Universal Ethics > Thought of the Month > November 2020

It is certain and undeniable, that there is a difference between good and evil.

Some people might argue that anarchy is preferrable to morality, that morality is a cultural manifestation that varies randomly and cannot be predicted, or that there is no way to prove a difference between good and evil. These arguments are most often put forward by someone who takes actions that harm others, that he (or she) doesn't want to be criticized for, and therefore he argues it doesn't matter. However, if he is on the receiving end of such actions, he is quick to change his opinion and argue that it does matter.

The fact is that people do care about how they are treated, and over the course of evolution, humans have figured out ways to coordinate activities to produce synergistic results rather than suffering due to conflict.

It is true that there are cultural differences between societies. In some nations people greet each other with a "hello," in others a handshake, and in others a bow. In some nations, drivers keep their cars on the right of the road to avoid collisions with oncoming vehicles, while in other nations the standard is on the left. But underlying these rules there are common principles.

Why people might have uncertainty about this, is because there is no one brilliant person at any point in history who figured it all out, and explained a 100% accurate and comprehensive theory in every detail. Indeed, a friend of mine once commented that philosophers were useless because after thousands of years of debate, they can't agree upon a single point. Having coached a debate club at one point in my life, I might counter that debaters by convention will never agree, and if they did it would ruin the fun and make the debate less informative. Nevertheless, it is true that no single pre-eminent theory of ethics has arisen.

Instead, ethics arose in an evolutionary fashion. As a simple demonstration of this, you are invited to try out the rules of the road computer simulation. It shows how a right-hand or left-hand driving rule will emerge in any population once vehicles become present. As shown in the simulation, the pattern of behavior emerges without any leader. But yet it happens, because the results are mutually satisfactory to the members of the population. It is predictable.

If ethical rules will inevitably arise in a population, why does the world still have nations with civil wars occurring, where many people still suffer in poverty and ignorance? The answer can be found by comparing against the many nations where there is peace, where people support each other, and have non-violent, democratic means of reaching decisions. The difference is in the learning, the traditions, and the willingness to improve the traditions. Some are simply further along than others.

Progress throughout history has been slow, but it can be accelerated as knowledge spreads. Nevertheless, there is also an inhibitor to progress within human nature. It can be useful for a person to understand that, in order that he may compensate for it in his (or her) own life, for his benefit and the benefit of those around him. If you are curious to continue reading about this, click here.

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