Follow TV Tropes


What Is Evil?

Go To

"Lord Voldemort showed me the truth. There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it."

When called to the carpet for their nefarious actions by the heroes, certain villains will pull the Moral Relativism card and ask some form of this Armor-Piercing Question. After all, if they don't subscribe to the same moral compass as the protagonist, and too many people in everyday life have come to use such loaded terms like "evil", "an abomination", and "Hitler/Nazi/Fascist" to simply mean "scary" or "anything I don't like", who's to say which one of them is really the bad guy?

Characters have all sorts of reasons for bringing up the subjectivity of morality - perhaps they are the Constantly Curious Philosopher who wants to get to the bottom of things; perhaps they are The Fettered, acutely aware of the difficulty and complexity of their quest, moral hazards included; and then perhaps they are trying to fundamentally shake some kind of hero who believes themselves to be acting in the name of absolute good. This last flavor is by far the most common, and is a favorite tactic of the Straw Nihilist, the Card-Carrying Villain, The Unfettered, and Übermensch who adheres to Blue-and-Orange Morality and believes himself Above Good and Evil.

On the surface at least, "What is Evil" is a stressingly valid point. Philosophers of morality have, for centuries, struggled with the apparently impossible challenge of objectively proving a "should", even as most of us deeply believe that, say, murdering innocent children is objectively wrong. Typically, heroes tend to cling to that exact deep conviction; they don't care for arguing about moral relativism, much like real-life people who see themselves as morally in the right don't care for it. You could say that this has resulted from aeons of evolutionary pressure on heroes: the ones who stopped to think out the moral conundrums got killed by the Card-Carrying Villain who realized they could use this to Logic Bomb heroes. Meanwhile, the heroes who refused to give in to the villain's nihilism, either out of boneheadedness, or out of a belief that fighting for what you believe in is a worthy enough goal, persevered. Out-of-universe, the typical lack of moral ambiguity in hero/villain conflict may be attributable to writers just not wanting to waste any effort on that issue, for either ideological or pragmatic reasons.

See also Hannibal Lecture, Well-Intentioned Extremist, Tautological Templar, Written by the Winners, The Golden Rule, and Not So Similar. Frequently combined with Above Good and Evil and (for the illogical) Bad Is Good and Good Is Bad.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Bleach: Inverted, in a way. When Kaname Tosen hollowfies, his friend Komamura says that he thought that Tosen's ultimate virtue was justice. Tosen replies that it he does in fact actively seek justice. "But what is justice?!!"
  • Buso Renkin: Papillon questions whether he or Tokiko is the evil one when he only killed in an attempt to prolong his own life while she kills a humonculus after telling it that it would feel the pain of hell before it dies.
    "Oh my, it begs the question, which of us is the truly evil one"
  • The lyrics to the ending theme song to the second half of the R2 arc of Code Geass are basically an exposition on this very question about what evil and justice are. Appropriately enough, the entire series sets out to answer this very question.
    An impure world made of demons, then what is justice? Endure before you question, you wicked flower
    Dream of hypocrisy, stare at those wary eyes. Purities and faults, no longer discernible
    The light fades, and like a babe, you sleep within the womb of darkness. Solitude is your true love, perhaps your only ally
    Each and every one of you, bathed in blood, born into these times. O chosen princes, fighting composes your banquet
    Ahh, I am the all-beautiful and omnipotent, mother of love, who gave birth to you. Yet are my breasts nourishing brethren of Hell?
    The mark of revelations, what then is the truth behind it? You do not even attempt to fathom and bury them, the seeds of hidden deeds
    Double-edged sword, draw your sword at the sword directed at you. And only believe in what you need to protect
    Release yourself as the way you are...
  • The series Death Note features a protagonist who eliminates evil... by using a magic notebook that causes anyone whose name is written in it to die. He ultimately wants to turn the world into a crime-free utopia and believes anything he does is justified by his noble goal. The main antagonist is a world-famous detective determined to get to the bottom of a suspicious rash of unexplained deaths, and he realizes it's all the work of a supernaturally prolific serial killer who must be stopped at all costs. Both claim to be motivated by a strong sense of justice. Though Word of God says L is actually not motivated by justice at all, he is nonetheless the more heroic of the two, because Kira is hanging out in the deep end of the Knight Templar pool.
  • In Reincarnated as a Sword, the protagonist, an unremarkable 40+ Japanese man reincarnated into blood-thirsty sword, often stops to wonder if his actions, and those of his wielder, Fran, are morally upright when he notices that the "good" people of the new world he's in are identical to those of the "evil" races, in methods, tactics, and motivations. While the question is never answered, in-universe, such musings are quickly put aside when a Card-Carrying Villain gets designated as the "champion" of said "evil" races, either by the villain itself, or by the "evil" races in question.
  • Mazinger Z: In the manga version penned by Gosaku Ota, Baron Ashura kidnaps Kouji Kabuto and suggests him joining him/her. When Kouji states he has no interest in serving a criminal, Ashura gets indignant, and angrily utters "good" and "evil" are nothing but concepts made up by humans, and the only true rules that exist in the world are the law of the jungle and the survival of the fittest.
  • My Hero Academia: Stated by Tomura Shigaraki in the USJ Arc where he gives a speech to All Might about how he thinks there is hypocrisy in some violent people being labeled as "Heroes" while other violent people are labeled as "Villains". Performed while he's leading a terrorist attack on a school. Taken to task in a review by Bennett the Sage:
    Bennett: I'm sorry, but if you're gonna use the old chestnut of [squeaky voice] "from my point of view, your actions are evil!", maybe you don't call yourselves "the League of 'Villains?'"
    • In this case, the motive seems to be that he's a Psychopathic Manchild who was simply raised to believe this and hasn't thought his own philosophy through yet.
  • My Hero Academia: Vigilantes: Doesn't come up that much more often, but some backstory to the world is fleshed out a bit more. There's in fact a university student studying the question of why and how the initial wave of superpowered celebrities (in the United States, which pioneered the social systems adopted by the rest of the world) got officially labeled as "heroes" free to use their powers in public and act towards the public good or "villains" who needed to be suppressed or imprisoned to keep society running.
  • When Pain fights Naruto, he genuinely believes that his terrorist activities, and killing Naruto, will lead to something at least vaguely resembling world peace. When he gets called out for being evil not only does he give a sob story about how life made him as screwed up as he is he poses a simple question. What's Naruto's plan for peace besides killing him now that he's won their fight? To which our hero responds that he doesn't have a plan, but despite the fact that he can't forgive what Pain has done, he's decided to break from the cycle of violence by not killing him.
  • In Saint Seiya, Virgo Shaka invokes this when Ikki asks him why is he fighting for the Pope. He is just serving what he considers justice, and there's more than one justice according to him.
  • When confronted by the Pharaoh's court in Yu-Gi-Oh! and called evil, Thief King Bakura asks if following their rules would automatically make him good. As the court in question sacrificed his entire home village to make the Millennium Items, he has a point.

