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Comment: Publisher: Verso
Date of Publication: 2001
Binding: hard cover
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Description: 1859842976 Small octavo, lviii + 166pp. Minimal wear. A near-fine copy in like dustwrapper and removable clear protective wrap.
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Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil (Wo es War) Hardcover – 19 Mar 2001

5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Verso Books (19 Mar. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1859842976
  • ISBN-13: 978-1859842973
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 14.1 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,050,781 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"This is a fiery little book."--"Choice""His reasoning is powerful and surprising, making some of the best writing in current European philosophy, and his credentials are impeccable."--"""Badiou is at his strongest in pointing to the inconsistencies of a facile multiculturalism, the pluralism of the food court and the shopping mall, which wilts in the face of any genuine expression of cultural hostility to liberal values."--"Radical Philosophy""His lively, stimulating and sometimes completely batty book is an attempt to make us think differently about what matters to us ... it is hard not to feel some sympathy for Badiou's intuition that 'morality', 'evil' and indeed much of our standard moral vocabulary often serve as almost deliberate disguises for mediocre policy-making, social complacency and a general lack of adventurousness about life."--"Times Literary Supplement"

About the Author

Alain Badiou teaches philosophy at the E?cole normale superieure and the College international de philosophie in Paris. In addition to several novels, plays and political essays, he has published a number of major philosophical works, including "Theory of the Subject," "Being and Event," "Manifesto for Philosophy," and "Gilles Deleuze." His recent books include "The Meaning of Sarkozy," "Ethics," "Metapolitics," "Polemics, ""The Communist Hypothesis," "Five Lessons on Wagner," and "Wittgenstein's Anti-Philosophy." Peter Hallward teaches at the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy at Kingston University, London. He is the author of several books including "Absolutely Postcolonial," "Badiou: A Subject to Truth, ""Out of This World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation," and "Damming the Flood."

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Format: Hardcover
This is an extraordinary work, the best offering so far in Slavoj Zizek's consistently high-quality Wo Es War series for Verso. Alain Badiou's formulation of an "ethic of truths" is utterly original and astonishingly ambitious. It's also remarkably accessible for a work of philosophy, especially considering the technical complexities of Badiou's vision.
The first half of the book is an extended polemic against pretty much every contemporary vision of ethics. Liberalism, humanism, multiculturalism and Levinasian theories of alterity are all denounced as incapable of resisting the nihilist ideology of global capitalism.
However, Badiou is not content to restrict himself to critique. The second half of the book presents his reformulation of ethics based around "truth events" that intervene into concrete situations. This "ethic of truths" is unashamedly militant and ambitious, covering politics, art, love and science in its sweep.
Peter Hallward's translation is near-flawless, deftly capturing Badiou's lucidity and rigour. The book also contains a fascinating interview with the author, as well as a solid introductory essay contrasting Badiou to his contemporaries.
All in all, this is an excellent introduction to the work of a revolutionary philosopher whose work remains for the most part untranslated into English. It's also an inspirational guide for anyone involved in radical politics. Let's hope there's more to come.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A difficult book to read, but well structured and explanatory from one of the world's best author. It is a must read for those interested in the subject and willing to work a lot {only get out what you put in}.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.8 out of 5 stars 11 reviews
47 of 47 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars intriguing critique of traditional ethics; a bit vague in its positive contribution to ethics 31 Dec. 2005
By Nate - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is a very worthwhile text for anyone interested in ethical theory, or drawn to appeals rooted in human rights. It begins with a strong critique of the dominant strands of Western ethical theory (rights based, virtue-based and utilitarian; also deontology, though there are elements of Kantian theory that Badiou respects) -- that if nothing else should serve as a kind of gadfly to provokes theorists to reconsider the upshot of their labors. In a nutshell, Badiou's critique suggests that ethics as we know it merely serves the status quo -- whether by proposing an unrealizable "ought" or by limiting its prescriptions to what is realizable within the status quo and leaving politics and economics untouched. He argues (taking his cue from a rough approximation of Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals) that what is really wrong/dangerous/weak in Western ethics is that it takes for granted the existence of evil (reality is such that there will be innocent suffering, people are such that they will inflict suffering on others in the pursuit of their own aims) and defines its good negatively as what would mitigate this evil. These theories have no positive conception of the good. His critical observations are quite powerfully stated and constitute a very reasonable challenge, that ought to be addressed.

