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.


  1. Hi,

    I have two questions:

    1. You have a very good grasp of the Thomistic philosophy. Where have you learned all this? Do you have a recommendation how to learn it (books...)?

    2. I have read your comment ad Fesers Blog (http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/06/on-some-alleged-quantifier-shift.html?showComment=1309526538124#c95056901928590670)

    There you quoted Aquinas, where he says: "God is existence itself" I dont understand this. "existince" is an abstraktum. Just as "humanity" is the abstraktum of human, or "whiteness" of white, or "action" of "act". But this is only something in the mind, right? How can a substance be an abstrakt thing. I dont get this. Where do I err?

    Also, if the soul is a form. And forms or species by themselves are differentiated only by matter, then how can there be many souls, especially after death?

  2. Welcome, I am glad you enjoy the weblog.

    To your first question, most of the Thomistic philosophy I know I learned personally. I do read quite a bit, and I can recommend some books depending on what, exactly, you desire to know. I majored in philosophy in college -- I graduated earlier this year -- but none of it was scholastic and very little was ancient.

    If you desire to understand St. Thomas you must first understand Aristotle. To understand Aristotle you must begin at the beginning, meaning that you must begin with Parmenides. If you do not see Aristotle's philosophy as an answer to the problems posed by Parmenides, Plato, etc. there is a danger of his words appearing to be arbitrary and merely one system of many. A good knowledge of core Aristotelian concepts will greatly help you understand many of the arguments made by Aquinas. Most importantly, it will help you to understand him on his own terms without imputing faulty modern assumptions into his writings which simply are not there.

    To your second question, take a look at these and let me know if they help:



  3. Thank you for answer.

    I think it gets me going.

  4. A further reply:

    Existence is not an abstraction in the same sense that natures or essences are. The difference between essence and existence is nothing less than the difference between potency and act. Every form or nature of a created thing is, of itself, a potency. The actuality of such potencies we call 'being' or 'existence.' The potential essence (humanity, whiteness, or anything potential) must receive actual existence in order to become an actual being. In things which have no distinction between potency and act, meaning God, this order of dependency does not exist. God's nature is not a potency which receives being because God is not a caused or created being. He therefore possess an essence and an existence, but not in a composed way. He has being essentially, which means that He is being.

    More generally, in created things, the nature must differ from the subject of existence (Humanity from a man, for example). Humanity contains within itself the essential definition of man but this is not enough to account for the existence of actual men. All of the particular accidents and qualities also make up real men. Therefore humanity and man are distinct, with humanity designating the formal aspect of man's existence.

    Now let us consider God. God, not being composed of matter and form or any composite principles, must have His nature or essence be identical to the subject of existence. Whatever can be predicated of God, then, is ultimately identical to God Himself. His substance subsists in and of itself.