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Melbourne High School

On the Nature of Evil


A dialogue between Socrates and The Devil

Jack Hughes Socrates: Welcome to... I'm not sure what to call you actually. Would you mind being called 'Devil'? t any rate! I ho"e that my s"ending this evening in conversation with you is not the beginning o# a much longer cohabitation between us. $he Devil: Hah% $o think that you thought you would be able to hear o# your divine &udgment be#ore your death #rom me% s regards my name I'm not too #ussed! I'm not e'actly #amed #or my moral integrity. Soc: (ery well. In #act! I would like to discuss with you that very "oint. I am )uite #irm in a belie# that would contradict several alleged as"ects o# your character. In "articular! I contest the notion that you are a "ower#ul evil being. Do you acce"t this notion? Dev: I do. Soc: (ery well. Do you acce"t the de#inition o# "ower as the ability to do as one desires? Dev: *es. Soc: (ery well. +ut to do as one desires would re)uire that one knows what they desire would it not? ,o one would claim that when a #ool does what they think best! that they could be acting with great "ower. Dev: I'm not entirely sure o# that! in #act! I believe that most modern observers would indeed claiming that a #ool could be acting "ower#ully when attem"ting to do what they thought best. ,evertheless! #or the sake o# avoiding a dis"ute in terminology! I shall acce"t this de#inition. Soc: I'm not sure that that's )uite the answer I'm looking #or. -r Devil! would you claim that a man with a kni#e in a "ublic "lace holds "ower over the "eo"le in said "ublic "lace? Dev: Indeed I would! and I sus"ect that many more "eo"le would agree with this assessment than you might believe. Soc: I su""ose it has been over ./// years! and we are relying u"on a translation. (ery well! I wish to discuss with you whether or not! with our agreed u"on de#inition o# "ower! someone could act "ower#ully and commit and act o# evil. Dev: (ery well. Soc: Do you agree that it is more disgrace#ul and dishonorable to do than to su##er evil? Dev: 0iven that such values are social ones! and given my un#ortunate lack o# ability to alter human social norms! I do not believe that I have any real say in the matter. Soc: 0ood. nd do you acce"t that a greater disgrace or dishonor is worse than a lesser one? Dev: ll else being e)ual I do. Soc: s such! to do evil! being more disgrace#ul and dishonorable! should be worse than to su##er it. Should it not? Dev: I #or one should think not Socrates. I conceded that #urther dishonor and disgrace is a bad thing only in so #ar as all else are e)ual! and given that not all else is e)ual i# one has su##ered an in&ustice! I am inclined to say that this is one instance where the badness o# #urther dishonor and disgrace is outweighed by the badness o# su##ering an in&ustice. Soc: Do you deny that in&ustice towards the soul! which is surely morally harmed by the doing o# evil! is the greatest in&ustice that one can su##er? nd certainly! that it is at least worse than the "hysical harm one will su##er when evil is done to them? Dev: Indeed I do. 1urthermore! I would argue that social or moral goods such as honor or s"iritual goodness are use#ul in #act only in so #ar that they contribute to the goodness o# the "hysical. Soc: I# I am to understand you correctly! you are saying that the "ur"ose o# li#e is to ensure as much as "ossible the #avorable balance o# one's own "leasure over one's own "ain. Dev: 2orrect. Soc: I am inclined to disagree with such a view. I believe in #act that the li#e which you have described can best be com"ared with the li#e o# virtue and tem"erance that I have "ro"osed by re#erence to two &ars. It seems to me that the hedonistic li#e you have "ro"osed is similar to a leaky &ar that one #eels constantly obliged to #ill! and as such a "erson with such a kind o# &ar is constantly having to re#ill it! they can never be satis#ied! such is the li#e o# the intem"erate "erson! never able

Jack Hughes to #ul#ill their own desires. +y contrast the li#e #or which I advocate can be com"ared to a "ro"erly closed &ar! which the owner is never re)uired to re#ill! such is the li#e o# the tem"erate "erson! who can be satis#ied with what they have. Dev: nd your "oint? Soc: -y "oint is that the attribution o# malevolent "ower being "ossessed by you is #undamentally contradictory. -y argument #ollows several ste"s: #irstly! as "er our agreed u"on de#inition! "ower is the ability to do as one desires! and that to do so re)uires knowledge o# what is desirable3 secondly! I contend that to do evil is never desirable! on account o# the su"eriority o# a moral good over a "hysical or social one! #urthermore! I re#ute your hedonistic notion that the "hysical good o# "leasure is greater than any moral or social good! with re#erence to my leaky &ar analogy. s such the attribution to you o# both evil and "ower can be said to be contradictory. Dev: 4h dear! this is what ha""ens when mere mortals think themselves a "hiloso"hical rival to a demonic overlord% 1irstly! I only acce"ted your de#inition o# "ower! which it seems! is necessary #or the argument! #or the sake o# said argument! and so I believe there is sim"ly a linguistic dis"ute at the heart o# this debate #or many "eo"le. Secondly! I #ully maintain my hedonism in s"ite o# the argument that you have attem"ted to bring #orth against it! and I do so on two grounds: #irstly! I do not believe that a hedonist such as mysel# is necessarily o""osed to the virtue o# tem"erance5! as one could very easily maintain that the avoidance o# "ain is desirable #or a hedonist3 and secondly! the argument a""ears to be sel# re#uting! #or your analogy attem"ts to demonstrate that hedonism leads to an un"leasant li#estyle! the su""ressed "remise to which a""ears to be that "leasure is what makes a li#e desirable. Socrates: (ery well! it a""ears that this argument #ails to re#ute hedonism. However! as you have #ailed to "rove it! we are le#t in a "hiloso"hically uncom#ortable "osition! even i# it is one that I am very accustomed to. Dev: I believe that "roving hedonism would re)uire another dialogue entirely! and owing to time constraints! should be le#t #or another day. So goodbye Socrates! #or now...

s has been maintained by the likes o# 6"icurus and John Stuart -ill a#ter 7lato and Socrates.