“Good and Evil: Men Can Be Both”
“Good and Evil: Men Can Be Both”
The debate on whether men are naturally good or inherently evil has sprouted since the beginning of time - “Good and Evil: Men Can Be Both” introduction. However, throughout time, this so called dichotomy has now become a multi-faceted inquiry into the very essence of humanity. This is for the reasons that along with the history of the debate are several disciplines that aim to inquire on the true and genuine nature of men. Among these inquiries include religion, philosophy, the arts, and the sciences. As a matter of fact, the debate is now more popular that it drew attention from almost all modes of inquiry which as a consequence produce a myriad of perspectives and school of thoughts on the topic.
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This diversified inquiry would lead not only the theorists but also the common people to be confronting a difficulty if not the impossibility of adapting and sustaining a single stand on the issue. As a matter of fact, the essays that are going to be analyzed in this paper are written by various scholars who are experts in their respective fields. Among these scholars include Saint Augustine in the field of theology and philosophy; Machiavelli in politics, philosophy, and the arts; Luther in theology and politics; Montaigne in French literature and French Renaissance; Galileo in mathematics, physics, astronomy, and philosophy; Voltaire in literature and philosophy, Dostoevsky in literature; and Capek in literature and popular culture. The disciplines where these writers belong to are diverse as mentioned earlier that it made them difficult to come up with a consensus on the real nature of goodness and evilness in humanity.
Despite this diversity among different disciplines, the writers of the essay seem to agree on one thing; that whether or not mankind is inherently good or evil, humans are evil in one way or another. The essays do not forthrightly assert any argument on whether humans are inherently good or evil; they just merely posit the view that humans always have evil and wicked tendencies one way or another. Moreover, every human being has a tendency to cloak evil thoughts and intentions that are manifested in their wrong doings. However, these evil tendencies are not unwarranted. They have their own roots and reasons that are not only attributed to the self but also to other factors in the environment.
Most of the essays argue that mankind, in general, is evil. According to Machiavelli, humans are in general “ungrateful, mutable, pretenders, and dissemblers (1954). Consequently, he advises that anyone who would try to act all good to his/her fellow in a world where all humans act the opposite of goodness and virtuosity then he is doomed to fail. He said that in order for you to survive this so called “cruel world”, you must do evil acts to others because the presumption is that men are naturally evil. Doing evil acts to others will be justified by arguing that even when you do the opposite, you are just the one who will suffer the consequences of your good intention and actions. This is for the reason that the people around you will do nothing but the same evil acts that you do so that it will put all of you in the same page. In other words, it is the nature of men to do evil things (Machiavelli 1954).
This is supported by the essay of Luther asserting that uproar and chaos are nothing but normal phenomenon in the world. This is for the reason that the world of men and God himself are in constant war with each other which renders peace among men impossible. Moreover, he even said that God himself did not say that He will come down to the world of men with the intention to bring peace to each and everyone of has. Contrary to that, he came to bring sword among men (Luther 94). This presupposes the idea that at the onset not only is men evil but the world as well. Moreover, contrary to the common belief that God will descend the heavens in order to save mankind from their sins and their doom, it is not so according to Luther. Therefore, there is no other way that the world will be saved and men will be guided into the path of righteousness for even the person that they deemed to be their savior came not to do so. He came to bring them even more to their demise.
This is also an opposition to the view of the Catholics that the Church will serve as a mediator between the worldly and the spiritual affairs of men. According to the Catholic doctrine, the Church will be the key for men to attain their own salvation. As mentioned earlier, Luther believes that the Church nor God do not have anything to do with salvation because men are doomed from the start because of their inclination to evil doings.
Because of this inherently chaotic world devoid of any chance of salvation, Dostoevsky writes that men are fond of destruction and chaos. He speculates that men love suffering more than well-being. He contends that although civilization has changed on its ways of looking at morality in men’s actions. Men has already surpasses the barbarous age such as the age where Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt was still tolerated for her acts of mutilation to her slaves. He cited that during that time, Cleopatra would stick gold pins into the breast of her slave-girls. It is also told that by doing this, she gains gratification with it. However, this barbarous time in the history of mankind, men has not yet attained and learned to act through reason and science. Even at this point in time, where men have already been civilized, they would still play tricks so nasty out of ingratitude and spite. He said that men will contrive destruction and chaos on purpose. This evildoings of men are deliberate and are always attributed to them. This led him to conclude that men have passion on destruction and chaos instead of their well-being. He also thinks that his fondness of suffering is attributed to the benefit that this suffering caused him. He did not mention as to how this is possible. But this contention of Dostoevsky led us to another point that will support the argument that men are inherently evil (1-2).
