Is Evil Rational?

Is Evil Rational?

Is Evil Rational?


148 Posts



Is evil rational? If it is, then how can we depend on reason alone to make a better world? Best-selling author Dennis Prager has a challenging answer.
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Ever since the 18th century and the dawning of the so-called “Age of Reason,” most of the best-educated people in the world have been absolutely certain that reason alone will lead us to goodness and a good world. We don’t need a God. We don’t need religion. All we need is reason. Evil, we have been told for almost three centuries, doesn’t make sense. It’s irrational.

That’s why you’ll often hear murderous dictators referred to as “madmen” and their evil regimes described as products of “madmen;” in other words, the very opposite of rational men. Stalin was irrational. Pol Pot was a madman. Mao’s genocidal Cultural Revolution in which he directed the killing of 50 to 75 million Chinese — in peacetime, no less — is routinely called “madness.” And the Iranian regime’s calls for the annihilation of Israel are routinely dismissed as, you guessed it, irrational.

Meanwhile, good and moral things are always associated with being reasonable. But this association of reason with good is wishful thinking.

Of course, reason might argue for doing good. But it might just as well argue for doing bad. Take a non-murderous example. Is it right or wrong for a student to cheat on a test? It’s wrong, of course. But now answer this: Is it rational or irrational to cheat on a test?

The answer is not quite as obvious — is it? After all, if you can get away with it, and it might mean the difference between getting into a great school or getting a great job, cheating on a test may well be reasonable.

The same logic applies to participating in a shady, but lucrative, business deal or engaging in a marital infidelity. If you know you can get away with it, or simply judge that the benefits of doing something illegal or immoral outweigh the risk of being caught, why not do it?

Or answer this: Was it rational or irrational for a non-Jew in Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II to risk his or her life to hide a Jew? We all know that this was moral greatness of the highest order. But was it rational?

Not really. You can’t get much more rational than self-preservation. Moreover, in all the studies I have read of non-Jewish rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust — and I have read many — I have never read of any rescuers who said that they did what they did because it was the reasonable or rational thing to do. Not one.

Reason leads to good only when you want it to. Just as it leads to bad when you want it to.

Reason is just a tool. It is no more intrinsically moral than a knife. A knife can be used to murder or to torture people. But in the hands of a surgeon, it can be used to save lives.

If you want to preserve liberty, then it is rational to fight and risk your life on its behalf. And if you want to maintain a fascist or a Communist or an Islamist dictatorship, then it’s equally rational to risk your life on its behalf.

And talking about liberty, it isn’t reason that makes people value liberty. Many rational people value security, or order, or territory, or theocracy, or many other things much more than they value liberty.

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25 thoughts on “Is Evil Rational?

  1. Kallaji

    Ah no, you're wrong Dennis.

    Cheating on a test means cheating on your self, therefore making it irrational.
    Cheating in a business deal will get you caught sooner or later, therefore making it irrational.
    Murdering your wife with an axe, will also get you caught sooner or later. therefore making it irrational.

    "if you know you can get away with .."

    WRONG! You will NOT / NEVER get away with it no matter how smart you're or you think you're.

    Rational people understand this, which is why rational people are much less likely to commit crimes.

    March 29, 2021 at 12:37 pm Reply
  2. Dennis

    Conservatives: Liberals think with their feelings lololololololol
    Conservatives: Evil is rational. You can't rely on logic to make your moral judgements.

    Can someone explain this to me? It sounds like cognitive dissonance.

    March 29, 2021 at 12:37 pm Reply
  3. johnathan vale

    Ayn rand and all the objectivists come in to absolutely destroy all of this nonsense. All that is rationally selfish is good

    March 29, 2021 at 12:37 pm Reply
  4. Red Pill Diaries

    I have had a few discussions on this topic, as I truly believe that with enough intelligence, evil is stamped out due to the fact it is emotion based. There is a difference between emotionless, or being a cold mechanical killer (else working in a Slaughterhouse would be evil) Evil is quite simple : It is the desire for ill will or negative effects to be inflicted upon another entity that has never had any ill will or applied negative effects upon yourself or upon another entity, within your knowledge. (it's not that difficult, there is no grey area, and no slippery slope as many claim. It is black and white and your instincts let you know even when you are a child, through shame, guilt, remorse or at very least, the understanding that you must hide the truth)

    March 29, 2021 at 12:37 pm Reply
  5. demo last

    It is irrational to think that doing the the wrong thing is rational .

    March 29, 2021 at 12:37 pm Reply
  6. Dayan Morais

    Right and what about all the good that religion did my killing millions of people in the name of God.

    March 29, 2021 at 12:37 pm Reply
  7. ncmele last name

    so you can break the law as long as it's rational?

    March 29, 2021 at 12:37 pm Reply
  8. Alexander Gaebel

    Jesus is the only way to truth and happiness. We believers will be well taken care of because God is the God of love

    March 29, 2021 at 12:37 pm Reply
  9. Johannes Dalseg

    On the scale of individuals, breaking your sense of good and evil can be more reasonable.
    But as a whole, as a species, as a society, being good is reasonable.

    March 29, 2021 at 12:37 pm Reply
  10. Jim Taylor

    A sound core point, though I would add that calling [for example] a terrorist group's immoral deeds "evil" tends to give terrorists what they want; publicity and fear.
    If one sums them up as Stupid, deriding both them and what they claim to stand for… well they achieve nothing, and likely will be only fustrated in how they aren't being taken seriously or feared, as they'd essentially demanded through their actions.

    Same with almost any irreconcilable ideological foe… being called Evil makes them look cool; but being called Stupid and laughed to scorn, doesn't.

