The Problem Of Evil Philosophy Essay
|✅ Paper Type: Free Essay||✅ Subject: Philosophy|
|✅ Wordcount: 4639 words||✅ Published: 1st Jan 2015|
The Problem of Evil is a provocative philosophical issue that has perplexed the minds of great thinkers throughout the ages up to the present time. Intellectuals such Aristotle, Averroes, and Kant have vigorously debated and held various positions concerning the reality of malevolence in the world and how it correlates to the eminence of a Higher Being, better known as God. Questions such as “If God is altogether good, where does evil come from?” and “Why does God reveal that he is going to punish the wicked if He created them to be that way in the first place?” are among literally hundreds of others that have been contemplated in the minds of millions all over the world. The objective of this paper will be to address questions such as the aforementioned, as well as to spotlight an associated dilemma, The True Innate Nature of Man, which quite fittingly arises as a subheading under this broad heading of The Problem of Evil.
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The True Innate Nature of Man also serves as a quandary for numerous individuals who aspire to comprehend the supposed world beyond sensible perception. This too can be a confounding issue for most students of knowledge, as there are various opinions about what the correct stance of man’s nature in relation to God’s is; although some may be deemed as more correct than others. Is it that man was created “in the image of God”, yet still in a corrupt “state of sin” due to a crime committed by his alleged father Adam for which he needs redemption, as affirmed by Christian theologians such as Thomas Aquinas? Or is that man is born absolutely
pure on the true, bona fide nature of goodness or “fitra” (in Arabic) but may be tarnished by his environment, as asserted by Islamic metaphysicians such as Avicenna and Averroes? Perhaps it is neither, and man was actually born inherently evil and immoral, but may be trained to do good by following the “Tao” or “Proper Way” as is taught by Confucians including Xun Zi, also known as Hsun-tzu. A thorough investigation into the topic of The Problem of Evil and its sub related subject matter, The True Innate Nature of Man, is sure to clear many misconceptions and reveal the fundamentals of the issue.
God, as defined by The American Century Dictionary, refers to the “creator and ruler of the universe” and “the being or spirit worshipped as immortal and with supernatural power over nature, human fortunes, etc”. As such, due to the postulation that God is the One that creates human beings, bestows on them reason and intelligence, provides for them food and drink, and promises a reward in one way or another for the righteous, while not asking anything from them except that they worship Him alone, the rational mainstream view is that He is a good God. Not only is he just a good God, but He is a perfect God; a God that is absolutely and eternally free from any and all faults and shortcomings of any kind, whether inwardly or outwardly, or deliberately or unintentionally. The supposed problem does arise for the skeptic, however, when this perception of God is applied practically to the sensible world that is filled with crimes such as theft, murder, and rape, as well as diseases including HIV/AIDS, leukemia, and cancer. There seems to be an apparent contradiction in the notion of God being a good God and there being evil in the world. According to the logic of the skeptic, since God created everything from nothing and can be traced back to the origin of everything and identified as the “unmoved mover”, He must also be accredited with having evil as one of His attributes.
In reality, there is no genuine contradiction between the actualities of God being good and there being evil in the world. The misapprehension here stems from the fact that there is confusion in the minds of many with regards to the free will of man and the omniscience of God. Human beings have been created with a choice of whether or not they want to be virtuous upright citizens on earth. Their free will allows them to commit immoral actions if they truly wish to do so. The choices that they have are merely a reflection of the circumstances around them which may or may not be favorable. Nevertheless, they still do have a choice and may opt to do the right thing. The selection to be virtuous or immoral is ultimately made by the human being himself and not by God. Even though God knows any and all things that have already happened or will take place in the future, the choice is left to the person to do as he pleases. The knowledge of God is not to be confused with the deeds of man; the latter being imperfect, while the former, flawless. Evil actions such as murder and prostitution are thus a result of the imperfections of man and are not to be attributed to God directly because He does not force any of His servants to commit the crime. Rather, He allows them to commit the offenses out of their own desires and in conjunction with His infinite wisdom. As a result, it may be said that since God is the creator of each and every single thing in the universe from nothing, He is also indirectly the creator of evil since even though human beings are directly to blame for the evil perpetrated on earth, He created the human beings to begin with.
