The Nature of Evil / The
Literature of Evil ~ HUMN / ENGL 4470 UPDATED FOR
Dr. Jonathan Alexander
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org (Please use my BCC e-mail)
Online Syllabus: http://staff.bcc.edu/faculty_websites/jalexand/4470syl.htm
A. TEXTS: All readings for this course will either be made available online or will be provided to the student as handouts. Accessing this syllabus via the Internet will allow you to click on and print certain readings. Please be sure to print all readings and have them read by the date listed.
B. COURSE OVERVIEW: Students in this Humanities course will study the nature of evil as it has been defined in religion, philosophy, history and the visual arts. Readings will span from the Old Testament through contemporary authors and philosophers. Critical thinking and objectivity is a must. This course will combine class-based instruction with peer response. Students will be expected to provide handouts and present material to all members of the class for specific topics to be assigned.
C. LEARNING OBJECTIVES ~ At the end of this course, you should be able to:
D. COURSE EXPECTATIONS
Attendance: If the student is to profit from any course, he or she must attend class on a consistent basis.
Students must attend all classes for the full duration of each session. Should you need to miss a class for observance of religious holidays, jury duty, military duty, bereavement, or significant illness, you must notify the instructor by telephone or e-mail prior to (if possible) or within 24 hours after the class. Without such communication, students forfeit the right to make up missed work. If such communication is made, students will be permitted to make up missed work at the beginning of the following class meeting. It is, therefore, the student’s responsibility to read the syllabus and be prepared for current as well as missed assignments.
Entering class late or leaving class early (without prior authorization) is considered disrespectful and will not be tolerated. If you become ill or you learn of an emergency before the end of the meeting, notify the instructor and accommodations will be made if possible.
Academic Etiquette: Students will respect themselves, their peers and their instructors by considering the following:
Cell phones must be kept on silent. No calls are to be made or received during class. If you are expecting an important call during the class meeting time, notify me prior to class and quietly excuse yourself if the call is received. No text-messaging or game-playing will be tolerated.
Students who wish to use the restrooms may do so by quietly leaving and re-entering the room. If a student believes he or she will require an absence of more than a few minutes, it is his responsibility to notify me accordingly.
Communication: Many means of communication are available to the student including telephone, e-mail and mailbox.
If you leave a message on my office voice-mail (x1123), please remember to speak clearly and provide your name, course information, and phone number if you request a return call.
If you contact me via e-mail, always include your FULL NAME AND CLASS SECTION in the subject line. Too often students forget to sign e-mail or have e-mail addresses without obvious identifiers. If you do not include your name and class in the subject line, I will not open the message.
Students who send me e-mail and do not receive a reply of any kind within 48 hours should assume it was never received. Such e-mails should be resent. I do not mind receiving redundant messages if you are unsure whether your message was transmitted (though I may only reply to one). If your message doesn’t present itself as urgent, I may reply quickly and briefly and ask to get back to you before long.
Students who send e-mails containing attachments must save these documents as one of the following types: DOC, DOCX, TXT, or RTF. Please do not send any MAC “Pages” files, ODT, or WPS files. You may also choose to copy and paste the text of your assignment into the e-mail message itself, and always send a copy back to yourself (or another email account) as a receipt to verify if the transmission fails to reach me.
My assigned mailbox #1 in Laurel Hall 114 is for students to submit documents of any kind. Always follow-up with an e-mail or phone call.
All work written and submitted should utilize standard rules of grammar, sentence organization, paragraph organization, and diction. All formal papers are to be typed, titled, double spaced, stapled, and carefully proofread.
All assignments are due on the date specified on the syllabus without exception. Assignments which are not submitted during the class session they are due will be penalized 15% for each subsequent day they are late.
If a student presents reasonable justification for an absence, such an absence does not allow for more time to complete assignments. When a student is absent the day an assignment is due, he or she must submit the assignment as an attachment via e-mail on or before the date it is due.
Since students are provided with all assignments and deadlines on the first day of the semester, excuses such as “crashed computers,” “misplaced data,” “misplaced disks,” or “empty printer ink cartridges” will not be accepted. All computer work should be saved twice (hard drive and floppy/flash).
