Evil is the violation of, or intent to violate, some moral code. Evil is usually seen as the dualistic opposite of good. Definitions of evil vary along with analysis of its root motive causes, however general actions commonly considered evil include: conscious and deliberate wrongdoing, discrimination designed to harm others, humiliation of people designed to diminish their psychological needs and dignity, destructiveness, and acts of unnecessary and/or indiscriminate violence that are not legitimate acts of self-defense but aggressive and designed to cause ill-being to others. The philosophical question of whether morality is absolute or relative 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.
The root meaning of the word is of obscure origin though shown to be akin to modern English "over" and modern German über (OE ofer) and "up" (OE up, upp) with the basic idea of transgressing.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Philosophical definitions
- 3 Philosophical quandaries about evil
- 4 Sociological views on evil
- 5 Religious concepts of evil
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
The modern English word "evil" (Old English yfel) and its cognates such as the German Übel are widely considered to come from a Proto-Germanic reconstructed form *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. The root meaning is of obscure origin though shown to be akin to modern English "over" and modern German über (OE ofer) and "up" (OE up, upp) with the basic idea of "transgressing".
Evil is that which is not good. The Bible defines evil as the condition of being alone (the "not good" of Gen. 2:18). In this sense, evil may be seen as that which goes against, or is outside of society, both in terms of values and actions.
Some authors, such as Christian apologist William Lane Craig, have divided evil into moral evil, or harms perpetrated by some agent; and natural evil, harms resulting from natural disasters, disease, or other agentless causes. Natural evil has particular import to theodicy, as it cannot be simply explained as the result of an agent's free will.
Benedict de Spinoza said that the difference between good and evil is merely one of personal inclinations: "So everyone, by the highest right of Nature, judges what is good and what is evil, considers his own advantage according to his own temperament... ."
The duality of 'good versus evil' is expressed, in some form or another, by many cultures. Probably this results from bininary cognitive distinctions and separation of voluntary and involuntary acts both being cultural universals. However, identitively, distinguishing good and bad is also a cultural universal. Those who believe in the duality theory of evil believe that evil cannot exist without good, nor good without evil, as they are both objective states and opposite ends of the same scale.
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 shadow.
Ayn Rand wrote in The Virtue of Selfishness that "Since reason is man’s basic means of survival, that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; that which negates, opposes or destroys it is the evil." This is elaborated in Atlas Shrugged: "Thinking is man’s only basic virtue, from which all the others proceed. And his basic vice, the source of all his evils, is that nameless act which all of you practice, but struggle never to admit: the act of blanking out, the willful suspension of one’s consciousness, the refusal to think—not blindness, but the refusal to see; not ignorance, but the refusal to know. It is the act of unfocusing your mind and inducing an inner fog to escape the responsibility of judgment—on the unstated premise that a thing will not exist if only you refuse to identify it, that A will not be A so long as you do not pronounce the verdict “It is.”
Philosophical quandaries about evil
Is evil universal?
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. In fact, many acts now considered evil have been termed as acceptable in some societies at different times. One might argue, nevertheless, that the definition of the word rape necessitates that any action described by the word is evil, since the concept refers to causing sexual harm to another. 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, found genocide acceptable, as did the Hutu Interhamwe 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 the victimized party 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. Author Sam Harris notes that universal morality can be understood using measurable (i.e. quantifiable) metrics of happiness and suffering, both physical and mental, rooted in how the biology of the brain processes stimuli.
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. For this reason, philosophers such as Bernard Gert maintain that preventing evil is more important than promoting good in formulating moral rules and in conduct.
Is evil a useful term?
There is a school of thought that holds that no person is evil, 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 makes a similar claim, 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.
Prominent 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 us to "miss the mark" and fall short of 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 characterizes 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
- Projects his or her evils and sins onto very specific targets, scapegoating others while appearing normal with everyone else ("their insensitivity toward him was selective") 
- Commonly hates with the pretense of love, for the purposes of self-deception as much as deception of others
- Abuses political (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 persons are characterized 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.
Is evil necessary?
Anton LaVey, the late founder of the Church of Satan, asserts that evil is actually good (an often-used slogan is, "evil is live spelled backwards"). This belief is usually a reaction to evil being described as destructive, where apologists claim that definition is in opposition to the natural pleasures and instincts of men and women.
Even Martin Luther allowed 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... ."
In certain schools of political philosophy, leaders are encouraged to be indifferent to good or evil, taking actions based solely on 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 disavow absolute moral and ethical considerations in international politics in favor of a 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."
