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The origin and nature of evil. Central question for the next few weeks: what's wrong with us? Why does human life and action always fall so far short of the ideal? Diagnosing the problem is the crucial first step toward developing and carrying out solutions. 7 Theories.

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the origin and nature of evil
The origin and nature of evil
  • Central question for the next few weeks: what's wrong with us? Why does human life and action always fall so far short of the ideal?
  • Diagnosing the problem is the crucial first step toward developing and carrying out solutions.
7 theories
7 Theories

1. Fallibilism (Aristotle). A certain amount of malfunctioning is inevitable in any concrete system. It is impossible for finite, material systems to perform flawlessly all the time. However, most of the time, human beings do quite well.

2 manichaean dualism
2. Manichaean dualism.
  • Human nature is inherently evil and, along with the rest of the natural world, in need of radical reform. There is an enormous gap between how things actually work and the ideal, which is based on some transcendent standard. It's up to the enlightened few to change things, in light of their vision of the good
3 libertarianism
3. Libertarianism
  • Humans have no fixed or determinate nature. We are free to make of ourselves whatever we will. Evil is an unavoidable by-product of this radical freedom.
  • Pelagius, Pico della Mirandola, Sartre.
4 augustinianism
4. Augustinianism.
  • Human nature as created is wholly good. However, we have suffered a constitutional corruption (original sin) which makes evil inevitable.
  • Two versions:
    • Historical Fall (Augustine, C. S. Lewis)
    • Existential Fall (Kant, Kierkegaard, Niebuhr)
4a. Historical fall. At some specific point in the past, the ancestors of humanity misused their freedom, producing an inherited, congenital flaw in all of their descendants.
  • 4b. Existential fall. The fall of Adam and Eve is a representation of a universal phenomenon. Each of us falls individually, and yet the falling is both inevitable and guilt-procuring.
5 sociologism
5. Sociologism
  • Evil is the result of a specific set of social conditions arising in the course of human history: either the formation of society (Rousseau, Freud), the organization of religion and feudalism (Enlightenment), capitalism (Marx), etc. There is a mismatch between the natural needs of human beings and the artificial needs and desires produced by society, resulting in crime, vice, misery.
6 developmentalism hegel
6. Developmentalism (Hegel).
  • Evil is a necessary and inevitable phase in the development of the human personality. It represents a step up from the innocence of nature and a necessary prelude to the achievement of virtue and wisdom. Sin results from the necessary and inevitable assertion of the individual against the universality of morality.
7 immoralism nietzsche
7. Immoralism (Nietzsche).
  • The moralistic distinction between good and evil is fundamentally false. Acts of proper self-assertion by the strong and healthy are labeled "evil" by the weak and sickly as an expression of envy and spite.
christian view of evil new testament
Christian View of Evil: New Testament
  • In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus sets the ethical bar very (impossibly?) high:
    • Sin is internal (intentions, emotions).
    • Blessedness requires more than fair dealing, reciprocity (love your enemies, turn the other cheek).
    • Blessedness is incompatible with the pursuit of wealth, requires extreme sacrifices.
paul s epistle to the romans
Paul’s Epistle to the Romans
  • Paul draws the conclusion that, by this standard, all human beings are without exception (except Jesus himself) sinful and under God’s judgment.
  • Even if we change our outward behavior, we can’t change our own hearts (our lack of true love of God and others).
  • Salvation from this state requires divine action (mediated by faith in Jesus).
grace vs nature
Grace vs. Nature
  • Since we must be saved by God’s special intervention (“grace”), what are ordinarily thought of as human virtues (wisdom, nobility, self-possession) are of no ultimate value.
  • Indeed, by encouraging pride and human autonomy, they are potential barriers to salvation.
augustine s account of original sin
Augustine's Account of Original Sin

Three premises:

1. Human nature as created is wholly good-- its tendencies are the standard of goodness (for us)

2. Evil is wholly bad -- the privation or absence of a corresponding good.

3. There is a universal tendency toward evil among human beings, and this is not due to changeable social conditions.

  • The natural tendencies of human nature are all good,
  • Evil is not good,
  • and yet all humans have a fixed tendency toward evil.
  • Augustine's solution: the Fall. The Fall is an event at which all of humanity acquired an unnatural but irreversible tendency toward evil.
augustine s solution cont
Augustine’s solution, cont.
  • Augustine uses the story of Genesis 3, and Paul's statement in Romans 5 (as translated into Latin): "in Adam, we all sinned."
  • The Augustinian position doesn't depend on taking Genesis literally -- C.S. Lewis.
problems for augustine
Problems for Augustine

1. Adam's sin is supposed to be the first in a series -- it propagated itself somehow.

  • Yet, Adam's sin is utterly unique, since he sinned in a state of innocence, whereas all subsequent humans sinned in a fallen state.
  • It seems that Adam’s sin can’t be copied or reproduced, since it is of the essence of Adam’s sin that it be original.
more problems
More problems

2.How is this tendency toward sin transmitted to new generations?

  • Why couldn't God prevent the transmission?

3. How can we reconcile responsibility for evil with its inevitability?

  • If we have lost the power not to sin, can we be held accountable?
eastern orthodox view athanasius
Eastern Orthodox View (Athanasius)

Sees a self-perpetuating cycle:

1. Human death is unnatural -- the product of human sin. (God's judgment introduced death, in order to put a limit to the scope of human evil).

