Uh oh. The due date for my five page paper on evil is fast approaching, and I've been neglecting my writings about evil.
Last time, I left off talking about how evil is its own punishment, because it is self-destructive. "Self-destructive" is probably not the right term; it seems to me that it would be more accurate to say that evil is "all-destructive". That is, evil harms everyone. An evil act will result in negative consequences for its victims, its perpetrators, and even those not directly involved. Evil doesn't play favorites and skip over certain people; it hurts everyone.
This is a particularly easy to see today, when all of our actions have far-reaching consequences. With the Internet and globalization, it is relatively easy to affect people we will never meet, without knowing about it. In the case of evil, this is particularly dangerous, because we can directly hurt other people and still be so removed from the consequences of our actions that it feels like we haven't done anything wrong.
For example, people will often do something wrong, if they think it doesn't affect them personally. Even worse, they will do something they know is wrong, as long as they think it won't have any sort of negative effect. A common argument is "I know I shouldn't do such-and-such, but I'm not going to get in trouble for it." That's one of the most common excuses used to justify illegal downloading. There are many, many examples I could give, but the point I'm getting at is that people will often try to distance themselves from the consequences of their actions.
People not only try to distance themselves from the evil consequences of their actions, but they try to distance themselves from the actions themselves. That is, people love to make excuses for why they aren't responsible for what they do. Blaming someone else is probably the most common way that a person tries to avoid reponsibility for his actions. People will say, "It's not my fault; it's so-and-so's fault" as an excuse to justify doing something wrong. The results of the Milgram Experiment, sadly, should not be a surprise. Most people can blame someone else for their actions, in order to escape personal responsibility.
Another way people try to distance themselves from their actions is by minimizing them. "It's not a big deal." "It doesn't really matter." These are common excuses that people give. Today, more and more people refer to their evil actions as "accidents" or "mistakes". For example, a person will say, "I didn't mean to do it. It was just a mistake" or "it was just an accident". Sure, it might make you feel better to say you made a mistake instead of admitting you willingly did something wrong, but is it the truth, or it is just an excuse? What were your intentions when committing your action?
In conclusion, it seems that when people do something wrong, there are a myriad of excuses they give, ranging all the way from blaming other people to pretending nothing bad ever happened. But from these many excuses, I think we can see that there are, in general, three different things people make excuses for:
1) The intentions, or what led up to the action.
2) The action itself.
3) The consequences of the action.
This brings me to a thesis: the moral status of an action depends on the action itself, its consequences, and the intentions of the person who performed the act.
This seems like a good point to stop and get input. Thoughts, anyone?