EVIL, in a general context is the absence or opposite of that which
is described as being good . Often, evil denotes profound immorality .
In certain religious contexts, evil has been described as a
supernatural force. Definitions of evil vary, as does the analysis of
its motives. However, elements that are commonly associated with evil
involve unbalanced behavior involving anger , revenge , fear , hatred
, psychological trauma , expediency, selfishness , ignorance , or
In cultures with an
Abrahamic religious influence, evil is usually
perceived as the dualistic antagonistic opposite of good , in which
good should prevail and evil should be defeated. In cultures with
Buddhist spiritual influence, both good and evil are perceived as part
of an antagonistic duality that itself must be overcome through
Śūnyatā _ meaning emptiness in the sense of recognition
of good and evil being two opposing principles but not a reality,
emptying the duality of them, and achieving a oneness .
The philosophical question of whether morality is absolute, relative,
or illusory leads to questions about the nature of evil, with views
falling into one of four opposed camps: moral absolutism , amoralism ,
moral relativism , and moral universalism .
While the term is applied to events and conditions without agency,
the forms of evil addressed in this article presume an evildoer or
* 1 Etymology
* 2 Chinese moral philosophy
* 3 European philosophy
* 3.1 Spinoza
* 3.2 Nietzsche
* 4 Psychology
* 5 Religion
* 5.1 Bahá\'í Faith
* 5.2 Ancient Egyptian Religion
* 5.4 Hinduism
* 5.5 Sikhism
* 5.8 Christianity
* 6 Philosophical questions
* 6.1 Universality
* 6.2 Usefulness as a term
* 6.3 Necessary evil
* 7 See also
* 8 References
* 9 External links
The modern English word _evil_ (
Old English _yfel_) and its cognates
such as the German _Übel_ and Dutch _euvel_ are widely considered to
come from a
Proto-Germanic reconstructed form of _*ubilaz_, comparable
to the Hittite _huwapp-_ ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European form
_*wap-_ and suffixed zero-grade form _*up-elo-_. Other later Germanic
Middle English _evel_, _ifel_, _ufel_, Old Frisian
_evel_ (adjective and noun),
Old Saxon _ubil_,
Old High German _ubil_,
and Gothic _ubils_.
The root meaning of the word is of obscure origin though shown to be
akin to modern German _Das Übel_ (although _evil_ is normally
translated as _Das Böse_) with the basic idea of transgressing .
CHINESE MORAL PHILOSOPHY
Confucianism and_ Taoist
As with Buddhism, in
Taoism there is no direct
analogue to the way _good and evil_ are opposed although reference to
_demonic influence_ is common in
Chinese folk religion .
Confucianism's primary concern is with correct social relationships
and the behavior appropriate to the learned or superior man. Thus
_evil_ would correspond to wrong behavior. Still less does it map into
Taoism, in spite of the centrality of dualism in that system, but the
opposite of the cardinal virtues of Taoism, compassion, moderation,
and humility can be inferred to be the analogue of evil in it.
Benedict de Spinoza
Benedict de Spinoza states
1. By good, I understand that which we certainly know is useful to
2. By evil, on the contrary I understand that which we certainly know
hinders us from possessing anything that is good.
Spinoza assumes a quasi-mathematical style and states these further
propositions which he purports to prove or demonstrate from the above
definitions in part IV of his _
Ethics _ :
* Proposition 8 "_Knowledge of good or evil is nothing but affect of
joy or sorrow in so far as we are conscious of it._"
* Proposition 30 "_Nothing can be evil through that which it
possesses in common with our nature, but in so far as a thing is evil
to us it is contrary to us._"
* Proposition 64 "_The knowledge of evil is inadequate knowledge._"
* Corollary "_Hence it follows that if the human mind had none but
adequate ideas, it would form no notion of evil._"
* Proposition 65 "_According to the guidance of reason, of two
things which are good, we shall follow the greater good, and of two
evils, follow the less._"
* Proposition 68 "_If men were born free, they would form no
conception of good and evil so long as they were free._"
Friedrich Nietzsche , in a rejection of the Judeo-Christian morality,
addresses this in two works _Beyond
Evil _ and _On the
Genealogy of Morals _ where he essentially says that the natural,
functional non-good has been socially transformed into the religious
concept of evil by the slave mentality of the weak and oppressed
masses who resent their masters (the strong).
