"A Secular Theory of Evil," Why? Radio episode with guest Claudia Card
2:23PM Sep 17, 2021
Jack Russell Weinstein
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The original episode can be found here: https://wp.me/p8pYQY-of
Hello, everybody welcome to why philosophical discussions about everyday life. I'm your host jack Russell Weinstein. Today we're talking with Claudia card about her secular theory of evil.
My friend crystal asked me why people reacted much less intensely to the bombings at the Boston Marathon than the massacre at Newtown, not a psychologist or sociologist, but I ventured a few guesses. First, of course, Newtown involved the intentional massacre of children. It was a different friend remarked 911 for parents. Second, there was something about the boston bombings that seemed familiar to all of us. It reminded us of Israel, Palestine, London and Spain. Even though the signs were in English, and the symbols were very often American. the bombings made Boston feel like a foreign city. It felt like war. And this made the scene somehow less intimate. Maybe this is why the media one is called the perpetrators, Chechnya and instead of American, it allowed us to compartmentalize the atrocity in a way we never could with tim mcveigh and the Oklahoma City bombing. I'm not suggesting that we should care less about Palestinians than Bostonians, although many people think we should. And a truly thorough response would also have to take into account the rampant and often unjustifiable anti muslim sentiment that is given free rein these days. Instead, I'm trying to analyze the reactions so I can get past the psychological and into the moral, an area of inquiry that I as a philosopher, I'm much more comfortable exploring. Notice my language so far, I suggested that there might be feelings we should have, that rampant anti muslim attitudes are unjustifiable, and that these events were atrocities. These are the words of morality. They describe a right and a wrong path, and they assume a standard of judging, and they have followed upon imply agency and culpability. People did these things and people should be held accountable. When I teach ethics, I typically use two types of examples. The first is the difficult one open to interpretations. Is it okay to commit adultery if your spouse is in an irreversible long term coma? is killing ever justified. These are intended to provoke discussion and to show how hard ethics can be. But the second kind of example is intended to show that some ethical decisions are easy, and these are always over the top. I'm fond of asking my students for example, whether it's okay to shred babies in a giant cheese grater, or when I'm feeling to be a little less good humoured I referenced genocide or rape or sadism. The shock value keeps the students away. Can the examples illustrate that we really do believe there is an absolute right or absolute wrong. But as our guest Claudia card will show even the most over the top examples are neither simple nor easy. The idea of evil is layered. When we identify something is inexcusable or intolerable. We have to ask why it is so describe what to do about it, know how to respond and we have to accept and this may be the hardest part that people who act monstrously are not necessarily monsters, we have to have a theory of evil, not just because we must recognize it when we see it. But because our analysis must be consistent with our resolutions, is avoiding evil by perpetrating a lesser evil progress or is evil never justified no matter what are single individuals ever responsible for the wrongdoings of a government or society? Or can we only judge in these case the collectives? If someone participates in an evil practice, simply because it is familiar and unquestioned? Consider let's say biblical slavery? This person? Is he or she bad are just more normal. Philosophers like theories because they not only provide answers, but they articulate hidden questions without theories. Subtle uncertainties become invisible theories of evil all also to address I think, inappropriate competition. I'm very uncomfortable with the claim that the Holocaust was worse than the Rwandan genocide, for example, or that rape is worse than torture. racking suffering is often about belittling some victims rather than acknowledging others. Nevertheless, there are as Claude ecard calls them lesser wrongs, and there are other acts between good and evil. How do we prioritize those evils that necessitate urgency or are all evils urgent by definition? So when I was asked why people were reacting less intensely to the boston bombings, I was also asked, in essence, whether they were equally as bad as the Newtown massacre. I was asked about the nature of evil itself. And while I can't promise an answer, what I can do is offer today's episode in response, Crystal, thanks for the question. This episode is for you. And with that, we turn to our guest Claudia card is the Emma Goldman Professor of Philosophy in the philosophy department at the University of Wisconsin Madison with teaching affiliations in women's studies, Jewish Studies, environmental studies and LGBT studies. Claudia, thanks for joining us on why Hello,
If you'd like to join the conversation, email us a question and ask email@example.com Do you post a firstname.lastname@example.org slash wire radio show or tweet us at at wire radio show? As always, you can join our live chat room at why Radio show.org. So, Claudia, I guess Let me start by asking simply, why should we concern ourselves with a secular theory of evil?
