The notion of the inheritance of Evil has been prevalent since the onset of the Second World War, where homicide, rape and racism, captured the interest of moral, political and legal philosophers. As a complicated and broad term, many religions shed light on this concept from differing angles. “The way in which we understand Evil is crucial to our conception of morality”1 (Kekes, 1988).
The Original Sin and Evil are seen by Luther2 as “an inheritance from Adam and Eve, passed on to all mankind…”. This view offers an explanation of the inheritance of Evil within men since the very beginning. This claim has been supported by Brian Masters3, the author of several biographies of several mass murders. In one of his interviews, Masters stated that “… Every human being can commit evil acts”. The renowned Chinese symbol, the Yin Yang4, also symbolizes the impurity within all men, where there is always a form of darkness within even the brightest of souls, and conversely, brightness in the darkest of souls.
Within human history, the concept of the inheritance of Evil within human nature has been and remains to be highly subjective. Many studies, such as the infamous Milgram Experiment5 and the Stanford Prison Experiment6, have shown how good people commit acts of sin or Evil when provided with the ideal circumstances. In Sam Raimi’s movie, A Simple Plan, the emergence of Evil within men is also thoroughly portrayed and explored. It shows how “sometimes good people do evil things.” Novels, such as Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, where the protagonist meets his inner Evil, through the head of a slaughtered pig, also explore the inheritance of Evil within men.
The evil Within Man
“Evil originates in humans, yet evil exists outside them.”
Hedonism 7, one of Aristotle’s most famous theories, states that a man will tend to do actions which result in pleasure and avoid pain. The word ‘Hedonism, originates from the ancient Greek for ‘pleasure’. However, the continuous cycle for a pain-free and happy lifestyle often leads to impulsivity. In Aristotle’s writings, ‘As amoral beings, our selfish nature as being driven with the impulse to achieve happiness makes us immoral… The impetus to achieve a certain kind of pleasure blinds man to what is morally right, thus he becomes immoral’. This immorality within men results in the behaviours, deemed as Evil.
The perpetual chase by Hank, the main protagonist, for ‘The American dream’ in the movie, A Simple Plan, demonstrates the effects of Hedonism on an individual. Hank’s impulse for retainment of the money, which would guarantee a pain-free and financially safe lifestyle, blinds him from the immorality of his actions. Similarly, impulse for power and control is also heavily explored in the novella, Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. In the story, the speaker, Marlow, recalls his encounters with Kurtz, a money-driven man who loses his sanity within the Congo forest, so called the heart of Africa. Conrad, in his story, portrays, the deceitful journey of Kurtz, from being a loving husband, to a cold-blooded salve-master in a morally blinding quest of reaching a financially painless state. Comment by Erfan MANGANI: Recheck the sentence
An experiment conducted by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram (1963), The Obedience experiment and known as the infamous Milgram experiment, involved participants having to electrocute the ‘learner’. The purpose of this experiment examined justifications for acts of genocide offered by these accused at the second world war. Their defense often was based on “obedience” and that they were simply following orders15. In order to explore and justify the men’s explanations, having no visual sight of the learner, the participant could only hear the screams of the ‘learner’ (an actor), when provided with the wrong answer to the question.
Hence, it could be concluded that the action of evil is not always caused by inner immoral attributes but could also be due to external pressures acting on a given subject.
Another example of evil that relates to pressuring pure subjects is the Holocaust. The Subjects in this matter could be considered as the guards, in charge of the executions. Their strict orders enforced by the Nazi regime, pushes these, potentially pure men, into committing horrific acts of evil.
The exploration of the Inheritance Evil in texts
In all forms of text, the antagonistic characters, all share a common attribute of the Seven deadly Sins10. The Seven Deadly Sins, as held in the Christianity, are transgressions which are detrimental to spiritual progress. The seven deadly sins consist of Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Anger, Greed and Sloth. More specifically, envy and greed are the most commonly present attributes in evil characters. In the work of Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, almost all aspects of the seven deadly sins are explored. The manager, exhibits great pride, placing the wellbeing of oneself over the one of others. Kurtz, exhibits greed, slaughtering for materialistic possessions. The bricklayer, exhibits sloth, as he does little while wanting to be manager. Majority of other characters below Kurtz exhibit envy towards Kurtz’s reputable position. The overweight man on Marlow’s journey represents gluttony. Kurtz’s furious outbursts towards Harlequin exhibit Anger. The use of the seven deadly sins in order to showcase the quality of evil, within a given character, demonstrates how the evil qualities of the characters were not inherent, but achieved through choices made throughout life.