Plagiarism will not be tolerated under any circumstances. Be aware that plagiarism includes (but is not limited to) copying someone else’s words without crediting the source; paraphrasing someone else’s words without crediting the source; using someone else’s ideas without crediting the source (even if rephrased in your own words); using facts not universally known which are obtained from a source without crediting the source; asking someone else to write your paper, either in whole or in part; or obtaining a paper or portion thereof by any means and submitting it as an original document. The penalty for plagiarism is failure of the assignment and potentially failure of the course (at the instructor’s discretion). Please consult FDU’s Academic Integrity Policy online for explicit sanctions regarding plagiarism. http://view.fdu.edu/default.aspx?id=211
E. GRADED ASSIGNMENTS: Please visit the online grading rubric to see how writing is to be evaluated.
Grades will be based on the following equivalents:
Introduction to Violence 3-27,
Bias, Prejudice, Intolerance
4-1, Anti-Semitism 4-3, NO MEETING, Sermons on Evil
4-8, Theodicy: God and Evil 4-10, NO MEETING, Paradise Lost
4-15, Genocide 4-17, NO MEETING, The Nature of Evil
4-22, Pathological Violence 4-24, NO MEETING, Freedom of Hate Speech
4-29, Modern Applications: The Heist 5-1, Presentations
5-6, Presentations, Film Essay Due 5-8, NO MEETING, Email final exam
M 3-25 class
Explanation of Assignments
Introduction to the Nature of Evil
Film Excerpts on Societal Violence (click below to view Windows Media file):
W 3-27 class
Perspectives on Evil
Film Excerpts on Intolerance (click below to view Windows Media file):
M 4-1 class
Film Excerpts on Anti-semitism and the Holocaust (click below to view Windows Media file):
W 4-3 no class meeting. E-mail responses to the questions below to email@example.com before Sunday
Considering the three sermons online by Revs. Small, Terwilliger, and Bridges, a) explain which speaker offers the most thought-provoking commentary on the issue of evil and why, b) identify what connections can be made among the three speakers' sermons and the material discussed thus far in class, and c) what experiences or personal values do you share with the three speakers (or what values of yours directly contrast those of the speakers)?
M 4-8 class
God and Evil:
Film on Theodicy (click below to view Windows Media file):
W 4-10 no class meeting. E-mail responses to the questions below to firstname.lastname@example.org before Sunday
Read John Milton’s, Paradise Lost Book Four In 200-250 total words, answer the following questions regarding Paradise Lost and how they relate to other class discussions:
a) If Adam and Eve are supposedly “perfect,” why do they appear “weak” to temptation?
b) Can you argue that they are a product of both God and Satan? Why or why not?
c) How can they really
know happiness if they have nothing to contrast it to?
M 4-15 class
Film Excerpts on Historical Violence (click below to view Windows Media file):
W 4-17 no class meeting. E-mail responses to the questions below to email@example.com before Sunday
1. IF YOU SENSE THAT YOUR PERSONAL VALUE SYSTEM IS CLEARLY SIMILAR TO ONE OF THE THREE READINGS MORE THAN THE OTHER TWO….Identify which of the three readings you would most closely relate to based on your personal value system. What is it about the reading and the sentiments expressed by the author that relates to your experiences? How do you agree with the author’s views on the chosen topic? Identify which of the three readings includes viewpoints most opposite to your personal value system. Why does this author’s views oppose or contradict your beliefs or views?
2. IF YOU DO NOT RELATE IN A PERSONAL WAY TO ANY OF THE THREE READINGS, YOUR GOAL IS TO IDENTIFY THE MERITS AND PITFALLS OF THE THREE AUTHORS’ RESPECTIVE ARGUMENTS. Analyze each reading and make note of what each author’s controlling argument or thesis is. What evidence does he provide for this argument? Can you conclude that the argument is well-founded and substantially justified? Where, if at all, does the argument fall apart or prove weak?
Film Excerpts on Merciless Violence (click below to view Windows Media file):
W 4-24 no class meeting. E-mail responses to the questions below to firstname.lastname@example.org before Sunday
a) explain which author makes the more compelling argument on the issue,
b) identify what examples you believe provide the greatest support for the article’s argument and why, and
c) offer your opinion on this issue and provide your own means of effective support.
