The Symbolism of Evil: The Full Shape of Our Capacity for Moral Responsibility




In this article, I examine the discourse around evil from the perspective of philosophical anthropology. Through an analysis of the religious symbolism of evil and an associated quest for a complete study of being, I intend in this article to explore fresh ways of establishing the relation between our rhetorical practices of evil and moral responsibility. I draw on Ricoeur’s work on the primary symbols of evil (stain, sin and guilt), which can be seen as a means for clarifying and extending our understanding of evil and moral responsibility. I employ the concept of “the double intentionality of symbol” to advance an expressive-performative model of speaking about the full shape of moral responsibility. At stake in my paper is the possibility of recognizing the need to valorise subordinate resources of knowledge that might prevent us from studying and responding to the elusive reality of evil in intellectual abstraction. 


Dostoevsky, Fyodor. “Crime and Punishment”. Accessed July 10, 2019.

Esterhammer, Angela. 2000. The Romantic Performative: Language and Action in British and German Romanticism. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press.

Gabor, Octavian. 2017. “Two Kinds of Responsibility in “Crime and Punishment””. Mundo Eslavo: 106–13.

Humboldt, Wilhelm von, and Peter Heath. 1988. On Language: The Diversity of Human Language-Structure and its Influence on the Mental Development of Mankind. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Ihde, Don. 1971. Hermeneutic Phenomenology: The Philosophy of Paul Ricœur. Evanston, IL: Northwestern Univ. Press.

Jones, Malcolm V. 1990. Dostoyevsky after Bakhtin: Readings in Dostoyevsky’s Fantastic Realism. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Kearney, Richard. 2004. Debates in Continental Philosophy: Conversations with Contemporary Thinkers. New York, NY: Fordham Univ. Press.

— . 2006. “On the Hermeneutics of Evil”. Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale, no. 2: 197–215.

Myers, Ella. 2005. “Evil’s Effects”. Political Theory 33, no. 1: 100–109. doi:10.1177/0090591704264468.

Neiman, Susan. 2002. Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

Nussbaum, Martha C. 2001. Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Ollivier, Sophie. 2001. “Icons in Dostoevsky’s Works”. In Dostoevsky and the Christian Tradition, edited by George Pattison and Diane O. Thompson, 51–68. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Ricœur, Paul. 1966. Freedom and Nature: The Voluntary and Involuntary. Evanston, IL: Northwestern Univ. Press.

— . 1967. The Symbolism of Evil. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

— . 1970. Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

— . 1974. “The Hermeneutics of Symbol and Philosophical Reflection: I”, in The Conflict of Interpretations, edited by Don Idhe, 284-311. Evanston, IL: Northwestern Univ. Press.

— . 1981. “The Hermeneutical Function of Distaciation”. In Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences: Essays on Language, Action, and Interpretation, edited by Paul Ricœur and John B. Thompson. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

— . 1986. Fallible Man. New York, NY: Fordham Univ. Press.

— . 1992. Oneself as Another. Chicaco, IL: Univ. of Chicago Press.

— . 1995. “A Philosophical Hermeneutics of Religion: Kant”. In Figuring the Sacred: Religion, Narrative, and Imagination, edited by Paul Ricœur and Mark I. Wallace. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

— . 1995. “Fragility and Responsibility”. In Philosophy and Social Criticism, edited by Richard Kearney, 15–22. Netherlands: Sage Journals.

— . 2000. The Just. Chicaco, IL: Univ. of Chicago Press.

— . 2007. Evil: A Challenge to Philosophy and Theology. London: Continuum.

Steiner, George. 1971. Extraterritorial: Papers on Literature and the Language Revolution. Frankfurt am Main: Atheneum.

Taylor, Charles. 1993-1994. “Dostoevsky and Terrorism”. Lonergan Review 4.

— . 2016. The Language Animal: The Full Shape of the Human Linguistic Capacity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

van Leeuwen, Theodoor M. 1981. The Surplus of Meaning: Ontology and Eschatology in the Philosophy of Paul Ricœur. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Williams, Rowan. 2008. Dostoevsky: Language, Faith, and Fiction. Waco, TX: Baylor Univ. Press.



How to Cite

Ban, Marius Daniel. 2020. “The Symbolism of Evil: The Full Shape of Our Capacity for Moral Responsibility”. European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 12 (4):139-60.



How Discernment between Good and Evil shapes the Dynamics of the Human Journey