The Etiology of Evil

Commenting on my recent post on sin as enacted falsehood, Lydia asked a tough question:

Kristor, here’s a question: If sin is always enacted lying, what about people who love to do evil because it is evil? What about a torturer of the innocent, for example? He isn’t saying that torturing is “the appropriate thing to do under the circumstances.” He’s torturing because it _isn’t_ the appropriate thing to do, and because he loves the perversion. Some people love perversion for being perverse–love to read the universe backwards. I take this to be the essence of the demonic, if the demonic can be said to have an essence. Since we can imagine such a thing as a demonic will which truly adheres to evil for evil’s sake, it seems that this must be possible, and indeed (more’s the pity) we do know of monstrously evil human beings who have enacted the demonic will in our mundane world.

This is an especially important question, it has always seemed to me. I’d be a long step closer to being convinced that there is an a priori argument (or nearly a priori argument) for the existence of an omnibenevolent God if I didn’t have a rather vivid sense of the possibility of an extremely powerful (all-powerful?) but truly evil will.

I responded:

Ugh. That’s a really tough question. I mean, it’s about fifteen tough questions. Thanks! I think …

I do have a response. But it’s too long for a comment. So, I’ll post it as a new entry.

This is that post.

First, to be as accurate as possible, sin is enacted falsehood, of which lying is a species. It is the enaction of a false proposition about the best thing to do.

Not morally best, but any sort of best. One of the difficulties of moral life is that the systems in us that control for morality, and that start to scream when we do something wrong, are in competition with quite amoral control systems that want sex, food, sleep, excitement, thrills, etc., and want them now. Being good generally involves frustrating the amoral control systems, at least temporarily. Think of dieting. When we are gazing longingly at that cookie, the pain of wanting it is competing with the pain of surrender to being too fat. The first is concrete, immediate and powerful, the second abstract, attenuated and long term in its effects. No wonder it is so hard to be good!

Many falsehoods are lies, but most are just errors, generated by passing vagaries of thought, or by noise. Some are generated by sloppy, suboptimal system design, that inadvertently puts control circuits in conflict with each other; as when we learn how to do a new thing well, but that throws off some other system. Most such falsehoods are quickly corrected. And a good thing, too, or we’d all soon die. But some are not. These are lies.

A lie is a falsehood produced by a stable systemic defect of thought, of logical calculus – whether you want to describe that system in terms of a neural organization or of a conceptual organization (in us, these are two aspects of the same thing (neural order being an artifact and relic of mental order)). When the system gets stuck in an erroneous configuration – which is the sort of thing that can easily result from a confused or inept response to errors that is not soon corrected – then it’s no longer Garbage In, Garbage Out, but Good Data In, Garbage Out.

A good example is addiction to pain killers. The patient starts taking them to cope with surgical pain, and whammo, his nervous system adapts to the presence of the drug. From that point on, many of his control systems are whacked, and he finds it excruciating to do without the drug.

From data that would indicate to a normal person that the drug is superfluous, the addict’s system is consistently generating the false proposition that it is better for him, all things considered, to take the drug than not. This is a lie.

I’m not saying the addict isn’t responsible for his acts. He is; for he cannot make the decision to buy that lie and take the unnecessary pain killer except by ignoring a portion of his intellect, which still knows perfectly well that the drug is nasty, and consciously, deliberately *allowing* the amoral lower order circuits of his brain to take over and get their way. In doing so, he is reconfiguring his nervous system in such a way as to order it toward the continued production of the lie. Consciousness reorganizes control systems by amplifying their autonomic decisions, adding its own weight to their signals. When it interferes with control systems this way, consciousness changes their structure. To allow the addicted control system to have its way, the conscious will of the addict must add some of its weight either to the inputs of the addicted control system so as to amplify its output, or to the outputs of other perturbed control systems, such as those of the conscience, to damp or mask them.

