Out of Eden

Out of Eden: Adam and Eve and the Problem of Evil

Paul W. Kahn
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 248
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7pgs1
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  • Book Info
    Out of Eden
    Book Description:

    InOut of Eden, Paul W. Kahn offers a philosophical meditation on the problem of evil. He uses the Genesis story of the Fall as the starting point for a profound articulation of the human condition. Kahn shows us that evil expresses the rage of a subject who knows both that he is an image of an infinite God and that he must die. Kahn's interpretation of Genesis leads him to inquiries into a variety of modern forms of evil, including slavery, torture, and genocide.

    Kahn takes issue with Hannah Arendt's theory of the banality of evil, arguing that her view is an instance of the modern world's lost capacity to speak of evil. Psychological, social, and political accounts do not explain evil as much as explain it away. Focusing on the existential roots of evil rather than on the occasions for its appearance, Kahn argues that evil originates in man's flight from death. He urges us to see that the opposite of evil is not good, but love: while evil would master death, love would transcend it.

    Offering a unique perspective that combines political and cultural theory, law, and philosophy, Kahn here continues his project of advancing a political theology of modernity.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2744-2
    Subjects: Philosophy, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION: THE STUDY OF EVIL
    (pp. 1-15)

    Evil makes us human. We learn this early inGenesis, when Adam and Eve are cast out of Eden because they chose to do wrong.Genesistells us that not only ourselves but our world is a consequence of evil: “Cursed be the ground because of you.” Finding ourselves fallen, we cannot be at ease: “For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” Nor can we be satisfied with our achievements, for labor is our punishment. If evil brought us to where we are, then the Western religious tradition tells us that our essential task as individuals and...

  5. CHAPTER ONE A PRELIMINARY MEDITATION ON OEDIPUS AND ADAM
    (pp. 16-52)

    Evil terrorizes, but not all that terrorizes is evil. We may be terrorized by illness, but we do not describe it as evil. Evil characterizes an actor, a group, or a regime; it is not simply a bad or frightful experience. Without a perception of agency, there can be terror but not evil. When the collapse of the sun replaced the Last Judgment in our imaginations, cosmology replaced eschatology. Imagining the end of the universe, we lose our moral bearings. We may feel terror, but there is no one to blame—whether ourselves or others—and so there is no...

  6. CHAPTER TWO EVIL AND THE IMAGE OF THE SACRED
    (pp. 53-105)

    Liberalism fails to understand evil for just the same reason that it fails to understand love. Its horizon of explanation is framed by reason, on the one hand, and personal well-being, on the other. Between reason and interest, it can find no third term. It has no conception of the will that is not absorbed either by the universalism of reason or by the particularism of interest.¹ These always appear to be in a state of actual or threatened tension: reason must rein in interest, which will always seek more than reason allows. This tension remains as long as individuals...

  7. CHAPTER THREE LOVE AND EVIL
    (pp. 106-142)

    The second Adam and Eve myth of Genesis (“Genesis two”) is usually read as a story of disobedience and punishment. The magnitude of the disobedience is heightened by the authority of the source of the rule. We can also read the myth, however, as a story of love. Read as a tale of punishment, it offers a one-dimensional account of man: he is to be measured only in his relationship to God’s command. As a tale of love, however, the myth broadens, rather than narrows, our understanding of ourselves, for it asks us to reflect on the tension between authority...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR POLITICAL EVIL: SLAVERY AND THE SHAME OF NATURE
    (pp. 143-173)

    In the last chapter I offered an interpretation of the Adam and Eve myth which puts at its center the loneliness of a subject who knows he will die. Refusing to acknowledge his finitude, the subject murders those who are in a position to recognize his death. Evil is less about a moral demand for recognition of the other as an autonomous subject—the concern of justice—than it is about the refusal to imagine the self as an object, that is, the dead body that is no longer subject but only object. Evil produces unjust acts, but to understand...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE POLITICAL EVIL: KILLING, SACRIFICE, AND THE IMAGE OF GOD
    (pp. 174-210)

    Within modern, liberal states one generally finds belief in a narrative of political progress. That narrative has three central elements. First, there has been a transition from personal to democratic forms of power—from kingdoms to republics. The people are the sole source of legitimate power today. Expression of that power takes the form of law. Second, there has been progress in the character and operation of the law. This is a story of movement from a world of torture to one of procedure, from the spectacle of the scaffold to the science of penology. The ambition of modern law...

  10. CONCLUSION: TRAGEDY, COMEDY, AND THE BANALITY OF EVIL
    (pp. 211-222)

    Every Jewish scholar raised in the postwar period feels a need to write his or her book on the Holocaust. This has been mine. I have done it without raising the Jewish question explicitly, and with no inquiry into the historical origins and context of the Holocaust. Still, much that I have argued bears directly on our understanding of the Holocaust. On my analysis, what was peculiar in Germany was the intersection of two forms of evil. The evil of politics—killing and being killed for the state—but also the evil of slavery—localizing in the other the shame...

  11. INDEX
    (pp. 223-232)