Sociological views on evil
In 2007, Ph.D 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.
Religious concepts of evil
There is no concept of absolute evil in Islam, as a fundemantal 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 that what the 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. In the Islamic view, evil is not the cause but the result.
Muhammad asserted, “When evils or wrong-doings are done against Allah, the one who recited the Great Kalimah (i.e., Shahada) does not prevent the evildoers from committing the evils”.
Christian theology draws its concept of evil from the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, evil is understood to be an opposition to God as well as something unsuitable or inferior. 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 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 Judaism, evil is the result of forsaking God. (Deuteronomy 28:20) Judaism stresses obedience to God's laws as written in the Torah (see also Tanakh) and the laws and rituals laid down in the Mishnah and the Talmud.
Some forms of Judaism do not personify evil in Satan; these instead consider the human heart to be inherently bent toward deceit, although human beings are responsible for their choices. In other forms of Judaism, there is no prejudice in one's becoming good or evil at time of birth. In Judaism, Satan is viewed as one who tests us for God rather than one who works against God, and evil, as in the Christian denominations above, is a matter of choice.
“ The One forming light and creating darkness,
Causing well-being and creating calamity;
I am the LORD who does all these.
—Isaiah 45:7, NASB
Some cultures or philosophies believe that evil can arise without meaning or reason (in neoplatonic philosophy, this is called absurd evil). Christianity in general does not adhere to this belief, but the prophet Isaiah implied that God is ultimately responsible for everything. (Isa.45:7).
In Mormon theology, 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 Iranian belief, angels and saints are beings sent to help us achieve the path towards goodness.
According the general teachings of the Buddha, "evil" means "harmful" and refers 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). Ignorance is defined as the root of all evil.
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.
Meher Baba's theology
The spiritual teacher Meher Baba stated that "Good as well as evil are impressional products of the evolutionary momentum...Some impressional tendencies, which were necessary and inevitable at a particular phase, are carried over to the higher phase of evolution and they persist in their existence due to inertia." Baba also conveyed that "Evil is to all appearance the converse of good yet at the same time it is capable of being converted. Thus generally speaking, the [spiritual] path lies from evil to good and then from good to God, Who is beyond both good and evil." 
- ^ Sanburn, Josh (February 4, 2011). "Top 25 Political Icons - Adolf Hitler". Time. http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2046285_2045996_2045995,00.html. Retrieved August 27, 2011.
- ^ Ervin Staub. Overcoming evil: genocide, violent conflict, and terrorism. New York, New York, USA: Oxford University Press, Pp. 32.
- ^ Harper, Douglas (2001). "Etymology for evil". http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=evil
- ^ Benedict de Spinoza, Ethics, translated by Edwin Curley, Penguin Classics, 2005, ISBN 0-14-043571-9, ISBN 978-0-14-043571-9, p. 135
- ^ 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.
- ^ Gaymon Bennett, Ted Peters, Martinez J. Hewlett, Robert John Russell (2008). "The evolution of evil". Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. p.318. ISBN 3525569793
- ^ Gourevitch, Phillip (1999). We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With our Families. Picador. ISBN 0-31224-335-9.
- ^ "Frontline: the triumph of evil. url=http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/evil/".
- ^ url=http://www.vatican.va/archive/catechism/p3s1c1a6.htm
- ^ Harris, Sam (2004). The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-03515-8.
- ^ a b 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
- ^ Peck,1978/1992,p298
- ^ Martin Luther, Werke, XX, p58
- ^ a b Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, Dante University of America Press, 2003, ISBN 0-937832-38-3 ISBN 978-0-937832-38-7
- ^ 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 Dominician 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.
- ^ The Jewel Ornament of Liberation. Gampopa. ISBN 978-1559390927
- ^ Baba, Meher (1968). Beams from Meher Baba on the Spiritual Panorama. San Francisco: Sufism Reoriented. p. 55. ISBN 978-0915828036.
- ^ Baba, Meher (1968). Beams from Meher Baba on the Spiritual Panorama. San Francisco: Sufism Reoriented. pp. 57-58. ISBN 978-0915828036.
- 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
- Steven Mintz, John Stauffer, ed (2007). The Problem of Evil: Slavery, Freedom, and the Ambiguities of American Reform. University of Massachusetts Press. ISBN 9781558495708. http://books.google.com/books?id=OatyHcQmLb4C&printsec=frontcover&dq=Steven+Mintz#v=onepage&q=&f=false.
- 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
- Stapley, A. B. & Elder Delbert L., "Using Our Free Agency". Ensign May 1975: 21
- 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
- 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
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