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date: 04 April 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter explores conceptions of evil in theology and modern European thought, addressing three fundamental questions: Why is evil? Who is evil? What is evil? The first section, ‘Who Is Evil?’ examines how people have grappled with their understandings of God and the world in the face of their experience of, or exposure to, evil. It considers works that ask why evil happens in this world, with particular attention to theodicy, tracing discussions of theodicy from Leibniz's coinage of the term to Levinas's call for its end. The second section, ‘Who Is Evil?’ examines the nature of humans and the agency of the individual subject, asking what kind of beings we are and why some of us do evil things. It considers thinkers such as Kant, Freud, and Arendt, who move from investigating the world to investigating the human subject, as evil-doer, evil-sufferer, or evil one. The third section, ‘What Is Evil?’ explores the nature of evil – just what do we mean when we use the word ‘evil’ and what are the implications of its use has for moral thought? It outlines two major but contradictory shifts in thinking about evil in the modern period: the relativization of evil, on the one hand, and the absolutization of it, on the other.

Keywords: theology, modern European thought, God, theodicy, Leibniz, Levinas, Kant, Freud, Arendt, relativization

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