On 1/2/2013 4:08 AM, Telmo Menezes wrote:
In my opinion, good and evil are just names we attach to brain processes we all have in common. These brain processes make us pursue the best interest of society instead of our own self-interest. I believe they have two main sources:

1) Biological evolution. In the long term, the DNA of the species as more chances of thriving if the individuals are altruistic to a degree. The exact mechanism here is debatable, it could be kin-selection (affinity for people with similar DNA) or group-selection, which is more controversial. There is some compelling evidence to support this theory. Social insects are extremely altruistic, and at the same time social insect females share more DNA than most animals. Another clue that this is correct comes from experimental psychology: we tend to associate physical beauty with goodness and different races with evil.

2) Social constructs created to address the prisoner's dilema: for a society to thrive, a certain level of altruism is necessary. From the individual's point of view, however, it is irrational to be altruistic to that degree. The solution: tell people that they're going to hell if they're not good (or some variation of that theme). Religions have a positive impact in our species success, and their main job is to solve the prisoner's dilema. They are, nevertheless, a ruse.

All attempts to define "good" and "evil" as a fundamental property of the universe that I've seen so far quickly descend into circular reasoning: good is what good people do, good people are the ones who do good things.

Interestingly enough, left-wing atheists end up being similar to the religious: they believe in a base line level of altruism in human beings that is not supported by evidence.

Isn't it supported by, "In the long term, the DNA of the species as more chances of thriving if the individuals are altruistic to a degree." I think it's useful to distinguish "good for society" or ethics from "what individuals take to be good". Altruism is good for society but for individuals it's only good relative to those near and dear to them. The great problem of cultures is to resolve tensions between what individuals intuitively take to be good and what works well for nation states orders of magnitude larger than the tribal societies in which evolution developed our intuitions.


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