The Concept Of Evil

Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.
(Fyodor Dostoyevsky)

During the past thirty years, moral, political, and legal philosophers have become progressively engaged in the concept of evil. This interest has been partially inspired by ascriptions of “evil” by laymen, social scientists, journalists, and politicians as they make an effort to make sense of and acknowledge to numerous crimes and horrors of the past eighty years.
It resembles that we cannot grasp the moral influence of these actions and their perpetrators by calling them “wrong” or “bad”. Sick indeed, completely evil, no. We need the concept of evil.

To escape confusion, it is essential to mention that there are at least two concepts of evil: a broad concept and a narrow concept. The broad concept picks out any bad situation of matters, wrongful action, or character flaw. The suffering of a toothache is evil in the broad sense as is a white lie. Evil in the broad sense has been divided into two categories: natural evil and moral evil. Natural evils are bad states of affairs which do not occur from the plans or neglect of moral causes.

In contradiction to the broad concept of evil, the narrow concept of evil picks out particularly the most morally despicable sorts of actions, characters, situations, etc.
As Marcus Singer puts it “evil” (in this sense)… is the worst possible term of opprobrium imaginable” (Singer 2004, 185). Since the conventional view of evil involves moral judgment, it is justly ascribed solely to moral agents and their actions. For example, if only human beings are moral agents, then only human beings can perform evil actions. Evil in this finer sense is further often meant when the term “evil” is used in contemporary moral, political, and legal contexts.

In truth, the perception of evil and its close relationship to suffering would not put forth an obstacle where there is no conception of the good. The philosophical issue of evil has been discussed throughout the ages in both philosophy and religion’s most significant writings. Hinduism, for example, treats all reality monastically. Evil only appears evil, yet it performs in the good of cosmic reality of the divine.
Evil is certainly a relevant phrase, its definition becomes reliant on the kind of good which it denies or rejects. The problem which emerges is the presence of contradictions on experience. The terms good and evil seem to be incompatible. The hypothesis resulting: How can we grasp reality in such a way as to account for its apparently contradictory phenomena of good and evil?
If one looks at evil as an incomplete good, we begin to have a base for philosophic inquiry. One view or group of aspects may be offensive (Evil) whereas the whole is good. The difficulty that arises is that from ignorance alone, the goodness of the complete cannot be understood; some implied goods are in turn parts of an evil whole. This indicates that the proposed view can be accepted only limited effectiveness.
Evil, if seen as an essential segment required to carry out an unknown good is understandable but how can we be sure that the unknown is good? If in fact we have this unknown, does this unknown good make the known evil less evil for man? “The difficulty of accepting evil as an essential part of reality leads precisely to concepts of malevolent supernatural forces. If evil need not be and should not be, if things have somehow gone wrong and evil has trespassed into a world which could have been free from it, who could have been responsible” (Cavendish, 1993, p. 3ff) Since evil is perceived as existing outside of man’s human abilities, its source must he outside of the human domain. This origin therefore must reside in some supernatural manifestation, either the gods and goddesses of forgotten realms or the devils and demons of established religions. “At a deeper level, the powers of evil have not been thought out as much as recognized. …evil impulses which stir and whisper in the brain may feel alien to the person … as if they have been insinuated into his consciousness by something from outside” (Canvendish, 1993, P. 3).

Notwithstanding what if these theories on evil are incorrect, if in fact evil, and the sinister forms of evil are just an illusion? The existence of evil may in reality be the work of the inner workings of the mind, projected into conscious reality. The collective unconscious of Jung, even though a psychological type, bears a certain psychological nature with a language. Images, symbols and fantasies are the vocabulary of the language of the collective unconscious. The collective unconscious manifests in culture as a universal motif with our degree of attraction. In interpreting the collective unconscious, Jung explained that it consisted of mythological motifs or primordial images which he pointed out to as archetypes. Archetypes are not a priori ideas, but “typical forms of action which, once they become conscious, naturally manifest themselves as ideas and images, like everything else that becomes a content of consciousness” (Jung, 1969a, par. 435).

The archetype’s presence is sensed as numinous that have an intense spiritual quality. This mythological expression in turn must be provided with some meaning by the individual. “But, the discovery of meaning is at the same time an experience attended by numinosity and accompanied by a sense of the awesome, the mysterious and the terrifying which always connected to an experience of the divine, in whatever lowly, unacceptable, obscure or despised form it may appear” (Samuels, et al. 1987, p. 92).
Jung described numinosum as “a dynamic agency or effort not caused by an arbitrary act of will. On contrary, it seizes and controls the human subjects, who is always rather its victim than its creator. The numinosum — what ever its causes may be — is an experience of the subject independent of his will. … The numinosum is either a quality belonging to a visible object or the influence of an invisible presence that causes a peculiar alteration of consciousness” (Jung, 1969b, par. 6).

In truth, the concept of evil and its close relationship to suffering would not present an obstacle which there is no concept of the good. The philosophical problem of evil has been discussed throughout the ages in both philosophy and religion’s most significant writings. Hinduism, for example, treats all reality monastically. Evil only appears evil, yet it strives in the good of cosmic reality of the divine.
Evil is certainly a relative term, its definition becomes reliant on the variety of good which it denies or omits. The dilemma which emerges is the existence of differences on experience. The terms good and evil appear to be incompatible. The hypothesis resulting: How can we grasp reality in such a way as to account for its apparently contradictory manifestations of good and evil?

The truth remains that evil has presented the twentieth century with the similar questions that have troubled humanity form the beginning of time: “whence did it originate?”

In our struggle to develop, we have neglected the basic aspects of our humanity. Good and evil have become just another by-product of our technological society, an illness that’s roots are no longer important. Society has set forth all its negative side effects as the cost one must pay for advancement. Material success is justified at the expense of ethics and morality. Yet the question stills remains if evil is caused from within or by some supernatural force. If in fact it is mankind that has perpetuated the evils of the world, then to heal humanity one must first heal man.

We will all go through the error and trials of life, justifying our every action and sometimes be hypocritical of other’s actions, even I, being the skeptic, naively go through phases of “show me one pure good and evil in this world.” while I research people as they proceed with tests and conversations, resulting to my dismay, even though I would have done exactly the same, as would anyone.

We have to realize there is a gray in our black and white definition.

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