Evil: An Investigation
by Lance Morrow (2003)

Quotes on Evil

Compiled for Dupuy's Seminar
FrenGen 265: "Problem of Evil"
Stanford University
Spring 2009

Edited by Peter Y. Chou

Evil in Modern Thought
by Susan Neiman (2004)


God either wishes to take away evils and he cannot, or he can and does not wish to,
or he neither wishes to nor is able, or he both wishes to and is able. If he wishes
to and is not able, then he is weak, which does not fall in with the notion of god.
If he neither wishes to nor is able, then he is both envious and weak and therefore
not god. If he both wishes to and is able to, which alone is fitting to god, whence,
then, are there evils and why does he not remove them?
Epicurus (341-270 B.C.), quoted by Lactantius, De Ira Dei (318 A.D.), p. 92

If man considered and represented himself that which exists and knew the smallness
of his part int it, the truth would become clear and manifest to him. For this extensive
raving entertained by men with regard to the multitude of evils in the world is not said
by them to hold good with regard to the angels or with regard to the [heavenly] spheres
and stars or with regard to the elements and the minerals and the plants composed of them
or with regard to the various species of animals... Now the true way of considering this
is that all the existent individuals of the human species... are of no value in comparison
with the whole that exists and endures... You will find that evils of this kind that befall
men are very few and occur only seldom. For you will find cities, existing for thousands of
years, that have never been flooded or burned. Also thousands of people are born in perfect
health whereas the birth of an infirm human being is an anomaly, or al least... such an
individual is very rare; for they do not form a hundredth or even a thousandth part of those
born in good health.
Maimonides (1135-1204), Guide of the Perplexed (12th century), III.12

God is not the author of evil because He is not the cause of not-being...
God is a cause of the act in such a manner that He is in no way the cause
of the defect accompanying the act; and, hence, He is not the cause of sin.
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), Summa Theologica (1274),
     Part I, Q. 49, art. 2; Parts I-II, Q. 79, art. 2

Nothing is more contrary to music than dissonances, which are otherwise called
"false agreements". And yet, a dissonance, mixed in among many consonances, is
what makes for the most excellent harmony. And thus, will one dare say tat there
is no evidence that this musician positively and directly wanted to put this
dissonance, although a bad agreement, into his composition? The relevance of this
is clear: A monstrous animal is, if you will, a dissonance in the harmony of the
universe; but it does not fail to make a contribution to this harmony.
Antoine Arnauld (1612-1694), Reflections (1683),
     Oeuvres de Messire Antoine Arnauld (1775), XXXIX.205 (Nadler, p. 153)

God could, no doubt, make a world more perfect than the one in which we live.
He could, for example, make it such that rain, which serves to make the earth
fruitful, fall more regularly on cultivated ground than in the sea, where it is
unnecessary. But in order to make this more perfect world, it would have been
necessary that He have changed the simplicity of His ways... Our world, however
imperfect one wishes to imagine it, is based on laws of motion which are so simple
and so natural that it is perfectly worthy of the infinite wisdom of its author.
Nicolas Malebranche (1638-1715), Traité de la nature et de la grace (1680), I.14
     Treatise on Nature and Grace (Trans. Patrick Riley) (1992) (Nadler, pp. 123-124)

It seems that the reason for permitting evil rests in the eternal possibilities,
in accordance with which the kind of universe that allows evil and has admitted it
to actual existence is found to be more perfect, considering the whole [en somme],
than all other possible kinds.
Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716), Philosophische Schriften (1890), IV.567

God cooperates morally in moral evil, that is, in sin, without being the originator
of the sin, and even without being accessory thereto. He does this by permitting it
justly, and by directing it wisely toward the good.
Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716), Theodicy (1710), 107-108

The wisdom of God, not content with embracing all the possibles, penetrates them, compares
them, weighs them one against the other, to estimate their degree of perfection or imperfection,
the strong and the weak, the good and the evil. It goes even beyond the finite combinations,
it makes of them an infinity of infinities, that is to say, an infinity of possible sequences
of the universe, each of which contains an infinity of creatures. By this menas, the divine
Wisdom distributes all the possibles it had already contemplated separately, into so many
universal systems that it further compares the one with the other. The result of all these
comparisons and deliberations is the choice of the best from among all these possible
systems, which wisdom makes in order to satisfy goodness completely; and such is
precisely the plan of the universe as it is.
Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716), Theodicy (1710), 225