Well, because we live in a democratic society that's religiously pluralistic. For one thing, we need a secular ethics, and I think of evil as part of a secular ethics. If you just work with a religious context, you're going to not be speaking to lots of people who are, you know, fellow citizens. And I think we do this with ethics, generally, not just with evils, try to cut across the religious differences and ideological differences to basic principles that everybody can defend and apply to their own lives.
But isn't the concept of evil somehow inherently inherently religious? I mean, I think you know, I think of the storming drawing, I think of Hell, I think of heaven, I think of the scenes with the angel and the devil on people's shoulders. Isn't this a concept that that just by using it, we're bringing in a religious paradigm?
Well, there are religious conceptions of evil. There's not just one conception of evil, there are multiple conceptions. And I think it's important to develop a secular conception of evil. That's what I've tried to do to distinguish the evils from other wrongs that are much less serious, less, you know, less urgent,
is, is evil, the kind of thing as we encounter often with ethics that people disagree on, or, as you explored these examples, did you find that everyone pretty much had the same set of ideas as to what evil was an evil wasn't?
No, lots of people don't want to use the concept of evil at all, because they think that it demonizes perpetrators. And that is in invokes some metaphysical idea that they don't don't find plausible. So far from finding people agreeing to consider paradigm cases like the Holocaust evils, some people just don't want to use that concept.
So that's really interesting. So so the first battle, at least, is to get the concept of evil on the table in and of itself, that that's right. And I mean, obviously, in the academic world, especially if we have tenure, we got to talk about whatever we want to talk about. Right. But yeah, but but as you put this on the table for philosophers and for other academics and for the non academic community, how hard was it? And what were the reactions, like when you said, you know, what, I want to talk about evil, I want to talk about evil with a capital E, whatever that means.
Well, people were very interested in that, you know, wrong and evil are much more interesting to people in general than the right and the good. And when I went on a talk radio show, after publishing my first book on evil, the atrocity paradigm, all the questions were about which people were evil, they wanted to know, is Saddam Hussein, evil is George Bush evil. I wasn't really interested in labeling people. I was interested in picking out events and practices, social practices, policies, and and so forth that are evils, plural.
You know, it's one of the things that that that I found interesting in that is that in your book, as sometimes it gets very technical, and sometimes it's it's it's very analytic, but there's also a kindness to it. And there's two reasons, of course, the first is that you're trying to solve a horrible problem. But the second is that you're very explicit, as you said a moment ago, about not demonizing people. You, you don't want to condemn the actors with the actions. But this as you're saying, runs counter to how we're talking is this. How do you do this? How do you separate the actor or the actions? And then following up on that? Is this a version of what comes out of some Christian denominations, hate the sin but love the sinner? Because I know that a lot of people find that concept problematic.
Yeah, I do, too. I don't love the sinner. And I don't think that there are no such things as human beings who are monstrous, but that's not my focus that focus on the perpetrator and perpetrator psychology as what's been dominant in the history of moral philosophy when it does look at evils, it's, but I think you get much more uptake and cooperation. If you focus on the deeds and the practices and set aside to a certain extent the motivations now on my understanding of evil, even those perpetrators who are not monsters who was most that's most of the perpetrators, I believe, they're still doing things that are inexcusably wrong. They don't have to be sadistic. We all do things that are inexcusably wrong. But if they're doing something that's an evil, it's not only inexcusably wrong, it's also intolerably harmful to others.
Now, these are the kinds of words that philosophers spend a lot of time thinking about. So let's talk a second about this notion. First, we'll do intolerable What does it mean for something to be intolerably wrong?