    Comic Books 
  • In her Swamp Thing series, Tefe Holland (already a a cold-blooded murderer several times over) comes to believe that good and evil are entirely relative, and she'll have no part in either side. Then, in the next series, she spends some quality time with her great-uncle Anton...
  • Eric Forster of A God Somewhere justifies his escalating acts of violence by proclaiming that the idea of wrong "is just a word people made up" and "It has nothing to do with the real world."
  • Batman: In the Joker's Asylum story "The Joker's Mild", the Joker takes over a game show and threatens the contestants with "penalties" if they fail to answer his (impossibly obscure) questions. The penalties turn out to be harmless novelty pranks like a spray of ginger ale from the Joker's lapel flower. His real target is the producer, who has been practically drooling over the ratings bonanza and instructing his people to stall the police... all of which the Joker is secretly broadcasting as part of the show. The story ends with the Joker asking which is the real monster: him, the producer, or the audience watching at home?

    Fan Works 
  • The Good Hunter: Discussed in the Wild Hunt. Sierra is presented a question by the Wandering Scholar on whether Cyril Sutherland, the very Hunter who has shed much blood, is evil. She replies that if he were truly evil, the two of them wouldn't even be alive at the moment.
  • Briefly referenced by the skahs in The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World. Since they are people of Blue-and-Orange Morality who explicitly do not have the words 'good' and 'evil' in their vocabulary, they are singularly unimpressed when people tell them they're being good or evil:
    Q: How do you feel knowing there are good and evil in the world now?
    A: Those are meaningless outworlder words. Sometimes the outworlders tell us we're being good or evil when we do certain things. Who cares? We don't listen when they say those stupid things.
  • Brick asks Blossom this word-for-word in the fanfiction More Than Human. The actual debate they have, however, is never shown.
  • In the Batman: Dark Knight fanfic ''A Piece of Glass, the Original Character Breech Loader repeatedly comments on how sanity is a case of which side of the glass you are on, and on how concepts like Good and Evil are largely redundant thanks to relying on points of view. While the Joker doesn't fully agree with her, he is clearly amused by her reasoning enough not to kill her.
  • Discussed in Chapter 36 of Pokémon Reset Bloodlines. The Bloodline Prince strongly believes that good and evil are relative to each person and culture, and points out that Trainers see Rangers as evil and viceversa due to their conflict over their opposing philosophies. His Perky Female Minion Hilda considers that he (the Prince) isn't evil, but his father the Bloodline King definitely is.
  • In the Blood+ fic Waking Dream, Reeve Roswell outright tells Saya that, as far as he's concerned, there's no such thing as good or evil in the real world, just opposing sides, and that if there was such a thing as evil, then it would be the Red Shield themselves, considering the fact that they keep hounding Diva everywhere she goes without giving her a chance to be happy or try to make up for her mistakes, as well as the fact that Red Shield agents shot his best friend Nathan, who had nothing to do with their war on chiropterans, dead in cold blood. This revelation ends up destroying Saya's faith in the Red Shield, causing her to leave the organization shortly afterwards.
  • White Sheep (RWBY): Played for Laughs. When Cinder is bringing Jaune to a meeting with Adam, she says something that makes Jaune realize that Adam is most likely evil. She tries to cover with this trope, but he doesn't buy it.
    Cinder: The world is not so black and white. It is made of a thousand different shades of grey.
    Jaune: And I'm guessing he's a particularly dark shade, right?

