematical principles show in the previous discussion? grin)


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