With that issue being settled, a more complicated one still remains in that of natural diseases, disasters, and occurrences. Part of the reason that diseases such as HIV/AIDS and cancer infect people is because of their refusal to act in a prudent and temperate manner. Before
proceeding, however, it is necessary to explain what this virtue of temperance is and how it should apply in human beings’ day to day life:
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines temperance as “a habitual moderation in the indulgence of the appetites or passions”. The ancient, as well as contemporary scholars of philosophy such as Thomas Aquinas, Stephen Pope, and Diana Cates generally seem to agree with this definition by consensus on a broad level. It is located in the concupiscible appetite, which deals primarily with the human lusts of eating, drinking and sexual desire; as opposed to the irascible appetite that is involved in the emotions of anger and exasperation. As Thomas Aquinas indicates in Summa Theologica IIa IIae, q. 141, a. 2, ad 2, “temperance is a habit of responding with tranquility or serenity of soul to sense impressions of food, drink, and sexual relations”. Its principal function is to moderate in the mean between extremes the emotions of enjoyments and service concerning the pleasures of touch and taste in order to achieve the good of reason as known in the concupiscible passions. Furthermore, it is concerned with the sentiment of maintaining the gratification of sense pleasure as a whole, especially in the elation supplementing the impression of predominantly touch and secondarily taste. The ideal balance of temperance is generally found between the excess extreme of indulgence and the defect extreme of insensibility, while leaning slightly towards insensibility in this respect. Since the human species has an overwhelming innate desire for excess with regards to the pleasures of the flesh, it is only natural that most people seek to avoid this excess, and lean towards the defect while seeking to uphold the integrity of moral
standards. The proximate object of temperance is the concupiscible appetite; pleasure on a general level, and contentment and grief more specifically. The remote object of this cardinal virtue is anything and everything that generates the gratification of touch and taste in an individual person; that is to say, food, drink, and sex. Through habitual moderation of temperance, as with any other virtue, the good of reason can be achieved in this regard. (Introduction to Ethics by John A. Osterle)
It is clear from this brief introduction to temperance that this is a most serious issue that many people are heedless of. Moderation in deeds, particularly those of the sexual nature, preserves the wellbeing of individuals while an excess leads to their ruin. HIV/AIDS is the direct cause of the choice of human beings to be promiscuous in their sexual activities or act in some other carnal manner. God should not be held liable for the intemperate and depraved actions of human beings. Similarly, the diseases of certain types of cancers such as lung cancer and other ailments of the kidneys and such are usually the result of the choices of man to smoke sedatives or drink alcohol. Even though man has knowledge of the fact that these items have harmful effects on their wellbeing, he still chooses to willingly purchase and utilize them anyway; not only damaging one’s self, but paying money to do so as well! The evil result of these diseases is brought upon only from the intemperate and malevolent actions of man. While God did indeed create these types of diseases, He undoubtedly cannot be attributed as being the direct cause of someone acquiring them, as He does not force anyone to take the means to obtain these diseases even though He has perfect knowledge of the unfortunate individuals who will.
The final type of alleged evil that occurs in the world which some people mistakenly attribute directly to God is that of natural disasters or occurrences such as earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, inherited diseases (both mental and physical), and the like that result in casualties. With regards to this type of evil, there is no clear cut definitive answer and it must be accepted that since God is described as All-Wise, there is wisdom behind all of these perceived tragedies. To explain, the perception of human beings is deficient, while God’s knowledge and wisdom are perfect. Even the greatest of metaphysicians such as Aristotle and Plato attested to this actuality. It would be irrational to try and prove that God creates evil through these calamities because human beings do not know the wisdom behind these occurrences. The truth of the matter is that there is actually much good behind these perceived dreadful and appalling incidents. A case in point example which may be likened to the understanding of this concept of the perception of natural disasters by human beings is that of when a parent accompanies his or her young child to the doctor’s office to obtain a flu vaccination from the doctor. The young child would be shocked at the fact that his parent would allow a person to thrust a six inch needle into his arm. The child does not have the foresight to understand that this is what is best and most beneficial for him; his perception of the action leads him to believe that this is a malicious undertaking being committed. However, it is apparent to any logical person that the good of this action by the doctor far outweighs any temporary harm that the needle may have been caused to the youth. Accordingly, this action would not be deemed an evil act. On the contrary, this action would be considered virtuous and very much necessary, even though the child might not agree at this point in his development. Similarly, since all human beings are mortal and vastly dissimilar to God in that they are neither All-Wise nor Omniscient, they do not have the foresight that God
does. Therefore, it would be extremely rash for them to label something as evil even though they do not understand the very core foundation of it. The good of these so-called natural disasters is evidently there, even if people do not have the perception to sense or understand it.
