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Hegel, the Legend of Evil, and Flussers Scepticism

Wanderley Dias da Silva Katholieke Universiteit Leuven

Abstract In this paper Ill consider two interpretations of legends derived from the Book of Genesis in connection with evil: Hegels version of the story of the Fall of Man and Vilm Flussers analysis of the story of Creation, defending the latter. Hegels historical theory is a theodicy. This is to say that history is nothing but the content of Gods governance. So, says Hegel, we must understand that What was intended by Eternal Wisdom is actually accomplished in the domain of existence, as well as in that of mere Nature. Flusser did not buy any of this. On the contrary, history is, he says, nothing but the unfolding of the Devil, the serpent Hegel exonerated in his account of the fall. In Flussers own terms, the whole symphony of civilization, all the progress of humanity against the limits imposed upon us by the divine is nothing but the majestic work of the Devil. What follows from this is a particular type of Epicureanism. To be moral agents, says Flusser, we must refuse to be made prisoners of the [tiring] and boring conversation now under way in the Western civilization, that tedious conversation called progress. For this purpose, the task of philosophy is to restore the myth science has long forgotten. Flussers radicalism, I would say, marks his best contribution to moral philosophy, avoiding as it does the complications associated with Hegels theory. So, it is tempting to claim that Flussers scepticism puts him closer to solving the problem of evil than Hegel. But the question whether his moral reflections can be integrated into our daily lives remains to be answered. Keywords: God, Devil, Mosaic Myths, World History, Progress, Evil.

Introduction In its simplest form, Hegels historical theory is a theodicy, i.e., a vindication of the divine plans. On his view, then, human history is nothing but the content of Gods governance and will. In his own terms, we must understand that What was intended by Eternal Wisdom [God] is actually accomplished in the domain of existence [history], active Spirit, as well as in that of mere Nature (2007:15). Now, it is obvious that if Hegel is going to talk about history in this way, he needs to account for the presence of worldly evil. Hegel discusses the problem in his version of the Mosaic story of the Fall of Man1 (or fall for short). In this articulation, when we turn to the lives of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden we find, in principle, a state of existence that is not meant to be, since it is a condition of innocence and ignorance. For Hegel, then, life in the paradise of unity is evil and thus has to be overcome. So he says, Nature is for man only the starting point which he has to transform. Ultimately, this is what the assertion he must produce and eat bread in
Following on Hegel, I shall use the term man synecdochically throughout this essay to mean human being in general, unless stated otherwise.

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the sweat of his brow means (1892:46-47). Otherwise stated, for Hegel man is not fully self-conscious at first and, therefore, needs to undergo a process of cognitive development. This means man needs to triumph over natural evil, making himself what he is, as a selfconscious act. That is why Eve and then Adam ate the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the first place. But when that begins to happen, when man becomes self-conscious, evil emerges again; this time in the form of knowledge. Talk of such a double evil surely brings us to Hegels dialectics. I shall leave this to be considered in the next section though. What is relevant for the moment is that, arguing the way he does that history manifests an increasing degree of rationality as it evolves Hegel turns evil into a necessary and inevitable step in the improvement of human nature. This of course raises important questions. But first it will be in order to consider Vilm Flussers objection. Unlike Hegel, Flusser doesnt think that history encompasses the work of a Supreme God. On the contrary, for him world history is actually nothing but the unfolding of the Devil, the serpent Hegel exonerates in his account of the fall.2 In Flussers own terms, the whole symphony of civilization, all the progress of humanity against the limits imposed upon us by the divine, and our daily struggle for the Promethean fire of freedom, is nothing but the majestic work of the Devil (2008:22). This contention deserves careful consideration since Flusser hasnt spoken of evil in an equally vigorous manner that often. We shall, nevertheless, find a related claim in his later essay War and the State of Things, in which he says that everything that is good for something is pure Evil (1999:33). This is of course the central point of contention between Flusser and Hegel. Where Hegel sees Gods governance and the execution of divine plans, Flusser sees the majestic work of the devil. That is why, unlike Hegel, Flusser doesnt think that history manifests an increasing degree of rationality as it develops. Quite the opposite, human history only deteriorates as it progresses. Arguing this way, Flusser also rejects Hegels notion of a linear development of Geist within world history. Simply put, for Flusser progress is not a good place for spirit to end up. This radicalism, I would say, is Flussers best contribution to moral philosophy, as it demands us to rethink our sources of true happiness. But before embarking on a detailed discussion, something needs to be said about Flussers general claim. What does it mean to say that history is nothing but the unfolding of the Devil? This,
Hegel clearly adopts the Gnostic view that the serpent in the Garden of Eden was the Devil in disguise; but a word of explanation may be in order here. There is no evidence in the Book of Genesis or in the Old Testament for that matter in support of this idea. Of course Ezekiel 28:13 speaks of the devil thus: You were in Eden, the Garden of God. Yet, this is no clear evidence that the devil was there as the serpent. What about the New Testament? Paul, for example, in II Corinthians 11:3 says: But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpents cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. This passage is sometimes interpreted to fit the Gnostic argument. Still, one can easily contend that Paul is speaking in a rather metaphorical way. It is only in the Book of Revelation (12:9 and 20:2) the same book Marcion, Tertullian, Luther, and Calvin rejected on the basis of being not Christian at all or simply offensive that we shall find direct quotes identifying the serpent with the devil, the serpent is called the devil or Satan. This indicates that the idea developed much later. Lets consider the Koranic version of Genesis, for example which didnt exist in book form at the time of Muhammads death in 632 CE. There the issue is very clearly stated: Iblis (Satan) was sent to earth along with Adam and Eve, after having deceived them into eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. It is not hard to see that this is partially coherent with the episode in Ezekiel quoted above. However, this is still a matter of interpretation, as Satan could have been in Eden, the Garden of God in his heydays, as Lucifer the Light Bearer. So, on this picture, it is perfectly sound to argue that the concept serpent-devil is a much later invention. Perhaps, as Flusser has it, it is another adaptation of the logos Christianity borrowed from Orphism (2008:195). Nevertheless, for the sake of argument, I am going to follow on Hegel and accept the serpent as the representation of the Devil. Dias da Silva|2

