Цуркан Алексей Анатольевич. Проблема зла в современной европейской философии и метафизика преступления в мистерии Дж. Байрона «Каин»

Цуркан Алексей Анатольевич

Воронежский государственный университет

кандидат философских наук, доцент кафедры истории философии

Tsurkan Alexei Anatolievich

Voronezh State University

Candidate of Philosophical Sciences, Associate Professor of the History of Philosophy Department

E-Mail: alexaug.spqr@mail.ru

УДК — 1(091)


Проблема зла в современной европейской философии и метафизика преступления в мистерии Дж. Байрона «Каин»

Аннотация: Статья посвящена проблеме зла и метафизике убийства в европейском романтизме на примере мистерии лорда Байрона «Каин». Один из главных выводов автора заключается в том, что основание для абсурдистского видения реальности, нашедшего свое наиболее полное воплощение в философии Камю, были заложены в традиции европейского романтизма. В рамках последнего разочарование в христианском дуализме было раскрыто в контексте абсурдистской интерпретации самого Божества через рассмотрение феномена преступления как изначального состояния человека.

Ключевые слова: зло, христианство, убийство, Байрон


The problem of evil in modern European philosophy and Byron’s metaphysics of crime


Summary: The article gives coverage to the problem of evil metaphysics of assassinations in lord Byron’s “Cain” and the European Romanticism. One of the main conclusions here is that it was within the framework of the European Romanticism that the grounds for the absurdist vision of reality were initially laid. The latter trend was revealed against the background of the ever growing disillusion in the Christian dualism and got fully exposed in the French existentialist tradition.

Keywords: evil, Christianity, assassination, Byron


The problem of evil in modern European philosophy and Byron’s metaphysics of crime

Nietzsche’s formula “God is dead” is undoubtedly one of the best philosophic definitions of the very essence of an epoch within which public as well as individual minds have been formed outside the context of the Divine with the latter having been turned into a piece of folklore. It was hardly by chance that this formula became truly the credo of nihilism, symbolizing the end of the process which has been developing within European culture over the last several centuries since the upsurge of the Renaissance.

The core of it lies in the degradation of Christian religious and spiritual complex. This tendency has at least two aspects: first of all there went the decline in the metaphysical component of the Divine caused by the gradual replacement of the direct intuition of God by His philosophical surrogate in European deism and pantheism. It resulted in the eventual overcoming of the ontological barrier between the immanent and the Divinity as well as the debasing of the transcendent status of the latter. Therefore, God could hardly be understood any longer in terms of personality or persona par excellence. This tendency in all its forms and manifestations has a series of extremely important consequences which became particularly obvious with its verbal and doctrinal clarifications in Giordano Bruno’s Deus in rebus est postulate, Nicholas of Cusa’s dialectics of the absolute maximum and minimum, through Spinoza’s principal Deus sive natura down to Voltair and the enlighteners of the XVIII century.

The gravest one amid those consequences was a decisive step taken by European mind towards the complete converting of the two natures – those of a human being and God. The very pathos of the Renaissance could be reduced to the firm conviction that with the converting now in force the absolute qualities and attributes of the Divine could be considered similar to the related characteristics of a human being. Perhaps this idea sounded to the utmost in Leon Battista Alberti’s famous lines: “…to you is given a body more graceful than other animals, to you power of apt and various movements. To you most sharp and delicate senses, to you wit, reason, memory like an immortal god”[2, 76].

This indicates a new status of a human being that has become equal to God in his capability of thinking and creatively transforming the world, the true caput mundi.

Nevertheless, this converting exposed not only positive and God-like features of a human being but to no less extent the seamy sides of human nature. One could not but feel unpleasantly surprised at a discovery that turned out to be really stunning but half-expected: since human nature seems to contain a strongly-pronounced negative aspect that also covers his thinking and creative abilities and, when evolved, it may entail truly dramatic consequences for man himself as well as the world. The above-mentioned levelling of two ontological statuses, those of God and human being, cannot but result in the simple but striking conclusion. God Himself is now held responsible for all the nasty things that brew in human nature. This is the conversion of negative qualities as such. Human capacity to destroy turns out to be ontologically upgraded. Its source is seen now lying in the very essence of the Divinity.

As a matter of fact this trick of negative conversion was most successfully played on the picture of God as it was elaborated by the European Romanticism. Apart from that there is every reason to believe that it became the second mighty factor which in the long run resulted in the degradation of the Divine in European mind although not without the auxiliary influence of deistically reinterpreted and twisted concept of Absolute.

It becomes obvious that it is within the European Romanticism that the last remnant of Christian mystic and highly personalistic perception of God was completely eliminated.

