Evil, evils, Ethics


Apropos of Levinas’s comment I posted the other day:

Evil is Being in excess, Being that has lost its measure.  However, Being has no measure, except where there is an ethical point of view to delimit it, to endow it with its proper measure, to relate violence and destruction to those who produce and distribute them and to those who undergo them.

Evil is a storm of meaninglessness, formless violence that precedes ethical values and in fact endows them with their proper task: to let a certain aspect of Evil appear only in order to conceal the overwhelming excess that constitutes it. Ethics may thus be described as an appropriation and forgetfulness of Evil.

Adi Ophir, “Evil, Evils and the question of Ethics.”

2 thoughts on “Evil, evils, Ethics

  1. Evil is Being in excess, Being that has lost its measure. However, Being has no measure, except where there is an ethical point of view to delimit it, to endow it with its proper measure, to relate violence and destruction to those who produce and distribute them and to those who undergo them.

    If one was to pose a Levinasian reading, evil is lack of relationship with the other. Other provides the delimitation otherwise lacking. Of course the ambiguity here is between other as absolutely other (i.e. God) and other as sharing a certain homogeneity (i.e. human other). Man’s relationship with God becomes the model with man’s relationship with man.

    Evil is a storm of meaninglessness, formless violence that precedes ethical values and in fact endows them with their proper task: to let a certain aspect of Evil appear only in order to conceal the overwhelming excess that constitutes it. Ethics may thus be described as an appropriation and forgetfulness of Evil.

    The position ascribed to “ethical values” here I believe is similar to ethical duty i.e. morality in Deontological terms. In fact I will refer to it as a “morality” in order to oppose to an other ethical mode as outlined by Levinas. To use a Heideggerian term, morality it is an example of enframing, or a mode of being that is proper to the human. Through enframing morality negates evil, it follows a hegalian schema evil/morality = abstract/mediated = abstract evil/mediated evil (mediated via morality).

    Levinas wishes to deal with the “abstract evil”, which to take from a hegalian vernacular and put in Heideggerian terms means the indeterminate “sending of evil” i.e. before evil as arrived as such. What becomes before evil? Within a religious frame of reference – the Good. What is Good? Good is God, God is Good.

    The sending of evil is the sending of man, what is before evil and man as such? God! Ethics as pre-morality is based on man’s relationship with God.

    Will.

  2. Has Levinas anything to say about the enjoyment of the lack of the ethical, the Nietzschean dance?

    The affects related to a Being without measure are those of joy and horror. The “formless violence” seems to be another name for horror. Morality surely attempts to delimit it but what if it goes too far and erases joy as well or allows it only in the perverted form of squeezing it out of self torture? Morality becomes then another kind of horror a wild exaggeration of the symbolic order, identified with mortification by its opponents. Consequently people are fleeing it and begin to embrace nature.

    I wonder if this amplitude is dumped over time and then we are becoming sensitive towards exaggerations in both directions: liberal i.e. mediocre societies.

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