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Are You a Bad Person If You Have Evil Thoughts?

Do you have intrusive thoughts? Does that make you a bad person? Risers’ ambassador, John writes his opinion about it. 

Have you ever thought to yourself while you were taking a hot shower or simply staring into space, “Does having evil thoughts make me a bad person?”

“What makes a person bad? What does it mean to be bad? And what’s a good person anyway?”

In this article we explore these universal questions together and hopefully arrive at an insightful picture of these concepts.

What does it mean to be good or bad?

Let’s look at the ‘bad’ first. Oxford suggests the word ‘bad’ means ‘failing to conform to standards of moral virtue or acceptable conduct’. Basically, if something doesn’t fit the standard of what’s good, then it’s bad. And in my opinion, the main idea of a moral virtue is to not harm anybody or yourself and ultimately be happy. 

Since the simple definition of bad is when something doesn’t fit the standard of what’s good, then the question lies, “What is good?” Oxford suggests that ‘good’ means ‘that which is morally right; righteousness’. Basically, if something is morally acceptable, it’s good. So, in order to know what’s good, we need to know what’s morally acceptable — what’s the moral standard? 

There are two different types of morally acceptable or ‘good’ behaviours — moral obligation and supererogation.

Moral obligation

Let’s say you’re in a store. A normal person won’t steal anything from the store because they were taught that stealing is bad. But, does not stealing anything make you a good person? No, it just makes you a regular human being because people don’t usually steal and you shouldn’t too. 

This is a social norm that everyone follows. From this example we can learn that a morally obligated act is abiding by the social norm. Not stealing doesn’t make you more good. It’s simply a normal behaviour to do. It’s an act or behaviour that follows a social norm

Supererogation

Then what's a morally supererogatory act? These actions typically make others give comments like, “You’re such a kind person.”, “You’ve made my day!”, “Thank you for doing this!”. These acts are usually not necessary and not done by everyone but are what makes you a ‘better’ person.

For instance, helping a disabled person crossing the road safely. Many might just walk past the disabled person if they’re rushing or are busy, but it doesn’t really make them a bad person. However, helping the disabled person get across safely (a morally supererogatory act) is deemed to be righteous and a good person. In simple terms, it’s doing extra morally acceptable acts than what’s considered a social norm. 

The Act of Thinking

Good or bad, to be either, you’ve to act on something because that’s what brings a real outcome and an impact to your surroundings. 

That said, thinking isn’t really doing but rather, it can be a cause of doing. And doing is a physical action which ultimately has a real outcome and a real impact on your surroundings. So, before one does a physical action, they’ve to think about doing it first. 

Here you might question, thinking often can’t be controlled which makes it arguable in a fatalistic way that physical action can’t be controlled and physical action can be controlled way more often than thinking. But, thinking can be partially controlled through an external help by rewiring the thought process of an individual to make them think less about a certain thought.

The definition of evil

Now, one more thing missing is to know what ‘evil thoughts’ mean.

Oxford suggests that evil is ‘profoundly immoral and wicked with potential or intentions to harm’. After knowing this definition, an important question to ask is, “Can thoughts be immoral?”

Personally, I think thoughts cannot be moral nor immoral as there’s no physical outcome that impacts your reality by simply thinking. They can exist in your head but cannot be immoral or moral themselves. Having hateful thoughts about someone doesn’t necessarily mean that it’ll lead to any harm as a morally kept person would be able to control themselves from acting out on their evil thoughts.

Let’s say you really despise a classmate and you may sub-consciously think to yourself, “I wish they’d burn in hell!”. The thought seemed evil and you would be if you actually burnt them, but if you didn’t, that wouldn’t make you a bad person!

What’s important is whether there was a true intention to harm someone or not. People with kleptomania have a strong irresistible urge to steal things, but do they intend to harm the person or steal because they want them to be miserable? No, it’s a form of impulse control disorder.

So, is it bad to have evil thoughts?

For a thought to be evil it has to be expressed in a form of speech, physical action, etc — any action that produces an outcome that negatively impacts the reality we live in. Thoughts become evil if it harms others or has breached the moral standard as an outcome.

Besides, being bad or good isn’t eternal. Being a bad person once doesn’t mean you can’t be good and are bad forever. If one realises and acknowledges the harm they’ve caused and reflects to improve themselves, they can become a good person.

To end, if you’re having evil thoughts, it doesn’t make you a bad person unless your thoughts  lead to actions that cause harm, which can imply harmful intentions were involved in the action. So, how often do you have bad thoughts? 

John Lee is currently pursuing A Levels at Taylor's College. He is also a BOD and a performer for Taylor’s Music Club.

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