How can we define what is good and what is evil? A review

How can we define what is good and what is evil? Are there universal indicators behind, within, or consequent upon an action by which one can determine whether it was a good or an evil act? How can one tell whether a person is good or evil? The scriptures of the world’s religions provide a variety of answers to these questions.


In religionethics, and philosophy“good and evil” is a common dichotomy. In cultures with Manichaean and Abrahamic religious influence, evil is usually perceived as the dualistic antagonistic opposite of good, in which good should prevail and evil should be defeated. In cultures with Buddhist spiritual influence, both good and evil are perceived as part of an antagonistic duality that itself must be overcome through achieving Śūnyatā meaning emptiness in the sense of recognition of good and evil being two opposing principles but not a reality, emptying the duality of them, and achieving a oneness.

Every language has a word expressing good in the sense of “having the right or desirable quality” (ἀρετή) and bad in the sense “undesirable”. A sense of moral judgement and a distinction “right and wrong, good and bad” are cultural universals.

Modern Times:

These basic ideas of a dichotomy has developed so that today:

  • Good is a broad concept but it typically deals with an association with lifecharity, continuity, happinesslove and justice.
  • Evil is typically associated with conscious and deliberate wrongdoing, discrimination designed to harm others, humiliation of people designed to diminish their psychological needs and dignity, destructiveness, and acts of unnecessary and/or indiscriminate violence. 
  • the dilemma of the human condition and humans’ and their capacity to perform both good and evil activities. 

The nature of being good has been given many treatments; one is that the good is based on the natural love, bonding, and affection that begins at the earliest stages of personal development; another is that goodness is a product of knowing truth. Differing views also exist as to why evil might arise. Many religious and philosophical traditions claim that evil behavior is an aberration that results from the imperfect human condition (e.g. “The Fall of Man“). Sometimes, evil is attributed to the existence of free will and human agency. Some argue that evil itself is ultimately based in an ignorance of truth (i.e., human value, sanctitydivinity). A variety of Enlightenment thinkers have alleged the opposite, by suggesting that evil is learned as a consequence of tyrannical social structures.


Religious and philosophical views tend to agree that, while “good and evil” is concept and therefore an abstractiongoodness is intrinsic to human nature and is ultimately based on the natural love, bonding, affection that people grow to feel for other people. Likewise, most religious and philosophical interpretations agree that evil is ultimately based in an ignorance of truth (i.e. human value, sanctitydivinity), and evil behavior itself is an aberration —one that defies any understandingsave that the path to evil is one of confusion and excessive desire (greed).

As a philosophical abstraction, goodness represents a hope that natural love be continuous, expansive, and all-inclusive. In religious context, it is by this hope that an important concept of God is derived —as an infinite projection of love, manifest as goodness in the lives of people. The belief in such hope is often translated as “faith“, and wisdom itself is largely defined within religious doctrine as a knowledge and understanding of innate goodness. The concepts of innocencespiritualpurity, and salvation are likewise related to a concept of being in, or returning to, a state of goodness—one that, according to various teachings of “enlightenment“, approaches a state of holiness, righteousness, (or Godliness).

Objective theories of wellbeing

The idea that the ultimate good exists and is not orderable but is globally measurable is reflected in various ways in economic (classical economicsgreen economicswelfare economicsGross National Happiness) and scientific (positive psychology, the Science of moralitywell-being measuring theories, all of which focus on various ways of assessing progress towards that goal, a so-called Genuine Progress Indicator. Modern economics thus reflects very ancient philosophy, but a calculation or quantitative or other process based on cardinality and statistics replaces the simple ordering of values.

For example, in both economics and in folk wisdom, the value of something seems to rise so long as it is relatively scarce. However, if it becomes too scarce, it leads often to a conflict, and can reduce collective value.


In the classical political economy of Adam Smith and David Ricardo, and in its critique by Karl Marxhuman labour is seen as the ultimate source of all new economic value. This is an objective theory of value (see value theory), which attributes value to real production-costs, and ultimately expenditures of human labour-time (see also law of value). It contrasts with marginal utility theory, which argues that the value of labour depends on subjective preferences by consumers, which may however also be objectively studied.

The economic value of labour may be assessed technically in terms of its use-value or utility or commercially in terms of its exchange-valueprice or production cost (see also labour power. But its value may also be socially assessed in terms of its contribution to the wealth and well-being of a society.

In non-market societies, labour may be valued primarily in terms of skill, time, and output, as well as moral or social criteria and legal obligations. In market societies, labour is valued economically primarily through the labour market. The price of labour may then be set by supply and demand, by strike action or legislation, or by legal or professional entry-requirements into occupations.


EVIL PEOPLE versus GOOD GUYS : who’s what ?

Now.. from Kate W.

