Evil – a simple definition

I love me some wikipedia. I learn a lot I didn’t know and I refine my thinking by finding fault too. (The problem is knowing what is worth learning and what needs unlearning!)

Consider the wikipedia definition of evil:

Evil is generally defined as any activity which takes advantage of another person for one’s own benefit….(In contrast, good is helping others, even sometimes self-sacrificially; see saint, sainthood.)

There’s something dodgy about the form of this definition and also something very familiar about it’s implications. (For one thing, there is no counterpart to sainthood.)

The definition attempts to define evil by contrasting it with good. So far so, um, good. But then it weighs them up wrong, and we are left with a picture of evil that is indistinguishable from graspingness and greed. According to this view evil might have ill effects on the other, but that is not the intention; its primary intention is to gain advantage.

This is a fine example of how thinking about evil can go askew. (And, I suspect, thinking about good too.)

By re-balancing the wording another meaning of evil becomes clear.

If good is helping another (possibly involving self-sacrifice) then it follows that evil is harming another (possibly involving self-benefit).

This is all the difference in the world. Now we can see the true intention of evil – it is to do harm. Evil is only secondarily about want, appetite, greed, jealousy; it’s true nature is malevolence, envy, cruelty, viciousness. Indeed, for evil the getting of things is happily foregone if what is primary can be achieved.

We can either think of psychopathy as behaviour which has ill effects, but good intentions (thus the lables ‘anti-social’ and ‘sociopath’) or we can think of it as having ill intent. And so the next question I will tackle is whether the human mind is capable of evil so defined.

In the meantime, what say you?