Ethics - Cruelty

It seems to me upon reflection that Cruelty offers the best contrast between diverse states of character among men. For the purposes of discussion, I will define the virtue of Kindness as showing sympathy, concern, respect and understanding for other beings. In contrast the vice of Cruelty is to show an utter scorn for same. Cruelty is often associated with criminal insanity, and I think it would be fair to say that it is considered by most people to be anti-social behavior.

When the state of one’s character deteriorates to the point where vice is defined as virtue, then Cruelty can actually be defined as an acceptable, perhaps even desirable and admirable form of behavior. This is the infamous “reprobate mind” where one can no longer distinguish between virtue and vice. Where cruelty is adopted as a ways and means of achieving happiness.

We have some spectacularly horrific examples in history where men of vice adopted savagely monstrous cruelty as an acceptable tool to achieve their desires. The Nazi’s extermination of the Jews during WWII, the Catholic Church’s torture and murder of non-believers during the Inquisition, enslavement of Black Africans, just to name a few. We also have smaller everyday examples, the abusive spouse, the abusive parent, the sadistic rapist, etc. These shocking and terrifyingly viscious acts of cruelty, leave men of virtue in shock and awe of the utter disdane and scorn for kindness that is displayed. The degree and depth of depravity and the magnitude of man’s inhumanity is beyond the sensibilities of most virtuous men.

It seems to me that the choice to engage in the vice of cruelty, and the habit of being cruel that forms from repeatedly cruel actions, creates a state of character that is cruel. It is impossible to behave in a cruel manner without becoming a cruel man. And a cruel man is unlikely to behave in any manner except cruel.

The utterly depraved state of character ( the reprobate mind, if you will ) that embraces cruelty as a ways and means of achieving happiness, is the best illustration that I can find for the shocking contrast between men of virtue and men of vice.

There seems to me to be no merit to any relativistic arguement for cruelty as anything other than vice.

arguement is disjointed, for the thesis that the acts shape/impac the character of a man, it seems needless to construct one based on moral psychology. futher, it’s redundant because one is assuming that a self exists before one acts — a rationalist claim that needs support. trouble is also run into with the hierarchial approach to classifying good and bad, cruel and uncruel, acts. if vice and virtue are defined based on the achievement of happiness, as is assumed here:

a greater explaination must be made. the assumption that certain characters are innately not prone to extracting happiness from ‘cruel’ acts is not supported. why would this be so? what basic function is needed in the soul to allow for this concluision to be made? how are we certain that this exists?

i would suggest that cruelty is more indicitive of the perception of the self both as an individual and a group. not so much as the person who does cruel acts has his/her character forever deteriorated, but the person and groups perception of what is considered cruel is a fairly strong indicator of the character of the group. keep in mind, of course, that perception like everything in life, is highly subject to change. and this gives you an indication of my position on the character of a man or woman.

I was just wondering where virtuous women like trix fit in…

I kinda sorta have some notion of what you’re trying to say, but it’s a bit fuzzy. Could you clarify your statements please? Some of your examples are subject to wide interpretation. For instance, you mention the Inquisition as an example of cruelty, but for the inquisitors many believed they were performing a virtuous act since eternal hellfire was far worse than than any corporeal suffering on earth. They were doing the “deviants” a favor!


I think you do understand exactly. The reprobate mind can no longer distinquish between cruelty and kindness. The inquisitors had sunk to such a low state of character that they may actually have thought that their cruelty was a kindness. This illustrates precisely the sharp distinction between men of virtue and men of vice. This is why cruelty seems to me to be the best illustration of this difference. Men of vice redefine virtue to suit their own means. They call vice a virtue and virtue a vice. The state of character that employs cruelty as a means to accomplish some supposedly “virtuous” end is, in reality, largely devoid of virtue, but will very often lay claim to the greatest virtue. It is not hazy. It is a crystal clear distinction.

I use men in the universal sense. Being a man, I use the term “men”, since I am concerned with my own state of character. However, I do not think that my definition of the virtue of Kindness or the vice of Cruelty has any gender bias. It does not serve to repress women or to reserve power to men. I will accept any such criticism if it is offered, but I would prefer it come from a female and not from you Logo. LOL

This sort of relativist ethics is mere veneer for a much deeper seated lack of respect of virtue. It is a mediocraty of virtue. It is an attempt to convict virtue of being entirely subjective and thereby discredit virtue. Why would one seek to do such a thing? The answer seems obvious. Nevertheless, I will be charitable and accept the question without regard for it’s motivation.

It is a lengthy explanation that is required. I will try to make it brief. Men are born without character. Men are born with desire. All men desire happiness. Happiness is that thing that is sought for it’s own sake, and not as a ways and means of achieving something else. Not just short-term fleeting happiness that comes from instant gratification of desires, but rather men desire long-term, lasting happiness. But unlike animals, men are born without any pre-programmed instinctive plan for achieving happiness. Men must use their intellect and reason to choose the ways and means of achieving happiness. In the beginning all choices are open to a man concerning the ways and means to satisfy his desire for happiness. I will define Virtue as those actions a man is free to choose which lead to lasting, long-term happiness. I will define Vice as the opposite, as those choices which lead to unhappiness. The actions that men choose are easire to repeat the second time. Actions repeated form into habits. Habits form into states of character. States of character tend to repeat those actions by which they were formed. Men of virtue tend to choose virtuous behavior. Men of vice tend to choose vice. A man tends to choose those actions that are consistent with his character. Men of vice may choose virtuous acts but only for a moment and only to achieve some other ends, but it will not become habitual behavior for them since it is against their very natures. Likewise, a man of virtue may choose an action that is vice, but it will be an uncomfortable experience since it is inconsistent with his very nature and it is highly unlikely to be repeated or to form into a habit.

