Date of Submission

Spring 2021

Academic Program


Project Advisor 1

Ruth Zisman

Abstract/Artist's Statement

How does one begin a discussion about evil? The question of evil is approached by different thinkers via fundamentally different routes, leaning on disparate methods, and asking distinct questions—the basis and intention of each inquiry differ. Nietzsche’s On The Genealogy of Morality shows us that the region of violence is language, that violence begins with language. This is Nietzsche’s categorical contribution to the study of evil: that “evil” belongs to the domain of language (in defining “evil,” contrasting “evil,” and developing a dialect to talk about “evil”). Furthermore, Nietzsche’s understanding of the role of guilt, and what one does to avoid feelings of guilt (for guilt is not merely a reflex of remorse, but an active endurance: guilt is a condition, produced by the feeling that one owes one’s life to one’s nation, society, family, etc.) is imperative to understanding “evil.” Nietzsche also understood the significance of the perverse enjoyment we derive from seeing others suffer, and a Beckerian reading of his genealogy of punishment clarifies why this is so. Becker, in The Denial of Death and Escape From Evil, identifies the source of “evil” not in the ways that we talk about it, but in its function. Becker addresses the question of “evil” by looking at man’s obsession with heroism, by diving into the logic of human hate and barbarity...and by exploring how existential anxiety, fear, insecurity, self-esteem, and the terror of death are the engines of violence. Similarly, Baumeister in his Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty approaches the question through the mechanics of evil and the relativity of its perception, tackling head-on the notion that evil is obvious by delineating the involuted dynamics between “victims'' and “perpetrators.” Pearce, in The Hedonistic Imperative and "Reprogramming Predators," engages in the question from an ethical standpoint, where “evil” is essentially “suffering,” and maintains that human suffering ought to be abolished through germline engineering and designer drugs, while non-human animal suffering ought to be eliminated through ecosystem designing.

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