Sunday, June 13, 2010

The problem of philosophy

Notre Dame publishes a regular online series of reviews of philosophical books. This one reviews Ari Hirvonen and Janne Porttikivi (eds.), Law and Evil: Philosophy, Politics, Psychoanalysis, Routledge, 2010. Bob Vallier, DePaul University, the author of the review, begins by talking about what he calls the problem of evil.
[The problem of evil] is hardly new. It is as old as philosophy itself, a discourse which begins, one story goes, with an act of spiritual freedom that allows the first philosopher to step away from the naïve comfort of the bosom of nature and ask "why?" The conditions for the possibility of evil are established with this first act of freedom, and indeed, freedom may itself be the first act of evil, in that it commits a violence against nature, violates nature by turning it into an object for scientific inquiry and for instrumental reason. The co-originarity of freedom and evil (arguably what Kant meant by "radical evil") born of our willful separation from nature (as Schelling claims) is not only a philosophical mirror of the theological story of the Fall, but also and more importantly accounts for why the problem of evil will not go away: as long as we are free, there is evil -- not simply as a possibility, but as actuality. Kant, of course, is responding to Leibniz's notion of Theodicy, itself articulated against Bayle's skeptical argument against the goodness of God. Long after Kant's response, Nietzsche, Freud, Arendt, and others will tell a different story about evil that takes us definitively beyond its metaphysical confines.
Debora remarked that if freedom is inherently evil, then how can there be good. She thought this created an opening for a book on the problem of good.

For me it raised problem of philosophy itself.

If this tempts you to look further into the book under review, here is Vallier's overall summary.
On the whole, this is an interesting but uneven collection, approaching the problem of evil from three distinct but complementary discursive positions. Many of the essays are clear and insightful, but many others are highly specialized and obfuscating.
Vallier especially likes the chapter by Véronique Voruz, which he says
deserves special mention for its clarity of exposition of the Freudian death drive and Lacan's interpretation of it, focusing on "Kant with Sade," and revaluing the categorical imperative as a philosophical rationalization of moral masochism. Of all the essays in the volume, this one is the most clear, accessible, and instructive, virtues that many other essays regrettably do not possess.
There's quite a punch in the notion of "revaluing the categorical imperative as a philosophical rationalization of moral masochism." Is he really saying that doing good is an act of masochism? I guess that makes Debora right about the problem of good.

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