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Aquinas Response to the Problem of Evil

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The Philosopher JL Mackie, in his article, Evil and Omnipotence aptly describes the problem of evil: 'in its simplest form the problem of evil is this: God is omnipotent; God is wholly good; and yet evil exists. There seems to be a contradiction between these three propositions, so that if any two of them were to be true the third will be false' . This modern form of the problem of evil was conceived almost seven centuries after Aquinas's death, and as such its black and white treatment of the issue would have been hard for him to comprehend. Although not quite in the same way as Mackie, the existence of evil did pose an intellectual problem for Aquinas. His entire treatment of evil was governed by the fundamental Augustinian axiom 'God since he is maximally good, would not have allowed any evil into his work unless he were so omnipotent and good that he could even make good come out of evil . For Aquinas therefore, the existence of evil, rather than providing, as it does for Mackie, grounds for doubting the creators omnipotence, goodness, or even his existence is instead an opportunity for God to display these attributes more clearly. Whilst Aquinas's metaphysics lays the foundation for his argument, response to evil, especially in relation to moral evil and the doctrine of original sin, presupposes the bible as a legitimate source of evidence, and as such, it is impossible to evaluate his account in a purely philosophical way.

Following St. Augustine, Aquinas denies that evil has any independent existence, meaning that evil is a privation; a lack of perfection that ought to exist within a being, this key tenant underpins Aquinas ultimate position on the issue. Importantly evil is an absence of perfection that ought to exist. It is not a privation for a being to lack something not necessary to its achieving perfection, for example, a stone to be blind, but only if there exists a lack of a quality that is imperative in achieving perfection. So, unlike blindness in a stone, blindness in a human being qualifies as a privation as it prevents optimal human functioning. Aquinas writes, 'We do not call anything bad because it is a being but because it fails to exist in some way-as when we call people bad when they fail to be virtuous, or as when we call an eye bad when its vision fails' It follows then, that as evil is a privation, it is necessarily, 'metaphysically and logically parasitic upon good'

Backing up evil as privation, Aquinas metaphysics states that anything in existence is by its nature good. 'Every being, considered as such, is good. For every being, considered as such is actual and therefore in some way perfect', Each being has an appetite for their own perfection, and this perfection is achieved through action rather than its given nature. However just as stones blindness is not a privation, not all beings desire the same thing, as they desire good in relation to their own nature. Although every being is good in some sense simply by its own existence, they must progress from being potentially good, to actually good via actions that achieve its natural success. Evil occurs therefore, when a being lacks what is necessary for it to be a fully functioning example of its kind, or fails to achieve its appropriate end through self-perfective actions

When this metaphysical account is applied to the order of nature, it is clear that a beings pursuit of its good often results in evil on another. In the instance of a predator and its prey, the action of a predator killing its prey is simultaneously good for the predator, as it perfective of its being, and evil for its prey, as its existence is deprived. Aquinas justifies this evil by appealing to the Neo- Platonic principle that a universe with a multitude of beings is better than a universe with few, and as such, losses evil with respect to the natural order are justified within that. 'Since the divine Goodness cannot be sufficiently represented through one creature, God produced many and diverse creatures so that what was lacking to one in the representation of divine goodness might be supplemented by another'

Human evil is treated differently falling into two distinct categories, malum culpae, and malum poenae. Malum culpae, or evil of fault is the primary evil, that humans originate through actions. Malum poenae is the evil suffered against human will as the temporal punishment from god for our sins. Aquinas attributes all evil in human life to the committing of sin, and the punishment for it, and in doing so his account becomes theological in nature. Initially following from his metaphysics sin, like all evil is a privation. Human beings, like all creatures strive to become fully actualized instances of their kind, but unlike other worldly beings, humans, being rational, pursue their perfection both freely and intelligently. They are free not in the sense that they can determine their own ends, as their ends are created by nature, but humans can choose to make perfection the intent of their actions. The existence of free will within rational creatures (Aquinas includes angels within this category) allows intelligent deviation from perfection (God), and fail to achieve it.

For Aquinas it is the very nature of free will that it can sin, for the non-possibility of sin exist only within God. 'Only in divine rule is there no possibility of sin, while there can be sin in every created will considered in its natural condition' Rational creatures are not constituted towards their ends by their natures, as they have to act freely 'to move from potentially good to actually good in a way that accords with the imperatives inscribed in their natures by the will of God, they have the inherent possibility of failure with respect to their own good' Crucially, human beings, as rational creatures can recognise the moral requirement for the fulfilment of their nature, leading to the set-up of a moral law. In De Malo, Aquinas describes how moral evil can originate. 'In all instances where one thing is meant to be the rule and measure of another, the good of what is ruled and measured consists in its being ruled and conformed to the rule and measure; its evil comes from not beings so ruled...all human desires and actions ought to be measured by the rule of reason and the divine law must be presupposed in will prior to any disordered choice' Aquinas is saying that it is not in the non-consideration of the rule, rather it is in the acting out of the non-consideration that it becomes evil.

Although this account explains how moral sin can occur, it does not explain why. At this point Aquinas moves away from metaphysics towards a more theological doctrine in his explanation of original sin. Adam and Eve, the first



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