In the positive side of his "doctrine," things get a little more muddled. It seems like he is trying to do two things: (1) formulate another ethical system that would begin from a positive conception of the good, and define evil as that which hinders or distorts that good; (2) articulate the ethical implications of his thinking regarding "events," developed elsewhere over the period of several years, and only partially clarified in this text (his master work: "Being and Event" has not yet appeared in English translation, but it will appear soon -- I can't say anything about that book though I have read a couple of other things by Badiou that have already appeared in English). The combination of these two aims is, I think, partially successful here but remains pretty vague. It is most successful (and most significant for contemporary thinking about issues like terrorism) in its description of the evils that pervert the good.

Roughly what he wants to say is that there can be no ethics within the "situation" -- this is a loose application of the is-ought distinction we find already in Hume: the situation is the world as it is, as it is understood by a present age and while this understanding gives rise to expectations and demands and limitations, it doesn't carry with it an "ethical" dimension. Ethics has to involve something more -- but since Badiou doesn't believe in a transcendent moral reality, he puts this something more into the "future," and not merely the temporal future but the radical possibility of bringing something new into the world -- the something more is the "event" that brings something new into the world, that opens up a new horizon of meaning that is irreducible to the mere situation. It makes possible relations that were not foreseen or foreseeable in the situation as it was. He mentions events like "falling in love": when someone falls in love all of a sudden we have not merely a situation but a relation between elements (two people) of the situation that in the event becomes absolute, for the lovers it is not merely a bare fact but an undeniable "truth" (a word he uses in a sense that is not well defined, but is more or less clear; it is emphatically not "truth as correspondence"). The question then becomes whether and how they will adhere to this "truth." The good, or the positive ethical "precept" for Badiou is "be faithful to the event" or "keep going, don't let this event fade, don't let it become a merely historical fact". The evil would be to either deny this truth, to be unfaithful to the lover, or alternately to treat this truth as an absolute fact -- with the possible consequence in this case that the lover terrorize his beloved, refusing to acknowledge her freedom to break away. He addresses politics (where an event would be a revolution) and science (where the event would be something like a Kuhnian paradigm shift) as other areas where events might generate a truth that can be either held to or despised.

So far, so good. There's a lot here that is worth taking seriously and thinking about. The water gets a bit murky though, in a number of places. For example, he wants to insist that the "truths" that arise from "events" are in some way universal or eternal, and what is particular is the question how the individual who finds herself compelled by the truth will live out her fidelity to that truth in the situation. It's hard to see, though, how the truth that emerges from the event of MY falling in love becomes a universal truth - unless he means something very peculiar by "universal" or unless he means that the "same" thing could happen to anyone even though it will be unique to each in the event, or that in loving another person I love what is universal, that which enables them and all human beings to be faithful to events. Some things he said suggested something like that, but other things he said make me think he'd resist such a reading. There's a lot to sort out, and I'm still not sure what to make of his positive ethic -- but it's intriguing enough and there is enough interesting material here to make me want to try and go back again and figure it out. His book on Paul makes a worthwhile companion text to this one, that helped me clear up some (but not all) of the murky areas of this text.
29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A different way of living 24 April 2005
By D. M. Hall - Published on
Format: Paperback
I enthusiastically recommend this book to those that are ready to examine a another way of being in this world and for those that can move beyond narrow clingings to their safe and dominant worldviews. Badiou asks the question about our Western identity politics and prescriptive ethics "how is it working out for us?!" Upon the answers that we receive: war, unsustainable environmental harm, implicit and explicit oppression, etc. Badiou offers another way of being. It concerns being faithful to a truth process- fluid, individuated, and NOT transcendent universals, morals, and ethics. The argument against ethics is that it places one person as an "other or lessor" and another as "benefactor". Example: it is the ethical thing for me (the benefactor) to help the poor (lessor/other) homeless. Another: A claim such as "You should not drink alcohol" puts ME in the righteous position (a non-drinker) and looks down on YOU (who chooses to drink)essentially is essentially a claiming that I am better (when in reality I am not).