In line with this, Augustine argues that even infants, as young as they are, have also evil tendencies. This even furthermore argues that men’s evilness is inherent in themselves because even upon birth, they are already imbued with this trait. Augustine illustrates this by chronicling his experiences. He narrates that infant’s rage when they can’t have what they wanted is a sign of evilness. Moreover, their screams are indicators of selfishness and of the desire to bring anyone especially their parents to submission. The claim that children are innocence is not warranted in Saint Augustine’s views because even he believes that even children have evil tendencies (1114).
Accordingly, St. Augustine’s essay is unique in a sense that among all the essays that mentioned evilness in men, his is the only essay that provides reason if not justification as to why this is the case. In the infant allusion mentioned earlier, he is implying that men turned vile and evil when they don’t get what they want. This implies further that men are in constant need and desire to be pleased and to be satisfied. For instance, if the infant would be satisfied of its necessities, then he would not have the reason to scream and seek the attention of its parents. The infant allusion seems to suggest that the infant is only causing such disturbance to its parents because of the need to either be fed or attended (Augustine 1114).
This leads to the contention that the vileness of men is not really unwarranted. As a support to Saint Augustine’s examples, Capek argues that the root of all evil is poverty. Like that of Saint Augustine’s examples with the infant who turn into rage if his needs are not met, he said that men are vile because they are enslaved with labor. He contemplated a world where machines and robots will be the ones who take the toll of labor for all men. In this case, they will be more food, more clothing, more supplies to meet everybody’s every day needs this without having to shed a single sweat (Capek 39-40).
Furthermore, he contemplates a world where all these supplies necessary for every man’s survival will given and provided for them without in exchange for anything, whether it be money or labor. He contemplates a world where mankind can eradicate poverty which he thinks is the cause of all the vileness in men. He argues that the only way for men to abandon their evil ways and resort to goodness is to make them master of her/his self. In this case, there would be a struggle over the prevailing social structure that demarcates some men to poverty. He is advocating the revolt to eradicate poverty in the lives of every man. He advocates a new generation where mankind is nourished by machines that will make them “unrestricted, free and consummated (Capek 39-40).” He deems this transformation as important in unleashing the goodness in every man. To render them free from all the restrictions of the world would make them resort to the good and genuine ways. This is only through a new generation that the whole mankind will become an “aristocracy of the world (Capek 39-40).”
While Augustine provided for a reason why men turned into vileness, it is Capek who discussed the possibility even when men have evil tendencies borne to themselves they can also be given a chance to change this course of mankind. He was the one who contemplated and fostered the notion that men can be good in their own ways if only given the desired environment. The environment that he has in mind would an environment where men will not be enslaved by labor, men will be free and unrestricted, and men will be provided for with their every day necessities. These ways will make men more endeared to goodness than evil ways because by then they will no longer have to worry about the crust of bread that they are going to feed their mouths and the mouths of the members of their families. In other words, a world without suffering and poverty will lead men to act on the bounds of goodness instead of vileness. This fosters the very possibility that men, in some ways or in many ways, are good in nature.
While this maybe a contrary to what have been discussed in the first few paragraphs, it is worth noting for that while all essay talk about the vileness of men, a number points out the opposite view. Men are capable of doing good acts to their fellowmen. Voltaire argues that even though human nature is deemed as evil and wicked and that there is an assumption that all men are born out of the devil and that mankind is really nothing but a breed of monsters, he still believes in the genuine heart of very child in the world. the contention that we should be careful every time we are in the company of men because they have tendencies to kill and murder us is no basis if we gather all the children in the world and look deeply into their innocence. All the children have according to Voltaire are innocence, gentleness, and fear unlike Saint Augustine’s notion that they are all selfish endlessly craving for attention and satisfaction. Voltaire argues that if children were born evil then they would just represent small serpents and little tigers that attack. This is not the case, he observed, children are not born to be wild. They are not delivered from the wombs of their mothers only to sow jeopardy and wickedness among fellow children and fellow being. With this in mind, Voltaire believes that men are not inherently evil in way (248).