Okay, the way I think about that is I understand intolerable as what you shouldn't have to tolerate, not just what you can't, in fact, tolerate because, you know, millions of people tolerate the intolerable daily because they have to I under elucidate that idea by examples. I think intolerable harms consistent, being deprived of basics that are necessary for a decent minimally decent life. Things like access to non toxic air, water and food, just for starters, the ability to to move your arms and legs to sit down, stand up, lay down and so forth. And here, I think of some of the cages that prisoners have been put in for discipline where they can't sit down or stand up or move. I think that that's an intolerably harmful situation to have to endure. Other examples of intolerable harm would be severe and unremitting pain or humiliation. Others being deprived of human contact. Some of the punishments that have been inflicted, you know, in the way of solitary confinement, you know, have just really driven people mad. They're, these are harms that a decent life would not contain.
So, so the first thing is that the concept of intolerable is, and you use this word in the book and philosophy said all the time, it's a normative standard. And what this means is that is that intolerable does not describe an emotion, per se, but it's a judgment. It's, this is the line, and you can't, there is no justification to cross this line. And the fact that we make people cross it doesn't matter, because we're wrong if we do it.
Now, I wouldn't put it that way. JACK, I think sometimes it is justifiable to inflict intolerable harm. If it's justifiable, then it's not an evil. I think when you, you know, when you execute somebody, it might be justifiable to do it. I'm not big on the death penalty, but I wouldn't want to rule out the possibility that there are some circumstances in which it might be justifiable to execute somebody, you're inflicting intolerable harm, but it's not an evil if it's justifiable.
So So again, in philosophy, language intolerable is a necessary but not a sufficient condition. Right. It's right. It's it's, it's a component of, of of the definition, but it's not enough. And one of the other examples is inexcusable, that that there can't be a legitimate justification for it.
inexcusable, not only is there no justification, there's no partial justification, I think, I think there are two kinds of excuses that can you know, mitigate your judgment of somebody who perpetrates? What would otherwise be an evil. One kind of excuses diminished capacity for action, if somebody is laboring under a cognitive disability, for example. And I think of that as a metaphysical excuse, because it has to do with whether you've really got an action there that can be judged in a fully moral way. But the other kind, which is more interesting to me for my purposes, as a moral excuse, and that's when you have a partial justification. It's not enough to justify what you're doing all things considered, but it's at least a morally good reason. It's a reason that carries some moral Wait, even if it doesn't carry enough to justify the action, on the whole, an example maybe would help. It's something that can be a partial justification is that you, you were trying to avoid hurting somebody's feelings. Now, that can be a partial justification for telling a lie that you shouldn't have told on the whole. But there are other contexts in which that concern with hurting somebody's feelings just doesn't carry any moral weight at all. It's not the it doesn't begin to get your action off the ground. If you say that you killed somebody in order to avoid hurting someone else's feelings. That's, that's ridiculous. There you have a case of inexcusable wrongdoing.
So there are two different ways that I want to take a step back. But but but the first one is, you talk about, for example, prisoners in a cage where they can't move their arms or a solitary confinement. At the heart, it seems that what you have is a theory of human flourishing. And what I mean by that is, you have this idea of what humans have to have and have to encounter in order to lead a good life, a healthy life a whole life. Is that true? And B, do you need an account of human flourishing in order to have an account of evil?
No, I don't have an account of human flourishing as part of my understanding of evil, I have something much more minimal than that, an account of what a decent life would would not include. And the the level of decency is way below flourishing. It's something much more modest, something much easier to agree upon, I think, than an account of human flourishing. I think fortunately, we don't need to get as full blown as flourishing in order to understand evil.
So for our listeners, when we're talking about flourishing, we're really talking about a human being who thrives a human being who maximizes his or her capabilities, a human being who, who gets to fulfill all of their opportunities, and we know circumstances of people who are not treated equally, but who don't have all of those opportunities. So where does the concept decent come from? What what how do you identify what a decent life is?