of course, provokes yet another important question. If everything is pure Evil as Flusser says, how are we to realistically provide the more human element with the meaning, values, truth, and goals it pursues? Inasmuch as he equates the whole symphony of civilization (2008:22) with the unfolding of the majestic work of the Devil, at times Flusser appears incapable of succinctly explaining how exactly avoiding evil is even possible. Interestingly enough, despite the vigour of his writings, Flusser himself seemed dissatisfied with the intellectual cul-de-sac into which his claims had led him. Thus, when asked by J. C. Ismael in an interview in 1970 whether the devil had the last laugh, he admitted: I have not resolved the problem of the devil; I have decided instead against madness. The difficulty arises because, apparently, Flussers argument ends inconclusively. This, I take it, is a reasonable objection but one that doesnt stand up to scrutiny. If we read the two texts mentioned above closely, we shall see that Flussers solution to the problem of evil is rather simple and uncompromising, avoiding as it does the difficulties associate with Hegels historical theory. The most serious objection to the Hegelian thesis is that it can only account for the kind of evil which evolves from inner struggle. But an effective moral theory must justify other types of evil such as all forms of crimes, wars, and genocide (Beiser 2005:275). So on this picture, we should not be surprised to hear that, for Flusser, all Hegel accomplished with his historical model was to replace the self-indulgent gods of thunder and rain for a pallid notion of nationalism (2008:89). The net result is, I would say, that Flusser is much closer to solving the problem of evil than Hegel. To proceed, I will look first at Hegels concept of evil, then, too briefly to be sure, at the claim that his interpretation of evil as self-negation is simply too subjective. I next investigate Flussers analysis of the story of Creation, and how his Epicurean doctrine bears on our understanding of evil; as I hope will become clear, arguing the way he does, Flusser contributes both to moral philosophy and to the possibility of that in practice. Flussers radicalism, I suggest, marks his best contribution to current discourses in ethics, avoiding as it does the difficulties associated with Hegel's theory. The paper will conclude with a rather concise note on what I take to be an intriguing problem with Flussers model. Hegel and the story of the Fall of Man If we begin with Hegels interpretation of the fall, we will end up with a picture of evil as a necessary and inevitable step in the improvement of human nature and understanding. To appreciate Hegels account, though, it is best that we begin with a summary of the original story. The Book of Genesis vividly informs us that, in the beginning, God told Adam and Eve that they could freely eat of every fruit in the garden, but of the tree that stood in the middle of paradise, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they should not eat or they would die. The legend also tells us that along came a being in the form of a serpent, slier than every beast in the field, which tempted Eve to disobey God. The serpent told Eve that eating the fruit would make her as God knowing good and evil. To make a long story short, Eve and then Adam ate of the forbidden fruit of knowledge, becoming aware of their nakedness. Then, ashamed, they made coverings of fig leaves and hid from the sight of God. The upshot is that, upon discovering that Adam and Eve had disobeyed him, God expelled them from paradise. He then cursed the serpent above all animals, You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. Eve God punished with pain in childbirth and with subordination to her husband; and Adam He punished with a life of hard work (Genesis 3:1-24).
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Admittedly, the tenets of this story vary according to religious view and circumstances.3 But we need not dwell here on these differences, for (I trust) the outline above suffices for our understanding of Hegels argumentation. In commenting this story, Hegel explains: the very concept of human being [spirit] suffices to show us that man is evil by nature (1892:46-47). Hence we may call the Garden of Eden a zoological garden, since here spirit is not distinguished from the natural, i.e., from animal life. This state of innocence and ignorance is thus evil. It is exactly for this reason that humanity elevates itself to the knowledge of good and evil; that is why Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. This legend portrays, then, two fundamental aspects of human existence: 1) that man is not fully self-conscious at first and, therefore, needs to undergo a process of cognitive development; and 2) that humanity must make itself what it is; it must produce and eat bread in the sweat of its brow, [and this] belongs to what is most essential and distinctive about it [life], and coheres necessarily with the knowledge of good and evil (1985:303). More simply, man has to overcome natural evil, making himself what he is, as a self-conscious act. However, in the course of discovering reason, man moves from one evil to another; from the state of innocence in the natural paradise of unity to the level of knowledge or cognition. So for Hegel knowledge is also evil, since it means a general judging or dividing. Now, says Hegel, We seem at first to have a double evil here: but both are really the same (ibid:301). So, although there appears to be two different definitions of evil here, and perhaps two different ways to transcend it, strictly speaking there is just one form of evil. This of course brings us back to a point I put aside earlier, Hegels dialectics. Let us, then, briefly consider it. For Hegel the whole of reality is involved in a compulsory dialectical process of self-realization; moving from the more general to the more specific, from the abstract to the concrete. On this view, everything progresses in a triadic manner. Hegel calls these stages affirmation, negation, and negation of the negation, that is, the affirmation of something new. And at every step in this process, spirit manifests (necessarily) an increasing degree of rationality, self-understanding, and freedom. In short, this is what the double source of evil in Hegel amounts to: Man begins in a condition of innocence and ignorance; this is the most general and abstract state in which spirit resides. But in such a situation man is an individual simply. To remain in this state of innocence is to remain an individual only. As Hegel puts it, in this position the individual just lives in the natural wickedness of man being a creature of nature, behaving and following the cravings of his appetite. So he insists on this feature: Nature is for man only the starting point which he has to transform. The moment man leaves the path of mere nature marks the difference between him, as a self-conscious agent [though yet to be], and the natural world (1892:46-47). In dialectical terms, knowledge negates the state of nature. But this split from nature, this lapse from the natural paradise of unity though it forms a necessary element in the very notion of spirit is not mans ultimate environment either. Hence it is also evil. Why is this? Because it is a contradiction; it contains the two sides: good and evil.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the story concerns the true identity of the serpent; whether it was the devil himself. See previous footnote for further discussion. Dias da Silva|4