    March 29, 2021 at 12:37 pm Reply
  11. Ghost Light

    The Bible itself is irrational. “Turn the other cheek” still baffles me to this day

    March 29, 2021 at 12:37 pm Reply
  12. TheCyberWarrior

    Im going to be honest, I like PragerU, but i find it weird that they market themselves like a university, I like their videos but come on, it's a YouTube channel, I like their ideas and I wish there were more conservative voices out their in the public, but when you see "courses" and "credit" in the title, it looks like an actual university course, not a series of videos and ideas offered by someone, if it were to be labeled as such, it would be accurate, and not take away from any of the valid points in their videos, keep up the good work Dennis and others at PragerU!

    March 29, 2021 at 12:37 pm Reply
  13. BelieveOnlyJesus

    I completely agree with Prager, but I think he should go further and explain how all humans are demonstrably evil. And this is indeed a demonstrable FACT. Just take Jesus’ words: “You have heard it said , “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY”, but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28). Jesus ALWAYS demonstrated that everyone (except Himself Who is GOD) was guilty of breaking each of the Ten Commandments.

    March 29, 2021 at 12:37 pm Reply
  14. CC Nelson

    Woooooooooo that's deep…and I actually kinda get where he's coming from🙊

    March 29, 2021 at 12:37 pm Reply
  15. 邓梓薇

    Why does he have to emphasize on our deares president Mao? Racist Racist!

    March 29, 2021 at 12:37 pm Reply
  16. Nathan Tolladay

    The baby argument makes no sense
    It is irrational to kill a baby because they could contribute to the lives of many in the future
    There are no set factors to make any certain thing happen to something like that, therefor it is more rational to keep the baby alive to not waste an opportunity

    March 29, 2021 at 12:37 pm Reply
  17. Αγγελος Γονι

    Sparta (a super militaristic society) that was in favour of killing sickly babies. Not Athens the legacy of Athens had moral bases alongside reason. Although i am willing to accept your point if you can can give me a source for this claim. Anyway..that was a good video

    March 29, 2021 at 12:37 pm Reply
  18. Ag silver Radio

    4:11 I can offer a purely rational reason why the professor is wrong!
    Part of the professor's premise for his reason to kill the baby, was that it could be "…better for the baby…" but It's completely unreasonable to think Killing the baby, is best for the baby.

    That being said, the inherent God-given value of a human life, is still a much better argument.

    March 29, 2021 at 12:37 pm Reply
  19. John 'legless' Jacaranda

    Just looked this bloke up (I'm Australian and have never heard of him). Not exactly genius material, this fellow…

    March 29, 2021 at 12:37 pm Reply
  20. John 'legless' Jacaranda

    Never heard of this bloke but this is a very silly, rather pompous video. "Faith based"? And, based on the parameters laid-down prior to this statement, why is "Faith based" (by his inference) the antithesis of "evil" when faith has led to actions just as demonstrable of "evil" throughout human history (AHEM… those ancient infanticidal Greeks weren't without faith!!!)?.

    When I am happy or sad I express it it different ways. I see others when they are happy and when they are sad and I can assume they are like me in some regard (as I can with animals though the differences are greater between us than with people I can speak languages with) based on things I associate with those emotions. I dread my own suffering. I see a person I have never seen before who seems to suffer and I want their suffering to be relieved (as I do with suffering animals). I don't have to have faith to dislike the suffering of others. I have seen people risk their lives to save complete strangers. I have seen people do the same for animals. I (and they) empathize with the others. If I wasn't able to empathize I presume I'd think no more of burning someone alive than watching TV (for example one of the signs of alzheimer's disease can be a loss of empathy owing to loss of grey matter responsible for empathy )

    If I am horrified by the thought of burning someone alive vs not doing so because the law says not to, shouldn't it be taken into consideration that knowingly violating that law is VERY different for one repulsed by it vs one who is not? And WHO, when repulsed by something like burning someone alive DOES IT WILLINGLY? Does that not suggest that a sociopath adhering or not adhering to such a law is very different to someone who cares about the reason for the law vs fear of punishment? "Good and Evil"? I think their are types of 'madness' (for want of a better word) that are so strange in comparison to other very obvious forms of madness that they suggest cognitive differences that future generations will recognize as mitigating against the culpability of the offender. Knowledge of something "being wrong" is not the same as understanding why a society defines it as being wrong.

    As for doing things that repulse you under coercion, that is different to doing those things, willingly. It is a question of personal fortitude and some people will still refuse orders while others will not… but all that is different to the above.

    The main difficulty is this: how do you protect a society against those that would harm it while being progressive in our approach to understanding human behavior and acting justly? With so many unknowns that is no easy task. We should proceed with great caution and act bravely.

    March 29, 2021 at 12:37 pm Reply
  21. European Qoheleth

    But if there is a god or whatever who will punish you fro doing the wrong thing then surely it is irrational to do wrong. You may escape earthly authorities' punishment but not his. Even people who hold to sola fide say that sin is to be avoided.

    March 29, 2021 at 12:37 pm Reply
  22. Madubuko Ubesie

    Now that was a rational explanation. Lol

    March 29, 2021 at 12:37 pm Reply
  23. Sparky Sparkiness

    I thought it was only Sparta that killed babies that didn't make the cut, Athens did that too?

    March 29, 2021 at 12:37 pm Reply
  24. Kai C

    Morality is a very complicated matter and I don't think that you can answer a complicated question about morality in a 5 and a half minute video. Especially without explaining how you view morality and how you determine if a action or person is good, evil, neutral or whatever other sides of morality you believe in. I think that PragerU needs to make a MUCH longer video about this subject. And perhaps it should be different people discussing the subject since different people have very different views on morality.

    March 29, 2021 at 12:37 pm Reply

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