Good, Evil, and our Responsibilities to Them.
Can we choose evil? I believe we can but it is small minority of people who can actually choose evil, and the majority of evil comes from doing what we think is good. When we think of evil, one of the first things that come to mind are the Nazis. I think the fact that they were evil is beyond question, but few would be inclined to think that the evil was rooted in the ideals of doing what was good. If one has chosen evil, then it would be logical to assume that they would at least in some small part, know they where doing something evil, but this is not normally the case. Most Nazis no doubt would tell you they were doing this to save Germany, to protect it from the influence of people who are trying to harm it. They were acting on what they felt was the right thing to do, never making a choice to do anything evil, but yet at the same time, the outcome was something clearly evil. Sartre says that “To choose to be this or that is to affirm at the same time the value of what we choose, because we can never choose evil. We always choose the good, and nothing can be good for us without being good for all. “ This, while going along with the idea evil not being a choice, I think he failed to fully expand the idea of nothing being good without being good for all. This is only true if we look at good from afar. The same things that are not good for all, are very good for the individual making the choice. Sartre asks that we look at it from the view of if it is good for all, we may also find that this is not true. We will make choices that are good for us, but they will be bad choices for others. In the current fight against Al-Quida and the Taliban, we are doing what we think is good for the people of the United States, and the world, yet at the same time it is hard to see it being good for those we are attacking. So based on the idea that what is good, is good for all, our actions can-not be viewed as good, regardless of how many people it may be good for. I think the reason we find such problems with this viewpoint of saying we don’t choose evil, is that it fails to point out that we also do not choose good.
While we can point to the issue of people not choosing evil, and that they most often make the claim that they where doing what they thought was right, we also see the problem of not choosing good. In regards to good and evil we are only able to make one choice on any one act, and that is how we feel about that action. In any conflict of good and evil, no side ever claims to be the evil; it is up to personal judgments of who is the good or evil. We can only make choices on what we think is good or evil, and others are only able to do the same to us. If there really was a true evil or good, then much of politics, ethics, and life would be simple, but we all know that there are few issues where what is right and wrong is generally agreed on. “It is I who will choose to say if a act is a good one rather then bad” (Sartre 20) I think this statement shows a vital part of the relation of good and evil, but lacks the idea that it is up to others to also judge our actions as good or bad.
With this idea of a lack of good and evil, comes the question of what is reasonable for our actions? Sartre says on page 23 “Condemned, because he did not create himself, yet, in other respects is free; because, once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.” Also on page 23, “ we have no excuses behind us, more justification before us. We are alone, with no excuses.”
If it is true that there is no good or bad, then this has to make people look harder at what they are doing to examine the actions for themselves. It has been thought by many that bettering ones self is always good, and if we don’t look deeper, we may miss that while one is bettering themselves, others are hurt by those actions. We are responsible for our actions and our choices, there are times when we may look at our actions and judge them to be good, but in the end we find they wrong then we have to except that we did make the choices that resulted in the outcome.
I disagree with Sartre is with his view that we are 100% responsible for all actions. We can only be held responsible to a point, if we base a decision on all evidence we can, but something comes that we had no way of knowing, then we cannot hold people resonable for the actions. To hold people to this degree of responsibility is foolish and unresonable. We can only affect the outside natural world, and people so much. To think that we somehow can take into account every possible outcome by nature and every person is very harsh when we consider that it is hard enough to rely on one persons actions, let alone the worlds actions. The outcome of such huge responsibly would for most people crush them. Some people would shut down, and do nothing out of fear, while others may completely give up in a sense of hopelessness, and cease to care about if anything is good, bad, or what the effects may be.
For example take a fairly hard decision such as if we should give up some freedom to fight terrorism, and now add the fact that you would be 100% reasonable for the outcome, and the endless amount of people affected, and how they will be affected. Can we expect most people to be able to deal with the type of reasonability? While we are held responsible to a degree for the decision, we also know that we have an endless amount of things that we have little, if any, control that we must deal with. The truth is that we are responsible for our actions, but the extent of our accountability is more based on the situation, then an absolute standard of 100% accountability.
Overall we must accept reasonability for our actions to the extent that we can control them, and we must realize that what we do is not only going to be judged by ourselves, but by others. While we may find that something is good, it is possible that others will find those decisions to be wrong. In such a case we need to decide if we will follow decision and if it is good or not. In this decision we are responsible for our choice, but we may not be reasonable for every aspect of the outcome, only those that we could foresee or control.