A Conception of Evil

Journal of Value Inquiry 42 (2):217-239 (2008)
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There are a number of different senses of the term “evil.” We examine in this paper the term “evil” when it is used to say things such as: “what Hitler did was not merely wrong, it was evil”, and “Hitler was not merely a bad person, he was an evil person”. Failing to keep a promise or telling a white lie may be morally wrong, but unlike genocide or sadistic torture, it is not evil in this sense. In this paper we analyze the specific moral difference between “evil” and “mere wrongdoing”. In so doing we shall defend a specific conception of what acts and which persons should count as evil. On the view defended in this paper it is a necessary feature of an evil act that the victim of that act suffer what would at least normally be a life-wrecking or life-ending harm.
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