Both can happen at the same time. And other, unrelated control systems can be affected. It’s not a tidy process. The interventions of consciousness in the control system hierarchy are guided toward their overall goal of maintaining homeostasis across the whole hierarchy within target ranges by a stochastic search procedure. Consciousness reorganizes by messing things up unpredictably (the same thing happens in dreaming, but without any feedback from the environment to edit or constrain the messing about), and then stopping when they have got better. So it is possible, often easy, for consciousness to muck things up and crank out a moral failure without meaning to. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Its downward slope reflects the fact that giving in to the urgent demands of amoral lower order control systems is usually less thermodynamically costly – it is easier (because vivid visualization of remote goal states takes more intellectual work, more physiological work) – than taking the high road, and enables the whole system to move more quickly toward overall homeostasis.

The addict sacrifices the homeostases of higher order circuits that control for such things as morality and long term welfare, so as to obtain a large near term increase in homeostatic effect in lower order systems. In doing so, he is effectually killing a portion of his intellect, quashing its outputs, taking it offline, dumbing himself down, and degrading his ontological capacity, his strength, his vim. As Bruce Charlton recently argued, lying makes us stupid. When lies persist long enough, the stultification can be permanent.

It’s a failure of moral courage, very much like the failure of a beam that is too heavily laden. And moral courage is a consumable commodity. The more tough decisions you have had to make on a given day, the less of it you will have left for the next one. The weaker you are – physiologically, intellectually, financially, emotionally, whatever – the harder it is to muster the energy, the physiological and moral energy (in us, these are two aspects of the same thing), to make a good – that is, a difficult – decision. Moral exhaustion is real. Morale is a physiological, as well as moral variable. One of the reasons dieting is such a difficult moral project is that blood sugar is a major factor of moral courage.

I don’t mean for a moment to suggest that moral decisions are physiologically determined. I think the determination runs the other way. But howsoever immaterial and extramundane the origination of our decisions may be, they are made in and with reference to particular worldly situations, and an actual past that includes such realities as blood sugar, the organization of the nervous system that has been delivered to us in this present moment, and all the other dispositions of our history. These we inherit as the raw material – or rather, the almost completely cooked material – of our decision, and they severely limit our realistic options. Those limitations constrain and shape the solution space in which we determine our course. In that determination we are free; but this can mean nothing, if it does not mean that we are free to err, and fail, and fall.

And our decision now is inherited in turn by all our future moments of decision. The mind engraves ruts in the brain. Our decisions are steps in a positive feedback cycle, whether vicious or virtuous. As we decide, so do we train ourselves to decide. It’s just like – no, it just is – training the body. The more difficult decisions we flub, the more we train our control system hierarchy to make bad decisions all by itself, and the harder it becomes to make a good one.

The more we fail, the more of our resources must be devoted to managing failure, and the less adaptive our behavior becomes. More and more control systems constantly scream, “Error! Error!” – we call this feeling anxiety – so that we have to spend more and more physiological energy coping with them. We grow frazzled and harried, our attention lurching from one crisis to another. Our planning and deliberation are shortchanged, and this too more and more deranges our behavior. If the situation gets bad enough, acute anxiety can turn to terror, triggering fight or flight: rage, or panic.

In extreme hard cases, where the intellect and the will have, as we say, been entirely abandoned to sin, the moral calculus is hardly operating at all, anymore. It is in this region of mental dissolution that you get such massive cognitive errors – such perversions of normally adaptive system function – as sadism, masochism, sociopathy.

The etiology of a systemic lie, then, starts with adventitious errors that are not trained away or otherwise extinguished. A systemic lie can ramify to the point that pain and evil are relished as goods in their own right. A badly whacked neural calculus, no longer damped by outputs from other control systems, can eventually take on a life of its own, gradually assuming a predominant or dispositive role – a tyrannical role – in the nervous system, and turning the whole person toward the pursuit of evil for its own sake.

For the utterly depraved, all other considerations then fade to insignificance. The torturer of the innocent knows that what he is doing is wrong, but his moral control systems are essentially dead. Their output is so weak as to be computationally nil. Thus the wrong the torturer apprehends in his torture will seem to him a mere technicality; it will be to him what the wrong in tearing the tags off a mattress is to most of us.