Well, I identify a decent life in terms of a list of things that if you're depressed, certain things, if you're deprived of them, I think, can bring the quality of your life below the level of what we consider decent. And that's where I start with access to if you're deprived of access to non toxic air, water and food, if you're deprived, if you are deprived of freedom from severe and unremitting pain or humiliation, you know, if you're deprived of contact with other human beings over a long period of time, if you're deprived of the ability to make choices and act on at least some of them, if you're deprived of the possibility of hope, you know, things of that sort, and I'm making the list to be open ended. These are things that cut across cultural differences that have to do with what a human being requires, as a basic minimum.
But it wouldn't be compatible, say with a caste system that condemns a certain part of the population and says that they're not deserving of clean water or they're not that there's something essentially different about their humaneness that they don't they're not entitled to the thing that all good human beings are entitled to.
A test system like that is an example of a practice that I would consider to be an evil and with a practice. This is where I changed my theory from the first book I wrote on evil to the second one. I decided that it's not necessary that the wrongdoing component involve individual culpability. It's enough if the practice if you've got a practice, that the practice is indefensible, that there's no excuse for it that it's that it is an inexcusable wrong. And it's possible that there aren't any individuals who are guilty of individually, you know, culpable actions, very unlikely but conceivable, and it opens up the possibility that a practice that is inexcusable at one point in history might have been excusable at an earlier point, because the knowledge that was available, for example, could have been very different.
So so we have this really interesting and really difficult tension when we start to talk about practice, because a practice is a socially recognized behavior or ritual or activity that has some sort of meaning in a culture. And it can be everything from a chess game, to taking communion to prom, to a huge range of things, or an institution like, like, slavery or things like that. And so we have this tension between this, the social norms and social expectations, but then there's this question that you're asking, and that question is, okay, how much responsibility does an individual have when they're participating in the practice? And so what you're saying is that, over time, you've modified your position on this from your first book to your second, I think it's always really useful for our audience to hear about how philosophers have changed their mind over time. Again, how did you are thinking on individuality, individual culpability and, and collective responsibility? How does it change from when you first started working on this to your latest account
of it? Okay, when I first started working on it, I thought, evils plural. You know, I have two basic components. A harm component, that's the intolerable harm that we talked about, and a wrongdoing component, and I originally described that as culpable wrongdoing. And if the evil in question is an individual deed, then culpable wrongdoing is appropriate. But if the evil in question is a practice, I came to think, to the view that culpability isn't necessary. It's enough if the practice is inexcusable, if it's morally indefensible, and leave open the question whether individuals who participate in the practice are culpable. Probably some of them are, but some of them may be culpable to a lesser degree than you might have thought, considering the harm that the practice does. It leaves open the question how much an individual knows about the fact that they're even participating in this practice, or that they're benefiting from it?
So So when we talk about culpability, we're talking about responsibility, accountability, justly punished or rewarded for an action. And so there there there are things that a person can do their practices that a person can do that they can participate in, that you would consider evil. But you would in return say, Well, look, they didn't Not only did they not know any better, but this was so normal at the time, this was so understandable to them, that they weren't in a position where they could either question or, or be plucked out of the group and say you did this and you must be punished.
Yeah, I think there are all sorts of degrees of knowledge and culpability among lots of different participants, in an evil practice, taken an evil practice, like torture. You know, for one thing, if a country is engaging in torturing suspects, from the enemy that they're fighting against, that's being funded partly by taxes paid by ordinary people who don't know what the tax money is being used for. And if the hard put to say, whose taxes or what percentage of anybody's taxes went to funding that evil practice.
When we come back, we're gonna pull this thread a little more, we're going to talk about another aspect of the definition, the unforeseeable aspect of it. We're also going to talk a little bit about the examples and how to separate the ethics and the politics from all of this. You're listening to why philosophical discussions at everyday life. I'm your host, jack Russell Weinstein, we're talking with Claudia card about a secular theory of evil and we'll be back in a moment.