M 4-29 class
Film Obedience and Conformity (click below to view Windows Media file):
W 5-1 class
Oral Presentations of “Historical Figures and Events”
M 5-6 class
Oral Presentations of “Historical Figures and Events”
Submission of Film
Distribution of take-home final
No class: Final Exam due by 5:00pm (via email)
Options for Presentations:
1. Attila the Hun (mid-5th C.)
2. Vlad Tepes (mid-15th C. Transylvania)
3. Ivan Vasilyevich (mid-16th C. Russia)
4. “Jack the Ripper” (late-19th C. England)
5. Albert Fish (late-19th C. USA)
6. Joseph Stalin (early-20th C. Russia)
7. Al Capone (early-20th C. USA)
8. Mao Tse-tung (mid-20th C. China)
9. Idi Amin (late-20th C. Uganda)
10. Charles Manson (late-20th C. USA)
11. Jeffrey Dahmer (late-20th C. USA)
12. Ted Bundy (late-20th C. USA)
13. Susan Smith (late-20th C. USA)
14. Andrea Yates (late-20th C. USA)
Historical Events or Concepts
15. Internet Predators
Directions for PPT Presentations
· 6-10 minutes
· Notes permitted
· Consistent with PPT slides
· Coherent, unified, smooth
· 6-10 slides
· Minimum 24pt font
· Bulleted outline of information with key details (approx. 1/3 of speech)
· Incorporate images as appropriate
· Emphasize contrast between text and background
· Minimize graphic creativity (i.e. animation)
· Bibliography slide at end
· Bulleted outline of PPT info (approx. 1/3 of PPT info)
· Half-sheet acceptable
· Copies for instructor and all members of the class
20-point grade (delivery + PPT design + PPT information + handout)
Options for Film Analysis
Guidelines for writing film essays
When viewing a film for analysis, take notes during the screening or immediately afterward to record key features of the production. This list of questions guides your observations from the production’s context (viewing conditions) and production details (design, sound, performers, cinematography) to its interpretation. It asks you to spot specific directorial decisions that created your reaction, so you can discuss systematically how the film 1) realizes its director’s vision and 2) brings something new or meaningful to the written text (as applicable).
Before writing a response to a film or video production, you should consider each of these questions, although your written response may concentrate on just a few of them, or even just one. Always ponder the interpretation questions, which point you toward a strong thesis.
A film response addresses the vision of the production, not your individual opinion. Don’t get stuck arguing whether the production met your personal tastes or other people’s. Instead, identify the film’s goals so you can see how it succeeded on its own terms.
1. What was striking about the overall “look” of the production?
(color/black and white; realistic/stylized; clear/blurry; indoor/outdoor; harsh/warm)
2. Was it filmed with artificial sets, or on location, or a combination? Did the settings refer to a particular time and place, or were they timeless or mixed? Did they match the play’s verbal scenery? Were they varied or uniform?
3. What did you notice about the lighting? Did it appear to be filmed by natural light? How did changes in light change the tone?
4. What overall effect was created by the costume decisions? What kinds of shapes and styles were used? Did they make the actors look similar or differentiated, shapely or shapeless? Did they suggest a particular time and place, or were they timeless or mixed? Did the costumes “match” the setting? Did color choices have meaning?
5. What were some crucial props (“properties” or stage objects)? When did they recur?
SOUND AND DIALOGUE:
6. What kinds of sound did you hear? (on-screen performers, film score, silence, sound effects). How did sound add to the visual content of the film?
7. If adapted from a text, how much of the text was used directly? Was it ever used in unexpected ways (rearranged, in voiceover, sung)? Was other text added (like an extra scene)?
8. Consider the casting, including gender, race, age, body types and agility. If some actors are well-known, is the director working with or against their “star” identities?
