William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Summary Against Modern Thought: Good And Evil Aren’t Wholly Opposites

This may be proved in three ways. The first...

This may be proved in three ways. The first…

See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

We’re deep into technicalities this week, all of which reinforce the proof that God is the first cause of all. As we have long learned, Thomas was nothing if not thorough.

Chapter 41 That the distinction of things is not on account of a contrariety of agents (alternate translation)

1 FROM the above we may also prove that the cause of distinction among things is not a diversity or even a contrariety of agents.

2 For if the diverse agents who cause the diversity among things, are ordered to one another, there must be some cause of this order: since many are not united together save by some one. And thus the principle of this order will be the first and sole cause of the distinction of things. If, on the other hand, these various agents are not ordered to one another, their convergence to the effect of producing the diversity of things will be accidental: wherefore the distinction of things will be by chance; the contrary of which has been proved above.

Notes And recall, as always, chance is not ontic.

3 Again. Ordered effects do not proceed from diverse causes having no order, except perhaps accidentally, for diverse things as such do not produce one. Now things mutually distinct are found to have a mutual order, and this not by chance: since for the most part one is helped by another. Wherefore it is impossible that the distinction among things thus ordered, be on account of a diversity of agents without order.

Notes In other words, there is such a thing as coincidence.

4 Moreover. Things that have a cause of their distinction cannot be the first cause of the distinction of things. Now, if we take several co-ordinate agents, they must needs have a cause of their distinction: because they have a cause of their being, since all beings are from one first being, as was shown above; and the cause of a thing’s being is the same as the cause of its distinction from others, as we have proved. Therefore diversity of agents cannot be the first cause of distinction among things.

5 Again. If the diversity of things comes of the diversity or contrariety of various agents, this would seem especially to apply, as many maintain, to the contrariety of good and evil, so that all good things proceed from a good principle, and evil things from an evil principle: for good and evil are in every genus.

But there cannot be one first principle of all evil things. For, since those things that are through another, are reduced to those that are of themselves, it would follow that the first active cause of evils is evil of itself. Now a thing is said to be such of itself, if it is such by its essence. Therefore its essence will not be good. But this is impossible. For everything that is, must of necessity be good in so far as it is a being; because everything loves its being and desires it to be preserved; a sign of which is that everything resists its own corruption; and good is what all desire. Therefore distinction among things cannot proceed from two contrary principles, the one good, and the other evil.

Notes Life is not a battle between Good and Evil. It is a battle to avoid corruption. Plus, don’t forget that here and below, evil is a privation, an absence.

6 Further. Every agent acts in as much as it is actual; and in as much as it is in act, everything is perfect: and everything that is perfect, as such, is said to be good. Therefore every agent, as such, is good. Wherefore if a thing is essentially evil, it cannot be an agent. But if it is the first principle of evils, it must be essentially evil, as we have proved. Therefore it is impossible that the distinction among things proceed from two principles, good and evil.

7 Moreover. If every being, as such, is good, it follows that evil, as such, is a non-being. Now, no efficient cause can be assigned to non-being, as such, since every agent acts for as much as it is an actual being, and every agent produces its like. Therefore no per se efficient cause can be assigned to evil, as such. Therefore evils cannot be reduced to one first cause that is of itself the cause of all evils.

8 Further. That which results beside the intention of the agent, has no per se cause, but befalls accidentally: for instance when a man finds a treasure while digging to plant. Now evil cannot result in an effect except beside the intention of the agent, for every agent intends a good, since the good is what all desire. Therefore evil has not a per se cause, but befalls accidentally in the effects of causes. Therefore we cannot assign one first principle to all evils.

Notes Keep in mind what is happening here. When a man sins he thinks, at the moment, the sin is a good. And you have to love the example of finding treasure when burrowing for potatoes!

9 Further. Contrary agents have contrary actions. Therefore we must not assign contrary principles to things that result from one action. Now good and evil are produced by the same action: thus by the same action water is corrupted and air generated. Therefore the difference of good and evil that we find in things is no reason for affirming contrary principles.

10 Moreover. That which altogether is not, is neither good nor evil. Now that which is, for as much as it is, is good, as proved above. Therefore a thing is evil forasmuch as it is a non-being. But this is a being with a privation. Wherefore evil as such is a being with a privation, and the evil itself is this very privation. Now privation has no per se efficient cause: since every agent acts inasmuch as it has a form: wherefore the per se effect of an agent must be something having that form, because an agent produces its like, except accidentally. It follows, then, that evil has no per se efficient cause, but befalls accidentally in the effects of causes which are effective per se.

11 Consequently there is not one per se principle of evil: but the first principle of all things is one first good, in whose effects evil is an accidental consequence.

Notes Intending evil for another isn’t what is meant, because that act is, by the agent, at least at the moment, seen as a good. Though it isn’t here argued, that this is so means the definition of what is truly good and evil must come from outside desire.

14 Comments

  1. It’s funny, you know, as this particular argument pretty much covers the problem of evil. Aquinas could have saved himself a lot of redundant effort. Of course, good and evil could be switched up with all sorts of things in this circular, reversible, appeal to casuistry, but it does at least impart the morality of seeing evil as something to be pitied and repairable.

    JMJ

  2. @JMJ:

    “Of course, good and evil could be switched up with all sorts of things in this circular, reversible, appeal to casuistry, but it does at least impart the morality of seeing evil as something to be pitied and repairable.”

    Since Aquinas explicitly rejects that “good and evil could be switched up with all sorts of things”, in the text *itself*, one wonders if you even bothered to read.

