Weberian and neo-Weberian social scientists ascribe the rise in state sanctioned mass death since the fourteenth century to forces such as intellectualization, rationalization and the disenchantment of the world. In this study, I suggest that the obscene rise in state sanctioned mass death is better explained by exploring a uniquely modern social form, the value form of the commodity, which reproduces itself precisely by retreating behind and then annihilating its material form of appearance. What makes this social form particularly dangerous, however, is that it has become the model for and embodiment of what most social actors understand by contemporary spirituality.
The biblical Christian call to overcome evil with good seems to be at the foundation of the achievements of the last centuries of Western culture. It appears paradoxical that, at the same time, the problem of evil, in spite of its gruesome persistence, has been neglected in Western formal thought. This article argues that the discourse of ethics provides for a way of coping with evil that not only produces the paradoxical result referred to above but favors some of the expressions of evil that torment our present, such as religious fundamentalisms and social discrimination and exclusion. Reading about the deconstruction of ethics as portrayed in the work of John D. Caputo and reflecting on his contribution to a poetics of obligation is suggested as a new perspective for perceiving the matter. It is evil suffered by others that is focus here of the problem of evil. Obligation, a disquieting inhabitant of ethics, is regarded as a call to responsibility towards victims—which in most cases are victims of the evil we produce. Caputo’s motiefs of the “jewgreek,” the “wholly other,” “disaster,” and “the flesh” are examined in order to illuminate our way.
This paper looks at immanent approaches to the question of evil. Since the distinction between good and evil is not inherent to nature from this perspective, some clarifications on the origin of that distinction are indispensable. A naturalistic reading of the “Fall of Humankind” shows how this normativeness is linked to the problem of self-image, self-awareness and inner judgment. The first philosopher of immanence discussed is Spinoza and then Nietzsche and Freud. All three thinkers formulate variations on the theme of self-preservation as a natural principle. The paper goes on to question whether the “radical evil” of totalitarian regimes has not altered these naturalist interpretations of evil. It concludes the circle of reflections on self-awareness and inner judgment by referring to Hannah Arendt’s analysis of thoughtlessness and its role in “the banality of evil.”
This article argues for the necessity of “tragic wisdom” in the contemporary West, despite its having made tragedy part of its cultural unconsicous, for learning to live a good life actively and courageously. The article thus deals with three elements of the tragic vision: necessity, suffering, and an active response, which together affirm life. The first, which is further divided into absolute and contingent necessity, points first to the need to accept what happens to one. The second refers to the actuality of suffering. The active response concerns an affirmation of life, symbolized in part by the Dionysian reality of life found in Nietzsche, a learning to laugh with the tragic vision.
Paul R. Fries
The association of something as seemingly innocuous as the right of men and women to seek their own happiness with something as dark and iniquitous as the production of evil may at first glance seem implausible. The purpose of this paper is to show that there is, in fact, a connection and that religion is coming to play an important role in this linkage. This will be demonstrated by first exploring the novelty of the Jeffersonian notion of the pursuit of happiness, enshrined in the American Declaration of Independence, as a God-ordained human right. After identifying ways Jefferson’s doctrine differs from classical views of happiness and its achievement, the ambiguity and self-contradiction contained in the famous dictum will be examined. Next it will be argued that the dominant form of pursuit in the twentieth and now twenty-first centuries is consumption and that the effects of consumerism extend well beyond the marketplace, creating a cultural-forming mentality. This section will end with an analysis of the destructive trajectory of the consumer culture and its affinity with evil. Finally, a New Christianity which not only embraces consumption but in some cases sanctifies it will be profiled. This New Christianity is experiencing explosive growth in the southern hemisphere and its potential for disseminating consumerism and its attendant destructiveness will be examined.
The central question of this essay is whether Kant’s conception of good and evil is too formal. This question has to be understood against the background of postmodern criticism, according to which the modern idea of autonomy and universality gives rise to the totalitarianism of the twentieth century and Sade and Eichmann are to be seen as the final outcome of a Kantian understanding of ethics. As an example of such criticism, the approach of the Anglican theologian John Milbank will be explored. The first part explores how Kant understands the nature of evil. Second, the critique of formalism will be discussed by focusing on the two examples of Sade and Eichmann. Third, the nature of Kantian ethics will be elaborated further in order to be able to evaluate the critique. In defense of Kant, it will be argued that his logic of formalism has to be understood in conjunction with a kind of material infusion, which ultimately prevents a Sadean inversion. Further, the difference between the discourses of morality and politics will be treated and thus the impossibility of understanding the categorical imperative as political. This view of Kantianism militates against a concrete objectifying identification of evil, together, however, with an awareness of the necessity of identification. Moreover, avoiding both ethical ideology and political moralism can be understood as a delicate exercise.
Kant, Kierkegaard, and Levinas see it as a wasted effort to try to justify God in view of human experience of evil, sin and suffering. Which are their specific reasons for having no reason to defend God? And how do they try to cope ethically with the practical dimension of the theoretically unsolved problem of theodicy? These are the two guiding questions for the following investigation. The different models of a “critique of theological reason” are outlined in a comparison and exemplified by the respective Christian and Jewish approaches to the biblical figure of Job. They reveal the difficulty of finding adequate ways to address a theme that not only requires philosophical thematization and self-correction but also points beyond the limits of philosophical discourse to the task of finding a personal and interpersonal modus vivendi with and despite the wound of negativity; ultimately, it demands an existential commitment in solidarity with the suffering—a language that surpasses what can be said. With regard to Kant, Kierkegaard and Levinas, three possible forms of this are portrayed.