Monday, March 30, 2009

An incomplete meditation on good and evil, innocence and wisdom

Wisdom and innocence are incompatible. Innocence implies ignorance of evil. Wisdom implies knowledge of it. To be knowledgeable of evil, one must have either taken part in it or been its victim. Knowledge of evil cannot be theoretical, or it is not properly understood, only suspected.

Understanding of evil does not imply power to control it - as one can understand the laws of physics, one nevertheless cannot control them, one is only beholden to them. To understand evil does not mean that one has the power to defeat it, or bend it to one's own will. The most that one can hope to achieve is to manage its effects, either by limiting them or taking advantage of them. Clearly good lies in limiting evil's effects and evil in encouraging them.

Claims to wisdom are suspect. To claim to be wise is to presume to know what one does not know. The core of wisdom is recognition of ignorance. Wisdom is aspired to, not possessed.

Innocence is inevitably surprised by evil. Because an innocent does not know evil he or she cannot recognize its advance. Evil is known by its intentions and its effects. An innocent, once exposed to evil, is contaminated by it, and no longer innocent. Lack of innocence implies guilt. Wisdom implies guilt.

Guilt does not imply evil. Evil is celebration of guilt. Good is not so seduced. Good knows guilt and regrets it.

Just as innocence is ignorant of evil, it is also ignorant of good. As such, innocence is only potentially good, or evil. Innocence must be lost to achieve that potential, or stain. One must suffer the effects of evil, or taste it and reject it, in order to become good.

Good and evil are subtle. Both seem to disappear under close inspection, leaving nothing to identify one way or the other. Good and evil are not objectively real, they are not identifiable substances. As such, they are vulnerable to claims of the supernatural, but that is no more than an appeal to maintain ignorance. To choose to remain ignorant of evil is to give it free rein. To choose to remain ignorant of good is to betray it.

It may be more difficult to understand and identify good than evil.


Boris Epstein said...

Knowledge of evil cannot be theoretical, or it is not properly understood, only suspected.

I disagree. For example, I know that to torture somebody is evil, though I've never been subjected to serious torture myself.

As for innocence... I think it sometimes takes the form of willfull ignorance.

John Doe said...

I am not arguing from example. An innocent does not know what evil is, at all. You can know torture to be wrong because you know, to some degree, what evil is and why it applies to torture. How did you find out what evil is? Was being told enough, or was it something you learned through direct experience?

Willful ignorance is not innocence, much as it might want you to believe that it is.

Anonymous said...

Amfortas says....:

A good start. While one may nit-pick over this bit or that, the general principles seem sound.

In terms of the MRM, I have always maintained that Men must seek 'Good'. A 'Morality' even if incomplete is a 'navigation' tool for going through life.

At sea one does not have to know what it is like through an experience of crashing onto the rocks to understand that it hurts, can destroy you boat and kill you. The navigator's tools, his charts and rules for latitude and longitude and how to calculate them keep him relatively safe. The same with a moral 'code', learned and practiced. We need to 'lose' the innocence of mindlessness and become aware of good and evil, and hope that much of that awareness comes from the vicariously obtained experiences of others.