Indignation toward Evil: Ricoeur and Caputo on a Theodicy of Protest

By Putt, B. Keith | Philosophy Today, Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

Indignation toward Evil: Ricoeur and Caputo on a Theodicy of Protest


Putt, B. Keith, Philosophy Today


So, one must take risks. That's what experience is. I use this word in a very grave sense. There would be no experience otherwise, without risk. But for the risk to be worth the trouble, so to speak, and for it to be really something risky or risking, one must take this risk with all possible assurance

. . . What I am calling here assurance or insurance are all the codes, the values, the norms . . .that regulate philosophical discourse: the philosophical institution, the values of coherence, truth, demonstration, and so forth.

Jacques Derrida

. . . seen hope open like any iris to the light.

Richard Powers

Experience and risk correlate discursively and existentially. The word "experience" derives from pers, an Indo-European root from which come the Greek peira-"to venture" or "to journey"-and the Latin periculum-"to experiment" or "to risk." "Risk," in turn, derives from the Latin resecare, which refers to the dangers faced by ships journeying through the seas - specifically to the threat of being ripped and torn apart by rocks. A sibling term is signum, "sign," which, too, signifies a "ripping" or a "cutting." A sign is a cutting into stone, a marking of paper, or a piercing of the air with the shock waves of speech. Consequently, Derrida is twice correct when he claims that without risk there would be no experience. First, there would be no "experience" without the possibility of the incision of signification, without the marks of the graphic and the phonic; the sign, "experience," depends upon the differing and deferring tear of differance. Second, there would be no experience without the courage to continue on in the face of undecidability-of not always knowing where to make the cut-and in the face of the possibility of being wounded by the aleatory-those unforeseen events that may leave a person in dust and ashes.

Life is, indeed, a journey, an "ad-venture," the constant "coming toward" the "to come," a moving ahead into the uncertainty of the incessant flux of a thrown existence. One only makes the trip with fear and trembling, hoping to come through as unscathed as possible. Unfortunately, life is usually more scathing than not, and, therein, lies the risk. One always risks suffering, bearing in the flesh or in the spirit the marks of tragic and/or culpable evil-the constant declension of a semiotics of affliction. So one may, indeed, reference experience "in a very grave sense," quite often in the very sense of the grave, for death is the impossible possibility that haunts human existence through the specters of violence, oppression, disease, catastrophes, hungry mouths, homeless bodies, broken promises, aborted dreams, and damaged minds. Life is a risk, and, perhaps, Camus is correct when he opines that the question of suicide is the first philosophical question. In other words, is the risk worth it? Derrida would respond to that question in the affirmative, with two caveats. First, one should take the risks of life concurrently with identifying the meanings and paradigms that offer a secure milieu within which to take those risks. These meanings and paradigms are the assurance, the insurance, that serves as the inescapable contextualization for confronting perilous experience. With the aid of rational worldstructures or horizons of foreseeability, one is better able to discover or create a reflective equilibrium between experience and expectations, between cosmos and chaos. Second, one must be willing to risk one's horizons of foreseeability, to welcome the in-coming of the impossible, that which shatters previous structures and opens one to the tout autre.1 As long as one both risks within the constellation of meaning, truth, and coherence and risks those very constellations themselves, the risk ensues in undecidability as an affirmation and not a negation.

Interestingly enough, Derrida prescribes at this point, mutatis mutandis, an approach that has found expression in various philosophicotheological attempts at developing a theodicy, a coherent and comforting explanation for the why and where of evil. …

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