The Conspiracy of the Good: On Necessary Evil



Mon, 16/12/2019 - 09:30 to Tue, 17/12/2019 - 16:00


Jerusalem, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem


Organizers: Antonio Vargas ( and Ynon Wygoda (

That the Good itself requires evil and therefore that willing evil at times can be deemed necessary seems to be a paradoxical idea. And yet, despite the ethical, religious and even political danger posed by this perilous combination, it has been proposed in different cultures and periods. Admittedly, it has mostly been voiced among marginalized movements such as the Gnostics of late antiquity through to the followers of Shabtai Zvi in XVIIth century Judaism and onto contemporary apocalyptic discourse. Traditionally such movements have been interpreted against the background of their respective mainstreams and have been studied individually. We, however, propose an interdisciplinary approach that focuses on the philosophical and argumentative underpinnings of these heterodox, revolutionary and at times even scandalous movements, all the while retaining the specificities of their historical expressions.

To launch this approach, we are gathering historians, philologists, and philosophers for a two-day conference in December 16-17 2019 at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Our objective is to analyze the manner in which good and evil are conceived and formulated by those who propose to intertwine them. But what is more, due to their inherently hazardous nature, we wish to inquire after the limits of such perspectives. By comparing the historically and culturally specific expressions we hope to better understand the definition and contours of what we propose to call “the conspiracy of the good”. By that we mean two things: the manner in which the good appears to justify evil and the manner in which even evil appears to conspire towards the good.

In order to encourage comparison, the conference follows a thematic structure rather than a historical one. We will be focusing on the evils of selfhood, divine deception, structural evil in metaphysics, evil action for the good, ethical dilemmas and political complicity in evil. These themes will allow for the contrastive encounter of early Christians and Hindus, Platonists and the Prophets, Reformed and Speculative Systems, Islamic and Sabbatean Theology, Continental and Analytic Ethics, Revolutionaries and Democrats. Within this initial framework we hope to discover many more connections and crossovers that will be the start for future avenues of philosophical and historical research. 

Finally, we believe that the concrete historical conditions within which the conference will take place, in the city of Jerusalem and sponsored by Israeli-German cooperations, are especially apt to keep present in the minds of all participants the stakes involved in affirming or rejecting the conspiracy of the good.