The Atrocity Paradigm: A Theory of Evil

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Oxford University Press, 2005 - 284 pages
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What distinguishes evils from ordinary wrongs? Is hatred a necessarily evil? Are some evils unforgivable? Are there evils we should tolerate? What can make evils hard to recognize? Are evils inevitable? How can we best respond to and live with evils?

Claudia Card offers a secular theory of evil that responds to these questions and more. Evils, according to her theory, have two fundamental components. One component is reasonably foreseeable intolerable harm -- harm that makes a life indecent and impossible or that makes a death indecent. The other component is culpable wrongdoing. Atrocities, such as genocides, slavery, war rape, torture, and severe child abuse, are Card's paradigms because in them these key elements are writ large. Atrocities deserve more attention than secular philosophers have so far paid them. They are distinguished from ordinary wrongs not by the psychological states of evildoers but by the seriousness of the harm that is done. Evildoers need not be sadistic: they may simply be negligent or unscrupulous in pursuing their goals.

Card's theory represents a compromise between classic utilitarian and stoic alternatives (including Kant's theory of radical evil). Utilitarians tend to reduce evils to their harms; Stoics tend to reduce evils to the wickedness of perpetrators: Card accepts neither reduction. She also responds to Nietzsche's challenges about the worth of the concept of evil, and she uses her theory to argue that evils are more important than merely unjust inequalities. She applies the theory in explorations of war rape and violence against intimates. She also takes up what Primo Levi called "the gray zone", where victims become complicit in perpetrating on others evils that threaten to engulf themselves. While most past accounts of evil have focused on perpetrators, Card begins instead from the position of the victims, but then considers more generally how to respond to -- and live with -- evils, as victims, as perpetrators, and as those who have become both.
 

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Contents

The Atrocity Paradigm
3
Nietzsches Denial of Evil
27
Two Extremes
50
Kants Theory of Radical Evil
73
Prioritizing Evils over Unjust Inequalities
96
Rape in War
118
Terrorism in the Home
139
The Moral Powers of Victims
166
The Moral Burdens and Obligations of Perpetrators
188
Diabolical Evil Revisited
211
Notes
235
Copyright

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About the author (2005)


Claudia Card is Emma Goldman Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin, with teaching affiliations in Women's Studies, the Center for Jewish Studies, and the Institute for Environmental Studies. She has also taught at Dartmouth College, the University of Pittsburgh, and the Goethe University in Frankfurt. Known for her work in ethics and feminist philosophy, she is the author of The Unnatural Lottery: Character and Moral Luck and Lesbian Choices. She has also edited several anthologies, including On Feminist Ethics and Politics, Feminist Ethics, and Adventures in Lesbian Philosophy.

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