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Anger and Forgiveness"Are You There Alone?"10 Good Questions about Life and DeathA Casebook of Ethical Challenges in NeuropsychologyA Companion to BioethicsA Companion to BioethicsA Companion to GenethicsA Companion to GenethicsA Companion to Muslim EthicsA Cooperative SpeciesA Critique of the Moral Defense of VegetarianismA Delicate BalanceA Fragile LifeA Life for a LifeA Life-Centered Approach to BioethicsA Matter of SecurityA Mirror Is for ReflectionA Mirror Is for ReflectionA Natural History of Human MoralityA Philosophical DiseaseA Practical Guide to Clinical Ethics ConsultingA Question of TrustA Sentimentalist Theory of the MindA Short Stay in SwitzerlandA Tapestry of ValuesA Very Bad WizardA World Without ValuesAction and ResponsibilityAction Theory, Rationality and CompulsionActs of ConscienceAddiction and ResponsibilityAddiction NeuroethicsAdvance Directives in Mental HealthAfter HarmAftermathAgainst AutonomyAgainst BioethicsAgainst HealthAgainst MarriageAgainst Moral ResponsibilityAgency and AnswerabilityAgency and ResponsibilityAgency, Freedom, and Moral ResponsibilityAging, Biotechnology, and the FutureAlbert Schweitzer's Reverence for LifeAlphavilleAltruismAltruismAmerican EugenicsAmerican PsychosisAn American SicknessAn Anthology of Psychiatric EthicsAn Introduction to EthicsAn Introduction to Evolutionary EthicsAn Introduction to Kant's Moral Philosophy Ancient Greek and Roman SlaveryAnd a Time to DieAnimal LessonsAnimal RightsAnimals Like UsApplied Ethics in Mental Health CareAre Women Human?Arguments about AbortionAristotle on Practical WisdomAristotle's Ethics and Moral ResponsibilityAssisted Suicide and the Right to DieAutonomyAutonomy and the Challenges to LiberalismAutonomy, Consent and the LawBabies by DesignBackslidingBad PharmaBad SoulsBarriers and BelongingBasic Desert, Reactive Attitudes and Free WillBeauty JunkiesBefore ForgivingBeing AmoralBeing YourselfBending Over BackwardsBending ScienceBernard WilliamsBetter Humans?Better Than 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EthicsCloningClose toYouCoercion as CureCoercive Treatment in PsychiatryCognition of Value in Aristotle's EthicsCognitive Disability and Its Challenge to Moral Philosophy Comfortably NumbCommonsense RebellionCommunicative Action and Rational ChoiceCompetence, Condemnation, and CommitmentComprehending CareConducting Insanity EvaluationsConfidential RelationshipsConfidentiality and Mental HealthConflict of Interest in the ProfessionsConsuming KidsContemporary Debates In Applied EthicsContemporary Debates in Moral TheoryContemporary Debates in Social PhilosophyContentious IssuesContesting PsychiatryCrazy in AmericaCreating CapabilitiesCreatures Like Us?Crime and CulpabilityCrime, Punishment, and Mental IllnessCritical Perspectives in Public HealthCritical PsychiatryCrueltyCultural Assessment in Clinical PsychiatryCurrent Controversies in BioethicsCurrent Controversies in Values and ScienceCutting to the CoreCyborg CitizenDamaged IdentitiesDeaf Identities in the MakingDeath Is That Man Taking NamesDebating ProcreationDebating Same-Sex MarriageDecision Making, Personhood and DementiaDecoding the Ethics CodeDefining DifferenceDefining Right and Wrong in Brain ScienceDefining the Beginning and End of LifeDelusions of GenderDementiaDemocracy in What State?Demons of the Modern WorldDescriptions and PrescriptionsDesert and VirtueDesire, Practical Reason, and the GoodDestructive Trends in Mental HealthDeveloping the VirtuesDid My Neurons Make Me Do It?Difference and IdentityDigital HemlockDigital SoulDignityDignityDisability BioethicsDisability, Difference, DiscriminationDiscrimination against the Mentally IllDisordered Personalities and CrimeDisorders of VolitionDisorientation and Moral LifeDivided Minds and Successive SelvesDoes Feminism Discriminate against Men?Does Torture Work?Double Standards in Medical Research in Developing CountriesDown GirlDrugs and JusticeDworkin and His CriticsDying in the Twenty-First