Black-and-white dualism

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The Last Judgement by Viktor Vasnetsov.

The contrast of white and black (light and darkness, day and night) has a long tradition of metaphorical usage, traceable to the Ancient Near East, and explicitly in the Pythagorean Table of Opposites. In Western culture as well as in Confucianism, the contrast symbolizes the moral dichotomy of good and evil.


Day, light, and good are often linked together, in opposition to night, darkness, and evil. These contrasting metaphors may go back as far as human history, and appear in many cultures, including both the ancient Chinese and the ancient Persians. The philosophy of neoplatonism is strongly imbued with the metaphor of goodness as light.[1]


Religion and mythology[edit]


  • White often represents purity or innocence in Western culture,[2] particularly as white clothing or objects, can be stained easily. In most Western countries white is the color worn by brides at weddings. Angels are typically depicted as clothed in white robes.
    • In many Hollywood Westerns, bad cowboys wear black hats while the good ones wear white.
    • Melodrama villains are dressed in black and heroines in white dresses.
    • This can be reversed as a deliberate play on conventions, by having the evil character dress in white, as a symbol of their hypocrisy or arrogance. For example, Don Fanucci in The Godfather, Part II is an evil character, but wears an expensive all-white suit as a sign of his esteem, power and prestige. Sometimes protagonists can wear black too, as in Return of the Jedi, wherein Luke Skywalker wears black during the final battle. This may symbolize the danger of Luke turning to the dark side, but once he has prevailed (in the scene where he removes Darth Vader's helmet), his jacket has opened up to reveal that it has a lighter color in the inside, as if to indicate that Luke "on the inside" was always good. Darth Vader himself, while still in the grip of the dark side, dresses all in black and may be regarded as a science-fiction version of a black knight. The chief antagonist of the Star Wars franchise, the evil Emperor Palpatine, wears a black cloak.
    • In computer security, a black hat is an attacker with evil intentions, while a white hat bears no such ill will (this is derived from the Western movie convention).


In popular culture[edit]

Other examples[edit]

  • The Dark Ages vs. the Age of Enlightenment.
  • "Black and white thinking" is the false dichotomy of assuming anything not good is evil and vice versa.
  • Black–white binary has often been conflated with the binary of good and evil.
  • Freemasonry has a black-and-white checkerboard as a central symbol within the lodge and all rituals occur on or around this checkerboard. Also known as a Mosaic Pavement, it represents the floor of King Solomon's Temple and according to Shakespeare, represents man's natural duality.
  • In software policy, lists of items either allowed or disallowed are sometimes referred to as 'whitelists' and 'blacklists' respectively. This practice is sometimes criticised for invoking supposed racial connotations, despite the origins of black and white dualism being entirely separate from race, and 'allowlists' and 'blocklists/denylists' are used instead.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Rudolf Arnheim. (1974). Art and visual perception. Univ of California Press. "The Symbolism of Light" (pp. 324-5)
  2. ^ The Encyclopedia Americana: A Library of Universal Knowledge. Encyclopedia Americana Corp. 1918. p. 329.
  3. ^ Bailey, Alice A. A Treatise on White Magic New York: 1934 Lucis Publishing Co.
  4. ^ "Orphaned Land - Music from the promised land - Interviews -". Retrieved 2023-12-06.