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Evil and elder abuse: intersections of Paul Ricoeur's and Simone Weil's perspectives on evil with one abused older woman's narrative

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Doing violence and evil always indirectly or directly leads to making someone else suffer. Such is the dialogical structure of evil and it seems to be the dialogical structure of elder abuse as well. There is a perturbing sameness between definitions of evil and definitions of elder abuse. It is hard at times to see how or if there is any line of demarcation between the subjects. Two modern‐day philosophers, Paul Ricoeur and Simone Weil have delved particularly into the concept of evil. The symbolism Ricoeur analyses in depth is that of defilement, sin, and guilt and the concept of the servile will. Integral in Weil's description of evil are the concepts of suffering and the special situation of extreme suffering, termed affliction. Grounded in the writings of Ricoeur and Weil, this paper is a series of reflections on the intersection of evil and elder abuse as exemplified in the narrative of an abused older woman. This woman provided around the clock care at home for her husband who had vascular dementia. She was also abused by her husband. This was witnessed by both family and others but no one intervened. In her narrative there were indications of defilement, sin, guilt, and true affliction as a servile will. This paper illuminates the evil of elder abuse that is harm and suffering, and the challenge of untangling issues of blame, free will, responsibility, and self‐determinism. When engaging with abused, older persons it can be worthwhile for nurses to enter the encounter with non‐judgemental compassion founded on the human to human connection and recognition of our mutual fallibility and potential for evil that is part of our human fragility.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2011-10-01

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