    Films — Animation 
  • The scene with Satan from The Adventures of Mark Twain:
    Satan: I can do no wrong, for I do not know what it is.
  • Big Bad Mok in Rock and Rule attempts to allay Zip's concerns about whether it's right to raise a demon during a rock concert with "Remember Zip. 'Evil' spelled backwards is 'live' — and we ALL want to do that!"
  • In South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, Satan sings "What is Evil anyway?/Is there reason to the rhyme?/Without Evil there can be no Good/So it must be good to be evil sometimes..." Of course, on an Evil Scale of 1 to Cartman, Satan in South Park falls somewhere shy of Kyle's mom, Saddam Hussein and... Eric Cartman.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Angel Heart: Ethan invokes the trope during his argument with Harry. It's subverted when Ethan then brags about how Johnny summoned the Devil to sell his soul, and how glorious it was.
    Harry: Black magic.
    Ethan: [dismissively] Black, white, what difference does it make? [Beat] Margaret was always...
    Harry: Evil.
    Ethan: [Suddenly Shouting] Evil is a dunghill, Mr. Angel! Everyone gets on his own and speaks out about someone else's.
  • Done by Ash in Army of Darkness (after shooting his Evil Twin in the face with his boomstick).
    Evil Ash: I'm bad Ash... and you're good Ash! You're a goody little two-shoes! Little goody two-shoes! Little goody two-shoes! [punches Ash] Little goody two-shoes! [punch] Little goody two sho—*BOOM!*
    Ash: [standing over his smoking corpse] Good. Bad. I'm the guy with the gun.
    • In the director's cut, he's much more direct.
      Ash: I ain't that good.
  • In A Clockwork Orange when Alex's uncle speaks to him of right and wrong, Alex replies: "Come now, you know that's just a matter of words."
  • In M, Serial Killer Hans Beckert is pursued by the city's criminal underworld, because the intensive police manhunt is interfering with their business and because they resent police inquiries that imply that they might be associated with a child murderer. When they conduct a mock trial of Beckert, he attacks their sense of moral superiority, declaring that he does what he does because he's haunted by unwanted compulsions that he can't resist, while they do what they do because they freely chose crime instead of honest work.
  • In Monsieur Verdoux, the title character is a polygamist and Serial Killer who marries and murders unpleasant wealthy women in order to care for his beloved invalid wife and child. At the end, when he's sentenced to death, he gives a speech about how his actions aren't so different from those of the world's governments, while they've killed far more than him, and closes by promising that "I shall see you all very soon."
  • Star Wars
    • Revenge of the Sith contains some examples. "From my point of view, the Jedi are evil" relates back to an earlier conversation Anakin had with Palpatine:
      Anakin: The Jedi use their power for good.
      Palpatine: Good is a point of view, Anakin.
    • Anakin uses this argument to justify waltzing into the Jedi Temple and killing all the children. We had already seen that Anakin was perfectly willing to kill indiscriminately if he believed his opponents were truly evil, even before his fall. Once he believed that the Jedi cared only about power, he could justify doing whatever he wanted in pursuit of that same end. Anakin ends up being a surprisingly well-done example of how this trope can cause not-really-all-that-evil people to jump off the deep end.
  • In Vampire in Brooklyn, Maximillian impersonates Preacher Pauly and makes a hilarious yet surprisingly convincing argument that evil is necessary to appreciate good, to the point that everyone ends up singing "Ass and evil is goooood!".
  • In Superdome, Lainie Wiley seduces married man Mike Shelly with a speech about the meaningless of morality, telling him "If it feels good, do it!" No surprise that she's the murderer.