Following Hegels dialectics, we shall see that this contradiction (inevitably) leads us to a third category, the affirmation of something new. And one thing that quickly emerges from Hegels reading of the fall is that in the same way this cleavage is a source of evil; it is also the midpoint of the conversion that consciousness contains within itself whereby this cleavage is also sublated (1985:302). More simply, to think dialectically is not only to see distinctions, but also to understand that these distinctions must be overcome. But how, one might wonder, the fall illustrates this elevation? Recall that God expelled Adam and Eve from paradise, and cussed them accordingly. For Hegel now man is distinguished from animal life. In general, says Hegel, animals do not have to work hard for their existence, or they do so only when compelled, and not by nature. So, animals do not eat their bread in the sweat of their brow or produce their own bread, but rather find the satisfaction of all their needs directly in nature. Surely humans also find the material for their satisfaction in nature, but this material is, so to speak, the least important element for them; the infinite provision for the satisfaction of their needs occurs only through labour (ibid:303). I conclude that there are, then, two levels to the curse of eating by the sweat of ones face: material labour and the labour of the spirit. The upshot is that overcoming the evil of cleavage or cognition involves exercising our freedom; that is the labour of the spirit. That is when spirit moves necessarily to a higher degree of rationality and self-understanding. Because animals have no consciousness, says Hegel, they cannot make distinctions within themselves. In other words, they are not free to exercise their freedom of the will. This freedom grows out of the nature of the individual that makes a conscious decision. Only here freedom can be properly itself. Freedom, then, lies not only in being able to make distinctions, but also in the power to choose ones course of action. That is how spirit elevates itself from contradiction. And this is Hegels conclusion. Needless to say, Hegels philosophical system is much more sophisticated and comprehensive than might be thought from the necessarily short summary given here. I hope, however, that this sketch can give us a proper understanding of his interpretation of evil. What is worth noting it that, even though this seems a compelling account of evil, there is a problem we cannot so easily dismiss. Hegels interpretation of evil as selfnegation is rather subjective to say the least. On this account, we may perhaps be able to justify one form of evil: that which evolves from inner struggle. But if we accept the Hegelian argument, we are left with a harder case to settle, as reason demands that we explain other sorts of evil. Suppose we concur with Hegel that human history (necessarily) manifests an increasing degree of rationality as it progresses. If so, then we have to consent to other forms of evil: crimes, wars, abuse, and genocides; since history is nothing but the unfolding of a divine plan (Beiser 2005:275). This certainly challenges Hegels historical theory. Hence, it seems understandable enough that Flusser should think history doesnt encompasses the work of a Supreme Being. More simply, Flusser was not impressed with Hegels historical theodicy. But we will leave this to be considered later.. To bring this section to an end, let us refer to one more feature of the story of the fall, the serpent who we have, for the sake of our discussion, accepted as the representation of the Devil. In light of Hegels reading, that creature slier than every beast in the field can be finally absolved. As Hegel explains, the original story depicts the serpent as a deceiver; the Prince of Darkness himself. In Hegels own terms:
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[T]he story reports that an alien creature, the serpent, seduced humanity by the pretence that, if one knows how to distinguish good and evil, one will become like God. In this way the story represents [wrongly] the fact that humanitys deed springs from the evil principle [Satan]. However, the confirmation of the fact that the knowledge of good and evil belongs to the divinity of humanity is placed on the lips of God himself: Behold, Adam has become like one of us (Gen. 3:22) (1985:302).

