Good and Evil

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Good and Evil


normative evaluative categories of moral consciousness, designating in a very generalized form what ought to be done (the morally positive, that which is right) and the morally negative (that which is reprehensible in the actions and motives of people as well as in the phenomena of social reality).

Since antiquity there has been a clash between the materialist and the idealist trends in ethics on the interpretation of the nature of good and evil. The materialists associate the two concepts with human needs and interests, the laws of nature, or the actual desires and strivings of people (naturalism), with pleasure and suffering and man’s happiness and unhappiness (hedonism and eudaemonism;, and with the real social significance of the actions of individuals for their life together. The idealists traced the concepts of good and evil to divine commandments or reason (and deviations from them) and to certain transcendental ideas, essences, and laws. Consequently, the conflict between good and evil acquired a metaphysical ontological meaning as a struggle between two eternal principles in the world. In some cases the idealists reduced the content of the concepts of good and evil to the expression of subjective desires, inclinations, and man’s sympathies or antipathies.

Only Marxist philosophy and ethics have provided a genuinely scientific, sociohistorical basis for the analysis of good and evil, by linking these concepts with the concrete contradictions in social reality and their specific reflection in the moral consciousness of certain epochs, social systems, and classes. Varying social conditions and moral consciousness have determined the differences in the understanding of the concrete content of good and evil throughout history. “The conceptions of good and evil have varied so much from nation to nation and from age to age, that they have often been in direct contradiction to each other,” wrote En-gels (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 20, p. 94).

Nevertheless, the concepts of good and evil have retained a certain extremely general content. As moral evaluations and prescriptions they have always expressed practical problems of members of society either in the contemporary period or in the distant future. On the one hand, these problems express the need to preserve the results that have already been achieved in a given culture. On the other hand, they express dissatisfaction with the status quo and look forward to further historical progress.

The idea of the good, wrote V. I. Lenin, reflects man’s demands on reality: “The world does not satisfy man, and man through his action decides to change it” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 29, p. 195). In communist morality the conflict between good and evil is conceived primarily on the level of the struggle to eliminate exploitation and social in-equality and to achieve the all-around development of the personality in a classless society.


Lenin, V. I. “Zadachi soiuzov molodezhi.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 41.
Lafargue, P. “Ekonomicheskii determinizm Karla Marksa.” Soch., vol. 3. Moscow-Leningrad, 1931. Pages 82-101.
Arkhangel’skii, L. M. Kategorii marksistskoi etiki. Moscow, 1963.


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