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Reviews361 I have one aesthetic complaint, easily remedied. For a distinguished book, Being-in-the World has a remarkably undistinguished cover. University of Texas at AustinRobert C. Solomon FacingEvil, byJohn Kekes; xii & 250 pp. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990, $29.95. There is a lot of evil in the world. Facing this evil is not only unpleasant but also, according to John Kekes, threatens many of the deeply held beliefs that make up "our sensibility." In his thoughtful, wide-ranging book, Kekes argues that we must face evil in order to minimize it and that we must revise the deeply entrenched views that block out evil's reality. For Kekes, an ideal world would be one in which people get what they deserve. The "secular problem of evil" arises because the real world does not conform to this ideal and can never be made to do so. This is because the "essential conditions of life" include the factors of contingency, indifference, and malevolence . Contingent events that have nothing to do with our moral worth may devastate us; nature is indifferent to our hopes; human beings have vices that make them into creators of evil. While we may moderate these conditions, we cannot change them. Kekes derives this basic picture from the depiction of tragic situations in literature. While not discussing literary works in as much detail as he does in his other critical studies, Kekes alludes throughout to the characters ofOedipus, Lear, and Kurtz (in Conrad's Heart of Darkness) to illustrate important points. He rejects all religious and metaphysical attempts to deny the reality and power of evil. He rejects the insistence of the "Socratic ideal" that good lives cannot be undermined by external factors and the assurance of religious views that God will save the day. But he also rejects the "tragic view of life" and its message of despair. Instead, he defends a modest form of hope that can provide an incentive for minimizing evil, while criticizing more grandiose hopes that are bound to be shattered. Another target of criticism is ethical relativism. Because evil is real and objective , any adequate morality must forbid the undeserved infliction of harms such as death, dismemberment, or extreme pain. Kekes's most sustained attack is on "choice morality," a cluster of widely held views that he contrasts with his own theory, "character morality." "Choice morality" rests on the idea that "ought implies can" and identifies the domain ofmorality with those actions over which 362Philosophy and Literature people have control. Kekes thinks that much evil arises out of character traits over which we may have litde or no control. To face evil is to see that there are evilpeople and notjust evil acts. Indeed, since most actions arise automatically from entrenched dispositions, it is more important that morality focus on character traits than on individual acts. Finally, he argues, the evil in people is as fundamental as the good. It is an error to view goodness as natural and evil as an aberration. Nor should we let moral egalitarianism lead us to hold that all humans are of equal moral worth. People who are virtuous, Kekes insists, possess greater moral worth than those who are vicious. We need to embrace the "hard" reaction to evil and avoid die "soft" reaction that grows out of "choice morality." One strength of the book is Kekes's synthesis of a virtue ethic with a form of consequentialism, though he does not deal with the difficult problem of "dirty hands." I did wonder whether the initially sharp distinctions between his views and opposing ideas (the "soft" reaction to evil, the "tragic point of view") weren't ultimately blurred, and I would have liked more discussion of the idea of people getting what they deserve. Overall, Kekes discusses a number of important questions of philosophical and human concern. Every reader will find points to disagree with, as well as numerous insights and interesting arguments. In short, Facing Evil has many virtues and is worthy of the attention of philosophical readers. Northeastern UniversityStephen Nathanson Freud and Fiction, by Sarah Kofman; translated by Sarah Wykes; ? & 196 pp. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1991, $35.00. Sarah Kofman, who teaches philosophy at...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 361-362
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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