God and Evil — Part 3 (An Intellectual Approach)

See part 2 or the introduction.

Exhibit B — Evil Done

First, as stated above, evil suffered requires two things and is “concomitant of certain kinds of good”, that is, a defect in one thing arises when another thing achieves its own good. Evil done, on the other hand, involves one thing and is “not an inevitable concomitant of good in the world.”

The key to understanding what follows is what is stated above. When we call a person bad, it is because of a defect in the person, an absences of something, “he or she doesn’t measure up to what we think we can expect of human beings.” And this defect is caused by the person themselves, not by an outside agent, in the choices he or she makes. Evil done not only usually causes others to suffer, but the perpetrator suffers too in causing a defect within him or her self. Evil done is “evil to the perpetrator himself.”

In the case of the lion eating the lamb, what makes this bad for the lamb is that its lambness, so to say, is diminished. It becomes less like what we expect of a lamb; but what brings this about is the lion. But in the case, of say, Fred being unjust, what makes this bad for Fred is that his humanity is diminished, he becomes less like what we expect of a man, but what brings this about is Fred himself. In the lion/lamb encounter at least the perpetrator, the lion, is benefiting, but in Fred’s act of injustice the perpetrator, Fred, is precisely the one who suffers.

The victims of Fred’s injustice suffer, but Fred himself also suffers because he has diminished his own humanity. Fred has essentially sold part of himself for something else. Evil done has “no connection with good at, except accidentally. That is to say God may bring good even out of [Fred’s] evil acts but in themselves they have no good aspect.”

A point of clarification:

…there may well be those who think that what makes an action morally wrong is the harm it does to others, and they may be a little surprised that I say that what makes an action morally wrong is the harm it does to the perpetrator. An action may be morally wrong because it does harm to others, but what we mean by saying that it is morally wrong is that it damages the perpetrator.

An example:

I can after all do great harm to others without doing morally wrong at all. I may bring with me to a foreign country some deadly infectious disease that I don’t know about, so that after a few weeks people are dying in agony because of my arrival. If so, I have certainly harmed them by my arrival but I have not done anything morally wrong. If however I knew about it and went all the same, then you could say that I was acting unjustly, that I was behaving in an irresponsible way in which no human being should behave, that I was defective in my humanity, that I was committing a moral evil. The moral evil would consist in the injustice and the way that I diminished myself in acting like that.

When I am the cause of frightful things happening to others, the evil suffered is in them and is inflicted by me, but if in doing this I am acting unjustly (as would ordinarily be the case if I did it deliberately) the evil done is in me and consists in the diminishment of my humanity that injustice means. I do not mean by this that acting unjustly has a bad effect on me (making me a drearier person or whatever), I mean that acting unjustly is a bad effect on me, it is a diminishment of me, just as not being able to rinse the clothes is a diminishment of the washing machine. And the point is that this diminishment of me is brought about by me. …evil done is evil to the perpetrator himself. It is a dead loss with no good aspect of it.

Of course morally evil actions may have good effects, my injustice may benefit my family, my adultery may give birth to a child, but what we mean when we say they are morally bad, if we think they are bad, is the defect that they are in me.

There is no good whatsoever in evil done.

…God may bring good even out of my evil actions, and good may even be the ordinary consequence of my evil action, but that is not the point. The action itself has no good in it, and we cannot exonerate God simply on the grounds that it is for good ends that he uses evil means.

Continued in part 4 for the continuation of the discussion of exhibit B.


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