If we look at a very beautiful picture but cover up all of it but a tiny spot, what more will
appear in it, no matter how closely we study it, indeed, all the more, the more closely we
examine it, than a confused mixture of colors without beauty and without art. Yet when the
covering is removed and the whole painting is viewed from a position that suits it, we come
to understand that what seemed to be a thoughtless smear on the canvas has really been done
with the highest artistry by the creator of the work. And what the eyes experience in painting
is experienced by the ears in music. Great composers very often mix dissonances with harmonious
chords to stimulate the hearer and to sting him, as it were, so that he becomes concerned about
the outcome and is all the more pleased when everything is restored to order. Similarly, we may
enjoy trivial dangers or the experience of evils from the very sense they give us of our own
power or our happiness or our fondness for display.
Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716), "On the Radical Origination of Things" (1697)
     Philosophical Papers and Letters (Ed. Leroy Loemker), (1969), 488-489 (Nadler, p. 101)

I am firmly convinced not only that a great deal of consciousness, but that any consciousness
is a disease. I insist on it... The more conscious I ws of goodness, and of all that "sublime
and beautiful", the more deeply I sank into my mire and the more capable I became of sinking
into it completely. But the main thing was that all this did not seem to occur in me accidentally,
but as though it had to be so. As though it were my most normal condition, and not in the least
disease or depravity, so that finally I even lost the desire to struggle against this depravity.
It ended by my almost believing that probabl this was really my normal condition.
Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881), Notes from Underground (1864), p. 7

It was as though in those last moments he [Eichmann] was summing up
the lesson that this long course in human wickedness had taught us—
the lesson of the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil.
— Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: a report on the banality of evil (1965), p. 252

The first metaphysical question is no longer Leibniz's questin why is there something rather than
but why is there evil rather than good? The ontological difference is preceded by the
difference between good and evil. Difference itself is this latter; it is the origin of the meaningful.
— Emmanuel Levinas, "Transcendence and Evil" in The Phenomenology of Man
     and of the Human Condition
, Edited by Anna Tymienicka, D. Reidel, 1983
     quoted by Susan Neiman, Evil in Modern Thought (2002), pp. 322-323

Faith is an evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks
no argument... Faith can be very, very dangerous, and deliberately to implant it
into the vulnerable mind of an innocent child is a grievous wrong.
— Richard Dawkins, "The God Delusion (2006), p. 308
     quoted by David G. Myers, A Friendly Letter to Skeptics and Atheists (2008), p. 11

Camus used plague to stand for evil in general. In a letter to Gershom Scholem, Arendt wrote
that evil resembles a fungus: "Evil possesses neither depth nor any demonic dimension. It can
overgrow and lay waste the whole world precisely because it spreads like a fungus on the
surface."... The fungus metaphor thus signals evil that can be comprehended. It also indicates
an object that has no intention whatsoever... The claim that evil is banal is a claim not about
magnitude but about proportion: if crimes that great can result from causes that small, there may
be hope for overcoming them. Calling evil banal is a piece of moral rhetoric, a way of defusing
the power that makes forbidden fruit attractive. Since Sade became presentable, the inclination
to aestheticize evil has grown. Even Camus saw Sade's embrace of evil as an understandable revolt
against God. If the Creator commands us to do good while Himself producing evil, isn't it better
to reject the good itself? Camus never actually recommended such a solution, but he saw the
aestheticization of evil as one way to respond to the absurd. Once evil becomes aesthetic, it's
not far from becoming glamorous... To call evil banal is to call it boring. And if it is boring,
its appeal will be limited. A fungus, after all, is rarely erotic.
— Susan Neiman, Evil in Modern Thought (2002), pp. 301-302