  • In Animorphs, this is frequently brought up regarding the Yeerks. The Yeerk pools can sustain them indefinitely, so long as they're on their home world and exposed to the natural radiation of their sun, but living without hosts is basically an And I Must Scream situation for the Yeerks. (You try being an intelligent sentient creature trapped in the body of a blind, limbless slug that can do nothing but survive for all its life.) Are Yeerks evil because they fulfill their natural function? If that's the case, are humans evil for killing animals for meat? While the Yeerks do need hosts, they don't need to dominate said hosts and are perfectly capable of sharing control of the body.
    • It is only mentioned briefly, but apparently Yeerks also despoil the worlds they conquer, exterminating all species they deem unnecessary and leaving only those they can use as hosts and their foodstuf. That sounds quite evil.
  • In Interview with the Vampire, Lestat puts it succinctly: "Evil is just a point of view."
  • Quirrell's argument to Harry Potter in the first novel, as shown in the quote on the top of this page. In the film adaptation, this speech is instead given by Lord Voldemort himself.
  • A question that plagues the titular character in Huckleberry Finn as he can't reconcile his personal morality with what his deep southern society considers "good and God-fearing." Ultimately he decides to rebel, actively rejecting the moral constraints of the South in favor of treating his friend Jim as a person.
  • In Graham Greene's The Third Man, the Affably Evil Harry Lime has sold diluted penicillin on the black market, causing many people to die horribly who had believed they were being treated. He famously justifies these actions on a Ferris wheel by pointing to all of the "dots" (people) on the ground below and argues that if there were a financial incentive for rubbing them out, everyone's actions would ultimately just be quibbling over how many dots they were willing to kill before feeling bad about it. Also, Greene was rather a Writer on Board about putting references to Catholicism in his writings, and so has Lime who is Catholic remark that his actions aren't harming anyone's soul and might even be a good deed by sending them to Heaven faster.
  • In Bakker's Second Apocalypse Kellhus claims that ruthlessly using and discarding other people for his personal advantage is all right since the people being manipulated are only slaves to circumstance anyway, so it doesn't really matter if they are his slaves instead.
  • Jacen Solo from the Star Wars Expanded Universe was taught by a Jedi named Vergere a moral philosophy that rejected traditional notions of the Light and Dark side of the Force. She preferred to think of the Force as impartial and actions a reflection of one's self. This idea spread throughout the Jedi in a more "There is no light or dark side" form until, several books later, the Order was becoming quite aggressive. Luke finally got around to putting down the idea, though Jacen still followed it. Later, it was then retconned that Vergere was actually teaching Sith philosophy, thus robbing Jacen of all his credibility.
  • Discworld
    • As Lord Vetinari says: "I believe you find life such a problem because you think there are the good people and the bad people. You're wrong, of course. There are, always and only, the bad people, but some of them are on opposite sides." Unusually for this trope, he's on the same side as the hero. Or at least, Vetinari is more on the side of his city (and the people in it). He isn't really on the same side as the heroes, he just keeps them on the city payroll because they dislike some of the same things he does, and most pertinently because they help keep the city running.
    • Vimes said something like, "He had heard that good and evil were a matter of perspective, though of course this sort of thing was only said by people in the category traditionally considered 'evil'", in The Fifth Elephant.
    • Defied in Carpe Jugulum by Granny Weatherwax, who flatly states that sin is "when you treat people as things" and that anyone who claims otherwise is afraid of what they'd find in themselves if they faced the truth.
  • The first Lord Peter Wimsey novel, Whose Body? has the murderer express a philosophy devoted to this sentiment in a letter he sends to Peter. The character, a Straw Nihilist, views morality as a weakness and hopes for a future in which humans will be cured of guilt and thus in the state he sees as being before the Fall. The letter also somewhat subverts the Motive Rant, since it states quite clearly that ultimately, his only motive was trying to commit the perfect murder.
  • Amazingly enough, the fallen preacher Jim Casy in The Grapes of Wrath is a heroic example. Having discarded his previous, conventional ethical system, he builds a new one, and ideally the reader is to sympathize with him. (For the curious, he keeps all the stuff about not hurting other people, but he now accepts radical farmers' populism and such.)
  • From the Humanx Commonwealth universe, in the novel Bloodhype, the Vom is an Eldritch Abomination that travels from planet to planet on the backs of Mind Controlled sentient beings, devouring all life it encounters. During its battle with the Tar-Aiym Guardian and Flinx, it engages in a telepathic conversation with them in which it attempts to rationalize its actions with this exact trope. Their answer: "You're what is traditionally defined as evil, and since we can't reconcile with you, you must die."