Aristotle, In his theory of human nature, argued that morality is something that is learnt and that all humans are born as ‘Amoral creatures’8 . He also stated that we become immoral not from birth, but from the choices we make.
The lack of decision-making which leads to immorality, is heavily portrayed in ‘A simple Plan’, where the main protagonist, Hank, a loved neighbour, husband and soon to be father commits horrific acts of violence and betrayal, due to the ill choices made. Similarly, in Heart Of Darkness, the main antagonistic, Kurtz, showcases this attribute through his addiction to power. In a symbolic image employed by Conrad in his novella, Kurtz is depicted as a blindfolded woman bearing a torch against a nearly black background. This image captures how Kurtz is blinded by immorality and falsehood of his decisions and actions.
Perception of the Inheritance of Evil
According to the Oxford dictionary, Evil is an action that is Profoundly immoral or wicked. The beliefs of societies regarding the definition of Evil differ significantly. Thus the act of ‘evil’ is also perceived differently, as stated by Jill Patterson, “…Evil is a socially constructed concept”. Numerous religions by different people state many different acts as forms of Evil. Evil sometimes is even associated with sins. For example, in Islam, consumption of pork is considered as sin and is referred to as Evil, but the same practice is considered normal in a Christian society. Slavery could also be an example of how the term ‘Evil’ changes according to its context and era. Slavery nowadays is considered as an evil act but was considered normal during the 18th century in Europe. In an opinion piece in The New Yorker, Rollo Roaming refers to Evil as an act that is, “…both harmful and inexplicable… What defines the act of Evil is that it is permanently disorientating for all those touched by it” (2012).
One may shine a light on the term evil, from many different angles, also due to their background. In Christianity, left-handed people suffered physical punishment of centuries of religious, scientific, and social thought12. Hence, based on Christian theology, left-handed people were considered as inherently evil. Similar norms also apply in Jewish writing, where the Old Testament states that humans have two impulses, Yetzer Hatov and Yetzer Hara13. In Jewish ethics, these two impulses are used to explain the inheritance of Evil within a being from birth. The Yetzer Hatov, the ‘evil inclination,’ is not a demonic force that pushes an individual to commit Evil but is instead a drive towards pleasure, property or security, which, when left unlimited, could lead one to Evil. In contrast, the Yetzer Hara is the inclination towards goodwill in beings. When making sense of the human body, the Testament states that and inclination towards good appears on the right and the tendency towards wickedness to the left. The right hand of the human body is also perceived to endure the righteousness of an individual, whereas the left, as an inappreciable and unclean. As stated in E.W. Lane’s book, An Account of the manners and customs of the modern Egypt14 ,” It is a rule with the Muslims to honour the right hand above the left: to use the right hand for all honourable purposes, and the left for actions which, though necessary, are unclean.”
The third century BCE Chinese principle of the Ying Yang16 is that all forces complement one-another, and all exist as inseparable and contradictory opposites. The symbol of the Ying Yang, as shown in the figure below. “…The Ying yang symbol represents the philosophy that life is incredibly non-dualistic, meaning there is a little bit of something in everything” 17. In Chinese methodology, the Ying Yang explains how a being cannot be purely evil, and regardless how virtuous, cannot be pure. This methodology portrays how all beings inherit some form of evil from birth18. Hence, it could be concluded that most cultures believe that men have some from of impurity within their souls since birth, thus inherently evil.
Natural Vs Moral Evil
Evil originates in humans, yet evil also exists outside of them7. Referred to as Natural evil20 by Catholic moral theologists, it is an occurrence at which no non-divine agent can be held morally responsible for its occurrence. Hence no man is inherently naturally evil, however Mother-nature could be.
