Most people, maybe not the happiest of egoists, seem to agree that evil exists, that some things are wrong. Does that fact alone suggest that less than evil acts should also be prohibited, that we should be e.g. kind?

I suppose I think of tempered egoism as a kind of cognitive evil, that it feeds something - I don't know how to define it - inside of us that, while it doesn't have the same effects as genocide or rape, is similar in nature. Is this reasonable?

So it's less that being unkind is evil than the ways we try to justify it without giving up all morality. It invariably seems petty, ugly and a denial of human spirit. Is that too far from evil to be reasonable?

  • 1
    One can argue that the result of evil is upsetting certain things necessary for harmonious functioning. So since harmonious functioning is needed at least in the long run, one can say there is a factual obligation to minimize evil.
    – Nikos M.
    Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 21:30
  • A good reply, thanks @NikosM. maybe an "answer" won't be forthcoming.
    – user59394
    Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 21:51
  • As a sidenote, a certain state of affairs that contrasts personal well being vs social well being is somewhat suspect.
    – Nikos M.
    Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 22:17
  • There are prominent philosophers (Spinoza, Nietzsche...) who argued against the existence of evil. Dismissing them from the get go as "the happiest of egoists" seems presumptuous. See moral relativism.
    – armand
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 3:28
  • @armand that makes sense but then Spinoza was arguing for anti realism not error theory (things can be evil) and nietzsche may be a happy egoist
    – user67104
    Commented Aug 1, 2023 at 21:16

2 Answers 2


According to Hegel, evil can be seen as

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.

On the other hand we have Heidegger's Mitsein, Being-with. In that we are naturally gregarious, and normally socialise given normal societal norms.

further, as requested, drawing from Derrida

In describing Mitsein, Heidegger is trying to get at a stratum of ek-sistence that is absolutely originary with regard to any modification of relations with the other — for example, in the form of war and peace, domination and slavery, the recognition of consciousnesses especially — because Mitsein and in a general way all the structures of Dasein’s ek-sistence are prior and lower, so to speak, deeper than the strata of knowledge and of consciousness, of Wissen, of erkennen, of anerkennen, of Bewusstsein [awareness], and of Selbstbewusstsein. It is on the ontological basis of the existential structure of Mitsein that all the phenomena described, for example, by Hegel by the name of “struggle for recognition” can possibly come about, come about in a history, or produce a history that will thus be the modification of a deeper historicity.

There is no doubt that, for Heidegger, Mitsein is a co-originary structure of Dasein. Being unable to expand upon this point, I refer you to §26 of Sein und Zeit, [German] pp. 119–21 [Being and Time, 116–17] in particular. The fact that this structure of the Mitsein is existential (i.e., an ontological structure of Da-sein) means in particular that the Geschehen [happening/evenfulness] and the Schicksal [historicity] is also a Mitgeschehen.

A together-happening. We're in it together, in Heidegger's mileage.

  • Good answer thanks. I enjoyed the brevity, but would like to read anything else.
    – user59394
    Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 22:37
  • So you mean, with Heidegger, that we cannot escape a pre-theoretical commitment to kindness etc.?
    – user59394
    Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 23:24
  • Yes, I'd say it's built-in. Might be knocked out of shape in some cases. Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 23:40
  • Or Mitsein could be taken too far in certain groupish behaviours: e.g. ethnic warfare. Perhaps then the group ego is the culprit of evil. Isn't it always more simple with individual autonomy, but then we function in groups. How to keep the groups on the right track, eh? Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 23:54
  • An answer might lie in Elias Canetti's 'Transmutation of Packs' wherein natural or charismatic/hysterical impulses might force a change from one of the four pack behaviours to a better (kinder) one. Commented Jul 7, 2022 at 0:42

We might try formulating the reasoning in such terms as:

  1. If a certain family of attitudes leads to evil, we ought to temper those attitudes in ourselves.
  2. Prioritizing our own pleasure/calm/excitement over that of others is an attitude that leads towards evil.
  3. Therefore, we ought to temper our self-prioritizing.
  4. Performing small acts of good for others is the least we can do towards tempering said attitude.
  5. Therefore, the least we can do is to perform small acts of good for others.

I also think it's analytic (or close enough thereto) that, "If you help promote a first-order good, you are engaging in a second-order good." Something like, "Two rights make a right," you might say. So if someone else is doing something good (however generic our sense of "good" is here), say living a peaceable, friendly, etc. life, then it is good to support that person's life. Not by being overprotective (much less manipulative "for their own good"!), especially as an outsider, of course, but perhaps just by favoring an ambient sociopolitical system that upholds any such person's life.

Addendum: epigraphic postscript

And if I have chosen to live by grace, for goodness and kindness, why is it that I still can't understand how? --- Mark Z. Danielewski, The Familiar (volume III), pg. 839

  • 1
    In your quote beginning "Helping..." should you maybe put it the other way round "second order goods help first order goods". I think I followed the rest of it, thanks. Unless you are trying to define what helps stop evil, which was not the question. Maybe I've put a weird emphasis on this
    – user59394
    Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 23:13
  • My apologies, I learned how to write philosophy reading Meiklejohn's translation of Kant's first Critique and I've never recovered 😂 but so yeah, I'll rephrase it more clearly. Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 23:18
  • OK haha, I look forward to reading it
    – user59394
    Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 23:19
  • Yeah, I think I get what you mean more now. It's probably not worth mentioning, but you can then, you'd assume, engage in a second order good without deliberately promoting a first order good. Do you agree?
    – user59394
    Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 23:22
  • If we're talking about setting up a community/society to uphold whatever personal goods happen to come that society's way/emerge from within it, then that way of describing the situation would perhaps hold. The society, conceived as a unit, is second-order itself, over the first-order personal units, maybe. But otherwise, "X is good for Y, and Y is good per se," does require a good Y to get going. Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 23:25

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