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You're back with wide philosophical discussion but everyday life, I'm your host jack Russell Weinstein, we're talking with Claudia card on secular theory of evil. You know, I've been to visit to concentration camps in my life, one in Austria and one in the Czech Republic. And I growing up Jewish was sort of always aware of the Holocaust. It's a presence in people's lives. And I had done some reading and I had had thought a lot about it and saw movies and documentaries and all that stuff growing up and and i thought i had a sense of what it was. And then I went to the camps. First I went with my mother and Happy Mother's Day to everybody. What my mother to in the Czech Republic to terrorism shot. And then a few years ago, in Austria, I had the occasion to take seven of my students to a camp, the experience of being a camp at a camp is like nothing that you could ever read, or you could ever view or you could ever see, there's a cloud of something, there's history that's palpable, for those of you who know what I mean, it makes you feel like Hegel was right, that history is real and touchable. And yet, you can understand why someone would think that evil is this floating thing in the world that touches you, and that needs to be frightened away by gargoyles, or by rituals or anything like that. Yet, some of that is just the psychological impact of coming face to face with the people and the instruments of torture, and the skull fragments on the ground and the smoke in the air. And so to talk about evil, in an analytic way to talk about evil, as a definition, has to be tremendously difficult. It has to be running in the face of millennia of history, that thinks of evil as as a creature is something you eat is something you smell is something you, you hear and feel is something that inherits a place. Large battlefields are like that in Gettysburg, they say that when you walk into the battlefield of Gettysburg, you feel the battle. And so Claudia, I want to ask, How hard was it? To walk away from that understanding of evil? How hard was it to step away from the sense of evil as a presence evil as a thing evil as an abstract object that we interact with that we can scare away or pull towards us? Was that was that a difficult process?
Well, I think though, it was a two stage process with me. At the time that I was writing my first book on evil, I was also teaching a new course on moral philosophy and the Holocaust. And I was thinking of all the atrocities that are included in my lifetime of, and I started out thinking of, you know, I called my first book, the atrocity paradigm, a theory of evil. And I was thinking of atrocities as extraordinary events. And then, in my second book, I realized evils are not necessarily extraordinary. They're much more ordinary than most people want to admit it. Most people I think, think of evils as something that's distant from them. And it's, it's the most important change, I think, in the way I think about evil was coming to terms with the recognition that evils are. They're much worse than lesser wrongs, but I no longer call the lesser wrongs, ordinary wrongs, because evils can also be ordinary.
Hannah Arendt famously used the phrase, the banality of evil. What does that mean?
Well, it means superficiality. She, she used to use the term that she got from Emmanuel Kant, radical evil. And then, after she went and reported on the trial of Eichmann in Jerusalem, she decided that he was such a superficial person, and also so very evil, that she changed her metaphor from radical evil to evil as a fungus. The idea of a fungus is something that overgrows the surfaces and that's how it kills. She looked at Eichmann, and she saw a bureaucrat who was anything but deep. He was just So trite and superficial, and that changed the way she thought about evil. Now when she says that evils are beno, she's only thinking of the wrongdoing part of the perpetrators motivation, there's nothing been all about the intolerable harm.
I want to again, I want to step back, because you've had a very, very long and tremendously respected career. And you are classified in some circles as as a feminist philosopher, and a lot of your early work fits squarely in and I'll use the term obviously, in the feminist tradition. Why, you know, someone who just picks up your books doesn't necessarily see that although it's present in the examples, how do you go from a larger feminist context to a more narrow discussion of evil and why is evil, a feminist concern?
