Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 45–58

Evil, Monsters and Dualism



In his book The Myth of Evil, Phillip Cole claims that the concept of evil divides normal people from inhuman, demonic and monstrous wrongdoers. Such monsters are found in fiction, Cole maintains, but not in reality. Thus, even if the concept of evil has the requisite form to be explanatorily useful, it will be of no explanatory use in the real world. My aims in this paper are to assess Cole’s arguments for the claim that there are no actual evil persons, and, in so doing, to develop a clearer framework in which to think about evil personhood. While Cole is right to claim that there are no actual evil monsters or supernatural demons, he underestimates the extent to which ascriptions of demonic monstrosity are figurative rather than literal. Hence, a lack of actual monsters does not imply a lack of actual evil persons. More plausibly, Cole suggests that the concept of evil implies an unrealistically dualistic worldview, with purely evil people on one side and ordinary people on the other. Since no one is purely bad, Cole claims, the concept of evil fails to refer to actual persons. Cole is wrong to think that the use of extreme moral concepts is incompatible with fine-grained moral evaluations across a broad spectrum between the extremes. Nor is Cole sufficiently careful in unpacking the various ways in which a person might be considered purely bad. I will argue that some actual persons are extremely bad, that it is very likely that some actual persons are fixedly bad, and that quite possibly no actual persons are thoroughly bad or innately bad. It is plausible that a person is evil only if he is extremely and fixedly bad, but Cole is wrong to suppose that a person is evil only if he is thoroughly and innately bad. Thus, even if we accept Cole’s claim that no actual person is thoroughly or innately bad, it still seems very likely that some actual persons are evil, and hence that evil can be an explanatorily useful concept.


Evil Vice Moral character 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniveristy of SydneySydneyAustralia

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