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Of what use to destroy the children of evil? It is evil itself we must destroy at the roots. ~ Eleanor Farjeon

Evil is a term used to indicate acts or qualities involving needless or wanton harm or destruction, or the deliberate violation of some accepted moral codes of behavior. The philosophical questions which arise among various perceptions and definitions of the nature of evil and virtue are a primary focus of most ethical and religious systems of thought.


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
It's no use crying over spilt evils. It’s better to mop them up laughing. ~ Eleanor Farjeon
Shall I tell you what true evil is? It is to submit to you. It is when we surrender our freedom, our dignity instead of defying you. ~ Jean-Luc Picard
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows. ~ The Shadow
  • One, who enters the places of evil repute has no right to complain against a man who speaks ill of him.
    • Ali, A Hundred Sayings
  • What makes it so plausible to assume that hypocrisy is the vice of vices is that integrity can indeed exist under the cover of all other vices except this one. Only crime and the criminal, it is true, confront us with the perplexity of radical evil; but only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core.
  • The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.
  • Evils draw men together.
    • Aristotle, in Rhetoric Book I, 1362.b39: Quoting a proverb
  • Evil preaches tolerance until it is dominant, then it tries to silence good.
    • Archbishop Charles J. Chaput
  • Good can imagine Evil, but Evil cannot imagine Good.
  • A thing may look specious in theory, and yet be ruinous in practice; a thing may look evil in theory, and yet be in practice excellent.
    • Edmund Burke, Impeachment of Warren Hastings, 19th Feb. 1788.
  • No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.
  • 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.
  • The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.'
  • Evil is relative, Annalist. You can’t hang a sign on it. You can’t touch it or taste it or cut it with a sword. Evil depends on where you are standing, pointing your indicting finger.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • “There is evil! It's actual, like cement.
I can't believe it. I can't stand it.
Evil is not a view ... it's an ingredient in us. In the world. Poured over us, filtering into our bodies, minds, hearts, into the pavement itself.”
  • It’s no use crying over spilt evils. It’s better to mop them up laughing.
  • Of what use to destroy the children of evil? It is evil itself we must destroy at the roots.
  • Evil beginning houres may end in good.
  • Where two evils present, a wise administration, if there be room for an option, will choose the least.
    • J. Foster, in Case of Pressing Mariners (1743), 18 How. St. Tr. 1330; reported in Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904) by James William Norton-Kyshe, p. 91.
  • It’s a little hard for me to know that I am “disordered” or again to quote Ratzinger, “that i am guilty of a moral evil” simply by fulfilling my sexual destiny as I see it. It’s…it’s hard for me to be told, to be told that I’m evil, because I think of myself as someone who is filled with love, whose only purpose in life was to achieve love, and who feels love for so much of nature and the world and for everything else and who like anybody decent and with education realizes that in order, to achieve and receive love, it’s a struggle.
  • 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).
  • Being against evil doesn't make you good.
  • The man who does evil to another does evil to himself,
    and the evil counsel is most evil for him who counsels it.
    • Hesiod, Works and Days (8th century BC), line 265, translated by Richard Lattimore.
  • It is by its promise of a sense of power that evil often attracts the weak.
  • Rabid suspicion has nothing in it of skepticism. The suspicious mind believes more than it doubts. It believes in a formidable and ineradicable evil lurking in every person.
    • Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State Of Mind, and Other Aphorisms (1955), Section 184.
  • I must say that anyone who moved through those years [World War II] without understanding that man produces evil as a bee produces honey must have been blind or wrong in the head.
  • Every man knows there are evils in this world which need setting right. Every man has pretty definite ideas as what these evils are. But to most men one in particular stands out vividly. To some, in fact, this stands out with such startling vividness that they lose sight of other evils, or look upon them as the natural consequence of their own particular evil-in-chief.
  • When we think of evil, we think of something violent or demonic, something filled with hatred and wretchedly hungry to devour the good. But what if evil eats a salad at lunch and is polite, speaking rationally with nice table manners?
  • At least two thirds of our miseries spring from human stupidity, human malice, and those great motivators and justifiers of malice and stupidity, idealism, dogmatism and proselytizing zeal on behalf of religious or political idols.
  • Evil works best, not as a growling beast crouching in the darkness, but in a rational, scientific voice. It is the way it's always worked, the way it worked years ago, the way it works now.
  • 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).
  • Every person has the choice between Good and Evil. Choose Good, and stand against those who would choose Evil.
  • Of two evils, the less is always to be chosen.
  • There was an evil in Pandora's box
    Beyond all other ones, yet it came forth
    In guise so lovely, that men crowded round
    And sought it as the dearest of all treasure.
  • 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
  • You say you are true evil? Shall I tell you what true evil is? It is to submit to you. It is when we surrender our freedom, our dignity instead of defying you.
  • The long run evil in the extreme will be the End of those who do evil; for that they rejected the Signs of Allah, and held them up to ridicule.
  • It is the evil that lies in ourselves that is ever least tolerant of the evil that lies in others.
  • 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.

