Here I am using 'evil' less in the religious sense (for I assume that for many religions, evil is inseparable from an Earthly realm, whether it be utopian or not), than in the sense of something like 'badness of intention/action'.

By 'Utopia', I am referring not to any specific concept of Utopia (socialist/anarchist/capatalist/monarchical) than a more simple, almost abstract/generalised idea of 'the perfect (or near-perfect/ideal) society'.

Non-religious evil might be a purely relative construct; in that it might always be present towards the negative end of any society's behavioural spectrum, regardless of how narrow that spectrum is.

For example, one society's evil might extend to the worst imaginable forms of abuse. These acts would clearly be evil, much as we consider them as such now. However, imagine a near-idyllic society in which such atrocity no longer exists. Imagine that in this society, the most negative act is a scowl; an unfriendly facial expression.

It seems as if, in the context of such a Utopia - and perhaps in the absence of any worse evil being conceivable - such a scowl might come to be deemed as evil, as it represents 'the worst thing', even though to most societies we imagine, a scowl likely falls well short of any typical notion of 'evil'.

And, if this were to be the case, are we doomed to always criminalise and/or 'demonise' one aspect of our community and be 'harmed' by acts we currently consider relatively trifling? Would we always find someone to punish, regardless of how far we behaviourally progress?

By extension, is Utopia even possible under such a dynamic?

Rather than invite speculation, I am curious as to whether anyone familiar with any philosophical discussion of Utopias (such as Thomas Moore's Utopia), or perhaps Kantian or Millsian 'moral utopias' might have any insights here, as it seems very likely this question has been considered before.

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    Utopia doesn't mean perfect but "no place", such as in "no place like this exists yet". And for many it's apparently not perfection but progress, some might even reject the very concept of perfection. But the real problem is that "perfection", even if achieved, is only perfection from one frame of reference. So the agreement on this system would need to be universal, because otherwise a society that is rose colored and perfect and shielded against all change but is insufferable to you (for whatever reason) would be the worst that could happen to you, not the best.
    – haxor789
    Commented Jul 24, 2022 at 9:53
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    Yes agreement as to what constitutes a utopia/progress and not in a theoretical sense of "yes that could be good" but in a practical sense of "I'm living like that and it's ok". Like in terms of scowls, insults and slurs where there's no immediate physical impact (such as with violence), the problem is rarely the action itself but rather what it symbolizes. Often enough the effect is to push people out of society or to lower once status in society and depending on how important society is to survival in the way you want to survive, that can be a very substantial threat.
    – haxor789
    Commented Jul 24, 2022 at 10:24
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    @haxor789, "utopia" was coined by Thomas More, and he meant "no place," but even he noted the similarity to "eutopia" = "good place," which is what the meaning has shifted to over time. Saying "Utopia doesn't mean perfect" is insensitive to how language has evolved in this case. Commented Jul 24, 2022 at 14:28
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    The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:33 says that some negative behavior is simply to be ignored.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jul 26, 2022 at 1:00
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    @haxor789 There was a movie called "The Giver" which was about your first comment of different ideas of what is best. It was pretty good.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jul 26, 2022 at 1:04

3 Answers 3


The base of utopian theory is that evil is not something inherent to humanity, but rather something that arises due to various conditions (economic, social, etc.)

If you believed that the desire to steal out of self-interest is inherent to being human, then a utopia is not possible. Utopian theory wishes to create a society in which the conditions that would facilitate or necessitate stealing would not exist.

Take a communist utopia, for example. Assuming that the desire to steal is not inherent, then a communist utopia would prevent stealing not by punishment, but by creating an environment in which people have no need to steal ("to each according to their need").

As such, a utopian society would not be fated to condemn the "most evil" aspect of their society, because there would be no cause for evil. Nobody would condemn scowling because nobody has reason to scowl.

However, this is all purely hypothetical. I think people will probably continue to scowl about something or another until the end of time.


Utopian philosophies (by necessity) presuppose that intrinsic evil does not exist. There are acts that may be considered evil and there are people who commit those acts out of ignorance or misconception, but utopians invariably hold that all people are capable of acting in a virtuous manner under proper apprehension. The utopian philosopher then tries to spell out what that proper apprehension is. That virtue might be a matter of reason, faith, market forces, transcendental principles, or other forces according to the nature of the philosophy, but it is always ultimately accessible.

In other words, in utopian thinking 'evil' is an attitude that needs correcting, not a 'thing' that needs to be opposed. It's what makes utopian philosophies simultaneously so attractive and so impractical.


This question appears to misunderstand the nature and causes of evil.

The primary causes of evil are that our universe has limited resources, and is dangerous, and is structured such that living things need to harm/kill each other to thrive. In anti-utopian terms, there are often benefits for people to be selfish vs always promoting community welfare. A secondary cause of evil is that humans also enjoy harming others (human and other life).

"Utopian" thinking is focused on training people to always focus on community welfare rather than selfishness, and to banish deliberate harm. Utopian thinking will not help with the way we kill animals with all of our activities, displace ecosystems with our agriculture, or face disease and other "natural" hazards that can cause severe harm to the people in the "utopia", despite their "nice" attitudes. So utopias cannot banish evil, because some aspects of evil are intrinsic to the universe.

Humans are intrinsically emotional, and have negative emotions, and express them. If a utopia successfully banishes cruelty and selfishness, then yes, the utopians MAY then try to banish anger and displeasure, and tones of voice and facial expressions that spread negative emotions and attitudes. And banishment of activities in a society uses moral language and moral approbation. We humans have bad judgement, and are idealistic/ideological, so it is certainly plausible for a utopian society to try to joust at this windmill. Such jousting would be a misunderstanding of evil. The expression of emotions is not either selfishness, nor deliberate harm. Yes, there is some benefit to regulating some expressions in a society, which is why we have so many norms in our societies, but there is a large range of allowable expressions that allow our societies to function together well (Japan for instance has far more normative regulation of expression than the US does), so there is no utility case for such a norm maximizing project. This particular effort you outline may be more normative regulation than is sustainable, but I don't know the limits of what normative regulation can accomplish. But successful or not, such an effort to absolutely control any negative emotional expression would be based on a misunderstanding of evil, and a misapplication of moral language.

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