The Opposite of Good

Good-vs-Evil.11What is the opposite of hot? The opposite of alive? The opposite of fat? The opposite of good? The opposite of tall?

We probably all did some kind of activity in elementary school that required us to match a word with its opposite. Since then,the idea of opposites, opposing ideas, opposing forces, has been a constant part of our thinking. The reality is, though, opposites only exist in words. Opposites do not exist in reality.

We may say that the opposite of hot is cold. We imagine that hot and cold and two competing forces, the stronger of which will eventually be victorious. In reality though, only heat truly exists. Cold is not the opposite of heat, but the absence of heat. A complete lack of heat results in a temperature of −459.67° Fahrenheit. This absolute cold is not the triumph of cold. It is simply the utter lack of heat.

Likewise, darkness is not the opposite of light, but the absence of it. Short is not the opposite of tall, but the the absence of height. Slow is not the opposite of fast; it is only the absence of speed.

These concepts that we often imagine to be realities are not real at all. They are only ideas. Darkness is not real, but only a convenient concept. Cold is not real, but only an idea that we use for descriptive purposes.

Is it not possible, then, that evil is a concept similar to darkness or cold? Not a reality in itself, but only the absence of another reality–Good.

We often imagine that good and evil are opposing forces. We imagine some sort of eternal, cosmic conflict for the universe and for the soul of humanity. This idea of opposing forces, though, is only a myth. The cosmic conflict is a myth. The power of evil is a myth. Evil is the absence of good. Good is powerful. Evil is not.

Evil possesses no power.

Many of us prefer to give evil power though. We prefer for evil to be the powerful opposite of good because it makes us less responsible. If we admit that the problems of the world occur because of a lack of good, then we must accept some culpability for not bringing goodness to the world. If evil is real, then it is not our fault. It is the devil’s fault.

This understanding of good and evil requires us to view the world without the dualistic lense that many of us have inherited from religion, philosophy, or culture. It requires us to distribute blame for the world’s problems differently, and it allows us to see new potential for participating in the creation of a good world.

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”   –Edmund Burke

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2 Responses to “The Opposite of Good”

  1. “…Cold is not real, but only an idea that we use for descriptive purposes…”

    The same is true of ‘opposite’ though, surely?

    “…Is it not possible then, that evil is a concept similar to darkness or cold? Not a reality in in itself, but only the absence of another reality–Good…”

    On what basis do you define good in terms of reality but not evil?

    Aren’t they the BOTH just ways of classifying human behaviour?…… in which case the *behaviour* is real, the *effects* of that behaviour is real and good and evil are just ways to classify those real behaviours and their real effects – as well as the real people involved.

    Hot and cold may not be ‘real’ but water which scolds is real and water which causes frostbite is also real. Hot and cold are ways to classify these real properties of water. They are abstract (and somewhat vague) concepts which refer to real and measurable things.

    Good and evil are also real and measurable ways to behave. Good might be defined as any behaviour which is universally preferable. Evil might be defined as any behaviour which is not universally preferable.

    And as with all classifications schemes the meaning changes according to context. Hot and cold mean different things depending on whether or not we’re ordering a coffee, adjusting the thermostat, exploring a volcano or climbing Mount Everest.

    The same is true of good and evil. In a playground context beating up a kid is evil (not universally preferable behaviour). But in the context of geopolitics a genocidal war would be evil. Obviously that doesn’t mean a schoolyard bully and genocidal dictator and his army are both equally evil.

    The idea of good and evil existing in their own right is as stupid as the idea of hot and cold existing in their own right. They’re just classification schemes. They only exist in their own right as metaphors. One might ‘battle against the cold’ on an arctic expedition. And one might ‘battle against evil’ in society. But in reality there is only cold weather and evil people – which is to say people behaving in evil ways (ways which are not universally preferable).

    • Your thoughts are insightful and wise. I appreciate your distinction between abstract ideas and the real behaviors of people. The words we use or the way we define concepts is not nearly as important at the way we behave. I completely agree with that perspective.

      My initial post is approaching a slightly different idea than what you have addressed, though.

      I continually experience people who view the world with a dualistic perspective. They assign every person, activity, nation, belief system, and product into the categories of good or evil. I believe that this is an unhealthy perspective that results in huge amounts of conflict and polarization.

      I do believe that good is something more than a category invented by society. Just as light is something very real, not just a descriptive or abstract concept, I believe that good is a reality. I do not believe that good is wholly subjective. I believe that it is a force that is carried out through nature and through humanity. I know this idea is debatable, and you may find my argument faulty based on this presupposition, but I hope you can overlook your philosophical objections to this idea for a moment.

      Because of some of your spelling I assume that you live somewhere other than the United States (which is where I live). Many of our cultural ideas in the US are shaped by traditional, fundamentalist Christianity. While my ideas about goodness are rooted in Christian ideas about God, I do reject many of the fundamentalist ideas that I believe have made society intellectually and socially regressive. There is a strong belief in many Americans that the devil is a powerful, personal reality who is responsible for the world’s problems–from inane personal issue to global catastrophe. I believe that this propensity to blame the devil and to assign power to evil leads many people to a flawed perspective of the way they must approach evil. My hope is that understanding evil in a different way can allow us to take more active role in bringing good to the world.

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