That is one of the questions I have found myself wondering at times when not much in life made sense. What is good or bad? Why do such divisions tend to exist? And most importantly, who the hell gets to decide? After taking into consideration, the answers from not only the people around me, but also those halfway across the world, I find myself a few steps closer to the truth.
The philosophy of good and bad is an antagonistic duality that we can see through more clearly by realizing that emptiness, in the sense of identifying good and bad as two conflicting principles but not a reality, and draining the opposition between them, is part of the process of accomplishing oneness between the two.
The dictionary definition of good varies from “to be desired or approved of” to “that which is morally right; righteousness” or “benefit or advantage to someone or something.” At the end, it comes down to one thing. Good, in this context, is anything that is morally admirable and thus the opposite, which is evil, would be morally condemnatory.
Determining if something is good or bad is a decision, a verdict. And these decisions help us not only in decision-making, but they also shape us into the type of humans we grow up as.
It’s undeniable that there are standards for “good” and “bad” both, however these standards are not fixed. There is no such determinant which makes figuring this out easier. These standards vary in dissimilar circumstances for different people from diverse backgrounds. If my teacher was to tell me I scored well this time in my math exam, she might just be comparing it to my last score, however a more stable benchmark would be the notions she has of my potential. Looking at this, we can say that part of deciding whether something is good or bad is comparison.
However, it is important for us to consider another aspect. Social construction. Aren’t good and evil just human ideas? And morality is simply a way to encourage some actions and discourage others. What we consider moral or immoral is socially determined based on our societal values, with reference to others and perhaps what they have said/done.
Though these explanations are logical and make a lot of sense, it is necessary we look into those situations where these moral laws don’t abide. For instance, we all know killing is bad. But what if it is killing one to save another. How do you choose? And this might be a very far-fetched example, but equally tough decisions do play a role in our lives. Decisions like these make it hard for us to live a life where we only do good. We cannot avoid the wicked, for the universe was to lose its balance if we could prevent ourselves from turning to the bad.
Being someone who has always been interested in psychology brings us to my most paradoxical concept of them all. Attribution, ever heard of it? The dictionary defines it by saying “the action of regarding something as being caused by a person or thing.”
Referring to the actor-observer difference, we over emphasize personal factors. Which means that when we evaluate an action as virtuous or corrupt, we do judge others more for being a bad person when they do a terrible thing however, are we the same when it comes to ourselves? No. it is not possible as it is our human nature to sustain our “personal goodness” by blaming either the situation, or others when we do something wrong. But the better part of me wants to believe that it is only so because we know ourselves better than we know others, thus we understand why our behavior differs.
Ultimately, there is no good or evil. There are actions, their consequences, and the society’s perception. If our actions are for the benefit of others, then they are good. However, if they are harmful to any, they’re bad.