Discourse, agency and the question of evil

South African Journal of Philosophy 22 (4):328-347 (2003)
  Copy   BIBTEX


This paper addresses the question of evil from an ethical and discourse-analytical perspective, taking Joan Copjec's commentary on Kant's notion of ‘radical evil' and its relation to human freedom as its point of departure. Specifically, Copjec's argument, that for Kant (and, one may add, for Lacan) the subject is always ‘in excess of itself', provides an important foil for, or corrective to what may seem to be the upshot of Foucault's notion of discourse (its heuristic value notwithstanding). The latter entails that, insofar as the subject is ineluctably discursively constructed, its actions could be understood as being ‘determined' by the discursive structure of (its) subjectivity. That is, the subject as agent may seem to lack volitional freedom in the sense that it is merely an instrument of a certain discourse by which it is ‘spoken'. However, Kant's idea of ‘radical evil', it is further argued, presupposes that the subject is free, in other words, that it always exceeds itself. In Foucault's terms, this would mean that the subject of discourse is able to adopt a counter-discursive position – something Foucault sometimes seems to make room for. What Kant calls ‘radical evil' may be understood as something that occurs in the world through human agency, in the face of the possibility of an alternative course of action; that is, it is chosen – even if we only know this in retrospect through the phenomenon of guilt. If, in contrast, it is understood as being ‘diabolical' in the sense of being unavoidably and irresistibly part and parcel of human ‘nature', no one could condemn it in moral terms. This line of thinking is fleshed out, or given concrete significance by means of a discourse-analysis of documents pertaining to the so-called ‘ripper-rapist' (criminal) case in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, in the mid-1990s. S. Afr. J. Philos. Vol.22(4) 2003: 328-347



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 76,140

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Similar books and articles

Foucault, the author, and the discourse.Hans Sluga - 1985 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 28 (1-4):403 – 415.
Kant on the radical evil of human nature.Paul Formosa - 2007 - Philosophical Forum 38 (3):221–245.
Wickedness Redux.Peter Brian Barry - 2011 - Philo 14 (2):137-160.
A Philosophy of Evil.Lars Fr H. Svendsen - 2010 - Dalkey Archive Press.
Kant on Human Nature and Radical Evil.Camille Atkinson - 2007 - Philosophy and Theology 19 (1/2):215-224.
Villalobos, J. (edt.), Radicalidad y episteme.Mª E. López Ortega - 1992 - Logos. Anales Del Seminario de Metafísica [Universidad Complutense de Madrid, España] 26:266.
Is radical evil banal? Is banal evil radical?Paul Formosa - 2007 - Philosophy and Social Criticism 33 (6):717-735.


Added to PP

37 (#317,355)

6 months
1 (#447,993)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Citations of this work

No citations found.

Add more citations

References found in this work

No references found.

Add more references