The depraved personality may then narrow down and focus obsessively on just a single perverse pleasure, so that all the other processes of life become subordinated to it. With almost all his attention settled upon it, his perversion becomes the only thing worthy of his life’s energy. In this profound impoverishment of ontological scope, this diminution of awareness, we see the spiritual death of which Arakawa speaks as the wages of sin. We see also the notorious banality, idiocy and triviality of evil, the tedium, that can find surcease only through increases in the intensity of the perverted pleasure. Unless he is fortunate enough to begin to hate his obsession, the sinner more and more worships it. His idol becomes the whole matter of his life, its foremost object and intension. Often, too, the enaction of his wickedness takes on a ritual aspect. Serial killers often evolve a formalized liturgy for their murders, as befits the practice of an idolatrous religion.

In the limit, the human person is reduced to nothing but the itch and its scratching. This is how the damned can prefer their own peculiar circle of Hell to anything else.

Now then, as to your question. Notice that the torturer is enjoying a good feeling. The system that generates the good feeling is deeply whacked, so that the “good feeling” signal is totally wrong. But the signal is what it is; to the torturer, it signifies good. The torturer is still seeking the good, he is just badly wrong about reality, and about where the true good is really to be found. He is enacting a falsehood. He loves taking the universe backward – yet, still, he loves. His love is perverted to false and evil ends – yet, still it is love. He is not completely evil.

I see no reason why this same sort of moral devolution could not occur in immaterial beings like angels. The acts of angels, like ours, occur in and in relation to worlds, and are actualized in histories. The difference is that their acts are not fossilized by way of corporeal artifacts – are not embodied, as ours are. The physiological relic and organ of our action is not an aspect of the process of moral devolution for them, as it is for us. Far more powerful than we, they are yet finite, like us – which is to say, among other things, that they are computationally and epistemologically limited – and so, like us, they cannot see all the way to the ends of things from within the moments of their decisions. So they too must fly somewhat blind, and are therefore like other creatures subject to error, failure, and falling, to history and its compounding defects.

We see then that true and active evil is definitely possible (albeit not total evil, which is the zero of actuality). Is there a Principal of Evil – a Father of Lies? God says yes. So, yes.

I recently explained why I don’t believe that this fact vitiates the a priori case for Divine Omnibenevolence. I go on and on about the Problem of Evil, but the nub of the a priori exculpation of God is really quite simple:

  1. Evil is a privation of the goodness possible to a given moment of existence. It is a defect of being.
  2. What is essentially perfect cannot possibly be defective.
  3. What is not essentially perfect, may be defective accidentally.
  4. Only God is essentially perfect.
  5. If there is to be anything other than God, then, there is a positive probability of defect.
  6. Over all the moments of the everlasting history of the world of worlds – that is to say, with a sample size that goes to infinity – the probability of defect is therefore 1.

14 thoughts on “The Etiology of Evil

  1. @Kristor

    “sin is enacted falsehood”

    I summarize it as destruction of the Good. Which is (probably) a different definition (or, at least emphasis). From the destruction of Good definition you get a different explanation. The torturer of the innocent may not get pleasure, he may even feel pain – but he is motivated by pride, primarily – his pride at defying God: I would say, his pride at being able to exercise free will in defiance of God’s will. This gives a greater satisfaction to this kind of sinner than mere pleasure. I imagine Satan as utterly miserable except his continued satisfaction that he defies God. In other words the extreme sinner has gone beyond hedonism into pure pride; and purely negative pride of the ‘I will not serve’ kind. Pride in being Lord of defiance inside one’s own head – the isolation of the damned.

    BTW I think your analogy of addiction to painkillers (what type?) breaks down – in the sense that when the nervous system becomes permanently adapted to the presence of a drug it is better to keep taking it – at least, ‘better’ in the sense that the alternative may be worse than continuing – perhaps a kind of living torment or psychotic state. For some people drug dependence is in practice preferable to the alternative – and not an evil. Your analogy should be to a situation where it is *always* better to stop doing the wrong or suboptimal thing.

