Evil without Consequences?

December 17, 2010 at 6:11 am | Posted in Philosophy | 1 Comment
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A writing prompt asks: If there were no consequences, what’s the most evil thing you would do?

 Here is my response to that prompt:

 There can be no such thing as “no consequences” for doing something evil. The concept of evil is social, cultural and religious/spiritual/ethical. It therefore affects people, as it is from people and their beliefs that these concepts come. If an action has nothing to do with people or their world, then it has no moral value and is therefore not classed as evil.

 Following from this, to be evil, an action must have a moral value attached to it – it must be something immoral. If it is immoral, then it is against the ethical values of a society, culture or religion, or of an individual. If an evil action is carried out, it must have consequences of some kind.

 I cannot rob an institution or an individual without it affecting the institution or individual, or indeed others, in some way, whether it be through the initial loss, or through increased costs of insurance. I cannot injure somebody without consequences – their pain and suffering; the cost of treatment; loss of income or ability to conduct normal activities; increased fear in them and others; policing costs; etc.

 One might consider that some actions, normally considered evil, can be justified in certain situations. This may be eliminating a person who has done terrible things: a child molester; an evil despot; a mass murderer. For those there may be the death penalty, the legal consequence for certain crimes in many countries. For others, assassination does the same thing, but without legal sanction.

 But what if you could get away with assassinating the person and ridding the world of their wickedness? Would that not be a positive thing for society? Perhaps, but one must also consider what effect such an act would have in the mind of the assassin. To kill one person for a “good” cause can lead to a range of outcomes, from guilt at taking another life to the belief that killing is not such a bad thing after all. Some serial killers grow out of what they perceived originally to be a purifying action.

 I would not carry out what I might be tempted to, even if I were told there would be no consequences, because I know that there is no evil action that has no consequences.

© Linda Visman 17.12.10

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  1. What is evil to one person is not evil to another. As you touched on in your blog, to kill can be construed by one person to be evil, no matter the circumstances – in this case, in order to “purify”. Most of us tend to think the attacks of September 11 to be “evil” (myself included, fwiw) however, there are those who think it was a good thing.

    If I killed someone or something that was potentially going to kill me, then am I evil for killing? I wouldn’t think so, although the family of the other person might.

    Anyway, that’s really not the point of the topic. What dastardly act would I commit if there were no consequences?

    It’s hard to think of something that I really WANT to do that is that bad – I guess, consume as many of the earth’s resources as I like, just for the sake of my own enjoyment!

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