Evil, in a general context, is the absence or opposite of that which is described as being good. Often, evil is used to denote 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 expediency, selfishness, ignorance, or neglect.
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 achieving 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 doers.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Chinese moral philosophy
- 3 Western philosophy
- 4 Psychology
- 5 Religion
- 6 Philosophical questions
- 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 forms include Middle English evel, ifel, ufel, Old Frisian evel (adjective and noun), Old Saxon ubil, Old High German ubil, and Gothic ubils.
Chinese moral philosophy
As with Buddhism below, in Confucianism or 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 states
1. By good, I understand that which we certainly know is useful to us.
2. By evil, on the contrary I understand that which we certainly know hinders us from possessing anything that is good.
- 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 Good and 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 the Devil. 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 shadow.
In 2007, 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.
The Bahá'í Faith asserts that evil is non-existent and that it is a concept for the lacking 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.
"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 themselves."
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.
- Main: Buddhist Ethics
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 B.C.
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 Ramayana and 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:
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:
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 to disobey Allah's orders. See Devil (Islam).
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). (Deuteronomy 28:20) 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 and 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.
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.
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 theologian 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."
In 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.
A fundamental question is whether there is a universal, transcendent definition of evil, or whether evil is determined by one's social or cultural background. 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, considered genocide to be acceptable, as did the Hutu 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 Hutu Interhamwe 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.[improper synthesis?] 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 camps:
- 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 suffering.
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[which?] 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.
American psychiatrist 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.
- 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 destructiveness)
- Is unable to think from the viewpoint of their victim
- Has a covert intolerance to criticism and other forms of narcissistic injury
He also considers certain institutions may be evil, as his discussion of the My Lai Massacre and its attempted coverup illustrate. By this definition, acts of criminal and state terrorism would also be considered evil.
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[which?] 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.
- "Evil". Oxford University Press. 2012.
- Ervin Staub. Overcoming evil: genocide, violent conflict, and terrorism. New York, NY, USA: Oxford University Press, Pp. 32.
- Caitlin Matthews, John Matthews. Walkers Between the Worlds: The Western Mysteries from Shaman to Magus. Inner Traditions / Bear & Co, Jan 14, 2004. P. 173.
- Paul O. Ingram, Frederick John Streng. Buddhist-Christian Dialogue: Mutual Renewal and Transformation. University of Hawaii Press, 1986. P. 148-149.
- See 'Evil' entry in OED
- Harper, Douglas (2001). "Etymology for evil".
- Good and Evil in Chinese Philosophy C.W. Chan
- History of Chinese Philosophy Feng Youlan, Volume II The Period of Classical Learning (from the Second Century B.C. to the Twentieth Century A.D). Trans. Derk Bodde. Ch. XIV Liu Chiu-Yuan, Wang Shou-jen, and Ming Idealism. part 6 § 6 Origin of Evil. Uses strikingly similar language to that in the etymology section of this article, in the context of Chinese Idealism.
- Benedict de Spinoza, Ethics, Part IV Of Human Bondage or of the Strength of the Affects Definitions translated by W. H. White, Revised by A. H. Stirling, Great Books vol 31, Encyclopædia Britannica 1952 p. 424
- Stephen Palmquist, Dreams of Wholeness: A course of introductory lectures on religion, psychology and personal growth (Hong Kong: Philopsychy Press, 1997/2008), see especially Chapter XI.
- Book website
- Coll., 'Abdu'l-Bahá.; Barney, transl. from the Persian by Laura Clifford (1982). Some answered questions (Repr. ed.). Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publ. Trust. ISBN 0-87743-162-0. Cite uses deprecated parameter
- Philosophy of Religion Charles Taliaferro, Paul J. Griffiths, eds. Ch. 35, Buddhism and Evil Martin Southwold p 424
- Singh, Gopal (1967). Sri guru-granth sahib [english version]. New York: Taplinger Publishing Co.
- Singh, Charan. "Ethics and Business: Evidence from Sikh Religion". Social Science Research Network. Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.
- Sandhu, Jaswinder (February 2004). "The Sikh Model of the Person, Suffering, and Healing: Implications for Counselors". International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling 26 (1): 33–46.
