Synopses & Reviews
"This is a splendid book; it will be widely read and much discussed. Working from the assumption that philosophers ought to attend to 'the questions that brought us here,' Susan Neiman has given us a brilliant reading of those who have done just that. Her history of philosophy is also a philosophical argument: that evil is the central question driving the best modern philosophy, and that it is not only a moral question but a metaphysical one. The book is written with grace and wit; again and again, Neiman writes the kind of sentences we dream of uttering in the perfect conversation: where every mot is bon. This is exemplary philosophy."--Michael Walzer
"A brilliant study of changes in our understanding of evil from the book of Job through the 1755 Lisbon earthquake and on to the Holocaust and September 11. Neiman makes a powerful case for taking that problem as central to the history of modern philosophy, and her analysis of our present resources for coping with evil are provocative as well as profound. It's an immensely illuminating book."--J. B. Schneewind
"In tracing the responses to the problem of evil from the Enlightenment, when the question was why the Lisbon earthquake and the engagés were Voltaire, Leibniz, Pope, and Rousseau, to the present, when it is why Auschwitz and they are Améry, Arendt, Camus, and Adorno, Neiman has made an original and powerful contribution to the analysis of an intractable moral issue: how to live with the fact that neither God nor nature seems concerned with our fate. Succinctly, steadily, and relentlessly written, the history of philosophy as philosophy could hardly be better done."--Clifford Geertz
"Even--or especially--to a nonphilosopher like myself, Susan Neiman's Evil in Modern Thought offers intellectual adventure of a high order. The audacity of her recasting of Western philosophy is matched by its profundity--and frequent wit. Its challenges are as bracing as they are essential. Her intellectual fearlessness deserves the closest and widest attention."--Todd Gitlin
Scintillating and self-disciplined - a very rare thing in a philosopher.
This is a splendid book; it will be widely read and much discussed. Working from the assumption that philosophers ought to attend to 'the questions that brought us here,' Susan Neiman has given us a brilliant reading of those who have done just that. Her history of philosophy is also a philosophical argument: that evil is the central question driving the best modern philosophy, and that it is not only a moral question but a metaphysical one. The book is written with grace and wit; again and again, Neiman writes the kind of sentences we dream of uttering in the perfect conversation: where every mot is bon. This is exemplary philosophy.
A deeply moving and scholarly book that will interest many general readers.
Provocative and profound.
Neiman's book is a welcome contribution to a philosophical conversation too long neglected.
Neiman's audacity and occasionally morbid wit are a welcome addition to contemporary philosophy. If there is any hope after Auschwitz, we may find it in the fact that human minds will not stop trying to make some kind of meaning out of it.
Neiman's narrative . . . sheds light not just on the writings of particular thinkers, but also on their relation to one another. And it helps us begin to understand certain facts about the modern period that current philosophers find baffling.
Superb... Neiman's claim to have written an alternative history is not an empty boast.
Clear, elegant and inviting...suddenly, (philosophy) is again a matter oflife and death.
This great work....looks into these abysses with astonishing fearlessness.
An erudite and compelling intellectual treatise that is profoundlyinteresting, often witty, and constructed without resorting to jargon or obfuscation. . . . This is a fine, even elegant book.
Winner of the 2002 Award for Best Professional/Scholarly Book in Philosophy, Association of American Publishers
Winner of the 2003 Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion, American Academy of Religion
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2003
"Evil has become the subject of one book after another, but [this] is one book unlike any other - by a philosopher unlike any other."--Bill Moyers, NOW
Examining our understanding of evil from the Inquisition to contemporary terrorism, Susan Neiman explores who we have become in the three centuries since the enlightenment.
Evil threatens human reason, for it challenges our hope that the world makes sense. For eighteenth-century Europeans, the Lisbon earthquake was manifest evil. Today we view evil as a matter of human cruelty, and Auschwitz as its extreme incarnation. Examining our understanding of evil from the Inquisition to contemporary terrorism, Susan Neiman explores who we have become in the three centuries that separate us from the early Enlightenment. In the process, she rewrites the history of modern thought and points philosophy back to the questions that originally animated it.
Whether expressed in theological or secular terms, evil poses a problem about the world's intelligibility. It confronts philosophy with fundamental questions: Can there be meaning in a world where innocents suffer? Can belief in divine power or human progress survive a cataloging of evil? Is evil profound or banal? Neiman argues that these questions impelled modern philosophy. Traditional philosophers from Leibniz to Hegel sought to defend the Creator of a world containing evil. Inevitably, their efforts--combined with those of more literary figures like Pope, Voltaire, and the Marquis de Sade--eroded belief in God's benevolence, power, and relevance, until Nietzsche claimed He had been murdered. They also yielded the distinction between natural and moral evil that we now take for granted. Neiman turns to consider philosophy's response to the Holocaust as a final moral evil, concluding that two basic stances run through modern thought. One, from Rousseau to Arendt, insists that morality demands we make evil intelligible. The other, from Voltaire to Adorno, insists that morality demands that we don't.
Beautifully written and thoroughly engaging, this book tells the history of modern philosophy as an attempt to come to terms with evil. It reintroduces philosophy to anyone interested in questions of life and death, good and evil, suffering and sense.
Table of Contents
CHAPTER ONE: FIRE FROM HEAVEN 14
God's Advocates: Leibniz and Pope 18
Newton of the Mind: Jean-Jacques Rousse u 36
Divided Wisdom: Immanuel Kant 57
Real and Rational: Hegel and Marx 84
In Conclusion 109
CHAPTER TWO: CONDEMNING THE ARCHITECT 113
Raw Material: Bayle's Dictionary 116
Voltaire's Destinies 128
The Impotence of Reason: David Hume 148
End of the Tunnel: The Marquis de Sade 170
Schopenhauer: The World as Tribun l 196
CHAPTER THREE: ENDS OF AN ILLUSION 203
Eternal Choices: Nietzsche on Redemption 206
On Consolation: Freud vs. Providence 227
CHAPTER FOUR: HOMELESS 238
Earthquakes: Why Lisbon? 240
Mass Murders: Why Auschwitz? 250
Losses: Ending Modern Theodicies 258
Intentions: Meaning and Malice 267
Terror: After September 11 281
Remains: Camus, Arendt, Critical Theory, Rawls 288
Origins: Sufficient Reason 314