Good and evil

dichotomy in religion, ethics, and philosophy
(Redirected from Good or evil)

In religion, ethics, philosophy, and psychology "good and evil" is a very common dichotomy. In its most general context, the concept of good denotes that conduct which is to be preferred and prescribed by society and its social constituents as beneficial and useful to the social needs of society and its preferred conventions. Evil is the absence or opposite of that which is described as being good and denotes profound immorality. The philosophical question of whether morality is absolute, relative, or illusory leads to questions about the nature of evil, with views falling into one of four opposed camps: moral absolutism, amoralism, moral relativism, and moral universalism.


Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. ~ Amos
Good can imagine Evil, but Evil cannot imagine Good. ~ W. H. Auden
To cease from evil, to do good, and to purify the mind yourself, this is the teaching of all the Buddhas. ~ Gautama Buddha
  • Good deeds remain good, no matter whether we know how the world was made or not. Vile deeds are vile, no matter whether we know or do not know what, after death, will be the fate of the doer. We know, at least, what his fate is now, namely, to be wedded to the vileness.
    The question for anyone to decide, who hesitates between good and evil, is whether he aspires to be a full-weight man, or merely the fragment, nay, the counterfeit of a man. Only he who ceaselessly aims at moral completeness is, in the true sense, a human being.
  • The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.
  • Do good to others, that will protect you against evil.
  • I have often spoken to you about good and evil. This has made some uncomfortable. But good and evil are present in this world, and between the two there can be no compromise. Murdering the innocent to advance an ideology is wrong every time, everywhere. Freeing people from oppression and despair is eternally right. This nation must continue to speak out for justice and truth. We must always be willing to act in their defense and to advance the cause of peace.
  • Evil preaches tolerance until it is dominant and then it tries to silence good.
  • I think the old, sound, and honest maxim that "you shall not do evil that good may come," is applicable in law as well as in morals.
    • Sir Alexander Cockburn, 12th Baronet, C.J., Reg. v. Hicklin and another (1868), 11 Cox, C. C. 27; S. C. 3 L. R. Q. B. 372; reported in Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904) by James William Norton-Kyshe, p. 92.
  • I do not believe in evil absolute. I have recounted that philosophy in specific in the Annals, and it affects my every observation throughout my tenure as Annalist. I believe in our side and theirs, with the good and evil decided after the fact, by those who survive. Among men you seldom find the good with one standard and the shadow with another.
  • Evil beginning houres may end in good.
  • Non è male alcuno nelle cose umane che non abbia congiunto seco qualche bene.
    • There is no evil in human affairs that has not some good mingled with it.
    • Francesco Guicciardini, Storia d'Italia (1537-1540).
  • In the beginning evil and good were created, and to man was given the command to rule and subdue the evil, and to foster and cause the good to prevail. That is the final reason of human experience, and man becomes a god when he has won the victory.
  • Being against evil doesn't make you good.
  • Only by contact with evil could I have learned to feel by contrast the beauty of truth and love and goodness.
  • It is a mistake always to contemplate the good and ignore the evil, because by making people neglectful it lets in disaster. There is a dangerous optimism of ignorance and indifference.
    • Helen Keller, Optimism (1903).
  • [T]here's good and bad in all of us. We have to face them both, and sometimes we have to make a decision between each. It's nothing we can avoid. It's nothing we can rant against. Each individual has to make his own decision on it.
  • 'Indian inclusiveness operates at a level deeper than the polarities of good and evil. It has never shown comparable insistence on the need for a choice between opposites of right and wrong, as did the Zoroastrians, the Jews, the Christians.' .... 'In Indian ethics, good and evil are always relative, and a precise definition of intrinsically good or bad deeds is avoided.'
    • Lannoy 1971: 96, 227 quoted from Malhotra, R., & Infinity Foundation (Princeton, N.J.). (2018). Being different: An Indian challenge to western universalism.
  • The true rule, in determining to embrace, or reject any thing, is not whether it have any evil in it; but whether it have more of evil, than of good. There are few things wholly evil, or wholly good. Almost every thing, especially of governmental policy, is an inseparable compound of the two; so that our best judgment of the preponderance between them is continually demanded.
    • Abraham Lincoln, remarks in the United States House of Representatives (June 20, 1848), reprinted in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (1953), vol. 1, p. 484
  • Man is an enigma whose knot has not ceased to occupy observers. The contradictions that he contains astonish reason and impose silence on it. So what is this inconceivable being who carries within him powers that clash and who is obliged to hate himself in order to esteem himself?
All the beings that surround us have only one law and follow it in peace. Man alone has two laws, and both of them attracting him at the same time in contrary senses, he experiences an inexplicable tearing. He has a moral end towards which he feels himself obliged to proceed, he has a feeling of his duties and the consciousness of virtue; but an enemy force entices him and, blushing, he follows it.
  • He thought of the jungle, already regrowing around him to cover the scars they had created. He thought of the tiger, killing to eat. Was that evil? And ants? They killed. No, the jungle wasn't evil. It was indifferent. So, too, was the world. Evil, then, must be the negation of something man had added to the world. Ultimately, it was caring about something that made the world liable to evil. Caring. And then the caring gets torn asunder. Everybody dies, but not everybody cares.

