What good cause does the evil serve

Philosophical overview: what is the good and the bad?

Since time immemorial, people have asked themselves what the good and bad in the world really is. Various religions and philosophy have tried to find an answer to this great question. In this article, I want to introduce you to different concepts about “good” and “bad” to help you form your own opinion on the subject.

“Good and bad” are man-made categories

The fact is that both “good” and “bad” are man-made categories. They could also be called “inventions” of man, which do not occur in nature - as real objects or ontological realities.

So “good” or “bad” are “only” concepts that are described very differently depending on the point of view and worldview. They are concepts because they are always an evaluation of an action / thing, but not the thing itself.

When you consider how different worldviews can be, it is not surprising that people have not yet been able to agree on a concept for these categories that is valid “for everyone”.

Since there are different perspectives on these terms, it is very interesting which ideas and descriptions have emerged so far. Let us look around in culture, religion and philosophy to see how each attempt has been made to characterize “good and bad”.

Theories of the good at a glance

The good in mysticism

From antiquity to the present day, the idea of ​​the good has been the highest authority in the metaphysical doctrine of ideas. In the highest instance one sees the highest idea from which all common ideas arise.

The idea of ​​the good is believed to give meaning and essence to ideas. The idea of ​​the good grants things knowable, the knower its ability to know, all beings its being and all its use.

The ethical, practical and ontological good

In some positions in ancient philosophy, “good” is an ethical aspect that relates to being in itself. In addition, the term “good” is also used for “harmoniously structured” or “appropriately designed”.

Even today there are theories that describe being in itself as good, and some for which all being is good in so far as being corresponds to God's will. In this sense, “good” is not a property of specific actions, but an ontological category.

The morally good

Some, especially modern moral philosophers, suggest that there is no general consensus on how to use the term “good”. Some refer to those goods or actions as “good” which correspond to the nature of the human being - bodily or spiritually. Others believe that it depends entirely on the purpose and point of view whether something can be judged as good or bad.

The good in religion

In religions, the absolute good, as the highest authority, takes a transcendent position. All things and beings, including people and their works, must be measured against him and his laws.

The good in the modern age

The good in the spirit of modernity is a mix of historical views under the primacy of rational thinking. Today, in common parlance, the good means both morally good and of high quality.

Faces of evil in the environment of good

Evil in cultures and myths

There are different personifications of evil in different cultures: the Germanic Loki, the Christian devil, certain types of Arab jinn or demons in Hinduism. What they all have in common is that, of their own free will, they bring misery and ruin. Immanuel Kant says that evil is inherent in human beings.

The evil in Zarathustra

About three millennia ago, the teaching of Zarathustra about the creation of the world and of man spread from Persia. The creation happened when darkness (evil) attacked the light. In the struggle between light and darkness, light substance got into the darkness and mixed with it.

For the final victory of light, this primordial substance must be separated from the dark and returned to the world of light. The influence of this teaching can be felt throughout the ancient world.

Good and bad in Taoism

The original "Tao te king", written by Laotse, can be regarded as the founder of Daoism, China's authentic religion. Its historically established origins go back to the 4th century BC. Chr.

In Daoism, the highest reality is an all-pervading principle, the highest mystery. It is the primordial unity, the cosmic law, the absolute. The work of the Dao brings about creation by producing the duality, the yin and the yang, light and shadow, good and evil, from whose changes, movements and interactions the world emerges. Good and bad are mutually dependent - one creates the other.

The Dao itself is not an omnipotent being, but the origin and the union of opposites and thus indefinable.

Evil in Judaism

In Judaism there is evil that fights against the divine creation as an independent force, not because every creature is God's creature. However, after being born free of guilt, man can become angry. Since enjoying the fruit of the tree of knowledge, he has been free to decide for or against God or for good or bad.

Christianity and Evil

Christian traditions speak of original sin. This is an attempt to answer the question of why there is evil in the world. It also affects that "evil" that is not caused by humans. According to some philosophers and theologians, God himself is responsible as the metaphysical cause of “evil”.

In the dogmatic system of Christian teaching, evil is always subordinated to God (evil as a fallen angel who can only act with God's permission). Evil crept into the Garden of Eden in the form of a serpent. However, the snake is explicitly treated as a creature of God. This makes one think that God himself provoked the transgression.

In religious studies, two forms of evil can be distinguished: on the one hand, evil in the human sphere, on the other hand, spiritual powers or forces that work in a harmful way or that have bad ethical influences - “numinous evil”.

Epictetus and Morals

In the Encheiridion (handbook of morals) Epictetus (d. 125) writes that the bad or the evil in being can neither have a primary cause nor that it is the goal of the world order. Evil can, however, be striven for as such. However, he says nothing about the will to evil, which must have an origin.