In order to erase the very notion of God one should turn him in shallow category deprived of any positive meaning, primarily His personal qualities as well as the mystic halo that is usually associated with the Divine in Christianity. It inevitably undermines the very possibility of direct and live communication with Him since such a contact hardly plausible with an abstraction no matter how philosophically refined it may appear. Such type of a contact seems to be well beyond the reach of any speculation, which is proved by the failure of such widely acclaimed God searching schools of antiquity as Stoicism and Neo Platonism.

Since this sort of contact is possible only in terms of interaction between two persons it was the positive personal aspect of the Divinity that was to be destroyed. It was implemented through the projecting of the negative qualities of human nature upon the Divine that was greatly eased by the depletion of ontological border between God and the immanent. A particular manifestation of evil, which is assassination, should now be considered as one of the key attributes of being itself. A perpetrated crime becomes one of the variants of ontological crime committed by God in which the crime perpetrated is rooted and by which is justified.

It was by and large within the context of European Romanticism that all those achievements of European culture were gained and made vocal therefore making Romanticism one of the main theoretical sources of nihilism. As a matter of fact it becomes particularly obvious in one of Lord Byron’s classical tragedies “Cain” whose influence on the above-mentioned features of European public mind could hardly be overestimated. The tragedy contains and unfolds the whole metaphysics of crime in its cosmic dimension and passes an outright sentence on God with the latter being accused of no less than holding complete responsibility for evil in its totality, let alone its peculiar and trifle forms. Hence, evil is declared to be direct and necessary consequence of Creation itself. “En suggérant que le sensible n’est pas séparé de l’intelligible, non pas seulement qu’ils s’accordent, on que l’un raméne á l’antre mais qué l’un n’est ce qu’il est que par la présence de l’autre en lui-même, que le sensible est en lui-méme non-sénsible, ne serait pas sensible s’il n’etait informé par l’intelligible, de même que l’intelligible ne serait pas intelligible s’il n’etait sensible, le romantisme conduit par la même á penser, que le particulier comprend en lui-même l’universel, que le multiple est toujours déjà unifié, que l’humain est en lui-même divin on que l’obscur porte en lui-méme les véritable lumièresˮ (“Hymnes à la nuit”) [3, 49].

The pathos of aggrandizing human being in the Renaissance had its more obscure side: it turned out to be that a positive moral action of an individual, which is no longer rooted in the biblical commandment of love of one’s fellow men, becomes stipulated by human subjectivity and its whims.

Human nature, which is considered to be ontologically similar to that of God, is undoubtedly the ultimate reality within which a moral choice is made. Evil and good are practically on a par there and may be performed with each of them being in its own right. As far as good is concerned, its deontological version that is embedded in modern European mind appears far from by chance to be similar to what is called “personal interest”. The above-mentioned “personal interest” turns out to be just a type of deeply egoistic behavior more often than not.

Hence the inevitability of the following conclusion: what is in terms of the studies of the Renaissance sounds like “the dark side of Titanism”, the phenomenon paradoxically widespread and found in abundance even amid the masterpieces of the great masters such as Rafael should be qualified as the most natural consequence of the process above described.

The firm conviction of humanistic minded intellectuals of the Renaissance in the prevailing of “the bright” positive side in human nature alongside with the esthetic feeling, a good moral choice and striving for perfection without any visible support of the Divinity has come out a huge blunder.

The dark side of human nature that entails all sorts of destruction and self-destruction comes forth once an individual gives up any effort to compare and correlate his own moral choice with the Divine commandment. What began as the triumph of harmony of body and soul, the hymn to “perfect man”, amazingly embodied in Michaengelo’s “David” in the end resulted in the complete rejection of those norms of morality and beauty upon which “the Renascimento” of European culture had been based. “David” was gradually replaced, if not supplanted, by Quasimodo. The accentuated interest in form i.e. the exterior of beauty led to the perversion of its contents or in Quasimodo’s case the tragic disparity between them.

Remarkably but in the course of time as two levels of being were brought closer to each other that tendency was obviously gaining momentum.

Therefore any assertion of God’s responsibility for evil in the world either in modern European philosophy (for example, in Leibnitz) or in Romanticism should hardly surprise us. As a matter of fact we deal here with a certain downgrading in the very assessment of the phenomenon of evil: in Christianity it is condemned outright and uncompromisingly; the humanistic philosophy of the Renaissance offers a mild form of coming to terms with it whereas modern European philosophy tends to justify evil albeit in a disguised way of postulating its necessity as an element of the whole picture of the predominantly good reality.

The romantic literature of Europe does not seem to take any interest in the problem of good as it is, let alone to defend its supremacy. It was the dark side of human nature just in its most sinister manifestations that was in its spotlight.

