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Is there good that is not based in knowledge and evil that is not based in ignorance?

Socrates said, "There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance," but lately I've wondered if this in fact true. As of now, I have not been able to come up with examples that truly discredit it, and it seems a very plausible and elegant description. So I'm curious what theTED communities thoughts are.


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  • Apr 29 2013: Some studies done within the last two or three years supposedly hint that babies carry at birth some sort of context of a morality.
    If all goes well at birth, humans are born with their senses and instincts intact and at one with them.
    The only thing they lack is experience (knowledge) in learning how to use them and trust them.
    According to Robert Trivers, a leading evolutionary biologist, these young humans also carry the false and the true within them simultaneously, in order that they many learn how to recognize the true from the false.

    However, environment plays a huge role in how a human organism, brain, mind and so on, discerns this information for themselves, leading to how they then apply it.

    Isn't evil simply doing what you know or believe to be wrong?
    If you don't know then how could it be wrong?
    If you don't believe it, then how could it be wrong?
    Simply because someone else says it is?

    A young boy sees soldiers come into his village. His father tells him to go immediately onto a hillside and take care of the sheep there. He does. He watches these soldiers massacre his entire family and they do it with joy.

    This boy grows up to be a wanted and hunted war criminal for crimes against humanity stemming from the Croatian/Serbian war.

    He believed, nay knew, he was doing good. He was considered evil.
    He wasn't ignorant

    With the knowledge gained from what he saw, he knew exactly what to do and he did it.

    So in fact, he wasn't evil. He knew what he was doing, he knew it was right and he completely believed it.
    Only the people judging him are evil in their ignorance of his life experience.
    I don't know the answer to your question.
    It still is making my head swirl.
    Oh, no. I'm not getting enough blood to my brain. Close to a stroke right now. Gotta go.
    • Apr 29 2013: Excellent bit about biology, it actually falls in line with some thoughts I had on other subjects but that's beside the point. I don't think evil is necessarily doing what you know to be wrong though. I think we would all agree that sociopaths will tend toward evil but they don't have a concept of right and wrong. If it's only wrong if you know it's wrong then a sociopath that lacks a sense of morality can't be considered to be doing wrong. Exactly whose ideas about morals are the best is a conversation for another day but I have yet to read a text on morality that says it's good to joyously slaughter people. Which brings me to your story about the boy. This could, in fact, be used as example of a situation in which Socrates was right. The classical definition of knowledge is justified true belief, so then ignorance would be any condition in which a person doesn't have justified true belief, including false belief, beliefs based on false evidence, and a complete lack of knowledge. The boy was actually ignorant because he had the false belief that he is justified in the slaughter of innocents because he made the incorrect assumption that if others do something to you it's justified to do that to others. The misdeeds of one cannot excuse the misdeeds of another, because if they do then nothing is wrong and morality doesn't exist, so there has to at some point be moral truth. Whether it's your motivation that makes it wrong or if certain actions are intrinsically wrong, it simply can't be that subjective. So if the boy developed this false belief that what he was doing was right then he would be ignorant and his evil deeds stem from his ignorance.
      • May 1 2013: Perhaps morality is more situationally created.
        I don't think I was saying the misdeeds of one excuse the (misdeeds - your word), deeds of another.
        There doesn't necessarily have to be moral truth that extends over a period of time.
        To arbitrarily determine that "this or that is intrinsically wrong" for someone else, is perhaps, quite wrong in itself, as it applies or doesn't apply to another individual.

        I mean, what if? morality really is subjective? Who is to really say what another should conclude about their experiences, feelings and beliefs?

        Where in history have humans been practicing objective morality?
        • May 1 2013: Moral Philosophers have been creating systems of objective morality for quite some time. Besides, what is a legal code other than an imposed objective morality? The Hippocratic oath is another example of the same. We have always had objective morality as long as we have had civilizations. It is always wrong to kill a child in cold blood, I can't imagine a single situation where that is excusable, again making it objective.

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