That of Manichäus (216-276) outgoing Manichaeism as a religious movement ties in with the teaching of Zarathustra. Manichaeus spreads the doctrine of the "father of greatness" and his servants, who stand in opposition to the "father of darkness". In Manichaeism, the prerequisite for redemption was knowledge (gnosis), because through it the truth could not be falsified.

Manicheans saw the development of the world in three stages:

1. The time of the beginning when the two principles "light and darkness" were separated.
2. The time of mixing.
3. The time in which the initial state is restored.

The person, who represents a place of light in the dark, material world, should contribute to the separation of the two principles during the time of mixing, so that his light-soul can unite with the divine, the origin of light, and he no longer is ruled by evil. Parts of Manichaeism have an effect up to our time.


The church father and philosopher Augustine (354-430) was originally a Manichean. He gives original sin the original guilt for evil and suffering in the world. As a result, evil came into the world from the free will of man.

Evil in the Middle Ages

Almost throughout the Middle Ages, evil is characterized as insubstantial. It is a mere lack of good, comparable to a lack of sight or blindness.

Spinoza and Evil

The philosopher Spinoza (1632-1677) characterizes evil as an individual category: that which inhibits the self-assertion of the individual is called "evil", conversely he calls "good" what serves the self-assertion.

Nietzsche: Revaluation of morals

The sharpest critic of Christian morality, Nietzsche (1844-1900), declares evil to be a construct of Christian slave morality that reversed the original distinction between good and bad into good and bad.

Jaspers: Relationship between good and bad

The psychiatrist and philosopher Jaspers (1883-1969) presents three levels of the relationship between good and evil, at which people have alternatives and are therefore required to make a decision.

1. Moral relationship - it stands between duty and inclination. It is bad to be guided by the immediate impulses. It is good to have the will to drive by observing the moral laws. The selection of the drive is therefore decisive, whether the acting person is good or bad. Here all kinds of instincts are the cause of evil.

2. Ethical relationship. The relationship is determined by the veracity of the motives. In this case the agent is deprived of his freedom of choice. Evil is simply a weakness of knowledge that gives in to the tendency to superficiality. The resulting lack of alternatives is instrumentalized in order to save the conflict with true reality. Here a deficiency is the criterion for evil: the deficiency for good, for truthfulness, for the will of true reality to look in the eye.

3. Metaphysical relationship. Love urging being (construction) and hate urging non-being (destruction) determine the relationship between good and bad. Here the presence of the will to do evil is the criterion.

Where are we?

In some myths, the development of society runs in cycles between ages of good (golden ages) and ages of evil (dark ages). This coincides with the scientific knowledge about the nature of evolution. Every contemporary can decide for himself what age of world history we are in today.

The question that still moves us ...

Are some people born bad already? Those who love people tend to assume that no one is born bad. There is no doubt that a newborn child is neither good nor bad. Through a skillful upbringing, he can become a good person, otherwise he may become a bad one.

First of all, a child has no consciousness and no will. It is satisfied when its basic needs are met. Only when it begins to register the reactions from the environment to its utterances does the will to accept and to reject the unpleasant awaken.

Gradually, skillfully, the child builds a system for getting his way through. If his educators fall for it, it will become a spoiled child and later likely an uncomfortable or unstable adult. Such a misguided adult doesn't have to be very angry. An arch evil person would very likely use his good upbringing to achieve his evil intentions.

Nero, the Roman emperor, speaks for the assumption that there can be arch-evil people. His tutor was Seneca, the wisest man of his time and the best example of kindness and morality. The best education and imperial power gave his pupil unlimited freedom of action to live out his arch malice, which then finally fell victim to his tutor when Nero forced him to commit suicide.

It has been proven that there are also necrophilous people who cultivate the cult of death up to self-destruction. Certainly these are rare exceptions. But they are shaking the thesis that all human beings are naturally good. But there is no doubt that the majority, including the large proportion of the less wicked, absolutely want to live.

Nature itself shows: From the beginning evolution (construction) and involution (degradation) fight against each other. Our world emerged from the dynamically balanced weighting of these opposites at the beginning of creation. The core of man also consists of these opposites.

Obviously, the opposites are not in a healthy relationship to each other in every human being. Perhaps serious experiences have shifted the initially natural relationship. Be that as it may, good and bad or better said good and bad belong together by nature, they are the primal forces of objective existence and life.

This fact imposes a great responsibility on us: In our own interest and also in the interest of the general public, today even the global one, we have to ensure that evil does not get out of hand, but continues to serve life as a dynamic force.

This topic usually refers to future generations. Do you have any benefit now, in your own short life? Or would it not be better, as a bad person, to use every advantage for one's own good life instead of foregoing some short-term advantages as a good person?

It would probably be better to do without, because that our life will really be over after a few years, because of today's knowledge about the essence of nature and being, it can be seriously doubted. Because if you look closely you will find signs that say that the evolution of our existence does not really end with the end of our earthly life.

Heinz Altmann