“We are witness to the unspeakable.
“The sweet child is ravaged by cruelty. Entire peoples are marched to death camps. Whole villages are swept out into the angry, tidal sea. Our weakness wreaks anguish on those loyal to us. The ungrateful mock the gracious. The beautiful is defiled by the obscene. These are evil things, and the evil in them is real.
“Some deny this reality. They stop their ears to the reports of death camps, turn their eyes from cigarette burns on the eyelids of the abused child, seek excuses in the wrangle of social cause on behalf of the vilest, interpret horrors as mere natural phenomena, and preen themselves with what they deem their enlightenment. They judge not, and would not be judged. But judgment is a necessity if evil be real. We are witness to this reality, and to deny it is itself evil, perhaps the greatest evil. As witness to the reality of evil we are stunned speechless and therein lies the fiercest paradox. For the more we try to make sense of evil, the less evil it becomes. To explain evil is to make it coherent, but it is the very incoherence of it that stuns us into mute impotence. It seems that to explain it by making it thinkable, we render it acceptable. But to accept evil is unacceptable. What can we do with the incoherent except turn our backs on it, deny it? Like the three ignoble monkeys we then neither see nor hear nor speak of it. Which is worse: to deny the reality of evil to save our reason, or deny reason to retain the reality of evil?”
Thus opens the first chapter of this profound and penetrating study of the phenomenon of evil, its experience, significance, and importance.
Dr. Michael Gelven is Distinguished Research Professor of Philosophy at Northern Illinois University and the author of many books, among them The Risk of Being: What It Means to Be Good and Bad (1997), The Quest for the Fine: Judgment, Worth and Existence (1995), War and Existence (1993), Why Me? A Philosophical Inquiry into Fate (1991), Spirit and Existence (1990), Truth and Existence (1990), Winter, Friendship and Guilt: The Sources of Self Inquiry (1973), and A Commentary on Heidegger’s Being and Time (1970, revised 1989).