The murders have not been intrinsically unfair, from a social point of view. I'll even withdraw part of what I just said. Taking the fact that they've been determined between individuals into account, they have not been unfair at all. But individuals are not alone. They are part of a social complex. (View Sources, 1)


With these words, Ivan Dragomiloff declares his defeat to Winter Hall: he admits that the actions of the company The Assassination Bureau Ltd., even if correct from the point of view of the organization itself, were not justified from a social point of view. They reach this conclusion through social utility or utilitarianism, an ethical theory claiming that the actions of an individual or a group must follow the principle of maximum benefit and consequentialism, arguing that The Assassination Bureau Ltd. does not follow this rule because they do not consider whether the rest of society wants these murders to be carried out. This argument seems to indicate that committing something evil (like murder) is not correct, even if it is done to reach a higher good; but is this really true?

In order to answer this question, we should first know what good and evil are for our current society (not as universal concepts, which would prove to be an impossible task). Thanks to democracy and social networks, the opinion of an individual can reach a broader public and, therefore, influence others more easily. Additionally, democratic voting takes the view of a majority as the one representing society itself; reason why many things that in an authoritarian monarchy would be unthinkable are normalized nowadays; for example, by accepting a law proposed by the vote of an absolute majority, this law will be lawful (good) and not following it will be wrong. Then, it would not be exaggerated to say that, at the moment, the concepts of good and evil are social conventions that the majority decides. But what makes a single individual think that something is lawful or not? Could this opinion of good or evil be in our being from the moment we are born?

On the one hand, experiments have been carried out to verify a child's ability to judge, such as the one carried out by the Children Recognition Center of Yale University in Connecticut (USA), where children of six months had to decide between a good character (one who helped the protagonist) or a bad one (that made the task difficult); according to the study «An overwhelming majority, 80%, chose the good character» (View Sources, 2). This seems to indicate that newborns already have a certain ability to make decisions about what they believe to be good and evil, based on something similar to what Hume presented in his Treatise of Human Nature as sympathy.

On the other hand, personal opinions regarding moral values change as time goes by; they are not static. Furthermore, what we think about situations that do not belong to human nature (for example, our positions regarding a political system created by humanity) can not be predetermined. Therefore, these changes and additions to the moral of an individual are caused by experience. In the texts we collect from Aristotle under the name of Nicomachean Ethics, we can find his affirmation that moral virtue is acquired from habit and experiences, something that would explain our own changes in beliefs and morality:


And, of course, since virtue is double — intellectual and moral — the intellectual takes its origin and increases as it learns, reason why it needs experience and time; the moral virtue, on the other hand, originates from custom, reason why it has even adapted custom's name into itself. (View Sources, 3)


So, regardless of whether our conception of what is good and what is evil is defined at the moment we are born or not, the experiences we live modify these opinions through learning; therefore, what we think about the concepts of good and evil is learned. Once we know this, we should ask ourselves how we learn these concepts. Do we learn about morality individually, or is it taught to us?

It would be impossible to obtain an opinion on what is right or wrong on an individual basis, since morals are the norms that define how we should act in a society. Therefore, it is necessary to learn it from external factors; for example, from the observation of real situations (which we judge personally) and the consequences of what we, as an individual, do (whether we receive punishment or not). But without a doubt, one of the most studied phenomena regarding how we act in the face of social situations is conformity.

In 1951, Solomon E. Asch conducted a series of experiments to check the influence of a majority on a single individual. We will observe one of these, one that consisted of a visual test, documented in the article Studies of Independence and Conformity: I. A Minority of One Against in Unanimous Majority from the book Psychological Monographs: General and Applied. The results were as follows:


On average, more or less a third (32%) of the participants that were located in this situation were satisfied with the clearly incorrect choice of the majority in the critical tests. Of 12 critical tests, 75% of the participants conformed at least once, and 25% of the participants didn't conform with the opinion of the majority. In the control group, with no pressure to conform, less than 1% of participants gave the wrong answer. (View Sources, 4)


From Asch's experiment, we can deduce that, often, the opinion of a majority can cause an individual to change their way of acting or thinking. If the options were not so obvious, the social pressure to make a specific decision would be greater. If, for example, in a group of friends, all but one person are smoking and constantly tell the non-smoking individual to smoke, they may end up doing it because of social pressure or compliance. Therefore, many of our decisions can simply be made due to conformity; a punishment or prize; or the observation of an external situation.

Laws, rules we use to define what is lawful or not and what is right or wrong, use these three things to convince people to follow them. By observing external situations where people do not follow the law, we hear how people judge them because of how that; If we do something that does not follow the law, we receive a punishment (a fine, a time in prison...) and, finally, seeing how most believe that law must be followed, we are inclined to think that they should be followed because of conformity. To what extent is our opinion of what is good and evil truly ours?

These laws have clearly got the intention of introducing an order in society, but if we follow them solely because of these factors, are they not simply an indoctrination intended for all inhabitants to follow? As John Stuart Mill said in On Liberty: «First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility» (View Sources, 5). Therefore, a society denying the opinion of a minority with laws would be treating these laws as an infallible good, making society have a blind belief in them and instill them into us, using the aforementioned techniques. This would be indoctrination, which is considered bad by the society we've been basing our concepts of good and bad around, as the act of indoctrinating someone (especially young people) makes it difficult for them to have freedom of thought, a human right; teaching artificial good and evil in order to create some sort of order in society is nothing short of being an attempt at creating a Universal Law that limits the Will to power (der Wille zur Macht, as Nietzsche called it) that powers our decisions, in fear that they could cause harm. This is yet another form of passive nihilism, a fear that the Death of God (the impossibility of universal concepts existing) means we can never aspire to be good, a fear that leads to the creation of new artificial Universal Laws.

Not only that, because by indoctrinating the law in order to create a stable society, we are using an evil to reach a higher good. Suddenly, something that was considered bad is not bad in a certain context: the moral value of an action is not static, it changes with the situation. The question now would not be whether doing bad things is justified to reach a greater good, but whether the action itself was justified; that means that laws, which tried making a general idea of what is good or bad, are suddenly not beneficial at all due to the relativity of these concepts. Instead, each action should only be judged with its own context.

This way, we've reached a contradiction: from a legal standpoint, a concept of good and bad is being indoctrinated to have control over the morality by which actions are judged. This ignores reality, it ignores the lack of meaning these concepts actually possess. In conclusion, laws should, instead of classifying actions by an artificial morality, serve as a tool to judge each action in its own context: they should provide methods to judge any action, not a judgement towards individual actions themselves.


Sources used:

(1): LONDON, J. (1963), The Assassination Bureau, Ltd.Cuba: Isliada, 2017. page 40. (eng. translation).

(2): ABC (2010). "Los bebés distinguen el bien del mal incluso con seis meses." Diario ABC. (consulted the 20th of October of 2018) (eng. translation).

(3): ARISTOTLE, Nicomachean Ethics,book II. I, page 1103a. (eng. translation).

(4): MCLEOD, S. (2008). "Asch Experiment", SimplyPsychology. (consulted the 20th of October of 2018).

(5): STUART MILL, J. (1859) On Liberty (Kitchener: Batoche Books, 2001), page 50.