History, Activity, Research Plans
Law and Evil. Theories
and Practices of Evil
A Preliminary Reseach Plan 2006-2008
1. The aims and goals of the research
1.1. The formulation of the research questions
The research analyses the phenomenon of evil by investigating
theories and practices of evil, that is, how evil has been considered
in thought and in what ways it has manifested itself. The aim is to explore,
what evil really is. The question of evil is examined particularly in
its relation to law. From this point of view, evil can and will be reflected
upon in relation to human freedom, duty, moral and judicial normativity,
democracy and juridical practices. The research is crystallised in four
1) How has evil been approached in theory and how has it been regarded
in relation to law?
2) How has evil manifested itself in the world?
3) What kinds of juridical, ethical and political practices and ways of
thinking have been developed against evil or in order to control it?
4) In a globalising world, is it necessary to look for, create and formulate
new ways to think about the problem of evil?
Because these questions require a thorough examination of the phenomenon
of evil, the research cannot be limited to the inner points of view of
different disciplines. Comprehensive thinking of evil calls for a multidisciplinary
approach. Thus, the research brings together the approaches of humanities,
philosophy, law and social sciences. In this way it is possible to examine
the relation between evil and law in a profound way, which has not been
performed as yet in Finland.
1.2. The starting point of the research
The thinking of evil is founded on the Renaissance-based modern European
thought concerning evil. This thought received its most remarkable formulation
after the Enlightenment and the French Revolution in the work of Immanuel
Kant, in the text Religion within the Bounds of Bare Reason (1793). According
to Kant, the phrase "man is evil" means that although man is
conscious of the moral law, he has nevertheless adopted into his maxim
the occasional deviation therefrom. This tendency can be called a natural
propensity to evil. Kant also thought, that man must be held responsible
for it, since it is ultimately self-caused.
In the European philosophy after Kant, the notion and the phenomenon of
evil has been examined mainly from two different points of view: it has
been considered either as an objective (evil as a consequence of the original
sin, or the world as evil in itself) or a subjective (man himself has
caused evil) phenomenon.
The way that juridical thought encounters evil follows the philosophical
tradition. Classical criminal law and more generally, the Enlightenment-based
modern European legal thought shares the Kantian idea of evil as
connected to human freedom. Juridical practices have tried to resolve
the problem of evil along this line of thought. Especially the emphasis
on human rights and the development of the international criminal law
have been ways to prevent and react to evil. The democratic rule of law
state has also been regarded as significantly opposing evil. Kant's philosophical
plan for perpetual peace has, indeed, recently served as grounds for developing
the idea of democratisation as a prerequisite for global peace.
Yet the problem of evil has not diminished nor disappeared from the world.
The recent history of Europe testifies in a tragic and horrifying way
to its repeated manifestations. Western cultural heritage or legal systems
have neither been able to prevent outbursts of evil nor its becoming organised
into totalitarian regimes on one hand, and fanatical political or religious
terrorist organisations on the other. Also racism, xenophobia and new
extremist movements can be perceived as manifestations of evil that have
recently challenged European democratic tradition. At times, immense evil
has been done in the name of law, evil being justified precisely by its
appearing in the form of law. Thus the history of Europe also testifies
to the possibility of law, which is originally considered to be good,
In addition to the evil that is purposefully caused by man, evil touches
humanity also as natural catastrophies and diseases to which human
action also can influence. Legislation has a role in the measures taken
against them. For example, the Kyoto agreement or legalising inexpensive
AIDS medications are means to interfere evil.
The research focuses on evil specifically in the European tradition. However,
the intention is not to fall into an eurocentric point of view, but to
relate critically to the European tradition. That is why it is also necessary
to evaluate, how European ways of thinking of law and evil have been presented
as universal, and if evil is somehow already connected to these gestures
of globalising a particular point of view.
1.3. The goals of research
The research has been concentrating on the ways that the phenomenon and
concept of evil have been thought in European philosophical tradition.
From this philosophical foundation, the aim is to go now more deeply into
the theories and practices of evil, focusing especially on the following
1) What is the modern history of evil?
a) In Europe, during the previous century, evil was crystallised first
and foremost in the horrors of the National Socialist Germany and the
bureaucracy of communism. They gave evil a juridical and a bureaucratic
legitimation, which brings to the fore the question: does positive law
always yield in front of evil and power? The wars waged in the Balkan
area seem to continue this dark side of the European tradition. Precisely
what is this kind of lawful or legal evil?
b) Our own times are marked also by evil in the guise of fanaticism and
terrorism, which call for a thorough analysis. How can the evil of terrorism
be encountered? Do all forms of fanaticism or even religion
always carry a seed of evil?
c) Evil still manifests itself in Europe in the forms of racism, neo-Fascism,
islamophobia and antisemitism. These forms call for a careful and rational
d) In the global world also evil is global. This does not mean that it
would be possible to unambiguously show that there is only one world wide
evil or good. This kind of absolutistic thinking is dangerous, and easily
leads into evil in the name of good, which can be seen in different forms
of religious, ideological or national fanaticism. Furthermore, globalisation
does not necessarily happen in a certain area or in a particular calculated
manner, but maybe completely somewhere else in some other way, with unanticipated
consequences. Its "good" can always turn out to be evil, at
least evil for others. How, then, is evil global, and in what way may
the unconditional defining of boundaries and borders contain a dimension
e) War has been considered as one of the most destructive forms of evil.
