Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What constitutes evil?

My dictionary tells me that evil is "something that brings sorrow, distress, or calamity" or "the fact of suffering, misfortune, and wrongdoing" or "a cosmic evil force" or "morally reprehensible" or "causing harm."

My immediate question is that if we are referring to "evil", are we primarily referring to an act (an evil action), an agent (an evil person, evil group, evil organization, evil political entity such as a member of "the axis of evil), an intention, a thought, an idea, the nature of man, or exactly what?

If an agent (person, group, political or social entity) commits an "evil act", is the agent per se evil or is the agent evil only to the extent of particular actions that are labeled as "evil."

Does having an evil thought make an agent evil?

Does intent short of an evil action constitute evil as well?

Are there gradations or a spectrum of evil from very minor to extreme?

Are all notions of evil moral in nature or is there some form of evil that exists without a concern for morality? The issue is that morality is inherently relative to a culture or society or belief system. Or, is there some kind of universal form of evil, independent of culture, reason, politics, and religion?

Is evil distinct from malevolence or malice? My dictionary refers to malice as desire or intent and it is commonly used in law. The Wikipedia says that "Malice is a legal term referring to a party's intention to do injury to another party."

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malice_(legal_term))

I find it interesting that the law refers to actions and "intention", but makes no effort to conclude that the party is "evil" per se.

If even the law has no need to determine that an agent is "evil" per se, who exactly is it that does need to label people or groups as "evil"? Religions? Political parties? Governments? What is that all about?

Why isn't it sufficient to label "bad" behavior as simply crime or criminal? Or, in society to simply refer to "acceptable" and "unacceptable" behavior? Of what value is this added label of "evil"?

Is the real issue the nature of the agent as the source of evil or is it the "need" or opportunity for groups to engage in a strategy or tactic of labeling agents as "evil" as a form of political or social "warfare", much as we saw with the Neoconservatives and their "Axis of Evil"?

Personally, I have never encountered a need to use the term "evil" in my daily life. Can anyone suggest a rationale why I or anyone else should begin labeling anybody or anything as "evil" rather than merely criminal, antisocial, unacceptable, undesirable, etc.? Does it really have some special value, other than in religion and in extremist politics and cultural and social organizations?

Or, let me put it in the form of a simple question: Why bother with this pseudo-concept of "evil" when we have enforceable laws for proscribed behavior that has the potential for harm?

-- Jack Krupansky

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