Does evil exist and if so, in what way?

Hitler is referred to as being evil. I think he was just hateful. Vlad the Impaler liked for victims to suffer a long and painful death. Is that evil? Are animal abusers and serial killers evil or just deviant? I'm beginning to think evil is a hoax. In the absence of religion, is evil relevant?

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I have to add my 2 cents here which is something between of what Mephistopheles and Funk_Q said; I believe that both good and evil cannot be judged properly because then we have the question of ultimate good and evil, like they are seperate forces in the universe. Think Lord of the Rings. Also, isn't Sauron pretty one-dimensional once you start to analyze him properly? (Not as he is portrayed as young though, he is a little more complex then.) I mean, all he is about is to "destroy and conquer the world, bwahahaha", yeah, that's a sign of a very complex human being right there, not. And humans ARE complex. We have huge emotional lives, there are many events both before and during and after our lives which govern our thoughts, or actions and feelings. If we judge Hitler merely that he caused a great war and a Holocaust, yes, that's undoubtly the best things he did in his life, but we don't understand what caused him to do it. He did in fact have good intentions, he wanted to save his country and even the eugenics was for him positive. If we don't understand that he considered these things good actions we miss out the whole picture of who Adolf Hitler was, merely that he was a human and he wanted to do good in his life just like all other people (there are exceptions but those suffer mental illnesses).

Humans as creatures are merely too complex to be categorized into two polarized groups; it's clear an action always have positive and negative effects. Hitler also did many good things throughout his life (he for example brought Germany out from the extreme poverty it suffered after the stock crash) but we tend to forget these things in the light of the negative events which occured later on. Unfortunately it seems to me that some people are very quick at judging merely on everything which is negative because it's the negative we see. When something is good and actually works we never notice it and it's sad, really.
That depends on what you mean by Evil.

By my standards, yes.

Moral codes may be arbitrary but they are still worth having around.
Generally most people are not evil, but there are certainly are some pretty bad cases. Hitler was evil, but I think he was only as bad as he was because there were plenty of people who thought like him.
There was an episode of stargate sg1 , in which the galaxy is being overrun by replicating machines (called the replicators ).These machines (actually a collection of nano-robots) have a base program to reproduce and assimilate new technology into its construction.Thats all, no other vengeful or purposefully deviant codes. i remember one of the characters in the episode stating that we cannot say that the replicators are evil (even though they are bent on humanity's destruction) for saying that would imply that something like the virus is evil. That statement always made me stop and think what does it really mean to say something is evil.I'm sure other discussion threads on the Nexus (like free will ,determinism etc ) would have disparate views on this.
Perhaps it all comes down to intention?
Concepts of good and evil are only relevant when attached to a definition. The point is that everyone has a widely varying definition of good and evil. It's best to put the single term aside and have the conversation based on some other better-defined terms.

Good and evil are often defined as a what ought or ought not to be done. Even that doesn't simplify things. Before you can get to that, you have to decide what outcome would be desirable or undesirable.

So, if you can decide what outcome you're seeking, it's possible to actually make rational discussions about what actions might lead to the what outcomes. Then the ones that lead to the desirable outcomes can be labeled "good" and the actions that lead to the undesirable outcomes can be labeled "evil".

At this point, you might remind a Christian that the first commandment is "have no other gods" and the first of Jesus's two commandments is "love god". Desirable outcomes are pretty clear in that case.

All this having been said, "evil" isn't an entirely meaningless word. Saying Hitler wasn't evil is a bit to relativist for me.

After you've had an interesting discussion along the lines above, you'll probably decide that bad intentions are a necessary component to evil. Then after that, you might want to discuss whether animals can do evil. That's an interesting discussion.

Jason
So evil is a behavior, defined from an outside perspective? Do evil people KNOW they're actions are reprehensible to others? Do they care? I think we'd have to come up with the components that make up "evil": a careless disregard for another person's humanity?

If the person intends to cause suffering and act regardless of consequences of the action, I would call this an evil act.

Social animals have the capacity to comprehend fairness and unfairness according to some animal behavior experts. But EVIL? Intentional disregard? Maybe I'm being too soft-hearted but I have a hard time thinking of any instances of animals being as cruel and inhumane to each other as people are to each other! Social animals appear to have checks and balances that keep them from bloodthirsty murder or unhinged rage. I'd argue that mortal combat is the exception, not the rule in the animal kingdom. But that's a different aspect of morality to throw into the discussion: Peacekeeping vs War-making.
what do you feel about traumatic insemination? I'd like to reproduce a part from that page ,

In the animal kingdom, traumatic insemination is not unique as a form of coercive sex. Research suggests that in the Acilius genus of water beetles there is no courtship system between males and females. "It's a system of rape. But the females don't take things quietly. They evolve counter-weapons." Cited mating behaviors include males suffocating females underwater till exhausted, and allowing only occasional access to the surface to breathe for up to six hours (to prevent them breeding with other males), and females which have a variety of body shapes (to prevent males from gaining a grip). Foreplay is "limited to the female desperately trying to dislodge the male by swimming frantically around".
Good and evil are often defined as a what ought or ought not to be done. Even that doesn't simplify things. Before you can get to that, you have to decide what outcome would be desirable or undesirable.

I view "evil" as a much stronger word than just "what ought not to be done". Evil implies malicious intent. I really ought to work out and eat healthy today, but it's not evil to skip it.
'Evil' is a human construct much the like of liberty or justice. They are qualities that cannot be quantified or measured in a meaningful way.
I think that evil is just a word, a very strong word that should be used sparingly. For example:

Hitler = evil
Manson = evil
Obama = not evil
Ken Ham = creep
Kent Hovind = just plain F'd up
If by evil you mean something that exists outside of the heads of human beings and affects them (like some mythical beings, satan or cthulu, for example), I'd say no, but if by evil you mean people with no regard for their fellow human beings, people willing to cause immense suffering in pursuit of some personal goal...well then I'd have to say yes, although I think the clinical term is psychopathy or psychopathic personality disorder.

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