2

I do think that some people behave in evil ways and this is sometimes habitual and involves evil intent. Does that mean there are evil people or do you need to believe in e.g. an evil character (which I am less sure of) or motivations (which I am more sympathetic to but might think is unhelpful) to claim that there some people are evil? Does the difference matter at all?

9
  • 1
    You could focus on what you would / could do about it, which might let you ignore a lot of speculative dead ends.
    – Scott Rowe
    Jan 28 at 0:38
  • there's nothing i can do in my imagianry situation @ScottRowe but thanks for the concern!
    – user71226
    Jan 28 at 0:39
  • 3
    "Evil people" typically means consciously and comprehensively evil, so habitual actions with evil intent are probably not enough. The same people may also have good intents and also act on them habitually. The concept is vague and admitting of grades:"Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil", Solzhenitsyn. However, commitments to "evil character", "heart" or other descendants of metaphysical soul are not necessary to believe that some people are mostly evil.
    – Conifold
    Jan 28 at 2:07
  • thanks, that's helpful @Conifold ! i would accept that as an answer btw
    – user71226
    Jan 28 at 2:14
  • 2
    Belief in reified evil is a function of religious commitments. Sure, evil as an adjective is universally accepted. But as a noun — you must be a Christian to believe in it. Conifold Solzenitzen quote suggests that even Solzenitzen realizes the inconsistency in taking that view too literally
    – Rushi
    Jan 28 at 2:57

7 Answers 7

6

Here is a different perspective: "No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks."

The quote is by Mary Wollstonecraft. She was the mother of Mary Shelley, who wrote a whole novel on the subject. Socrates subscribed to the same theory (knowledge is the only true virtue). So did Jesus ("they don't know what they are doing"). And it's not just a theory -- evil appears to be incompatible with happiness. Call it karma, or call it golden rule, but we truly reap what we sow.

2
  • 1
    i like this, thanks. reassuring, which lots of ethics questions are looking for :)
    – user71226
    Jan 28 at 9:31
  • 1
    You are very welcome! Jan 28 at 9:42
3
  1. How many evil intentions a person must have that we call him/her an evil person?

    The foolishness of this subsequent question illustrates that there is no quantitative threshold. Even more, there is no measure to weight the different kinds of evil intentions. And eventually, there is no agreement about the moral assessment of certain intentions.

  2. Hence the OP's question builds on rather precarious ground. I doubt that the OP's question has a reasonable answer.

  3. It seems more reasonable - and that’s a difficult task for pedagogy, sociology and criminology - to investigate possible causes why persons do evil deeds, and why sometimes persons have evil intentions.

7
  • 2
    how many hairs to be bald? how bad does something have to be to be evil? how many good intentions to be good? people are always changing, true, but i'm not very sympathetic to your argument
    – user71226
    Jan 28 at 10:23
  • how many stupid things does one have to do to be considered stupid? one way of thinking of this is habitual stupidity
    – user71226
    Jan 28 at 10:27
  • I think this answer is correct in that it is about intentions, but the question is not stupid as to label someone as evil is a harsh thing to say to anyone and depends on a value judgment. There is an element of "If there is an egg, did a chicken lay it?" in the question as one situation would mutually imply the other.
    – DJ_Davey
    Jan 28 at 15:31
  • 1
    @DJ_Davey some snakes lay eggs. Cowbirds lay eggs in others nests that then kill the original chicks in the nest. I won't mention predatory wasps.
    – Scott Rowe
    Jan 28 at 22:50
  • 1
    @ScottRowe this is very true. Do we say that these animals are evil though? Many people would argue that it is just 'nature's way'.
    – DJ_Davey
    Jan 31 at 19:40
2

"Evil people" typically means consciously and comprehensively evil, so habitual actions with evil intent are probably not enough. Evil people may even have good intents and also act on them habitually.

Really, the concept is vague and admitting of grades

Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil

Solzhenitsyn.

But anyhow, commitments to "evil character", like commitments to an evil "heart" (or other descendants of metaphysical soul) are not necessary to believe that a person is mostly evil.

1
  • So we end up with the need to assess, judge and weigh consequences rather than just label and execute. Fortunately, we have a system in place to do this. But outrage is so tempting...
    – Scott Rowe
    Jan 28 at 22:54
1

Usually, under the law, someone may be convicted if intent to commit the act was proven. Now I'm not here to judge but the intent is a premeditated plan of action from a person, so we could base a theory if they are good or evil on their original intent (and follow through to completion of the evil act). Arguably also, a good person could accidentally commit an evil act. To confuse matters further, if we decide that a person can said to be evil, they may view their acts as good ones, hence there is an issue of perspective of what we conceptualise evil as being, being a further subjective issue.

1

This is another question that arises from the vagueness of language. Evil has traditionally had religious or moral connotations, overlapping with the meanings of words such as wicked or sinful. In an increasingly secular world, evil can simply be a synonym for bad, albeit typically suggesting profoundly or thoroughly bad. Either the religious or secular sense of the word can be applied to a person as much as an action. One key difference is that an action can be irredeemably evil, whereas a person might be reformed.

1

Evil actions and intentions consist an abnormal behavior. It is a behavior against human nature, against survival. In that sense it is irrational, since the main urge in life is to survive. And survive at maximum satisfaction and pleasure. So, it is a mental issue. It's an "illness". So, we usually call such persons "evil" or "bad", when they are demonstrating such a behavior on a regular basis.

People are not born "evil". Their "evilness" may have been established gradually at any point in their life and have various causes. For that reason, it may be lifted if the basic reason of its existence is found and handled.

0

Yes. Evil people do exist just as the good people exist. For example , Devil exists as opposite to God. Devil runs the hell and God owns the heaven. Devil is devil because of the belief system he follows. He has malicious intent. Anyone who follows Devil is also like a Devil and his behaviour is also highly malicious. However common man and women exhibit a mix of good and evil behaviour. They are not sure about the existence of either God or Devil.

7
  • So it comes down to "belief system", and also intent. Considering for example major cases in various countries in the 20th century, the question I have is how could someone rationalize away the effects of their actions (the leaders of countries, movements etc) and how could they deny the personhood of the people harmed? Do we blame just them, or their upbringing and so on? Where does responsibility land?
    – Scott Rowe
    Jan 28 at 12:24
  • 1
    @ScottRowe responsibility always lands with the individual imho (perhaps i would claim this cos we are talking about people
    – user71226
    Jan 28 at 12:36
  • 1
    @ScottRowe The responsibility lands on all the participants of the action. They can be mother , father , god , devil , schools , societies, economics etc.. All participants are affected by the result of the action (or Karma).. some are affected more and some are affected less. Jan 28 at 12:40
  • So, in the Old Testament, entire villages or groups of people were killed for being involved with the actions of maybe just a few. Do we blame people who were unknowing or powerless? Who is really the author of actions by Hitler and so on? Do we continue to hold the entire country responsible 100 years later? Someone I knew would never forgive the japanese people, and that was common in his generation. People need to see the correct people brought to justice, and saying it's essentially everyone makes that impossible.
    – Scott Rowe
    Jan 28 at 12:57
  • 1
    @ScottRowe Sometimes progeny carries the blame , sometimes don’t… rebirth carries the past karma… past karma must be neutralised to escape effects… Jan 28 at 14:35

You must log in to answer this question.