Essentially, I do not think that evil exists. Merriam Webster says that it is something “morally reprehensible,” but this requires morals, which also do not exist. That is, they exist in the minds of humankind, but there is no one thing that everyone can agree is evil. And even if there were, why should humans get to decide? The universe has no morals, nor does it need any.
But the concept of evil is useful to humans. It is largely agreed upon that killing others for no very good reason is evil, and this helps to perpetuate the species. But what about (mostly) nonfatal crimes, like theft, rape, kidnapping, torture? My belief system and societal conditioning (that rascal Society is back again) tell me that these are at least bad, if not evil, because they cause others’ brains to generate chemicals we call negative emotions. However, clearly they cause someone to generate positive emotions, because otherwise there would be no crimes committed at all. So let us instead contemplate the notion of “net evil,” which takes into account the good received by the criminal. Net evil of an act is nearly always less than the evil to any one person, because of the nature of human action. Of course there are exceptions, like people doing things that make them Sad Chemicals in order to make someone else Happy Chemicals, but fail miserably. These are exceptions, which is why we will assume that net evil for the general case is lower than the highest Perceived Personal Evil (PPE).
So, Best Beloved, say that you commit the heinous crime of slapping your best friend, who has been lying to you about her part in a Malaysian assassin gang and has just confessed to having been hired weeks ago to kill you. You are understandably angry that she has not informed you of this earlier, but she is doing herself PPE in addition to the pain (emotional and physical) you have caused by slapping her, because she may now be a target of the infamous Tiger Dragons herself, and your local community may lose respect for her. You are receiving some PPE in the form of disillusionment about your best friend’s intentions, but you are mostly receiving benefit (or, shall we say, PPG?) from knowing that the Fighting Dragons want you dead and having an opportunity to change your name and appearance in order to escape this fate. In your best friend’s eyes, the PPE she has brought upon herself is mitigated by the PPG she has brought you, and in fact the net evil in this situation is pretty close to zero, depending on how much you appreciate her efforts. If you realize that she has risked her life to save your own, you will probably feel Sad Chemicals for slapping her. This adds PPE to both sides of the tally, making it an evil action on the whole. However, if your slapping her prevented her from generating a large amount of Sad Chemicals for her actions, this might make the action net good.
Hopefully this long and utterly fabricated anecdote has clarified my usage of the terms and the philosophy behind them, or at least provided a quantity of amusement. Once again, however, my hands are rebelling at the ill usage they’ve suffered at my… well, at any rate, I ought to go to bed.