Okay. The way I came from feminism to evil is, is like this, I realized in about 1999, that all my career I had been teaching and reading and writing about evils of various kinds, sex oppression, is is one whole batch of evils. But I also taught a course in lesbian culture, and had to deal with the evils of homophobia. I taught environmental ethics for 10 years and became convinced that there are environmental atrocities, I began teaching this course on moral philosophy and the Holocaust. And instead of just, you know, dealing with the individual kinds of evils, I thought it was really important for me as a philosopher, to figure out what makes all these things evils. So there, there are a couple of ways in which my feminism permeates my work on evil. You mentioned one, the examples. When I write about torture, and terrorism, I include a discussion of torture and terrorism in the home, for example. But also, the way I think of feminism is it's not just about women. And it's not just about gender. It's about looking at the world through the eyes of women, whose visions of things have been systematically either downplayed or omitted from academia for a long, long time that that's starting to change now. But the focus could be on evil. How would women think about evil? Well, first of all, they wouldn't be so focused on the perpetrator as on the victim, because women have been oppressed, and what it's like to have that experience of coming to realize that you've been oppressed when you didn't know it for a long time. That's an important part of understanding what it is to experience an evil. This is
going to sound sort of tangential, but I don't mean it to be. Why, why aren't you tremendously depressed? I mean, oh, you know, I mean, you've you've had this incredible career dealing with some really, really awful things. And while there has been some progress in some areas, an argument can be made, that there are other areas in which there has been not only no progress, but some regression. So how do you look at the history of oppression, the history of homophobia? How do you look at evil and the concept of evil and genocide and torture and rape? And and how do you just not lament the human state of humanity and the and how do you not bang your head against the wall with futility?
I don't, you know, that's never been my my attitude or feeling about it. I think part of it is that I'm very, very interested in how to live with evils, because I don't think they're ever going to go away. I don't believe in a utopia. I think I think it's conceivable, but extremely improbable. And an important part of ethics, it seems to me should be thinking about how to live with evils and with the realization that they're going to continue that, that you'd like to think you could leave the world a better place than you found it. But you know, that's pretty unrealistic, if not arrogant, but maybe you can teach people how to live better with the the knowledge of evil, not try to deny it, but past and present and feel future, it's gonna go on. I'm right now working on surviving evils. And I think, you know, one of the things that has interested me all along is how people do survive. At right and wrong ways of surviving the costs of surviving. Does that speak to your concern?
It does. And and there are a lot of things that that pop into my head, I'm thinking about the three women who were just found in Cleveland after 10 years and how they're going to survive. I think about survivor guilt, and those people who have survived and feel really terrible about it, and Primo Levy, the the writer killed himself at a very old age because he couldn't get past the guilt of surviving. But I guess, the thing that is I'm most in my head is a phenomenon that I've seen a lot lately. And I don't want to get into specific political issues here or public policy. But there are a lot of people who will talk about their freedoms being taken away, and they'll talk about we live in a police state or we live in the you know, the our government right now is the strongest and most oppressive and most socialist has ever been. And there's all sorts of evidence to suggest all these things are just not true. And so how do we talk about evil with people who think that they see evil at every turn, and who think that their lives are worse than they really are and can't see the goodness or the freedoms? Or the positive aspects, but really label evil just to suit their immediate emotions and their immediate political goals?
Well, jack, when I encounter that, in students, I tried to cure them put that in quotation marks by confronting them with lives that are so much worse than anything they've ever dreamed of, that they have to step back and take a deep breath and think, well, yes. All too often, it's easy, I think, for undergraduates in this country, to fail to appreciate what it might be like to live in a country that was not a democracy. You know,
there are two things that that stick in my head. The first is years and years and years ago, I was teaching in New Jersey, I had a student who came into the class live in, and in New Jersey, they have a rule that you have to have a license plate, both in the front and the back of your car, and he got stopped because he only had one license plate, because he was of the belief that, that if you only had one license plate, they couldn't use a radar gun to see how fast you were going. It was a rumor that was going on. And he walked in new. So anger says we live in a police state, you know, and and I didn't even know, I didn't even know how to respond. And, and and at the same time, there's this vision that has stayed with me for a very, very long time, probably about four or five years ago, New York Times had just started posting color photos on their front page. And there was a photo of two women working in a brick factory in India. And it was red and bleak. And these women, the hardness of their life, the hardness of their job, the hardness of their bricks, it was so palpable in this picture, that whenever I do have a litany of complaints, I always say, Well, at least I'm not working at a brick factory in India. And on the one hand, I'm trivializing it as it for a joke. But on the other hand, this is a vision of evil that has had as much of an effect on me as those visits to those concentration camps is the only way. Or let me let me let me rephrase that. a mutual friend of yours and mine, a woman named Terry Weiner, who I have tremendous respect for. were once watching a documentary about people being killed in prison, and it was a very good documentary and she said that one of the things that she liked about it was that it didn't become pornography, that you didn't watch the documentary for the pleasure for the excitement of seeing the killing it all felt very ugly and very unpleasant. How do you talk about evil without reverting to pornography? How do you talk about the Holocaust without trying to out shock? The next person Steven Spielberg does this well then life is beautiful does that and and how do you how do you avoid the the overindulgence of the graphicness of the pornographic elements of evil of talking about evil?
