I love my wikipedia. I learn a lot I didn’t know and I refine my thinking by finding fault too. (The problem is knowing what is worth learning and what needs unlearning!)
Consider the wikipedia definition of evil:
Evil is generally defined as any activity which takes advantage of another person for one’s own benefit….(In contrast, good is helping others, even sometimes self-sacrificially; see saint, sainthood.)
There’s something dodgy about the form of this definition and also something very familiar about its implications. For one thing, it fits with the the lable ‘anti-social’ which refers to behaviour which has ill effects, but good intentions – “well, in his culture that behaviour is normal”. Whatever happened to ill intent, though? (For another thing, what’s the counterpart to sainthood?)
According to this view all employers are evil because they necessarily pay their employees less than they earn (‘necessarily’ because otherwise there would be no profit).
The definition attempts to define evil by contrasting it with good. So far so, um, good. But then it weighs them up wrongly, and we are left with a picture of evil that is indistinguishable from graspingness and greed. According to this view evil might have ill effects on the other, but that is not the intention; its primary intention is to gain advantage.
This is a fine example of how thinking about evil can go askew. (And, I suspect, thinking about good too.)
By re-balancing the wording of the above definition another meaning of evil becomes clear.
If good is helping another (possibly involving self-sacrifice) then it follows that evil is harming another (possibly involving self-benefit).
This is all the difference in the world. Now we can see the true intention of evil – it is to do harm. Evil is only secondarily about want, appetite, greed, jealousy; it’s true nature is malevolence, envy, cruelty, viciousness. Indeed, for evil the getting of things is happily foregone if what is primary can be achieved: power over another.
What say you?