Is it better to abstain from doing than to do harm?

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Gary Childress
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Is it better to abstain from doing than to do harm?

Post by Gary Childress »

There's an old dark saying I've been fascinated by since I first heard it. "It's better to do evil than nothing at all." Is that true?

I've always thought doing nothing would be better than doing evil. So I mostly try to do nothing. But it still seems to turn out evil.

I temped at some sort of medical equipment corporation once not long after I was first hospitalized with mental illness. I had a manic episode at their copier and pretty much wrecked the only original copy of a medical manual that they possessed for their product. I never went back. I probably put them out of business. It would have been better for everyone's sake had I just slept in that day and not shown up for work. But, I did evil that day instead of nothing at all. It was a mistake. What lousy advice!
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attofishpi
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Re: Is it better to abstain from doing than to do harm?

Post by attofishpi »

Gary Childress wrote: Tue Dec 05, 2023 1:39 am There's an old dark saying I've been fascinated by since I first heard it. "It's better to do evil than nothing at all." Is that true?

I've always thought doing nothing would be better than doing evil. So I mostly try to do nothing. But it still seems to turn out evil.

I temped at some sort of medical equipment corporation once not long after I was first hospitalized with mental illness. I had a manic episode at their copier and pretty much wrecked the only original copy of a medical manual that they possessed for their product. I never went back. I probably put them out of business. It would have been better for everyone's sake had I just slept in that day and not shown up for work. But, I did evil that day instead of nothing at all. It was a mistake. What lousy advice!
None of that was 'evil' - wrong maybe but that is all. And I really don't understand why you would find "It's better to do evil than nothing at all." fascinating, its a bloody ridiculous statement.
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LuckyR
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Re: Is it better to abstain from doing than to do harm?

Post by LuckyR »

The OP seems akin to asking is - 1 greater or less than zero?

I do believe in a semi-related anecdote, though. Namely: it is better to try a plan that is not guaranteed to succeed than to do nothing.

The difference is that the OP's scenario knows that evil is evil, whereas in mine a plan may or may not success but we guess it has a <50% chance.
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Re: Is it better to abstain from doing than to do harm?

Post by Walker »

Gary Childress wrote: Tue Dec 05, 2023 1:39 am
I've always thought doing nothing would be better than doing evil. So I mostly try to do nothing. But it still seems to turn out evil.
You are a prime candidate for "Opposite George Practice." What do you have to lose, other than what you want to lose?
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Angelo Cannata
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Re: Is it better to abstain from doing than to do harm?

Post by Angelo Cannata »

You cannot understand that saying from a cold, traditional, rational, point of view. That saying comes from a human perspective. “Human” means that it gives importance to human existence, emotions, relatioships, growth, while abstract philosophy is, sadly, very disconnected from the human experience of life.
Once we have clarified the perspective, the meaning of the saying can be understood:

- if somebody does evil, you can correct them, you can help them to grow, to aknowledge their mistakes, there is space for progress; on the contrary, if somebody doesn’t do anything, there is nothing to correct, nothing to improve, there is no hope;

- doing evil is not necessarily intentional; we might even say that it is never intentional; this means that, frequently, those who do evil, despite what we can see at first sight, expose themselves to other’s judgement, reactions; those who don’t do anything are like sealed in an impenetrable sphere, where nothing and nobody can interfere, they are completely closed to any dialogue, they do not compromise themselves, they do not expose themselves to any risk of vulnerabiltiy, any effort to interact with them finds a wall.

Now the question is: shall we think that the Holocaust made by Hitler was better than being completely inactive?

This thought is, obviously, unacceptable. Moreover, if we generalize the idea, the question becomes impossible to answer because, at the end, it involves the reason why this world exists. The evil that we know in this world is not just the Holocaust made by Hitler; there are so many other evil things, that we might even conclude that this world as such is evil itself, so it would have been better if it never existed. This idea contains the mistake of pretending to judge the world from the inside of it: as parts of this world, we have no way for a final, definitive understanding of it, so we have no way for any final judgement on it. Whatever we say is just a perspective that can be easily criticized and demolished by another opposite perspective.

These notes can remind us that any saying, any thought, is acceptable only in a specific context, a specific perspective. There are no sayings or ideas that are true, acceptable, good, in all contexts and all perspectives; in other words, there aren’t universal, absolute truths.
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Re: Is it better to abstain from doing than to do harm?

