Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Perfect Post (Part V: Evil, or the Lack Thereof)

So, we come at last to one of the fundamental questions of philozophy. What is evil? This is in particular a concern for theologians, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the perennial problem of evil, particularly of pain. We experience it in human existence, and wonder what it could possibly be. And why it happens to us. By answering the question of what evil is, we can understand why it is, perhaps. After that, we also have the question of how God can allow evil, and also the question of sin. Because sin proceeds from evil, understanding what evil is can shed a light upon what sin is.

I'm sure many of you are familiar with what is considered by many Catholic thinkers to be the first, foremost, and ultimate explanation of the existence of evil. It is the Privation Theory of St. Thomas Aquinas. Simply put, he states that all evil is merely a lack of the good. A place where the good is not. A disease is a privation of health. Lies are a privation of truth. Ruthlessness is a privation of mercy. What is most appealing about this theory is the fact that it answers all of those questions. If evil is a lack, then it exists because we miss God, turn away from God, do not will God. God allows evil because he allows us our choice. When I learned this theory, I thought it made the most sense that anything had ever made to me, and I latched onto it wholeheartedly. I had good reasons for why it worked, too.

For example, I would argue that if evil were substantial, it would necessarily have to be equal to good, or else perish, because good and evil are opposites. And obviously, because I don't believe in Yin and Yang, I don't believe that good and evil are caught in a balance. The idea of balance also implies that it is possible for evil to tip the scales and win. I certainly don't believe that. Also, if evil is substantial, how do you answer the fact that it exists in the same world as a good God? There's no possible way around that.

I've been starting to question the position, though, based upon what I've been learning. Because I see that evil itself, though a lack, must be a lack based in an origin, and that really, there's just something about it that speaks of substantiality. There's also the question of how a being can be irredemably evil, or indamnably good. Is a permanent choice really all that keeps them there? Or is there rather something about its nature that also makes a being so? And to my mind, the privation theory is incomplete. Now, though, I start to see a possibility for how it can be filled in, drawing in the previous knowledge which I discussed.

We will first go back to that discussion of pure and mixed perfections, and determine if evil can be either. Obviously, it cannot be a pure perfection, because the pure perfections inhere in one another, and are also better for a being to possess than not to possess. Evil meets neither of the criteria. But what if it's a mixed perfection? There don't seem to be any obstacles in the way of this. Just as you can have the concept of a perfect hatred, a perfect pain, a perfect injustice, you can also have a perfect evil. They are all mixed perfections, which means they are not always compatible with the pure perfections. In fact, these mixed perfections, in the end, are only compatible with pure perfections if both the mixed and pure perfections exist in imperfect form.

Read: human nature, or indeed nature itself.

Yet can evil be a mixed perfection? We left the last post with the question of what a mixed perfection truly was. We determined it was a mixture of a pure perfection and something else. One potential answer to the something else would be "evil", which would then obviously exclude evil as a mixed perfection, because then it would reference itself and degrade into a recursion of absurdity. Evil cannot be this something else, though, because look at the relation of a mixed and pure perfection. Aesthetics is not the mixture of Beauty and evil. Aesthetics on its own is neutral. In fact, it is subjective. But wait a second. It can only be subjective if a subject is relating to it.

The first thing when I think of "subject" is a single word: "I". The self. "Ego". A person! Hold on a sec, and let's look at this definition of a mixed perfection. Let's say that a mixed perfection is a mixture of a pure perfection and of a subject...a person, even. I think we have our solution! The difference between Beauty and aesthetics is that aesthetics depends on the subject possessing the aesthetics. Beauty has no dependency on subject. Justice and lawfulness are differentiated in that lawfulness is only Just insofar as the subject possessing the lawfulness is Good. See a pattern here?

The only question here, then, is what the mixed perfection of evil truly is. And it is here that I think we have a clear answer. "Evil" as mixed perfection is a mixture of the subject with "good".

That's right. The pure perfection behind evil is Good itself.