  • A major theme of Gregory Maguire's Wicked. Near the end of the book, Elphaba attends a dinner party where the guests discuss the meaning of evil, some claiming things like the absence of good, others the moral choice of vice over virtue, or the act of vice over virtue, the suppression of all desires, an attribute like beauty, a presence in the world, feeling guilty after an act, or the lack of guilt after an act, etcetera. Elphaba maintains that it's the nature of evil to be secret.
  • Nicodemus in The Dresden Files tries to play this card. But, seeing as he treats the Moral Event Horizon as a guideline... yeah. Harry tells him to shove it.
    • Bob also has a problem with the whole morality thing. In his case it's more justified, since he is a spirit embodying pure intellect, so things like faith, emotion and ethics are simply not part of his nature.
  • Discussed by Gus in an early chapter of The Faraway Paladin. Gus observes that Volt, god of lightning, is worshipped as a deity of justice and public order and his brother the War God Illtreat is feared as a figure of chaos, but then notes that Illtreat also supports revolutions against corrupt and unjust systems where Volt works to uphold them. He concludes that, contrary to the conventional teachings of the world's religion, the gods run on Blue-and-Orange Morality and that the actual "good" ones are those whose ways of thinking don't pose a threat to mortals. This is borne out in the series: even one of its primary villains, Stagnate the god of undeath, is a Well-Intentioned Extremist who wants to free people from having to watch their loved ones die.
  • The Arisians of E.E "Doc" Smith's Lensman series deliver the same soliloquy to the heroes (whom they aid and ally with) and the villains (some of whom they permit to live when they invade Arisian space): there is no good and evil as such, but the Arisians have a strongly live-and-let-live libertarian philosophy (the greatest personal liberty consistent with a functional society) and are offended by the Boskonian philosophy of dystopian dictatorship.
  • MARZENA loves this trope. Is Marian evil? Is Tresisda evil? Are CUBES evil? According to Anika, the only true evil are pure chaos and people with a short attention span.
  • Morgra from The Sight loves using this on Huttser whenever he starts calling her evil. His mate Palla actually sympathizes with the moral relativism, though, especially since she and Morgra are sisters and she knows her backstory.
  • Used to great effect in The Sword of Good. Hirou is told that he's required to choose between Good and Evil in the final confrontation, which he assumes will be done by the Dark Lord trying to tempt him; he thinks it's stupid because he's determined to choose Good no matter what. In the end, the choice isn't so much "good or evil" as "which side do you think is good and which one is evil?", and Hirou realizes that his heroic compatriots aren't so squeaky-clean after all...
  • The creators of Nightblood in Warbreaker made it to destroy evil. They failed to realize that a sword would have no concept of what evil actually is.
  • The Marquis de Sade in his writings (either directly or through various characters) often argued morals were relative or simply illusions to justify murdering, raping and torturing people. It didn't stop him (or them) often complaining that others were cruelly oppressing them by not allowing this (which, if this was true, wouldn't itself be wrong in any real sense of course, rendering this pretty hollow).
  • Elmer C. Albatross of Baccano! is a rare positive example. He's kind and charitable to everyone, since he doesn't see any inherent meaning or morality in the universe.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Happens in day four of the show, 24.
    Habib Marwan: Besides, your President sees me in only one dimension. Evil.
    Jack Bauer: As you see us?
    Marwan: Yes. And vulnerable.
  • One episode of Murder, She Wrote uses the "I'm just in it for the money" subversion.
  • The Black Guardian in Doctor Who justifies outright lying to Turlough about the Doctor being evil: "Your evil is my good." An earlier story had Sutekh use those exact same words toward the Doctor. Bilis Manger also uses those words in the Torchwood novel The Twilight Streets. It's a Shout-Out to John Milton's Paradise Lost.
  • In "Prescription: Murder", the Columbo pilot, Columbo has a drink with the killer, a psychiatrist, in his office and he asks him to come up with a profile for a "theoretical" premeditated murderer. The killer explains that this man is probably smart, well-educated, even courageous for having the nerve to go through with murder. When Columbo points out that, despite how admirable he may appear in those respects, he is still a murderer and may even be insane, the murderer asks why, just because he committed an immoral act, that makes him insane, and goes on to say that morals are relative and conditioned, and that even if murder was repugnant to the killer, if it was his only solution to his problems then it is just pragmatic to go through with it. Of course, when asked by Columbo how do you catch such a man, he replies, "You don't".
  • The argument pops up on occasion in Stargate Atlantis, in regards to the Wraith. Humans cannot coexist with the Wraith, because the Wraith eat humans. However, the Wraith can only eat humans: there is no other source of sustenance for them. Are the Wraith really evil then, if they are simply trying to survive and not starve? A running subplot in the series is the Atlantis expedition's attempt to create a retrovirus that will enable the Wraith to digest ordinary food, removing their need to feed on humans. By the end of the series, a small set of Wraith are willing to try it, if it means peaceful coexistence, but the retrovirus still isn't quite ready.