9. How would you describe the dominant acting style? What were key moments of change? (light-hearted/ponderous; ironic/idealistic; low-key/melodramatic; “stagey”/naturalistic)
10. How would you describe the use of space, including blocking and movement of actors and the camera framing that includes or selects actors? (busy, sedate, jumpy)
11. What were some characteristic features of the film stock and camera work?
(grainy vs. glossy; still, tracking, or hand-held camera; gentle fade-outs or abrupt cuts; close, long, medium shots; shots straight-on, at high or low angle)
12. What did the camera work do? How did it affect characterization, perhaps by showing certain characters’ points of view or close-ups? How did it help create tone and pace?
13. What moments gave you particular pleasure or unease? Was it the film’s style or the narrative content or both that you reacted to?
14. What did this director seem to emphasize? Which elements of the production seemed to carry the director’s interpretation most strongly?
15. If adapted from a text, how much did the director alter the story as written? Were lots of scenes rearranged or rewritten? Was specific textual material presented in visual terms?
16. Did the audience reaction (if public) ever surprise you? How so? Did your own reaction? Did audience reactions, or yours, change by the end of the production?
17. If you had to sum up the production in a single key shot, which would it be? What does this shot capture about the production?
18. Did the production leave a lasting impression? If adapted from a text, did it change your view of the story, positively or negatively? Did the production respond meaningfully to social concerns of its own time?
The Problem of Evil
Defenses of God’s goodness and omniptoence in view of this problem - called Theodicy- also stretch back to the beginnings of Christianity. St Augustine (354-430) put the problem most concisely:
“Either God cannot abolish evil, or he will not; if he cannot then he is not all-powerful; if he will not then he is not all good.”
Types of Evil
For the purposes of the Philosophy of Religion the word “evil” has a broader definition than that possessed by human or supernatural agents. So, although Hitler and Satan would undoubtedly be included in such a discussion, evil also covers so-called “Acts of God” - such as earthquakes, floods, famines, etc. - as well as other imperfections in the world and its creatures. There are two main types of evil:
1. Moral evil - This covers the willful acts of human beings (such as murder, rape, etc.)
2. Natural evil - This refers to natural disasters (such as famines, floods, etc.)
Of these two types, we may further divide both of them into the following two classes:
1. Physical evil - This means bodily pain or mental anguish (fear, illness, grief, war, etc.)
2. Metaphysical evil - This refers to such things as imperfection and chance (criminals going unpunished, deformities, etc.)
The problem itself arises because of certain qualities which religious believers grant to God, and the consequences of these given certain observations about the world.
To illustrate these consider three qualities that most religious believers would not want to deny to God: absolute goodness (omnibenevolence), absolute power (omnipotence) and absolute knowledge (omniscience). Now, add to this the observation that there is evil in the world. Setting aside for the moment the question of how a good God could create a world with evil in it, ask yourself why such a deity does not do something to help combat such evil. Many theologians and philosophers over the centuries have asked this question and we will now look at some of the answers they have given.
In the book of Job in the Old Testament, Job himself is the victim of numerous misfortunes. Although there is no apparent reason for any of these events - at least none known to Job - a number of people seek to give possible explanations (these people are known as “Job’s Comforters”). Such an attempt to account for evil without altering the conception of God is known as a Theodicy. So, in Job’s case, the comforters give various possibilities as to why his family should die, his animals be stolen and he himself should be afflicted with illness: they ask if he has angered God by some act or thought; perhaps there is some sin that he is not aware of?
The thing to note about theodicy is that none of the main aspects of the problem change: God is still all-good, omniscient and omnipotent; evil still seems to exist. The difference is, however, that some reason is given to explain how all of these things can be true at the same time.
The Irenaen Theodicy
St Irenaeus (130-202 AD) thought that the existence of evil actually serves a purpose. From his point of view, evil provides the necessary problems through which we take part in what he calls “soul-making”. From this point of view, evil is a means to an end in as much as if it did not exist, there would be no means of spiritual development.
According to this view the pains and sufferings of the world are meant by God to act as a means of producing a truly good person.
This view of suffering as a means to good is rejected famously by the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov. One of the characters, Ivan, rejects this view on the grounds that the suffering of one child can never be justified in terms of what good results.
