War and Negative Revelation: A Theoethical Reflection on Moral Injury Restricted; Files & ToC

Yandell, Michael (Summer 2020)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/k930bz329?locale=en


This work offers a phenomenology of “negative revelation” in which false or distorted claims of goodness and justice disintegrate, becoming meaningless in the concrete experience of war. This disintegration of meaning is itself a meaningful experience, “revealing” here comes to signify the presence of goodness and justice through the profound experience of their absence – in theological terms, a type of via negativa.

War is an experience in which a person sets out confident she is doing good, because a priori – or before the reality of war – she is confident that she is good or on the side of the good. For such a person, the actuality of war may be a revelatory experience; real encounters with other people may dissolve her a priori sense of goodness into meaninglessness. By witnessing or participating in the dehumanization of others, one is stripped of the confidence that one is doing good, and her being good may also be called into question, creating an existential crisis. The other side of this revelation is an apophatic knowledge of goodness: goodness is known through its absence, or by realizing that goodness is not here. To experience the absence of goodness is still to perceive the good, and to long for it.

           The heart of this work adds a layer of complexity or depth to the term “moral injury” as a negative revelation. The context and logic of war itself, beyond the actions of individuals, is emphasized, paying specific attention to the war the United States has been waging since 9/11/2001. Moral injury as a negative revelation is a disintegration of false normative claims of goodness and justice, as well as a disintegration of one’s sense of self oriented toward those normative claims. This disintegration is prompted by the recognition of life in the midst of war’s diminishment of life.

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