Skip to content
BY 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Open Access June 28, 2019

The Emotional Impact of Evil: Philosophical Reflections on Existential Problems

Nicholas Colgrove EMAIL logo
From the journal Open Theology


In The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoyevsky illustrates that encounters with evil do not solely impact agents’ beliefs about God (or God’s existence). Evil impacts people on an emotional level as well. Authors like Hasker and van Inwagen sometimes identify the emotional impact of evil with the “existential” problem of evil. For better or worse, the existential version of the problem is often set aside in contemporary philosophical discussions. In this essay, I rely on Robert Roberts’ account of emotions as “concern-based construals” to show that theistic philosophers can effectively address the existential problem (and so, the problem should not be set aside). In fact, addressing the emotional impact of evil is crucial, I argue, given that resolving just the impact of evil on agents’ beliefs about God constitutes an incomplete response to the problem of evil.


Adams, Marilyn McCord. Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1999.10.7591/9781501735929Search in Google Scholar

Adams, Robert Merrihew. A Theory of Virtue: Excellence in Being for the Good. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199207510.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Camus, Albert. The Plague. New York: Vintage International, 1991.Search in Google Scholar

Davis, Stephen T. “Free Will and Evil.” In Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy, 2nd Edition, edited by Stephen T. Davis, 73–107. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2001.Search in Google Scholar

Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. New York: The Lowell Press, 2011.Search in Google Scholar

Draper, Paul. “Meet the New Skeptical Theism, Same as the Old Skeptical Theism.” In Skeptical Theism: New Essays, edited by Trent Dougherty and Justin McBrayer, 164-77. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.Search in Google Scholar

Evans, C. Stephen. Kierkegaard’s Ethic of Love: Divine Commands and Moral Obligations. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.10.1093/0199272174.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Hasker, William. The Triumph of God over Evil: Theodicy for a World of Suffering. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008.Search in Google Scholar

Hick, John. “Critique.” In Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy, 2nd Edition, edited by Stephen T. Davis, 28-30. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.Search in Google Scholar

Howard-Snyder, Daniel, “Propositional Faith: What It Is and What It Is Not.” American Philosophical Quarterly, 50:4 (2013), 357-72.Search in Google Scholar

Kierkegaard, Søren. Works of Love. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995.Search in Google Scholar

Mackie, J.L., “Evil and Omnipotence.” Mind 64:254 (1955), 200-12.10.1093/mind/LXIV.254.200Search in Google Scholar

Plantinga, Alvin. The Nature of Necessity. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974.Search in Google Scholar

Roberts, Robert C. Emotions: An Essay in Aid of Moral Psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.10.1017/CBO9780511610202Search in Google Scholar

Roberts, Robert C., “Justice as an Emotion Disposition.” Emotion Review 2:1 (2010), 36-43.10.1177/1754073909345541Search in Google Scholar

Roberts, Robert C. Emotions in the Moral Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.10.1017/CBO9781139061469Search in Google Scholar

Roth, John K. “A Theodicy of Protest.” In Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy, 2nd Edition, edited by Stephen T. Davis, 1–37. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.Search in Google Scholar

Rowe, William L. “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism.” American Philosophical Quarterly, 16:4 (1979), 335–341.Search in Google Scholar

Scarantino, Andrea and de Sousa, Ronald. “Emotion.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta, 2018. in Google Scholar

Stump, Eleonore. Wandering in Darkness: Narrative and the Problem of Suffering. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199277421.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

van Inwagen, Peter. The Problem of Evil. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199245604.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Wykstra, Stephen, T. “The Humean Obstacle to Evidential Arguments from Suffering: On Avoiding the Evils of ‘Appearance.’” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 16:2 (1984), 73–93.10.1007/BF00136567Search in Google Scholar

Received: 2019-05-02
Accepted: 2019-06-06
Published Online: 2019-06-28

© 2019 Nicholas Colgrove, published by De Gruyter

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Public License.

Downloaded on 29.11.2022 from
Scroll Up Arrow