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Evil in the Western Philosophical Tradition

Gavin Rae

Hardback (Forthcoming)

Analyses the history of Western conceptions of evil, showing it to be remarkably complex, differentiated and contested

  • Questions any straightforward secular–theology dichotomy by showing that theological motifs, idea, and figures continue to implicitly influence so-called ‘secular’ thinking on evil
  • Demonstrates the breadth and depth of thinking on evil by looking at thinkers not normally included in this analysis, such as Jacques Lacan and Cornelius Castoriadis
  • Relevant to those working in political philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, philosophy of religion and the history of philosophy

Charting a sweeping history of evil within the Western philosophical tradition, Gavin Rae shows that the problem of evil – as a conceptual problem – came to the fore with the rise of monotheism. Rae traces the problem of evil from early and Medieval Christian philosophy to modern philosophy, German Idealism, post-structuralism and contemporary analytic philosophy and secularisation.

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Part I: Theological Foundations

1. The Rise of the Problem of Evil

2. Augustine, Free Will, and Evil

3. Aquinas, Privation, and Original Sin

4. Descartes and the Evil of Error

5. Leibniz and Theodicy: Evil as the Good


Part II: From Autonomous Reason to History

6. Kant on Radical Evil

7. Schelling and the Metaphysics of Evil

8. Nietzsche and the Genealogy of Evil


Part III: Socialisation and Psychoanalysis

9. Arendt on Evil: From the Radical to the Banal

10. Lacan and the Symbolic Function of Evil

11. Castoriadis: Evil and the Social Imaginary


Part IV. The Subjects of Evil

12. The Perpetrators of Evil

13. Remembering the Victims





About the Author

Gavin Rae is Conex Marie Skłodowska-Curie Experienced Research Fellow at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. He is the author of Critiquing Sovereign Violence (Edinburgh University Press, 2019), Evil in the Western Philosophical Tradition (Edinburgh University Press, 2019), The Problem of Political Foundations in Carl Schmitt and Emanuel Levinas (Palgrave, 2016), Ontology in Heidegger and Deleuze: A Comparative Analysis (Palgrave, 2014) and Realizing Freedom: Hegel, Sartre and the Alienation of Human Being (Palgrave, 2011). He is co-editor of Subjectivity and the Political: Contemporary Perspectives (Routledge, 2017) and The Meanings of Violence: From Critical Theory to Biopolitics (Routledge, 2018).


The idea of evil is at the centre of a lively philosophical debate, and this book is an important and distinctive contribution, providing a philosophical history of the concept in the western tradition. Ranging from the Christian tradition to the secular, and from philosophical approaches to the psychoanalytical, it provides an in-depth study of the key thinkers who have contributed to the historical roots of this debate.

- Phillip Cole, University of the West of England, Bristol

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