  • Paul and Storm's song "Live" (done in the style of Jonathan Coulton) is about a lonely Mad Scientist ("The perfect girl / It seems was just too hard to find / So I had to make her ... "). When the mob comes with Torches and Pitchforks, the scientist says:
    They call me a monster
    For making a monster
    But what is a monster, anyway?
    Someone frightening the mob?
    Someone playing God?
    Or is it someone who's too scared to understand,
    And so they stand in love's way?

    Tabletop Games 
  • Pathfinder has the ostiarius kytons, shadowy Cenobite-types whose specialty is—in a world where good and evil are firm, concrete things—to try and convince people that the borders of "good" and "evil" are inconstant, arbitrary things based on what the gods find squicky, and thus it's totally okay if you want to get flayed and experience true ecstasy.
    • The Satanic Archetype god Asmodeus is fond of pointing out the effects of society changing on this kind of thing. It was his Lawful Evil style of Might Makes Right within a rigid hierarchy that was considered good and just, back before his (now deceased) Good Counterpart started creating mortal beings with "free will". He's confident the pendulum will eventually swing his way again
  • The Planescape sourcebook Faces of Evil: The Fiends opens with a pair of philosophers having an in-universe argument over what it means to be evil. The book, of course, then proceeds to show what evil really is as it documents the various types of fiends that live in the Lower Planes, focusing more on their personalities and goals than their physical traits.

