November 9th, 2007


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Discussion (22)¬

  1. Cuprohastes says:

    Ed officially has the best definition I’ve ever heard.

  2. [...] Digger, Usula Vernon (great artist, BTW) came up with the best explanation of  “good” and “evil” that I’ve, personally, ever heard. It just took me until about 2am this morning to remember [...]

  3. Lica says:

    I always come back to read this page. One of the best definitions of evil and good.

  4. Jatopian says:

    I don’t know about that. I find that “making life better in small ways” is a nice reason.

  5. djkibykat says:

    Ursula Vernon has just given every parent the best explanation of good and evil ever. *is telling other parents about this page*

  6. Mverdo says:

    I’ll be explaining evilness a lot better thanks to you! Me and my kids will be verry gratefull!

  7. Saphroneth says:

    It sounds to me like these are all from his life… and that maybe Digger reminds Ed of his little one.

  8. Sparky Lurkdragon says:

    Another one chiming in that this is one of my favourite pages. I love poor old Ed so much.

  9. BunnyRock says:

    This is, if not the most, then one of the most beautiful things I have seen in a comic ever.

    Thank you.

    However being the sort of person who can never leave anything alone, I would say Ed’s definition is perfect as long as intent goes. To do a good act has no self serving intent, no need to justify your intentions, but what if the results are bad. You can know in your heart that something is wrong and that you will need a BIG reason to justify it, and do it anyway. I agree with Ed’s definition of evil in that if you need to defend something, even to yourself, you almost certainly know that it was evil…BUT that does not mean that the net results of it are not necessarily good. I hold that the taking of life under any situation is evil, but that the NET effect of many wars and ever some cynical political assassinations made the world a less evil place over all by removing evil men (and it tends to be men, I can’t think of one female mass-murdering dictator except Boudicca and she doesn’t really count as she was fighting Romans who were the world masters of war, slavery and genocide, but yet also in themselves a force for good). I think that evil is often necessary to prevent more evil. It doesn’t make what you do right, just slightly less wrong than doing nothing and permitting evil. You have to be analytical and cold calculating and EVIL to make the world a better place by stopping evil, which inevitably involves interfering in another’s free-will, and as a result GOOD is something that only exists on a personal level in little, isolated acts the make the world better in tiny immeasurable ways that will never make up for the evil even a good-soul will inevitably commit in order to prevent worse evil.

    This explains why I am a Christian. I don’t particularly LIKE organised religion; I just see the entire world as screwed unless we can get someone to forgive us for the evil things we are almost definitely going to do every day. Ed’s definition of evil is perfect; especially because when you apply it to your own life as there is no practical way you can avoid evil in that scenario, you just have to shrug your shoulders and TRY your best and hope like hell you wont be judged to harshly for it.

  10. jursamaj says:

    BunnyRock: I find your definition absurd. Less evil *is* more good. It may not be perfect good, but neither is the worse option perfect evil.

    And the more I think about it, the less Ed’s answer makes sense. All the “good” things he describes, people generally do for selfish reasons. Why did Digger name Ed? Because she wasn’t comfortable without a label for him: it was more about her than him. Why do people do nice things? Because it makes *them* feel good.

    Conversely, people can just as easily do evil without making any attempt to justify it.

    As stumbling as it was, Digger’s effort actually says something.

  11. Rista-liehna says:

    I think that Ed and Digger are both right.

    As Jursamaj said, there is often a reason to do good.* It’s entirely possible for great good to be done for selfish reasons–look at Ed’s example, the gift of a hug from a child. The child hugs for its own comfort, yet when it does so, its parents feel loved. Parents giving anonymous gifts to their children (saying it’s from ‘Santa Claus,’ for example), though, that is good done without a reason. If the parents put their own names on the card, the child would be more grateful, but the myth makes the child happy, so it is allowed to continue.

    Evil can also exist with or without a reason. Leaving aside insanity, which is a separate question, there are people who cause harm because they feel they’ve been wronged, and people who do so just because they feel like it. According to TV, even a specific group of evil people, such as serial killers, can include both types.

    I’ve probably said this badly. My point is that Ed and Digger are both right… some of the time. Their views seem contradictory, but good and evil are subjective; there are cases that fit both views, and a wide field in between.

    *Though I personally believe that Digger wasn’t only naming Ed for her own peace of mind. He said that his name had been eaten, and she could see that he was sad about that, so giving him a name was good for them both.

  12. Andrew says:

    The existence of a word for some concept does not mean that that concept is an objectively real thing. “Good” and “Evil” cannot be defined universally and unambiguously — each belief system has a somewhat different interpretation of these ideas. If you adhere closely to one faith in particular, you’ll likely disagree with my view, which is your prerogative. But in objective reality, there are only choices and consequences — judgments of those choices and consequences are subjective to the individual or culture, according to their beliefs and values.

