Friday, December 23, 2011

Must Evil Exist In Order That We Might Experience The Good?

I once wrote the following to a colleague and friend:

Undergrads often claim that evil must obtain in order
for good to exist. However, I'd like to run this less than
wholly ruminated thought by you to get some feedback:

Let us imagine that there is a possible world in which
the only existent is God. God, according to the
Judeo-Christian tradition, is wholly good: evil is
neither coextensive nor coterminous with God (please
overlook the issue of temporality vis-a-vis God for
now). In this possible world, it seems that one could
say good exists in this case. But would evil obtain in a
possible world wherein God is the only (possible)
existent? In what way could evil exist (i.e. obtain)
in such a possible world? If only good obtained in
this world and evil did not obtain, would it not be
true to say that good could exist without the
concomitant existence of evil? If what I am proposing
is logically possible, then it is not necessarily true
(maybe even untrue) that one needs evil in order for
good to exist.

Edgar Foster


aservantofJehovah said...

Perhaps what is being suggested is that,what we now recognize as being good would exist in this world,but without any variant with which to compare it,it may not be recognized or valued in quite the same way that we now value good,having had the opportunity to compare it with evil.But on the other hand if this God lacked the capacity to create free moral agents,he would not be on the same level as the real God,hence his "Goodness" would likewise have to be placed on a lower level.So in a way For God to be genuinely good,there must at least be the possibility of a temporary permitting of evil

Nathan said...

Hi Edgar,

I like the use of positing a possible world as a thought experiment in negating the necessity of evil.

I have also thought that while evil can be said to be the corruption and degeneration of the good, the converse cannot really be said of evil. Namely, that good is the purification and regeneration of evil. One way I think we can know this is because we cannot keep stripping away the evilness of something in order to arrive at an ever increasing good. Yet, we can keep corrupting something good with greater evil and make it more evil still. As an illustration, we know that there is a limit to how much heat that can be taken out of a physical system. But how much heat can be added appears to be undefined and, for all practical purposes, limitless.

At a more general level, we don’t typically consider gradations of a good act, only gradations of evil – precisely because we use goodness as a point of arbitration. This is something that we just intuitively recognise and, at least epistemologically, we accept as definitional. Consequently, those who argue for the necessity of evil end up doing so on poorer evidential grounds than those who judge otherwise.

It seems to me that every vice is still a virtue corrupted.



Edgar Foster said...

Thank you both for providing some input.