Morality is rules of behavior within a social organization that in a metaphysical sense does not necessarily have to correspond to good and evil. A person can, for instance, be moral and evil at the same time, within a social context; likewise, a person can be profoundly immoral and good at the same time. How is this even possible, you ask? It comes down to the very nature of morality, and how this is understood.
I tend to base my conclusions on observations, so that when I form an idea of what morality is, I do believe that I must base it on something I can demonstrate; therefore, when I speak of good and evil, I am naming what I am seeing. So, what do I see? I see actions, emotions, values, and beliefs, but of these, actions and emotions take precedence. When I study the people who have been called good or evil throughout history, I pay close attention to what they did and to what they felt–in some cases the latter is somewhat difficult to determine but not to speculate about since we are all human. This allows me to form a conceptual framework of what good and evil must be, seen from a human perspective that is at the same time independent of culture and belief systems. Now if we take the values of good and those of evil and compare them with those of morality we will have a clearer understanding of how those of morality are constantly changing while those of good and evil remain stable.
If we take the root of the words good and evil to be an emotional-matrix, then good and evil must be universal concepts independent from both time and place, at least while humans remain human. This, however, is never true of morality. Morality is the name we give to agreed upon behavior within a social context. Although morality must always present itself as the arbiter between good and evil, this is in reality rarely the case.
People are moral insofar as they submit to the rules of their social group. They assume that being moral makes them good, and they do so because they believe that morality is about good and evil, right and wrong. However, history will clearly demonstrate that some of the worst atrocities ever committed were done by highly moral people who truly believed they were doing what is right. From the torture chambers of the Inquisition to the Salem Witch Trials to the Nazi Holocaust to modern day Jihads, the greatest evil has always been perpetrated under an umbrella of morality. This is so because Morality is nothing more than unquestioned rules of behavior.
Here I’m going to propose that good and evil are not mysteries, nor are they difficult to understand, but that in order to do so an effort of separation must first be made. While we remain under the influence of our own culture–or any culture for the matter–it is as if we are wearing blinders–we cannot see. Separation is necessary, and the way we separate ourselves from our culture is by abandoning–temporarily–all beliefs, values, and prejudices. Thus we can see things with innocent eyes, as it were.
Suppose you found yourself alone in a strange world, and in the distance you saw a group of people coming towards you. What would you feel? If the people turned out to be kind, gentle, generous and helpful, would you call them good? Conversely, if you found them to be cruel and violent, and they robbed you off what little you had and beat you, would you call them evil?
Let us get to the heart of the matter; good and evil are names we give to behaviors we perceive, and how we perceive them is heavily influenced by where we happen to be standing. Most Nazis did not see themselves as being evil, nor as being on the side of evil. Why? Because under Nazi morality Germany was the ‘good guy.’ The same can be said of Torquemada and the Inquisition–under Catholic morality they were doing what they thought was right. The interesting thing is that now we see them as examples of the worst evil. Why? I suppose an explanation could be that our moral codes are simply different, but I don’t think that’s the case. We can see them as evil because we are seeing them from the outside. Our belief systems give us a confused notion of good and evil, condemning actions in others that are fully justified when done by our side. So that while we remain under the influence of our belief systems we must always remain blind, and good and evil will continue to elude us even while we think we fully grasp them.
Yet, as I have already suggested, good and evil are not difficult concepts to understand, once we have separated ourselves from our cultures and belief systems. If you were to ask, for example, any person from any part of the world to describe a good person, what would you get? Once you had gotten past the particular cultural and religious beliefs what you would have left is specific qualities of behavior. A good person would be one who was compassionate, fair, kind, empathic, and so on. The same could be said of the evil person–this one would express qualities such as hatred, bitterness, resentment, envy, and so on. Therefore, good and evil can now be understood as behaviors emanating from an emotional-matrix. What this means ultimately is that what we feel gives impetus to our actions.