It appears that the definition of ‘evil’ is subjective to the individual user of the word, some would define it as the cause of suffering, others the disregard of morality and religious doctrine. But what exactly is it? Surely, in order for it to bare significance in debates and ethical theories, it must have some objective definition, or a meaning that everyone can accept.
The first question I would ask is whether or not the causes of actions (such as murder and degenerative diseases) are intrinsically evil in themselves. It sounds a rather bizarre question to ask, but this is not to say that such actions are not horrific and deeply saddening to all those involved. It is instead to ask whether we can really call such acts evil.
An action that is considered evil should only be thought of as such if it had a conscious being, capable of making rational decisions, behind it. Earthquakes and tsunamis which are often labelled ‘natural evil’ are not evil as such since there is no deliberate intention to harm people (unless you believe in an omnipotent God who wishes to bring pain upon this beloved creation). We may find the consequences of a volcano tragic and painful but in reality this is the extent of it, if there is no intention then there is no evil since there is nothing intending to cause harm.
However, what of the acts committed by rational, conscious beings. Surely they are evil? In my view, at least, an action such as murder is deeply unsettling and saddening, but it cannot be intrinsically evil. It must be, in fact, the intention of the person that is at fault, death can occur as a result of natural processes, but murder is down to evil thoughts and evil intentions.
But can an evil thought which is not carried through be as evil as one that is? Well, no. But an evil thought, one that is truly evil, will always be carried through due to the corrupted intentions of the individual. If for some reason they are stopped (by forces that do not appeal to their ‘better nature’ but instead prevent them from committing the crime by the act of restraining) then, and only then, is the intention and thought is still as evil as if they had carried the action through, despite avoiding the terrible consequences.
The hateful, destructive intentions of a being can be the only thing that is intrinsically evil without qualification, anything else is a tragic aftermath of that evil.