Right and Wrong

I’d like to thank Pingo (whomsoever they are?) for sparking the spark that resulted in this post.

I hope to get a few comments from my fellow blogworlders out there concerning this post as i think a clearer understanding of this topic may benefit everyone who reads it and consequently everyone else they come into contact with… kinda like a beneficial virus, if you will.

What do we mean when we say something is right?

What do we mean when we say something is wrong?

For most of us we started learning the difference between what was ‘right’ and what was ‘wrong’ from our parents.

That this was greatly determined by how well or otherwise they had learned these things and modified them to fit themselves by the time we were ready to be indoctrinated,  goes a long way to explaining why today people can have such widely varying views and perspectives on the topic… it’s very difficult to come to some ‘generalisations’ we can ALL agree on in this regard.

Our knowledge of right and wrong was also profoundly influenced by our schooling, or teachers and what they taught us, both from the curriculum and from their behaviours. VERY fixed ideas have stuck with us concerning right and wrong from our time spent in school, whether we enjoyed the experience or, more likely if we did not.

For the vast majority of human existance Religion, belief in God(s), has played a large part in our understanding of Right vs Wrong. Today the influence may be waning as more of us look to science to provide us with more ‘certainty’ in our beliefs of our life experiences, but it undeniably plays a major part in a society’s understanding of the concepts – from Sunday Schools to Religious schools to  Christian  (Catholic) Universities to church services to Governments swearing allegiance to God there is no denying Religion influences the topic greatly, even today.

Religion largely equates right with good and wrong with evil – whatever you personally feel about those things.

Religion would have us choose one over the other as a guiding principle to live by. It, unfortunately for humanity, has some widely differing views however, as to what we must do to be ‘good’ or to be ‘right’ in the eyes of God.

In the humanist world right and wrong is somewhat less ‘regimented’, more open to a single human interpretation. Most society’s have their various laws and guidelines and we are considered right/good, if we follow them and wrong/bad if we break them. Almost universally however, inside all of us is the desire to BE ‘right’ – to do the ‘right thing’ (whatever we may feel or even ‘know’ it to be – many times i have found that what IS the ‘right’ thing to do is not the one that will make me feel – in the short term – the best, or indeed is even the one that gives me the greatest personal benefit!).

And herein lies the biggest difficulty i see with the whole right/wrong good/evil concept…. the battle between doing what we feel is ‘best’ for ourself, versus doing what may be the ‘best’ for our family/ city/ country/ society/ Eastern/Western lifestyle or even the whole darn planet, because many times we selfishly see only what is ‘right’ for us and have little to no consideration for those we have to live our lives with. Or we place the highest priority on our being right, even in situations where what we then do as a result causes significant ‘wrong’ to everyone else.

As per my recent post ‘confirmation bias’  is built-in to each and every one of us to convince ourselves of our own ‘rightness’ while diminishing anything that does not agree with our view of things.

I do not believe it is good or right to only consider one’s self-righteous point of perspective and to leave others to do the same. In my mind it is better to consider things from a far wider perspective so that some consensus can be agreed to. We can of course never know exactly what someone else thinks or feels, but i do believe humans are capable of operating co-operatively to a common ‘good’ when we all have respectful input to the conversation.

Comments anyone?

Leave a comment


  1. Pingo

     /  8 April, 2013

    “Being right” was probably very import and 80,000 years ago, when being wrong = being eaten by the sabre-tooth tiger. Love to know where and how the mind originally developed and put this being right thing together. Like you said, I also def got it from my parents and teachers instruction but where did it first rear it’s head?

    • Another good question! i guess it comes originally from the difference between pleasure and pain. Most of us seek one and avoid the other. In order to have some sort of ‘control’ over this humans have a need to make sense out of seemingly chaotic patterns, we are basically pattern matchers. We try to gather ‘evidence’ of the way things are – the Big Picture – and put them all together to let us see a bigger picture, like putting jigsaw pieces in a puzzle. From this we make predictions about our actions and then see if they are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ ( give pleasure or bring pain – or zero balance) – again though the big problem i see is that most of us do so for our own unique versions of ‘the big picture’ (one may have a lion picture and use it to avoid being eaten, one may have a cartoon and use it to recognise laughter and simple pleasure etc.) Few of us see a ‘group’ picture comprising of elements other than the ones we ourselves see as being ‘right’ but considering those elements others see ‘differently’. Does that make sense?

      While it is always nice to know origins, i think it is of more importance to become aware of this in us and learn how we may benefit by being more in ‘control’ of it and finding ways to organise it in ourselves so as to be in harmony with our fellow humans.

      • Pingo

         /  8 April, 2013

        Agreed, seeing how the mechanism of being right, if we can call it a mechanism, is at play now and being responsible for it now, and creating what we actually want for ourselves and our lives now, is where is rubber meets the road.

      • Pingo

         /  9 April, 2013

        addition: the explanation of why we are driven to be right as a species is trumped by bringing something else into the world, by bringing forth “the big picture” that includes other people if not all people.

  2. You raise an important point: and it’s not easy to answer. I, for one, would suggest that humanistic conceptions of morality would have to begin by promoting the individual within a society – to guarantee the rights of the private citizen insofar as they do not lead to the detriment of another. If that is starting point of the philosophy, then automatically some principles are seen as absolute: free expression, equality in spite of gender/race/sexual orientation etc, while as a corollary calling for public debate about other issues. I don’t know if that contributes to anything?

    • You contributed – that’s something! 😉 On the assumption that anything is better than nothing you have made a positive contribution and i thank you for the effort.