Instead of "othering" people in our hubris that we are ethical and saintly, Badiou speaks of fidelity to a truth process. With truth as the focus and not our ethical, moral, and saintly wonderful self, transcendent evil is changed. Evil is reconceptualized as three forms: 1.being faithful to a false image of truth, 2."cheating on" your truth by giving up because of the difficulties associated with fidelity to truth, and 3. abusing the power of the truth to control others and/or amass power. What is most interesting in this book to me is the discussion of the truth process. This book is accessible yet difficult because it really pushes the ideas that we hold dear to account for themselves. Badiou writes the book because these ideas are structurally weakened under such scrutiny. I would recommend that upon reading you identify where you are afraid and push through the fear to follow the ideas and see where they take you. A stubborn proud mind will be frustrated with this text because it threatens one's current paradigm and the way we live in the Western world. Hope this helps you.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Intro to the Ideas of Alain Badiou 30 Dec. 2011
By John David Ebert - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In this book, Alain Badiou takes exception to the current Western understanding of ethics in terms of human rights and its violations, violations which are seen to be the justification for the various humanitarian interventions into Third World political situations during the past few decades. His main point is that this understanding of ethics tends to view the human being as a victim, entailing the splitting of its Subject into both victim and the victim's (Western heroic) benefactor. Seeing the human being in this way is tantamount to degrading him to the level of his merely animal nature, a mortal and transitory being whose life fails to signify anything special beyond his mere suffering. Evil is defined in this understanding as that which is hostile to human rights.

But Badiou sees the creation of the human Subject from out of the merely human animal as an ennobling process of participation in what he calls a "truth event." Such truth events are singularities which irrupt into status quo situations within the four separate domains of art, science, politics and love and function as decisive ruptures with "what has gone before." These immanent breaks -- Galileo's creation of modern physics, the meeting of Heloise and Abelard, Haydn's creation of the classical style in music, the French Revolution, etc. etc. -- introduce novelties into the instituted knowledges of the time, forcing them to be recoded in terms of the new subject-language. It is precisely an individual's fidelity to one or another of these various truth events that shifts him from the mode of a merely transitory and ephemeral human animal to becoming a human Subject proper, which ennobles him and lifts him out of his merely quotidian situation, causing him to become the human Immortal that he, in reality, is.

Evil then becomes redefined in accordance with Badiou's truth process as a function of the very process of fidelity to a truth singularity. There is not one overarching Ethics, according to Badiou, but ethics of multiple singularities, each one of which is contingent upon the nuances of a singular situation. But the truth process itself redefines evil as a function of a truth event in three ways: evil exists when subjects are faithful not to a real truth event, but to the simulacrum of one, which is defined as a truth event that excludes universal applicability, such as the Nazis with their Aryan exclusivity; secondly, it is defined as the betrayal of a subject to his own truth event, such as when one loses faith in a truth event due to the difficulties such fidelity imposes upon the individual's life, sometimes to the point of wrecking it; and thirdly, evil results when a truth event becomes authoritarian and seeks to name and exhaust all the elements in the set of a particular situation that the event is involved in restructuring, to the point where everything is captured and named to exhaustion. But this is a form of inflation, and magnifies the power of the truth event beyond its proper bounds.

Badiou's book is an excellent place to start for the first-timer to Badiou, since it avoids the mathematical complexities of set theory which burden the reader in "Being and Event." Badiou strips his event ontology down here in this book and shows how it is capable of being linked to a redefinition of an ethics of multiple singularities that can be used to counter the One Ethical Way which the West tends to impose upon the rest of the world through its globalizing processes. I highly recommend it.


--John David Ebert, author of "The New Media Invasion" (McFarland Books, 2011) and "Dead Celebrities, Living Icons" (Praeger 2010)
18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An erudite and expressively written collection 19 Jun. 2003
By Midwest Book Review - Published on
Format: Paperback
Ethics: An Essay On The Understanding Of Evil by political activist and philosopher Alain Badiou is an informed and informative indictment of currently prevailing ethical principles. Explaining that the widely distributed ideology of good and evil is actually used to benefit the status quo while neglecting a true understanding of evil, Ethics wrestles with the quintessential problems of evil itself, the existence of man, the ethics of truths, and more. An erudite and expressively written collection of linked and well-reasoned propositions, Ethics is a very strongly recommended addition to Philosophy & Ethics reading lists and library collections.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Vive la indifférence 28 Aug. 2011
By Jacob King - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This was the first book (but not essay) by French Philosopher Alain Badiou I have read. It is made quite clear from the begining both in the long scholarly introduction by the translator Peter Hallward and in Badiou's own introduction that this book was written for French high scool kids as an introduction to ethics. Readers expecting a hard hitting schorlarly work on the nature of evil might be dissapointed and bemused French high schooler's might be scratching their heads as to what exactly this book is about but the rest of us are rewarded with an exciting hybrid. Not quite a high school primer (Badiou expertly dismisses the whole western concept of ethics) but a lot more accessable than Badiou's normal set-theory laden philosophical writing. This is at heart a manifesto for a new kind of ethics one that supports radical politics against the staus quo and encourages action rather than inaction. Badiou recognises the equality and shared nature of all people rather than being preoccupied by difference.

Ideas and excitement crackle of the page a worthwhile read.
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