The two things that your question reminds me of one is I have the opposite problem. My students want to stay on the level of abstraction. And I have to require them to watch a movie from a list that I give them and to read a survivor narrative so that they get the nitty gritty. They don't, they don't have enough knowledge of what the details are. But in the past, I used to teach a course called feminism instead. Sexual politics in which we actually had a unit on pornography. And there was a slideshow called the Women Against pornography slideshow. I showed it once. in that course there would be maybe one or two men who would sign up. And I realized from the paper I got after that from the guy who had signed up for the course, that he was getting off on that slideshow. So from then on, we talked about pornography without slides. But it was a real dilemma for me, because most of the students, most of the women did not know how violent much pornography is. And a picture can say much more than 1000 words, you know, and it did. And unfortunately, it also fed some very unsavory interests, among, in this, the student who was taking the course, because he wanted to watch some pornography. So the question that you've raised is a difficult one in teaching, you don't want to cross that line where some people will actually enjoy watching the lurid details of evil, whether they're literally pornography or, or something that might be compared to it. But at the same time, you do want them to appreciate that those details are real.
So there's a fine line between asking people to be empathetic and to put themselves in that situation but not appeal to the prurient interest not not to that, and I think that our mass media does not do a very good job of this balance. I feel like our math mill our mass media just inundates us the the more evil it is, the more imagery they use.
I agree. I agree. And it's terrible. I think.
So getting back to the abstract, then I want to I want to read your definition, again, evil is reasonably foreseeable intolerable harms produced by inexcusable wrongs. And so we talked about inexcusable, and we talked about intolerable. Let's talk about reasonably foreseeable. What do you mean by reasonably foreseeable? And why? Why is that a component of it?
It's a component because something might really be an intolerable harm could result from somebody doing something that was wrong, that they had no excuse for, but there was no reason to expect that that harm would result. And in that case, I think that's not something I want to include under under evils. That's, that's an accident, or a mistake, or something that I want to include under, that's part of it. So I want on the one hand to rule out accidents, at the opposite extreme, I do want to include reasonably foreseeable harm that was not actually aimed at, but the perpetrator could be expected to know that that was part of the price of what they were willing to do. So called collateral damage is reasonably foreseeable harm. And I want to include that and not say that the fact that it wasn't aimed at puts it in a different category. I think of the perpetrators intention is including not just what they're aiming at, and the means they're taking, but also what they can reasonably foresee is going to happen.
So killing someone when you're driving drunk. That's a reasonable foreseeable,
yes, it is. I think so. Yes. Is that is that evil? Yes, I think I think drunk driving is an evil. I think texting while driving is an evil. These are examples of very ordinary evils.
You know, that's, that's, that's a real powerful example. And at least the next question, accidentally, but but, you know, we have this tendency to talk about torture and genocide and all of these other things. But yeah, I suspect that everyone who's listening right now, when you said not only drunk driving is evil, but texting while driving is evil. I suspect that people's ears really, really pricked up, because that is such a mundane, such an ordinary evil, and it's something that I am sure most of us are guilty of.
Yeah. Well, I hope most of us aren't. I know too many people are guilty of it. And more and more states are now passing laws that put it in the category with drunk driving, because the benefits to be gained from texting are so trivial compared to the loss of life that you could be inflicting and it's so totally preventable.