CenturyEarly WarningEconomics and Youth ViolenceEmbodied 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UnconsciousEthics and the Metaphysics of MedicineEthics at the CinemaEthics at the End of LifeEthics Case Book of the American Psychoanalytic AssociationEthics Done RightEthics ExpertiseEthics for EveryoneEthics for PsychologistsEthics for the New MillenniumEthics in CyberspaceEthics in Everyday PlacesEthics in Health CareEthics In Health Services ManagementEthics in Mental Health ResearchEthics in PracticeEthics in PsychiatryEthics in PsychologyEthics in Psychotherapy and CounselingEthics of PsychiatryEthics without OntologyEthics, Culture, and PsychiatryEthics, Sexual Orientation, and Choices about ChildrenEvaluating the Science and Ethics of Research on HumansEvilEvil GenesEvil in Modern ThoughtEvil in Modern ThoughtEvolution, Gender, and RapeEvolutionary Ethics and Contemporary BiologyEvolutionary Psychology and ViolenceEvolved MoralityExperiments in EthicsExploding the Gene MythExploiting ChildhoodFacing Human SufferingFact and ValueFacts and ValuesFaking ItFalse-Memory Creation in Children and AdultsFat ShameFatal FreedomFellow-Feeling and the Moral LifeFeminism and Its DiscontentsFeminist Ethics and Social and Political PhilosophyFeminist TheoryFinal ExamFirst Do No HarmFirst, Do No HarmFlashpointFlesh WoundsForced to CareForgivenessForgivenessForgiveness and LoveForgiveness and ReconciliationForgiveness and RetributionForgiveness is Really StrangeFoucault and the Government of DisabilityFoundational Issues in Human Brain MappingFoundations of Forensic Mental Health AssessmentFree WillFree Will And Moral ResponsibilityFree Will and Reactive AttitudesFree Will, Agency, and Meaning in LifeFree?Freedom and ValueFreedom vs. InterventionFriendshipFrom Darwin to HitlerFrom Disgust to HumanityFrom Enlightenment to ReceptivityFrom Morality to Mental HealthFrom Silence to VoiceFrom Valuing to ValueFrontiers of JusticeGender in the MirrorGenetic PoliticsGenetic ProspectsGenetic ProspectsGenetics of Original SinGenetics of Original SinGenocide's AftermathGetting 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ProsthesisNatural Ethical FactsNatural-Born CybogsNaturalized BioethicsNeither Bad nor MadNeoconservatismNeonatal BioethicsNeurobiology and the Development of Human MoralityNeuroethicsNeuroethicsNeuroethicsNew Takes in Film-PhilosophyNew Waves in EthicsNew Waves in MetaethicsNietzsche on Ethics and PoliticsNo Child Left DifferentNo Impact ManNormative EthicsNormativityNothing about us, without us!Oath BetrayedOf War and LawOn ApologyOn Being AuthenticOn EvilOn Human RightsOn The Stigma Of Mental IllnessOn the TakeOn Virtue EthicsOn What MattersOn What We Owe to Each OtherOne ChildOne Nation Under TherapyOne World NowOne World NowOur Bodies, Whose Property?Our Bodies, Whose Property?Our Daily MedsOur Faithfulness to the PastOur Posthuman FutureOut of EdenOut of Its MindOut of the ShadowsOverdosed AmericaOxford Handbook of Psychiatric EthicsOxford Studies in Normative EthicsOxford Studies in Normative Ethics, Volume 7Oxford Textbook of Philosophy of PsychiatryPassionate DeliberationPatient Autonomy and the Ethics of ResponsibilityPC, M.D.Perfecting VirtuePersonal AutonomyPersonal Autonomy in SocietyPersonal Identity and EthicsPersonalities on the PlatePersonhood and Health CarePersons, Humanity, and the Definition of DeathPerspectives On Health And Human RightsPharmaceutical FreedomPharmacracyPharmageddonPhilosophy and This Actual WorldPhilosophy of BiologyPhilosophy of Technology: The Technological ConditionPhysician-Assisted DyingPicturing DisabilityPilgrim at Tinker CreekPlaying God?Playing God?Political EmotionsPornlandPowerful MedicinesPractical Autonomy and BioethicsPractical EthicsPractical Ethics for PsychologistsPractical RulesPragmatic BioethicsPragmatic BioethicsPragmatic NeuroethicsPraise and BlamePreferences and Well-BeingPrimates and PhilosophersPro-Life, Pro-ChoiceProcreation and ParenthoodProfits Before People?Progress in BioethicsProperty in the