Does Evil exsist?

In English today we ended up discussing if evil really existed in people. I said that there are people in the world who perform acts we view as evil,(murder etc) solely because they know they the acts are evil, however a friend said that he thought everyone who commited an ‘evil’ act did so as they viewed it as good in their eyes. What do you think on this?

Define “evil.”

Usually we call people or actions this when they violate the rights of others and we don’t understand their intent to satisfy the needs of the offenders. We also call people or actions this when, in fact the offender is sick or misguided and thus attempt to meet their needs by harming others.
case in point: The 9-11 terrorists. They (no matter how wrong they may have been about this) were carrying out a higher purpose.

The only reason for human behavior is to meet one or more needs (survival, safety, belonging, actualization).
Sometimes people become sick or misguided, but the goal of their behavior remains the same as that of anyone else.

I think Evil died about the same time that grunge rock killed off glam rock. After the likes of poison and ratt, no-one could really believe that musicians had an in with the dark lord anymore. It seems like If satan was trying to use popular music, he’d send someone more menacing that Marylin Manson, I mean really, what’s with that wuss? Kids these days just don’t believe in the devil anymore, this world is going to hell.

Yes, it exists in the mind of the beholder.

However, to look upon the thought system is to look upon nothing.

I’d say that any strict dichotomy between “good” and “evil” is a western concept. Hence, western films feature “good guys” and “bad guys.”

For a change of pace, watch an Asian movie, where the dichotomy may be less clear-cut, or entirely absent. Take a look at Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or Princess Mononoke, and try separating the “good guys” from the “bad guys.” It’s not so easy.

I think your friend is wrong. Many people have committed acts they knew were wrong. There are all sorts of justifications, and certainly some have believed that they were truly doing good. But everyone? Nope, can’t buy that.

“Malice” certainly exists in people, thus so does “evil.”

hold it a minute there loinmeat,
you gotta prove that malice exists or at least put up some evidence, an anecdote, something.

Malice doesn’t exist, just like evil doesn’t

so there!

Does justice exist? Morality? Truth? Either dig it up, or make some in a lab. Till then, we shovel it to the philosophers.

Why should evil, or good for that matter, have to exist as an entity?

If we define “evil” as simply that which is destructive or harmful to other people, then I would say that yes, it is possible for people to do things which they KNOW are harmful, which they KNOW violate the social contract, which they KNOW harm others, and which are done purely for selfish gratification or personal gain. these people are called sociopaths. I don’t believe that Ted Bundy had any illusons that he was doing “good.” He simply had no sense of remorse, empathy, or social obligation. He killed young women purely for sexual gratification and simply didn’t care if it was “wrong.”

What causes people to BECOME this way is a whole other debate. If they are born like this, then how can it be their fault? They had no choice in the matter.

If something MADE them this way after they were born, then maybe it’s still not their fault. There are psychiatric studies which suggest that extreme trauma in early childhood actually changes the way the brain develops; essentially blunting that part of the brain which responds to crisis. A person with a “normally” developed brain will react to seeing trauma or harm to others with an intense sense anxiety and distress. They usually get this same reaction if they CAUSE harm to others. (IOW “guilt” is a biological response.) A person who has experienced severe abuse or other trauma in very early childhood, may therefore never develop a sense of guilt.

It must be said that many sociopaths do not become violent. They DO tend to become narcissistic, but often seem to be very normal, even charming in a glib superficial sort of way. (think Oliver North) They are self-serving creatures by nature so they follow the rules of society, not because it is “right” but because they don’t want to suffer any unpleasant consequences. many of them become very successful at certain careers, especially at careers that feed the ego. (acting, politics)

When they do become violent, however, I think that it is irrelevant whether or not their “condition” is their fault. They are toxic to society and must be removed

Evil is not necessary the intent, it can be merely the consequence. Suppose I define evil as actions that cause unnecessary sufferings, then surely evil exist. This definition also rules out any actions mandated by survival nicely.

If you believe that nobody would ever cause intentional harm to another person for personal gain, then I’m not about to burst your bubble.

Does evil exist as an entity? I don’t think so. I don’t even think evil lies in actions, or the consequence thereof.