    • The torturer of the innocent may not get pleasure, he may even feel pain – but he is motivated by pride, primarily – his pride at defying God: I would say, his pride at being able to exercise free will in defiance of God’s will. This gives a greater satisfaction to this kind of sinner than mere pleasure.

      True. But notice that his satisfaction is a kind of pleasure, too. Sin is certainly destruction of good. But if it were not rewarding in any way at all, I can see no reason why anyone would do it.

      … your analogy of addiction to painkillers breaks down – in the sense that when the nervous system becomes permanently adapted to the presence of a drug it is better to keep taking it – at least, ‘better’ in the sense that the alternative may be worse than continuing – perhaps a kind of living torment or psychotic state. For some people drug dependence is in practice preferable to the alternative – and not an evil.

      True – once you are addicted, the derangement of your system may make it impracticable to get clean. But propose to a man not deranged by addiction that he live forever as an addict, with no reward attendant thereto, and he’ll turn you down. Propose to the addict a choice between continued addiction and a pain-free transition to pain-free sobriety of the sort he once enjoyed, and he’ll take the latter. I know such a man. He well knows that a life innocent of addiction is better than his present alternatives. Unfortunately for him, that’s no longer an option.

    • Yup. It’s like judo, right? But actually it’s been pointed out many times over the centuries that it is more accurate to say that the body is ensouled – exists within the ‘field’ of the soul – than the opposite, homuncular notion. Thus there is a field of mental activity, just like that of the angels, and the body is, not its substrate, but rather as it were the living soul’s precipitate in the corporeal domain.

      Or, better: the body is certainly real – it is not an epiphenomenon – but rather than saying that the spirit – the living soul – supervenes upon the body, we should say that the body supervenes upon the soul.

      The concept of ‘body’ is anyway extremely difficult to untangle – much harder than ‘form’ or ‘soul’ or ‘spirit.’

  2. It occurs to me that there’s a subtle difference between the use of the same concept in my original post on Honesty and in Kristor’s analysis.

    My own analysis was inspired by CS Lewis’ description of courage as a ‘testing point’ virtue, which must be invoked for any trying temptation to be overcome; but from a certain amount of self-examination I concluded that _honesty_ had a similar nature for me, in that my failure or success in surmounting temptation often hinged on having the honesty to admit, to myself or to others (which is very nearly the same thing), that a certain situation was what it was, or that certain questions were important when I thought they were unimportant (or vice versa). I could see this from the fact that, indeed, my childhood was characterized by an abundance of every other kind of virtue, coupled with a staggering lack of understanding of the importance of honesty (that telling the truth was a matter of duty and not of convenience); and thus the lack of the latter virtue was sufficient to corrupt all the former virtues. Still, the foremost thought in my mind was on the manner in which a positive focus on honesty, by someone who is aware of the problem and actually desires the good, must serve to help in overcoming other sins.

    Kristor’s analysis focuses more on the manner in which dishonesty is a root cause and necessary ingredient of corruption and evil. Judging by Bruce Charlton’s comment above, this perhaps overextends the insight a bit; while there is one Truth in the universe, and sin can plainly be understood as a failure to act according to that Truth, there are instances where this way of framing things is not useful — namely, in the case of people who have told themselves that Truth and the Good do not exist, or, if they do exist, they have decided that such things are an imposition that must be destroyed. This, then, is profound and elemental evil; whereas if we hope for a person to improve, they must improve using whatever Good there is in them as a basis. In the case of demons, only God knows if there is anything in them to work with; in the case of people who are so far gone they’ve effectively turned themselves into incarnate demons, likewise.

    (Regarding concern for demons: the best way to treat them is not to be taken in. I have an entirely unsubstantiated feeling that temptation is a two-way street; the sinner who gives in to demonic temptation may be as much an enabler of bad behaviour on the part of the demon as they are a destroyer of their own capacity for Good, in the Carlylean sense of ‘a dupe being an inverse cheat’; though I cannot say in what way demons benefit in the overall scheme of things when their temptations are resisted, nor would I care to speculate.)

