True Morality should never be ignored or dismissed entirely. It remains a possibility. The difficulty with True Morality is that man cannot absolutely know what it consists of. For that reason a skeptical approach to morality is both far more practical and applicable. By skepticism I am not implying nihilism nor relativism, rather perspectivism or voluntarism. As a personal addendum to the position I am advocating I add that the possibility of a True Morality is not ruled out completely nor ignored, rather we cannot or have yet to achieve this knowledge of True Morality.
Richard Taylor, in similar thought to Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, presents a unique form of subjectivism. Taylor states that what is considered good and evil is based upon our desires as conative beings, and our faculties of reason only play an instrumental role to be used to achieve that which is desired. This is the inverse of Plato and numerous other philosophers which hold reason as the governor of desires. This echoes the work of Schopenhauer which argued that the driving force behind existence itself and any organic entity is a Will to Live. Schopenhauer presents a disparagingly passive framing of this force in that we are inevitably enslaved by miserable base functions. Taylor’s position that beings are conative beings is reflective of this inherent Will to Live, though not at all as life negating as Schopenhauer presented it. Nietzsche remedies this pessimistic position by coining the term Will to Power, that existence itself and any entities thereof operate as expressions of power for the sake of expressing power itself. It is not necessarily a lust for domination or ‘might is right’ objective which is a common misinterpretation of Nietzsche, rather it is the expression or release of power to the utmost in and of itself. The perspectivism that Nietzsche posits is based upon a skepticism or denial of an absolute morality, and that man himself is to form his own values, not out of reaction to the world around him, but from his innermost dynamic. Indeed, according to Nietzsche morality and existence is in constant fluctuation and dynamic expression. One is either reactive or active in their defining of values, which includes the defining of ‘morality’ or what is to be considered best in life. Nietzsche’s work goes far beyond the scope of this paper, but again Taylor’s conative being and voluntarism reflects the Will to Power and perspectivism. It is the Will that drives existence forward, that drives entities forward, and without the Will or desire man would be motionless. Reason alone does not provoke action or expression. It is desire which puts a being into motion, and what one desires based on their needs is what is then considered good, anything which opposes that is considered evil. At the foundation of Nietzsche’s slave morality and master morality is this same axiom. Within one’s own subjective existence what is considered good and evil is an absolute within the subjective, although may not be an absolute in the objective. This is incredibly powerful if understood, and strikes at a core of Nietzsche’s teachings. Interestingly Taylor does not argue that this conative nature is metaphysical, nor is he necessarily strictly a materialist either. Personally I have contemplated a position that perhaps lies between a priori and a posteriori. Taking Taylor’s argument as true, that there is no concept of morality, good and evil, and such only occurs when a desiring being comes into existence, but this conative aspect being inherent seems to place it between a priori and a posteriori. The morality did not preexist before the desiring being, nor does the desiring being necessarily premeditate what is to be good and evil after the fact based on empirical evidence. The process seems inherent in the being, though not existing a priori, and also not deliberately decided upon a posteriori. Whether viewed metaphysically or materialistically, conation does indeed dictate what is considered good and evil, either by the individual alone or as part of a larger unit such as religion or culture.
When theory is applied to reality there will inevitably by problems and shortcomings. The two direct questions that ask can a person be evil and can acts be evil. The first question has a multifaceted answer. Humans are products of their surrounding environment, as well as the overarching ideological structure pervading the culture they are born into. Genetic predispositions must also be considered, if one is prone to certain addictions, mental illness, or violence. The nature versus nurture argument is a false dichotomy in that we now know it is an intersection of a multitude of factors which determine the outcome of an individual. In extreme and rare cases, such as serial killers/rapists or murderous dictators, there is a ‘perfect storm’ that has produced this outcome. The ‘perfect storm’ argument is that the ideal factors required to produce such an outcome happen to fall into place precisely. Indeed it is improbable, and the occurrence despite the improbability is what makes this outcome such an aberration. So yes, a person can be evil in that such a perfect intersection of factors can produce an individual that inherently and is likely to desire to rape, murder, violate, exploit, and so forth. It is certainly a spectrum, and must not be judged in a black and white manner. Furthermore I find it insufficient to pin down affect, motive, or extremity to define if an individual is evil. A reductionist approach is too limited and narrow. A holistic approach is superior as it acknowledges the multiple intricate factors and the emergent result from those factors to draw a conclusion about an individual’s character.
