Evil in the Western Philosophical Tradition

Gavin Rae

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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





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

Rae eschews what he calls the divide between pre- and post-Kantian conceptualizations of evil [...] and aims to show that theological language, assumptions, and motifs are implicit in secular analyses of evil.

Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal
Gavin Rae is Associate Professor in the Department of Logic and Theoretical Philosophy at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain. His research interests lie in nineteenth and twentieth century European philosophy, where he works at the intersection of socio-political philosophy, ontology, and ethics. Besides over fifty published articles and book chapters, he is the author of six monographs, the most recent of which are Poststructuralist Agency (Edinburgh University Press, 2020); Critiquing Sovereign Violence (Edinburgh University Press, 2019); Evil in the Western Philosophical Tradition (Edinburgh University Press, 2019); and the co-editor of six edited collections, the most recent of which are Transformation in Contemporary French Theory, edited with Emma Ingala and Cillian Ó Fathaigh (Edinburgh University Press, forthcoming), Philosophy across Borders, with Cillian Ó Fathaigh (Routledge, forthcoming), and Subjective Agency and Poststructuralism, with Cillian Ó Fathaigh (Routledge, forthcoming). He is currently the Principal Investigator for a major four-year project funded by the Spanish Government titled “The Politics of Reason.”

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