Friday, May 19, 2017

No Simple Subject is Evil...

"The fall of the first human being from... wisdom to folly was neither wise nor foolish..."  On Free Choice of the Will by Augustine of Hippo

While it touches all of us at one time
or another, evil is no simple subject. Most of us have many questions and much confusion when confronted with an evil face, sometimes our very own face. Today many are squeamish about the subject itself.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, evil necessarily encompasses the notion of wrong doers and sin, failings we all are many times confronted with. Writing perhaps his most influential thoughts for the posterity of the Western mind, philosopher and theologian Augustine of Hippo writes in his treatise On Free Choice of the Will, that there are many forms of evil both great and small.
There is no single evil that can be pointed to in the world of men.

"Moral truths are no different. Belief is required
for understanding. If you are brought up among people who think morality is just a matter of opinion, it is highly improbable that you will ever be able to see that morals teach us a lot of true and interesting things about the intelligible world..." Your prior beliefs, and  prejudices will prevent your understanding. Without belief you then will not understand...
All that Augustine writes may be viewed as an effort to awaken the reader to a fresh view, previously unexamined... In his view, 'moral uprightness consists in submission to the eternal and immutable truths which are not of our own, individual making. Freedom moreover consists of submission to Truth.' Freedom is to cleave to truth, the essence of freedom. How so? Augustine writes that it is only truth and goodness which cannot be taken from the soul against its will... 

Everything that exists, he posits, has a degree of order, measure or value. In other words, in keeping with ancient Greek thought, every nature has a form.
A form that may be characterized as to its extent, measure and motivations in nature. For example it is the nature of a plow to plow land, so the more evenly and cleanly it plows, the better a plow it is. A good plow plows well. "
So the more form a nature has, the more goodness it possesses. Also true is that the more form a nature possesses, the more being it has." Evil, as Augustine of Hippo understood it, is a simple, complete deficiency.
Evil is a void or lack of form, and yet every nature in this view comes from the Creator, G-d. This One is the source of all being and goodness. Therein lies the paradox and darkness of evil. In the act of condemning something or some one, we acknowledge this fact.

Thus for human beings the only ultimately satisfying thing, as created beings with form, is to live up to their nature. "When the will turns away from the higher goods to the lower goods, it frustrates the rule of nature, reversing a natural order and subjecting itself to the un-natural rule of a master.
The being is thus enslaved and without genuine freedom because the only genuine freedom is submission to truth. Truth here is likened to an apple falling from a tree. It has no choice but to fall downward; it has no option to frustrate the rule of gravity.

On the contrary the human will is free, having a choice about when to obey the natural rule. And try it does for good and for ill. Airplanes may fly upward, but in thunderstorms they often crash. This sadly does not prevent men from trying to fly them at that time anyway with deadly consequences for themselves and their passengers.
"Human beings can voluntarily wreck their lives by running afoul of the rules that govern their nature. Yet a soul with that kind of will is free, free to choose what is either hopeless struggle against itself, or what is ultimate freedom to become what one most truly is.

No comments: