Attempting to Understand Good and Evil

The concept of Good and Evil are concepts that are highly debated. Different cultures, religions, and philosophers have tried to understand what evil represents. To go to the underlying understanding of how an individual genuinely defines good and evil. Such questions of how definitions are the basic premise of the arguments for different perspectives. Are such terms just opposites negations of each other that cancel each other? Is the conception of evil just a product of the moral framework that society has placed on us? Explore such questions on the premises of evil; the goal is to lay out those ideas of how evil can, be explored and or defined through reviewing definitions, origins, religious and psychological states, and anecdotal events that determine how.

Different cultures and philosophical traditions have provided various definitions and characteristics of good and evil. Religious, cultural, and philosophical have allowed for differences in understanding, but although allowing for confusion in the basic premise of the understanding of good and evil. "Common characteristics of suitability include kindness, compassion, honesty, and altruism. At the same time, evil is associated with selfishness, cruelty, dishonesty, and malevolence" (Mackenzie,2011). So the basic premise of the West is that we have Aristotle to start out with answers. "Aristotle's ethics is a great understanding of how an individual can reflect on the understanding of life through those ethics, such as right and wrong or good or evil." (Mackenzie, 2011) As shown, Aristotle views ethics as a moral ethic, as a mental pathway for understanding good and evil. " Nietzsche argued that no moral conceptions are tied to one school of thought when presenting good and evil" (Mackenzie, 2011). Good and evil can be argued as if you see as such evil is quite identifiable. "Another author, M.G Moore, would argue that good and evil are easily distinguishable by color because good and evil are that identifiable to each individual." (Mackenzie,2011) As shown, the depictions and understanding of good and evil from various sources can vastly differ among thought leaders. No one answer can solve the understanding between good and evil as one statement fits all categories when the question is expressed. The concept of good and evil can be subjective and varies from person to person and culture to culture.

The perspective of the origins of good and evil is from more religious and Philosophical perspectives, for example, in the West, where Christianity resides as most of the moral makeup. There is a prevalent amount of Christianity in discussing good and evil. From the religious perspective, Good is a moral duty in the religious aspects. "The morality of a good action is not based on the pleasure it provides but rather on its alignment with an individuals duty." ( Carcus, 1896) "Throughout history and across religions, evil has been personified as a being representing pain, misery, and destruction, with different names such as Mara, Angra Mainyu or Ahri man, Satan, and Devil." (Carcus, 1896)  Evil from religious origins is the opposite when it sets a human understanding of pain and misery to other individuals going against human nature. Another perspective is that good and evil are just human nature inherent, and individuals can be good but also evil. "While Kant's discussion of radical evil in human nature relates to the topic at hand, he views evil as a disposition to act against moral law rather than the existence of evil as an external force." (Singer, 2004)  Perspectives from the religious and philosophical all look at good and evil as acts and moral laws or human nature. Then the questions beg discoveries on the evolutionary psychological front. "Evil cannot be characterized simply as something bad, as it has a specific definition according to which it involves the destruction of humans, including both psychological and physical annihilation." (Alford, 1997) Evil has three origins, such as religions from the past throughout religion. Then from the philosophical understanding of evil from the moral law and human nature. Last, with the improvements in psychology, certain aspects of good and evil as just a state of mind. The concept of evil has various origins, including religion, philosophy, and psychology. It has been defined in different ways throughout history.

Religion has played a significant role in shaping the concepts of good and evil. To dive into the details that religion has to do with understanding where the role lies. "Strong and obvious theological connections, theologians claim a monopoly on dealing with evil-or, rather, would relegate evil to the province of God." (Singer, 2004) As shown, religions can claim evil from the perspective of offering hell, which may be right regarding understanding the moral framework of evil. Who also claims the moral high ground for good due to the promise of heaven for moral actions that occur that are deemed reasonable. Many religious traditions provide moral codes and ethical guidelines that help individuals understand good and evil. "A good action, not for pleasure, plays the role of moral duty, not what provides pleasure but of what god demands of an individual." (Carus,1896) Moral codes are the ethical framework for an individual to act good through understanding their life when life deals with good and evil. There are two different types of evil, moral and natural. "Moral evils are bad, which are such as war and crimes; natural evils are such incidents as an earthquake or disease." (Perrett, 2002) It is crucial to distinguish between the two as evil in the context discussed in the moral context. "Evil represents a repulsiveness idea; in Christian views, the One evil is represented as the devil where he opposed the divine creator." (Carus, 1896) The idea of evil Is deeply rooted in the core principles of Western culture. Religious definitions of good and evil can be controversial and divisive, leading to conflict and moral confusion. As most Christians and Westerners hold, differences can be controversial as a basic premise and moral makeup of the Western world. Although the argument is still valid that religion has formed the Western world's idea of good and evil.

