The Definition of Evil

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It all went by so quickly, the morning of September 11th. Witnesses simply stared, hands over mouths, the intellect hyperventilating for explanation, for definition.

“Terrorism,” even now the word seems inadequate, “savagery” “barbarism,” those are terms of another time. On that day, at that moment, one word did fit. It was “evil.” Those who did it were evil. Those who planned it were evil. There was, in the simple act of seizing on that word, a half-breath of reassurance.

It has now become, however, the word emblazoned on the banner under which justice is being sought. And with such cultural divisions already separating the combatants in this pending battle, the word “evil” means very different things.


Robert Thurman, Professor of Indo-Tibetan Studies at Columbia University

and Alan Olson, Professor of Philosophy at Boston University.