I believe that evil lies in the intent of the evildoer.

Bad example- if a man steals money to buy food for his starving family, he has committed an objectively wrong action, but his action is not evil.

If a man steals money to buy medically unnecessary, (and I’ll leave it to you guys to define medical necessity) drugs, or a diamond ring, or tickets to the Super Bowl, in other words, something for his own narcissistic pleasure, then the act becomes evil.

Granted, it’s not earthshaking evil, not a horrendous crime, but the action is an evil action because of the intent of the person committing it.

You can carry this out to any extreme you want to, up to and including mass killing. An action may be, in and of itself, morally wrong, but the intent of the person performing the action may still be good.
The flip side, an action can be objectively right, morally acceptable, and still be evil.

So, say a CEO, out of genuine concern for the future of America, persuaded the board of directors of his company, to donate money towards providing impoverished kids with computers and computer training, the action and the intent are both good.

Now, take a company that has an unwritten policy of, oh, say hiring workers, then, one day before the end of a fixed probationary period, letting them go as a means of avoiding paying insurance benefits, and the CEO and board of directors decide to donate money for the aforemetnioned computer program (ooh, yeah, that’s a bad pun) as a means of whitewashing the company’s image, then the action is objectively good, but the intent is still evil.

Thanks, Thea. That’s my (socratic) point: Evil and Good are not entities, they’re perceived attributes.

I agree, though I still consider the terms to be quite meaningful (not intending to imply that you consider them to be meaningless), sorta like how “deliciousness” is not an entity (somewhat OT, but what would the personification of “deliciousness” look like?), but food can still be considered delicious or not-delicious.

When defining a term, you’ve got to be careful to use a reasonable definition. Not saying that your hypothetical definition is unreasonable (on the contrary, it resembles one of the definitions in my dictionary, “Causing ruin, injury, or pain; harmful”), it’s just that this bears mentioning – I’ve seen far too many people arbitrarily (unreasonably) redefine terms to fit their needs, e.g. “Anything I like is good and anything I don’t like is evil.”

If you are saying that evil does not exist as ojects, I am inclined to agree [I haven’t thought this out in its entirety, but preliminary conclusions point that way.] However, evil does seem to exist in nature.

Cats are notorious with playing with their food. This surely causes unnecessary sufferings in their preys.

loin - yeah, I copied that from Michael Martin :slight_smile:

as in all philosophical debates, we must first clear away semantics.

the christian (at least catholic) definition of evil was selifshness in the face of god. that is, being selfish when one can instead act according to god’s will. my first objection with my catholic upbringing came when i realized i could not behave in favor of god unselfishly–if i did something because god wanted me to, it was because i wanted god’s favor and i would surely gain pleasure from it. if an action was entirely unselfish, it was random; i had no reason to want to perform such an action. charity makes me feel good, etc.

as a result, i began basing my ethical system on what worked out best for me. for example, murder would cause guilt, possibly arrest and legal punishment, and none of these things are good for me, so i wish not to commit murder. so evil means that which is bad for me. so much for that catholic ethic.

if generalized one must take this view of a society. murder is bad for society because it eliminates a member of that which its goal is to advance. when all of a society die, the society ceases to exist, and the fight is entirely lost. so evil is that which is bad for society.

it is easy to see why intentionality becomes part of the discussion. a person can be involved in an evil act (e.g. getting into a car accident in which someone is killed) without being evil or having evil intentions. such a person is looked upon as piteous, since it was not his intention to be evil, and yet he did something considered bad for society. and who can blame the person for this evil act, when it was not his intention?

what i’ve tried to demonstrate is that one’s definition of evil determines whether or not evil exists, and one’s definition of evil ought to vary with one’s view of the state of the world. in the end, all is meaningless (you’ll be dead, what do you care?), and one can only say something benefits (or harms) something else in a very limited scope. evil and good cease to exist independent of the scope in which they are viewed. but when considering the state of things in that scope, one can say that this harms me or mine, and that helps me or mine, so this is bad for me (us) and is therefore evil, and that helps me (us) and therefore is good.

hope i helped. or at least said something worthwhile.