Implicit in this passage is a comment Hegel makes somewhere else: that The serpent represents likeness to God as consisting in the knowledge of good and evil: and it is just this knowledge in which man participates when he breaks with the unity of his instinctive being and eats of the forbidden fruit (1892:46-47). Hegels aim in this argument is to refocus reflection on the idea that the fall was a necessary step towards self-realization. Now let us compare Hegel with Flusser, who not only exonerated the serpent, but also made him the absolute lord of history. Wherein Hegel saw the execution of divine plans, Flusser saw the majestic work of the Devil, manifested in the infinite human desire to transform this transient world into a second-order reality. Such is the concept of evil Flusser proposes for consideration in his The History of the Devil.4 The question is, then, how does this proposition bear on our understanding of human nature in relation to evil? Flusser and the Story of Creation Flusser was obviously dazzled by the very first verse in the Bible, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. He thought that we could, perhaps, look at this passage thus: at the beginning God created space and time. That is, God created the phenomenal world and the Devil. This very process imposed upon the Devil, and consequently upon humanity, three ultimate constraints, beginning, heavens, and earth. On this picture, we surely bear a likeness with the Devil. And, perhaps, as Flusser points out, this might explain why it is [always] easier and simpler to follow him than the unintelligible ways of the divine; for man and the Devil are both confined by the same balls and chains (2008:31). We may add another similarity: that according to tradition both Satan and man freely initiated evil in heavens and earth respectively. But this resemblance is ephemeral and, therefore, ends here. Whereas the Devil is (probably) eternal, has a clear sense of his duties and, thus, accomplishes it with splendour, humanity runs in an endless circle, always arriving at the crossroad between good and evil (ibid:22); that is, in the cleavage. Flusser believes this conflict grows from our desire to transform this transient reality into a sort of permanent one. More simply, we take in the Devils job, which involves keeping this world moving. To see this better, let us reflect on Flussers complete foray:
How was he [the Devil] born? It is written: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. In this sentence, every word is a mystery [...]. True, our pundits managed to shove beginning further into the bottomless abysm of time. Our scientists managed to dilate, distort, and curve the heavens; and they have given it dimensions totally unimaginable. They have also rounded earth, making her small and easy to manipulate; and they are about to leave her precariously. Even so, beginning is still beginning, heavens are still heavens, and Mother Earth continuous to shelter and feed us as she did in her first day [...]. The Devil was never satisfied with these three handcuffs [beginning, heavens, and earth]. Our imagination refuses to picture a hypothetical situation in which these three constraints
As far as I am concerned, this book is not yet available in English. I have worked with the Portuguese version, Histria do Diabo. Therefore, I take full responsibility for the translated sections throughout this essay. Dias da Silva|6

would be destroyed by human effort inspired by the devil. An infinite and eternal world is beyond our understanding. The devil is, nevertheless, capable of partially evading his limits in the course of human history. But spirit continues to pursue these limits retrospectively, like the expansion of a gas, but remains handcuffed nevertheless. This allows us an important consideration: An infinite and eternal world is unimaginable. But a finite and transient reality is equally inconceivable. The infinite world raises an insurmountable problem, limitation. The finite world provokes an equally impossible question: what lies beyond the infinite (ibid:31-33).