    I liked the comment about the depraved personality fixating on a particular pleasure. It reminded me of a saying somewhere on Jonathan Hayward’s website about lust (physical, spiritual, intellectual, of whatever kind…): that lust is a disenchantment of the universe — it produces its immoderate attraction to a specific object by dint of making everything else in the world seem far more dull and uninteresting than it actually is.

    • These accounts all agree. It takes courage – moral, physiological, spiritual – to face reality honestly, admit the Truth, and comport yourself properly in relation thereto. As Lydia has pointed out, sin is essentially a willful disagreement with reality (cf. Romans 1:20-22). This is almost a different way of saying that it is an enacted falsehood. Such disagreements cannot but redound to the detriment of the soul and its body: in any contest with reality, illusions and wishful thinking, as enacted and invested in human acts and bodies (and their control systems), must certainly lose. God is not mocked; it is not nice to fool with Mother Nature. So disagreement with Truth is lethal – morally, physiologically, spiritually.

      There is another wrinkle to all this. If courageous honesty is the basic form of the virtues, then fear is the basic form of all the vices. Note then that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18); and to love is to keep God’s commandments (1 John 5:3). If we are afraid, all we need to do, then, is love. If we love God, and keep his Commandments in the Summary of the Law – if, i.e., we love him with our whole being, and our neighbours as ourselves – then he will give us a Comforter, the Spirit of Truth (John 14:15-17), who will guide us into all Truth (John 16:13); who will, that is to say, lead us away from the enactment of falsehood in our lives, and into the enactment of Truth.

  3. So much to do about nothing. I’m sorry. Banish me from your circle.

    All your righteous deeds are filthy rags, not to mention all your “evil deeds.” Man is born in sin; he can do nothing that is not sin. Not A THING: “All your righteousness is as filthy rags,” not to mention all the blatant violations of the Decalogue.

    Here we are, quibbling over this and that, gazing at our navels, examining if this or that attitude of the heart or particular behavior as sinful. Yes. Sin saturates us. “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Indeed, who can know it?”

    Read Romans 7. The good he wants to do he cannot do. Who will deliver Paul (and us) from the body of this sin? Jesus Christ!

    In that while we were still sinners, Christ DIED for us. Not when we were trying to be nice guys, trying to put away our sinful behaviors, but when we were DEAD in sin, spiritually dead, God acquitted us from our guilt before the Father. And when we believe this, are we transferred to sinlessness? or to glory? NO. We are saints and sinners – simul justis et peccator — forever, until God calls us home to Heaven. Stop navel gazing to see how righteous or unrighteous you are, how saved or not saved you are: Look only to the cross and the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. Every one of us knows that if we start examining ourselves we will find sin in abundance. Stop dwelling on your sin. And start looking at your Savior — keep your eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. In thankfulness for your Savior’s forgiveness, live the lives of sons of God — who you are. Be who you are in Christ, not who you are in your still-indwelling sinful nature.

    Everyday remember your Baptism: washed clean and raised to new life in Christ. Cling to Jesus no matter the assaults on your conscience from the evil one and your own sinful past. They matter nothing. You are forgiven. Believe it.

    • To be honest, blogging about matters theological is at best the play of children counting pebbles on the beach, only guessing at the wonders in the vast ocean. This seems to me the proper perspective with which to regard the fruits of a promiscuous imagination.

      But the ideal which I rue myself that I fall calamitously short of in my real-world life, is not quite what you have described, but rather that of the contemplative monks, who spared no effort of either intellect or spirit to guard their tranquility, and arranged their stratagems for spiritual warfare in a thoroughly thought-out and tested fashion:

      (Apologies for the scribd copy, it was the most convenient one I could find. The full Philokalia can be found on in a broader variety of formats at

      Thus, I can only take the accusation of navel gazing as one of degree, rather than of purpose. Thus trust in the Savior:

      “105. The name of Jesus should be repeated over and over in the heart as flashes of lightning are repeated over and over in the sky before rain. Those who have experience of the intellect and of inner warfare know this very well. We should wage this spiritual warfare with a precise sequence: first, with attentiveness; then, when we perceive the hostile thought attacking, we should strike at it angrily in the heart, cursing it as we do so; thirdly, we should direct our prayer against it, concentrating the heart through the invocation of Jesus Christ, so that the demonic fantasy may be dispersed at once, the intellect no longer pursuing it like a child deceived by some conjuror.”