BodyProzac As a Way of LifeProzac on the CouchPsychiatric Aspects of Justification, Excuse 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CloningUnderstanding EmotionsUnderstanding EvilUnderstanding Kant's EthicsUnderstanding Moral ObligationUnderstanding Physician-Pharmaceutical Industry InteractionsUnderstanding TerrorismUnderstanding the GenomeUnderstanding the Stigma of Mental IllnessUnderstanding Treatment Without ConsentUnhingedUnprincipled VirtueUnsanctifying Human Life: Essays on EthicsUnspeakable Acts, Ordinary PeopleUp in FlamesUpheavals of ThoughtUsers and Abusers of PsychiatryValue-Free Science?Values and Psychiatric DiagnosisValues in ConflictVegetarianismViolence and Mental DisorderVirtue EthicsVirtue, Rules, and JusticeVirtue, Vice, and PersonalityVirtues and Their VicesVoracious Science and Vulnerable AnimalsVulnerability, Autonomy, and Applied EthicsWar Against the WeakWar, Torture and TerrorismWarrior's DishonourWeaknessWelfare and Rational CareWhat are you staring at?What Genes Can't DoWhat Have We DoneWhat Is a Human?What Is Good and WhyWhat Is Good and WhyWhat Is the Good Life?What Price Better 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How Much?Why Some Things Should Not Be for SaleWisdom, Intuition and EthicsWithout ConscienceWomen and Borderline Personality DisorderWomen and MadnessWondergenesWould You Kill the Fat Man?Wrestling with Behavioral GeneticsWriting About PatientsYou Must Be DreamingYour Genetic DestinyYour Inner FishYouth Offending and Youth Justice Yuck!
Once upon a time my 5 year old grandson, Erik, asked me to take him to visit Malaspina College. I did. I took him to my office, then to the library, to the gymnasium, and to the cafeteria. He remarked with interest on each of those locations, particularly the cafeteria where we had stopped for a snack. As we walked back to the pickup he looked up and said, "But where is Malaspina College?" Erik, as a five year old, had made what Gilbert Ryle called a category mistake. There is nothing above or beyond the buildings, the faculty, the students, that constitutes Malaspina College - the name just refers to that collection of things and not to some metaphysical entity above and beyond.
There are times in Out of Eden when Kahn is looking for "evil" in some metaphysical or ontological place, a place quite as impossible to point to as pointing to something more than the individual constituent components of any referring term like "Malaspina College". He spends several chapters trying to track down and locate for analysis this "evil" that he tells us in the first line of the book is an essential part of us: "Evil makes us human."
Once upon another time I taught a "Philosophy in Literature" course in which I used the Bible as the textbook. One of the assignments for students was to write a creation myth of their own following the lines of the creation myths in Genesis. We had a great time reading and talking about those modern day myths. What did we learn? What you get out of a myth depends on what you put into it. Intention, text, interpretation. Feminists in the class were sure to build feminism into the fabric of the story. One young male student from the USA even built the right to bear arms into his myth!
Kahn goes to the Genesis stories to read out different points "in order to press the inquiry" into the nature of evil. Each of his five chapters returns to some reading of the various etiological myths found in Genesis. He concentrates on the Fall to suggest that it is our awareness of finitude that brings about evil - we are terrorized by our awareness of death ("The argument I pursue is that evil arises out of the way the free subject responds to the awareness of his own death.") and the lack of "ultimate meaning" we experience once we are ejected from the Garden of Eden by our wilful behaviour. Using this strategy Kahn considers evil within a family, society, and polity. On the way he laces each chapter with a few anti-liberal, anti-Rawls, and anti- Arendt comments.
