Good and Evil IV

Material substances are specified by their forms, and, in a similar way, moral creatures are specified by the end that is the proper object of the will. Just as the possession of one substantial form by a material substance entails the privation of other forms within the substance, moral creatures possess an end to the exclusion of others. Given that things are given ends by nature, we can say that the privation of proper form or perfection constitutes evil. Moral creatures are within this category. Their actions are evil because they entail the privation of the correct end of the will.

Evil, as such, is the privation of perfect being. The completion or perfection of a nature is the actualization of a potency and is what we first call "good." Notice that it is not only act that is called good but also potency, and potency is the subject of privation as well as act. Even a potency for evil must be, in a sense, good. In the case of God, who is pure act with no admixture of potency, we can say that His Goodness cannot possibly be the subject of some evil because good can only be the subject of evil inasmuch as it is in potency to some act. In other words, because a potency is a potency for some perfection it may also be deprived of the same perfection and is therefore what we call privation or evil. As pure act, none of this can be said of God. He is simply "outside" all potency and privation.

Further, we can say that evil can only be a principle per accidens. Only perfection is that which is desired by the will, but since the presence of one end excludes the presence of another, which is what constitutes the privation, privation and therefore evil maybe accidentally sought by the will. Evil as such cannot be a first or per se principle.


Good and Evil III

Since “good” means perfection, “evil” means the lack of perfection. If something lacks that which, by nature, it ought to have, we call such privations evil.

Privation is essential to the definition of evil. Nature is either act, potency, or a composite. That which is in act is by definition perfect and good inasmuch as it is in act, potency is by definition ordered to act and therefore must have good within its notion. As that which can receive act, potency desires act, which is, as we stated previously, good. From this it follows that no being desires evil as such and, more fundamentally, no being can be evil by nature.

Nature seeks completion and perfection and so seeks act. This fulfillment must consist in goodness since goodness is simply the completion of nature and its operations. In relation to existence, nature is a potency which seeks act in existence to the fullest extent possible. Existence, as act, is the good of nature and therefore non-existence, the negation of being, is an evil.

When seen in this light, the maxim “Do good and avoid evil” is not a prescription from some authority that may be followed or disobeyed at the whim of a creature. It is the fundamental law of both being and action.


Good and Evil II

Nature, as a principle of motion, determines natural operations. From this perspective, goodness is the completion of a natural operation according to the nature of the particular creature. This is why we consider deformities in humans and other animals to be defective or, to put it more strongly, a type of natural evil.

This, though, is not the only type of evil that befalls man. All creatures may suffer evil according to some defect in their generation, but man can suffer an evil according to his will, which is another principle of motion. Natural generation seeks form as its good and will seeks good as its end. In seeking the good as its end, the will also seeks the means to reach its end, the process of which is called voluntary action. In creatures whose wills can reach and end other than their appointed one a deficiency in voluntary action may occur. This deficiency is the evil of which people most commonly speak.

The will of the creature always seeks the good of the creature. Insofar as the will seeks the perfection of the willing creature, the will cannot deflect from such an end. The perfection of creatures', though, consists in God's goodness, which is a good that is external to the creature itself. Because of this, the evil of will is possible. In other words, because God creates creatures that have their own wills and intellects, there exists a possibility that these creatures (angels and men) will choose to persist in what they consider their own personal goodness instead of that goodness which is the end of all things, namely, God's goodness. This is a possibility that arises from the very nature of created intellectual beings.

"This act of self will on the part of the creature, which constitutes an utter falseness to its true creaturely position, is the only sin that can be conceived as the Fall. For the difficulty of the first sin is that it must be very heinous, or its consequences would not be so terrible, and yet it must be something which a being free from the temptations of fallen man could conceivably have committed. The turning from God to self fulfills both conditions. It is a sin possible even to Paradisal man, because the mere existence of a self -- the mere fact that we call it 'me' -- includes, from the first, the danger of self-idolatry. Since I am I, I must make an act of self-surrender, however small or however easy, in living to God rather than to myself. This is, if you like, the 'weak spot' in the very nature of creation, the risk which god apparently thinks worth taking. But the sin was very heinous, because the self which Paradisal man had to surrender contained no natural recalcitrancy to being surrendered."

-C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, pg. 76