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.