  3. Almost a no-hitter then suddenly a couple are slammed into the park.
    Curse of the Tigers I suppose.

  4. Briggs

    June 27, 2016 at 8:32 am

    DAV,

    Nobody, not even a saint, bats 1.000. Still, the only rational act is to support the Tigers.

  5. I think we might condense the argument to say that evil is “the lack of some due good”.

    Evil as the lack of all good is an abyss of nothing.

    One simple analogy: Intellect is good but it could be used to plot the murder of a rich Aunty to gain an inheritance. It’s not the intellect that is bad but the purpose to which it is directed.

  6. Oh dear, no absolute good and evil? Is this the slippery slope of relativistic moral? Enter Epicurus:
    “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
    Then he is not omnipotent.
    Is he able, but not willing?
    Then he is malevolent.
    Is he both able and willing?
    Then whence cometh evil?
    Is he neither able nor willing?
    Then why call him God?”

  7. Ye Olde Statistician

    June 27, 2016 at 1:13 pm

    Intellect is not the same as being smart or clever. It is the capability, whether realized or not, to abstract universals from experienced particulars. The proper object of the intellect is the True. When the intellect is ordered to the false, it is dis-ordered.

    The Volition or Will is the intellective appetite: a hunger or desire for the products of the intellect; i.e., for concepts. The proper object of the Will is the Good. When the will is ordered toward an evil it is dis-ordered.

    An evil is a deficiency in a good. For example, a good archer hits his target; a good doctor cures his patient. But a bad archer or bad doctor fails to do so.

    The Anglo-Saxons used “evil” (yfel) where we would use bad, cruel, unskillful, defective, or harm, crime, misfortune, disease. Malus had the same range of meanings in Latin. Starting in the 18th century, “bad” (originally bæddel, “effeminate man, hermaphrodite, pederast”) took over the broader range of usage and evil contracted to strictly moral evils. Its seems as if only English makes this distinction, which is why we sometimes have trouble grasping what Latin-speakers meant when they wrote about evil and why a bad archer is on a continuum with a bad man.

    So it is not that good and evil are relative. Something is either done well or poorly, period. But a moral evil requires three things:
    1. It must be objectively a grave evil. (Being a bad artist may get you a government grant, but it is not a grave evil.)
    2. You must know that it is a grave evil. This is the act of the intellect.
    3. You must intend the grave evil. This is the act of the will.*
    For example, cutting someone with a knife is a grave evil, but it is not intrinsically a moral evil. A surgeon may cut someone to correct a greater evil. OTOH, a person may stab a peaceful demonstrator because he disapproves of what that demonstrator is saying. Or third person may stab an intruder in the belief he is defending his family. These nuances puzzle folks who prefer their morality cut and dried, as do many Moderns.
    _______________
    (*) This is why those who do not believe in the will cannot logically believe in evil and are always anxious to deny the latter along with the former.

  8. “Oh dear, no absolute good and evil? Is this the slippery slope of relativistic moral? ”

    Another one that seems to think that reading is unnecessary to comment.

  9. Hans Erren
    June 27, 2016 at 11:39 am
    [quote]Oh dear, no absolute good and evil? Is this the slippery slope of relativistic moral? Enter Epicurus:
    “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
    Then he is not omnipotent.
    Is he able, but not willing?
    Then he is malevolent.
    Is he both able and willing?
    Then whence cometh evil?
    Is he neither able nor willing?
    Then why call him God?”[/quote]

    A moment of reflection would reveal that if evil (the directing of some good to an ungood end) was not permitted (as opposed to caused) then any notion of “freedom” is impossible… everything would have to be a robotic progression from one thing to another without any possibility of deviation. Epicurus’ idiocy could never have occurred.

    Without such freedom (to be perverse) there could be no merit in “getting it right” or blame for “doing it wrong”.

    The utterly perverse demand that “rightness” is whatever they please because it is what they please and any impingement on their “pleases” is a denial of their “rights”.

    They absurdly claim that any instruction from the Author of All about what’s right, or any attempt by society to protect itself from the effects of perversity is a denial of the “rights” of perversity.

    Pure idiocy was not ended with Epicurus.

  10. One property that was stolen from the garden of Eden was the knowledge of good and evil. Hence we have the ability to judge the acts of God. Letting innocent children drown in floods cannot be considered “good”. The problem is that God is defined as “good”. So the definition is wrong. Considering the biblical narrative, the God of the Bible is at best defined as “amoral”.

  11. Ye Olde Statistician

    June 28, 2016 at 1:44 pm

    The problem is that God is defined as “good”

    Nah. As First Cause, God is the source of all goods and since a cause cannot give what it does not have, either formally or eminently, there must be something in God that corresponds to each good.

    That babies drown in floods is due to the suffocating effects of water. But the Late Modern man, accustomed to socialist government, insists that everything be controlled by an authority and that when bad things happen there must be someone to sue.

  12. “The problem is that God is defined as “good”.”

    Wrong. Again. What is the matter with these guys, that cannot even bother to actually read? This is not a matter of whether Aquinas is right or wrong, or even whether his arguments are any good, but a mere matter of actually knowing what he does say. And anyone with even the most modest of acquaintances with his thought knows that this is little more than slander for he argues at length that God must of necessity be the principle and the per se cause of all Good.

  13. You are free to turn a blind eye nd eye when God commits and encourages atrocious war crimes.

  14. Ye Olde Statistician

    June 29, 2016 at 8:22 pm

    You are free to turn a blind eye … when God commits and encourages atrocious war crimes.

    Did Bomber Harris consult God for permission when he carpet-bombed Hamburg with incendiaries? Did God fly the mission?

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