  • EVIL. That which one believes of others. It is a sin to believe evil of others, but it is seldom a mistake.
  • He that has light within his own cleer brest
    May sit i'th center, and enjoy bright day,
    But he that hides a dark soul, and foul thoughts
    Benighted walks under the mid-day Sun;
    Himself is his own dungeon.
    • John Milton, "A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634," lines 380–84, republished in The Works of John Milton (1931), vol. 1, part 1, p. 99. The title was changed to "Comus" for the stage version in 1737.
  • There is Good and there is Evil and Evil must be punished. Even in the face of Armageddon, I shall not compromise in this.
  • Wer mit Ungeheuern kämpft, mag zusehn, dass er nicht dabei zum Ungeheuer wird. Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein.
    • He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.
    • Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Aphorism 146
  • Because we have sought to cover up past evil, though it still persists, we have been powerless to check the new evil of today.
    Evil unchecked grows, Evil tolerated poisons the whole system.
    And because we have tolerated our past and present evils, international affairs are poisoned and law and justice have disappeared from them.
    • Jawaharlal Nehru, The Unity of India : Collected Writings, 1937-1940 (1942), p. 280
  • 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.
  • Jamais on ne fait le mal si pleinement et si gaiement que quand on le fait par conscience.
    • Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it conscientiously.
    • Variant: Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction (trans. W.F. Trotter)
    • Blaise Pascal, Pensées (1669) (# 894 or 895, depending on differing editions).
  • 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.
  • Of two evils I have chose the least.
    • Matthew Prior, "Imitation of Horace", a reference to E duobus malis, minimum eligendum, Cicero, De Officiis; reported in James William Norton-Kyshe, Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904), p. 92.
  • So, Lone Starr, now you see that evil will always triumph, because good is dumb.
  • Responding to evil
    A superior being does not render evil for evil,
    this is the maxim one should observe;
    the ornament of virtuous persons is their conduct.
    A noble soul will ever exercise compassion
    even towards those who enjoy injuring others.
    • Ramayana 6.115, Valmiki (Abridged, Translator: Roderick Hindery)
  • The spread of evil is the symptom of a vacuum. Whenever evil wins, it is only by default: by the moral failure of those who evade the fact that there can be no compromise on basic principles.
    • Ayn Rand, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, (1966).
  • 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).
  • I happen to think that the singular evil of our time is prejudice. It is from this evil that all other evils grow and multiply. In almost everything I've written there is a thread of this: a man's seemingly palpable need to dislike someone other than himself.
  • Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows...
    • The Shadow, in Introductory words to the broadcast radio episodes of The Shadow, as quoted in Radio's Golden Age : The Programs and the Personalities (1966) by Frank Buxton and Bill Owen; also in Orson Welles : A Biography (1995) by Barbara Leaming, p. 123.
  • But then I sigh; and, with a piece of Scripture,
    Tell them that God bids us do good for evil.
  • I believe in evil. It is the property of all those who are certain of truth. Despair and fanaticism are only differing manifestations of evil.
    • Edward Teller, as quoted in The Martians of Science : Five Physicists Who Changed the Twentieth Century (2006) by Istvan Hargittai, p. 251.
  • (見ざる, 聞かざる, 言わざる?)
    • "See not, hear not, speak not"
    • "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil"
    • Tōshō-gū shrine Three wise monkeys
  • There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root, and it may be that he who bestows the largest amount of time and money on the needy is doing the most by his mode of life to produce that misery which he strives in vain to relieve.
  • We don't want apartheid liberalized. We want it dismantled. You can't improve something that is intrinsically evil.
    • Bishop Desmond Tutu, speech, 1985. Quoted in Equality, Volume 1, Issue 1, 1989.
  • When the Devil is too busy, and Death's a bit too much, they call on me by name you see, for my special touch.
    • Voltaire in his song When you're Evil.
  • Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.
  • Between two evils, I generally like to pick the one I never tried before.
    • Mae West Klondike Annie (1936) Sometimes quoted as: "When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I've never tried before."'.
  • In the mirrors of the many judgments, my hands are the color of blood. I sometimes fancy myself an evil which exists to oppose other evils; and on that great Day of which the prophets speak but in which they do not truly believe, on the day the world is utterly cleansed of evil, then I too will go down into darkness, swallowing curses. Until then, I will not wash my hands nor let them hang useless.
  • The usual devastating put-downs imply that a person is basically bad, rather than that he is a person who sometimes does bad things. Obviously, there is a vast difference between a "bad" person and a person who does something bad.
    Besides, failure is an event, it is not a person — yesterday ended last night.
    • Variant: Failure is an event, not a person. Yesterday ended last night.
    • Zig Ziglar See You at the Top (2000)