    It occurred to Mellas that he could create the possibility of good or evil through caring. He could nullify the indifferent world. But in so doing he opened himself up to the pain of watching it get blown away. His killing that day would not have been evil if the dead soldiers hadn't been loved by mothers, sisters, friends, wives. Mellas understood that in destroying the fabric that linked those people, he had participated in evil, but this evil had hurt him as well. He also understood that his participation in evil, was a result of being human. Being human was the best he could do. Without man there would be no evil. But there was also no good, nothing moral built over the world of fact. Humans were responsible for it all. He laughed at the cosmic joke, but he felt heartsick.

  • It must be that evil communications corrupt good dispositions.
    • Menander. Found in Dubner's edition of his Fragments appended to Aristophanes in Didot's Bibliotheca Græca, p. 102, line 101. Quoted by St. Paul. See I Corinthians, XV. 33. Same idea in Plato, Republic, 550.
  • There is Good and there is Evil and Evil must be punished. Even in the face of Armageddon, I shall not compromise in this.
  • Let us never forget the Christian maxim "that we should not do evil that good may come of it." '
    • Crampon, J., R. v. O'Connell (1843), 5 St. Tr. (N. S.) 703; reported in Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904) by James William Norton-Kyshe, p. 92.
  • We must now take precautions to prevent you from being embarrassed by something in which the ignorant majority is at fault for lack of proper consideration, and so from supposing with them, that man has not been created truly good simply because he is able to do evil. ... If you reconsider this matter carefully and force your mind to apply a more acute understanding to it, it will be revealed to you that man's status is better and higher for the very reason for which it is thought to be inferior: it is on this choice between two ways, on this freedom to choose either alternative, that the glory of the rational mind is based, it is in this that the whole honor of our nature consists, it is from this that its dignity is derived.
    • Pelagius, Letter to Demetrias, B. Rees, trans., Readings in World Christian History (2013), p. 207
  • A good End cannot sanctifie evil Means; nor must we ever do Evil, that Good may come of it.
    • William Penn, Some Fruits of Solitude in Reflections & Maxims (1903, reprinted 1976), no. 537, p. 102.
  • Ut acerbum est, pro benefactis quom mali messem metas!
    • How bitter it is to reap a harvest of evil for good that you have done!
    • Plautus, Epidicus, V. 2. 53.
  • The human race is not divided into the kingdom of Ormuzd and the kingdom of Ahriman [the good spirit and the evil spirit in the Zoroastrian religion]. In each man are these two kingdoms of light and darkness.
    • Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888–1975) (Radhakrishnan, The Bhagavad Gita ,1948: 335). quoted from Malhotra, R., & Infinity Foundation (Princeton, N.J.). (2018). Being different: An Indian challenge to western universalism.
  • In philosophy, hitherto, ethical neutrality has been seldom sought and hardly ever achieved. Men have remembered their wishes, and have judged philosophies in relation to their wishes. Driven from the particular sciences, the belief that the notions of good and evil must afford a key to the understanding of the world has sought a refuge in philosophy. But even from this last refuge, if philosophy is not to remain a set of pleasing dreams, this belief must be driven forth [out]. It is a commonplace that happiness is not best achieved by those who seek it directly; and it would seem that the same is true of the good. In thought, at any rate, those who forget the good and evil and seek only to know the facts are more likely to achieve good than those who view the world through the distorting medium of their own desires.
  • I judge things from an evolutionary perspective — "How does this serve and contribute to the process of our own evolution?" — rather than think of good and evil in moral terms. I see the triumph of good over evil as a manifestation of the error-correcting process of evolution.
    • Jonas Salk, in Academy of Achievement interview, in San Diego, California (16 May 1991).
  • What good is that goodness if it does not return good even to those who cause evil?
Quotes reported in The Bible.
  • Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil.
    • Isaiah. V. 20.
  • At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask! What shall I give you?”
    And Solomon said: “You have shown great mercy to Your servant David my father, because he walked before You in truth, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with You; You have continued this great kindness for him, and You have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king instead of my father David, but I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people, too numerous to be numbered or counted. Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?”
    The speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing.
    • 1 Kings 3:5-10, (NKJV)
  • Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.
  • Evil communications corrupt good manners.
  • How shall God judge the world? For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner? And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just.
    • Paul of Tarsus, in Romans, III., 6-8 (KJV). reported in James William Norton-Kyshe, Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904), p. 92.
  • For the good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do.
  • Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
  • Every soul will taste death. And We test you with evil and with good as trial; and to Us you will be returned.
  • Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil by that (deed) which is better. Then you will see that he with whom you had enmity will become your devoted friend.
  • Whoever does a good deed – it is for himself; and whoever does evil – it is against the self. Then to your Lord you will be returned.
  • So whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it, and whoever does an atom’s weight of evil will see it.

