Evil as a social action

Yuki Nakamura*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper explores how to theoretically transcend the division that exists between nonautonomous and autonomous evil. Evil in the context of this paper is a social action that harms others against their will. Traditional social theory has explained the evil in modernity as a pathology or as the result of the organizational and bureaucratic structures of society that was beyond the agency of individuals. The concepts of nonautonomous and autonomous evil developed by John Kekes are used to clarify the types of evil as a social action. It follows that structural processes that entail agency can also be applied to unify the different approaches given to evil and fill the misleading gap that exists between nonautonomous and autonomous evil. Regardless of the event or the perpetrator, evil is agency-driven and is always composed of both nonautonomous and autonomous evil. What differs is the degree of nonautonomous or autonomous evil in the social action. It shows that evil is an important part of agency regardless of the agent’s awareness of the evil that actions entail within modernity, and it is therefore the task of social theory to shed light on its social processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)46-58
Number of pages13
JournalThesis Eleven
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Feb 1
Externally publishedYes


  • agency
  • autonomous evil
  • nonautonomous evil

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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