      … is in no wise a replacement, but rather an indispensable aid and prerequisite to the application of the intellect to its proper end:

      “65. St Basil the Great, mouthpiece of Christ and pillar of the Church, says that a great help towards not sinning and not committing daily the same faults is for us to review in our conscience at the end of each day what we have done wrong and what we have done right. Job did this with regard both to himself and to his children (cf. Job 1:5). These daily reckonings illumine a man’s hour by hour behavior.”

      And I am inclined to see Kristor’s article as, in a very small way, a generalized form of such examination, far more rigorous and thorough than my own attempt (see: Nor do I think the accusation that such examination diminishes the role of Christ is relevant.

      For the intellect is in no way freed from responsibility to govern the things it can perceive, but only God sees into that innermost part of our soul that precedes the motions of the intellect, where our own reflections do not reach. Here, if a straight intellect is governed by a corrupted inner soul, is where a human being is truly helpless without the grace of God; nor can we be certain on this Earth what the state of our innermost soul is.

      • I appreciate the seriousness of your reply to my post. But rather than address the body of your reply, I prefer to focus on your concluding comment: “nor can we be certain on this Earth what the state of our innermost soul is.”

        Let me say that our certainty resides in our belief that Jesus died not only for my sins but for the sins of all people of all time. That is an objective fact, according to Scripture and the teaching of the confessional Lutheran church, of which I am a member.

        “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” 1 John 5:13 Notice that John states: “that ye may KNOW that ye have eternal life.”

        The quality of our belief, the assurance of our forgiveness in Christ, rises and falls with our moods, our knowledge of our sins, and the various testings of our faith designed by God to purify us and strengthen us. But the objective reality is that God’s forgiveness is independent of our moods and the depth of our spiritual maturity. Remember the mustard seed, that however weak or small is our belief, we are still His forgiven children — and He longs to hear our cries for mercy so that He may hold us in His everlasting arms. Rejection of God’s mercy, unbelief that God could save poor wretches as we are, is what dooms us to eternal separation from God.

        Yes, we wrestle, as Paul in Romans 7 describes, with our sinful man still clinging to us. But Paul cries out that our redeemer Jesus Christ delivers us from the body of this death. The difficulty I see in having this discussion here is that we come from different doctrinal backgrounds. I have heard Catholics before (though I’m not sure of your church affiliation) tell me that they don’t know if they’re going to heaven or not — as if it’s prideful to say they are going to heaven. The only conclusion I can draw from such a statement is that they are not sure they will be good enough, meaning they are relying on their own worthiness or deeds and not on the all-sufficiency of Christ’s merit to “redeem your life from the pit and crown you with love and compassion.” Psalm 103:4

      • I would chalk this disagreement down partly due to the original discussion being partially informed by my own intellectual eccentricity*, and partly due to a difference between actual Church doctrines, since assurance of salvation is just as much emphasized in many protestant churches as uncertainty is emphasized in the Orthodox account (as per “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”) and especially in ascetical manuals such as the Philokalia or the Ladder of Divine Ascent. (The monks who wrote these works appear to have been familiar with extremes of both spiritual assurance and spiritual despair unimaginable to ordinary people.)

        (* To be honest, when I started my blog, I did not imagine it would end up being mentioned on the Orthosphere, let alone mentioned approvingly.)

        People far wiser than us have already talked past each other regarding assurance of salvation, with a far greater degree of theological rigour than this comment thread has scope for. Nor do I really know of any way to handwave this away with some statement such as “well, the Bible has verses in support for both positions, so the truth must be some indescribable combination of them”, or “but at least we both believe that “, or “some of the devout bear great fruit, motivated by a steady faith in the face of an overwhelming intellectual doubt; whereas others also bear great fruit, motivated by an overwhelming intellectual assurance that their faith will bear fruit”. Even if some of these are true, that doesn’t resolve the question of what doctrine is correct to believe.

