This Side of Evil

This Side of Evil

This Side of Evil

This Side of Evil

Synopsis

This 1788 work, based on belief in the immortality of the soul and the existence of God, established Kant as a vindicator of the truth of Christianity. A seminal text in the history of moral philosophy, it offers the most complete statement of Kant's theory of free will and a full development of his practical metaphysics.

Excerpt

We are witness to the unspeakable.

The sweet child is ravaged by cruelty. Entire peoples are marched to death camps. Whole villages are swept out into the angry, tidal sea. Our weakness wreaks anguish on those loyal to us. the ungrateful mock the gracious. the beautiful is defiled by the obscene. These are evil things, and the evil in them is real.

Some deny this reality. They stop their ears to the reports of death camps, turn their eyes from cigarette burns on the eyelids of the abused child, seek excuses in the wrangle of social cause on behalf of the vilest, interpret horrors as mere natural phenomena, and preen themselves with what they deem their enlightenment. They judge not, and would not be judged. But judgment is a necessity if evil be real. We are witness to this reality, and to deny it is itself evil, perhaps the greatest evil. As witness to the reality of evil we are stunned speechless and therein lies the fiercest paradox. For the more we try to make sense of evil, the less evil it becomes. To explain evil is to make it coherent, but it is the very incoherence of it that stuns us into mute impotence. It seems that to explain it by making it thinkable, we render it acceptable. But to accept evil is unacceptable. What can we do with the incoherent except turn our backs on it, deny it? Like the three ignoble monkeys we then neither see nor hear nor speak of it. Which is worse: to deny the reality of evil to save our reason, or deny reason to retain the reality of evil?

To say we witness the unspeakable is to say we must accept our own confrontation even if we cannot resolve the anguish either by ordinary speech or by sufficient reasoning. But to bear witness is to speak on behalf of or against what we confront. Witness implies obligation. To witness a crime burdens us with the need to testify; to bear witness to a creed is not merely to report what the beliefs are but to live in accordance with them, to manifest the creed in an open and public way. To bear witness to evil requires that we speak out, but if evil is the unspeakable, are we not obliged to do that which we cannot do?

This is not some clever eristic, dazzling with abstract legerdemain, as the brilliant brothers do in the comic dialogue Euthydemus. We are . . .

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