- Paperback: 250 pages
- Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press; 1 edition (16 April 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1564785718
- ISBN-13: 978-1564785718
- Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.3 x 20.2 cm
- Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (1 customer review)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 899,053 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
A Philosophy of Evil (Norwegian Literature Series) Paperback – 16 Apr 2010
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"Svendsen has a way with words, and, unlike many writers of philosophy books, is also blessed with a sly wit and a thorough knowledge of popular culture."--Phil Miller, The Glasgow Herald
About the Author
Lars Svendsen is Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Bergen, Norway.
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But, to his immense credit, this book is not just, "Here is what I think." Svendson, in a very readable and patient style, takes the reader through an extended primer of the major strands of thought on the subject, from Augustine to Ricouer to Arendt, before coming to his own conclusions, the best of which being that when it comes to evil, "We have met the enemy and he is us." And his self-confessed modesty in the teeth of such an unpleasant, vast and dark subject is both refreshing and candid. This is a book anyone can grasp, rather like an exceptionally good lecture that holds attention well. It speaks to the individual, mercifully avoiding the pitfalls of sweeping generalization and mawkish sermon.
For someone interested in beginning to explore philosophy, especially moral philosophy, this engaging book would be a superb place to start.
Truly, I found his theories fascinating and thought-provoking although I'm not an avid reader of philosophy works. I won't pretend that I can comprehend everything he says or cites. But for the most part, his explanation is logical and easy to follow. I was engrossed in the subject in no time. Moreover, Svendsen provides a lot of interesting sociological materials as well as staggering facts and figures about genocides and war crimes that we shouldn't be dimissive of; evil exists within us. However, the point of the book is not to make us feel digust or afraid of ourselves, but rather to adress evil as a concrete and practical problem in daily life so that we can see it for what it is and learn to fight it. As Emmerson said, justice is a duty, not a given.
A first complaint is that Lars clearly lacks depth of comprehension when it comes to applying (or criticizing, though I cringe to find myself using any conjugation of the term 'critique' in connection with this piece of scribble) even the most common understanding of the work of standard thinkers (Nietzsche, Kant, Hegel etc). His position on yet another tired theme, the Nazi Holocaust (his central unflinching example of 'evil') is just the standard repetition of the standard positions, an unforgivable tactic he uses to retain the reader's attention and sentiment. His discussion of the 'thoughtlessness' of perpetrators there (Eichmann, Hoss and Stangl) for example provides yet another psychologically uninformed account of evil doers based on the usual position that harming innocents is wrong etc etc. With a title like "A Philosophy of Evil" one would expect a bit more than a simple rehashing of the standard colloquial position on these complex case studies. I shutter to predict the contents of his other texts having similarly catchy and marketable titles...
A second complaint is that it lacks not only depth but unification and theme even on a very basic compositional level. If I had known that I'd be working so hard to swallow what is more like a child's degenerate sourcebook on 'bad things bad people did' I certainly would have opted out of dedicating the necessary time and boredom to the text. Again, bad form. This isn't serious philosophical work and shouldn't be labeled a philosophy of anything. Is this representative of what passes for decent work at the University of Bergen these days? Quite sad indeed.
Unfortunately I haven't the effort just now to fabricate some fortunate phrases to redeem the text. I suppose I might recommend it to my less thoughtful and informed acquaintances (certainly not my friends nor my colleagues), but would be embarrassed to admit to having any relationship to the work of Lars Svendsen among my more thoughtful collaborators and interlocutors. If you're looking for philosophy look elsewhere.