South African Journal of Philosophy

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The relation between evil and transcendence: new possibilities?

Anné H Verhoef


Evil has always been a main interest in the field of philosophy and, lately, in the field of ethics – in both continental and analytic traditions – the idea of evil seems to be making a comeback. The propensity in philosophy is to understand evil in radical immanent terms. Lars Svendsen, in A Philosophy of Evil, argues for example that evil is about inter-human relationships, not about a transcendent, supernatural force. Emmanuel Levinas, on the other hand, describes evil as something that cannot be integrated into the world, something that is always on the outside: the radical Other. Furthermore, evil appears to us as something chaotic, defying comprehension. Does this mean evil is something transcendent? In this article I will analyse the concept of evil in terms of the typology of transcendence that was developed by Wessel Stoker. I will argue that there are, within the (post-) modern discourse, and due to new developments in the understanding of transcendence, new nuanced possibilities of thinking about evil and its relation to transcendence – especially to ‘transcendence as alterity’. Traces of this kind of understanding of evil will be indicated in Paul Ricoeur’s view of evil. This notion of evil may enhance our ethical responsibility towards it.

South African Journal of Philosophy 2014, 33(3): 259–269

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