The Problem of Evil: Augustine, Nietzsche, Arendt
The question of evil has long been central to western political thought: from Augustine’s Confessions, in which evil is a perversion of the will, to Nietzsche’s provocative view that the concept of evil arose from negative emotions and weakened human vitality. Since the middle of the 20th century, however, political philosophers and theorists have tried to come to terms with the seemingly unrelenting stream of evil and violence that shapes contemporary life—from total war to genocide to autocracy to persistent gun violence. For Hannah Arendt, “the sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.” How should we approach the problem of evil philosophically and morally? To what extent is evil a timeless problem, or conversely, one engendered by particular conditions that have unfolded over time?
This course will examine the problem of evil through an engagement with three thinkers: Augustine, Nietzsche, and Arendt. Focusing particularly on Arendt’s pivotal and ever-controversial Eichmann in Jerusalem: a Report on the Banality of Evil, we will ask: What is radical evil? Can someone do evil without being evil? Is evil indeed banal? How do acts of evil shape our everyday understanding of good and bad? And what challenges does the question of evil pose for political notions of personal and moral responsibility?
Course ScheduleThursday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
September 14 — October 05, 2023