CLASS 2390: Topics in Ancient Philosophy HISTORY OF EVIL

Discussions of moral philosophy in both antiquity and modernity typically direct their attention to reasoned conceptions of goodness, such as virtues, values, and moral duties. Whether intentionally or inadvertently, a systematic study of the corresponding, and oftentimes more richly articulated and concretely imagined, conceptions of evil are neglected. And yet it seems that one cannot very well have a clear conception of one without having a clear conception of the other.

What is more, it seems to be a most pressing and important matter to understand how precisely evil can come about. Does evil originate exclusively through human agency, or does one have to suppose physical or perhaps even metaphysical origins of moral evil? And what difference does it make to construe the origin of evil in different ways? Is evil merely the privation of goodness? What did Kant mean by `radical evil', and why did Hannah Arendt coin the phrase `banality of evil'?

The seminar will largely be conceived as a survey of relevant texts of all periods, such as Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, Plotinus, Thomas Aquinas, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Hannah Arendt, to name just a few. We shall work very intensively on the interpretation of these texts and what they have to say about the nature and origin of evil, and to try to come to grips with the historical shifts, modifications, and obfuscations the concept of evil undergoes.

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