Are Bad People Just Stupid?

“For indeed, the happiest potential issue

Experienced men achieve through plans.”

  Oedipus Rex, 44-45 (trans. liberally by TWM)

Dear Ernest,

In an effort to make this letter as concise and to the point as possible, while passing over any superfluous details, specifics, or particulars and avoiding any unnecessary repetitions or reiterations of the same concepts in different words, I have—for this purpose—decided to forgo the inclusion of any kind of absurdly lengthy and savagely magniloquent introductory sentence or paragraph—which might, even while appealing to my own grotesque and gaudy sensibilities, betray for my audience my embarrassing and deeply rooted verbosity—abstaining from so much, I have chosen instead to cut right to the chase: not all bad people are stupid.

In your last letter: “What are your thoughts on the Platonic [notion] that, if we were to truly know ‘The Good’ then we could do nothing else but that good?”

In so many words, these are precisely my thoughts on the Platonic notion known as ‘Hellenistic Rationalism’—the notion that moral goodness is the same thing as intellectual knowledge.  If I were to make the matter as simple as possible, I’d say that Hellenistic Rationalism is really just a fancy way of claiming that all bad people are stupid.  But even the most casual consideration of the world around us reveals that this isn’t true.  How many brilliant men and women of business have climbed the corporate ladder through deceit and treachery?  How many poets and artists, renowned for their learning and intelligence, have violated sacred vows and died dishonourably of syphilis?  Was not the idolatrous Solomon a divinely educated wise man?  By comparison to the rest of us, all of these people seem to have known ‘The Good’ very distinctly and with that full knowledge have made the deliberate choice to reject it all together.  The central human quality that delineates the boundaries between good and evil must then be something much more fundamental than mere knowledge.

For that matter, it is also more fundamental even than volition.  It is the human essence that can be called either good or evil.  In claiming this, I am saying nothing particularly insightful.  In fact, the tenet is almost circular: ‘that man is essentially good who is good with respect to his essence’.  It means that morality is not determined by what a person knows or what they want to do or what kind of sandwich they prefer to eat at three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, but rather, morality is an aspect of who the person is in his or her entirety.  The sophists at the university may be inclined to tell you that education is the key to happiness or goodness or any other desirable quality.  A veteran of war will sooner tell you that a proper training of the will can bring about so much.  I myself would like to say that the trick is to wear a handlebar moustache while composing shamelessly romantic music.  But common sense and linguistic idiom make it clear that being good is a subject concerned exclusively with being.

The problem with mere knowledge of The Good is that it doesn’t necessitate our using of that knowledge.  I know very well that it would be good if I were to clean up my room and my act rather than reading Gradus ad Parnassum or writing an over simplified blogpost on moral philosophy.  But this knowledge of good and evil, as it were, means absolutely nothing to me if I don’t think about it.  In short, I know what’s good for me (most people do), but I’m not thinking about it—I don’t consciously know that I know it.  If you enjoy being arcane, you might call this ‘second order knowing’, and just like the orders of volition, the orders of intellect describe the way that faculty is structured, which means they are a metaphysical aspect of essence.  Usually, when someone does something immoral, it’s not because they didn’t know it was wrong nor because they didn’t want to do The Good, but to put it simply, it’s because they refused to know that they knew the Good that they wanted to want to do.

Your servant,

TWM

P.S. I challenge you to use the word “campanological” in your next post.

Advertisements

One thought on “Are Bad People Just Stupid?

Add something to the discussion.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s