Four Models of Moral Evil
Andrew Flescher
Forthcoming from Georgetown Univeresity Press

There is, more than in prior decades, a need to bring renewed clarity to the concept of “evil,” in part because the concept today has so many uses in religious and ethical discourse, and in part because evil, separate from the dispute over its ontological status, is a real human phenomenon in need of better understanding. We are a vulnerable species. We are under siege by nature, which ever finds new ways to batter us, and by each other, who, aided by technology, discover more creative and brutal ways to harm one another. Evil is in the news. Its examples abound. The problem is that just what evil is, eludes us. Different individuals and groups avail themselves of different uses of the term for different purposes. As a society we are saturated with rhetoric about evil. There is a need for conceptual clarity, for someone to lay out the different understandings carefully, for someone to situate them historically. The aim of this book is to eliminate some of the confusion by elucidating in comprehensive detail four traditional model for understanding the concept of moral evil within the field of comparative religious ethics, locating the genesis for the models in particular religious and moral traditions, and tracing historically their conceptual trajectory down through to the contemporary era. Four Models of Moral Evil will include a full discussion of each typology’s proponents and critics. The book’s principal virtue is its descriptive ambition to bring these models into clear focus alongside one another. While the different ways of understanding evil that the book elucidates are nothing new, my way of characterizing and contrasting them with one another is.

The four models are as follows: (1) “evil as the presence of badness” (i.e. evil as substantively and radically separate from the good; Manicheanism); (2) “evil as the presence of goodness” (i.e. evil as tantamount to the good; theodicy); (3) “evil as the absence of badness” (i.e. evil as an invention, an arbitrarily designated contrast to the good ; thoroughgoing perspectivalism); (4) “evil as the absence of goodness” (i.e. evil as what occurs in lieu of the good; “privation”; Augustinianism). After an introduction which makes the case for the importance of re-thinking evil, the book contains four chapters that provide a careful account and analysis of the aforementioned models, in the order just mentioned. These chapters are followed by a fifth that links the fourth of these models—privation— to a certain sort of virtue ethic. Four Models of Moral Evil thus concludes by drawing some hitherto unconsidered connections between Augustinian theology and one strain of neo-Aristotelian ethics.

This project has received supported from The John Templeton Foundation