That is not to say that men are not capable of incredible transformations of character. They certainly are. But it normally takes some trauma or major consequence of their choices to convince them to re-examine their actions and make new choices.

If you look at our society, you can quickly see what most men think will lead to long-term, lasting happiness. The masses of men live self-indulgent lives in pursuit of intsant gratification of their lusts and desires. The indulge their intemperant lusts for food, alchohol, sex, drugs, wealth, power, and possessions. They do not define this as vice, even though there is absolutely no historical basis for the belief that self-indulgent gratification of any of these desires will lead to long-term, lasting happiness. Rather, they define these pursuits as virtue.

As to your arguement about self-perception, I respectfully disagree. Men of vice redefine vice as virtue. They do not see themselves as being men of vice, rather they disagree sharply with men of virtue about the ways and means of achieving long-term lasting happiness. Men of vice commonly define the lust for power, domination of others, and unchecked ambition as the ways and means of achieving happiness. History contains ample examples. None of these examples have ever actually produced long-term lasting happiness, but have consistently failed to produce same.
Nevetheless, that historical lesson is lost on men of vice. So they offer honor and respect to men of vice and disdain men of virtue. They see the ways and means of achieving dominance, power, control, as being acceptable.

So I am back to my original statement, Cruelty is, I think, the best example of the diverse paths traveled by men of vice and men of virtue. They part company on the ways and means of achieving long-term lasting happiness. Men of vice will redefine cruelty as a virtuous act, and beleive that it is actually kindness. The utter depravity to which such men can sink in their montrous and savage cruelty to other beings is beyond defense by any relativist ethics, no matter how much they seek to redefine virtue or seek to discredit virtue.

I have had an amusing thought, which I hope is not too flippant.

I once had a conversation with someone who was making all sorts of generalisations about the absence of categorical rights and wrongs, the lack of substance in the concept of virtue, claiming that all this stuff was just philosophy but not relevant to real life.

We were sitting in his lounge and his small dog was sleeping quietly by the fire. I wonder what would have happened if I had walked over to the fireplace and started kicking his little dog all round the room (this is just a speculation, dog lovers, I wouldn’t really do it).

I suspect that he would have choked on his opinions, and phoned the very real police to have me locked up or whatever, and never invited me to his home again.

Maybe it takes events to bring out fundamental beliefs? it’s just a thought.

Does long-term lasting happiness even exist? Or is all happiness temporary? Is long-term lasting happiness, like the horizon, forever to be seen, but never to be grasped? This seems like an inherently self-defeating goal to seek.

A sip of cool water on a hot day brings temporaray happiness. A warm cup of cocoa on a wintery day. Reading a good book. Catching a snowflake. Embracing a lover. Seeing your child triumph. Talking to a long lost friend. Smoking a good cigar. All good, all momentary, all fleeting.

Maybe this is the first lie that we tell to ourselves, that happiness can be everlasting. It is dangerous as any lie we tell to ourselves is dangerous.

Philosohic Caveman wrote:

I’m not sure that man is looking for happiness. He may perhaps be looking for contentment, and we’d need a pretty tight definition of both terms to enter into a discussion of ethical values. One could easily define ‘happiness’ as seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, which would allow long-term happiness to simply become a continuous string of short-term pleasures. (when have you had too much sex? :laughing: ) I don’t think this is what you’re trying to get at. I’m uncomfortable with the idea that long-term happiness can be connected to virtue.

Consider the cultures tha have practiced human sacrifice. For many of them it was of the highest virtue to either be chosen as the sacrifice or to be the instrument of that sacrifice. This wasn’t a long term happiness condition for the family and friends of the sacrificial person. It was a sacrifice for the whole community, and yet vituous and necessary.

I would suggest that cruelty can only exist when the difference between good and evil is known and either twisted (as you have suggested) or ignored. Even then, we need to be careful about defining that which is good and that which is evil. Cultural differences make for some really interesting scenarios.

This isn’t a matter of relativist ethics. The implication being that there is an unimpeachable knowable ‘virtue’. It must take into account that different cultures may not agree on what is virtuous. That which is cruel is only knowable inside a particular group of definitions or a particular culture.


Men of the highest virtue, i.e., wise men, may well initially respond to presentations, (external impressions,) with shock and awe, but shortly they will gain control of matters sufficiently to see that another’s utter disdain and scorn for kindness is vulnerable to the great power vested in the magic wand of Hermes.

Thus, the tyrant may well be cruel to me but I have moral powers that I can draw on to overcome the cruelty. I might say, god has given me the power to forgive, or to endure suffering, or to be magnanimous, or to show greatness of soul. Therefore I will bring up my virtuous saint George to defeat the dragon of Cruelty.

Additionally, he whose genius scorns kindness attaching itself to depravity is one who has lost his humanity. What more can you take from a man than his humanity?

Thirdly, I ask you, would you punish a man for being blind? Surely not! Yet how eager we are to punish a man who is blind in his governing faculty, his reason, his choice. . .

Surely, then, a man is automatically condemned by his own cruel actions. . . . . .what greater punishment can we impose?