Evil in Modern Thought, by Susan Neiman

Susan Nieman’s Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy, visualized as a modern social media discussion thread, chapter one.

(Those of you reading this in a feed aggregator will probably want to follow the link to read the post at my blog where the formatting will make a lot more sense.)

Alfonso Ⅹ
hates his Ptolemaic astronomy class
Alfonso Ⅹ
If I had been of God’s counsel at the Creation, many things would have been ordered better.
good Christians everywhere
Blasphemy!
Gottfried Liebniz
LOL. Nooooobody expects the Copernican Revolution! God doesn’t look so dumb now, does he?
Isaac Newton
Seriously. The more I look, the more amazed I am at the order and wisdom of Creation.
René Descartes
But how do you know your observations aren’t the result of an evil demon manipulating your senses rather than true reflections on the state of creation?
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Alfonse, this just shows what book learning will get you. A humble farmer would never be so hare-brained as to try to out-think God.
Pierre Bayle
launches the Enlightenment
Voltaire
Pierre Bayle
Properly speaking, history is nothing but the crimes and misfortunes of the human race.
Gottfried Liebniz
You’re as short-sighted as Alfonso. What look like crimes and misfortunes to you are just part of the mosaic of the best of all possible worlds from God’s point of view.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
On the contrary, Pierre. History — including the crimes and misfortunes of the human race — is the plan of God fulfilled, verifying the reality of providence. We just need to crack the code.
Pierre Bayle
likes Manichaeism
good Christians everywhere
Blasphemy!
Gottfried Liebniz
God could no more create a most perfect world without evil than He could create a square circle. If we were omniscient and could see the whole of creation over the whole of time, we would realize its perfection. Over time we will learn the connections between sin and suffering, and better understand God’s wisdom.
Immanuel Kant
But we aren’t omniscient, and we can’t see the world this way, so what makes you so confident?
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
So God is like a grocer? He can give you anything you want as long as it’s in stock? ‘It may not be great, but it’s the best we could find today.’
Gottfried Liebniz
invents Calculus
Isaac Newton
The hell you did.
Alexander Pope
All Nature is but Art, unknown to thee:
All Chance, Direction, which thou canst not see;
All Discord, Harmony not understood;
All partial Evil, universal Good;
And in spite of Pride, in erring Reason’s spite,
One truth is clear, whatever is, is right.
Voltaire
David Hume
Immanuel Kant
Voltaire
You realize this puts the kibosh on original sin and divine providence, don’t you?
good Christians everywhere
Blasphemy!
Alexander Pope
If plagues or earthquakes don’t break Heaven’s design, why should we think the cruel acts of men would?
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
To deny the existence of evil is a most convenient way of excusing the author of that evil; the Stoics formerly made themselves a laughing-stock for less.
Voltaire
Seen the news lately?
Trending Article
Lisbon destroyed by earthquake, fires, tsunami; tens of thousands killed; God’s benevolence thrown into doubt.
Voltaire
Best of all possible worlds, my ass.
Immanuel Kant
Even earthquakes have a positive side to them. Who knows but that the alternatives might have been even worse?
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
The tragedy wasn’t caused so much by the earthquake as by the idiocy of packing so many people into an urban environment which is foolish humanity’s method for making earthquakes as horrible as possible.
Immanuel Kant
I think you’re right after all. All these attempts to excuse-away suffering and praise this as ‘the best of all possible worlds’ are just philosophers brown-nosing God in the hopes of getting on His good side.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Everything is good as it leaves the hands of the Author of nature; everything degenerates in the hands of men.
Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant
You have done for human nature what Newton did for gravity, and have proven Pope was right all along.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
We need to retreat along the path we took to decadent civilization all the way back to when we were noble savages and then make our decisions again without the influence of vanity.
good Christians everywhere
You mean that we should ‘become as little children’ to escape the consequences of the Fall of Man. I think I know this story.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Uh… not exactly. God’s guidance is not necessary here. If we do not interfere, nature will punish vice and reward virtue all by itself.
anonymous
If we are naturally good and virtue prompts its own rewards, how did we fall so far so fast and why would it take so much work to get us back to paradise?
Immanuel Kant
invents transcendental idealism
Immanuel Kant
I’m starting to distrust the intuition that says virtue and reward are systematically, necessarily connected. All human moral effort seems an attempt to fulfill this intuition, but it fails, and so requires faith in a Divine judge to set the scales right in the end.
Immanuel Kant
There seems to be an unbridgable gulf between the ‘is’ and the ‘ought’ — they occupy different dimensions, and only coincide by coincidence.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
That’s too passive. The aim of philosophy is to describe reality in terms of the divine ideal it is enacting — a divine ideal that is the same as that of enlightened human reason — and then to press our reason on reality, to make our ‘ought’ an ‘is’ by force or to understand every ‘is’ as an ‘ought’ by reason.
Karl Marx
The philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point is to change it.
Immanuel Kant
Come to think of it, if we knew that there was a necessary connection between virtue and reward, that would be the end of virtue, as it would just be subsumed by self-interest. What makes an action virtuous is that we do it because it is right, not because we expect fortuitous consequences.
anonymous
So we should always do ‘the right thing’ whatever the consequences? What if a murderer asks me if his intended victim is hiding in my cellar, is it okay to lie to him and say ‘No’?
Immanuel Kant
In such a case, you shouldn’t lie. How confident can you be in the consequences of your actions? What if you lie and the murderer goes away only to immediately find your friend who has, unbeknownst to you, crawled out your cellar window to try to escape?
anonymous
Weak.
Immanuel Kant
invents deontological ethics
good Christians everywhere
Not exactly.
Immanuel Kant
Two things fill the mind with awe and wonder the more often and more steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.
anonymous
I think I saw that on a refrigerator magnet.
Immanuel Kant
Try this one on for size: ‘Act as though the principle of your action were to become by your will a universal law of nature.’ What do you think?
Immanuel Kant
It’s kind of like imagining that although this isn’t the best of all possible worlds, it could be quasi-better if some of our freedom were replaced with natural laws that compelled goodness; if we behave as though those laws were already in force, we get the goodness and the freedom too. Imagine that you yourself were God creating the perfect world with the principles you choose.
Karl Marx
Let’s stop imagining and start doing it.

…continued on 13 June.

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