To call evil banal is to offer not a definition of it but a theodicy. For it implies that the
sources of evil are not mysterious or profound but fully within our grasp. If so, they do not
infect the world at a depth that could make us despair of the world itself. Like a fungus, they
may devastate reality by laying waste to its surface. Their roots, however, are shallow enough
to pull up. To claim that evil is comprehensible in general is not to claim that any instance
of it is transparent. It is, rather, to deny that supernatural forces, divine or demonic, are
required to account for it. It is also to say that while natural processes are responsible for it,
natural processes can be used to prevent it. Here Arendt's project is heir to Rousseau's. By
providing a framework that shows how the greatest crimes may be carried out by men with none
of the marks of the criminal, Eichmann in Jerusalem argued that evil is not a threat to reason
itself. Rather, crimes like Eichmann's depend on thoughtlessness, the refusal to use reason as we
should. Like Rousseau, Arendt sought to show tht our souls are built to work: our natural faculties
are corruptible, but not inherently corrupt. Nor are they in principle impotent, as Hume had argued
so forcefully. We have means both to understand the world and to act in it.
— Susan Neiman, Evil in Modern Thought (2002), p. 303

If the problem of evil begins in the child besieged by terror, our continued engagement with it
is an expression of fear. When the child isn't frightened, she seems to be whiny. So some view
the problem of evil as a demand for rewards. Because we were raised to expect payment, we are
distraught when happiness and virtue fail to link up. Here Providence takes more the shape of
the indulgent mother than that of the avenging father, but we remain infantile all the same.
— Susan Neiman, Evil in Modern Thought (2002), p. 319

To abandon the attempt to comprehend evil is to abandon every basis for confronting it,
in thought as in practice. The thinkers who returned to the problem of evil while knowing
the limits of any discussion of it were driven by moral demands... We cannot even try to
understand the causes of evil, and go to work on eliminating them, without the idea that
happiness and virtue should be connected.
— Susan Neiman, Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy (2002), p. 325

I think that the opposite of evil is not good, but rather, hope— a more kinetic and
practical thing. Evil, God knows is energetic, and needs to be opposed by something more
vigorous than "good", which as John Milton found when his Lucifer turned out to be far
more interesting than God, is blandly undramatic, a sort of Unitarian vanilla. Hope, on
the other hand, is goodness in a tight spot, and ambitious to improve things. Robust hope
creates new realities, and is, as Aeschylus said, the thing that exiles feed on. Hope is the
primary energy of the will to live, the will to survive. Rely on hope. Rely, simply, on love.
— Lance Morrow, Evil: An Investigation (2003), p. 266

Are you saying that the Enlightenment was a time of victory for the Devil?
I think that first we have to ask whether the relation of God, the Devil, and the human
to one another is not a warring relationship among three forces who are separate yet
intertwined... The Devil has other notions of what existence could be. I'd go so far
as to assume that technology is the Devil's invention. Like God, the Devil wants to have
power to satisfy His vision of what the universe could be.
— Norman Mailer with Michael Lennon, On God: An Uncommon Conversation (2007), p. 10

God has relinquished control of this world to the forces of evil— for the time being.
Pain, misery, anguish, suffering, and death are the result. This cosmological dualism
between the forces of good and evil has a historical component as well...
This age— for unknown, mysterious reasons— is given over to the forces of evil:
the Devil, his demons, sin, suffering, and death.
— Bart D. Ehrman, God's Problem (2008), p. 216

Let's begin with a definition of evil. Mine is a simple, psychologically based one:
Evil consists in intentionally behaving in ways that harm, abuse, demean, dehumanize,
or destroy innocent ohers— or using one's authority and systemic power to encourage
or permit others to do so on your behalf. In short, it is "knowing better but doing worse."
— Philip Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil (2008), p. 5

The idea that an unbridgeable chasm separates good people from bad people is a source of comfort
for at least two reasons. First, it creates a binary logic, in which Evil is essentialized. Most of us
perceive Evil as an entity, a quality that is inherent in some people and not in others. Bad seeds
ultimately produce bad fruits as their destinies unfold. We define evil by pointing to the really
bad tyrants in our era, such as Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, and other
political leaders who have orchestrated mass murders. We must also acknowledge the more
ordinary, lesser evils of drug dealers, rapists, sex-trade traffickers, perpetrators of fraudulent
scams on the elderly, and those whose bullying destroys the well-being of our children.
— Philip Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil (2008), p. 6

How can the existence of imperfection, disaster, evil, and undeserved suffering in the world
be reconciled with the belief that the world was created by a just, wise, good, omniscient,
omnipotent, and free God? It cannot be said that God knows about the evils and would like
to do something about them ut is unable to, because this is inconsistent with His omnipotence.
Nor can it be said that God can and would do something about those evils if only He knew
about them (but does not), because this implies that God is not omniscient. Finally, God's
goodness seems to rule out the possibility that God knows about the evils and could do
something about them but simply does not care to do so.
— Steven Nadler, The Best of All Possible Worlds
     (A Story of Philosophers, God, and Evil), (2008), pp. 84-85

