Naming Evil, Judging Evil

Naming Evil, Judging Evil

Naming Evil, Judging Evil

Naming Evil, Judging Evil

Synopsis

Is it more dangerous to call something evil or not to? This fundamental question deeply divides those who fear that the term oversimplifies grave problems and those who worry that, to effectively address such issues as terrorism and genocide, we must first acknowledge them as evil. Recognizing that the way we approach this dilemma can significantly affect both the harm we suffer and the suffering we inflict, a distinguished group of contributors engages in the debate with this series of timely and original essays.

Drawing on Western conceptions of evil from the Middle Ages to the present, these pieces demonstrate that, while it may not be possible to definitively settle moral questions, we are still able- and in fact are obligated- to make moral arguments and judgments. Using a wide variety of approaches, the authors raise tough questions: Why is so much evil perpetrated in the name of good? Could evil ever be eradicated? How can liberal democratic politics help us strike a balance between the need to pass judgment and the need to remain tolerant? Their insightful answers exemplify how the sometimes rarefied worlds of political theory, philosophy, theology, and history can illuminate pressing contemporary concerns.

Excerpt

There are these days all too many not quite good enough academic conferences and all too many not quite good enough books manufactured from papers delivered at such conferences. What a pleasure then to be asked to write a foreword to a book of papers from a conference that, unlike most, I wish that I had attended, a book that poses questions as interesting as any that there are! Yet, although I am delighted, I am not surprised. For the papers in this volume are by a group of colleagues at Duke University who have sustained an admirable tradition of collegial friendship among those in Duke's various departments and schools— Political Science, History, Philosophy, the Divinity School—who engage with central issues of political philosophy. They represent a range of viewpoints, and they have different projects and concerns. But over time their work has been informed by their shared reading, by extended interdisciplinary conversations and arguments, and by learning from each other's work. I was privileged to be part of this for a number of years.

This particular conference was the outcome of a set of discussions that had gone on for over two years, and the final versions of the participants' papers, now published in this volume, benefited significantly from comments presented at the conference by scholars from outside Duke. This has been a collective enterprise in a way that has too few parallels, at least in the humanities. It was and is of course important that conversation and enquiry about the subject matter that the participants addressed, which is inexhaustible, first opened up, at least according to the author of Genesis, in words exchanged by God, Adam, Eve, and the serpent, and is still carried on in our own day by Hannah Arendt and her numerous successors. So it would be ludicrous to expect anything like a conclusive treatment of the issues raised, either by our various and often incompatible understandings of the nature of evil or by our confrontations with evil in our own lives. Yet why speak of evil at all? Why is it not enough to speak of good and bad rather than good and evil? The contributors to this volume suggest several possible answers. Let me add to their suggestions one more but begin with a warning of dangers to be avoided. One such arises from the current climate of political incivility in the United States, which permits both liberal and conservative agitators . . .

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