Jesse Couenhoven

Andrew W. Mellon Regional Fellow in the Humanities

20072008 Forum on Origins

Jesse Couenhoven

Assistant Professor, Moral Theology, Villanova University

The Origins of Evil

Myths of the fall are one way of puzzling over whether an individual’s moral evil can have an external source. I answer this question in the affirmative, arguing that while moral evil has its ultimate origins within human beings, not an external force, we are nevertheless shaped in tragic ways that lead to individual and communal falls. This might seem a depressing view of the human condition, but I maintain that its honesty is ultimately more hopeful than “optimistic” alternatives, since the knowledge that some of our most serious failings are not simply “up to me” provides crucial insight into human character, and not only motivates gracious responses, but permits us to formulate responses that are aware of one of the deepest problems of evil.