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations[edit]

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 239-41.
  • Souvent la peur d'un mal nous conduit dans un pire.
  • From envy, hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness.
    • Book of Common Prayer, Litany.
  • The world, the flesh, and the devil.
    • Book of Common Prayer, Litany.
  • I have wrought great use out of evil tools.
  • The authors of great evils know best how to remove them.
  • Como el hacer mal viene de natural cosecha, fácilmente se aprende el hacerle.
    • Inasmuch as ill-deeds spring up as a spontaneous crop, they are easy to learn.
    • Miguel de Cervantes, Coloquio de los Perros.
  • Ex malis eligere minima oportere.
    • Of evils one should choose the least.
    • Cicero, De Officiis (44 B.C.), Book III. 1. Same idea in Thomas á Kempis. Imit Christi. 312.
  • Omne malum nascens facile opprimitur; inveteratum fit pleurumque robustius.
    • Every evil in the bud is easily crushed: as it grows older, it becomes stronger.
    • Cicero, Philippicæ, V. 11.
  • Touch not; taste not; handle not.
    • Colossians, II. 21.
  • Evil communications corrupt good manners.
    • I Corinthians, XV. 33.
  • Et tous maux sont pareils alors qu'ils sont extrêmes.
  • Superbia, invidia ed avarizia sono
    Le tre faville che hanno i cori accesi.
    • Three sparks—pride, envy, and avarice—have been kindled in all hearts.
    • Dante Alighieri, Inferno, VI. 74.
  • E duobus malis minimum eligendum.
    • Of two evils choose the least.
    • Erasmus, Adages.
  • 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.
  • But evil is wrought by want of Thought,
    As well as want of Heart!
  • Of two
    Evils we take the less.
    • Richard Hooker, Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book V, Chapter LXXXI.
  • Quid nos dura refugimus
    Ætas, quid intactum nefasti
    • What has this unfeeling age of ours left untried, what wickedness has it shunned?
    • Horace, Carmina, I. 35. 34.
  • Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil.
    • Isaiah. V. 20.
  • Magna inter molles concordia.
    • There is great unanimity among the dissolute.
    • Juvenal, Satires, II, 47.
  • Fere fit malum malo aptissimum.
    • Evil is fittest to consort with evil.
    • Livy, Annales, I, 46.
  • Notissimum quodque malum maxime tolerabile.
    • The best known evil is the most tolerable.
    • Livy, Annales, XXIII, 3.
  • Evil springs up, and flowers, and bears no seed,
    And feeds the green earth with its swift decay,
    Leaving it richer for the growth of truth.
  • Solent occupationis spe vel impune quædam scelesta committi.
    • Wicked acts are accustomed to be done with impunity for the mere desire of occupation.
    • Ammianus Marcellinus, Historia, XXX. 9.
  • 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.
  • Que honni soit celui qui mal y pense.
    • Ménage. Ascribed to Tallemant in the Historiettes of Tallemant des Reaux, Volume I, p. 38. Second ed. Note in Third ed., corrects this. Honi soit qui mal y pense. Evil to him who evil thinks. Motto of the Order of the Garter. Established by Edward III, April 23, 1349. See Sir Walter Scott, Essay on Chivalry.
  • Genus est mortis male vivere.
    • An evil life is a kind of death.
    • Ovid, Epistolæ Ex Ponto, III. 4. 75.
  • Mille mali species, mille salutis erunt.
    • There are a thousand forms of evil; there will be a thousand remedies.
    • Ovid, Remedia Amoris, V. 26.
  • Omnia perversas possunt corrumpere mentes.