Carl Jung , in his book _
Answer to Job _ and elsewhere, depicted evil
as the _dark side of God_. People tend to believe evil is something
external to them, because they project their shadow onto others. Jung
interpreted the story of
Jesus as an account of God facing his own
Even though the book may have had a sudden birth, its gestation
period in Jung's unconscious was long. The subject of God, and what
Jung saw as the dark side of God, was a lifelong preoccupation. An
emotional and theoretical struggle with the core nature of deity is
evident in Jung's earliest fantasies and dreams, as well as in his
complex relationships with his father (a traditional minister), his
mother (who had a strong spiritual-mystical dimension), and the
Christian church itself. Jung's account of his childhood in his
quasi-autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (New York: Vintage,
1963; henceforth MDR), provides deep, personal background about his
early religious roots and conflicts.
Philip Zimbardo suggested that people may act in evil ways
as a result of a collective identity . This hypothesis, based on his
previous experience from the
Stanford prison experiment , was
published in the book _The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good
People Turn Evil_.
Problem of evil
Problem of evil
The Bahá\'í Faith asserts that evil is non-existent and that it is
a concept for lack of good, just as cold is the state of no heat,
darkness is the state of no light, forgetfulness the lacking of
memory, ignorance the lacking of knowledge. All of these are states of
lacking and have no real existence.
Thus, evil does not exist, and is relative to man. `Abdu\'l-Bahá ,
son of the founder of the religion, in
Some Answered Questions states:
"Nevertheless a doubt occurs to the mind—that is, scorpions and
serpents are poisonous. Are they good or evil, for they are existing
beings? Yes, a scorpion is evil in relation to man; a serpent is evil
in relation to man; but in relation to themselves they are not evil,
for their poison is their weapon, and by their sting they defend
Thus, evil is more of an intellectual concept than a true reality.
Since God is good, and upon creating creation he confirmed it by
saying it is
Good (Genesis 1:31) evil cannot have a true reality.
ANCIENT EGYPTIAN RELIGION
Evil in the religion of
Ancient Egypt is known as Isfet ,
"disorder/violence". It is the opposite of
Maat , "order", and
embodied by the serpent god
Apep , who routinely attempts to kill the
sun god Ra and is stopped by nearly every other deity. Isfet is not a
primordial force, but the consequence of free will and an individual's
struggle against the non-existence embodied by Apep, as evidenced by
the fact that it was born from Ra's umbilical cord instead of being
recorded in the religion's creation myths.
Extermination of Evil _, The God of Heavenly Punishment, from
the Chinese tradition of yin and yang . Late
Heian period (12th
Century Japan) _Main: Buddhist
The primal duality in
Buddhism is between suffering and
enlightenment, so the good vs. evil splitting has no direct analogue
in it. One may infer however from the general teachings of the Buddha
that the catalogued causes of suffering are what correspond in this
belief system to 'evil.
Practically this can refer to 1) the three selfish emotions—desire,
hate and delusion; and 2) to their expression in physical and verbal
actions. See _ten unvirtuous actions in Buddhism_. Specifically,
_evil_ means whatever harms or obstructs the causes for happiness in
this life, a better rebirth, liberation from samsara, and the true and
complete enlightenment of a buddha (samyaksambodhi).
"What is evil? Killing is evil, lying is evil, slandering is evil,
abuse is evil, gossip is evil: envy is evil, hatred is evil, to cling
to false doctrine is evil; all these things are evil. And what is the
root of evil? Desire is the root of evil, illusion is the root of
evil." Gautama Siddhartha, the founder of Buddhism, 563–483 BC.
In Hinduism the concept of
Dharma or righteousness clearly divides
the world into good and evil, and clearly explains that wars have to
be waged sometimes to establish and protect Dharma, this war is called
Dharmayuddha . This division of good and evil is of major importance
in both the Hindu epics of
Mahabharata . However, the
main emphasis in Hinduism is on bad action, rather than bad people.
The Hindu holy text, the
Bhagavad Gita , speaks of the balance of good
and evil. When this balance goes off, divine incarnations come to help
to restore this balance.