A sub-related theme to The Problem of Evil is known as The True Innate Nature of Man. The genuine natural disposition of human beings is essential to understanding The Problem of Evil because if it can be proven that the man’s natural disposition is one that is towards righteousness, this would also strengthen the argument in favor of the proposition that there is no valid Problem of Evil. Since the creation often reflects the creator, a legitimately good concept of the internal disposition of man would indicate an eternally good God, while an evil concept of the internal disposition of man would suggest some legitimacy to the Problem of Evil. Basically, the two main views with regards to The True Innate Nature of Man are that it is either one of vice and iniquity or it is one of morality and virtue. Scholars have rigorously debated this topic with great diligence in order to persuade the masses of people to see things from their perspective. The vast majority of religious scholars, however, have settled upon the notion that man is born virtuous, but with the ability to perform evil. The reasons for this view are abundant and not difficult to comprehend. Another view held by some of the scholars is that man is born inherently evil, but may be trained to do virtuous deeds. Attempting to explain and refute this view would certainly be much more remarkable, as the vast majority of people are oblivious to the arguments presented by the philosophers for this view and whether or not they actually carry any weight.
One such unorthodox philosophical intellectual who believed that The True Innate Nature of Man is evil was a Confucian by the name of Xun Zi, better known as Hsun-tzu. He held the belief that all human beings are born inherently evil by nature. According to him, human beings must be trained thoroughly in order to become virtuous. Goodness is acquired by learning and cultivation from the sages. He puts a great deal of emphasis on the sages and regarded learning from these sages as an essential aspect in an individual’s journey towards righteousness. Furthermore, Hsun-tzu made a clear distinction between nature and conscious activity. Whereas the nature of humans is the characteristics they are born with (i.e. natural instincts) and can never be changed or controlled, conscious activity is something that can be learned and taught by the sages; this is the part of man than can be changed and acquired through learning and effort. In order to support these various claims, Hsun-tzu also laid down several arguments so that he could expound his bold stance on this issue. His foremost argument to support his claims is the notion that if a ruler did not have any limits or rules to abide by, then he would be unjust to his subjects beneath him. A different argument he uses is that the sage kings and ritual principles recognized that man was born evil, and hence, had to train the common man so that he would be good. Yet another argument presented was the assertion that people are born with intrinsic desires naturally in them, and these desires are never-ending. Clearly, Hsun-tzu is one of the greatest philosophers ever known to hold the view that human beings are born evil, but his arguments for this are questionable at best.
Hsun-tzu’s primary argument for deeming the human nature of man to be evil is his allegation that the people underneath a ruler would be treated unjustly if he did not have any limits to his power. If the entire world were to function this way, there would be immense
commotion and disarray. Similarly, if a man did not have any rules to live by, he would also be corrupt and evil. Conscious activity would be needed to show any goodness, and the leader’s natural inclination would be towards evil. Therefore, the sage kings are needed so that a person can be transformed from the person he is born as into a moral individual that can eventually be able to honorably lead an entire nation. It may contended, though, that while it is true that a person needs to have some kind of formal training in order to be a just leader, the sage kings and Confucianism in general are not always required. This occurrence has undoubtedly taken place in many parts of the world. Authoritative rulers such as dictators tend to abuse their powers more than democratically elected officials do. This has always been the case throughout history. Since dictators are given much more power than elected individuals, they tend to oppress their citizens more as well. On the other hand, leaders that are given less power, such as the ones in most of the Western world, have a less chance to of becoming tyrannical and obsessed with power. The citizens of these Western countries are more easily able to prevent corruption in the government when it takes place. However, there are exceptions to this argument proposed by Hsun-tzu. There have been instances in history where dictators have not had a repressive stance towards their people. Leaders such as Napoleon Bonaparte and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk have been classified by historians as treating their people with dignity and respect. These dictators, as well as others, did not abuse their powers even though they were never trained by the sage kings or even followed the Tao. While Hsun-tzu may argue that the dictators of recent centuries do not have unlimited power, it should be noted that they still have enough to be able to oppress the masses of people in their country and still get away with it. Perhaps following the Tao would help improve upon the leadership performance of many of today’s heads of states, but this remains to be seen. Hsun-
tzu’s argument that leaders would be unjust if no limitations were placed upon them is an unpersuasive one, as there are still some flaws in it which need to be addressed.
