Of Good and Evil

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They are:. Do conditions surrounding a particular situation make an act good and at another time make it evil? Does an act appear to be good in the overall perspective, but when torn away from its environment appear to be evil?

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If not, how are good and evil identified? If reason is the only guide, is there some criteria to determine what is good and what is evil?


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Or is God the Creator of good alone? If so, who has created evil? What are the reasons? These questions have been thought over by philosophers and thinkers of all times. We shall now briefly discuss their views. However, we shall mention only those philosophers whose views left a deep impact upon philosophical thought. Later on, we shall present the guidance provided by the Qur'an in this regard. He found that many things change into their opposites: for example, hard ice melts into water which is soft.

This led him to believe that the combination of opposites resulted in a harmonious whole. In music harmony results from the combination of low and high notes, while in the universe harmony flows from the combination of opposites: good and evil. What is conducive to happiness is good, otherwise evil. According to him, happiness is an inner condition or state of tranquillity.

He thought that one should not depend upon material things alone as these are transient and a lack of them causes unhappiness. Goodness, to him, was not only a matter of action but depends upon man's inner desire. A good man is not one who does good, but who always wants to do good. Sophists Philosophy: The sophists confused the problem of good and evil. An important sophist, Pythogoras, considered man as the standard of all things, and so the standard of good and evil. Everybody has the right to determine for himself what is good and what is evil. Some other philosophers of this school such as Thrasymachus and Callicles went a step further and said that there are no moral laws, no all-inclusive principles of right and wrong.

Good or evil are a matter of mere tradition and habit. Man is not bound by moral codes, he is free to live as he desires and to get what he wants by any means possible and to frame his own code of life. According to him, knowledge of good and evil and its criteria are imbued in man and he can differentiate between the two if he desires so. With sustained thought and guidance of nature he is in a position to know what is good and what is evil.

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Know thyself' also points to the fact that the basic principles of good and evil are innate in man and can be discovered by deliberation. Socrates was firmly of the view that there should be basic principles independent of individual desires and beliefs for measuring good and evil and right and wrong. According to him, the greatest good is knowledge and the treasure of knowledge is hidden in man and it can be discovered after thoughtful deliberation.

Socrate's emphasis on self-realization was due to his belief that it is the innate knowledge which man cannot disregard. Knowledge alien to him does not have a significant impact on him. Self-realization brings real happiness. Other sources of happiness are not real. If someone acts contrary to his knowledge, it is only transitory just as a clean and holy person happens to soil himself but he does not live with it and cleanses himself at the earliest opportunity. He turns bad when he does not know what is good and what is evil. If he knew what is good, he was sure to choose it.

This knowledge existed in his soul but during the period between his creation and his descent in this world, he forgot most of the things.

How are saintly people different from 'evil' ones? What does 'good' really mean?

These forgotten things can be recollected either by wise sermons or through meditation on nature. Experience also helps in recollection of the forgotten. All good and evil is innate in man. To Plato, the life of reason and good behaviour is a happy life. Good itself is happiness and the soul's paradise.

It is its own reward. If man uses his reason and other capabilities properly, he can attain self-realization after which he hardly needs any measure for good and evil. The position of self-realization is sufficient for his guidance. Aristotle also considered reason and nature to be sufficient for human guidance. He said that goodness is in harmony with nature and its principles have been set by reason which a wise man can easily find. Epicurean and Stoic Philosophy: Epicureans thought that the goal of all human activity is pleasure and that happiness is the supreme good of all.

But the focus should be on ultimate pleasure instead of immediate pleasure.

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An excellent meal is a pleasure to eat but its excessive consumption will bring discomfort. A temporary enjoyment cannot be called happiness because its ultimate result may not be good. Epicurus BC considered mental pleasure as the real one in contrast with physical pleasure. The intellectual field is the one where man should search for happiness. According to the stoics, man is a part of the universe and therefore he must live in harmony with the laws of nature: this is the greatest good. PHILO BC : In the early ages, religious movements in philosophy, of which Babylonians and Assyrians are well known, a sharp distinction was made between the principles of good and evil.

Philo thought that the spiritual part of man, his mind or soul, is the seat of good, and his body, the material part, is the seat of evil. Consequently, when the soul is incorporated in the body it suffers a fall from divine perfection and becomes predisposed to evil. Thus the goal of man is freedom from matter and a return to God who is perfect goodness.


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  4. Saint Augustine BC : The early Christian thinkers thought that God had given man a good nature, but he had turned away from God to the flesh ie, the body. The sin of Adam has been transmitted to all men as the original sin and will continue to harass him throughout his life unless he seeks salvation through the divine grace of God.

    For this they prescribed nerve-racking meditation to get rid of the sin of Adam through self-attrition. Saint Augustine, the greatest of the Christian thinkers, thought that God is all good, all perfection. He cannot be the creator of evil. Flowers of different colours are necessary to the beauty of a garden and every flower is good in its own place adding to the beauty of the garden. For example, in a painting, shadows and dark spots add to its beauty. An attractive and beautiful painting is made up of different colours.

    Similarly, the evil which is found in the world is there to make the whole good. It looks evil only when one sees the dark spots broken away from the whole picture but when seen in the picture they add to its beauty. If we fit evil in the whole system of the universe, it would look good and beautiful. He thought that an act itself is not good or bad but it is the intention of the doer that makes it good or bad. If a thief commits a theft intending it as something good, it is thereby good.

    God considers only the spirit in which an act is done. If one acts in terms of what he deems right but errs and does wrong, the act will remain good. According to him, goodness and morality are a matter of conscience and intention to do wrong. An evil done with good intention is not sinful. Thomas Aquinas AD : Another Christian thinker, Thomas Aquinas, also thought that the goodness or evil of a particular action depends upon the aim or purpose of the doer. But he did not share Abelard's view that a bad act if done with a good intention becomes good.

    According to him, good is that which is done with good intention and with the knowledge that the results would be good. He said that God has created all things including man for good.

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    To achieve goodness is the highest good, and the greatest good for man is to realize God's purpose in the creation of man. The best way to attain goodness is to abandon worldly things and seek communion with God like a saint in a monastery devoting himself entirely to the service of God. For Aquinas, evil is the negation of good. Where there is no good, there is evil.

    For him, evil is the absence of good. All things created by a good-God aim at goodness. When an object fails to achieve good results, evil comes into being.