- Series: Princeton Classics
- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: Princeton University Press; Revised ed. edition (March 21, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0691117926
- ISBN-13: 978-0691117928
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 31 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #391,551 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy (Princeton Classics) Revised ed. Edition
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Winner of the 2002 Award for Best Professional/Scholarly Book in Philosophy, Association of American Publishers
Winner of the 2003 Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion, American Academy of Religion
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2003
Evil has become the subject of one book after another, but [this] is one book unlike any other - by a philosopher unlike any other.---Bill Moyers, NOW
Scintillating and self-disciplined - a very rare thing in a philosopher.---Jonathan Ree, Times Literary Supplement
Provocative and profound.---Damon Linker, The Wall Street Journal
The American philosopher Susan Neiman has written the book for this world-political hour. (Neue Züricher Zeitung)
A brilliant new book. . . . No summary can convey the intellectual firepower of Neiman's book. Within her field of interest, she seems not only to have read everything but to have understood it at the deepest level.---William C. Placher, Christian Century
Eloquent... [Neiman argues that] evil is not just an ethical violation, it disrupts and challenges our interpretation of the world.---Edward Rothstein, The New York Times
Neiman follows the argument like a sleuth, and, indeed, her book is a kind of thriller: What is it that menaces us? Will we find what evil is? And how may we escape it? The path leads from a God found absent past a Nature that's indifferent till it fetches up at the house of a man himself. . . . Neiman leads the reader through a careful analysis of the relation of intention, act, and consequence to kinds of useful knowledge and degrees of awareness.---William H. Gass, Harper's Magazine
From the Inside Flap
"This is a splendid book; it will be widely read and much discussed. Working from the assumption that philosophers ought to attend to 'the questions that brought us here, ' Susan Neiman has given us a brilliant reading of those who have done just that. Her history of philosophy is also a philosophical argument: that evil is the central question driving the best modern philosophy, and that it is not only a moral question but a metaphysical one. The book is written with grace and wit; again and again, Neiman writes the kind of sentences we dream of uttering in the perfect conversation: where every mot is bon. This is exemplary philosophy."--Michael Walzer
"A brilliant study of changes in our understanding of evil from the book of Job through the 1755 Lisbon earthquake and on to the Holocaust and September 11. Neiman makes a powerful case for taking that problem as central to the history of modern philosophy, and her analysis of our present resources for coping with evil are provocative as well as profound. It's an immensely illuminating book."--J. B. Schneewind
"In tracing the responses to the problem of evil from the Enlightenment, when the question was why the Lisbon earthquake and the engages were Voltaire, Leibniz, Pope, and Rousseau, to the present, when it is why Auschwitz and they are Amery, Arendt, Camus, and Adorno, Neiman has made an original and powerful contribution to the analysis of an intractable moral issue: how to live with the fact that neither God nor nature seems concerned with our fate. Succinctly, steadily, and relentlessly written, the history of philosophy as philosophy could hardly be better done."--Clifford Geertz
"Even--or especially--to anonphilosopher like myself, Susan Neiman's "Evil in Modern Thought offers intellectual adventure of a high order. The audacity of her recasting of Western philosophy is matched by its profundity--and frequent wit. Its challenges are as bracing as they are essential. Her intellectual fearlessness deserves the closest and widest attention."--Todd Gitlin
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I recently brought this home and had it on my bookshelf, and my father picked it up to read as well. As a very religious man, he found it completely interesting as well and it has opened up many great discussions. If this is a topic you are interested in, I would highly suggest checking this book out.
The question is, of course, how do you reconcile an omnipotent, benevolent Deity with the existence of evil. She starts the discussion with Leibnitz who felt that God considered all possible worlds, and decided that the one we have is the best one possible. Evil was divided into two types: natural evil that encompassed the cruelties of nature (floods, earthquakes, droughts, etc.) and moral evil i.e. those acts that we humans are responsible for. Pierre Bayle and Voltaire eagerly tore this idea to shreds. Rousseau came along and said that man, and not God was responsible for all evil, as man had become corrupted through the progress of civilization.
Neiman goes on to discuss the thoughts of Hume, Schopenhauer, Kant, Nietzsche, Feud, and even the Marquis de Sade. Then she delves into the topic of the Holocaust, and September 11. Of particular interest here is the thoughts of Hannah Arendt on the Holocaust, and her reflections during the war crimes trial of Adolf Eichmann. Arendt feels that the vast majority of those involved in the Holocaust, Eichmann included, had no malicious intent in what they did. They merely performed assigned tasks, and did not really have the evil impulses that might be found in one of de Sade's novels. Evil truly had become banal, a merely boring activity of a bureaucracy. September 11th did provide evidence of evil intent, however. Those involved were determined to destroy innocent human lives.
At this point one has to wonder whether Evil as a philosophical issue has become obsolete. Arendt's reaction to evil (and Freud's too) pointed out psychological issues, and my feeling is that our study of the topic should move on to the examination of the individual and social psychology, and the cultural factors that examine our species' seeming propensity to engage in acts of "moral" evil. Author Neiman also asks the question of whether Philosophy can go any further with this topic.
One outstanding book that covers this topic is "Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century" by Jonathan Glover. He explores how humans become desensitized to evil; how we are able to dispassionately "kill from a distance." A government can decided to drop bombs on people; missiles are fired that do the task. Yet no one involved actually is engaged in any close up killing of another human.
Other books to consider are "Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty" by Roy Baumeister; "The Roots of Evil", by Ervin Straub; "Why They Kill", by Richard Rhodes; and "Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People", by John Conroy. These books all explore the psychology of evil behavior.
A final comment. This book can be read and enjoyed by that ubiquitous "educated layman", but an interest in the topic of western philosophy would be helpful, as would some memory traces of what you learned in Philosophy 101.
A note on perspective might be important for some readers - this author appears to write from an agnostic or athiestic point of view. That's the fashional perspective for intellectuals who want to become successful in politically correct academia, and so it's easily understandable. However, the author provides essentially no insight into concepts like redemptive suffering, conversion of heart, eternal salvation, and other mainstays of Christianity (and much of Judaism). For someone seeking an enlightened Judeo-Christian insight into good and evil, this book might NOT fit the bill.