Post by Ansiktsburk »

Gary Childress wrote: Tue Dec 05, 2023 1:39 am There's an old dark saying I've been fascinated by since I first heard it. "It's better to do evil than nothing at all." Is that true?
Thats like the story of my class journey. Doing nothing seems pretty hard, but what I grew up with, grown up life is to get a job job, manintain a family and pretty much do what salary worker does is more or less considered doing nothing in the more prosperous community, especially socially and culturally where I now live. And well the thing they “do”, individually and even more collectively, no matter going right or left wing could well be described as evil. And I doubt that it is in many ways better.
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Re: Is it better to abstain from doing than to do harm?

Post by Age »

Gary Childress wrote: Tue Dec 05, 2023 1:39 am There's an old dark saying I've been fascinated by since I first heard it. "It's better to do evil than nothing at all." Is that true?
OBVIOUSLY 'that' ALL DEPENDS.

'These people, BACK THEN, seemed to CONTINUALLY FORGET that; Absolutely EVERY 'thing' IS relative TO 'the observer'.
Gary Childress wrote: Tue Dec 05, 2023 1:39 am I've always thought doing nothing would be better than doing evil. So I mostly try to do nothing.
What could, 'mostly try to do nothing', EVEN MEAN or REFER TO, EXACTLY?
Gary Childress wrote: Tue Dec 05, 2023 1:39 am But it still seems to turn out evil.
WILL 'you' PROVIDE ABSOLUTELY ANY examples?

If no, then WHY NOT?
Gary Childress wrote: Tue Dec 05, 2023 1:39 am I temped at some sort of medical equipment corporation once not long after I was first hospitalized with mental illness. I had a manic episode at their copier and pretty much wrecked the only original copy of a medical manual that they possessed for their product. I never went back. I probably put them out of business.
Are these PRESUPPOSITIONS here True.

Did 'you' REALLY so-call 'wreck' the REALLY 'only' 'original' copy?

Did 'you' REALLY PUT 'them' OUT OF BUSINESS?

Or, ARE 'you' here just ONCE AGAIN LOOKING AT the WORST, ONLY, "gary childress"?

Also, what CAUSED 'your' so-called 'manic episode' a some copier machine?

And, HOW, EXACTLY, could have 'you' 'pretty much wreck' just some papers at a copier machine?
Gary Childress wrote: Tue Dec 05, 2023 1:39 am It would have been better for everyone's sake had I just slept in that day and not shown up for work.
HOW do 'you' KNOW that that ONE and ONLY ORIGINAL COPY of some product was NOT of 'some product', which could of done untold harm and damage TO humanity, itself, or was of absolutely NOT benefit TO humanity, itself, and was just ANOTHER 'money GRABBING product' for some VERY EVIL and/or GREEDY business people?

Could 'you' have ACTUALLY CREATED A HUGE or SOME BENEFIT FOR humanity, itself, 'that day'?

Or, did what 'you did' HAVE TO BE ON the 'negative' and/or 'bad' "side" OF 'things', ONLY?
Gary Childress wrote: Tue Dec 05, 2023 1:39 am But, I did evil that day instead of nothing at all. It was a mistake. What lousy advice!
Well 'this' ANSWERS MY LAST QUESTION here.
alexmin39
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Re: Is it better to abstain from doing than to do harm?

Post by alexmin39 »

You raise a thoughtful philosophical question - when faced with uncertainty, is it better to risk action that may unintentionally cause harm, or refrain from acting at all?It is an issue I have grappled with myself frequently. In some ways, doing nothing does avoid responsibility for negative outcomes. Yet inaction has consequences too, even if just lost opportunities.I would argue the saying you referenced takes too extreme of a view though. True "evil" requires malicious intent in my opinion. Situations are rarely so black and white. Oftentimes we simply lack enough information to perfectly predict the impacts of each choice.In those cases, having a system of ethical principles can guide our behavior - things like honesty, caring, fairness. If we act according to our best judgement of what upholds ethical ideals, then even if unforeseen harm still results, we behaved nobly. Intentions matter alongside outcomes.In that sense, abstaining from those principles out of fear of imperfection feels more damaging than earnestly striving for ethical action while acknowledging our human limitations. We cannot control everything, but we can control our own character.Just some thoughts! Curious to hear yours and others' perspectives on this thought-provoking topic. How do we balance action vs inaction when confronted with ethical ambiguity?
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