      “begin by promoting the individual within a society…” Question: which is preferable, promoting the ‘value’ of every single individual, regardless of their individual proclivities, or promoting the concept of an ‘ideal’ individual that all should have the same rights as/of. Would our society as a whole be better off allowing a large range of individuality that may lead to individual antagonisms, or in defining the qualities in one ‘perfect’ shared set that every individual should have as a ‘right’ while anything other be reduced to a quirk justifiable only to ones self?

      I would have no problem with any individual who chose to keep their unique individuality and kept it to themselves – the problem i have is when a group of individuals gains a benefit from living in a shared society but give themselves ‘free passes’ from some of/all the responsibilities such a society requires of us.

      I think we easily get confused and forget that we simultaneously live in multi-layered hierarchies. (self/ family/ community/ nationality/ world occupant.) I believe we need some kind of mutually agreed interconnections (restrictions?) to all those domains we have to co-exist in.

  3. JJ

     /  9 April, 2013

    “one’s self-righteous point of perspective and to leave others to do the same.”
    – do you say this applying to goverment policy as well?
    Granted the constitution (like the New Testament) were written by a group of men who spent an admirable amount of time discussing each of their “beliefs:” (in my eyes a belief does not necessarily equate to one viewing one’s opinons at any given time as right or wrong. I see a belief as fluid, not static, and open to change, otherwise consensus could never be reached! In either of these expamples), the rules the “Rights” as dictated by the U.S. and other nations’ constitutions , do you not believe them to be implemenatable?

    Do you “feel” exempt from these “rights”? Do you only abide by them to AVOID punishment?

    • Welcome JJ,

      answering the last first… Personally i do not feel ‘exempt’ from any rights, my own or those of ( in my case the Australian) constitution. Rights are good things, and hopefully have been made for the greater good of all concerned but they must come with certain responsibilities, something some people seem to completely disregard for themselves. I don’t abide by rights to avoid punishment, i seek to avoid punishment by trying to keep to the law (religious and secular). I may not personally agree with all laws passed by governments ( particularly ones i did not vote in but a majority did) but as a responsible citizen with rights granted me by the state i seek to abide by as much as i can and still keep my integrity and morality ‘intact’ (always a balancing issue i think).

      By the comment you quoted i was trying to suggest that, particularly in a society we as a whole may be better off by taking a wider view of what we feel is right or wrong than merely the one we have formed for our self – our own internal compass – it is very easy to live from an individualistic point of view in a comfortable modern western society for some, (while for others it can be very uncomfortable) whereas, if that same individual had to live on their own without the help of others to provide a safe and secure environment we may find our ‘values’ and ethical choices of right/wrong somewhat ‘tested’ and perhaps modified. I feel the individual should succumb somewhat to the demands placed upon them ( rights and responsibilities) of living in a large group of humanity and not let their unique identity be the ruling factor of their morality.

      As for belief: i do agree that our belief is only as strong as the evidence we have acquired let’s us determine it to be, and with greater evidence it may be fluid enough to ‘change’ or evolve, however at any one time i believe our ‘belief to be ‘fixed’ enough for us to have our own version of ‘right from wrong’ to help us determine our actions at that time.

      I am thinking though that we may be thinking on two differing levels concerning the word ‘belief’
      as in :”i believe i will have the lamb for dinner tonight and not the fish.” compared to: “i believe it is wrong to gain credit or reward for the efforts someone else took.”

      • JJ

         /  10 April, 2013

        lol I can’t help but laugh at your last sentence. In my head your “I believe I will have…” is the baritone voice of a British Lord. I can’t recall that word being used like that in common speech in Australia …. but it has been quite a while since I lived there. I did work in a restaurant (where OMG every word was different, like I knew what they meant but they weren’t ones we as Americans use regularly, examples (Aussie version vs US version). Till:Cash Register, Booking:Reservation. Cutlery:Utensils, Serviette:Napkie, Filet (pronouncing the T): Filet: (silent T). It took a while but now, even 10 years later I still used culterly and booking in lieu of utensil and reservation. Don’t know why those stuck, they just kind of represent the item better in my mind.

        Believe…. do you believe im magic….? and is believing the ownership of a belief? Hmm

        Funny when i look it up this is the “kids definition” of belief:
        Belief: something that one thinks is true

        Vs. the “adult definition”
        1. a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing
        2: something believed; especially: a tenet or body of tenets held by a group
        3 conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being or phenomenon especially when based on examination of evidence

        The simplified is so… simple!

        Believe…. the definitions are ALLLL OVER THE PLACE! which makes a discourse on the subject like not impossible but almost as if you have to side know WHICH meaning of the word you are using. Check it:
        1. a: to have a firm religious faith ,b: to accept something as true, genuine, or real
        2. to have a firm conviction as to the goodness, efficacy, or ability of something
        3. to hold an opinion : think

        So, it technically can mean a firm conviction or a passing thought. This language man. It’s crazy!

      • Have to agree with you on that one JJ – English is a crazy language, but unfortunately it is the only one i have any degree of skill in with which i can communicate thought to/receive from others – and it is far from being perfected as my attempts frequently prove – sighhh!

        Having a British upbringing for the first 11 years of life may account for my ‘lamb’ belief 😉 and you are right – it would be very strange indeed to hear it in Aussie society today ( but not all that long ago….?)

  4. Pingo

     /  11 April, 2013

    When we are talking about “being right” i take it we are not talking about being accurate or being truthful. I take it that we are talking about the being right that occurs as a kind of righteous – which looks like being right in order to be better than another, in order to be superior to, etc.

    • Well, … yes. But ,that frame of mindset does not preclude one from being truthful…. at least not as one perceives any given ‘truth’. How accurate or otherwise that perception is and how accurate the one perceives it to be is problematic. Also, although it is rare, there Have been times where the truth of one individual was more ‘truthful’ than the differing truth of the vast consensus.( flat eath)


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