    • All things can corrupt perverse minds.
    • Ovid, Tristium, II. 301.
  • Hoc sustinete, majus ne veniat malum.
    • Endure this evil lest a worse come upon you.
    • Phaedrus, Fables, Book I. 2. 31.
  • 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.
  • Pulchrum ornatum turpes mores pejus cœno collinunt.
    • Bad conduct soils the finest ornament more than filth.
    • Plautus, Mostellaria, I. 3. 133.
  • Male partum male disperit.
    • Ill gotten is ill spent.
    • Plautus, Pœnulus, IV. 2. 22.
  • E malis multis, malum, quod minimum est, id minimum est malum.
    • Out of many evils the evil which is least is the least of evils.
    • Plautus, Stichus, Act I. 2.
  • Timely advis'd, the coming evil shun:
    Better not do the deed, than weep it done.
  • Of two evils I have chose the least.
  • Maledicus a malefico non distat nisi occasione.
    • An evil-speaker differs from an evil-doer only in the want of opportunity.
    • Quintilian, De Institutione Oratorio, XII. 9. 9.
  • For the good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do.
    • Romans, VII. 19.
  • Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
    • Romans, XII. 21.
  • Multitudes think they like to do evil; yet no man ever really enjoyed doing evil since God made the world.
  • Al mondo mal non e senza rimedio.
    • here is no evil in the world without a remedy.
    • Jacopo Sannazaro, Ecloga Octava.
  • 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.
  • Das eben ist der Fluch der bösen That,
    Das sie fortzeugend immer Böses muss gebären.
    • The very curse of an evil deed is that it must always continue to engender evil.
    • Friedrich Schiller, Piccolomini, V. 1.
  • Per scelera semper sceleribus certum est iter.
  • Si velis vitiis exui, longe a vitiorum exemplis recedendum est.
    • If thou wishest to get rid of thy evil propensities, thou must keep far from evil companions.
    • Seneca the Younger, Epistolæ Ad Lucilium, CIV.
  • Solent suprema facere securos mala.
  • Serum est cavendi tempus in mediis malis.
    • It is too late to be on our guard when we are in the midst of evils.
    • Seneca the Younger, Thyestes, CCCCLXXXVII.
  • Magna pars vulgi levis
    Odit scelus spectatque.
    • Most of the giddy rabble hate the evil deed they come to see.
    • Seneca the Younger, Troades, XI. 28.
  • 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.
  • Mala mens, malus animus.
    • A bad heart, bad designs.
    • Terence, Andria, I. 1. 137.
  • Aliud ex alio malum.
    • One evil rises out of another.
    • Terence, Eunuchus, V. 7. 17.
  • But, by all thy nature's weakness,
    Hidden faults and follies known,
    Be thou, in rebuking evil,
    Conscious of thine own.

Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895)[edit]

Quotes reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895).

  • Many have puzzled themselves about the origin of evil; I observe that there is evil, and that there is a way to escape it, and with this I begin and end.
  • Nothing is to be esteemed evil which God and nature have fixed with eternal sanction.
  • The cardinal method with faults is to overgrow them and choke them out with virtues.
  • Nothing can work me damage except myself. The harm that I sustain I carry about with me, and never am a real sufferer but by my own fault.
  • 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.


  • 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).

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