Think about it. This is the very point where the original privation theory returns, in noting that every evil has reference back to a good. Furthermore, all evil is intended by the author of the evil to be a personal good. A terrorist destroys a building because perhaps he believes he is on a divine mission. A hacker crashes a database because he believes the government has no right to its authority. But does this mean that even Satan has a good in mind? In a way, yes. The good that Satan has is his "I". And if you think about it, that's the root behind all evil. When we put the "I" higher in importance than the pure perfections, then we become evil, because the "I" is the master.

It in fact makes the most sense if you think of a mixed perfection in terms of a pure perfection plus a subject. The pure perfection of Beauty vs. the mixed perfection of aesthetics, for example. If I properly possess aesthetics, it is because Beauty comes upon the subject (me)...and the Beauty is dominant. If I improperly possess aesthetics, it is because I come upon Beauty, and I make myself dominant! The subject is the important part, and not the pure perfection...and this is an inversion of the proper order. Evil, in fact, enters into any mixed perfection whenever the proper order is inverted, whenever "I" is considered above the pure perfection. The most complete evil is when the pure perfection of good mingles with the "I", and the "I" is held dominant.

And ultimately, this is why all evil proceeds from Satan, because he is the ultimate "I" asserter. He subjects every possible thing to his own "I", because this is the one value which he takes upon himself, the one thing that he ultimately believes in. This is also the epitome of arrogance, and so in a way all intentional evil involves an arrogance of sorts. Think about it. Every single evil committed by persons. Every single evil. It all boils down to that simple inversion of the order in mixed perfections. No evil can truly be committed through a pure perfection, but only through a mixed perfection. The mixed perfections are almost the channels between the "I" and the pure perfections, the ways in which we can reach to them...and yet at the same time, they are also the ways in which we can create evil, if we forget that the "I" is not the absolute value. God is.

And that's what's wrong in so many modern societies! What has been one of the greatest mistakes of modern thought? The "I" is asserted beyond all else! We are told that license is the most important virtue, that you should be able to do what you want, that you should be able to choose your life, choose your circumstances, choose whether you have a child as a result of sexual intercourse, choose whether you marry a man, woman, or....other, and even choose how you will die. And in the end, the primary virtue which is encouraged is choice and "I". Is it any wonder, then, that there is so much evil in the modern culture? The reason why corruption is so widespread is because the very process behind evil is the driving force behind secular societies!

And that, in the end, is what I believe evil is, how it works. There remains only one thing to answer, and that is the question of non-personal evil. When you are hurt, when a tree falls on your car, when hail destroys crops. There's obviously no personal intention behind this evil; it comes about through purely natural processes. This is also why we can't say that these things are intrinsically evil; they do not possess the mixed perfection of evil. Rather, this truly is a case of imperfection, as the privation theory points out. Which brings up the question, how does a mixed perfection become less perfect?

It's quite simple. A divorce of the subject and of the pure perfection inherent in it. An imperfect literacy is a literacy which does not lead the subject immediately to Wisdom. An imperfect affection is one which does not lead the subject immediately to Love. Why is this sundering in existence? Because a mixed perfection is kind of like a relationship. You have the pure perfection, and you have the subject, and they have to get along, otherwise they get driven apart. And when the proper order of a mixed perfection is thrown off-kilter, all manner of stuff goes wrong. Including the divorcing of the subject from the pure perfection.

All that's left is to answer the objection about God allowing evil. And here is my answer. God allows evil because He is good, and respects our ability to pursue Freedom. He will not deny us access to any of the pure perfections, because that would make us lesser beings. And as far as the question of "Can God commit evil?", that's an impossibility, because Freedom as a pure perfection must inhere in Good, and vice versa, so to commit evil would actually be to diminish Freedom, thus making God a less Free being, and so not the Absolute Perfection of Perfections.

And that, my friends, is my current conclusion about evil, and the conclusion of this post, as well as my conclusion for "The Perfect Post". We've been all over, going from perfection to infinity to God to all sorts of places. And to be honest, I didn't expect it to end up here. Even the last part, about the nature of what mixed perfections truly are, I only just came up with in Eucharistic Adoration. So, yeah. Ad majorem Dei gloriam!! And Hail Holy Queen.

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