Mao was not an evil man. I just want to clear that up. He only executed about 2 million people, which might seem like alot, but was necessary in the long run to secure China’s prosperity. The rest of the deaths in his reign were from unintentional famine. Mao built up the chinese economy, almost doubled the population, dramatically increased the standard of living and literacy rate, and improved the rights of women and the poor.

Just wanted to clear that up.

Top five good

  • 1. Che Guevara: For overthrowing the Batista dictatorship, helping establish the castro government, (probobly the most benevolent communist government ever) and inspiring millions across the globe to take up arms against imperialism.
  • 2. Nestor Makhno: For fighting against oppression from both the right and left, as well as establishing the Free Territory, one of the world’s only functionin anarchist states
  • 3. MLK: For all the reasons you listed.
  • 4. Vlad Lenin: For overthrowing the incredibly corrupt Tsarist regime in russia, destroying the eastern orthodox church, and creating a democratic Soviet Union (yes, the USSR started out as a democracy)
  • 5. Huey Newton: For starting the BPP, one of the most courageous civil rights organisations of all time.

Top five evil

  • 1. Leopold II of Belgium: For killing 13 million Africans in the congo, in what constitutes the largest mass murder ever carried out by one person.
  • 2. Adolf Hitler: For killing 11 million jews, communists, anarchists, blacks, alcoholics, poles, gypsies, Jehova’s witnesses and soviet POW’s as well as preaching the evil philosophy of Nazism
  • 3. Ronald Reagan: For funding the Contras (who killed 30,000), Starving 4 million africans to death with his structural adjustment policies,destroying the american middle class, subtly promoting racism, causing the early 90’s recession, invading Grenada,quadrupling the US deficit, and helping Joseph McCarthy destroy the careers of 20,000+ people
  • 4. Joseph Stalin: For turning the Soviet Union from a democracy to a dictatorship, killing 4 million people, and tarnishing the name of socialism
  • 5. Christopher Columbus: For killing 4 million natives in the Carribean through forced labor, and paving the way for the deaths of 70 million more.

From Doug M., Ph.D.:

Some of your top ten worst of medieval Europe do not compare to modern tyrants:

  • Imperial Japan (Tojo) murdered some 6 million.
  • Chinese nationalist Chang Kai Shek murdered 10 Million.
  • Tito murdered 1 million.
  • The Turks murdered close to 2 million during WWI.
  • Kim (Korea) killed 1.6 million.

“When choosing between two evils I always like to take the one I’ve never tried before.” — Mae West

The Real Meaning of ‘Good’ and ‘Evil’

As Steve Taylor, Ph.D. in Out of the Darkness puts it:

It’s a dangerous over-simplification to believe that some people are innately ‘good’ while others are innately ‘evil’ or ‘bad.’ This misleading concept underpins the justice system of many countries – ‘bad’ people commit crimes, and since they are intrinsically ‘bad’, they should be locked away so that they can’t harm us with their ‘evil’ behaviour. This concept has also fuelled many wars and conflicts in history, and even in the present day. It makes groups believe that they are fighting a just cause against an ‘evil’ enemy and that once the ‘evil’ people have been killed, peace and goodness will reign supreme.

Human nature is infinitely more complex than this, of course. ‘Good’ and ‘evil’ are relative – one person’s ‘good’ is another person’s ‘evil’. They are also flexible – people can be a combination of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ qualities, and some people who behave cruelly and brutally can be rehabilitated and eventually display ‘good’ qualities such as empathy and kindness. And rather than being intrinsic, most cruel or brutal behaviour is due to environmental factors, such as an abusive childhood, or ‘social learning’ from a family or peers.

Professor Paul Bloom, a psychologist at Yale University in Connecticut, whose department has studied morality in babies for years, said: ‘A growing body of evidence suggests that humans do have a rudimentary moral sense from the very start of life.

‘With the help of well designed experiments, you can see glimmers of moral thought, moral judgment and moral feeling even in the first year of life.

‘Some sense of good and evil seems to be bred in the bones.’


Babies know the difference between good and evil at six months, study reveals In an article published by The Daily Mail in 2010.

“For one study, the Yale researchers got  babies aged between six months and a year to watch a puppet show in which a simple, colourful wooden shape with eyes tries to climb a hill.

Sometimes the shape is helped up the hill by a second toy, while other times a third character pushes it down.

After watching the show several times, the babies were shown the helpful and unhelpful toys. They showed a clear preference for the helpful toys – spending far longer looking at the ‘good’ shapes than the ‘bad’ ones.

‘In the end, we found that six- and ten-month-old infants overwhelmingly preferred the helpful individual to the hindering individual,’ Prof Bloom told the New York Times.

‘This wasn’t a subtle statistical trend; just about all the babies reached for the good guy.’

Two more tests found the same moral sense. ”

So… Whats wrong with humanity ?

As in:

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