- Singh, Arjan (January 2000). "The universal ideal of sikhism". Global Dialogue 2 (1).
- Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge & Truth (PDF). p. 193. Retrieved June 25, 2014.
- David Ray Griffin, God, Power, and Evil: a Process Theodicy (Westminster, 1976/2004), 31.
- Hans Schwarz, Evil: A Historical and Theological Perspective (Lima, Ohio: Academic Renewal Press, 2001): 42–43.
- Schwarz, Evil, 75.
- Thomas Aquinas, SUMMA THEOLOGICA, translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1947) Volume 3, q. 72, a. 1, p. 902.
- Henri Blocher, Evil and the Cross (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994): 10.
- Sanburn, Josh (February 4, 2011). "Top 25 Political Icons - Adolf Hitler". Time. Retrieved August 27, 2011.
- Del Testa, David W; Lemoine, Florence; Strickland, John (2003). Government Leaders, Military Rulers, and Political Activists. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 83. ISBN 978-1-57356-153-2.
- Gaymon Bennett, Ted Peters, Martinez J. Hewlett, Robert John Russell (2008). The evolution of evil. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. p.318. ISBN 3-525-56979-3
- Gourevitch, Philip (1999). We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With our Families. Picador. ISBN 0-312-24335-9.
- "Frontline: the triumph of evil.". Retrieved 2007-04-09.
- Cherniss, Harold (1954). The Sources of Evil According to Plato. American Philosophical Society. pp. 23–30. ISBN 9004052356. Retrieved November 1, 2012.
- Peck, M. Scott. (1983;1988). People of the Lie: The hope for healing human evil. Century Hutchinson.
- Peck, M. Scott. (1978;1992), The Road Less Travelled. Arrow.
- Peck, 1983/1988,p105
- Martin Luther, Werke, XX, p58
- Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, Dante University of America Press, 2003, ISBN 0-937832-38-3 ISBN 978-0-937832-38-7
- Anton LaVey, The Satanic Bible, Avon, 1969, ISBN 0-380-01539-0
- Baumeister, Roy F. (1999) Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty. New York: A. W. H. Freeman / Owl Book
- Bennett, Gaymon, Hewlett, Martinez J, Peters, Ted, Russell, Robert John (2008). The Evolution of Evil. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. ISBN 978-3-525-56979-5
- Katz, Fred Emil (1993) Ordinary People and Extraordinary Evil, [SUNY Press], ISBN 0-7914-1442-6;
- Katz, Fred Emil (2004) Confronting Evil, [SUNY Press], ISBN 0-7914-6030-4.
- Neiman, Susan. Evil in Modern Thought - An Alternative History of Philosophy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002.
- Oppenheimer, Paul (1996). Evil and the Demonic: A New Theory of Monstrous Behavior. New York: New York University Press. ISBN 0-8147-6193-3.
- Shermer, M. (2004). The Science of Good & Evil. New York: Time Books. ISBN 0-8050-7520-8
- Steven Mintz, John Stauffer, eds. (2007). The Problem of Evil: Slavery, Freedom, and the Ambiguities of American Reform. University of Massachusetts Press. ISBN 978-1-55849-570-8.
- Stapley, A. B. & Elder Delbert L., Using Our Free Agency. Ensign May 1975: 21
- Stark, Ryan. Rhetoric, Science, and Magic in Seventeenth-Century England. (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2009), 115-45.
- Vetlesen, Arne Johan (2005) Evil and Human Agency - Understanding Collective Evildoing New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-85694-2
- Wilson, William McF., and Julian N. Hartt. Farrer's Theodicy. In David Hein and Edward Hugh Henderson (eds), Captured by the Crucified: The Practical Theology of Austin Farrer. New York and London: T & T Clark / Continuum, 2004. ISBN 0-567-02510-1
|Look up evil in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
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- Evil on In Our Time at the BBC. (listen now)
- Good and Evil in (Ultra Orthodox) Judaism
- ABC News: Looking for Evil in Everyday Life
- Psychology Today: Indexing Evil
- Booknotes interview with Lance Morrow on Evil: An Investigation, October 19, 2003.