On Evil:

PHIL 239 On Evil: Short Paper 4 (500-700 words)


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Choose one (1) of the two questions to write about:


(1) Interpret Hannah Arendt’s concept of “total domination,” as she develops it in The Origins of Totalitarianism. What does she mean when she writes: “The concentration and extermination camps of totalitarian regimes serve as the laboratories in which the fundamental belief of totalitarianism that everything is possible is being verified”? What does it mean for a human being to become a mere “bundle of reactions”? Discuss the “three essential steps on the road to total domination.” In Arendt’s view, what distinguishes the killings in concentration camps from ordinary murder?




(2) Here is what Arendt writes about the banality of evil: “When I speak of the banality of evil, I do so only on the strictly factual level, pointing to a phenomenon which stared one in the face at the trial. Eichmann was not Iago and not Macbeth, and nothing would have been farther from his mind than to determine with Richard III ‘to prove a villain’. Except of an extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement, he had no motives at all. And this diligence in itself was in no way criminal; her certainly would never have murdered his superior in order to inherit his post. He merely, to put it colloquially, never realized what he was doing.” (Eichmann in Jerusalem, Postscript)


How is Arendt’s concept of radical evil different from Kant’s? What happened to Kant’s categorical imperative? What happened to Eichmann’s conscience? Was he just following orders, as the Milgram Experiment demonstrated in ordinary people? In what sense were Eichmann’s actions a result of a lack of thinking?

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