In accordance with the voluntarist position I will address the second question, are some actions evil, from two significant angles. The first is in consideration of conventional morality, rather than True Morality. As Taylor presents in similar manner to Hobbes, the best approach for conative beings is to form a society which allows mutual liberty to pursue their own desired good while minimizing what is considered a common evil. While two individuals may not desire the same good, they are likely to agree that death or enslavement is a mutually agreed upon evil. Similarly cultures develop a conventional morality, be it religious or custom that institute a malum prohibitum which is an act that is wrong purely because it breaks conventional law. In a simple example, smoking marijuana may be against the law (malum prohibitum), but few will make the argument that it is an evil act in itself (malum in se). Regarding voluntarism, or alternatively perspectivism, conventional law plays an important role in ensuring safety and order within a society. This does not mean an act that goes against conventional law or conventional morality is immediately evil, but nonetheless the act is to be heavily considered as it may not be in one’s self-interest or unintentionally destructive to others. Whether one is a subjectivist or argue for True Morality, in either argument there must be consideration for conventional morality or conventional law, though neither rely upon it to determine what is ultimately good or evil.
From the position of voluntarism and perspectivism, there is no absolute morality. I do not wholly agree, only that we cannot or have not discovered this True Morality, though it is completely possible it may exist, therefore we must work with what we do know and experience. We must not fall into the trap of relativism, which states nothing and solves nothing. Even if we cannot state with absolute certainty and unwavering knowledge that an act is evil, this does not paralyze one nor should it prevent the condemnation of what is heavily considered an evil act. A basic example is homicide, in most cultures and religions this is largely considered an evil act and is condemned. It is well within conation that one can desire to commit murder or see a practical need to, and thus consider it a good to be achieved. It can also be argued in certain contexts such as self-defense this is ‘morally’ acceptable. Our example is an individual with harmful intent committed a premeditated murder. According to conventional law or conventional morality this is considered a wrongdoing, with sufficient evidence the culprit will be found guilty of the wrongdoing and appropriately punished. Conventional morality alone does not suffice our inquiry. Multiple religions and cultures condemn intentional homicide, those who advocate True Morality claim intentional homicide is an evil act, therefore even if we maintain the moral skeptic position that we cannot with absolute certainty know this is malum in se, we can at least confidently take action with what we presently know and have experienced. The skeptic’s position is harshly honest on how limited our comprehension is and our epistemological limitations. It is an error to take this is an immediate plummet into relativism or nihilism. Ones desires ultimately decide what is to be considered good or evil within their own subjective existence. Abstract principles or rationalist teachings can only minimally influence these desires, or at best suppress them, not govern. Indeed, within each individual’s subjective there is a good and evil, based upon desires, and considered resolute. One may attempt to align this with a supposed external True Morality, but this does not prove the superiority of the supposed True Morality, rather it is outsourcing the responsibility and authority on the matter. Individuals combined to form societies, cultures, ideologies, and so forth. Each individual subjectivity synchronizes with those of like nature, a consensual good and evil is discovered, and from this a doctrine declaring True Morality is formed. An evil act is thusly an act that is harmful and destructively violates not only conventional morality, the pervading belief of what is supposed True Morality, and most importantly the harmful violation of another’s subjective existence or body. It is this multitude of violations that can be confidently called evil. Violation of another’s subjective or corporal bodily existence resides at the center of evil behaviors. It is for the sake of order and well-being do we enforce conventional law and why, even to a skeptic, True Morality should be considered although not entirely accepted. We may not be able to know these absolute moral truths with certainty, if at all, but we can do our best with approximations or a model of approximations that is based on experiences and outcomes, which may reflect True Morality if there is such a thing. Also subjective existence should not be dismissed as lesser simply because it is subjective. It is through the subjective that we experience reality.
The Valentina story is an all too common experience shared by those who survived the Rwandan Genocide. Her body mutilated, left for dead, and by a stroke of fortune she survives. The Armenian Genocide, the Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide are incredibly cruel and hellish expressions of what humans are capable of. This is the brutal of the conative being. We are indeed led by desires to determine the good and the evil, and as such we are capable of the absolute worst imaginable. It is passion that drives us to accomplish, to build, and to make intimate love. Passion is also what drives us to murder, to exploit, and behave violently. Often these are subtle shades, one flowing into another. Therefore the passion that loves intimately can easily become the passion that reacts wrathfully. The atrocities committed in Rwanda demonstrates the merciless violence that results from an ideological good based on a distorted desire and the achievement of this supposed good by any means necessary. The acts committed in Rwanda violates widespread conventional morality, the multiple doctrines claiming True Morality, as well as a brutal violation of another’s subjective existence and body. The initial intuitive response to this violence, which is that of repulsion and horror, is a secondary detail that simply reflects one’s own definitions of good and evil.