The divine, says Flusser, represents all our attempts to surpass or deny time. It acts within the world in order to dissolve it, to make it pure being. More simply, it is God who influences humanity towards that which is infinite and everlasting. By contrast, the Devil symbolizes every human attempt to preserve time the way it is. That is, to break the limits imposed by God. The Devil interacts with man in order to make this sympathize with his flamboyant work, recognising in him a nature similar to his and perhaps as miserable. And in line with this task, the Devil is no idiot, since his methods are abundant. Hence, Flusser remarks, we can say that progress is nothing but the Devil (through us perhaps) keeping the phenomenal world turning (ibid:23). At this point one might wish to ask: Who or what exactly is the Devil? Are we the devil? Or is the devil an actual name for an absolute principle of evil, just like God is (perhaps) a name for the absolute principle of goodness? Or better, is it even coherent to talk about progress or history as a manifestation of the Devil? But before we attempt to answer to these questions, it is best that we explore what Flusser has say about the logos. For this purpose, something needs first to be said about Flussers analysis of Eastern and Western metaphysics. To Flusser, the primary theme of Western tradition is its excessive concern with reason the principle that allows man to push beginning further into the abysm of time; dilate, distort, and curve the heavens; and round and manipulate the earth. Flussers major objective here is to point out that it is under conditions of Western perspective that the battle between God and the Devil has been described thus far. The story changes once we shift view. Let us take, for example, a Buddhist side. At once, all the struggle of the mind to grasp reality, to surpass time, becomes nothing but the work of the Devil. Here, the very concept mind is already the negation of the divine. Why? Because, as Flusser has it, the mind has a strange feature: the more it drinks, the thirstier it gets. Hence, a Buddhist seeks to dissolve reality, merging his mind into shunyata or emptiness. To negate reality is what is divine. To contemplate permanent death, that is, to escape the cycle of birth and rebirth, represents divine liberation. On this view, that which Westerns call faith is in fact the ways of the Devil, since it is the method of affirming the immortality of the mind. Put differently, that which Westerns call heavens, Buddhism calls suffering. What Westerns call hell, Buddhism calls nirvna. What Westerns call happiness, Buddhism calls death of the mind (ibid:208). The next question then is: How to explain this inversion of values? This, says Flusser, is simply entrenched in the soul. Eastern and Western perspectives are both deeply rooted into the logos; in the way language is structured. More simply, this inversion of values is within us. What is relevant in this account is that the two contenders in this metaphysical battle, God and the Devil, are merely fictions of our imagination; the products of the language
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embedded in us. The object of their dispute, our minds, is just water for their desperate thirst; in such a way that the more they drink the thirstier they become. The devil was created to create the world. And now, when the world is finally dissolved, both the Devil and the creator of the Devil vanish (ibid:208). By the use of these images Flusser aims to show that the absurdity of reality evolves from the nature of the logos, which has a controversial feature: it can articulate sentences grammatically incorrect and produce only nonsense; or it can articulate sentences perfectly structured the Vienna circle type and produce nothing. By eliminating the grammatical errors we can surely eliminate all the metaphysical clangs, rattles and bangs that create the absurdity of reality: Devil and God, heavens and hell, being and nothingness, affirmation and negation, and good and evil. But what is the value of sentences perfectly structured? They produce nothing, says Flusser. And now we are left to decide between metaphysical noise and emptiness (ibid:187). This, of course, is an unmistakable influence of Wittgenstein, the philosopher that disconcerted Flusser the most.5 As in Wittgenstein, Flusser also thinks that the ladder has to be thrown away once silence is achieved. He adds, however, an important feature to the argument: once we discard the ladder, thinking is also annihilated. We reach a state of semantic pseudo-nirvana. This logical false meditation, says Flusser, is also the death of the old mythical logos Christianity borrowed from Orphism; the same logos that has produced so many metaphysical speculations (ibid:195). But is this the end of the self? Of course not! The logical death of the logos is certainly not the death of the soul. Hence, according to Flusser, Wittgensteins analysis missed one important aspect of the logos. In this sense, the following passage is representative:
But it is obvious that logical analysis of language does not capture the totality of the logos. It misses the musical aspect of it. That is why pure logic is not Buddhism yet. It lacks the last radicalism. Surely pure logic manages to eradicate thought in a definite and inoperable way. In this sense, it is Buddhist. But it cannot annihilate life. Pure logic annihilates the I in its logical and epistemological sense. But it cannot destroy its psychological, existential aspect of it (ibid:208).