        As for the article above, it speaks very much to the mere intellect, and its nowhere-near-absolute ability (when not governed by a corrupt soul, at that) to perceive and be incensed against sin. Depending on how much emphasis one has on the need for faith, and how much of a role is considered to be left over for one’s earthly faculties once faith is in place, it may or may not be interesting and relevant, or just a lot of superfluous words.

        And I’m certainly not the best person to ask for a well-thought-out personal position on this question. To my mind, I need to have faith in Christ, but then I need to have faith that my faith is genuine, and then faith regarding that faith, and so on… and finally faith that this whole endless regression is beside the point and I just need to trust in God to do what He will, while I do the best that I can with the faculties He has made available to me (and whose scope He has unmistakeably increased in response to my faith thus far). I’m not even sure where this would fit in on a map of theological doctrines.

  4. Thanks for the very kind reply, Kristor, and for linking that old post on Descent Into Hell, which I’d forgotten! As you can see, this is a question on which I vacillate. What the question may come down to is this: Is the hatred of reality always accompanied by a failure (perhaps through a refusal) to understand reality? Or is it possible to hate the Good, True, and Beautiful exactly _because_ they are Good, True, and Beautiful, while fully perceiving them to be so?

    Now, if the answer to the first question there is yes and the answer to the second is no, then I can dimly see that it follows that the Ultimate Being must be not only all-knowing but also all-good. Not merely _may_ be but _must_ be. This moves in the direction of what the Platonists and Thomists call the Unity of the Transcendentals. And it may very well allow one to move from something like the cosmological argument or the argument from mind (which is in a sense a species of cosmological argument) to the argument that there _must_ be an omnibenevolent God, or none of us would be here either. For a cosmological argument allows one to argue for the existence of a self-existent personal Being, the cause of all contingent things. Now, if the transcendentals are unified, then it seems that this self-existent First Cause must be all-Good.

    If, on the other hand, it is possible for a being to hate the good while fully perceiving the good, then the First Cause could in theory be an evil being, even if he is self-existent and even if he is all-knowing. That possibility could not then be ruled out a priori.

    P.S. A small wish for Orthosphere: I wish that the print on comments and posts were not so prone to going extremely faint. Unless one’s cursor is hovering just right, everything faaades.

    • “Is the hatred of reality always accompanied by a failure (perhaps through a refusal) to understand reality? Or is it possible to hate the Good, True, and Beautiful exactly _because_ they are Good, True, and Beautiful, while fully perceiving them to be so?”

      I think it’s the former. I don’t have a proof that this is so, but I cannot conceive of the latter. Even moral monsters, born constitutionally evil, are seeking something they ineluctably apprehend as good so far as they themselves are concerned, even when they know that society is correct in abhorring it. They *literally* cannot help themselves.

      If it is to be at all orderly, action must be ordered to the production of some value or other. [The horrible ontological dissolution of Wentworth in _Descent into Hell_ is a compounding derangement of the order of his acts of being.] That value must be *truly* valuable, for, the zero of real value being the zero of being, there can be no other sort.

      Thus the evils of this world are all conflicts of real goods, arising from disparate creaturely visions of the good. This is why our earthly lives are inherently tragic. Such disparities of vision can come about *only* by defective apprehensions by creatures of the Good himself, and thus of their own proper good. At the final fulfillment of Creation, when all such conflicts have been resolved, so that the lion lies down with the lamb, all these defects of vision will have been corrected, for Christ will then be all in all – the BV will perfuse the world.

  5. Martha Stout in The Sociopath Next Door argues that 3 or 4% of the populations are sociopaths with no effective conscience. While that number may seem high, I invite the reader to consider a list of the rulers of various countries both now and historically. If their consciences are dead, it is easy to see how evil can become merely banal to them.


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