  • Jesus Christ Superstar: "But what is truth? Is yours the same as mine?" Possibly a subversion, as Pilate's argument can be The War on Straw or an Only Sane Man moment, depending on the production.
  • The Brewster aunts in Arsenic and Old Lace might qualify as a humorous example as they sincerely believe they are doing good by killing lonely old men, allowing them a pleasant death comfortably drinking their famous elderberry wine, and ironically view their nephew Mortimer as the black sheep of the family given his Deadpan Snarker attitude (it should also be noted that their other nephew, Jonathan, is Ax-Crazy).

    Video Games 
  • The villains of Assassin's Creed, being literal Knight Templar types, do this all the time, calling Altair's motives for taking them down into question. Although Altair has a tendency to pull the "What Is Evil?" card himself. However, on average per each game, there is one asshole within the Templars who is only paying lip service so they can murder innocents and wreak havoc For the Evulz. Nobody questions the morality of stabbing these psychopaths to death.
  • Yggdrassil pulls this on Lloyd during a Hannibal Lecture in Tales of Symphonia, claiming his genocidal and world-shattering shenanigans in the name of eliminating discrimination is just the same as Lloyd choosing Colette's life over Sylvarant's restoration at the end of the Journey of Regeneration. The party's eventual response to this is that at least Lloyd is trying to find a way to Save Both Worlds that doesn't involve intentional loss of innocent life.
  • Star Control II
    • An optional conversation lets you attempt to force the Always Lawful Evil Ilwrath into admitting that they are — at least by their own standards — actually good. While this does confuse them a bit and irritates them enough to immediately attack you with an inexhaustible force of fighting ships, the argument makes it clear that you're defining evil as "societal deviance", while they're defining evil as "hurting other people". It's more Rule of Funny than anything else.
      PC: But 'evil' is that which is morally bad or wrong. And if your actions are judged by your society as correct, aren't you, in fact, good?
      Ilwrath captain: Hmmm... We ARE All Evil. We All Behave In A Mutually Agreed-Upon Fashion Of Murder, Torture, Deceit And So Forth. Our Uniform Acceptance Of This Heinous Credo Creates An Orderly And Cooperative Society Which Hardly Seems Evil. Evil Is Doing Things That Make Others Hurt Or Fear. We ALL Do That, Of Course. But Since We ALL Do Such Things, As Sanctioned By Our Culture, It Would Be 'Bad' To Do Otherwise. Which Means... Er... Puny Hu-Man, Do Not Play With Words! You Anger Both Dogar And Kazon! Now You Must Die!
    • Pulled by Ur-Quan Kzer-Za (and Kohr-Ah) to certain point. When players first meet Kzer-Za and tells them they are evil, they point out that they are effectively forcing your race from killing themselves, as they have seen in past have prevented Thraddash from doing. Kohr-Ah, on the other hand, point that they don't try to wipe galaxy out of all life because it's fun/evil, but because they feel it's only way they can live.
      Kohr-Ah captain: Yes, you are not an enemy. We have no enemies. Today, you are nothing. Just... a spore. A Seed. If allowed to blossom, you might, one day, be threat to our freedom and security. That's why we cleanse.
  • Mega Man Zero 4: At the end, the human Dr. Weil claims that a heroic robot like Zero could never kill a human. Unfortunately for Weil, Zero doesn't consider himself a hero. Cue boss music! Hell, at that point Zero barely considers Weil "human". Things were not going to end well for Weil. Or, to say it more accurately, Weil revealed that he was a human because all reploids received programming which made it impossible for them to willingly hurt humans (which is why they were considered "heroes"). But because reploids were copies of Light's X (programming-wise, they had different configurations and lacked the conscience simulation X went through) and Zero wasn't a reploid but rather something Wily created as counter to Light's last creation, he did not have such programming and thus could choose the "evil" of killing Weil, a human, in order to stop him. This is also why he doesn't consider himself a hero (because he's the only "reploid" who can really fight for his own reason, outside of X who is already dead), and there are also his past experiences which left him thoroughly broken in regards to "heroism" (he had repeatedly been a trigger for conflicts, and his mere presence resulted in many people and reploids dying).
  • Advance Wars: Days of Ruin: Caulder/Stolos does this when he starts lecturing protagonist Will/Ed about how the nature of society (and his apprenticeship under Brenner/O'Brian) has brainwashed him into conforming to a flawed set of ethics, and what a wonderful thing this ruined world is for allowing people to make up their own minds. Of course, since Caulder/Stolos is the sort of person who could — and probably wouldcreate an experiment to test the effects of orbital reentry on cute kittens For Science!, Will/Ed isn't convinced for a second. And that would be tame for Caulder. He created a friggin' pandemic just to see how humanity would respond (answer: panicking a lot and getting themselves killed.) Even after Caulder's speech about the "purity" of his motives, it isn't hard to see how Will could honestly claim the moral high ground. Hell, even Waylon would probably think Caulder was nuts.
  • Towards the end of the first act of Final Fantasy VIII, as the party prepares to assassinate the sorceress, Irvine comments to Squall about how evil she is. Mulling over the idea, Squall goes into an internal monologue in which he expresses his belief that "good" and "evil" are purely constructs of one's point of view, excuses each side of a conflict uses to justify fighting the opposing side. It's one of the more interesting revelations into his thought process. Although given that Irvine knows that the Sorceress is matron Edea Kramer, his de facto mother-surrogate, whom everyone else seems to have forgotten, he might just be trying to build up some self-justification to psyche himself for the deed.
  • Tomb Raider (2013): Near the end of the game, Mathias insists that he and Lara aren't that different, since they both have committed morally questionable actions and killed numerous people since being trapped on the island, declaring that there are no heroes on Yamatai, only survivors. Of course, he leaves out the evil things he's done that she hasn't, so it doesn't really hold water.
  • Knights of the Old Republic: Kreia is all over this trope. She's rather up-front about how she's manipulating you and everyone else. She lampshades, openly mocks, and ridicules the morality constructions of both the GFFA and CRPGs. She openly expresses disgust with the very idea of "Light" and "Dark" sides of the Force, and especially the Force itself.
    Kreia: What do you wish to hear? That I once believed in the code of the Jedi? That I felt the call of the Sith, that perhaps, once, I held the galaxy by its throat? That for every good work that I did, I brought equal harm upon the galaxy? That perhaps the greatest of the Sith Lords knew of evil, they learned from me?
  • In the pure good ending in BioShock 2, Eleanor says to Delta that "You taught me that 'evil' is just a word. Under the skin, it's simple pain." Of course, this is the pure good route, saving everyone including the Alex-in-a-Jar, and Eleanor goes on to save Sophia and lovingly absorb Delta as her 'conscience,' with the Little Sisters by her sides.
    • Subverted in any ending you harvest Little Sisters for profit, where she embraces evil wholeheartedlynote , and if you save the Little Sisters and kill everyone else, where she becomes convinced of Good and Evil and kills off her mother for her crimes against humanity, but keeps her morality otherwise.
  • Castlevania: Symphony of the Night:
    • In the following much-immortalized exchange between Dracula and Richter Belmont, the infamous Big Bad points out just how humanity as a whole aren't better than him:
      Richter: Die monster! You don't belong in this world!
      Dracula: It was not my hand that I am once again given flesh. I was called here by humans, who wish to pay ME tribute.
      Richter: Tribute? You steal men's souls, and make them your slaves!
      Dracula: Perhaps the same could be said of all religions.
      Richter: Your words are as empty as your soul! Mankind ill needs a savior such as you.
      Dracula: What is a man? A miserable little pile of secrets! But enough talk, have at you!
    • The last sentence is better phrased in the PSP Remake:
      Dracula: Ha! Mankind. A cesspit of hatred and lies. Fight for them, then, and die for their sins!
    • The question is directly asked by Dracula in the Rondo of Blood version:
      Richter: Of all the self-serving claptrap! The same basic faith drives all people to seek, to come together, to move forward! That, surely, can't be an evil thing!
      Dracula: And yet, here I am. Do you not have any desires?
      Richter: Well...
      Dracula: It is by your desires that you humans prosper, and it is your faith that has ruled you! Considering that, can you really call me evil?
  • The Elder Scrolls has series recurring villain Mannimarco, the "King of Worms" Lich/Necromancer. He has long defended Necromancy (as well as the other Dark Arts he practices) as an act which isn't inherently evil. He also argues that good and evil are "manifestations of the same thing". Given that he is a prideful Smug Snake who has committed untold atrocities throughout Tamriel over the course of many centuries, his arguments usually ring hollow.

    Visual Novels 
  • Used bigtime by Kotomine in Fate/stay night in the final route. Oddly enough, he himself does have the same moral compass as the good guys, despite evil feeling good to him. However, he argues that the Fetus Terrible that will destroy the world when it's born may or may not have the same morals and should be given the chance to explain itself before being judged. After it destroys the world of course. The hero's response can be summed up as "Huh? What are you talking about? I'm just trying to save my girlfriend."