This extract seems to allude to a positive aspect in Flussers account, otherwise concealed throughout his writings, that there is a proper attitude we must incorporate into our daily lives in order to avoid evil. But before we consider this, let us summarize the discussion thus far. Throughout this section we have been seeking, at least implicitly, to find answers to the question: Who is the devil? It should be quite obvious that, to Flusser, the logos created the devil and consequently his counterpart, God. And if there is any other reality towards which spirit strives, that is also a metaphysical fantasy. Flusser tried to emphasize this by pointing at how Eastern and Western traditions think reality differently. The tension between these two forces, God and the Devil, takes place in our minds. By eliminating the noises of language, that is, by producing only propositions grammatically perfect we are surely able to eradicate the contradiction; i.e., the logical and the epistemological self. The only survivor in this battle, though bleeding badly if I am allowed the metaphor, is the psychological self.

See Histria do Diabo [History of the Devil] pages 13-14. Dias da Silva|8

But what is left for the self that survived? After all, it is clear from the passage above that logical positivism cannot capture the totality of the logos. In short, the will, says Flusser. In his own terms, that is what the death of the logos amounts to: the murderer of God, of the Devil, and of the logical and the epistemological I was unable to kill its own will. Hence, it remains in cleavage (ibid:208-9). Still, in Flussers account, it would appear that a degree of consolation doesnt come for free. What about the musical aspect of the logos? What is it? Here, far from giving a simple answer, Flusser takes us back to the murderer of metaphysical reality, merges it into Leibnizs epistemological mathematics, and into the purely formal music of Bach and Handel to illustrate how the logos finds balance in the combination of life (music) and thought (mathematics). I can make no attempt here to present a comprehensive comment on this argument. But the key to this intricate aspect of Flussers thought lies in his concept of philosophy itself. That is why philosophy exists, says Flusser (ibid:196). Now, granted that Hegel has already established that spirit is finally and most perfectly realized in philosophy, i.e., on the level of notion, the question is just how to understand philosophy in the Flusserian sense. Rather than propose a Hegelian definition, Flusser refers to philosophy or methodical reflection as a deadly sin; in fact Flusser equates philosophy to two of the most severe forms of sin in the theological tradition, pride and melancholy. Simply put, for Flusser philosophy is the deepest level of hell. To be sure, philosophy is, nevertheless, the turning point for spirit to become properly itself; it is the musical aspect of the logos. How is this? The greatness of philosophy, says Flusser, is that to the neophyte, philosophy is an intellectual discipline in search for answers. Whereas for the initiated ones, it is the relaxing scent of a reality conquered (ibid:202-3). Put differently, to the neophyte philosophy is existential salvation. To the advanced disciple, it is the existential proof of the death of the mind. But what does that mean? We can understand Flussers argument thus: For the neophyte philosophy is pride. For the initiated ones philosophy is melancholy. In Hegelian terms, this would simply mean that the first form of philosophy is not philosophy properly itself. It is philosophy in its immediate level. When philosophy becomes the existential proof of the death of the mind, the death of the logical and the epistemological self, philosophy becomes properly itself. Now, space precludes further examination of this important aspect of Flussers doctrine. But we can begin to see the sense behind his central thesis, that progress is not the execution of a divine plan as Hegel imagined, but the unfolding of the Devil. Remember the logic of Hegels philosophical system: everything progresses in a dialectical manner, always towards a higher stage. Flusser didnt buy any of that. To be sure, Flusser doesnt deny the idea of progress; what he refutes is Hegels assumption that every stage of development in human history manifests a higher step towards self-realization and freedom. Why? Flusser thinks that every time spirit returns from its otherness, it only finds itself a footstep further away from its ultimate reality; a reality strange to the psychological self from scratch. Here we can think of a circle closing infinitely; perhaps Jrmungandr, the Norse mythological serpent biting its own tail; and every bite is a deadly sin. This means that the self, unable to kill its own will is impelled by the same level of lust and desire to control nature that prompted it out of the natural paradise of unity in the first place. But how, one should wonder, might a deadly sin be also the turning point for spirit? Flusser saw clearly that philosophy acquires a new priority when the mind moves from pride to melancholy. Here, he says, faith in the words of the great thinkers is reduced
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to a radical stage where spirit makes philosophy for the sake of philosophy itself. Spirit philosophizes not in search for answers, illumination, or happiness, but with detachment. At this point, we must surrender to philosophy without asking questions or favours. This is what Flusser means by melancholy a sort of existential scepticism. Only in this mood, philosophy becomes the turning point for spirit to elevate itself. In this state, the mind desires nothing, it just wishes to die (ibid:204). To be sure, this is a not a physical, but a metaphysical death. I do not have space in this paper to examine this important aspect of Flussers theory any further. Yet, it is possible to argue that this line of reasoning places Flusser much closer to solving the problem of evil than Hegel. Let me briefly point this out. Naturally such powerful remarks, explicitly, 1) that history is nothing but the unfolding of the Devil and, 2) that man finds himself perpetually in an ontological cleavage, would lead Flusser to raise critical questions about a clear light of day through the other side of the jungle. Of course this light does exist, but it is purchased at a high price: the death of the mind. So, on the face of it, Flussers positive recommendations are not as clear as his radicalism and scepticism. And, whats more, it would appear that he leaves the discussion unresolved to some extent. Hence, as noted earlier, when asked later in an interview (1970) whether the devil had the last laugh, Flusser admitted: I have not resolved the problem of the devil; I have decided instead against madness. If I had persisted on the same argument I would have lost the critical control of my thoughts. Therefore, I opted for sanity and against the radical speculation [...]. But we shall see that Flussers cynicism didnt prevent him from taking ethics seriously, albeit with aporetic answers. If we take one particular aspect of his arguments earnestly, we might come close to an answer to the problem of evil. Flusser presses this point in Chapter 9, Post Scriptum:
At the beginning of this book we had the guts to defy the devil. At the end of this book this courage has faded away [...] We had the intention to kill the Devil [evil], at the end we almost killed ourselves [...] We have become more modest, and this is the only positive result of this great journey surrounded by so many promises [...] But we should not deride this result. Perhaps this may show us the critical situation in which Western society finds itself. It could be that this result is our fate. Perhaps it was about time, after such a grandiose voyage, to return to a less pretentious mind. And perhaps the time has come, in this stage of human evolution, to feel just a bit embarrassed [...]. After so much progress, great inventions, pompous discoveries and conquests, it is perhaps the time to admit to our defeat. But this book does not wish to be pessimist. Throughout our journey we tried to remain hopeful. But what hope? Silly question! Just another conviction of the logos: it is impossible to be quiet. This may be either a curse or a blessing, but the impossibility of silencing is a mark of continuity. The only message then is this: continue (2008:213).