The Free-Will Argument
Perhaps the most common theodicy is the so-called free-will argument - very similiar to Augustine’s argument - which goes something like this:
1. Evil is the result of human error
2. Human error results from free-will (the ability to do wrong)
3. If we didn’t have free-will we would be robots
4. God prefers a world of free agents to a world of robots
5. Evil is therefore an unfortunate - although not unavoidable outcome - of free-will
6. For God to intervene would be to go take away our free-will
7. Therefore, God is neither responsible for evil nor guilty of neglect for not intervening
Process theology argues that the reality of God is not fixed and that God himself is still developing. From this point of view, God is “dipolar” - that is, has two “poles”, one mental and one physical. The physical pole is the material world itself, which acts almost as God’s “body”.
Because of this relationship, God is partly distinct and partly immersed in the world - just as we are in our bodies. As a result, any suffering in creation is also undergone by God, and creation itself is seen as a cooperation between God and all other beings. Whether this cooperation actually takes place is thus up to humanity - in other words, God cannot force humans to do His will, but can only influence them.
Process philosophy is the idea that reality is in a state of change and development. From this point of view, no opinion of how the world is can always be true.
Is Evil a metaphysical necessity? The only way to know good?
Is Evil a matter of perspective? Open to interpretation?
Is Evil merely an absence or shadow? Lack of a positive or moral right?
Is Evil an active force? Conscious choice?
Defining “harmful” acts
Can you be harmed without anyone harming you? (i.e. Infectious diseases, “non-human agency”)
Can you be harmed by someone and not blame that person at all? (Choices in Escape from Sobibor or Sophie’s Choice, or lack of resources to not do harm)
Can you be harmed by someone but not blame them completely? (work-related downsizing, mitigating circumstances)
Can you be harmed by someone and think they did the right thing? (an objective harm selected to avoid a greater harm, “lesser of two evils”—”save yourself!”)
Utilitarianism Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill: BASED ON OUTCOMES
“The Greatest Happiness Principle”
Actions are preferable (prescriptive, telling us what we should do) in proportion (that is, everything is relative) as they tend (results of tendency, as a rule, not necessarily at this time and place) to produce (judged by consequences, not by characteristics of the act itself—things aren’t “just wrong” in and of themselves) the greatest balance (conversely, an action that produces a great deal of pleasure but also a great deal of pain would not be preferred) of pleasure (happiness = pleasure or absence of pain) over pain (or that which is universally accepted as displeasure) for all (conversely, narcissism; all beings capable of feeling are considered, including some animals), and undesirable as they tend to produce the greatest balance of pain over pleasure for all.
Kantianism Immanuel Kant: BASED ON INTENTIONS
Believes that rational humans are agents, they have plans, they make deliberate choices. Human agency should never be sacrificed for anything less valuable and everything is less valuable.
Justice v. Benevolence
Justice: Negative morality which has a number of roughly equivalent commandments for how one must act. One must always be just.
Benevolence: Positive morality is never a strict duty like justice. One is not morally required to always be benevolent, but one does have a moral duty to be benevolent sometimes and as much as one can.
Film Response Worksheet NAME___________________________________
For each of the film excerpts, record the following pieces of information: (A) what you believe to be the most memorable, remarkable or poignant quote; (B) what you believe to be the philosophical purpose or message; and (C) how you personally feel about the excerpt in general.
Hate: Defusing Toxic Behavior
The Most Hated Family
BLINK: Gregory Withrow
Film Response Worksheet NAME___________________________________
The Longest Hatred
1. How does learning
the definition of usury and its presence during the
2. Considering this film was released in 1945, how timely or relevant do you think is its message of silent anti-Semitism? Do you think more people or fewer people today are likely to maintain firm—albeit quiet—practices of intolerance?
3. What is Sophie’s immediate reaction to being told that she would have the “privilege” of choosing to save one of her children? On your own ever-developing scale of “evilness,” how does this rank?
The Death Factories (No questions)
4. With what tone does the Nazi soldier tell of the gas chamber process? Does he seem to you to be regretful and compassionate or cold and heartless?
Escape from Sobibor
5. Considering generally non-spoken language, comment on how the escapees being executed express personal gestures of sorrow and fellowship during their process of selecting a “partner” for execution.
