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Life in itself is neither good nor evil. It is the place of good and evil, according to what you make it.

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    In itself, in and of itself, is an idiomatic turn of phrase and is itself more incisive than itself :) – Jimi Oke Jan 27 '11 at 4:32
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According to my dictionary (New Oxford American, 2e), the phrase in itself means

viewed in its essential qualities; considered separately from other things

Plug in this meaning into your sentence, and you will see why it makes sense the way it is. You may also come across the hackneyed in and of itself, which means the same thing, as in:

Life, in and of itself, is neither good nor evil…

Using only itself would also work, but then the emphasis on life would not be as strong and it would not have quite the same meaning:

Life itself is neither good nor evil.

Itself merely functions as a pronoun for emphasis. In itself, however, adds more depth, as it specifically indicates the subject is being deliberately considered in all its possible ramifications.

| improve this answer | |
  • @lovespring: anytime! – Jimi Oke Jan 27 '11 at 17:19
  • Would that mean that emphasis grows as follows: "Life" < "Life itself" < "Life in itself" "Life in and of itself"? Sounds to me like someone got way too carried away with what looks like an add-more-words-with-no-new-meaning-so-that-the-subject-takes-an-ever-larger-part-of-the-sentence approach... I get the need to emphasise, but "itself" does that: all the rest feels like someone trying to describe a greener green than green: a pleonasm of sorts. – Tomislav Nakic-Alfirevic Oct 4 '16 at 11:17

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