    But even the word “choice” can be misleading. Action potentials travel along neural pathways established by genetic predisposition and past experiences; what we do is largely (if not entirely) determined by who we are and what we’ve learned. So I doubt there’s much room for “free will”, although quantum indeterminacy might give it a chance now and then…

    But Ed is right that there are always reasons why people make “evil” choices. However, there are also always reasons why people make “good” choices, even if they’re not aware of the reasons, in either case. The most impulsive whim or otherwise thoughtless act is still the result of an elaborate process of electrochemical cause and effect. That’s about as close as you can get to an objective definition of “reason.”

    Having said all that, I still really like both Digger’s and Ed’s perspectives on morality. The contrast really adds a depth and richness to their characterization that’s all too rare in most fictional works, let alone webcomics. Once again, Ursula, deep respect and appreciation….

  13. Mark Antony says:

    I don’t think Ed means that a good act necessarily is done for no reason. Rather, I think what he means is that the motivation behind a good act is more than just the reasons; that in some measure it is done because it is good. You can give all these reasons for why you hug your child, or save a life, but in some measure there is the fact that you did it because it was the right thing to do. That is not a reason, it’s a tautology. You do the right thing because that’s a good thing to do. Why do a good thing? Because it is right. That is why attempts to make laws that regulate moral character never work out. The words aren’t there.

  14. RyRi says:

    Couldn’t Digger have just told the shadowchild that evil is what puts shadows upon the heart? I think that would have been a definition that the shadowchild would have understood and used perfectly.

  15. Raidell says:

    Woo! Ethics debate! *grabs popcorn*

  16. Jesse says:

    *bookmarks this page for later reference*

  17. EgregiousCharles says:

    RyRi, I don’t think we’ve established that evil is what puts shadows upon the heart. That could be more related to guilt; some of the best people are those who feel guilty about every little thing they do wrong, and some of the worst people are convinced they’re always right and never feel guilty (see Jhalm and virtually every politician).

  18. capnq says:

    @RyRi: I don’t think Digger understands “shadows on the heart” well enough to use that analogy with Shadowchild. I doubt the analogy would even occur to Digger.

  19. Trogdog says:

    Wow. The essay page. Right, here it is folks, take it or leave it:

    “There is no good or evil, only nature.”

    You can debate it seven ways to Sunday, but it remains a perfectly valid* and logical idea. Keep in mind that nothing can be disproved, including good, evil, nature, or the statement as a whole. (In case you didn’t catch the irony, this makes the statement unprovable, which is why I called it an idea rather than a fact.) However, it could theoretically be proven to be illogical, or invalid. (Still with me?) Validity is more of an opinion really, so for sake of argument lets just say that it’s validity has been proven to be invalid. :P logic, however is a different story. The logic behind IDEAS like good and evil can be argued, as you have been doing in these posts. (Various types of logic can be applied: this is good because… this is evil because…) however ideas can only be proven illogical through a genuine paradox (the inexorable clashing of logics). E.g.- the burrito paradox. (One of my favorites. Look it up.) As there is nothing within the statement “There is no good or evil, only nature” that would cause a paradox, I submit to you that it is in fact a logical (if not valid) statement. This does not disprove the existence of good or evil, as nothing can, however I believe It gives it a much firmer foundation than the concept of good and evil, because they are open to interpretation and are thus matters of opinion. When all else fails, apply Occam’s razor. All your base are belong to us. You get two hundred experience points if you understood all of this. – Trogdog

    *Or not apparently…

  20. Murasaki says:

    Ya know…Ed has a very good point.
    Not having a reason to do good, is good.
    But what about doing evil, just because?
    For no reason at all??

    Of course…most people do it for what they think, is a very good reason.
    Which is why the road to hell is apparentally paved with good intentions.

  21. Arrkhal says:

    Even when trying to overanalyze it, it still works out that, by the kind of morality that’s universal to all functioning human societies, “good” acts are always unreasonable. Someone runs into a burning building to save a child. Why? “To save a child” is no reason. No result is self-justifying. From a purely logical, not ethical, perspective, saving a life to save a life is just as unreasonable as killing someone so they’d die.

    Someone can do seemingly “good” deeds out of selfish reasons, but that tends to negate the “good” aspect of it. More of a “neutral,” or something.

    If the only reason you have is “it just had to be done,” it’s either good, or insanity (or both). The distinction tends to be in what your neighbors think.

  22. Jamie P. says:

    So this page made me tear up a little…something about how beautifully the philosophy is captured. Or maybe because I’m reading comics at 2 in the morning.