Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Huffington Post: Do Evil People Know That They're Evil?

As a follow-up on my previous HuffPost blog, I further expressed some thoughts on how someone doing evil can develop the perception that he/she is not, even doing good. See this in my latest Huffington Post blog: Do Evil People Know That They're Evil?

My original title for the post, btw, was 'Evil as the Delusion of Good' but it was changed by the editors. (I leave it to you to decide which title is better.)

Please feel free to comment here or there.

Rabbi Ben Hecht


Rabbi Rich Wolpoe said...

Again As per Socrates no one regards himself as doing evil. But maybe some disagree.

The Fundamentals of Education: Introduction - page 1


«Socrates believed that nobody willingly chooses to do wrong»

The issue according to Socrates is "ignorance", ignorance or proper moral teachings or whatever.

micha said...

Someone finally studied the survey given out at the end of the Milgram experiment. (The experiment itself is described by wikipedia here. A quick reminder to someone who just doesn't remember the experiment's name: the subjects were divided into teachers and learners, and it was frighteningly easy to convince far too many "teachers" to administer what they thought were lethal shocks to their learner.)

Anyway, the new findings are at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/bjso.12074/abstract
... Such evidence accords with an engaged followership model in which (1) willingness to perform unpleasant tasks is contingent upon identification with collective goals and (2) leaders cultivate identification with those goals by making them seem virtuous rather than vicious and thereby ameliorating the stress that achieving them entails. This analysis is inconsistent with Milgram's own agentic state model. Moreover, it suggests that the major ethical problem with his studies lies less in the stress that they generated for participants than in the ideologies that were promoted to ameliorate stress and justify harming others.

I opined on Avodah that this could be used to explain ein adam meisim atzmo rasha, the halakhah that we ignore self-incriminating testimony. The chance that the witness thinks of himself as evil is negligible. So, If the witness seems to be implicating himself in beis din, we have to assume we didn't understand the testimony. And given palginan dibura (that we split the testimony; eg we believe that he obtained the other person's money, and ignore the element that he claimed to have stolen it), we are saying we only ignore that implication of the testimony that the person sees himself as evil, but that the court understood and can accept the rest of the statement.

As for Socrates' solution to the problem of akrasia (why people make bad decisions)... I think it's shared by the Rambam. I also think that both Mussar and Psychology vehemently dropped the knowledge / opinion explanation pretty early on. Mussar speaks of taavah (desire) and negios (personal interests) which allow us to choose blindness to flaws in arguments, convince ourselves of things we normally would never buy into. The gap between head and heart. Psychology, and I mean pretty much anyone but the radical behaviorists, would say the same but in different terminologies.

micha said...

Oh and about the Rambam, I not only think he follows Aristo's version of the Socratic position on akrasia, but that it radically impacts his philosophy. See Moreh 1:1-2, in which the pre-sin ideal is judgments of knowledge, not morality, which shows up again in the ranking of perfections in the last chapter of the Moreh, how he can rank Aristo as just below a prophet (again, knowledge over morality), providence depends on knowledge of G-d (3:18), as does the afterlife, etc....

Anonymous said...

You don't say in your article how to proceed, once you know they, the extremists, speak a different language etc. How does one proceed?

Also, I think some of the evil ones, i.e. Hitler, come to their conclusions of good and evil due to their
psychological problems. They are not self-aware people, and are motivated by deep personality
disorders; a need for compensating their deficiencies that they refuse and are unable to recognize in themselves.

Some of those who attach themselves to groups such as ISIS, may do so for those same
reasons. It makes them feel they are somebody. I do not think that explains everyone who joins. We
know that some of those who have become extremists, have been accomplished in areas that are
socially acceptable.