At the same time, though, it has been regarded as something good or positive,
with varying grounds. War has been praised for its ability to ennoble
morals, or for it being a way to enhance a certain sphere of (political)
power; it has been considered as a way to disseminate the right religion
or ideology; it has been used to bring peace. The question concerning
a justified war has in a peculiar way almost always been connected to
juridical, theological, political and philosophical plans for peace. Two
questions present themselves: How and why have war and peace, as evil
and good, been intertwined in the traditions of jurisprudence, philosophy
and social sciences? Is it possible to separate the concept of peace from
that of war, so that war, even in its justified form, would be seen as
2) What is evil, both juridically and
a) How does modern theory of justice encounter the
problem of evil? In juridical thinking, evil has often been left unproblematised.
In legal positivism a formally valid law does not require any considerations
concerning its goodness or evilness. Should judicial thinking be more
ready to acknowledge the possibility of itself being evil and of evil
law? Does natural justice offer an alternative that reacts to evil more
b) What kind of juridical action should be taken in resolving conflicts
and judging the guilty parties? In regard to international criminal law
it is difficult to resolve, whether crimes against humanity should be
judged within normal legal systems. More generally, does criminal law
truly offer us ways to fight against the ultimate evil? Further, what
part does international law play in evil? Does it uphold evil in itself
or will it be able to oppose evil without turning into a particular state
hegemony? How to apply the Kantian idea of a universal peace union to
the world of today?
c) Will ethics have to become jurisdiction in order for it to be able
to effectively respond to evil? What is the role of decision and judgment
in the problem of evil? The question is about the relation between ethics
and justice, in which ethics is regarded as an unconditional responsibility
and relation to the unique other, human, animal or nature. Is ethics-based
justice, that decides on the boundary between evil and good, ultimately
impossible to formulate as legal norms?
d) Evil is essentially connected to the way we encounter difference and
otherness. Do we accept the other only if the other will adapt to our
values? Is evil something that does not share the set of values and experiences
of "good"? How to rid oneself of the tendency to label otherness
as evil and how to open oneself up to it? These questions must be answered
without resorting to relativism (which accepts all values) on one hand,
and without uncritically setting the western values as a universal norm
on the other.
e) One of the main objects of inquiry of the research group is the relation
between sense of justice and morality, a contradiction on the basis of
which positive law is possible. We find that the following question has
not been adequately asked: against what or in opposition to what is positive
law established? It seems almost like law itself would not want to know,
what evil is or what is evil, in which case the only answer to the question
would be that law is there to exclude evil. On the most general level,
then, the question concerns the other that defines law, and its variations.
What and who is the other, is it bad or good? The problem is that of sensibility:
how to respond to the conflict between our set of values and that of the
f) Further, the research examines how and why does man neglect the moral
law and what is his responsibility for evil. This question is essentially
connected to the question concerning freedom and responsibility before
law. Analysis of the problem of evil thus leads us to the core of freedom.
g) What is evil beyond the terms of ethics and judicial thought? Is there
evil outside the definitions that they give? Is man, as a desiring subject,
necessarily "evil"? Do we have to turn to psychoanalysis to
understand the ultimate evil?
Even though evil cannot be erased from the world and even though it continues
to find new forms, the first precondition for standing against evil is
to recognize and acknowledge it. That is why the general aim of the research
is to examine what could be called the history of evil ideas and the history
of the realization(s) of evil. But very importantly, the central goal
of the research is not just to examine evil on a theoretical level, but
to respond to the concrete question of evil. The historical and philosophical
groundwork offers possible ways to try to stand against evil in the world
in which we live, and to think of juridical, political and ethical practices
and forms of communal life, that could offer better ways to prevent evil.
2. Background of the research (2003-2005)
2.1. The general background of the research
A three-year research project Law and evil. Evil in
the European tradition was launched in 2003. Since then, the project has
examined primarily the theory and philosophy of evil. In this context
the project has also researched questions concerning law: what is law,
can evil be defined only through law, or is there evil independent of
law? Alongside the theoretical research, the practices of evil have been
investigated in the light of these theories. Also new ways to theoretically
encounter practices of evil have been examined.
During the research, we have become more and more convinced that only
an interdisciplinary approach enables us to treat the problem of evil
in its entirety and to offer holistic ways to control evil. The previous
theoretical investigations of evil have traditionally been marked by too
narrow points of view, which has lead researchers to divide evil into
parts according to their own backgrounds and interests.
2.2. The advancement of the research
The members of the research project have held regular
meetings during which the concept and history of evil have been discussed.
This has strengthened our assumption according to which a general philosophical
starting point is necessary for the problem of evil to be properly understood.
A mere list of the manifestations of evil or even its historical examination
is not sufficient. This point of view has marked and will continue
to mark the entire research.