So, although there seems to be a sort of vagueness in the way Flusser ends his whole discussion in the History, the same sort of abstraction that later led him to say he had not resolved the problem of the devil, I would say that this is in fact an unmistakable influence of Socrates. Recall that most Socratic dialogues (in Plato) are aporetic, i.e., they raise philosophical discussions without any proffered solution. This does indeed appear to be Flussers intention. But what, one might argue, is the point of such an argument? Simply put, Socrates method intended to stimulate critical thinking. Now, if we take Flussers advice not to deride the upshot of the passage above, modesty, we shall realize that his contention carries an important feature. But to see this better, we need to refer to Flussers essay War and the State of Things (1999:30-34).
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There Flusser reformulates Goethes request for man to be noble, generous and good thus: Let Man be noble, generous and good, but having said that does he need to be all that good? (ibid:30). Otherwise stated, let man be noble, generous and less good. Here one may point out that Flusser has two ideas of good in mind, moral good and functional good. The latter is pure evil, simply; the daily struggle for the Promethean fire of freedom (2008:22). Now recall that, according to Hegel, evil is not separate from spirit, it is rather a negative moment in the life of spirit. Overcoming this moment of negation is a possibility that essentially belongs to spirit. Flusser seems to propagate the same sort of hope for selfreconciliation when he talks about philosophy. But Hegel believed that this self-resolution is a necessary result of progress. In other words, the teleological movement of history represents the gradual and continuous unfolding of spirit, or the idea of freedom. To Flusser, this teleological movement represents nothing but the degradation of all moral good. The only positive aspect of progress is that it allows us to become modest; to realize that we are hopeless creatures, and that we cannot transform this transient reality into a permanent one. But how exactly is functional good pure evil? Look, says Flusser:
[S]ince technicians had to apologize to the Nazis for their gas chambers not being good enough i.e., not killing their clients quickly enough we have once more been made aware what is meant by the Devil. We realize once more exactly what is lying in wait behind the notion of good design. Unfortunately, this does not stop us wanting to have elegant and convenient objects. We insist, despite what we know about the Devil, that the designer should be noble, generous and good (1999:34).

