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 central questions:

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, being evil.

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 themes:

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 analysis.

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 of evil?

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 evil?

2) What is evil, both juridically and ethically?

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 sensitively?

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 others?

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 lecture series.

2.3. The connection of the research to previous research

The current research is closely connected to previous research. During the three-year period 2003–2005 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 results

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 of Helsinki.