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Marcel Henaff

Marcel Henaff


On the Genesis of Evil in the Human Species: Homos Sapiens, Homo Loquens, Homo Crudelis

What has been called the problem of evil has generally come under three speculative approaches: religious, metaphysical, and moral. I propose to reformulate the question based on contemporary knowledge on the evolution of our species as compared to other living species, knowledge developed mostly by paleontology, biology, ethology, and cultural anthropology. This approach should make it possible to avoid the risk of a substantialist or allegorizing conception (gnostic, for example) of the question of evil and to defend the idea that what we call ‘evil’ is primarily a form of relationship and a type of action. This claim can be supported by a genealogical analysis of violence and cruelty in the human species. This approach, however, will run the risk of reductionism if it does not consider the impact of the fundamental transformation brought about by the emergence of human language in the very formation of Homo sapiens. The emergence of language (syntactic and representational) opens up infinite possibilities in the realms of thought, but also desire and intervention in the world. When combined with an ability for violence inherited through evolution, this privilege provided by speech opens up the abyss of what we call radical evil. Homo sapiens, homo loquens, homo crudelis: this is the trinomial we must problematize.