The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Evil is a term describing that which is morally bad, corrupt, wantonly destructive, selfish, and wicked. In most Christian and Western cultures, and some Eastern ones, the word is used to describe acts, and sometimes thoughts and ideas, commonly known as sin, that are thought to originate with Satan and challenge the law or will of God.

Evil is one half of the duality of good and evil expressed, in some form or another, by many cultures. It describes a hierarchy of moral standards with regard to human behaviour; evil being the least desired, while love is usually the most praised. In essence "evil" is a term for those things which (either directly or causally) bring about withering and death - the opposite of life. In casual or derogatory use, the word "evil" can characterize people and behaviours that are hurtful, ruinous, or disastrous.

A similar term, malice (from the Latin mal meaning "bad") describes the deliberate human intent to harm and be harmful. "Evil," by contrast, tends to represent a more elemental concept; a disembodied spirit that is natural and yet abominable. Whereas "malice" belongs to the specific, "evil" is the foundation for malice.

Another definition of evil describes it as death and suffering, whether it results from human or from other natural causes (e.g., earthquakes, famine). In other words, it is not merely the intention to do evil, but the end result, namely, harm to others, that is evil. And, as Plato observed, there are relatively few ways to do good, but there are countless ways to do evil, which can therefore have a much greater impact on our lives, and the lives of other beings capable of suffering. For this reason, some philosophers (e.g., Bernard Gert, Michael E. Berumen) maintain that not causing and preventing evil are more important than promoting good in formulating moral rules and in conduct. From a physical standpoint, "evil" could be defined as increasing entropy when the cost outweighs the benefit .

Young children are considered to be good, and free of evil, though not of original sin as defined in the Bible. As they grow older, however, they can develop evil characteristics. The three main characteristics of an evil person are:

  • Pride: "I am better than you are."
  • Hypocrisy: "I have higher standards for others than for self."
  • Indifference: "I do not care."

Note that "self" does not necessarily have to mean "one's self," but also to the various units, groups, and demographics to which one belongs (e.g. family, school, team, generation, nationality, race, religion, etc.) Indifference is what binds together the total contradiction of pride (superiority) and hypocrisy (lower standards). Without it, the person could not stand his or her own evil.



In a number of religious traditions, "evil" is widely considered to be a mystery; that life and its rules are "governed" by an innate benevolence, and behaviour that directly contradicts "good nature" is not understandable in moral and reasoning terms. "Evil" characterises and describes aspects of human beings that deviate from the social, loving, righteous, natures within, which in contrast lead to social strength, and continuing survival, through love. In the forms of malice and selfishness, evil represents the socially-weakening and destructive behaviours that lead directly to a fruitless life and death.

Views on how good and evil are defined lie between two extremes. "Moral absolutism" holds that good and evil are fixed concepts established by God, nature, or some other authority. Moral relativism holds that standards of good and evil are only products of local culture, custom, or prejudice. Moral universalism is a recent humanist term to find a compromise between the unattainable absolutist sense of morality, and the unauthoritative relativist view.

Regardless of the source of their definitions, most human cultures have a set of beliefs about what things, actions, and ideas are undesirable. Undesirable circumstances are often categorized as evil within some cultures. Natural evils generally include accidental death, disease, and other misfortunes, although some cultures see these occurrences instead as a healthy part of the natural order. Moral evils generally include violence, deceit or other destructive behavior toward others, although the same behavior toward "outsiders" of the group may be considered "good." War provides many examples, and "God is always on the winning side." The Unification Church's definition of evil is: "Taking advantage of another person for one's own benefit."

The Abrahamic religions, as well as others, are largely centered around the concepts of good and evil, and this has led to much religious debate. Many cultures and mythologies personify evil, such as with Satan in Christianity. Others describe evil spirits or demons as the inciters of acts.

Some sociologists, psychologists, psychiatrists and neuroscientists have attempted to construct scientific explanations for the development of specific characteristics of an "antisocial" personality type, called the sociopath. The sociopath is typified by extreme self-serving behavior, and a lack of conscience, or inability to empathize with others, to restrain self from, or to feel remorse for, harm personally caused to others. However, a diagnosis of anti-social or sociopath personality disorder (formerly called psychopathic mental disorder), is sometimes criticised as being, at the present time, no more scientific than calling a person "evil". What critics perceive to be a moral determination is disguised, they argue, with a scientific-sounding name, but no complete description of a mechanism by which the abnormality can be identified is provided. In other words, critics argue, "sociopaths" are called such, because they are first thought to be "evil" - a determination which itself is not derived by a scientific method.

Research into sociopathology has also investigated biological, rather than moral underpinnings of behaviors that societies reject as sociopathic. Most neurological research into sociopathology has focused on regions of the neocortex involved in impulse control.

Many cultures recognize many levels of immoral behavior, from minor vices to major crimes. These beliefs are often encoded into the laws of a society, with methods of judgment and punishment for offenses.

It is probably a coincidence that "vile" uses the same letters as "evil," but has a related meaning.

Hacker Jargon

As used by computer hackers, the jargon term evil implies that some system, program, person, or institution is sufficiently maldesigned as to be not worth the bother of dealing with. Unlike the adjectives in the cretinous /losing /brain-damaged series, evil does not imply incompetence or bad design, but rather a set of goals or design criteria fatally incompatible with the speaker's. This usage is more an aesthetic and engineering judgment than a moral one in the mainstream sense. "We thought about adding a Blue Glue interface but decided it was too evil to deal with," or "TECO is neat, but it can be pretty evil if you're prone to typos." Often pronounced with the first syllable lengthened, as /eeee'vil/. Compare to evil and rude.

The usage of evil as a prefix for usernames or email addresses on the Internet can be traced back to "evilsteven", a founding member of the noend listservs in San Francisco and New York.

See also

External links

  • Searching for Evil

Last updated: 02-08-2005 14:09:10
Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55