Feminist Philosophy and the Problem of Evil

Feminist Philosophy and the Problem of Evil

Feminist Philosophy and the Problem of Evil

Feminist Philosophy and the Problem of Evil


Any glance at the contemporary history of the world shows that the problem of evil is a central concern for people everywhere. In the last few years, terrorist attacks, suicide bombings, and ethnic and religious wars have only emphasized humanity's seemingly insatiable capacity for violence. In Feminist Philosophy and the Problem of Evil, Robin May Schott brings an international group of contemporary feminist philosophers into debates on evil and terrorism. The invaluable essays collected here consider gender-specific evils such as the Salem witch trials, women's suffering during the Holocaust, mass rape in Bosnia, and repression under the Taliban, as well as more generalized acts of violence such as the 9/11 bombings, the Madrid train station bombings, and violence against political prisoners. Readers of this sobering volume will find resources for understanding the vulnerability of human existence and what is at stake in the problem of evil.


Robin May Schott

Why Discuss Evil Now?

If anyone should think that evil is a problem of the past and not of the present, a glance at the history of the twentieth century proves otherwise. In that century, the atrocities of war escalated dramatically; between 1900 and 1990, there were over four times as many war deaths as in the preceding four hundred years. In 1990 battlefields included Afghanistan, Angola, Colombia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, India, Kuwait, Lebanon, Liberia, Mozambique, Peru, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Tibet (Vickers 1993, 2). To these one must add the battles of the Gulf War and the genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda. And if Americans thought that events that give rise to reflections on evil matter to other peoples but not to them, then they came to a rude awakening on the morning of September 11, 2001.

The Special Issue of Hypatia on Feminist Philosophy and the Problem of Evil, which appeared in the winter and spring of 2003, was conceived well before the terrorist attacks on 9/11. By that time, I had already collected a substantial body of feminist reflections on evil. These essays covered a range of historical and theoretical issues, from the sixteenth-century witch hunts to the genocides and war rapes of the twentieth century, from an analysis of American popular ideology with its belief that every cloud has a silver lining to an analysis of the texts of leading women philosophers.

Five days after the attacks, Laurie Shrage, co-editor of Hypatia, made the suggestion that I expand the special issue on evil to include a forum on terrorism, with short commentaries by feminist philosophers invited to write on the recent tragedies. Given the willingness of conservative intellectuals and politicians to point to the existence of “the radical evil emanating from the Muslim world” (Peretz 2001), the pressing question was whether the term evil could be used in reference to these terrorist attacks. And given the fact that all the suicide attackers were male; that according to reports in the New York Times on September 15, three of the terrorists had spent a few hundred dollars on lap dances and drinks at a Daytona Beach strip club the night before the attack; and that young male Muslim suicide bombers are reportedly promised that they will be greeted by seventy black-eyed virgins in heaven, the question of gender seemed troublingly relevant. On September 11, women and men alike were victims of . . .

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