6. What does this excerpt tell you about the role of randomness within acts of evil?
7. How do you interpret the claim that “religion’s not about making sense”?
American History X
8. How does the death of Derek’s father lead to his conclusion that “every problem in this country is race related”?
The Protocols of
9. How or why does the Neo-Nazi entrepreneur try to distinguish himself from more traditional Skinheads?
Film Response Worksheet NAME___________________________________
GOD ON TRIAL
1. If God is part of the world, why can’t He just cause whatever he wants to happen?
2. Can evil ever be justified?
3. Should we judge actions by their consequences or by the actor’s intentions?
4. When might the “means to an end” (if deemed evil) ever justify the end itself?
5. What would be the difference between a God who could not intervene and a God who chose not to?
6. What roles do fate, coincidence, or luck serve in your attitudes about good and evil outcomes? Why do bad things happened to good people?
Film Response Worksheet NAME___________________________________
Comment on the following quotes as they pertain to our general discussions of good and evil.
The Good Son
“I feel sorry for you, Mark. You just don’t know how to have fun. … Once you realize you can do anything, you’re free. You could fly. Nobody can touch you, nobody.”
“Evil’s a word people use when they’ve given up trying to understand someone. There’s a reason for everything, if we could just find it.”
“Most importantly, have fun, man.”
“You know, there’s others like us out there, too.”
A Clockwork Orange
“We fillied around for a while with other travelers of the night, playing ‘hogs of the road.’ Then we headed west. What we were after now was the old ‘surprise visit.’ That was a real kick, and good for laughs and lashings of the old ultra-violet.”
“I can imagine what you might be thinking of me. But you see, Paul. It’s all okay.”
“God, I love you.”
“But your parents, they judged you. They got plenty angry at you, didn’t they? … They punished you for their sins.”
“Every man carries a circle of hell around his head like a halo. … Every many has to go through hell to reach his paradise.”
“Sunny day, stands are full of fans. What does he have to say? ‘I’m going out there for myself,’ but I get nowhere unless the team wins.”
“For most of the guys, killings were accepted. Murder was the only way everybody stayed in line. You got out of line, you got whacked. Everybody knew the rules. But sometimes, even if people didn’t get out of line, they got whacked. I mean, hits just became a habit for some of the guys. Guys would get into arguments over nothing, ands before you knew it, one of them was dead. And they were shooting each other all the time. Shooting people was a normal thing. It was no big deal.”
Conformity: the process of giving in to real or imagined pressure from a group.
Groups usually have the following features:
Factors that influence conformity:
Reasons for Conforming:
Dr. Stanley Milgram’s Obedience Experiment sought to investigate how normal, healthy human beings could become Nazis and do such horrible atrocities during the Holocaust.
1. Why would it be important to the results of the experiment to have the “teacher” announce the shock level each time?
2. Why was it important to have the “learner” shouting his protests of discomfort and agony?
3. What factors do you think keep the “teachers” obeying the experimenter?
4. Did the “teachers” seem to feel uneasy about what they were doing?
5. Are you surprised at the results of the experiment? If so, what surprised you? If not, why did you anticipate the conclusions found?
6. Who do you think should bear the greatest responsibility for the “agony” or “punishments” felt by the shocked “learner,” the experimenter or the “teacher”?
7. What do you think would have been your reaction if you had been the “teacher” in this exact circumstance?
8. How does the issue of personal responsibility play a role in the “teacher’s” decision to shock the “learner”?
9. Do you think the inclination to obey is an innate or essential part of human nature?
10. Can humans be taught to disobey orders that lead to the infliction of pain on others? If so, how?
11. Can you think of situations in which it is important or necessary to obey without question or hesitation?
12. What truths or conclusions about human beings and human nature do you believe this experiment leads to?
13. The following quotes were made by Stanley Milgram. Consider each quote and explain its significance to humans and their actions.
(a) “The social psychology of this century reveals a major lesson: often it is not so much the kind of person a man is as the kind of situation in which he finds himself that determines how he will act.”
(b) “When an individual wishes to stand in opposition to authority, he does best to find support for his position from others in his group. The mutual support provided by men for each other is the strongest [defense] we have against the excesses of authority.”
(c) “A substantial proportion of people do what they are told to do, irrespective of the content of the act and without limitations of conscience, so long as they perceive that the command comes from a legitimate authority.”