The Myth of Evil: Demonizing the Enemy

Greenwood Publishing Group
2
Free sample

The Myth of Evil explores a contradiction at the heart of modern thought about what it is to be human: the belief that a human being cannot commit a radically evil act purely for its own sake and the evidence that radically evil acts are committed not by inhuman monsters, but by human beings. This contradiction can be seen most clearly when we consider the most extreme forms of evil: war crimes, serial murders, sex offences, murders committed by children. Taking the traditional position that evil is an active force creating monsters in human shape, this book shows that this idea is still at work--both in the popular imagination, cultivated in fiction and film (about vampires, monsters, and serial killers) and in real form (in the media, most recently in relation to migrants and terrorism.).

Cole delves deeply into two approaches to evil: the traditional approach where evil is regarded as a force that creates monsters in human form, and a more recent perspective that regards evil as the consequence of the actions of misguided or mentally deranged agents. Cole rejects both approaches and posits that evil is a myth humankind has created about itself. Drawing on philosophical ideas as well as on theological perspectives, psychological theories, and fictional representations, this book provides a thorough and thought-provoking account of the puzzling concept of evil and a reconsideration of the common understanding of human nature.

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About the author

Phillip Cole is Reader in Applied Philosophy at Middlesex University. His previous book Philosophies of Exclusion: Liberal Political Theory and Immigration received the North American Society for Social Philosophy's annual award for the best book on social philosophy to be published in 2000.

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4.5
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Additional Information

Publisher
Greenwood Publishing Group
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Published on
Dec 31, 2006
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Pages
256
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ISBN
9780275992163
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Language
English
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Genres
Philosophy / Ethics & Moral Philosophy
Religion / Ethics
Religion / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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What is the meaning of life? It is a question that has intrigued the great philosophers--and has been hilariously lampooned by Monty Python. Indeed, the whole idea strikes many of us as vaguely pompous, a little absurd. Is there one profound and mysterious meaning to life, a single ultimate purpose behind human existence? In What's It All About?, Julian Baggini says no, there is no single meaning. Instead, Baggini argues meaning can be found in a variety of ways, in this life. He succinctly breaks down six answers people commonly suggest when considering what life is all about--helping others, serving humanity, being happy, becoming successful, enjoying each day as if it were your last, and "freeing your mind." By reducing the vague, mysterious question of meaning to a series of more specific (if thoroughly unmysterious) questions about what gives life purpose and value, he shows that the quest for meaning can be personal, empowering, and uplifting. If the meaning of life is not a mystery, if leading meaningful lives is within the power of us all, then we can look around us and see the many ways in which life can have purpose. We can see the value of happiness while accepting it is not everything. We can see the value of success, without interpreting that too narrowly. We can see the value of seizing the day as well as helping others lead meaningful lives. We can recognize the value of love, as perhaps the most powerful motivator of all. Illustrating his argument with the thoughts of many of the great philosophers and examples drawn from everyday life, Baggini convincingly shows that the search for meaning is personal and within the power of each of us to find.
Two familiar worldviews dominate Western philosophy: materialist atheism and the benevolent God of the Abrahamic faiths. Tim Mulgan explores a third way. Ananthropocentric Purposivism claims that there is a cosmic purpose, but human beings are irrelevant to it. Purpose in the Universe develops a philosophical case for Ananthropocentric Purposivism that it is at least as strong as the case for either theism or atheism. The book borrows traditional theist arguments to defend a cosmic purpose. These include cosmological, teleological, ontological, meta-ethical, and mystical arguments. It then borrows traditional atheist arguments to reject a human-centred purpose. These include arguments based on evil, diversity, and the scale of the universe. Mulgan also highlights connections between morality and metaphysics, arguing that evaluative premises play a crucial and underappreciated role in metaphysical debates about the existence of God, and Ananthropocentric Purposivism mutually supports an austere consequentialist morality based on objective values. He concludes that, by drawing on a range of secular and religious ethical traditions, a non-human-centred cosmic purpose can ground a distinctive human morality. Our moral practices, our view of the moral universe, and our moral theory are all transformed if we shift from the familiar choice between a universe without meaning and a universe where humans matter to the less self-aggrandising thought that, while it is about something, the universe is not about us.
Evil threatens human reason, for it challenges our hope that the world makes sense. For eighteenth-century Europeans, the Lisbon earthquake was manifest evil. Today we view evil as a matter of human cruelty, and Auschwitz as its extreme incarnation. Examining our understanding of evil from the Inquisition to contemporary terrorism, Susan Neiman explores who we have become in the three centuries that separate us from the early Enlightenment. In the process, she rewrites the history of modern thought and points philosophy back to the questions that originally animated it.

Whether expressed in theological or secular terms, evil poses a problem about the world's intelligibility. It confronts philosophy with fundamental questions: Can there be meaning in a world where innocents suffer? Can belief in divine power or human progress survive a cataloging of evil? Is evil profound or banal? Neiman argues that these questions impelled modern philosophy. Traditional philosophers from Leibniz to Hegel sought to defend the Creator of a world containing evil. Inevitably, their efforts--combined with those of more literary figures like Pope, Voltaire, and the Marquis de Sade--eroded belief in God's benevolence, power, and relevance, until Nietzsche claimed He had been murdered. They also yielded the distinction between natural and moral evil that we now take for granted. Neiman turns to consider philosophy's response to the Holocaust as a final moral evil, concluding that two basic stances run through modern thought. One, from Rousseau to Arendt, insists that morality demands we make evil intelligible. The other, from Voltaire to Adorno, insists that morality demands that we don't.


Beautifully written and thoroughly engaging, this book tells the history of modern philosophy as an attempt to come to terms with evil. It reintroduces philosophy to anyone interested in questions of life and death, good and evil, suffering and sense. Featuring a substantial new afterword by Neiman that raises provocative questions about Hannah Arendt's take on Adolf Eichmann and the rationale behind the Hiroshima bombing, this Princeton Classics edition introduces a new generation of readers to this eloquent and thought-provoking meditation on good and evil, life and death, and suffering and sense.

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