An historical analysis of the concept of evil reveals a high degree of historical relativism in what has counted as evil at different times. Though the classical tradition understood evil in metaphysical terms, since the Enlightenment evil has been seen as a human, moral phenomenon. Plato, and following him St Augustine, saw evil in terms of a privation of good, which Augustine linked to a moral failure. Enlightenment optimism understood evil as a moral failing which could be overcome through human progress and enlightenment. In the 20th century, the Holocaust stands as the paradigm of evil and stands as a direct challenge to the idea of human (moral) progress overcoming evil. In the early 21st century, suffering and genocide have become paradigmatic symbols of evil. The philosophical tradition has largely embraced the idea of evil as a moral category and sees its relativity as a consequence of moral relativism. In this paper I seek to reconnect metaphysical and moral concepts of evil through the concept of entropy, which I interpret as wastefulness or futility. I reverse Augustine’s scheme, arguing that metaphysical evil is the ground of moral evil.
MARK HOCKNULL is Principal Lecturer in philosophy at the University of Lincoln. He holds doctorates in Science, from UCL, and Religious Studies, from Lancaster University. He is also an ordained minister in the Church of England and before taking up his current post was Chancellor of Lincoln Cathedral. His research interests include the theology and philosophy of evil, science and religion, and moral philosophy.