We learn that for Kahn evil :
· is love gone wrong;
· appears in the biblical account when humans act;
· is the flight from recognition of mortality;
· is embedded in the soul of man.
Kahn states that the enlightenment emphasis on reason and science is blind to the actual state of affairs to be found in the world and that faith is superior to reason and the Judeo-Christian world view superior to the Greek world view. Faith, he states, is what connects us to ultimate meaning. He writes, "The object of reason may be truth, but truth without faith will not redeem man."
The vocabulary employed in the book is religious. "Faith" - "ultimate meaning" - "magic"- "sacred" - "transubstantiation" - "God" - "Christ" - "soul" etc., and each chapter returns to Genesis for support for a particular take on metaphysics and the nature of things. We are told, for example, that faith connects us to ultimate meaning. But what exactly does he mean by faith? Much of the problem with the "f" word comes about because of a built in ambiguity - Faith/faith: Faith = belief without compelling evidence; while faith = trust, or beliefs that are knowable in principle. When my Catholic acquaintance eats the wafer he has Faith that it will transubstantiate; when I go to start my car in the morning I have faith that it will start. If my car does not start it is possible in principle for me or a mechanic to determine what's wrong. If the wafer does not change to the flesh of Christ conversion is the only solution. And one wonders what on earth (or in heaven) "ultimate meaning" might mean. ("Meaning enters the world through the magic of transubstantiation." ) One wonders just how this magic is working to produce meaning here on earth where our problems seem to be rather mundane ones of over population, greed, aggression, and belief in ultimate meaning. In fact, can there be evil without religion? As Steven Weinberg says, "With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil - that takes religion."
Out of Eden is a difficult book to read. In addition to the religious vocabulary which is vague and unclear there are passages which suffer from a different lack of precision. For example,
We may no longer live in a world of the sacred, but we continue to live in one where we are very much aware of the threat of that existential loneliness that was Adam's fate before Eve. We no longer know how to speak of this world. Still, we have no better cure for this loneliness than the two-become-one of love. And, as is already clear from the myth, not even this is enough, for love cannot save us from knowledge of our own death. When we demand this of love, we become evil.
The liberal sprinkling of demonstrative pronouns makes this passage difficult to unpack. So much depends upon the claim that it is our knowledge of our own death that drives us to evil. But that knowledge is neither a priori, intuitive, nor instinctive.
John Habgood, reviewing the book for the TLS writes, Out of Eden is a rich and fascinating book full of unusual conjunctions and insights. Its meditative tone tends to lapse occasionally into sententiousness; the following utterance is fairly typical: “Every symbolic order, I suspect, has a rhythm which moves between transubstantiation and labour”. I am shamefully unclear as to what that sentence actually means. When Kahn resorts to straight exposition of Genesis, however, or to historical analysis, he can be clear and convincing, but there are too many sections in which the high level of abstraction can lead to frustration and bewilderment. It is worth persevering, however, because the book is full of unexpected insights, and there is much to be learnt from the way in which a scholar deeply immersed in both Judaism and Christianity interprets some of the foundation stories from both traditions. Evil, he concludes, is not banal; it is the opposite of love, a symptom of our rage against mortality, a false understanding of who we are, and what we are meant to be." [Source]
The conclusion of the book, "Tragedy, Comedy, and the Banality of Evil", is quite excellent, and should be read first. Kahn writes, "Every Jewish scholar raised in the postwar period feels a need to write his or her book on the Holocaust. This has been mine." The disagreement with Arendt is sketched out in this chapter in some detail and is worth thinking about while trying to understand the nature of evil and the condition of the human in the natural world we find ourselves sharing now that we are out of Eden.
© 2011 Bob Lane
Bob Lane is an Honorary Research Associate in Philosophy and Literature at Vancouver Island University in British Columbia.