Talking about Evil
Susan Neiman is a moral philosopher with an interest in exploring the persistence of Enlightenment thought and reinterpreting past thinkers for contemporary contexts. She is the current Director of the Einstein Forum, having previously taught at Yale University and Tel Aviv University. The Wall Street Journal called her 2008 Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grown-Up Idealists “an argument for re-engaging with the moral vocabulary of the country.” Her 2002 work, Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy, explains philosophy’s quest, touching on Kant, among others, as one perpetually in search of a perfect understanding of evil. Born in Atlanta, Neiman received her doctorate degree from Harvard University.
Question: Who is history’s most evil person?
Neiman: I think the question is mistaken and I’ll tell you why. I don’t think we have a right to talk about evil people. If we could see the inside of people’s souls, we might have a right to do that but if anybody can do that it’s God and on some accounts even God doesn’t know how people are going to act. And certainly on Kant’s account and on Freud’s account we don’t know our own souls very well. We are subject to self-deception. We tell ourselves that we’re doing things for all kinds of reasons that aren’t true. So talking about evil people I think completely misses the mark. Where an awful lot of progressives go wrong is that they see that and they see that things are complicated and then they say, “Well, we can’t talk about evil at all,” and I think on the contrary we can as long as we talk about evil actions. And I think it’s not hard to come up with a whole list of evil actions and I think pointing it to the Nazis is too easy. I think there are a whole bunch of other evil actions that we can point to. We have to realize that they can be committed by people who not only may not have evil intentions but sometimes have good ones and certainly very often have mediocre ones.
Susan Neiman discusses how best to examine people in regards to evil.
Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.
- Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
- At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
- Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
In the face of seemingly unstoppable gun violence, Americans could stand to gain by looking to the Swiss.
- According to a recent study, the U.S. had the second highest number of gun-related deaths in 2016 after Brazil.
- Like the U.S., Switzerland has a high rate of gun ownership. However, it has a considerably lower rate of deaths from gun violence.
- Though pro-gun advocates point to Switzerland as an example of how gun ownership doesn't have to correlate with mass shootings, Switzerland has very different regulations, practices, and policies related to guns than America.
We take fewer mental pictures per second.
- Recent memories run in our brains like sped-up old movies.
- In childhood, we capture images in our memory much more quickly.
- The complexities of grownup neural pathways are no match for the direct routes of young brains.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.