A Philosophy of Evil

Glen Newey writes:

English has a problem with the morally bad. Terry Eagleton reports his son’s approving reaction when told that his father was writing a book on evil: ‘Wicked!’ Words like ‘wicked’, ‘bad’, ‘nasty’, ‘filthy’, ‘naughty’ have all fallen prey to ironic subversion. The word ‘evil’ is something of an exception: the vestry romps of errant priests and MPs’ abject grubbing for baksheesh fail to do it justice. The same goes for ‘obscene’ used as a term of moral condemnation (though not as a legal category applied to pornography – in that sense obscenity is rarely, if ever, ‘obscene’). Evil jemmies itself into the mind via metaphors of toxicity or pestilence, or with quaint whimsy, as in Hammer Horror’s latex zombies. It poses a problem, as if exempt from Anglo-Saxons’ flippancy and love of diminuendo that, sensibly enough, cut moral grandiosity down to size.

(LRB 23 September 2010)