One of the true masterminds of Romanticism, Lord Byron appears to have contributed heavily into the devaluation of the Divinity by means of poetry. He did that through the analysis of the subject matter of crime that led him to believe in the substantial basis of evil. No wonder he saw it in the very nature if the Divine. The very capability of perpetrating of crime is widely considered to be one of the essential attributes of human being alongside with the capability of fixing one’s thought in letters, the ban on incest and war waging.

Assassination is therefore a crime par excellence. Of course there are clashes resulting in a kill among animals. But there is a huge difference between a kill (or a deprivation of life in a broad sense) and an assassination. The latter presupposes a high level of intersubjectivity plus memory, which takes an individual beyond the discrepancy of existence.

It makes it possible for some contemporary thinkers (for example the French philosopher of Russian origin Alexis Philonenko) to assume that assassination is one of the major attributes of human being that potentially, once actualized, gives us a snapshot of a human personality. “Le crime est le vrai miroir de l’âme, et c’est pourquoi, comme l’empreinte génétique, l’acte sera toujours original, sui generis: il у autre toujours un détail, même infime, qui le séparera des autres crimes. Assassin et personnalité sont des concepts réciproque” [4, 93]. However, one could hardly agree with Lambroso’s assertion that proclivity for assassination should be considered as genetically stipulated. Making a decision about an assassination a man is excluding himself from the totality of the like, constituting himself as a person.

Here we could come to the following conclusion: the replacement of Christian God with its philosophical surrogate in the European deism entailed the projection of His attributes onto matter and their substitution for the features of the immanent which are collateral with the former. Say, such basic attribute of the Divinity as eternity in the context of materialism is interpreted as infinity; there can be little doubt that infinity may be synonymous to eternity only too vaguely but rather should be defined as the mathematical modus of the latter but nothing more. Such a replacement made it possible to perceive a man in the modus of philosophic theories which were aimed at standardizing him as a subject of social relations from the point of view of algebraic expediency as it is the case in the extremist utopian projects of modernity.

The devaluation of the Divine in modern Europe did not entail the elimination of evil. It couldn’t have been otherwise even though evil was considered innate to the very nature of God or His philosophical substitute. No matter which way but it transpires that the major quality of human nature, which is freedom, was perceived as the ultimate source of evil irrespective of being understood as the attribute of God or a purely human feature. Alongside with that more or less Christian interpretation of freedom there was gradually formed a new approach to it within the secularized European mind which was rooted in the very material structure of being and its finite, limited phenomena. This conclusion was hardly possible without the dissolution of the Divinity in nature till they were considered as one. For instance in Spinoza’s terminology God = nature = substance infinite but limiting itself in its finite manifestation i.e. modi.

Hence the equation of European nihilism: pantheistic similarity of God and nature + romantic emphasis on God as the ultimate source of evil (either through man or directly) = “the whole world lies in evil”.

For quite comprehensible reasons Romanticism is more interested in the subjective-existentialist manifestations of evil with the problem of freedom coming forth. If in the Christianity ARBITRIUM LIBERUM is envisaged as the greatest gift of God to man, the guarantee of the latter’s immortality, now in the wake of the declaration of freedom as the ultimate source of evil one was called on to fight it by cultivating all sorts of non-freedom. European mind was being prepared to accept such an interpretation of freedom, which would eliminate the very meaning of this phenomenon. Due to the efforts of moral and social thought in Europe, freedom was perceived as realized and approved necessity. This notion of freedom is in direct contradiction to its evangelical understanding.

With the triumph of Deism and Romanticism in Europe there came the era of total determinism. It climaxed in a state of mind which is best expressed in Nietzsche’s phrase “God is dead”. Since then Huxley’s “Brave new world” becomes practically inevitable because of the rejection of freedom and the deliberate cultivation of different forms of non-freedom down to the complete reduction of an individual to a purely mechanical combination of productive functions under the supervision of some “body” like it is the case in utopian novels. Although evil is somehow overcome there it occurred through the transformation of man into a modus whose activities are prearranged and optimized in accordance with a certain ideological and social project.

Once the Italian humanists of the Renaissance praised man as “God’s co-operator” gifted with the unique capabilities of learning and creating. “The death of God” turned out to become the death of man as a free and creative creature which amounted to the ontological defeat of mankind since now he became just a humble element of a gigantic social and economic system whose functioning is therefore the only true subject matter of philosophy and science.

Since an individual is considered as a subject of quantitative proportions and as dependent upon cause-effect determinations as any other physical phenomenon, the paramount task for the modern European philosophy was to discover those dependencies and use them to arrange and optimize social sphere.

So misfortune is rooted in the very essence of God, His inability to commit suicide. Hence, Byron’s true metaphysics of assassination and crime: God may be very well unwilling to create evil but He is necessarily doing that since He created finite things only. As Leibnitz points out the finitude of an object is a sign of the deficiency of its existence; God cannot but create because of that quality of things.

