Identify this book - philosophy edition
January 18, 2011 5:03 AM   Subscribe

Please help me identify a philosophy book. Title and author are unknown, subject may have been either evil or deception. Ridiculously vague description inside.

One of the chapters begins with a story about a villain who had been protected from persecution, turning on his protector, robbing and destroying him, then going unpunished. I'm very hazy on the details, but the story was supposedly true. It may have occurred sometime in the Middle Ages and one of the characters may have been Jewish. Sorry, that's all I've got.

This ring a bell for anybody? I'd be interested to know both the book and the specific historical incident it cites.
posted by BigSky to Religion & Philosophy (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Primo Levi, perhaps?
posted by easy, lucky, free at 8:46 AM on January 18, 2011

Best answer: In Denis Diderot's Rameau's Nephew, the titular character tells a story about an infamous renegade from Avignon who turned over his Jewish protector to the authorities. The renegade convinced his protector that because the authorities were after him, the best thing to do would be to place all his belongings and wealth upon a boat and get ready to sail. The renegade then took the boat (and its contents) himself, while leaving the Jewish protector to be put to death.

The book doesn't have chapters, and the story is buried in the middle of the dialogue, but it otherwise fits your description... any chance that's it?
posted by dilettanti at 11:00 AM on January 18, 2011

Response by poster: @dilettanti

Thank you, that is it. My description was faint but it's such an appalling story that I thought it may have made a vivid impression on someone else as well.

The book where I originally saw it was a relatively recent (as in the last twenty years or so) publication. But it was the outline of this narrative that stuck around in my head and interested me the most. If I remember correctly, it was presented as true. Do you know if there is any historical basis for this tale?
posted by BigSky at 1:03 PM on January 18, 2011

My apologies - I know nothing beyond the story itself, which by chance I just read for the first time two days ago. I am reading an old, unannotated translation of Diderot's dialogue, which gives no indication of any possible historical ground for the story. A quick Googling shows that most of the results refer to the text or discussions of Rameau's Nephew. But if you are able to find any information about the truth of the story, please post it here.
posted by dilettanti at 10:06 AM on January 19, 2011

Best answer: The book is 'Evil After Postmodernism'. The essay is the one by Roger Shattuck, also published in The Atlantic as When Evil is "Cool", here and here.

Turns out there was nothing in the original essay to imply historical truth, just my imagination running away with me.
posted by BigSky at 2:50 PM on January 19, 2011

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