Good actions and bad actions exist. But could it be possible that all bad and evil actions could stem from some sort of good thing making it at its root not evil. Like say I want to do something to make me happy at someone else's expense. Sense the goal was to make me happy shouldn't it have been good, does this mean that this somewhat evil action at its root is good?


2 Answers 2


One way to arrive at an ethical stance is by assessing how it relates to your goals.

If your goals are utilitarian for example (ie: you generally aspire to maximise pleasure or wellbeing and minimise pain or suffering for all affected individuals), then deriving pleasure at another person's expense will likely only be ethical if you deem that the pain you are inflicting is insignificant in relation to the pleasure you are deriving. Perhaps, by stealing a loaf of bread, you enable your family to survive another day or two, whilst the expense to the retailer is a relatively minor loss in profits.

A person might of course however possess very different goals. If your goals are purely to maximise your wellbeing at any cost, then you may deem any pain you cause to someone else in the process as trivial. You might deem it reasonable to kill the retailer in order to steal a loaf of bread you didn't even need, but merely desired.

It is not difficult to foresee the problems that arise from such a self-oriented approach however, which is why healthier societies tend to adopt utilitarian(ish) policies, although their methods of attempting to maximise wellbeing may differ.

Only you can decide what is right, but if your goals are incompatible with those of the society in which you live, you will likely find it difficult to sustain them.

If a person finds themselves thinking that no-one else matters; that the only person who possesses any moral value is themselves, and if they find themselves increasing willing to act according to such an attitude, there is a reasonable case to suggest that they might in fact be experiencing one or more of a range of disorders classified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, some of them potentially very serious and even dangerous to the self and/or others, such as Anti Social Personality Disorder.


Buddha said even acting with good intentions can lead to a bad result, and so advocated no-deed. The take-away here is that if you must act, be aware that you are taking a gamble.

There are dark deeds with dark results.
There are bright deeds with bright results.
There are dark and bright deeds with dark and bright results.
There are neither dark nor bright deeds with neither dark nor
 bright results, which lead to the ending of deeds.

AN 4:232 Deeds In Brief and longer version Anguttara Nikaya 4:232

Samuel Johnson wrote something similar: "Hell is paved with good intentions", but interestingly a different interpretation I doubt Buddha would agree with can be made of this:

The road to hell is paved with good intentions means that it is not enough to simply mean to do well, one must take action to do well. A good intention is meaningless unless it is followed by a good action.

Grammarist article

Nevertheless, with regard to acting in your own interests, note that Hegel actually defines evil as total self-centeredness and egotism.

From The Science of Logic

Remark: The unity of the One and the Many

§ 356

Self-subsistence pushed to the point of the one as a being-for-self is abstract, formal, and destroys itself. It is the supreme, most stubborn error, which takes itself for the highest truth, manifesting in more concrete forms as abstract freedom, pure ego and, further, as Evil. ...

Re: Evil/good understood as selfish/cooperative

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