The word “evil” gets quite the workout. Everything has been called “evil” in various times and circumstances — from callous and sinister human actions, to disease and natural disasters, to the reality of simple ugliness.
But (conspiracy theories aside), do genocide, the coronavirus, raging wildfires, and the latest “eye-sore” of an architectural project (for example) really have anything in common with each other?
Socrates famously asserted that no one ever chooses evil insofar as it seems evil to him or her. Is Socrates right about this, or could purely evil villains, ripped from the pages of your favorite comic book or fantasy novel, actually exist in the real world?
Is there even an objective fact of the matter, about which things are good and evil? Or is calling someone “evil” simply another way of saying “I hate you”? Or a way to justify treating our enemies in the worst ways imaginable, just because “they deserve it”?
In other words, discussions of evil get messy and confusing. Remarkably quickly.
In this 21/2 hour ZOOM philosophy workshop, we’ll try to clarify what’s going on, and find some ways of grappling effectively with evil — both at the level of abstract concepts, and at the level of practical, everyday action.
Questions That Will Guide Our Exploration
(1) What do we mean by “evil”? Given its incredibly wide range, is evil even a single thing that we can define? Are all (or even most) of those who lament, fear, or rail against “evil” even talking about the same thing? As good philosophers, we’ll start by simply getting clear on what it is we’re discussing.
(2) Why is evil a problem? In a very narrow sense, the “problem of evil” is often trotted out as an argument against certain—though by no means all—forms of religion. We’ll take note of that, but also look more broadly: Why is it that philosophers have struggled to explain or account for the phenomena of evil? Do different theories about how the world works have an easier (or harder) time making sense of evils?
(3) How can we respond effectively to evil, without becoming evil ourselves? All too often, the persecuted become persecutors in their turn, and the revolutionaries who fought for freedom become even more oppressive than the powers they overthrew. How can we acknowledge evils in the world around us, without being sucked in or destroyed by them ourselves?
Workshop Leader: David Nowakowski. No background in philosophy is required to participate in this workshop. All ages welcome.
Our philosophy workshops are FREE. That said, for those who still have the steady income to do so in these trying times, we could really use your financial support right now. Donations help to cover workshop leader honorariums, implementation, and resource archiving, as well as community workshop scholarships for those in need. You can make a donation by clicking here. For those facing more challenging financial circumstances, we ask that you please try to “pay it forward” with acts of kindness for your neighbors and community.