Conference: Moral evil in practical ethics

Past Event

21 January 2012, 10:45am 22 January 2012 - 5:30pm

University Club
11 Mansfield Road<br /> Oxford OX1 3SZ

This conference is hosted by the Institute for Science and Ethics

Moral Evil in Practical Ethics is an interdisciplinary international two-day conference organised by the Science and Religious Conflict Project Team, under the auspices of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, and kindly sponsored by The Mind Association and the Society for Applied Philosophy. The conference will examine and promote discussion of the role of evil as a moral concept in practical ethics, exploring its positive and negative implications to moral thought and practice.

The conference brings together the leading thinkers on evil in various disciplines and invites them to consider the relevance of the concept of evil to practical ethics. Nine papers will be presented followed by a discussion initiated by a designated commentator. Conference sessions will be recorded and will be made available to the public via the Science and Religious Conflict Project website. The conference is expected to result in lively and fruitful exchanges that will enhance our understanding of the subject and promote responsible references to evil, thereby advancing public debate while avoiding the demonization of the other.

Summary: Appeals to evil in public debate have often resulted in a corruption of rational discourse and the demonization of the other, deepening existing conflicts. With its religious overtones and implied absolutism, the concept of evil seems ill-suited to advancing public discourse and pro-social relations in a liberal democracy, as evidenced by its use in the abortion debate. International relations have also suffered from references to an ‘axis of evil.’ Recently, however, some philosophers have begun reconceptualising evil within a secular, moral framework, using the idea of evil as the worst kind of immorality to inform and shape our responses to issues like torture, genocide and rape as a weapon of war. This suggests a constructive role for the concept of evil in practical ethics, notwithstanding its potential for abuse.


  • Gwen Ashead, Broadmoor Hospital
  • Claudia Card, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Dr Steve Clarke, James Martin Fellow, Institute for Science and Ethics
  • Eve Garrard, University of Manchester
  • Shlomit Harrosh, University of Oxford
  • John Kekes, University of Albany
  • Robin May Schott, Danish Institute for International Studies
  • Arne Johan Vetlesen, University of Oslo
  • Alan Wolfe, Boston College

Registration: Places at the conference are free, but strictly limited. Please email with the subject "MEPE Registration" to book a place.