In adherence to the core principle of spiritual evolution, the Sikh
idea of evil changes depending on one's position on the path to
liberation. At the beginning stages of spiritual growth, good and evil
may seem neatly separated. However, once one's spirit evolves to the
point where it sees most clearly, the idea of evil vanishes and the
truth is revealed. In his writings
Guru Arjan explains that, because
God is the source of all things, what we believe to be evil must too
come from God. And because God is ultimately a source of absolute
good, nothing truly evil can originate from God.
Nevertheless, Sikhism, like many other religions, does incorporate a
list of "vices" from which suffering, corruption, and abject
negativity arise. These are known as the
Five Thieves , called such
due to their propensity to cloud the mind and lead one astray from the
prosecution of righteous action. These are:
Moh , or Attachment
Lobh , or Greed
* Karodh , or Wrath
Kaam , or Lust
* Ahankar , or Egotism
One who gives in to the temptations of the
Five Thieves is known as
Manmukh ", or someone who lives selfishly and without virtue.
Inversely, the "
Gurmukh , who thrive in their reverence toward divine
knowledge, rise above vice via the practice of the high virtues of
Sikhism. These are:
* Sewa , or selfless service to others.
Simran , or meditation upon the divine name.
There is no concept of absolute evil in
Islam , as a fundamental
universal principle that is independent from and equal with good in a
dualistic sense. Within Islam, it is considered essential to believe
that all comes from Allah , whether it is perceived as good or bad by
individuals; and things that are perceived as _evil_ or _bad_ are
either natural events (natural disasters or illnesses) or caused by
humanity's free will. Much more the behavior of beings with free will,
then they disobey Allah's orders, harming others or putting themselves
over Allah or others, is considered to be evil.
According to the
Ahmadiyya understanding of Islam, evil does not have
a positive existence in itself and is merely the lack of good, just as
darkness is the result of lack of light.
See also: Satan in
Judaism , evil is not real, it is per se not part of God's
creation, but comes into existence through man's bad actions. Human
beings are responsible for their choices. However Jews and non-Jews
have the free will to choose good (life in olam haba ) or bad (death
in heaven). (
Judaism stresses obedience to God's
613 commandments of the
Written Torah (see also
Tanakh ) and the
collective body of Jewish religious laws expounded in the Oral Torah
Shulchan Aruch (see also
Mishnah and the
Talmud ). In Judaism,
there is no prejudice in one's becoming good or evil at time of birth,
since full responsibility comes with Bar and Bat
Mitzvah , when Jewish
boys become 13, and girls become 12 years old.
Devil in Christianity
Evil according to a Christian worldview is any action, thought or
attitude that is contrary to the character or will of God. This is
shown through the law given in both the Old and New Testament. There
is no moral action given in the Bible that is contrary to God's
character or God's will. Therefore, evil in a Christian world view is
contrasted by and in conflict with God's character or God's will. This
evil shows itself through deviation from the character or will of God.
The devil , in opposition to the will of God, represents evil and
tempts Christ, the personification of the character and will of God.
Ary Scheffer , 1854.
Christian theology draws its concept of evil from the Old and New
Testaments . The
Christian Bible exercises "the dominant influence
upon ideas about God and evil in the Western world." In the Old
Testament, evil is understood to be an opposition to God as well as
something unsuitable or inferior such as the leader of the fallen
angels Satan In the
New Testament the Greek word _poneros_ is used
to indicate unsuitability, while _kakos_ is used to refer to
opposition to God in the human realm. Officially, the Catholic Church
extracts its understanding of evil from its canonical antiquity and
the Dominican theologian ,
Thomas Aquinas , who in _Summa Theologica_
defines evil as the absence or privation of good. French-American
Henri Blocher describes evil, when viewed as a theological
concept, as an "unjustifiable reality. In common parlance, evil is
'something' that occurs in experience that _ought not to be_."
Mormonism , mortal life is viewed as a test of faith, where one's
choices are central to the Plan of Salvation. See Agency (LDS Church)
Evil is that which keeps one from discovering the nature of God. It
is believed that one must choose not to be evil to return to God.
Christian Science believes that evil arises from a misunderstanding
of the goodness of nature, which is understood as being inherently
perfect if viewed from the correct (spiritual) perspective.