We have already established that Voltaire hails the innocence and gentleness in children as an indicator that men are not inherently bad and are capable of doing good things to others. But even with his seemingly fondness and admiration to children, he has not forgo the idea that men are evil. He further contends that even when men are not born bad and wicked, they are still infected with vileness. The same thing as Saint Augustine and Capek, he has also provided a reason for this. His version attributes the evilness of men to the leaders of the world. He contends that the evilness of human nature is influenced by the leaders. Evilness is some kind of a disease that contracted by the leaders and is spread out by them to the rest of the human population. It is through this influence that mankind is now infected with the so called disease. This means that Voltaire does not think the human beings are inherently evil but has only become evil because of the circumstances surrounding him (249).
However, aside from the bad influences that compel men to act evil things there is also a school of though that says human beings are also compelled to do good things. According to Rabelais, this compulsion is by virtue of the word “honor”. He says that all men and women fulfill virtuous whenever they are together with respectable people. Moreover, they also refrain from doing vices whenever they are in company with honorable and respectable people. This impulse is governed by men’s desire to belong and to be respected. The only way to achieve this according to Rabelais is to do virtuous things and imitate the doings of the honorable and respectable man. But Rabelais argument does not end there, like that of Voltaire he also contradicts his initial assertion a little bit. While he started his essay in a lighter note on how humans can be compelled to do good things, he also asserted that this would also be the very reason why humans do evil things. He said that these passions in doing noble things will be broken by the same passions whenever people are restricted and subjected to certain constraints. This is for the reason that when people are oppressed and enslaved, they are brought down to the rugs that they are force to abandon their good intentions and acts and resort themselves to evilness. This is their way of breaking this bondage and freeing themselves from all the restrictions being imposed upon them such as the acts of doing prohibited things (Rabelais 2161-2162).
This brings us back again to Saint Augustine’s chronicles of his evil tendencies. When he was adult, he said that he and his friends would choose to steal not for their desire to obtain a thing that they yearn do badly but just because they find solace and joy in just committing a sin. He narrates that there was this pear tree that his group of blackguards would steal not to eat or anything that will benefit them but for the pleasure of knowing that one has trespass what were the restrictions all about. They find joy in doing what was forbidden, that’s why they love the evil in themselves. This joy is rooted to the very reason that whenever they do things that are restricted for them to do, they feel that they can break off from their chains, from the restrictions themselves. This small gesture of making a sin by doing what should not be done would give them a feeling of liberty. Furthermore, it would give them a feeling of omnipotence and control over their controller. In this way, they would no longer feel enslaved or deprived of reason. In this way, they will be able to assert their own liberty and power over themselves (Augustine 1119-1120).
This would compel us to believe that indeed men are not inherently bad but are only compelled and influenced to do evil acts by virtue of the circumstances that surround them. As mentioned by Voltaire, it would be the influence of the tarnished values of their leaders. Augustine and Rabelais, on one hand, believe that this is for the reason that men are actually enslaved. this enslavement provokes every human being to break the bondage and to assert that they can do things on their own. Because the restrictions are deemed normal by the society that made them, their defiance will be considered as a wrongdoing which makes every man who seeks for their liberty a wrong doer. While it cannot be denied that men have evil intentions and tendencies that are manifested in their external actions, this is not left unwarranted. As a matter of fact, the essays have given enough justifications to explicate the very reason and intricacies as to why men commit evil deeds.
As we already established that men have evil tendencies and that this has reasons that can justify it, we move on to the last note on the notion that despite the assertions given above, there is still a doubt as to how this debate of whether men are inherently evil or good should end. According to Montaigne, we cannot tell for sure. This is because the world and mankind are full of contradictions. One can be bashful and yet insolent, chaste and yet lascivious, tough and yet delicate, and learned yet ignorant. Therefore, it is also the possibility that one can be evil yet good and noble at the same time. As a matter of fact, Montaigne argues that this debate of the inherent evilness and goodness in human nature will lead to a spiral argument because the answer can never be absolute (2202). It can be subject to various disagreements beginning from the commencement of the debate hitherto where there have already been a lot of fields of inquiry that are concern about it.
The more we know about the nature of men, the more we are open-minded to accept and tolerate various standpoints and viewpoints that come our way. Galileo knew this due to a long experience in the inquiry of the status of mankind (256). Whether or not we arrive to the right conclusion on the nature of mankind or not, it does not really matter. What matters most is that we have shed light to the very nature of both the evilness and goodness of men that will make us reflect in our selves as to what is the right path to take.