The most popular philosophical approach to evil begins with the idea that the entire problem
stems from too narrow a view of things. If one only broadened one's perspective on events,
and on the world at large, one would see either that what appeared to be evil was not in fact
evil, or tht the evil was real but that it formed an essential and therefore necessary element
in something larger that was, on the whole good.
— Steven Nadler, The Best of All Possible Worlds (2008), p. 87

Why is there any evil at all in God's creation? And why is there exactly this much
evil and not an iota less? If considering the whole or taking a larger perspective on things
is supposed to help us understand why there are defects and sins in the work of an omnipotent,
omniscient, and perfectly benevolent deity, it must draw our attention to something beyond
the evident facts of nature itself, to something that only metaphysical inquiry can reveal.
— Steven Nadler, The Best of All Possible Worlds (2008), p. 88-89

Leibniz divides evil into three categories. Metaphysical evil consists in the limitation and
imperfection that necessarily characterize any finite, created being; this species of evil is
an unavoidable part of the nature of things because anything God creates will simply by virtue
of being created, be less perfect than the absolutely perfect, uncreated being. Physical evil,
by contrast, is suffering, and moral evil is sin. Physical and moral evil are not, by themselves,
necessary elements of creation, although they are essential parts of many possible worlds. They
exist in the actual world because God, by choosing to create this world while being fully aware
of everything it involves, permits them. The question is, why?
— Steven Nadler, The Best of All Possible Worlds (2008), p. 98

Can we find a definition of evil tat allows us to recognize and measure it? Perhaps somebody
may come along and propose an alternative, but I've never seen one that did much work. General
definitions of evil are either so broad as to be almost meaningless, or so narrow that they
exclude everything but the evil you currently have in view. The problem is made harder because
evil has a history, and its history isn't stable.
— Susan Neiman, Moral Clarity (2009), p. 339

Evil actions are easy, but they are not inevitable. Understanding how ordinary people undertake
them can indeed be exhilarating, for it shows we have the power to do things differently. We are
all partly responsible for the systems that make evils seem unavoidable, but systems can be
changed. It's happened before.
— Susan Neiman, Moral Clarity (2009), p. 364



Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: a report on the banality of evil
  Viking Press, New York, 1964 (341.41-ARENDT)
Charles Baudelaire, Flowers of Evil, (Translated by Keith Waldrop),
  Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, CT, 2006 (841.8-BAUDELA)
Roy F. Baumeister, Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty
  W.H. Freeman, New York, 1997 (155.32-BAUMEIS)
Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground and the Grand Inquisitor
  (Translation & Introduction by Ralph E. Matlaw),
  Plume, New York, 2003 (FICTION-DOSTOYE-FYODOR)
Bart D. Ehrman, God's Problem (How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most
  Important Question— Why We Suffer), HarperCollins, New York, 2008 (231.8-EHRMAN)
Imre Kertesz, Fateless, Northwestern University Press, Evanston, IL, 1992
Norman Mailer with Michael Lennon, On God: An Uncommon Conversation,
  Random House, New York (211-MAILER)
Laura Marvel (Ed.), Readings on Billy Budd, Greenhaven Press, San Diego, 2003
Herman Melville, Billy Budd, sailor: and other stories (introduction by Frederick Busch)
  Penguin Books, New York, 1986 (SS-MELVILLE-HERMAN)
Lance Morrow, EVIL: An Investigation, Basic Books, New York, 2003 (170-MORROW)
David G. Myers, A Friendly Letter to Skeptics and Atheists
  (Musings on Why God Is Good and Faith Isn't Evil
  Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2008 (261.21-MYERS)
Steven Nadler, The Best of All Possible Worlds (A Story of Philosophers, God, and Evil),
  Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, New York, 2008 (190.9032NADLER)
Susan Neiman, Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy
  Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2002 (170-NEIMAN)
Susan Neiman, Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grown-Up Idealists
  Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2009 (170-NEIMAN)
Gene Wolfe, An Evil Guest, Tor Publishing, New York, 2008 (SF-WOLFE-GENE)
Philip Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil
  Random House, New York, 2008 (155.962-ZIMBARD)

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