Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 330
"Wickedness: A Philosophical Essay," written by British philosopher Mary Midgley (born Mary Scrutton), is a psychological and philosophical exploration of the nature of evil and "wickedness"—what Midgley defines as "intentionally doing acts that are wrong."
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Since "Wickedness" is an essay, and not a novel or a play, for instance, there are no "characters." In a novel or play, the characters stand apart from the author or playwright as separate entities or personas who drive the story forward. No such entities or personas appears in "Wickedness." Although Midgley refers to many real and fictional people in her essay, none of those individuals drive the story forward. In fact, "Wickedness" has no story, so there's nothing for characters to drive forward!
It might be argued, however, that the author discusses wickedness as a character trait, in the sense of a mental or moral quality that is distinctive to an individual and which contributes to or even defines that individual's character.
Adolph Hitler has been described as "the personification of evil," "pure evil," and "a monster." More than anything else, and in spite of any positive qualities he might have had, wickedness is the defining element of Hitler's character. Some people would argue that Hitler didn't have any positive qualities and that everything he did was motivated by his evil character. He did what he did because he was simply evil.
In "Wickedness," Midgley argues that "nothing has one sole cause." She believes that a capacity for wickedness is an intrinsic and inevitable part of human nature and human existence, whether the wickedness arises from an individual's basic psychological attributes; is a product of external social, cultural, or other environmental influences; or both. In other words, a capacity for wickedness is a part of each of our characters.
Nevertheless, although we might consider some people purely evil or wicked characters, like the "bad guys" in video games and television and movie Westerns and horror movies, there are no such characters in "Wickedness."