Does Evil Exist?

A strange question to pose, one might say. Why, of course, evil does exist, we all know. But who are these ‘we’? It is people, humans. They seem to know what evil is, because evil things are done to them and they do evil things to others. The distinction between good and evil yields what is known as morality and ethics. People’s deeds may be assessed as good or bad (evil). But it is sufficient to ask whether a tiger killing and devouring an antelope is guilty of an evil act, or for that matter an elephant that in the course of walking across a wood inadvertently squashes a creature under its foot. The popular opinion is that such acts are ethically neutral, neither bad nor good, because that is the way of nature. Nature is opposed to civilization or culture, which are terms for the human (social) world composed of human groups. Evil exists only in the latter sphere, that is, in relations among people. It is a truism to say that there is no evil on the Moon. Evil is an impossibility there, where no human groups exist.

Humans exclusively have at their disposal the concept of ‘evil,’ as formulated in and transmitted through the medium of language. The use of language for bonding and communication among people results in the generation and maintenance of the social reality, which is not visibly or in any other way detectable to animals or any other living non-human creatures known to people. A tree or a stone, as part of the material reality, can be equally seen or touched by a person, a cat or a crow. However, only humans can ‘see’ with their ‘mind’s eye’ a university, state or nation. The same is true with the concept of ‘evil’ that is part of the aforementioned social reality. With the exception of people alone, no other creatures can ‘see’ or ‘get’ this concept, as long as they do not participate directly in the human social reality.


Having ascertained the above leaves us with the question what the concept of evil may denote. It refers to these human actions that fall foul of the social norms in a given human group. These norms vary, though in the 20th century, people across the world decided to agree on the basic norms for all humans and all their groups. These norms are now known as ‘human rights.’


May 2017