The Poetics of Evil (Oxford University Press, 2011)


What role does art play in unravelling the theological problem of evil? What can aesthetics show us about God's goodness in a world of iniquity? Philip Tallon constructs an aesthetic theodicy through a fascinating examination of Christian aesthetics, ranging from the writings of Augustine to contemporary philosophy. 

Tallon offers a new framework for theodicy that allows the substantial inclusion of aesthetics, building on the work of Eleonore Stump. He then examines the concept of cosmic harmony, the predominant aesthetic motif within medieval theodicy, and shows how Augustine develops this theme by interweaving his metaphysical, moral, and aesthetic views of reality. Tallon then examines other aesthetic themes within theodicy, with special attention to tragedy, a motif that has become increasingly integrated into theodicy in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He shows where tragedy falls short as a sufficient theme for theodicy, but also demonstrates how it complements Augustine's theme of cosmic harmony. 

Finally, Tallon considers the horror of evil, an aesthetic theme that has often been used as an attack on the existence of God, but which has recently been used to understand how theodicy should be formulated to respond to the worst evils. By digging more deeply into the darker side of aesthetics, The Poetics of Evil offers a deeper perception of tragedy and malevolence, but also a richer understanding of the Christian response to the problem of evil.

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Praise for The Poetics of Evil:

"This thoughtful and pioneering work is ideal for a seminary or graduate class grappling with the problem of evil or exploring the potentials of aesthetics for contemporary theology. It is a welcome addition to theodicy literature, as it confronts the problem of evil as demanding response rather than explanation, and as it utilizes the resources of art and aesthetics to offer a method of constructive response."

Caroline Hamilton-Arnold, Claremont School of Theology

"Philip Tallon makes an eloquent and compelling case for the claim that aesthetic categories, and aesthetic forms of perception, are essential for any developed appreciation of the nature and scope of the world's goodness-and essential therefore for the project of theodicy." 

Mark Wynn, author of Faith and Place: An Essay in Embodied Epistemology 

"Impeccably written and beautifully argued, Tallon's book traverses impressive terrain, carving out a critical role for aesthetic considerations from beauty to tragedy to horror in a manner insightful and deeply moving. It defends the wager that beauty can put us in genuine contact with reality and makes the case that no theodicy is complete without countenancing the possibility that the artistry of God and the beauty of the incarnation vitally informs the discussion."

David Baggett, co-author with Jerry L. Walls of Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality

"For too long, theodicy has neglected aesthetics, but Tallon shows us why aesthetic values have an integral place in the enterprise. One wonders why a study like this has not been attempted before. A timely book."

Jeremy Begbie, Thomas A. Langford Research Professor of Theology, Duke University