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY: In "Alone Together," Blake has a confrontation with her Evil Former Friend Ilia, who is firmly convinced that the White Fang's methods are the only way to achieve equality. When Blake demands to know how Ilia can possibly think that attacking innocent people is the right thing to do, Ilia retorts that there's no such thing as innocents or "the right thing to do". She dismisses humans as either being those who hate Faunus or those who let the hate happen, and all that matters is what's best for the Faunus.
    Ilia: There's no such thing as innocent! There's no right thing to do! Only what's best for us!
  • Red vs. Blue:
    • Delta doesn't believe in good or evil. It's not that he is evil himself — though he does work with the villains for a while — he just doesn't see any value in such abstract concepts. He argues that everybody tries to pursue goals that they perceive as good, and therefore good and evil are just a matter of perspective. A fitting view for somebody who is literally made of logic.
    • Parodied in Season 15; Tucker, starting to suspect that the Blues and Reds are evil, straight up asks the Church-counterpart if they're bad guys. When Temple responds with "That's just a matter of perspective", Tucker gloats, "Ha! Got you! That's exactly what bad guys say!"

  • Stanley the Tool in Erfworld reacts to Parson calling his side "the bad guys" with a tirade in which he declares that the sides in war are not distinguished as "Good" and "Evil", that the "Nobility" likes to put on airs but they still rule through violence and fear. What there is is "Holy" and "Unholy" (i.e. the chosen of the Titans and those who try to defy their will) and their side happens to be the "Holy" one, which means destiny (or the plot) is on their side.
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Redcloak falls directly into Anti-Villain territory, and several times indicates that he only defines himself as Evil because he opposes those who define themselves as Good. He actually has the view that there are several ways of looking at the battle at hand, but that the side that defines itself most as Good, the Paladins, are the worst ones (not, of course, counting Xykon), not himself. Both sides here have a point: On the one hand the "Good" Paladins did kill almost everyone in Redcloak's village before the story. On the other hand, we are talking about a guy that killed and zombified his brother for the sake of his plan.
    • Tarquin's speech to Elan drives home the point that Tarquin views himself as an Übermensch who's Above Good and Evil. Elan isn't convinced: not only is Evil a known, quantifiable metaphysical force with its own afterlives in the setting, but Tarquin had just exposed himself as a cruel tyrant who genuinely doesn't understand that Elan doesn't want to watch prisoners burned alive for sport.
      "Son, labels like 'Good' and 'Evil' are just words. Words with many possible capitalizations. They are outdated concepts that do nothing but cause conflict. What I'm trying to do here is move beyond those ideas into a world where no one has any reason to fight one another. But you can't make an omelette without ruthlessly crushing dozens of eggs beneath your steel boot and then publicly disemboweling the chickens that laid them as a warning to others."
  • Comes up several times in Digger, via questions from the Shadowchild. Ed's thoughts on it boil down to, more or less, 'People do evil because the world isn't like it is in their own minds'. Eventually, Shadowchild correctly identifies an elder member of its species as evil: "She (Digger) said evil did not look like anything, or that it looked like a lot of things... but I think it looks a lot like you."
  • Cwen's Quest, for example:
    Demon: Pfff, what is evil? Evil is all subjective! What is evil I ask you?
    Riddly: Have you ever eaten the souls of children?
    Demon: It is total propaganda that all children are good and innocent. That is hardly an objective standard.
    Riddly: Alright, infants then?
    Demon: Only the ones that had it coming.
  • Karcharoth of Cry 'Havoc' asks this of Hati, claiming that good and evil are just different view points of the same action.
  • In Goblins, Big-Ears the goblin paladin effectively uses Smite Evil on the human actively trying to kill him, which might be a subtle prod at the Dungeons & Dragons alignment system. While it still worked (as did the Detect Evil spell he used on them to check first), there is no such thing as "always chaotic evil". Instead, the story is making a point about a group of nonevil goblins fighting a racist lawful evil society.
    • Of course, Big Ears himself defines evil as 'a willing incapacity of self-analyzing or understanding of all that horrible stuff you do so you can keep doing it more and pretend you're the good guy'. While shaky, he's adamant about how accurate that has applied to all of his Obliviously Evil torture-happy enemies so far.
    • Not helping matters is that Kore has managed to outright cheat the Alignment system by turning his own soul into a hellish afterlife and swapping his soul's alignment by using the souls he has devoured, which wouldn't be possible if evil was an absolute certainty.
  • The Dreamland Chronicles: Nicodemus:
    Nicodemus: Evil? Who is to say what is good and what is evil? Good to one may be considered evil to another.
  • Evil Diva: Loki's point of view.
  • Nip and Tuck: In response to Gilly Gopher's assertion of the Right/Wrong axis of this trope, Tuck gives a violently wooden response...
  • Parodied in Oglaf with the thaumaturge's belief that good and evil are relative, but being a dick is not allowed.

    Web Videos 
  • Parodied in solidjj's "Genocidal Spider-Man Is a Nice Guy", where alternative-universe Carnage-symbiote Spider-Man tries to make the original question which one of them is really evil. Since he's an Obviously Evil Omnicidal Maniac, it really doesn't work.

    Western Animation