Good and Evil 2


A definition of good and evil


\[Editor’s note: the numbering does not imply any grading and is solely for the purpose of identifying each article on this subject.\]

Good and evil are moral
concepts. Morality is the doctrine of man’s moral duties. The study of moral
philosophy is the study of ethics. Good and evil are also theological concepts.
Theology is the study of religion and the body of doctrines concerning God,
including God’s attributes and relations with humanity.

speaking, morality is conformity to conventional rules, or apart from,
inspiration and guidance by religion, or other spiritual influences. Custom and
conventional rules may be partly or fully determined or originally shaped by
theological considerations. But, when theological considerations are forgotten
and custom continues by virtue of social inertia, custom is no longer the
province of theology, but of morality in its own right. Morality enforced by
state sanction is known as “the law”.

determines what the conventional rules of morality are. Customs arise for a
number of anthropological, sociological, theological, political and other
reasons, and customs change and vary within the groups that constitute any
given society. Because customs, and hence morality (what is considered to be
moral behaviour) changes and varies, one cannot rationally posit an “absolute
morality” in purely moral, i.e. ethical, i.e. human terms.

absolute morality must, by virtue of it being absolute, descend from an
absolute in order to be valid. Humans are many things, but one thing they are
not is absolute. That is, they are not free from restriction or relation. They
are not unlimited, independent or unconditional. If an “absolute morality” is
based upon a thing that is anything less than absolute, then it is a lie.

religions, especially the revealed religions (Christianity, Islam, etc),
recognise this and claim the rules, theology and practice they follow proceed
directly from God, and so are unquestionable. It is from religion that the
first ideas of absolute morality, and hence absolute good and absolute evil,

existence and non-existence of an external, omnipotent, omniscient,
omnipresent, absolute being (who may or may not take a personal interest in
humanity), who is generally known as God, has been the subject of some debate
over the years, and it is not proposed to resolve the matter here.

What is
certain is that, if a God does exist, then the possibility of an absolute
definition of good and evil exists. It is also possible that such a definition
would have nothing to do with humanity in anything but the most abstract and
impersonal terms, and that would be rather depressing, in the way that it was
rather depressing to discover that the Earth isn’t the centre of the Universe.

In any
event, the definition would itself have to be derived from what is known to be
absolutely true about God. Since opinion varies as to the existence, let alone
attributes of God, the resulting definition would at the very least be rather

the quest for an absolute definition of good and evil, one might, of necessity,
look for other premises that relate to the fundamentals of the human condition
or fundamentals of dynamics or any fundamental at all. Some of these will be
useful, others not.

might, for instance, base a moral system on the premise that the continuation
of the human race is the ultimate good and the extinction of the human race is
the ultimate evil. Being human, this has a certain charm.

might attempt to relate humanity to the cosmos by basing an ethical and/or
magical/religious system upon the premise that the first force in the cosmos
was by definition the prime good and that the first restriction on the prime
force was the prime evil, albeit that a restriction of force is necessary to
enable work.

In each
of the two cases above, the premise one assumes is determined by what one
wishes to achieve. Good and evil cease to be abstract concepts and become means
of action that are consistent with the objective which is itself predetermined
by the premise structure.

taking this road, one finds that the nature of the question has changed and
that this will be our salvation! Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.

original question was “define good and evil”. This implies that “good” and
“evil” are things in themselves that exist, in some sense, independently, when
even this cursory examination of the matter has tended to indicate that “good”
and “evil”, in order to be meaningful in any real sense, must be assigned
values rather than examined for values. “define +x and –x”. The question is
meaningless unless other conditions are appended to it or other assumptions are

There is
no good but the good you define for yourself. There is no evil but that which
prevents you from achieving what you conceive to be the good. There’s more to
it than that, of course, but isn’t there always? And that’s when the fun

From the Dark Lily Journal No 7, Society of Dark Lily
(London 1988).