Hillel Steiner goes even further by contending that there are just two components of evil: pleasure and wrongdoing. Critics argue that it is not necessary to take pleasure in doing wrong to perform an evil action since it is sufficient to intentionally cause significant harm for an unworthy goal such as self-interest Calder Imagine that a serial killer tortures and kills his victims but that he does not take pleasure in torturing and killing. It seems that this serial killer is an evildoer even though he does not take pleasure in doing wrong.
It is universally accepted that to perform an evil action an agent must be morally responsible for what she does. Although hurricanes and rattle snakes can cause great harm, they cannot perform evil actions because they are not moral agents. Furthermore, moral agents only perform evil actions when they are morally responsible for what they do and their actions are morally inexcusable see e. It is particularly controversial whether these conditions are met in three sorts of cases: 1 serious harms brought about by psychopaths; 2 serious harms brought about by individuals who have had bad upbringings; and 3 serious harms brought about through ignorance.
Psychopathy is a syndrome that consists in lacking certain emotional, interpersonal, and behavioural traits and having others Hare Some of the defining characteristics of psychopathy include shallow emotions, egocentricity, deceitfulness, impulsivity, a lack of empathy, and a lack of guilt and remorse.
A World of Evil and Suffering
For instance, a delusional schizophrenic who believes that her neighbour is a demon is not responsible for harming her neighbour since she does not understand that she is harming an innocent person; she believes she is defending herself from an inhuman malicious agent. Motivational internalists believe that it is conceptually impossible to believe and thus to know that an action is morally wrong and yet be completely unmotivated to refrain from doing the action. That is, for the internalist, there is a conceptual connection between believing that an action is wrong and having a con-attitude toward the action.
The internalist believes that one may be able to knowingly do what is wrong because, all things considered, she cares more about something that is incompatible with refraining from wrongdoing, provided she is at least somewhat inclined to refrain from doing what she knows to be wrong.
Since psychopaths seem to be completely indifferent to whether their actions are right or wrong, motivational internalists believe that they do not truly believe, or understand, that what they do is morally wrong. At most, they might believe that their harmful actions break societal conventions. But it may be one thing to believe that one has broken a societal convention and quite another to believe that one has broken a moral rule.
Philosophers who reject the internalist thesis, i. According to motivational externalists, moral knowledge only requires an intellectual capacity to identify right and wrong, and not the ability to care about morality. Since psychopaths are not intellectually deficient, motivational externalists do not think there is any reason to believe that psychopaths cannot tell the difference between right and wrong. For more about how the internalist and externalist theses relate to the moral responsibility of psychopaths see Brink , 45—50; Duff ; Haksar ; and Milo See also Rosati It is beyond the purview of this entry to survey this literature.
The degree to which deviant behavior is caused by bad upbringings rather than genetic starting points or individual choices is a difficult empirical question. Assuming that there is a strong causal connection between bad upbringings and deviant behaviour, there are two main arguments for the claim that we should not hold perpetrators morally responsible for behaviour that has resulted from bad upbringings. The first argument contends that since we do not choose our upbringings we should not be held responsible for crimes which result from our upbringings See, e. Susan Wolf offers a variant of this argument.
According to Wolf people who have had particularly bad upbringings are unable to make accurate normative judgements because they have been taught the wrong values.
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Wolf likens people who have been taught the wrong values to people suffering from psychosis because like psychotics they are unable to make accurate judgements about the world. For example, Wolf has us consider the case of Jojo, the son of Jo, a ruthless dictator of a small South American country.
Jo believes that there is nothing wrong with torturing or executing innocent people. In fact, he enjoys expressing his unlimited power by ordering his guards to do just that. Jojo is given a special education which includes spending much of his day with his father. Wolf argues that we should not hold Jojo responsible for torturing innocent people since his upbringing has made him unable to judge that these actions are wrong. The second argument for the claim that we should not hold people morally responsible for crimes that result from bad upbringings begins with the supposition that we are morally responsible for our crimes only if we are appropriate objects of reactive attitudes, such as resentment Strawson According to this argument, perpetrators of crimes who have had particularly bad upbringings are not appropriate objects of reactive attitudes since there is no point to expressing these attitudes toward these perpetrators.
A proponent of this argument must then explain why there is no point to expressing reactive attitudes toward these perpetrators. As a child, Harris was an affectionate good-hearted boy. Family members say that an abusive mother and harsh treatment at corrections facilities turned him into a malicious cold-blooded murderer. Sometimes ignorance is used as an excuse for putative evildoing Jones , 69— The argument goes something like this: if an agent has no good reason to believe that she causes significant harm without moral justification, then she is not morally responsible for causing this harm because she has no good reason to act otherwise.
In this way ignorance can be a legitimate excuse for causing unjustified harm.
The Presence of Evil and Suffering in the World
However, since Aristotle, theorists have recognized that ignorance is only a legitimate excuse for causing unjustified harm when we are not responsible for our ignorance, i. One sort of culpable ignorance which has received a fair bit of attention from philosophers writing about evil is ignorance that results from self-deception. In self-deception we evade acknowledging to ourselves some truth or what we would see as the truth if our beliefs were based on an unbiased assessment of available evidence.
Some tactics used by self-deceivers to evade acknowledging some truth, including 1 avoiding thinking about the truth, 2 distracting themselves with rationalizations that are contrary to the truth, 3 systematically failing to make inquiries that would lead to evidence of the truth and 4 ignoring available evidence of the truth or distracting their attention from this evidence Jones , Several theorists writing about evil have suggested that self-deception plays a significant role in the production of evil actions and institutions Calder and ; Jones ; Thomas This entry will follow this convention.
