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Volume 46 • Number 3

July 2009



He Did It Because He Was Evil

by Luke Russell

In his book The Myth of Evil, Phillip Cole argues that we ought to abandon the concept of evil. Cole claims that the concept of evil forms part of a dualistic worldview that divides normal people from inhuman, demonic, and monstrous wrongdoers. Such monsters are found in fiction, Cole suggests, but not in reality, so evil is of no explanatory use. Yet even if there were actual evil persons, Cole maintains, evil would be a redundant, pseudo-explanatory concept, a psychological black hole that is of no use in our explanations of why people do wrong. Contrary to Cole's claims, evil does have the requisite form to function as an explanation, and thus, if there are any actual evil actions or persons, evil will be explanatorily useful. Cole is right to suggest that evil cannot provide a complete explanation for any actions, but none of our virtue or vice concepts can do so, and they are none the worse for that. Cole is also right to suggest that the concept of evil is often used to play certain narrative roles, but he fails to see that evil can play those roles only if it has an explanatorily useful form. While it is true that evil could be paraphrased out of explanations of actions without any loss of information, that does not show that the concept is explanatorily redundant. In fact, Cole's preferred alternative explanations of extreme wrongdoing that eschew appeals to evil are themselves inadequate because they fail to account for the directed and intentional nature of some extremely wrong actions.

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ISSN: 2152-1123