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Evil as Losing the Ability to Act

  • Daryl Koehn

Abstract

We tend to think of evil as something dramatic and glamorous, a view reinforced by popular culture. Films and magazines portray evil as the rare work of genius. The French philosopher Simone Weil attacked this view, arguing that, whereas “fictional evil is varied and intriguing, attractive, profound and full of charm,” real evil is stupid and insipid.1 Weil is not entirely correct in her assessment. As we will see, evil assumes a variety of forms and hides itself from itself. In this respect, evil deserves to be called cunning, not dismissed as stupid. Weil, however, is also partly right. The shrewdly articulate film villain Hannibal Lector titillates more than the obviously sick Charles Manson. The clever criminal captures our imagination and seduces us into believing that evil involves complex, malicious motives. Therein lies the problem, for evildoers are more ignorant than malicious. They are trapped in unsatisfying, neurotic modes of behavior. Since they do not know who they are, they cannot escape their self-inflicted suffering. They behave almost mechanically, not creatively. In that respect, both real and fictional evil is, to use Weil’s adjective, insipid.

Keywords

Nazi Regime Magical Thinking Racial Purity Fantasy World Revolutionary Theater 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 4.
    Leon Kass, Toward a More Natural Science ( New York: Free Press, 1985 ).Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Klaus Mann, Mephisto ( New York: Penguin Books, 1977 ), pp. 11–16.Google Scholar
  3. 19.
    Mason Cooley, City Aphorisms First Selection (New York: n.p., 1984).Google Scholar
  4. 21.
    C. Fred Alford, What Evil Means to Us (Albany, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997 ), pp. 39, 54.Google Scholar
  5. 22.
    Mary Midgley, Wickedness ( London: Ark Paperbacks, 1984 ), p. 13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Daryl Koehn 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daryl Koehn

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