Through the understanding of good and evil, new ideas of good and evil have emerged in the Psychological understanding of good and evil. Psychology offers insight into how humans perceive and make moral judgments. Now why is Psychological makeup important for good and evil? "Not all acts are good; the way to most individuals determine what is good through social interactions through bystanders if interventions occur at the time of the act." (Miller, 2004) Individuals judge good acts by understanding how others respond on a psychological basis of what reasonable means, in some general sense, which is a different perspective from a moral framework of good. Then the psychological makeup of evil looks different. For initial aspects of social interactions, how can an individual determine evil? "Within dealing with other individuals can look as opposite of good, or immoral committing unlawful acts, as well as inactions in certain events allowing evil" (Miller, 2004). The aspects of evil take a different role in the psychological makeup but also some similarities to our initial discussion. Another aspect of the ideas of good and evil from a psychological perspective is from the famous Nietzsche. "Nietzsche a structure of ideas and values, a psychic structure, a social structure or a political, and at the highest level." (Recht,2002) Nietzsche was a great critic of Christianity, which is why his ideas are best known. Although from a psychological perspective, the Book Beyond Good and Evil are against the modernity of morals when defining Good and Evil. However, the idea of the psychological makeup of good and evil from such arguments gives credence to the ideas. That good and evil can be labeled more than just a moral framework, with more of a psychological framework definition. 

When reviewing good and evil, some instances fall into those hard-to-define areas of proper decision-making. Moral dilemmas often present individuals with conflicting values and ethical principles. The gray areas of good and evil refer to situations where it is difficult to determine what ethically a good and evil act is. Historically, there has been a time that good and evil actions have been intertwined with a proper understanding of the proper response given a particular situation. For example, Adolf Eichman, the individual who orchestrated the camps at Auschwitz. "The moral gray area is Adolf Eichman did not kill anyone himself but planned the killing of millions, or was Eichman following orders of Hitler." (Alford, 1997) Morals of a Western may deem that such acts were evil at the purest essence, but the question is not clear of whether the act is evil. The questions fall into a moral dilemma that is quite hard to think about. Then reviewing such an example of Hiroshima, our perspectives as Westerners took place. That stopped the War with the atomic bomb, and the question became, was such an act considered evil? There seems to be a moral gray area in which saving future lives from War may have been the correct decision to make. Think about the soldiers that had to drop the bomb; would these individuals' acts be considered evil? "Were such individuals of such a horrific act, a cog of the machine." (Alford,1997) Although both examples brought to the discussion are horrific in nature, the concept of the paper is when the ideas come to good and evil. The moral dilemmas in decision-making during such times are prominent. 

In conclusion, the concept of good and evil is multifaceted and complex. There are many perspectives regarding understanding the meaning of good and evil, such as a perspective of Religious, psychological, and philosophical perspectives. Reviewing origins, religious, psychological states, and anecdotal events determines how we view good and evil. Defining good and evil had perspectives from moral statements that stemmed from religion and philosophical ideas, such as the  Juedeo-Christian perspectives and the philosophical perspective of moral laws. At the same time, some may view such ideas as god and the devil as a moral framework. While also viewing good and evil as just a state of mind. Then also includes horrific historical events as a moral dilemma between the argument of good and evil. As humans, we make tough decisions about what is right and wrong, good and evil. Human nature can be brutal to explain, but understanding how we humans can view human nature can contribute to the greater good of humanity. 


Alford, C. F. (1997). The Political Psychology of Evil. Political Psychology, 18(1), 1–17.

Carus, P. (1896). THE PROBLEM OF GOOD AND EVIL. The Monist, 6(4), 580–599.

 Mackenzie, J. S. (1911). The Meaning of Good and Evil. International Journal of Ethics, 21(3), 251–268.

 Miller, A. G. (2004). The social psychology of good and evil (pp. xiv–xiv). The Guilford Press

Perrett, R. W. (2002). Evil and Human Nature. The Monist, 85(2), 304–319.

Recht, L. (2022). Nietzsche's Fourfold Critique of Modernity in Beyond Good and Evil. Perspectives on Political Science, 51(1), 24–34.

Singer, M. G. (2004). The Concept of Evil. Philosophy, 79(308), 185–214.