Understanding Evil: Lessons from Bosnia

By Keith Doubt | Go to book overview

11. THEORIZING EVIL WITH SOCRATIC NATIVETÉ

But is evil then not, by its nature, an action? Not at all; action is
only the type of evil happening which makes evil manifest. But
does not evil action stem precisely from a decision to evil? The
ultimate meaning of our exposition is that it too stems primarily
from indecision, providing that by decision we understand, not a
partial, a psuedo decision, but that of the whole soul (emphasis
added).

—Martin Buber

Evil is difficult to comprehend theoretically. Socrates avoided this task, and it is important to understand why. When someone knows that an act is wrong (truly knows that it is wrong), someone will not willingly commit the act. Doing wrong, according to Socrates, is a matter of ignorance and nothing else.

Socrates’ refusal to theorize evil exasperated his interlocutors. In Plato’s Gorgias, Polus asked why Socrates argued as if he were unaware of evil: “But can they not kill whoever they please, like dictators, and inflict confiscation and banishment on anyone they choose?” Socrates replied that, while tyrants do these terrible things, they are “the least powerful persons in a state. They do practically nothing that they will, only what they think best.” Polus replied, “Well, isn’t that to enjoy

Portions of this chapter were previously published as “Civilno društvo na Balkanu” and “Socratic Medicine for Radovan Karadžić” in Odjek.

-107-

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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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