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The Nature of Evil: Philosophical Views on Genocide

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Throughout history, and especially in this class, the topic of mass killings such as genocide has been brought up on many occasions and put under the microscope; from the many angles that come from each person that comes in contact with genocide, to the motives, or possibly lack their of, that lead to the deaths of countless lives, this topic has received a lot of discussion. One viewpoint that has been thought of, whether describing an event such as genocide, is the philosophical view of the situation. Philosophers such as Leibniz, Voltaire, and Darwin each have their own views on a lot of things that occurred in their lifetimes. However, if we take a look at their works and then use those works as guides whilst looking into genocide, a whole new way of delving into this topic arises and opens doors for more possibilities for people to think about genocide, which allows for them to come to new conclusions. However, with this in mind, these viewpoints that they had created could lead to some people being dissatisfied in the conclusions that they and other people around them form. While each of these men has their own views and mindsets on the matter, it is up to the individual at hand to form their own conclusion with the help of some philosophical points that are placed in front of them.

For Leibniz, genocide is not only necessary, but we must also accept everything that is presented in front of us because God chose for this to happen. There are a lot of things that people need to accept in this world, whether they want to or not. Some examples of these things are the payment of taxes and that not everyone is going to agree on everything that is being said, or going to be said. When it comes to genocide, there is a very good chance that people are going to say that genocide is a terrifying sight and an experience that no one shall forget, if they are able to live and tell the tale. However, when it comes to someone like Leibniz, the idea of genocide is a test so to speak. What I mean by that is that Leibniz will stand his ground with his belief that God has chosen this path for us and that this tragedy occurred because of His will. As he says in “Theodicy: Essays on the Goodness of God the Freedom of Man and the Origin of Evil”, “But in relation to God nothing is open to question, nothing can be opposed to the rule of the best, which suffers neither exception nor dispensation”. Genocide is just a stepping-stone for people to overcome in the eyes of Leibniz, and many others that put their entire existence in the control of God; the deaths of countless lives are all in the hands of God, and if you are one of the unfortunate souls to get taken away from this world, just know it was all part of God’s plan. We cannot judge the man upstairs because He is testing our resolve and seeing what we, as his devoted followers, shall do in bleak and bloody situations such as genocide. This way of living does not sit well with a lot of people, including myself, because sometimes God does not have the answer for everything, and with something as bloody and heart wrenching as genocide, you think He would probably want to put the breaks on this and not lose many of his devout followers. While Leibniz wants to show his resolve and prove to God that he, and others that share the same viewpoint, will take on the challenge and handle whatever situations God sends their way, Voltaire is not so willing to keep quiet and let all hell break loose.

For Voltaire, genocide is a cry out for God or another being of a higher power to show themselves because this should not be happening in their presence. There are a lot of things in this world that hurt a lot of people. In these kinds of situations, some people look for a guiding light or something to help them cope with the tragedy that has befallen unto themselves or the people around them. However, in the eyes of Voltaire, he wants us to stand up and show that not everyone that is being hurt and/or killed deserves all of this suffering, and that God has some explaining to do. As he says in his poem, “Poem on the Lisbon Disaster; Or An Examination Of The Axion, ‘All Is Well’”, “When earth its horrid jaws half open shows,/My plaint is innocent, my cries are just./Surrounded by such cruelties of fate,/By rage of evil and snares of death.” Not everyone that has perished because of tragedies such as genocide deserve to die; they were either in the wrong place at the wrong time or they we were attacked because of who they are. We cannot control the lineage that we are given, nor can we control whom we are. The pain felt through the newer generations of people that have relatives that have suffered and/or perished in the past rings on for years to come and will probably never go away. Many people do not believe in God, or any otherworldly being in general, and I can see why; I have also lost touch with my God, and these acts are one of the biggest reasons why. While Leibniz and Voltaire have very conflicting ways of looking at God and this terrible act that leads to many lives being lost, Darwin is on the fence for this one, and it looks like he might stay there for a while.

For Darwin, he cannot believe that genocide is taking place in the world around us, but he also believes that everything is being brought upon us solely by chance. A lot of things that occur in this world could be explained by someone or something, if they try hard enough. However, if people take a step back from the madness and take a deep breath, what they see might not be as complicated as they possibly once thought, and this is the mentality that Darwin has forged. In a letter that he wrote to Asa Gray, he says “I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to working out of what we may call chance”. Tragedies occur in this world very often, especially in the world that we live in right now; while this kind of tragedy has only been done a few times throughout history, my point still stands that the people of this world have seen and gone through a lot of bloodshed, but what if all of these deaths and acts of violence occurred just because? For example, the Holocaust was one of the biggest, as well as possibly the most recognizable, genocides that this world has faced in its history, and the start of it happened when Hitler rose to power. However, that could have happened at any time or it could not have happened at all. Sure, you can argue that some otherworldly being could be at control of having genocide occur or not, but this begs the question; if these otherworldly beings do have so much control as they claim to have in their respective books or from the mouths of their followers, then why did they give us the power to not only conjure up the schemes for killing innocent lives, and to also have the strength to carry out the job? There is no set pattern for when this destruction takes place, as well as no exact number for how many people are going to be killed in these bloodbaths. With this in mind, we cannot truly predict that the next time that we step out or doors to get the morning paper, or go visit our friend’s house, that hell will rain down and possibly take us down with it; all we can do is learn from the mistakes made in history, and hope that there is a chance that this tragedy does not rear its ugly head once more.

The loss of life is one of the hardest things that people have to go through; even if the person or people lost are unknown to you, the fact of the matter is that life is precious and someone or some people will have their hearts shattered at the lost of their loved ones. We cannot predict when people are going to die from acts such as genocide, nor can we decide on a definitive answer on why events such as this happen in the first place. Everyone has their own ways to not only solve problems that are presented in front of them, but also with their own ways of coping with the loss of life. Also, people will believe in what they want to believe; whether it is some powerful being that we only see in an ancient text, or from another source that they found, that can also affect how they look into things. While we may never reach a conclusion that satisfies everyone in this world, what we can reach try and reach for is a world where we do not have to worry about such travesties ever returning.

Works Cited

  1. Darwin, Charles. “Charles Darwin, to Asa Gray, May 22, 1860.” The Problem of Evil: A Reader. Edited by Mark Larrimore. Wiley-Blackwell, 2000. 269-270. Blackboard Learn. Web. 11 May 2019
  2. Leibniz, G.W. “Theodicy: Essays on the Goodness of God the Freedom of Man and the Origin of Evil.” Translated by E.M. Huggard from C.J. Gerhardt’s Edition of the Collected Philosophical Works, 1875-90
  3. Voltaire. “Toleration and Other Essays/Poem on the Lisbon Disaster.” Translated by Joseph McCabe, Codex Hammurabi (King Translation) – Wikisource, the Free Online Library, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.,

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