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Discussion 2 on Talk Back 8
Why I can understand James Krieg's doubt

by Stephan Nitychoruk

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After reading the comment by James Krieg (and the various refutations thereof) I have grown somewhat irritated by the very simplistic views on ethics that have been espoused. Because of this I try to give a comment on Goodness, Evilness, and why social benefits do not correlate to either.

Me, I am no religious man. Like most people life is mostly about living to me. But I care enough to have come to this site, and I think Agnostics deserve better than to be considered mere Utilitarians.


Frankly, I can understand James Krieg. Why? Because I, like many others, know how very easy it is to explain every possible atrocity imaginable away by denominating it "good in the long term". How is it, I ask, that everybody's whole grasp on ethics comes from that very single argument?

I want to give a very classical, and probably decidedly contemporary, example:

Eugenics is the ultimate form of long-term benefit.

Removing all unwanted elements from humanity, purging infirmity, sickness, frailty and pain is the ultimate gift to future generations. All you have to do is to prevent every less-than-perfect human being from being born, or in the very least reproducing and thus polluting the gene pool further.

Still the very few attempts to do so have become great trauma on the conscience of humanity as a whole. Why is that, when good and evil are so clearly defined by things like long-term benefits to society and mere destructiveness?

Because the Philosophy of Ethics, as a whole, always has gone further than that. Society may rule one way or another, but society's values are in the end always created by willful human decision, as history has shown. When does an act become Good or Evil (with capital G & E) in itself?

When does an act become moral or ethical by its innate worth? By what intent is a deed in itself Good or Evil? In times of severe overpopulation, doing away with the old, sick and crippled is the very most rational thing to do - less utterly useless people alive meaning less resources used and more living-space for the really worthy specimen.

Those perfect specimen could live in a most glorious world if we gave over every minority member, criminal and mental retard to slave labour.

But still we would not. Not because we cannot, for we already have. But we would not, because we cannot shake the feeling that doing away with Moral Absolutes might cost us more in collective guilt than it is worth. Is it Good to sire children? Is it Evil not to live by society's expectations of success? Everything may be good insomuch as it furthers societal goals, but that is the very limit of morality Utilitarianism can muster.

Moral Absolutes may never again be as important a concept as they have been 'till the advent of rational science, but they may also be the only thing that ever might have stopped us from again becoming the monsters we have already been.

Where does God fit into the picture? Nowhere, his (non)existence is utterly inconsequential. But the question still remains - and this is why I can understand James Krieg's doubt so well.