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Radical Evil: A Philosophical Interrogation

ISBN: 978-0-7456-2954-4
304 pages
August 2002, Polity
Radical Evil: A Philosophical Interrogation (0745629547) cover image
At present, there is an enormous gulf between the visibility of evil and the paucity of our intellectual resources for coming to grips with it. We have been flooded with images of death camps, terrorist attacks and horrendous human suffering. Yet when we ask what we mean by radical evil and how we are to account for it, we seem to be at a loss for proper responses.

Bernstein seeks to discover what we can learn about the meaning of evil and human responsibility. He turns to philosophers such as Kant, who coined the expression 'radical evil', as well as to Hegel and Schelling. He also examines more recent explorations of evil, namely the thinking of Freud and Nietzsche on the moral psychology of evil. Finally, he looks at the way in which three post-Holocaust thinkers – Emmanuel Levinas, Hans Jonas, and Hannah Arendt – have sought to come to grips with evil "after Auschwitz."

Bernstein's primary concern throughout this challenging book is to enrich and deepen our understanding of evil in the contemporary world, and to emphasize the vigilance and personal responsibility required for combating it.

Radical Evil will be essential reading for students and scholars of philosophy, social and political theory, and religious studies.

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Preface.

Introduction.

Part I Evil, Will, and Freedom.

Radical Evil: Kant at War with Himself.

Hegel: The Healing of the Spirit?.

Schelling: The Metaphysics of Evil.

Intermezzo.

Part II: The Moral Psychology of Evil.

Nietzsche: Beyond Good and Evil?.

Freud: Psychic Ambivalence and Ineradicable Evil.

Part III: After Auschwitz: Radical Evil and Responsibility.

Prologue.

Levinas: Evil and the Temptation of Theodicy.

Jonas: A New Ethic of Responsibility.

Arendt: Radical Evil and The Banality of Evil.

Conclusion.

Notes.

Bibliography.

Index

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Richard J. Bernstein is Vera List Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research, New York.
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  • A major new book by one of America's leading philosophers

  • Addresses a topic of great importance – how can we understand radical evil in the modern world?

  • Seeks to discover what we can learn about the meaning of evil and human responsibility


  • Examines the work of a wide range of thinkers, from Kant to Hannah Arendt
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"Continental philosophy at its best."
Modern Theology

"Richard Bernstein takes us through the most baffling question of all, the one that in the end defies philosophical understanding, that of evil. The last century put this irresistibly on our agenda, and we cannot avoid it. No-one has the answer, but Bernstein takes us through a number of the most important and insightful thinkers, who can help us in our search. With the admirable clarity and great philosophical sympathy which always characterizes his work, he defines their understanding of evil, and puts them into conversation with each other. One emerges from this work still baffled, but in a much more fruitful way, empowered to go on thinking. This is a striking achievement for a work on this subject. Bernstein has once again pushed the debate forward several steps."
Charles Taylor, McGill University

"Richard Bernstein's work represents the best of an American tradition in philosophy, inspired by pragmatism and the analytical requirements of jargon-free clarity and drawing extensively and powerfully on traditions within Continental philosophy. To my ears Bernstein's is a hugely important voice in contemporary philosophical debate – it is sane and humane."
Simon Critchley, University of Essex

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