The Problem of Evil in Philosophy and Popular Culture

Trip McCrossin (Philosophy)

The problem of evil, as Susan Neiman has described it, is the perniciously difficult to satisfy “need to find order within those appearances so unbearable that they threaten reason’s ability to go on,” as when (at times incomprehensibly) bad things happen to (at least relatively) good people, and (at least relatively) good things to (at times incomprehensibly) bad people. Central to her watershed perspective on the problem are two related propositions. She proposes, on the one hand, that midway through the Enlightenment, the problem of evil developed, in addition to the traditional theological version—according to which human reason strains, in the above “find order” spirit, to reconcile conspicuous human suffering with faith in divine wisdom, power, and benevolence, which either makes or allows it to happen—a more secular version as well. Here, while it’s no longer in response to suffering’s ostensibly divine origin, reason strains similarly nonetheless, so much so as to call into question, as the theological version does already, reason’s very ability to make the order it so fervently desires. She goes on to propose, on the other hand, that in response to both versions of the problem primarily two competing perspectives arise, which competition defines us still today, beginning with the public rivalry between Rousseau’s and Voltaire’s, the former insisting that “morality demands that we make evil intelligible,” the latter that “morality demands that we don’t.” The seminar is designed to have participants work together to identify and elaborate the various ways in which these competing perspectives endure in philosophy and popular culture.

Course Number
01:090:101 section 59
Fall 2020
Transfer Course