WHAT: The Dean’s Lecture Series
WHERE: Great Hall, Peterson Student Center, St. John’s College
WHEN: Friday, April 18, 8 p.m.
TITLE: “Eichmann in Athens: Hannah Arendt and the New Problem of Evil”
WHO: Lawrence Vogel, Connecticut College
DETAILS: This event is free of charge and open to the public.
CONTACT: St. John’s College Switchboard, 984-6000
After witnessing the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, the chief bureaucrat at Auschwitz, Hannah Arendt identifies a “new problem of evil that rears its head in the twentieth century.” She calls this problem “the banality of evil: the phenomenon of evil deeds, committed on a gigantic scale, that could not be traced to any particularity of wickedness, pathology or ideological conviction in the doer, whose only personal distinction was perhaps extraordinary shallowness.”
Struck by the disproportion between the aim of the Final Solution and the petty motives of many of its executioners, Arendt wonders: If “the greatest evil” comes from “not-thinking” (or banality), is it possible that the activity of thinking for oneself has the power to keep us from participating in such evil – even in a perverse social context where “every legal act is immoral and every moral act a crime”? Arendt turns to Socrates to support her conclusion that thinking is an antidote to evil. We shall ask whether Arendt proves her case and manages to save the Western philosophical tradition from the brink of shipwreck.
Lawrence Vogel received his B.A. from Vassar and his Ph.D. in Philosophy from Yale. He is Professor of Philosophy at Connecticut College where has taught since 1989. Vogel is the author of The Fragile ‘We’: Ethical Implications of Heidegger’s Being and Time(Northwestern University Press, 1994) and the editor of a volume of Hans Jonas’s later essays, Mortality and Morality: a Search for the Good after Auschwitz (Northwestern, 1996). His most recent publications reflect his special interest in Heidegger’s Jewish students – especially Jonas, Hannah Arendt, Leo Strauss and Emmanuel Levinas – and their responses to the legacy of their teacher.