Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Problem of Good

We're all familiar enough (perhaps all too familiar) with the Problem of Evil.  Some, like Mr. Santorum, will attribute at least part of the responsibility for evil to Satan, who for one reason or another is evil and so seeks to do evil, avidly, and who for one reason or another is allowed to do evil by an all-powerful God who is not at all evil.  Some will maintain evil is but the result of God's goodness, as that goodness would not be recognizable but for evil.  Some will argue that it is the result of free will, with which we are endowed, again, for one reason or another.

To the extent that evil is associated with the undeniable fact that things that do us harm happen, and creatures including our fellow humans exist and do us harm, however, most of us will agree at least that there is evil and it is a problem.  Most of us will also agree that there is good, but will not think of it as a problem.

Good is not a problem because good is consistent with the conception of God as good and desiring, or propagating, good.  If God were evil, then good would be a problem in the sense that evil is problem.  And we would likely in that case argue about the Problem of Good; how is it that an all-powerful evil God permits good things to happen?  Perhaps we would refer to a Good Satan in that event.

If evil is associated with what does us harm, though, good is associated with what benefits us.  Good can be as fortuitous as evil.  Natural events over which we have no control can benefit us as well as harm us.  So can the intentional actions of our fellow humans.

Evil becomes the "Problem" it has been referred to over the centuries because of the presumption that God and/or the universe is ultimately good.  Good would be an equivalent "Problem" if we presumed that God and/or the universe is ultimately evil.  Absent our imposition of these attributes on God and/or the universe, there would be no "problem" with which to concern ourselves.

There is a problem with the "Problem" and with similar problems.  It is that they are abstract in the worst sense of that word.  Though derived from our experience of concrete realities, they are disconnected from them.  They do not involve minimizing the harm that evil does, or maximizing the benefits resulting from evil.  Though ostensibly addressed to the determination of the cause or reason for evil, their resolution--if they can be resolved--will have no effect on the events which compel us to propound them.  We will continue to experience harm regardless of whether evil is an independent supernatural force like Satan, or due to original sin, or anything else.

Words like "maximize" or "minimize" are disdained by the great thinkers among us as they are associated with common problems, not ultimate ones.  But there are some evils we can minimize or even prevent, regardless of the ultimate origin of evil. I think it is clear that we should emphasize addressing common problems.  Perhaps we'll find that when common problems have been resolved the ultimate ones will no longer interest us.

1 comment:

  1. I truly agree with your last sentence. We should care more about applied philosophy.

    Best Regards