I know that if I am ever motivated To do that your voice is going to be in my head for the rest of my life. You know, and it's my my best friend's mother used to talk about. Well, you know, never stick your arm out of the out of the window. Yeah, driving, you know, unless you want to bloody stump is what she would always say. And that's, and that's in my head. So we only have a couple minutes real quickly. We have a definition philosophers love definitions, philosophers. You and I are very satisfied when we have a definition. But when I read the definition to our listeners, and I say evils are reasonable, foreseeable, intolerant, and reasonably foreseeable intolerable harms produced by inexcusable wrongs. They're gonna say, Well, okay, so what what do I do with a definition? So let me ask that to you. So we can address it directly? And just in a minute or two, what do you do with the definition? How does a definition help us?
I think it helps us to have a separate category for evals to mark them off from other wrongs, other unjustified other injustices. injustice is a much broader category, only some in justices are evils. And when people talk about fighting for justice, and eliminating in justices, I'd like to see the focus more specifically on evils to at least this extent, that whatever else you do, you at least give some attention to addressing the real evils. And, you know, failing to crash the glass ceiling, for example, is wrong, it's an injustice, but it's not an evil.
Because the harm that it does is not intolerable, you can still have a decent life, even if you know you are unjustly treated in that respect.
So is the difference between an evil and an injustice? Is it a qualitative difference? Or a quantitative difference? I mean, is it just that that it's the harm is so bad, that it's there's just more of it? Or is the harm so bad that the harm is of a different type?
It's it's not just a matter of degree, it's a matter of complexity. The harms are worth an injustice needn't do any harm at all, you know, some injustice is our evils. So I wouldn't contrast in justices with evils, but say, evils are a subset of in justices. I don't know if there are any evils that are not also in justices. But something can be an injustice without any reference to culpability or inexcusable wrongdoing at all, it needn't have that component. But evil is a more complex concept. It does have that component. It also has the component of intolerable harm. It's a much more serious thing, then I will say, some injustices are trivial, like petty theft, or here's one of my favorite examples. It comes from another philosopher, failing to pay your subway fare and leaping over the turnstile. That's a form of petty theft, but it's wrong, but it's not a serious, wrong, like an evil, you know, well, with
that example, we do have to call it into the conversation, but this was this was this my favorite kind of conversation because it takes just a foundational concept, and it just lays it out there. So Claudia, thank you so much for joining us on why. Well, thank
you for inviting me. I've enjoyed it.
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You're back with wide philosophical discussions about everyday life. I'm your host, jack Russell Weinstein, we've been talking with Claudia card about evil, evil. That's such a big word and movies make light of it met. One of the actors will talk about not evil, but evil, that sort of horror or sense of evil, but there's nothing. There's nothing trivial about the notion of evil that we're talking about. There might be something ordinary about it. There might be something commonplace about it. But it's not trivial. And when we trivialize it, we never really get to the essence of what evil is. There are plenty of religious traditions that try to do that they try to list evils or talk about punishment for evils or consequences of evils, but they don't offer a clear, articulate definition. And that's what philosophers try to do. They try to take an abstract concept. And they try to say, look, let's boil this down to a definition so we can apply it so we can look at these actions and see, does this apply here? Am I doing evil? Is genocide, evil is raped evil is texting while driving evil? Can it do these harms that Claudia card outlines that are unforeseeable that are reasonably foreseeable that are intolerable and inexcusable? I don't necessarily need you to subscribe to my theory of evil and I don't necessarily expect you to subscribe to Claudius. But what I would love for you to get out of the show, what I got out of the show is that we can have a very serious, sophisticated philosophical discussion about one of the core concepts of our daily lives, one of the core concepts of things that we take for granted, and that when we do take them for granted, it also makes them complacent. Yes, life in that country is evil. Yes, life for those poor oppressed people as evil. But when we wave it away as evil in a dismissable way, we are waving away our responsibilities to respond. We're waiving our responsibility to analyze and to articulate and describe. And that's what we've tried to do today, we've tried to take the heart of an abstract concept, provide a definition so that we can take it seriously enough to say, look, we all know evil is important. We all know evil is horrible. Now let's put it on the table and let's try to identify what it is. And let's move forward from there. You've been listening to why philosophical discussions about everyday life I'm your host, jack Russell Weinstein. As always, it's an honor to be with you.
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