We often say that a certain person is good and another person is bad, or a certain thing that is happening to us is good or bad, it is a form of judging. But how do we determine how a person or thing is bad or good and is there anything at all that is absolutely good or bad? What is the essence of good and bad and what determines them?
We can easily see that when something happens to us which serves our goals or desires, we call it a good thing. When we earn money we say it is good as it is a part of our goal. When something happens that goes against our goals or desires we call it a bad thing. If someone calls me an idiot I will feel bad and offended. Like everyone I have an interest in feeling good and avoid suffering. Goal is not just the conscious goal but any need or desire or interest, whether conscious or unconscious.
When we call a certain person bad that means he does something or behaves in a way that goes against our own interest. We say a thief in our neighborhood as bad because he may steal our property, but what about a thief in another part of the world. We will also call him bad. So does our sense of good and bad transcends our personal interest? Not really. We may feel compassion for poor people in general as we do not want anyone to suffer. In this case our interest or goal is to prevent suffering and anyone who does something against this cause that is creates suffering as in the case of stealing is bad for us. Or we may have a moral belief that one should not steal and we want all people to behave that way. So we have an interest that all people should behave according to our belief. If we did not care about stealing then we would not call a thief a bad man.
Now think of the leader of your country, you might think he is bad because he has raised taxes which shrinks your income. Or he has invested the states resources in industry whereas you think he should have invested in education. From the leader’s point of view and the people who follow him, he is good leader because the raised taxes will balance the state’s budget and the industry will create more jobs. So is he a good leader or bad leader? We will see that whether a person is good or bad is based on our personal perspective.
This means there isn’t such a thing as absolute good or bad. It is always relative.
But isn’t killing absolutely bad? In that case all humans and animals are bad because we kill plants and animals to feed ourselves. Is killing as an act of self defence is bad or euthanasia or abortions are always bad no matter what the circumstances? There is nothing absolutely bad. Likewise there is nothing as absolute good.
Imagine country which has a perfect leader who will only do good things. Can he do a thing which everybody will say a good thing? There will always be someone or a group of people who will find something wrong in it, fully or partially. I haven’t found anything. My conclusion is that the good and the bad, they themselves do not exist. It only exists in relation to a goal or interest.
But if interest decides what is good or bad then how can we explain things that are both good and bad at the same time. A simple example would be eating ice cream. Few things are better than it but at the same time it is bad because it is unhealthy and makes us fat. To understand it we have to examine the thing which we call ‘I’. We consider ourselves as a single entity because we have one name, one body and one brain. But this brain holds many numbers of different mental entities, holding different views and interests which sometimes can be contradictory.
Do you think that the part of us that wants to eat ice cream and the part of us that wants to lose weight are the same? In fact when we do something it means that the part of me that perceives this thing as good is stronger than the part that perceives it as bad at that moment. The interest to do something must be stronger than the interest not to do it, otherwise we won’t do it. The conclusion comes that we actually cannot do anything bad.
But what about criminal who kill and steal? Don’t they think they are doing a bad thing? Speaking relatively they don’t. They may think that this society is corrupt because of it my life is hell so I will do whatever I want. Or he may be jobless and have a family to feed. He will have a full justification for killing or stealing. He may say that he was unaware of it or he had no choice of it or it was an involuntary act. For him the part of him that thought it was good outweighed the part that though it was bad. Think of the most cruel men in the world, do you think they were intentionally doing bad things? No, they were thinking they were doing some higher good to the world or their country. So were Hitler and Bin Laden bad, yes for me and most of the people but still you will find people now who think they did good.
Now, what about people who intentionally do bad things. Such people are confused. They think what is bad to be good because it makes them the feel brave and strong. It is as per their understanding. Nobody ever does something bad on purpose. Everybody do a thing which they consider it as good from their point of view.
So should be love people who are bad for us like thieves and murderers. The answer is within the words – for us. What is your goal, what is good for you or all in general? Do you want to keep your property safe from stealing or do you want a society free of crime and killing. Catch the criminals and put them in jail if that is what is good for you. The more the level of awareness grows the more you will understand the interdependence of people in a society. Your concept of personal good will take into account others people as well. It is not that you or a group of people are good and the rest are bad, it is based on own goals and interest.
There is so much conflict in this world, fighting between countries, within the society and at individual level. We believe what we are doing is good and whoever is doing differently is bad. When we make such artificial distinction between two we end up fighting to destroy what we consider as bad. Once you stop defining the other people as bad you will stop hating them. That doesn’t mean you will support them but you will find other ways to convince them what you feel is good.
So if there are no absolute good and bad and all is from our personal interest then doesn’t it make our interest to make the society and the world a better place meaningless? This doesn’t mean that most people in the world have no common personal interests. Most people want to live in freedom, security, love etc and for this reason we have made laws which is as per the common interest of most of us.