Monthly Archives: November 2014

Good, Evil, and Ethics

jack o'lanterns

Jack o’ lanterns

Good and evil are often portrayed as opposing choices in an individual’s life, or opposing forces of history. Yet, good and evil are not opposites and this mis-characterization often leads to confused thinking on the part of philosophers, storytellers, and others.

The first thing that should be noted about good and evil is that they are adjectives that apply to different things. Good and bad can describe just about anything, but evil only applies to things that people do.  One might have a good apple or a bad apple, but one would never have an evil apple. On the other hand, one could say that what someone does is good, bad, evil or the opposites of those.

As examples, one might say that it is good to exercise, bad to over-eat, evil to murder and not-evil to read a book. Aside from evil and not-evil, these adjectives are not mutually exclusive. So one might say that it is good, bad and not-evil to eat ice cream. Something can be good and bad in different ways, so there is nothing wrong with describing eating ice cream as both good and bad.

Similarly, as good and evil are not opposites they can be used to describe the same thing. An action that someone takes might be good and evil at the same time. For example, murder is an archetypal evil. Yet, if a politician that a farmer does not like is murdered, the farmer might consider that a good thing, making the murder both good and evil. Another scenario might be if a man robs a bank to buy medicine for his sick mother. Continue reading