However, we have not contented ourselves with a general philosophical
overview of the question concerning evil. We have delved deeply and with
great attention to certain relevant juridical and philosophical questions:
how has law been subjected to evil, how has evil rhetoric been used to
advance political goals, how has good been articulated and how has it
manifested itself, how do evil and freedom connect to each other?
Of these topics, the project has organised a two-day symposium (in Finnish),
several open seminars with international guests and three multidisciplinary
2.3. The connection of the research to
The current research is closely connected to previous research. During
the three-year period 20032005 we have examined primarily the philosophical
history of ideas concerning evil connecting it to the practices of law
and evil. We intend to advance into a more applied field of research and
examine evil through the themes presented in section 1.3. (The goals of
research). The emphasis of the research will be moved from theory to practice,
although their interaction and simultaneity is a founding feature of the
research. This is why we do not try to separate them from each other
which often is a problem in research of evil; it is either a mere theorising
of the matter or a description of practices.
3. The realization of the research
3.1. The beginning of the research, its current stage
and the estimated time of completion
The research will begin in the beginning of 2006. At that time, we can
start directly from the above-mentioned themes. The research will be finished
in the year 2008, at which time the project intends to organise an international
conference and to publish a book concentrating on the topics discussed
in this plan.
3.2. The annual research plans
In May 2006, we will organize a two-day international conference called
Interrupting Evil, where the main focus is how evil has been
understood in the European philosophical tradition. To that conference,
we will invite our co-operation partners.
In 2007 the members will continue their work. In the spring of 2007, we
will organise a national symposium focusing on the stage that the research
is in. In 2008 an international closing seminar of the project will be
organised and a book of the research results will be published.
4. The publication and making use of research
In 2007 the project will publish a book under the working title Interrupting
Evil: The Many Faces of Law and Evil in the European Tradition. It will
bring together the results of the research until thus far. During the
research period 2006 the members of the project will publish articles
in national and international publications. In addition, the doctoral
dissertations will be published as monographs. Furthermore, at the end
of the period in question, the aim is to publish an international book.
The individual members will present their research results in national
and international academic events. Co-operation with the network of partners
will advance the publication of the research results.
The advancement of the project will be presented on the website of the
project (www.helsinki.fi/jarj/law-evil), both in Finnish and in English.
To this end, a web publication Medusa's Head (working title) will be launched;
the members' and the project's guests' papers and articles will be published
therein. A web publication would also encourage parties not directly related
to the project to write commentaries and give constructive criticism and
feedback. The aim is to create a kind of a living publication, a constant
"work-in-progress", that would primarily present the research
to a wider audience before the printed publications are due.
5. The scientific and strategic significance
of the research and the graduate schooling
5.1. The significance
Evil is encountered daily either in one's own field of experience or through
the media as wars, violence, crimes against humanity, human rights violations,
social injustice, terrorism, totalitarian political systems, intolerance,
racism and natural catastrophies such as scarcity of water and resources.
How to set limits on evil? Criminalisation and the sentencing of those
guilty of evil in national and international courts of law is not an adequate
response to evil. In other words: pondering, defining and establishing
legal and moral boundaries is not enough: such research and practices
do not reach the core of the problem of evil. That is why it is necessary
to examine the essence of evil and its relation to law. That is the only
way we can come up with a sufficient response to the problem of evil.
This, precisely, is the central strategic goal of the research. The results
will serve scientific and philosophical research, but also judicial and
political practices: the research does examine evil on a theoretical level,
but on the other hand, on precisely these grounds, it aims at tracing
practices, norms, principles and institutions, with the help of which
evil could be recognised and controlled better than before, both judicially
and morally. The project creates a connection between theory and practice.
The method of its research is concrete thinking about which the Italian
philosopher Massimo Cacciari has spoken: it tries to respond to a concrete
problem of its times through critical examination of tradition.
In Finland, evil and controlling it have not comprehensively been objects
of research. Also the relevant social and cultural debates over the problem
of evil have, in Finland, been sporadic and random. The project opens
and establishes the research of evil in Finland, from the point of view
of European philosophy.
The significance of the research lies in the following: it opens the philosophical
research of evil on a theoretical level, both nationally and internationally,
while putting the debates on evil in a historical, legal and ethical context.
Evil is no longer seen as a particular phenomenon separate from society
and human nature. The central strategic offering of the research is, that
it is able to treat the question concerning law and evil in a way that
is both profound and broadening in regard to previous points of view
precisely because of its strong and versatile interdisciplinary approach.
5.2. Teaching and graduate schooling
The project will offer a course The Foundations of modern Justice (spring
term 2006, University of Helsinki) which analyses how the ideas of normativity
and law, responsibility and freedom, justice and injustice, good and evil
have been developed in the European philosophy. This course is organised
at the Faculty of Law but it is open also to the students of philosophy
and art reserach.
The members of the project include six researchers who are preparing their
doctoral dissertations, and whose work is discussed and supported in the
meetings of the project. Graduate school -level teaching will be organised
on the research topics at least in the Faculty of Law of the University