2. The fear of death is responsible for the universal tendency toward sin.

3.Only the hope for immortality can break the cycle.

kant hegel kierkegaard
Kant -- Hegel -- Kierkegaard
  • Kant tries to secularize the Augustinian/Lutheran conception of original sin.
  • Hegel sees sin & guilt (“the unhappy conscience”) as a conflict-ridden stage through which we must pass as we move toward philosophical enlightenment.
  • Kierkegaard rejects Hegel’s relativizing of Christian faith to a mere stage.
  • No historical fall. Adam/Eve a myth.
  • Human nature is good. The law of morality remains valid, not abrogated or denied.
  • Universal, innate tendency toward evil.
  • Evil is very subtle (insidious, involving self-deception). Morality involves the inner motivation (the priority of moral principle over inclination), not just external conformity to moral rules.
origin of evil is an insoluble mystery
Origin of evil is an insoluble mystery

1. Evil cannot be subsequent or parallel to the will, since then there would be no explanation of the universality of sin.

2. But, evil cannot precede the will either, since it must either be part of our nature or outside our nature.

  • (a) If evil is part of our nature, then the moral law no longer applies to us, and evil could not still be evil.
  • (b) If evil is not part of our nature, then the evil we do is the result of this alien intrusion, and we are not really responsible.
the noumenal vs the phenomenal
The Noumenal vs. the Phenomenal
  • Kant resolves this paradox by distinguishing between our real self (pure intellect, existing beyond the bounds of time and space) and our apparent or “phenomenal” self (whose character apparently unfolds progressively through time).
  • The noumenal self exercises true, uncaused free will, that expresses itself in the naturally caused behavior of the phenomenal self. The origin of evil is pushed beyond the bounds of sense & time.
kant s solution to the problem of evil
Kant’s solution to the problem of evil
  • Moral self-reform through a rational faith.
  • We can "atone" for our sins through the acceptance of suffering.
  • Seems inconsistent with Kant’s affirmation of the “insidious” and “inextirpable” character of sin.
  • Answer: some of Kant’s echoing of traditional Christian language is not to be taken literally. Perhaps he didn’t really believe that sin was both radical and universal.
g w f hegel early 19th century
G. W. F. Hegel (early 19th century)
  • Developmental theory of sin.
  • Sin results from a necessary conflict between individuality (self-assertion, willfulness) and universality (laws, principles).
hegel s solution
Hegel’s Solution
  • Philosophical understanding reconciles this opposition through a kind of pantheism.
  • We realize that the universal claims of morality are not something coming from outside ourselves: we are God, and God is us.
kierkegaard agreement with kant
Kierkegaard: Agreement with Kant

1. Original sin is not merely an inherited condition, resulting from a historical fall.

2. All sin is the result of the exercise of human freedom.

3. Human nature is not nullified through sin.

4. Sin is a universal phenomenon.

5. Origin of sin is a mystery: "sin presupposes itself".

disagreement with kant
Disagreement with Kant
  • There is no “noumenal” self: human beings essentially “exist” (in time).
  • Mere self-reform is not an adequate solution.
  • The solution involves going beyond human reason (beyond a Religion within the Bounds of Reason Alone)
agreement with hegel
Agreement with Hegel

1. Sin is a kind of developmental phase -- necessary if we are to reach the higher level.

2. Sin does represent a conflict between individuality and universality, and both are necessary.

disagreement with hegel
Disagreement with Hegel

1. We are not parts or aspects of God (the Absolute). The contrast between our sinfulness and God's holiness is real, not merely apparent.

2. Philosophical thought of a pantheistic sort offers no viable solution, since it denies our real existence as individuals in space and time.

3. There is no permanent solution to sin: the transition from sin to faith must be continually repeated in our experience. We never simply leave sin and guilt behind.
kierkegaard s philosophical fragments
Kierkegaard's Philosophical Fragments
  • A thought-experiment, beginning with a single hypothesis, What if?
  • What if: we begin life without the truth (the essential truth about who we are), and without even the condition of discovering the truth on our own?
  • What would follow from this hypothesis?
upshot of the experiment
Upshot of the Experiment
  • Kierkegaard reconstructs most of traditional Christian theology in the process of answering this question.
  • This is why his “critic” at the end of the section accuses the author of being a charlatan (pretending that he has just invented what is in fact Christian theology).
kierkegaard s existentialism
Kierkegaard's existentialism

1. Human existence is a matter of living through time, which involves having a narrative or history to one's life.

2. Therefore, the central challenge of human life is that of "becoming a self" by constructing and maintaining the continuity of the narrative of one's life through time, despite changes.

3. This unity or continuity of one's life-history is either a unity with God or against God. If it does not include God, it necessarily excludes Him.
4. Therefore, human life begins either in a state of unity with God or of opposition to God.
  • In the first case, knowing the truth (about oneself and God) is a matter of recollection (making explicit what you already know, deep down).
  • In the second case, knowing the truth involves learning it through an event (the moment) - an encounter with God in time (= faith).
5. But, human life cannot begin in harmony with God, for two reasons:
    • (a) This original harmony would destroy our unique individuality. Each of us would be swallowed up in God's being.
    • (b) This original harmony would make it impossible for us to encounter God as an Other. We would be unable to have an interpersonal relationship with God.
6. So, recollection is not the road to truth -- faith is.
  • 7. For faith to be possible, God (the eternal) must confront us in time, through some sort of incarnation.
  • 8. Such an incarnation of the eternal in time is paradoxical -- rationally incomprehensible.
9. When we encounter God's self-revelation in time (the incarnation), we first become aware of our own opposition to God. Guilt and the consciousness of sin is the first result of the encounter with God.

10. The solution to sin is faith, the acceptance of the paradox.