For example, John Kekes holds an action-based regularity account Kekes , 48; , ; , 2 , while Todd Calder holds a motive-based dispositional account Calder , 22— According to regularity accounts, evil persons have evil-making properties habitually, or on a regular basis. According to dispositional accounts, evil persons need never have evil-making properties. It is sufficient to have a disposition to have evil-making properties.
Action-based accounts contend that evil-making properties are certain sorts of actions—evil actions. Affect-based accounts contend that evil-making properties are certain sorts of feelings—evil feelings. Motivation-based accounts contend that evil-making properties are certain sorts of motivations—evil desires. Some theorists argue for more than one sort of evil-making property.
For example, Luke Russell argues that both evil actions and evil feelings are evil making properties Russell , , while Daniel Haybron argues that evil feelings and evil motivations are evil-making properties Haybron b, Most theorists writing about evil personhood hold action-based accounts See, e. According to action-based accounts, evil persons perform evil actions often enough, or are disposed to perform evil actions.
Critics argue that the problem with action-based accounts is that it seems sufficient for evil personhood to have evil feelings or motivations, and thus, evil persons need not perform, or be disposed to perform, evil actions. For instance, it seems that a harmless sadist who relishes in the suffering of others but who is not disposed to perform evil actions, could still be an evil person. Similarly, a cowardly or incompetent sadist who strongly desires to cause others suffering but who is not disposed to perform evil actions, is still an evil person Calder , 23; Haybron b, According to affect-based accounts, evil people have certain sorts of feelings or emotions.
There is some initial plausibility to this view since sadism and malicious envy are paradigms of evil. However, while it is undoubtedly true that some evil people are sadistic or maliciously envious, there is reason to believe that feelings of pleasure in pain or pain in pleasure, or any other sorts of feelings, are neither necessary nor sufficient for evil character. The problem with thinking that certain sorts of feelings are necessary for evil character is that an evil person might routinely cause serious harm to her victims without any accompanying feelings.
For instance, someone who routinely runs down pedestrians out of indifference for their well-being, and without any accompanying feelings, seems to qualify as an evil person Calder , He should be pitied rather than condemned. According to motivation-based accounts, to be an evil person is to be motivated in a certain sort of way. For instance, Todd Calder argues that to be an evil person it is sufficient to have a regular propensity for e-desires. According to Calder, significant harm is desired for an unworthy goal if a state of affairs consisting of the achievement of the goal together with the harm would be less valuable than if the goal was not achieved and the harm was avoided Calder and See also Card, , 21 for a similar view.
A problem for motivation-based accounts is to explain why we should judge someone as evil based solely on her motivations. In other words, why judge someone as the morally worst sort of person for having certain desires if these desires do not result in significant harm? Why not judge people as evil only if they actually cause significant harm? Haybron b, According to regularity accounts, evil persons have evil-making properties frequently, or on a regular basis See, e.
An advantage of regularity accounts is that they explain the intuition that evil persons deserve our strongest moral condemnation Russell , For if evil persons have evil-making properties frequently, or on a regular basis, then it makes sense to say that they are the worst sorts of people and deserve our strongest moral condemnation.
However, one problem with regularity accounts is that they do not seem to be able to make sense of the fact that some evil persons only very rarely if ever have evil-making properties. For instance, Luke Russell argues that we should reject regularity accounts because they cannot accommodate the intuition that a brooding spree killer could be evil Russell , The brooding spree killer does not perform evil actions frequently or regularly.
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She plans and fantasizes about her attack, and then performs evil actions sporadically or all at once. Thus, Russell argues, if brooding spree killers can be evil, as we think they can be, then we should reject regularity accounts. So the question becomes, are there persons who are comparable to brooding spree killers in that they have evil feelings or desires sporadically or infrequently rather than on a regular basis?
It seems that there might be cases of this sort when opportunities for evil feelings and desires are scarce. For example, we can imagine that an evil person might fail to have evil feelings and desires because she has been stranded on a deserted island. After many years without potential victims and needing to focus all of her attention on survival, she might lack evil feelings and desires due to a poverty of stimulus. This would mean that she is no longer an evil person on affect and motivation based regularity accounts.
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However, it seems that we should say that she is still an evil person if she is still disposed to have evil feelings and desires in the sense that her evil feelings and desires would immediately return if she were presented with a victim. If so, we should reject affect and motivation based regularity accounts. Most theorists writing about evil personhood adopt dispositional accounts See, e. Broadly speaking, dispositional accounts contend that someone is an evil person if, and only if, she is disposed to have evil-making properties.
What is Evil?
A potential problem for dispositional accounts is that they seem to conflict with the intuition that evil persons are rare since most of us are disposed to have evil-making properties in certain sorts of situations Russell , For example, assuming for the moment that evil actions are evil-making properties, Stanley Milgram has shown that most of us are disposed to perform evil actions specifically, administering potentially lethal electric shocks to innocent people when in certain experimental conditions i.
But if most of us are disposed to perform evil actions in these situations then it seems that on the dispositional account of evil personhood, most of us are evil, and thus, evil is not rare. To make sense of the rarity of evil personhood, Luke Russell proposes a restricted dispositional account according to which someone is an evil person if, and only if, she is strongly disposed to perform evil actions in only autonomy-favoring conditions Russell , 72— Peter Barry argues for a similar view [See Barry , 82—90]. According to Russell, although most of us are strongly disposed to perform evil actions in Milgram scenarious, since Milgram scenarios are not autonomy-favoring conditions, most of us are not evil persons.
But if we do not have a disposition to perform evil actions on an on-going basis, then we do not really have a strong disposition to perform evil actions, or at least, one could argue, not in the sense implicitly meant by the basic dispositional account.