Misunderstanding God's reality leads to incorrect choices, which are
termed evil. This has led to the rejection of any separate power being
the source of evil, or of God as being the source of evil; instead,
the appearance of evil is the result of a mistaken concept of good.
Christian Scientists argue that even the most _evil_ person does not
pursue evil for its own sake, but from the mistaken viewpoint that he
or she will achieve some kind of good thereby.
In the originally Persian religion of
Zoroastrianism , the world is a
battle ground between the god
Ahura Mazda (also called
Ormazd ) and
the malignant spirit
Angra Mainyu (also called
Ahriman ). The final
resolution of the struggle between good and evil was supposed to occur
on a day of Judgement , in which all beings that have lived will be
led across a bridge of fire, and those who are evil will be cast down
forever. In afghan belief, angels and saints are beings sent to help
us achieve the path towards goodness.
Adolf Hitler is sometimes used as a modern definition of evil.
Hitler's policies and orders resulted in the deaths of about 50
A fundamental question is whether there is a universal, transcendent
definition of evil, or whether evil is determined by one's social or
C. S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis , in _
The Abolition of Man _,
maintained that there are certain acts that are universally considered
evil, such as rape and murder . However the numerous instances in
which rape or murder is morally affected by social context call this
into question. Up until the mid-19th century, the United
States—along with many other countries—practiced forms of slavery
. As is often the case, those transgressing moral boundaries stood to
profit from that exercise. Arguably, slavery has always been the same
and objectively evil, but men with a motivation to transgress will
justify that action.
The Nazis , during
World War II
World War II , considered genocide to be
acceptable, as did the
Interahamwe in the
Rwandan genocide .
One might point out, though, that the actual perpetrators of those
atrocities probably avoided calling their actions genocide, since the
objective meaning of any act accurately described by that word is to
wrongfully kill a selected group of people, which is an action that at
least their victims will understand to be evil. Universalists consider
evil independent of culture, and wholly related to acts or intents.
Thus, while the ideological leaders of
Nazism and the
accepted (and considered it moral) to commit genocide, the belief in
genocide as _fundamentally_ or _universally_ evil holds that those who
instigated this genocide are actually evil. Other universalists might
argue that although the commission of an evil act is always evil,
those who perpetrate may not be wholly evil or wholly good entities.
To say that someone who has stolen a candy bar, for instance, becomes
wholly evil is a rather untenable position. However, universalists
might also argue that a person can choose a decidedly evil or a
decidedly good life career, and genocidal dictatorship plainly falls
on the side of the former.
Views on the nature of evil tend to fall into one of four opposed
Moral absolutism holds that good and evil are fixed concepts
established by a deity or deities , nature, morality , common sense,
or some other source.
Amoralism claims that good and evil are meaningless, that there is
no moral ingredient in nature.
Moral relativism holds that standards of good and evil are only
products of local culture, custom, or prejudice.
Moral universalism is the attempt to find a compromise between the
absolutist sense of morality, and the relativist view; universalism
claims that morality is only flexible to a degree, and that what is
truly good or evil can be determined by examining what is commonly
considered to be evil amongst all humans.
Plato wrote that there are relatively few ways to do good, but there
are countless ways to do evil, which can therefore have a much greater
impact on our lives, and the lives of other beings capable of
USEFULNESS AS A TERM
One school of thought that holds that no _person_ is evil, and that
only _acts_ may be properly considered evil. Psychologist and mediator
Marshall Rosenberg claims that the root of violence is the very
concept of _evil_ or _badness_. When we label someone as bad or evil,
Rosenberg claims, it invokes the desire to punish or inflict pain. It
also makes it easy for us to turn off our feelings towards the person
we are harming. He cites the use of language in Nazi Germany as being
a key to how the German people were able to do things to other human
beings that they normally would not do. He links the concept of evil
to our judicial system, which seeks to create justice via
punishment—_punitive justice_—punishing acts that are seen as bad
or wrong.He contrasts this approach with what he found in cultures
where the idea of evil was non-existent. In such cultures when someone
harms another person, they are believed to be out of harmony with
themselves and their community, are seen as sick or ill and measures
are taken to restore them to a sense of harmonious relations with
themselves and others.