Another of Hsun-tzu’s foremost arguments regarding the True Innate Nature of Man as evil is the affirmation that the sage kings of ancient times were aware of the fact that man was born inherently evil, and thus, they had to train the common man so that he would be good. By the use of ritual principles and setting guidelines and punishments for the individual’s actions, a person is refined from his original malevolent nature into a more honorable and virtuous individual. This person then must continually practice Confucianism and the Tao and continually strive to become a better person. According to Hsun-tzu, there would be absolutely no need for sages if the people were naturally born righteous. Logic would hold that this view is vastly constricted. Hsun-tzu is thinking only from the point of view of a Confucian. If a person does not want to follow the Tao or Confucian way or life, then it becomes impossible for this person to develop into a state of goodness. Furthermore, Hsun-tzu is assuming that the sage kings are good people and able to cultivate others just because they are sages, but if they are not known as such in the community, does that make them any less wise or less competent in terms of teaching others about how to become righteous people? Just because a person known as a sage decides something to be correct, doesn’t make it so. The sages aren’t the only morally good people in the world. People in today’s society can be known as righteous, and many of them have never even heard about the Tao. The conclusion that Hsun-tzu seems to be drawing is that the fact that there are sages is proof that human beings are intrinsically inclined towards evil. This is illogical because he is basing his whole argument on what some people during the ancient times decided upon. There are people in today’s society that do not follow the way of the sage kings and ritual
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principles, and can still be considered to be moral, righteous beings. This argument of Hsun-tzu’s may have been true during his time, but definitely not today. The fact that the sages teach humans to be good is not evidence that they are evil. On the contrary, this can go to show just how good humans actually are in their quest to improve their virtuosity from when they are born until they die.
Conclusively, a final argument of Hsun-tzu’s is that human beings are born with intrinsic desires naturally in them, and these desires are endless. No matter how often these desires or natural impulses are acted upon, human beings are never satisfied and will always strive to satisfy these desires, though they can be contained by following the Tao and learning from the sages. Goodness is not natural to people; conscious activity is required to reach a certain level of virtuousness. According to Hsun-tzu, this is proof that people are naturally born evil and must learn to be good. This view of Hsun-tzu’s is a flawed one because it actually can be proven that goodness is natural to people. An example of this is when human beings deal with infants. Even the most hardened criminals in jail seem to show an exceptional amount of mercy and compassion when dealing with babies and little children. This shows that there is a quantity of good in all human beings that can come out when the circumstances are right. It is definitely true that humans have innate carnal desired similar to those which animals have. In spite of this, humans can be classified of being moral or immoral, while animals cannot. The intelligence of human beings is the aspect that separates them from animals and allows them to be judged according to their respective actions. This same intelligence that people possess causes them to learn to distinguish between what is right and wrong. If peoples’ psyche can be honed so that they can easily perceive malevolence and righteousness and act accordingly, they can
undoubtedly become better human beings. This means that according to this logic, the true nature of human beings must be virtuous because there is an amount of good in the human, however small, that can be honed and cultivated. If humans continually give in to all of their desires like most species of animals do, they will eventually be overcome by them and be deemed immoral by society. Since people are naturally not adept at containing many of our society’s taboo desires, they must learn to do so from experienced people such as the sages. Consequently, people will learn how to contain their infinite desires, and over time it will become like second nature for regular people as it has already become for the sage kings. This argument of Hsun-tzu’s can definitely be deemed as an adequate one, but still not sufficient to prove that human beings are inherently evil. Human beings have to greatly strive in order to stop themselves from acting upon these instincts, so this must mean that they have to continue to consciously act to become virtuous, and goodness is something natural and feasible if one tries hard enough.