Hence the conclusion: evil is imminent since God creates the finite essences solely.

All that derives from an a priori postulate that creation designed to entertain God in His solitude is nothing but a game.

It is worth paying attention to the fact that while analyzing Byron’s metaphysics of assassination (i.e. crime) we encounter the interpretation of evil as deficiency, lack of goodness, lack of existence .The contemporary French philosopher Alexis Philonenko marks here a direct correlation with Leibnitz’s understanding of evil which was basically considered by him as the result of finitude of things. This proportion could hardly be accepted without reservations largely because of the enlarged interpretation of evil that implies its own substantial status. Evil here is a sort of category taken from the context of moral choice of man and him only. In forming the dubious equation “finitude = deficiency of existence = evil” Leibnitz (and Byron to follow suit) projected the latter upon being in its totality making God responsible for it as long as He creates finite objects. This is what Leibnitz concludes in his attempt to save God’s good nature by emphasizing that evil is auxiliary in the best designed and best created model of reality and exposes the goodness of the Universe by contrast.

There is no wonder that Byron who had absorbed all those ideas offered such an interpretation of the Divine which was absolutely incongruous with that of Christianity. We should strongly emphasize here that Leibnitz’s understanding of evil as synonymous to something physically finite (i.e. limited in its space-time terms) could hardly be accepted. If we are to analyze evil in the context of human nature (which seems to be the only right way since beyond human beings there is no such a thing) as a result of reason and free will it would be fair to conclude that after all evil is a consequence of certain moral deficiency or imperfection. Anyway it must be kept in mind that a thing in itself irrespective of the way it is used by human being is morally neutral (Stoics were fully aware of it). We would rather accept the interpretation of imperfection and evil in a way that not every imperfection is evil, but every evil is imperfection.

From the Christian point of view a human being is imperfect to the extent he chooses to be. Therefore evil is not just necessary but quite surmountable.

The proclamation of mortality as the essential quality of human nature means not only breaking apart from the Christian tradition but also implicitly lack of belief in man himself. This was typical of modern thinking from Hobbs to La Mettrie. The discord with the Christian doctrine here becomes particularly conspicuous given the fact that from the French philosopher’s point of view man is not fatally doomed to death but rather chooses to enlarge his level of perfection up to the complete elimination of mortality or stays where he is, i.e. within the limitations of matter and its trend to self-destruction.

Returning to Byron we may mark his conviction that assassination as a type of crime should be considered accidental because of the finite nature of man. Man assassinates as long as God creates. This is the basic formula of Byron’s metaphysics of crime.

God’s self-amusement from Byron’s point of view is the key precondition under which human being cannot be left entirely to himself, vis-à-vis his subjectivity. Metaphysical solitude that enshrouds God and prompts Him to play with His creation is obviously beyond human powers. Man is doomed to living amid his kin, which eventually brings Cain to protest.

Abel protests against it by saying that his brother is alone and restless, that he should not aggravate this state adding impure works to impure words.

“Abel (rising): Cain! What meanest thou?

Cain: To cast down you, vile flatterer of the clouds, the smoky harbinger of the dull prayers – thine altar, with its blood of lambs and Kids which fed on milk, to be destroyed in blood.

Abel (opposing him): Thou shall not: add not impious works to impious words!” [1].

An agreement breaks down and quickly kindles up to a state of outright quarrel. Cain is seized with wrath. And here Abel says fatal words: “I love God better than life”. At that very moment he is smashed by Cain’s baton with the words of his brother expressing the essence of assassination: “Give your life back to God”.

To draw a conclusion we may state that Byron managed to disclose the basic principle of assassination within the metaphysics of crime that stems from the very replacement of Christian God with his philosophical substitute. From his point of view if one could demonstrate the causal nature of creation it means a certain extent of non-freedom. Furthermore, while investigating the cause of God’s creation we would inevitably go into infinity. Hence Byron concludes that creation is out of nothing and for no special metaphysical purpose. Therefore it is entirely casual.

The same can be referred to crime (an assassination). From the metaphysical point of view it cannot be qualified as necessary. Otherwise it would not be an assassination and a human being would not be free. It means that within the framework of the Deistic (and Romantic) understanding of God, creation, human existence and freedom all of these are just the conglomeration of pure accidents which is synonymous to the Absurd. Since then the latter creeps into European mind to reach its climax with A. Camus.




  1. Byron G. Cain: A Mystery. — Paris: Editis, 1857. — 608 p.
  2. Clark K. Civilization. — : Gallimard, 1969. — 352 p.
  3. Legros R. L’idée d’humanité. — Paris: Grasset, 1990. — 278 p.
  4. Philonenko A. L’archipel de la conscience européenne. — Paris: Grasset, 1990. — 314 p.