The Nature of Evil


‘Evil’ is a manmade construct to simplify to process of deciding what ‘ought’ not to be done. It does not exist as many intrinsic property of the universe – indeed, without mankind, the concept of ‘evil’ would not exist. Because of this, ‘evil’ is very subjective indeed – with different people having different ideas about what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. This is the basis of Relative Morality, which really, is the only way we can look at things when comparing one individual to another. You need only look to the Romans to verify this – of course the slaughter of prisoners in (arguably) entertaining ring matches would be condemned today, however, back then it would well accepted. If not, then it wouldn’t have been so popular.

As one might expect, there have been many attempts at providing an objective basis for morality. Perhaps the simplest is the use of the Hedonic Calculus. Put as simply as possible – morally positive actions are those which bring about an increase in the overall level of happiness. This takes into account how many people are happy, how happy they are, and for how long. We’re effectively trying to maximise happiness as much as possible. The ‘number of people’ variable within the Hedonic Calculus also acts as an instrument of fairness. Surely, as many of us would think, it is better to have many people moderately happy than to have one person incredible happy. But then again – this is arguable, and I’m sure many of you would disagree, for one reason or another.

But then again, this method of ‘Absolute Morality’ implies that maximising human well-being and happiness is a good thing, but who’s to say that it is? If I asked anybody to explain exactly why they think that human well-being is good, they would probably just reply with “because it just is”. Of course, this is derived solely from my experience with that fundamental question, but there may be other answers out there, and I would be thrilled to hear them.

The basic reason why I believe that we generally like well-being is that we are programmed to do so. Our ancestors, presumably, survived amongst the rest because of their outstanding will to survive, which fuelled their struggle – and with that will to live comes an aversion or disgust to anything of the otherwise capacity – things which would lower our well-being. And so, this is why our brains scream “evil!” when we see a man being stabbed on the street or remember the tragedies of the Holocaust…because all those things do indeed lower human well-being, or at least, are perceived to in the short term.

So…if this tendency has been programmed into us, then shouldn’t we all be the same? Why, then, did I decide to point out the subjectivity of morality before? The simple answer is – this basic tendency is sometimes interrupted by other factors, most of them social or experiential, some of them even biological. No two humans are ever the same, but there’s a reason, as my opinion goes, why we hold an aversion to this thing which we call ‘evil’, which can’t really even be defined except only vaguely.

However, we should all try to understand one another. We all hold moral compasses, no matter who we are…some are just different to others. Who’s to say who is right or wrong, moralistically? This business is purely subjective, and concepts such as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ are fabrications of the mind, so to ask who is right or wrong is the wrong question. Or at least in my opinion it is. To stay to the spirit of our discourse, I must mention that nothing I say here should be taken without criticism, we should all form our own ideas about the nature of ‘evil’ and our own models of morality. Then again – who am I to tell you what you ‘should’ do? Should I even be telling you what to do? Oh, screw it, I’m going to bed.


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