Clearly, the debate on whether man’s intrinsic nature is truly virtuous or immoral is a highly controversial one that many people have strong opinions on and tend to disagree about. The Confucian philosopher Hsun-tzu was of the opinion that human beings are born naturally evil and must be thoroughly trained in order to become good people. He further believed that man is born with natural inclinations towards “profit, envy, hatred and desire” and if left unattended, these mere inclinations can transform into attributes of “strife, violence, crime, and wantonness”. However, he also believed that there is no limit to how righteous an individual can become, but true goodness must be attained through thorough and continual learning and cultivation from the sages. Anybody and everybody can become virtuous, although not just anyone can reach the moral level of a sage. The key is to follow Confucianism, the Tao, and
learning from the sages. Learning is the most essential concept in an individual’s path towards righteousness. Hsun-tzu also made an apparent distinction between nature and conscious activity. By conscious activity and learning from the sages, and following the Confucian rites rigorously, he can transform himself into a morally good person. To further expand on his views, Hsun-tzu presented a number of arguments to convince the masses of people to see things from his perspective. Firstly, he felt that if a ruler is not subject to any limits or rules, then he would be unjust to his the citizens beneath him. This assertion is true sometimes, but not always. There have been exceptions throughout history that contradict this theory. Another argument he proposes is that the sage kings with their ritual principles took notice that people were born evil, and as a result, had to teach the common men so that they would be good. This logic may be deemed as flawed because it took place during the ancient times and may not be applicable today or even true for that matter, as many individuals would strongly disagree with this claim. The final and most reasonable, although unsound, argument presented by Hsun-tzu is the contention that human beings are born with intrinsic desires naturally in them, and these desires are endless. These desires are never to be completely satisfied no matter how much a person tries to satisfy them. However, they can be controlled through learning from the sages and following the Tao, which is to be in harmony with the “laws of heaven”. Clearly, there are various positions that can be taken with regards to the true nature of man and Hsun-tzu was of the opinion that human nature is evil. This is a rather ineffectual view, as it can be easily disproven by the use of logic in examining the arguments he presents.
The Problem of Evil is a subject matter of philosophy that has been around since the first days of scholarly discussion. The metaphysicians have held various positions on it with the
correct position being that there is no real Problem of Evil, but only an apparent misunderstanding of what evil actually is and how it takes place. God may be seemed as the creator of evil in the sense that He is the creator of each and every single thing in the universe out of nothing. In spite of this, He is not the direct reason that evil continually comes into existence, but rather it is due to the actions of human beings and their misjudgments of what the accurate perception of good is that the evil comes to be. Hence, God is indirectly the cause of evil, while man is the direct cause. As for the natural disasters and occurrences such as floods or diseases that happen on earth, there is the perception of evil by human beings but actually there is good in all of these happenings. The All-Wise and Omniscient God is far above what any human being can ever imagine or become, so it is only logical that the humans’ perception has some weaknesses and shortcomings in it, while God’s does not. This can be likened to a baby in front of its parents; the parents know what is good for the baby while the baby does not even really know what is good for its self. Likewise, God knows what is good for the human beings while the human beings, even though they may think they know, do not unquestionably know what is right or wrong for themselves. As one can clearly see, due to the cumulative evidence provided, The Problem of Evil is not really a “problem” at all and may be accounted for if a person uses logic and reason to try and contemplate over the nature and characteristics of God. The Innate Nature of Man, as proven earlier, is not inherently evil and thus, by default, should be inherently good. Hopefully, in the future, people will begin to realize these realities so that they can cease to blame others, such as God, for their shortcomings and live up to their respective natures as being citizens with a natural propensity towards goodness and excellence in conduct.
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