Can an Evil Man* be as Critically Self Aware of his Nature as a Good Man?

Typically it is supposed that all good men possess similar key attributes. They have the ability to rigorously and thoroughly reflect on the nature of themselves. They fully comprehend the impact on others of their decisions and appreciate their role in contributing to or reducing the suffering of others. They feel deeply the emotions needed in order to achieve a correct understanding of these things. Emotions like empathy, sadness, guilt, shame, and others. They recognize that most people seek to maximize their experience of positive emotions and minimize the experience of negative ones. Thus they act in ways which seek to achieve this balance in the greatest number of people. They also recognize that all people are unique and all situations different. The optimum emotional balance for one person in a certain situations may vary with other persons in different circumstances. They are flexible enough to adjust accordingly to those differences and wise enough to understand when a certain balance should be aimed for given the circumstances.

Because they possess all the right tools and always uses them in the correct manner they almost always acts in the right way. Of course even the best of men fail sometimes to meet these standards but when they do fail they seek to understand why they did using the same set of tools and analysis described above. They take what they have learned and use that knowledge to improve the likelihood that they will more often do the right thing in the future. The process of improvement never stops.

It seems an ironclad case. How could a man with all the the attributes described above, attributes generally attributed to all good men still be evil. Still be fundamentally bad.

Let’s try to attack each one by one

1. Good men have the ability to thoroughly and accurately reflect on the nature of themselves. This one seems a no brainer of course both good and evil men might possess this capability.

2. Good men fully comprehend the impact on others of their decisions and appreciate their role in contributing to or reducing the suffering of others. Another easy one. Certainly an evil man could also have this attribute.

3. Good men feel deeply the emotions needed in order to achieve a correct understanding of these things (the things described in 1 and 2) Emotions like empathy, sadness, guilt, shame, and others. Once again I see no reason an evil man could not have these same emotions and feel them as good men do. And possessing said emotions use them to achieve a correct understanding of 1 and 2

4. They recognize that most people seek to maximize their experience of positive emotions and minimize the experience of negative ones. Thus they act in ways which seek to achieve this balance in the greatest number of people. Here is where things get a bit dicey. It seems impossible that a truly evil man would care about maximizing the experience of positive emotions in others. In fact his main concern would be maximizing his own positive experiences. He would have no concern at all for how others feel. Yet suppose for a moment that the evil man recognizes this and intentionally acts in such a way as to deceive people. He realizes that to be truly evil he must be perceived as good and so accepts (4.) and even acts in ways that suggest he does believe it. How would it be possible to differentiate this evil deceiver from the truly good man? Would it even matter?

5. They also recognize that all people are unique and all situations different. The optimum emotional balance for one person in a certain situations may vary with other persons in different circumstances. They are flexible enough to adjust accordingly to those differences and wise enough to understand when a certain balance should be aimed for given the circumstances. Again the truly evil man might recognize this and in deception act in ways that meet this requirement. Yet he would only do so out of self interest. He realizes that to be accepted in society as a person deserving of respect and admiration he must mimic the action of the good man.

And so the question remains is the man whose actions meet the requirements of 1–5, but does so only out of deception, an evil man or a good man? All of his actions as defined by our conception of the good suggest he is good. His intentions matter not. Yet we are still disturbed by this example. Why? Why should intentions matter if the outcomes of his actions are only positive?

*Note: I use the term “man” for convenience only and to align with historical discussions in this area of philosophy. Of course the arguments apply equally to any gender, transgender, or non-gender persons.

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