2 Following


A Philosophy of Evil - Lars Fr. H. Svendsen, Kerri A. Pierce Lars Svendsen has written a very readable, at times fascinating, summary of the philosophical discussions surrounding the concept of evil. Since I spent a large part of my only college philosophy class fighting to stay awake, that's no small compliment. Svendsen, strange for a philosopher, has little patience for philosophies that have no traction in the real world, and perhaps that's why I found him so engaging.

That being said, his heart doesn't seem to be in the first half of the book, covering theological responses to evil, as well as the category of "demonic evil" (evil done for its own sake), which he basically dismisses as irrelevant for the real world. When he comes to "instrumental evil," "idealistic evil," and "stupid evil," you can feel his interest piqued, and his engagement with the material deepen. The main part of his thesis has to do with these three categories. Sadly, he has plenty of real world examples of atrocities committed, not by monsters, but he insists, by people just like him, you, and me. By seeking to understand how ordinary people could do things that they later acknowledge as evil, he reminds us that each one of us has a duty to think (for ourselves!) critically about events happening around us and to judge them before we act.

I also found Svendsen's footnotes extremely informative and helpful. They point the way toward further reading on this subject. I'm not sure I have the patience for most of it, but I very much appreciate his trail of bread crumbs through a centuries-thick tangle of thought.


For some reason, this book has become associated in my mind with Michael Hanecke's excellent 2009 film _The White Ribbon_. I found the movie so beautiful, and chilling, and somehow the perfect companion to this book, although I'm not sure if there is a direct one to one correlation, but more of a free association.

An interesting oped today re: the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State child abuse allegations examining our reactions to evil. It's relevant to this book, and worth a read if you're interested in how we often don't act or react to things in the ways we would hope.