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Evil

  1. Laurence Thomas

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee169

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Thomas, L. 2013. Evil. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

Abstract

Evil behavior is morally wrong behavior that is particularly egregious. The following observation readily brings out this point. A person who never committed a single morally wrong act, no matter how small, would alas be a morally perfect human being. By contrast, an individual need not be morally perfect at all, and yet it can be true that the person goes through life without ever committing a single evil act. Indeed, it is reasonable to assume that most people go through life without committing any evil acts. Morally wrong behavior admits of a continuum with evil acts at one end and minor wrongs at the other end. For instance, stealing an ordinary dime (as opposed to a dime that one knows to be a rare coin) is a moral wrong. No one should so behave. Yet, doing so surely counts as a minor wrong. A less minor wrong, which nonetheless stops short of being evil, would be that of merely breaking the window of an empty car for the fun of it. Though clearly worse than stealing an ordinary dime, the fact is that this wrong can be wholly repaired. By contrast, to kill an individual by slowly inflicting burns upon the person would count as a paradigm example of evil behavior.

Keywords:

  • ethics;
  • normative ethics