The Uses & Abuses of the Language of Evil Today

Lynn Alena Roth's picture
March 24, 2023
United Kingdom
Subject Fields: 
Humanities, Literature, Philosophy, Political Science, Race / Ethnic Studies

A One Day Conference: Presented by the Research Centre for Philosophy and Literature, University of Sussex

March 24th 2023

Keynote speaker for this event will be Professor Gavin Rae (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)

Funded by 

  • The Mind Association
  • University of Sussex Research Led Initiative Fund

Organised by
Lynn Alena Roth, Denis Chevrier Bousseau, and Thomas Godfrey

Philosophy Department, Conference Room A108,

University of Sussex (Brighton)

The research theme of this event is the language of evil and its uses and abuses today. The motivation for this research theme stems from the sense that evil is an outdated philosophical idea, yet, the language of evil is still present. The language of evil continues to be used and abused by politicians, the press, social media, literary works and in everyday speech. The event is interested in interrogating where the reluctance to abandon the language of evil comes from, why it persists and whether the idea of evil needs to be reconsidered in light of this reluctance. I.e., does the language of evil fulfil a particular function?

The purpose of this event is to establish the basis for further research on the topic of evil. The issue with the topic of evil is that it lacks a contemporary, ongoing philosophical debate/ significance beyond its theological dimension. Evil is not considered a crucial notion in critical social theory, moral or political philosophy. However, the continued use of the language of evil in politics, social criticism, literature and everyday speech is undeniable. Whether one recalls Bush’s mention of the axis of evil, a detective show where the police officer contests that this criminal was the evillest person he ever came across, or everyday references of the term which designate any given action, event or person evil, the prevalence of the term cannot be overlooked. These uses of evil demand attention. Therefore, the event wants to discuss the significance of the language of evil today and facilitate a critical engagement with the topic. 

The conference will discuss questions such as:

Is labelling something as evil a means to intensify a problem or to avoid it? I.e., does describing someone or something as evil act as a way of a problem?

What is the most convincing philosophical treatment of evil?

How can earlier philosophical conceptions of evil help us to respond to what is going on today?

How, where, and when is the language of evil inappropriate or misused? To what extent, if ever, is it legitimate to talk about evil? do we need to speak about evil?

Is it preferable to distinguish between good and bad rather than good and evil? Does the distinction between good and evil cause more harm?

Do we need a notion of evil? Does evil have an explanatory value in a non-religious context?

What makes evil in fiction so fascinating? Why do evil characters often seem more intriguing or convincing?

Contact Info: 

Lynn Alena Roth

Main organiser of this event

Contact Email: