Take for instance you are able to go back in time and have one of the worst leaders in history killed him/ her before they came into power, thus eliminating the atrocities they committed. Or see atrocities being committed, kill them to stop them. The fact that you did this evil thing (killing) becomes a good thing.

On the other hand can something be so overwhelmingly good/ perfect, but implemented or enacted in such a way that it is evil?

At day's end are these labels of good and evil just manifestations of our own viewpoint? How do we know the difference?

  • 2
    "I am part of that power which eternally wills evil and eternally works good”, Mephistopheles from Goethe's Faust.
    – Conifold
    Commented Sep 17, 2016 at 21:06
  • @Conifold I remember Faust! Commented Sep 17, 2016 at 21:15
  • The issue was explored at length by theologians in the context of theodicy, justification of divine goodness in the face of evil in the world en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodicy see also Schelling's take, who characterizes the capacity to do evil as the essence of human freedom (which is a good) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – Conifold
    Commented Sep 17, 2016 at 21:32
  • @Conifold I'm trying to avoid the issue(s) surrounding theology, and stick strictly to philosophical viewpoints. Commented Sep 17, 2016 at 22:08
  • There are too many frameworks for defining what evil is, to have a settled answer. Discussed here 'Does philosophy have a dark side?' philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/2901/… Evil as a special category requiring justification, explicitly comes from the religious tradition of theodicy & thinking about free will. I don't think that can be ignored in this context. In say Daoism, there just is no issue.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 16:57

1 Answer 1


It is possible. Thats what they call greater good.

If you inject your child with some antidote then the action of putting a needle inside a child (hurting them, altough nowadays they don't hurt as much) is evil. But you do the evil deed for a greater good. To make sure he won't die. In this case you used evil to do good.

The way around is also possible. If your child wants a polar bear as pet. You can give him a polar bear (good deed). But we all know the bear will probably at some point of it's life eat your child (or you :)). And since you know this, and that your child is still unable to reasonably think, it is an evil deed.

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