Understanding Evil: Lessons from Bosnia

By Keith Doubt | Go to book overview

1. EVIL AS ACTION

That word iniquity strikes awe in its title, but under all the storm
and lightning, there is nothing.

—Jorge Luis Borges

Evil is easy to understand empirically. The vast literature on, for example, the Holocaust makes evil accessible and exoteric; memoirs, documentaries, literature, art, and cinema clearly bear witness to what evil is. Evil, however, is difficult to comprehend conceptually. Theoretically evil is abstruse and esoteric.

Plato’s Socrates avoids discussing evil, and it is important to understand why. No one knowingly does wrong, Socrates asserts. When someone knows that an act is wrong (truly knows that it is wrong), he or she does not willingly commit the act. Doing wrong, according to Socrates, is a matter of ignorance—a matter of not knowing what is right and nothing more (Plato 1960).

Aristotle understands the reason behind Socrates’ refusal to theorize evil; to start Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle writes, “Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has been rightly declared to be that at which all things aim” (quoted in Blum 1978, 1). In order for action to be action, action aims at some good. This then is the Socratic problem with evil: If evil is action, toward what end does evil aim?

An earlier version of this chapter appeared in Sociologija nakon Bosne.

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Understanding Evil: Lessons from Bosnia
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Part 1- Witnessing Evil 1
  • 1- Evil as Action 3
  • 2- Evil’s Direction 8
  • 3- Evil’s Reason 16
  • 4- Evil’s Vanity 25
  • 5- Rape as Evil 35
  • 6- Evil’s Agency 39
  • 7- Evil’s Disfigurement of Language 52
  • Part 2- Understanding Evil 63
  • 8- Postmodernism’s Relation to Evil 65
  • 9- Psychologizing Evil 80
  • 10- Ritualizing Evil 91
  • 11- Theorizing Evil with Socratic Nativeté 107
  • 12- Sociocide: a New Paradigm for Evil 119
  • References 139
  • Index 147
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