Thursday thoughts: the phrase “it’s a necessary evil”

The phrase or assertion – “it’s a necessary evil” – invites or prompts the query: why is evil necessary?

There are times in discussions or conversations with colleagues and friends when this phrase is used.  In some instances, the context is that one action or policy is needed to forestall, avoid or prevent a perceived greater evil (or undesired outcome) of some kind.  But, then we could say that it is a lesser of two evils that is being advocated or promoted.

Why do we find ourselves confronted with vexing choices that only involve “evils”, or things that are morally wrong, as possible solutions?  This question applies not only to major societal policy choices, but also to individuals as they live their lives.  (Thus, this is both a macro and a micro concern.)

When we begin to accept various evils as being necessary, it tells us something about ourselves.  Sadly, many in our society have accepted various evils as being necessary.  And, for some individuals this acceptance or acquiescence is not even present to their conscious mind, but rather is buried in their unconscious mind which lacks a conscience.

Personally, I do not think that there are many evils that are truly “necessary”.

Even though the concept of a just war is legitimate as in the case of national self-defense, we might ask: do political leaders work hard enough to prevent wars from breaking out?  If a just war is a necessary evil, it may also be that more, much more, could have been done to avoid the evil from occurring.  That is a societal issue in that entire societies are affected by wars, but, the decisions to go to war or to sincerely seek a just peace are made by individuals.

On the individual level, people have told me that abortion is “a necessary evil”.  But, then I always wondered if the individuals involved had acted more responsibly would such a “choice” be necessary?  (This is not to diminish that there are alternatives to abortion for those in a crisis pregnancy, and support resources are available for pregnant women in many communities.)

We need to seek for positive and constructive policies and actions that can make our choices not between evils but between goods.  Not what choice does the least harm or least injustice to some individual or collection of individuals (i.e. a group), but what policy or action does the most good, bearing in mind current resource constraints.  Pragmatic solutions can be moral solutions.

Let us close with the original question, and its relevant variants, as food for thought and reflection.

Why is evil necessary?

Does evil have to be necessary?

And, why do we accept that evils are necessary?



copyright 2018 –


  1. I read where one said that “It’s human nature to deny the negative side of reality.” I think that this is true, at least in general. I also hold that evils are not necessary. They only become necessary, at times, when we refuse to take responsibility on the front end by contemplating making better decisions instead of doing what feels good and then looking back when logic returns.

    1. Thanks Benjamin for your insightful comment. There does appear to be an ongoing battle between a person’s logical side and impulsive, emotional side in the minds (and lives) of many people. This is the age old struggle. We need emotions, but we need these tempered with and governed by reason.

  2. Evil has no meaning in the natural world. Therefore it is a human creation that has value only if it enhances survival and has natural selection value. In the Old Testament (and way before), they slaughtered to the last man, woman, and child. Was that evil?

    1. Yes, that was evil, and we are going to post our thoughts on that yet again later this week.

      We cannot judge animals as evil as they are driven by instinct. Thus, when a predatory animal seizes upon and kills and devours a prey, that is not evil. But, we expect more from human beings who have the capacity to reason (which, by the way, has natural selection value).

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