In my last post, I showed that there were three theories on just what good and evil were. Either “good” and “evil” are applied to something because of something in the thing or because of something in the person applying the label. If it is something in the thing, then it is either in the thing as a whole or in part. But if “good” and “evil” are in the person applying the label, then they are constructions.
According to the illusory theory of goodness, our application of “good” and “evil” is a construction. It might be a construction forced on us by biology, or it might be something that we are able to avoid doing. It might be something that is socially constructed so that different cultures understand “good” and “evil” differently. But it must be an artifact of some kind. But since it applies to everything and everyone at least potentially it is not a material artifact. This means that “good” and “evil” must be most similar to other immaterial artifacts such as nations, organizations, language and families.
If the illusory theory of goodness is correct, then goodness is not necessarily something that we need to stop applying to the world. If we want to apply it to the world and our application of it is consistent, then there is no reason to forbid such a thing. We could also be “right” and “wrong” in our application of it. For example, “dog” has a specific meaning in English, even though English is a social construction. Simply being a social construction does not lead to relativism or to a denial of truth in ethical matters.
The illusory theory does have problems though. If the illusory theory of goodness is true, then the problem of evil simply does not exist. Evil only exists as a result of our constructing the world in such a way so that it does exist. Apart from our constructions in the world, good and evil simply don’ t exist. Right and wrong do not exist either. This means that statements about what God should have done, or reasoning that God does not exist because of evil are either confused or meaningless. They confused because God (if the theory is true) has nothing to do with the existence of good and evil, and moral obligations do not apply to him unless he participates in our social constructions. This problem is relatively minor though.
The biggest problem is that goodness is distinct from rationality. Suppose we believe that no one should believe “A and not-A”. We believe that believing contradictions is wrong. But wrongness is only wrong because it is contrary to what is good. If goodness is a construct, then believing contradictions is only wrong in our construct. But believing contradictions is wrong for everyone under all possible circumstances. Unless there is some kind of resolution for this problem, then there is no way to believe that the illusory theory of goodness is correct. Nor is this the only problem for this theory of goodness. There are also problems with the nature of moral reasoning and our moral intuitions.
Next, I will discuss the modern theory of goodness.