The Moral Thinking of Macbeth

Philosophy and Literature 29 (1):41-56 (2005)
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In her article, "Thinking and Moral Considerations," Hannah Arendt provides a provocative approach to the question of evil by suggesting that banal evil-the most common kind-may arise directly from thoughtlessness. If that is so, thinking may provide an antidote to evil. Learning to think would then offer the individual and society protection against the dangers of thoughtless evil. She further suggests that thinking may clear the way for a form of judging that "when the chips are down" may turn people toward right rather than wrong, beauty rather than ugliness. In this essay I address her claim by noting an example of apparently thoughtless evil, the murder of Duncan by Macbeth, and by showing how this event clarifies Arendt's thesis, including both its weaknesses and its strengths. The use of Macbeth will amount to a sketch of certain features of the play particularly relevant to this ethical issue, followed by an analysis of ways Arendt's thesis connects with the murder of Duncan.
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