The idea of moral evil has always held a special place in philosophy and theology because the existence of evil has implications for the dignity of the human and the limits of human action. Andrew M. Flescher proposes four interpretations of evil, drawing on philosophical and theological sources and using them to trace through history the moral traditions that are associated with them.
The first model, evil as the presence of badness, offers a traditional dualistic model represented by Manicheanism. The second, evil leading to goodness through suffering, presents a theological interpretation known as theodicy. Absence of badness—that is, evil as a social construction—is the third model. The fourth, evil as the absence of goodness, describes when evil exists in lieu of the good—the "privation" thesis staked out nearly two millennia ago by Christian theologian St. Augustine. Flescher extends this fourth model—evil as privation—into a fifth, which incorporates a virtue ethic. Drawing original connections between Augustine and Aristotle, Flescher's fifth model emphasizes the formation of altruistic habits that can lead us to better moral choices throughout our lives.
Flescher eschews the temptation to think of human agents who commit evil as outside the norm of human experience. Instead, through the honing of moral skills and the practice of attending to the needs of others to a greater degree than we currently do, Flescher offers a plausible and hopeful approach to the reality of moral evil.
“In this very important and penetrating study, Flescher explores 'the resources for
thinking about evil in a manner conducive to human flourishing.' Weaving together
sources ranging from Aristotle and Augustine to contemporary fiction and films, from
Leibniz to Levinas, Flescher offers a subtle and incisive analysis of evil that is
compelling, insightful, and ultimately calls us to cultivate those virtues that alone
can protect us from the force of evil in human life. ”
—Louis E. Newman, John M. and Elizabeth W. Musser Professor of Religious Studies, Carleton College
“This book develops the comprehensive claim that all existing explanations of evil
fall somewhere within the scope of four basic models, thereby cultivating a descriptive/analytic
typology of ways that evil can be and has been understood. The conclusion to the book
makes a superb contribution by developing a connection between the author's favorite
model—Augustinian privation and Aristotelian virtue ethics—a worthy contribution to
the field of ethics.”
—Dale S. Wright, Gamble Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies, Occidental College