People sometimes do bad things. It seems natural to ask what are the fundamental reasons for this.

Here are some possible "sources of evil":

  • Human nature - humans innately contain qualities that produce evil actions
    • Evil desires - humans are naturally malicious to some degree
    • Moral weakness - well-intentioned people sometimes behave selfishly
    • Moral ignorance/error - "The road to hell is paved with good intentions"
    • Repressed trauma - people commit evil as a result of past trauma suffered at the hands of others, producing a perpetual cycle of evil
  • Societal corruption - social structures causes otherwise "good" people to commit evil actions, "power corrupts" and so on
    • Moral outliers - a few people have a natural tendency to evil, and these few corrupt those around them
    • Vestigial structures - characteristics that are potentially beneficial become harmful in the context of society
    • Emergent evil - some situations naturally produce or encourage evil behavior (e.g. the Stanford prison experiment)
  • Outside influences - space aliens, the devil, etc.

How do some major philosophies, religions, etc. address this question?

I haven't defined "bad things" or "evil", but that might not be necessary to answer this question, as long as you accept the basic premise ("evil exists").

  • 5
    What question? I suggest narrowing this question, with the possibility of multiple questions that get at different aspects of the issue. As it is, this is very, very broad.
    – labreuer
    Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 2:22
  • 2
    Do you think the question is narrow enough? The trick is that if it's too broad, there won't be a good way to compare between answers given. Broad and not deep investigations are not really what Stack Exchange was created for, and the ethos follows this.
    – labreuer
    Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 3:31
  • 2
    Do you want a good attempt at an answer to why there is evil, or a description of the historical schools of thought on the matter? The two may yield rather different answers.
    – Rex Kerr
    Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 8:52
  • 1
    Labreuer and RexKerr are right, the question is too broad and somewhat unclear. The title suggests you want a list answer, which are not encouraged here. You can start narrowing this by providing what you've found so far, what you think on the topic, etc. You've listed possible sources of evil, but do you actually believe of all them are valid? Do they all contribute evenly to the total evil in this world? What is evil (provide at least a basic definition)? etc etc
    – stoicfury
    Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 21:44
  • 2
    Mulla Sadra (plato.stanford.edu/entries/mulla-sadra), a muslim persian meta-physian provided an ontological theory of evil which argues that in essence there's no evil in existence (in the strict Sadraian sense of the term), but evil is the result of weakness in the existence of a thing or in other words existential weakness which is in turned described as a lack or shortage of existence. Hence all corruption and evil is attributed to non-existence while all goodness is attributed to existence per se.
    – infatuated
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 8:48

3 Answers 3


The answer to you question and the almost infinite smaller sub questions are very well answered by the karma theory as presented in jain scriptures (religion continued and propagated by lord mahavir, the 24th tirthankar ) . While I can assure there is no reliable source on the Internet that I can refer you to, but having myself studied this in some detail will try and answer this as well as I can. So basically karma is nothing but matter of a different kind. Matter is defined as that which has 4 properties viz color, taste, touch and smell. Now you might think that air has no color or taste or smell, but it in fact does have all these properties which can be tested in a laboratory and proven. Similarly matter of karma has all these properties but it is too fine and science has not yet made enough progress to trace its existence. Like all matter, karma has energy in it, but it bears results only when it comes in touch with a soul, and it can be any soul ie the soul of a human or an animal or any living being including a plant or a microbe. Just the way iron can be used to make a life saving equipment or a life threatening weapon, similarly karma can create both eg it can yeild you a fit body or a diseased one, it can give you the body of a human or that of an animal, it can give you noble thoughts or evil thoughts etc. In short, you can understand that all your life situation including the evil thoughts that come our mind which cause us to act evil are LARGELY due to the karma collected by us in the past. Now the question is how does karma get clinged to us, how do we know it will bear good or bad effects, can we change the bad karma that we have accumulated, how? These are only a few of the many questions that may be in your mind, but I have myself spent weeks understanding this and listening to the discourses and still I feel I am far from perfect. But I have applied this science and have been able to turn my life around so to say and im also teaching and sharing with others and know quite a bit to answer this question. To conclude I can say that all evil and all noble thought and actions are driven by karma. But why is there a need to understand karma? Because few people are evil by choice. Even those who are so evil by choice are going to feel pain, sadness at some point and naturally everyone wants happiness that would last. I would have loved to share the audios but unfortunately they are in another language. Feel free to ask me more if interested and I shall answer to the best of my abilities.


Why, then, ’tis none to you, for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. -- William Shakespeare ; Hamlet ; Act 2, Scene 2

Essentially, any thought process or course of action you set out upon, if it is not done in/with wisdom, will lead to evil at some point. Wisdom is the only filter through which good can be done. Attachment and delusion (of oneself or others) lead to conflict, often accompanied by fear and violence in extreme cases (ergo evil).

  • In that quote, Hamlet is referring to how our mindset affects how we perceive life, not morality. (He's saying this in reference to his claim that "Denmark's a prison".)
    – augurar
    Commented Mar 11, 2014 at 20:50
  • A quote, in of itself, can be used to argue anything either way (which is why I gave an explanation). Is not morality itself a mindset, a perception of the actions of oneself? Commented Mar 11, 2014 at 20:53

The definition according to the built in dictionary of OS X is: profoundly immoral or malevolent. So there are morals and will involved.

Morals are about right and wrong. And I quote again the OS X dictionary:

concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior and the goodness or badness of human character

Malevolent literally means willing bad. Or per dictionary:

having or showing a wish to do evil to others:

So it's a question of good and bad.

Good and bad are a matter of perspective however. I follow the Buddhist way of thinking there, without being a Buddhist myself. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_and_evil

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.[1]

Following this good and evil exist since the beginning of everything. But, since it's a matter of perspective I'd say evil begun as soon as "we" were able to distinguish between good and bad and could attribute it to somebody else being willfully or intentionally bad instead of just being ignorant. No observer, no evil.

  • 1
    The question wasn't "What do you think evil is", but "How do some major philosophies, religions, etc. address this question?" Also we're looking for answers that provide information beyond personal opinions. If you're not sure about this site's standards, please check out the FAQs.
    – iphigenie
    Commented Mar 11, 2014 at 10:42

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .