One thing I’ve often noticed in Tolkien’s work is that evil is never one sided. This stems from Tolkien’s Catholic/Christian views on evil. Nothing, in the beginning, was evil. Morgoth is a fallen Valar. Sauron a fallen Maiar. The orcs, mutilated elves. The trolls, mutilated ents. About the only being(s) for whom this doesn’t seem to fit is Ungoliant and the Spiders.
The orcs of Middle Earth are intelligent. They seem to have a primitive culture and society. When Shagrat and Gorbag talk together, after finding Frodo’s body, they seem almost like friends. Granted they are quite rough around the edges, but they don’t sound that different from any of the other characters or even you and me.
So. Are the orcs really evil?
No, not really. They may do evil, but they do not embody it. Part of the problem is they need leadership, and they seem easily cowed. If you think about the original elves made orcs for Morgoth…they were so tortured and mutilated, who’s to say what they’d do to avoid more pain? Such torture and suffering as would be necessary to tear the elves away from their being or their physiological form must be great. Most likely they were mad and blind in their sufferings.
Let’s return to Shagrat and Gorbag for a bit. The two of them don’t want to fight. They resent being ordered around by Sauron and the Ring-wraiths. They wish to leave; to make their way on their own.
Are they evil?