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations.
  • There shall never be one lost good! What was shall live as before;
    The evil is null, is nought, is silence implying sound;
    What was good shall be good, with, for evil, so much good more;
    On the earth the broken arcs; in the heaven a perfect round.
  • He who does evil that good may come, pays a toll to the devil to let him into heaven.
    • J. C. and A. W. Hare, Guesses at Truth, p. 444.
  • Das Leben ist der Güter höchstes nicht
    Der Uebel grösstes aber ist die Schuld.
    • Life is not the supreme good, but the supreme evil is to realize one's guilt.
    • Friedrich Schiller, Die Braut von Messina.
  • There is some soul of goodness in things evil,
    Would men observingly distil it out.
  • We too often forget that not only is there a "soul of goodness in things evil," but very generally a soul of truth in things erroneous.
  • So far any one shuns evils, so far as he does good.
  • From seeming evil still educing good.
  • Roaming in thought over the Universe, I saw the little that is
    Good steadily hastening towards immortality,
    And the vast all that is called Evil I saw hastening to merge itself and become lost and dead.
  • Bene facere et male audire regium est.
    • To do good and be evil spoken of, is kingly.
      • On the Town Hall of Zittau, Saxony. Noted in Carlyle, Frederick the Great, XV. 13.

Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895)

Quotes reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert's Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895).
  • The best antidote against evils of all kinds, against the evil thoughts that haunt the soul, against the needless perplexities which distract the conscience, is to keep hold of the good we have. Impure thoughts will not stand against pure words and prayers and deeds. Little doubts will not avail against great certainties. Fix your affections on things above, and then you will less and less be troubled by the cares, the temptations, the troubles of things on earth.


  • Every person has the choice between Good and Evil. Choose Good, and stand against those who would choose Evil.
    • Friedrich Kellner, “Welt muss mehr denn je diese Botschaft hören,” Giessener Allgemeine Zeitung, Giessen, Germany, April 12, 2005.
  • The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.
    • Attributed to Plato on the letterhead of the Constitution Party. Reported as unverified in Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989).
Wikipedia has an article about:

AltruismAsceticismBeneficenceBenevolenceBraveryCarefulnessCharityCheerfulnessCleanlinessCommon senseCompassionConstancyCourageDignityDiligenceDiscretionEarnestnessFaithFidelityForethoughtForgivenessFriendshipFrugalityGentlenessGoodnessGraceGratitudeHolinessHonestyHonorHopeHospitalityHumanityHumilityIntegrityIntelligenceJusticeKindnessLoveLoyaltyMercyModerationModestyOptimismPatiencePhilanthropyPietyPrudencePunctualityPovertyPuritySelf-controlSimplicitySinceritySobrietySympathyTemperanceTolerance

AggressionAngerApathyArroganceBigotryContemptCowardiceCrueltyDishonestyDrunkennessEgotismEnvyEvil speakingGluttonyGreedHatredHypocrisyIdlenessIgnoranceImpatienceImpenitenceIngratitudeInhumanityIntemperanceJealousyLazinessLustMaliceNeglectObstinacyPhilistinismPrejudicePretensionPrideRecklessnessSelf-righteousnessSelfishnessSuperficialityTryphéUnkindnessUsuryVanityWorldliness