Ellis’ Irrational Idea: The Wickedness Of Man

Ellis’ irrational ideas and the explanation of their irrationality have been used extensively in psychological therapies to dismantle toxic and counterproductive thinking. In this article, we will talk to you about the third idea, the one related to the wickedness of man and the punishment he deserves.
Ellis' irrational idea: the wickedness of man

There are some irrational ideas at the basis of society and, therefore, of the relationships between men. Albert Ellis calls them “aberrations”. In fact, many of these irrational ideas are the starting point for irrational thoughts that darken our mood, hold back our behaviors or cloud our cognitive abilities. In this article, we will tell you about Ellis’ third irrational idea.

Many of these ideas are a legacy of the historical process of each culture and, in our case, they come from the tradition and religious morality that until recently permeated every corner of our society.

In this article we will focus on Albert Ellis’ third irrational idea. Despite its irrational denomination, many still believe in it and base their knowledge and actions on it.

Close-up of Albert Ellis
Albert Ellis

Ellis’ third irrational idea: are people bad?

The third irrational idea presented by Ellis is: “Some people are bad, treacherous or infamous and must be condemned and punished for their wickedness.”

Many can argue about this and agree with this idea. Indeed, there is a tendency to label people as “good” or “bad” depending on the actions they perform.

If a person chooses to do something reprehensible, we usually give them a negative label. We also believe that it is right for bad people to suffer because of their bad deeds and their evil nature. We all agree, therefore, that they should be punished.

Although a priori, and here the socio-cultural heritage of belonging returns, this is not a completely crazy idea, Ellis argues that it is at the basis of an irrational thought that is not founded on evidence and that abuses certainties. He claims it’s a toxic mindset that doesn’t seem to do us any good.

But why, isn’t it so? Aren’t there bad people who do wrong things? Shouldn’t they deserve punishment?

The untestable wickedness of man

In the book Sense and Emotion in Psychotherapy , Ellis tries to explain why badness is not a fact as such. He argues, among other things, that the idea that people can be good or bad stems from the old theological concept of free will.

Many were the philosophers (Descartes, Hume and even Kant) who spoke of free will and, above all, of ethics based on free will. If there are good or bad people and there is free will, it means that people are free to do good or bad.

In some way, this premise can also refer to the existence of an absolute truth, dictated by a “God” or a “natural law”, which determines what concerns good and what concerns evil.

This doctrine has no scientific basis and its key words (God, absolute truth, free will …) can neither be proved nor denied. In light of this, preemptively stating that there are bad (or good) people would make no sense.

Woman thinking sitting backwards on the bed

Bad deed does not make a person bad

A bad deed or a wrong action does not define the person doing it as “bad”. Indeed, although we sometimes infer that these impulses come from a clearly evil nature, most of the time these actions are done out of ignorance, naivety, or because of a particular pathology.

Regardless of whether these people’s bad deeds cause harm to others, it doesn’t mean they deserve humiliating or lethal punishment because of their naivety, ignorance, or whatever their pathology is. On many occasions, when we punish people who have done a bad deed, we want to condemn an ​​alleged evil.

Does it make sense to punish ignorance, naivety or a pathology? Wouldn’t it make more sense to make sure that next time that person isn’t so ignorant and naive? Similarly, the idea that a person who does something bad is bad is present in many sermons of the various churches: many religions think they are the keepers of morality.

Despite this, reality has proven to be more complex. A person can donate money to a homeless man in the morning and go home in the evening and beat their child. Or, you may not give your seat to an elderly person on the subway and work fourteen hours a day to pay for parents’ medical care.

A “bad” action determines nothing and as long as the definition of evil is subjective, there will always be someone who will find good in evil and evil in good.

The fallibility of human nature

In his books, Ellis argues that it is unrealistic to think that we will always do everything right. Fallibility is part of human nature. Much of the learning process of humans occurs through trial and error.

So to say that a person “should” do something or “should” have done it in another way is wrong. The use of absolute terms and “should” is the basis of any irrational thought. Precisely because man is fallible and can make mistakes it is incorrect to say that people “should” do things in a certain way.

Ellis’s third irrational idea: the usefulness of punishing wickedness

Punishment, on many occasions, negatively affects the learning process. If a person makes a mistake or a “bad” action, getting angry and vindictively blaming him is counterproductive.

When a person makes a mistake out of naivety or ignorance, punishing his actions will not make him any less ignorant or less naive. Therefore, expecting the person to act differently after the punishment does not make much sense. Ellis explains this situation through an example:

Furthermore, if a person makes a mistake because of a psychological condition, blaming them can fuel that condition. On the other hand, guilt, anger and hostility underlie many psychological disorders.

Since there is a philosophy of blaming, in which children are immersed from an early age, it is argued that one must blame for past, present and future mistakes. Probably, without this blame, the feelings of anxiety, depression and more generally the feelings of guilt would be more difficult to experience.

Educate yourself on Ellis’ third irrational idea

Many of us were brought up following the premises behind Ellis’ third irrational idea. This has made us feel guilty, afraid of making mistakes, afraid of punishment and with a vague idea of ​​what is “good” or “bad”. This situation determines our mood, our way of being and our behaviors.

Before making a judgment on a person’s wickedness, one should think about it several times. If a person judges our actions and scolds us, we need to think about Ellis’ third irrational idea and decide whether or not the judgment on our guilt is lawful.

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