Psychologist Albert Ellis agrees, in his school of psychology called
Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy , or REBT. He says the root of
anger, and the desire to harm someone, is almost always related to
variations of implicit or explicit philosophical beliefs about other
human beings. He further claims that without holding variants of those
covert or overt belief and assumptions, the tendency to resort to
violence in most cases is less likely.
M. Scott Peck on the other hand, describes evil
as _militant ignorance_. The original Judeo-Christian concept of _sin
_ is as a process that leads one to _miss the mark_ and not achieve
perfection. Peck argues that while most people are conscious of this
at least on some level, those that are evil actively and militantly
refuse this consciousness. Peck describes evil as a malignant type of
self-righteousness which results in a projection of evil onto selected
specific innocent victims (often children or other people in
relatively powerless positions). Peck considers those he calls evil to
be attempting to escape and hide from their own conscience (through
self-deception) and views this as being quite distinct from the
apparent absence of conscience evident in sociopaths .
According to Peck, an evil person:
* Is consistently self-deceiving, with the intent of avoiding guilt
and maintaining a self-image of perfection
* Deceives others as a consequence of their own self-deception
* Psychologically projects his or her evils and sins onto very
specific targets, scapegoating those targets while treating everyone
else normally ("their insensitivity toward him was selective")
* Commonly hates with the pretense of love, for the purposes of
self-deception as much as the deception of others
* Abuses political or emotional power ("the imposition of one's will
upon others by overt or covert coercion")
* Maintains a high level of respectability and lies incessantly in
order to do so
* Is consistent in his or her sins.
Evil people are defined not so
much by the magnitude of their sins, but by their consistency (of
* Is unable to think from the viewpoint of their victim
* Has a covert intolerance to criticism and other forms of
He also considers certain institutions may be evil, as his discussion
My Lai Massacre
My Lai Massacre and its attempted coverup illustrate. By this
definition, acts of criminal and state terrorism would also be
Martin Luther believed that occasional minor evil could have a
Martin Luther argued that there are cases where a little evil is a
positive good. He wrote, "Seek out the society of your boon
companions, drink, play, talk bawdy, and amuse yourself. One must
sometimes commit a sin out of hate and contempt for the
Devil , so as
not to give him the chance to make one scrupulous over mere nothings
According to certain schools of political philosophy, leaders should
be indifferent to good or evil, taking actions based only upon
practicality; this approach to politics was put forth by Niccolò
Machiavelli , a 16th-century Florentine writer who advised politicians
"... it is far safer to be feared than loved."
The international relations theories of realism and neorealism ,
sometimes called _realpolitik _ advise politicians to explicitly ban
absolute moral and ethical considerations from international politics,
and to focus on self-interest, political survival, and power politics,
which they hold to be more accurate in explaining a world they view as
explicitly amoral and dangerous. Political realists usually justify
their perspectives by laying claim to a _higher moral duty_ specific
to political leaders, under which the greatest evil is seen to be the
failure of the state to protect itself and its citizens. Machiavelli
wrote: "... there will be traits considered good that, if followed,
will lead to ruin, while other traits, considered vices which if
practiced achieve security and well being for the Prince."
Anton LaVey , founder of the
Church of Satan , was a materialist and
claimed that evil is actually good. He was responding to the common
practice of describing sexuality or disbelief as evil, and his claim
was that when the word _evil_ is used to describe the natural
pleasures and instincts of men and women, or the skepticism of an
inquiring mind, the things called evil are really good.
Banality of evil
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde _
Theodicy and the Bible
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* ^ Schwarz, _Evil_, 75.
* ^ Thomas Aquinas, _Summa Theologica_, translated by the Fathers
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Good and evil
* The Fall
Christian views on sin
Imputation of sin
* Other views on sin
* Logical order of God\'s decrees
* See also Apologetics
* Human nature
Philosophy of psychiatry
Philosophy of perception
* Social science
* Space and time
* Artificial intelligence
* Computer science
SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT
* Early modern
* Chinese naturalism
* Edo Neo-
* _ʿIlm al-Kalām _
* Analytic feminism
* Generative linguistics
* Internalism and Externalism
* Quinean naturalism
Ordinary language philosophy
Ordinary language philosophy
* Scientific skepticism
* Contemporary utilitarianism
* _more... _
* Aesthetic response