In the real world, natural disasters, incurable diseases, famines and even deformities are often referred to as Natural Evil. To further understand the definition of natural evil, we may further divide it into the following two classes: Physical evil and Metaphysical evil 21. Physical evil refers to bodily or mental suffering, such as disabilities or deformities. Metaphysical, refers to natural disasters, often resulting in hundreds of causalities, such as the black death, droughts or earthquakes.
There is therefore the argument against the existence of god based on natural evil; As if there was a being who was omniscient and perfectly good, there would be no natural evil.
In Joseph Conrad’s novella, Heart of Darkness, the Congo forest was often personified as vulturous and evil. In the second chapter of novella, where Marlow, the protagonist and narrator, describes the Congo forest “…a rioting invasion of soundless life, a rolling wave of plants, piled up, crested ready to topple over the creek, to sweep every little man of us[Marlow] out of his little existence…”. This negative personification of the Congo jungle continues throughout the entire story, suggesting it’s unwelcoming nature.
- Kekes, J. (1991). Facing evil. Princeton, N.J. Oxford: Princeton University Press, p.143.
- En.wikipedia.org. (2019). Original sin. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Original_sin [Accessed 26 Oct. 2019].
- Goldhill, O. (2019). Are some humans born evil?. [online] Telegraph.co.uk. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/the-filter/11195840/Are-some-humans-born-evil.html [Accessed 26 Oct. 2019].
- Cartwright, M. and Cartwright, M. (2019). Yin and Yang. [online] Ancient History Encyclopedia. Available at: https://www.ancient.eu/Yin_and_Yang/ [Accessed 29 Oct. 2019].
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- Academia. (2006). ARISTOTLE ON HUMAN NATURE. [online] Available at: https://www.academia.edu/27382428/ARISTOTLE_ON_HUMAN_NATURE [Accessed 26 Oct. 2019].
- Shanon, A. (2019). Seven Deadly Sins. [online] Seven Deadly Sins. Available at: http://www.deadlysins.com/ [Accessed 26 Oct. 2019].
- Cox, S. (2016). How Left-Handedness Came To Be Seen As Evil. [online] All That’s Interesting. Available at: https://allthatsinteresting.com/left-handedness-evil [Accessed 28 Oct. 2019].
- Spitzer, J. (2019). The Birth of the Good Inclination | My Jewish Learning. [online] My Jewish Learning. Available at: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-birth-of-the-good-inclination/ [Accessed 28 Oct. 2019].
- William Lane, E. and Stanley Poole, E. (1833). An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians. 5th ed. London.
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- Cartwright, M. and Cartwright, M. (2016). Yin and Yang. [online] Ancient History Encyclopedia. Available at: https://www.ancient.eu/Yin_and_Yang/ [Accessed 29 Oct. 2019].
- Enlightenedsolutions.com. (2018). Yin And Yang: The Good In The Bad, The Bad In The Good. [online] Available at: https://www.enlightenedsolutions.com/yin-yang-good-bad/ [Accessed 29 Oct. 2019].
- Stump, E. (1985). THE PROBLEM OF EVIL. 2nd ed. [ebook] Faith and Philosophy. Available at: https://cpb-us-w2.wpmucdn.com/campuspress.yale.edu/dist/c/1227/files/2015/11/Stump-TheProbOfEvil-1veqk4v.pdf [Accessed 29 Oct. 2019].
- 1. Patterson, J. (2010). How evil is a socially constructed concept: Evil across societies | The Manitoban. [online] The Manitoban. Available at: http://www.themanitoban.com/2012/10/how-evil-is-a-socially-constructed-concept-evil-across-societies/12309/ [Accessed 29 Oct. 2019].
- Beale, S. (2019). The Problem of Natural Evil. [online] Catholic Exchange. Available at: https://catholicexchange.com/the-problem-of-natural-evil [Accessed 29 Oct. 2019].
- Pecorino, P. (2001). The Nature of Evil. [online] Qcc.cuny.edu. Available at: http://www.qcc.cuny.edu/SocialSciences/ppecorino/PHIL_of_RELIGION_TEXT/CHAPTER_6_PROBLEM_of_EVIL/Nature_of_Evil.htm [Accessed 30 Oct. 2019].