Moral Evil

  • Renée Jeffery


In many ways, the eighteenth century can be viewed as “the golden age of theodicies.”2 Indeed, it was during the eighteenth century that some of the most famous and important theodicies appeared and as a result, some of the most significant shifts in thinking about evil took place. In 1702, the Anglican thinker and later Archbishop of Dublin, William King (1650–1729), published an Essay on the Origin of Evil in Latin, an English translation of which appeared in 1731. As he wrote in the Preface to the work, already directing his argument at the Manichaean view:

Both the usefulness and antiquity of that celebrated controversy, concerning evil, as well as the notorious absurdity of the Manichean method of accounting for it, have been so frequently and fully set forth, that there is no need of enlarging upon them, since all that ever seemed necessary to a complete conquest over those wild Hereticks, and their extravagant Hypothesis, was only some tolerable solution of the difficulties which drive them into it.3


Eighteenth Century International Relation Moral Problem Moral Evil Natural Evil 
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  1. 1.
    Immanuel Kant, Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason and other essays, trans. and ed. Allen Wood and George di Giovanni (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 6:44, 65.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    William King, On the Origin of Evil, trans. Edmund, Lord Bishop of Carlisle (London: Faulder, 1781), ix.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Ibid., II.II., 71.Google Scholar
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    Susan Neiman, “Metaphysics, Philosophy: Rousseau on the Problem of Evil,” in Reclaiming the History of Ethics, ed. Andrews Reath, Barbara Herman, and Christine M. Korsgaard (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 140–41.Google Scholar
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    Bayle said the following of Moréri’s work: “I share the opinion of Horace on those who lead the way. The first compilers of dictionaries made many errors, but they deserve a glory that their successors ought never to deprive them. Moréri has given himself a great deal of trouble, has been useful to everybody, and has sufficient information to many.” (accessed March 22, 2007).
  6. 13.
    Stuart Brown, “The Seventeenth Century Intellectual Background,” in The Cambridge Companion to Leibniz, ed. Nicholas Jolley (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 57. As Brown writes in another work, “Leibniz had enjoyed a lengthy and amicable correspondence with Bayle in spite of their being a fundamental disagreement between them on whether faith could be reconciled with reason.” Stuart Brown, Leibniz (Brighton, UK: The Harvester Press, 1984), 66–67. See Leibniz, Theodicy, I.3–4, 124–25.Google Scholar
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    Ibid. What is more, Bayle also argued that “reason cannot buttress faith and that the only plausible way to defend the Church’s teaching and doctrines is to adopt a strictly ‘fideist’ stance.” Jonathan I. Israel, Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650–1750 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 332.Google Scholar
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    Bayle, quoted in D. Anthony Lariviére and Thomas M. Lennon, “Bayle on the Problem of Evil,” in The Problem of Evil in Early Modern Philosophy, ed. Elmar J. Kremer and Michael J. Latzer (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), 104.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., IV. 64. The notion that evil is not real has not been popular in subsequent thought for it seems to deny the reality of human suffering in the world. The most prominent exception to this is found in the 1875 Christian Science work of Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, a work John Hick described as a “confused medley of halfdigested philosophical themes.” In it, Eddy argued that “Evil has no reality. It is neither person, place nor thing, but is simply a belief, an illusion of material sense . . . evil is but an illusion, and it has no real basis.” As such, she reasoned that evil along with pain and suffering could be overcome by recognizing that they are nothing. Hick, Evil and the God of Love, 24.Google Scholar
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    Voltaire, Candide, ed. Haydn Mason (London: Bristol Classical Press, 1995), 121.Google Scholar
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    As Victor Gourevitch writes, “Optimism” became a much debated topic in subsequent years. In 1755 the Berlin Academy announced as the topic of its Prize competition “a thorough discussion of Pope’s thesis, and Kant had considered submitting an essay to it.” As we will see shortly, in the end it was Rousseau who emerged as the great defender of Optimism against Voltaire’s criticisms. Victor Gourevitch, introduction to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Discourses and other early political writings, ed. and trans. Victor Gourevitch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), xxviGoogle Scholar
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    Gordon E. Michalson, Fallen Freedom: Kant on Radical Evil and Moral Regeneration (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 19.Google Scholar
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  18. 65.
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    Ibid. 171–72.Google Scholar
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    Immanuel Kant, On the Failure of All Attempted Philosophical Theodicies(1791), trans. Michael Despland, in Kant on History and Religion (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1973), 283.Google Scholar
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    Ibid. 291.Google Scholar
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    David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Tom C. Beauchamp (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 10.41, 186.Google Scholar
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    David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion in Focus, ed. Stanley Tweyman (Routledge: London, 1991), 10, 160.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 157.Google Scholar
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    Bernard M. G. Reardon, Kant as Philosophical Theologian (Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1988), 90Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 90, 92.Google Scholar
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    Henry E. Allison, “Reflections on the Banality of (Radical) Evil: A Kantian Analysis,” in Rethinking Evil, ed. Maria Pia Lara (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), 92.Google Scholar
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  30. 90.
    Gordon E. Michalson, Fallen Freedom: Kant on Radical Evil and Moral Regeneration (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 35. This marks a distinct shift from his earlier Lectures on Philosophical Theology, trans. Allen W. Wood and Gertrude M. Clark (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1978), 117.Google Scholar
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    Stephen R. Grimm, “Kant’s Argument for Radical Evil,” European Journal of Philosophy 10, no. 2 (2002): 160–77; Allen Wood, Kant’s Ethical Thought (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999).Google Scholar
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    Immanuel Kant, “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” [1784], in Perpetual Peace and Other Essays, trans. Ted Humphrey (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1983), 41.Google Scholar

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© Renée Jeffery 2008

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  • Renée Jeffery

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