This passage clearly adverts to the general thesis of this paper, that Flusser was closer to solving the problem of evil than Hegel. Why is this? As Frederick Beiser nicely puts it: Hegels concept of evil as self-negation seems to account for only one kind of evil, that which arises from inner struggle; but there are other kinds of evil that are not forms of inner struggle; that is, crimes, abuses, wars, genocide (2005:275). Thus, if Beisers critique obtains, which I think it does, Hegel cannot justify this type of worldly evil: engineers and scientists apologizing to warlords for their weapons of massive destruction not being good enough. In short, all Hegel accomplished with his historical theodicy, according to Flusser, was to replace the self-indulgent gods of thunder and rain for a pallid notion of nationalism (2008:89). This is of course a rather poetic note; but (I trust) Flusser puts his finger on the crucial point here. On Flussers view, to praise progress as Hegel did is to accuse what is known as the military-industrial complex of being the origin of everything elegant, amiable and good (1999:32). Proceeding from this conception, then, it is possible to argue that Flussers scepticism and irony allowed him to espouse a broader idea of evil in connection with progress and historical events; one which demands us to look closely at just what is the purpose of progress, science and technology. And in this light, we are clearly in a better position to understand not only evil that evolves from inner struggle, but all forms of evil out there. Conclusion On Flussers view, then, it is ignorance about the real source of happiness that induces us to desire, despite [what] we know about the Devil, that the designer should be more and more noble, generous and good; forgetting that certain forms of behaviour cannot produce ultimate happiness and well-being. What we need, therefore, is a process of deliberation by
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means of which moral goodness may be further integrated into our daily lives. This can only be achieved by reducing our persistent desire for infinitely noble, generous and good functional goods. This, in turn, might bring us closer to ataraxia or the tranquillity of the soul. And here philosophy can be a source of hope; for the proper task of methodical reflection, as Flusser has it, is to restore the myth science and technology has long forgotten, providing us with adequate knowledge of the true ground of happiness. It is in this sense that we must understand Flussers claim: Those saints are quite right who seek refuge in isolation from the world, living off roots and hiding their nakedness with fig leaves (ibid:33). To use the language of the myths we have discussed in this paper we could say that, to Flusser, life in the Garden (perhaps an Epicurean garden) portrays a higher expression of morality, self-realization, and freedom than life in the linear development of science and culture Hegel simply deified. So, says Flusser, Let us refuse to be made prisoners of the tired and boring conversation now under way in the Western civilization, that tedious conversation called progress (Flusser 2005). On this picture, then, coming to our best moral decision involves taking an honest look at our desires and trying to develop them in accordance with plain living and high thinking. For that purpose, Flusser thinks we have to decide between war and an elegant user-friendly life in the midst of good objects, or everlasting peace and a squalid, inconvenient life in the midst of badly functioning objects (1999:33). I can make no attempt here to present a comprehensive comment on the outcome of Flussers moral theory. For one, though, if we accept his arguments, the question can still be posed that, as a result, Flussers self-realized moral agent might come across as oldfashioned, unsophisticated and rustic. But this does indeed appear to be his view: I said that methodical reflection, i.e., philosophy, should lead us towards our origins (Flusser 2005). If so, the next question is, then, why should anyone be persuaded by this line of reasoning? This is certainly an intriguing matter, given the overall unpopularity of Epicureanism itself. More simply, are Flussers moral considerations just too unrealistic and primitive to be the overall aim of our daily lives? I would probably suggest that it is not; but this needs to be examined critically.

References Beiser, Frederick. (2005). Hegel. New York: Routledge. Flusser, Vilm. (2008). Histria do Diabo [History of the Devil]. So Paulo: Annablume. Flusser, Vilm. (1970). O diabo um idiota, sr. Flusser? Interview with J. C. Ismael. Ed. Ricardo Mendes. So Paulo. <>. Flusser, Vilm. (1999). The Shape of Things: A Philosophy of Design. London: Reaktion Books. Flusser, Vilm. Thought and Reflection. Flusser Studies 01, November 2005. 28 August 2010. <>. Hegel, G. W. F. (1985). Lecture on the Philosophy of Religion. Ed. Peter C. Hodgson, 3 vols. Berkeley: University of California Press. Hegel, G. W. F. (1892). The Fall of Man. In Logic: Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences. Trans. William Wallace. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 46-47. Hegel, G. W. F. (2007). The Philosophy of History. New York: Cosimo.
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