Evil is among our everyday moral concepts. It is common to hear politicians and others condemn certain acts, purposes, people, or even populations as evil. But what does it mean to say that something is evil? Is the evil simply the exceedingly wrong? Is evil rather a distinctive kind of wrongness? Is it a kind of wrongness at all? Are acts evil regardless of the motives of those who commit them, or are people the things that are fundamentally evil (or not)?
It takes only a few simple questions to complicate our familiar conception of evil. That’s partly the point of Luke Russell’s fascinating book, Being Evil: A Philosophical Perspective (Oxford UP, 2020). In it, he takes the reader through a careful analysis of the concept of evil. Along the way, he develops and defends his own conception of what evil is.
Robert Talisse is the W. Alton Jones Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University.