I have been re-reading St Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, and their definitions of what “evil” is.
It seems odd to me that I must determine what is evil in a world that seems to be so often evil everywhere I look. To me, I always considered evil to be bad or immoral acts on the part of human beings. But there seems to be so much more to it than that. Because, simply, what is bad or immoral? To me, giving a child of 6 years old into marriage with a 30-year-old man seems bad and immoral, surely an evil act. Yet in some cultures, this is a common tradition. To them, it is good. So, is there truly an evil that is universal? So I thought on it for a long time.
However, Thomas Aquinas has put it into terms I can understand through different eyes. I see evil as the act, but Aquinas explains evil as a non-existent essence–an element that cannot be a cause or a final end. It is a state, not any one thing. All human beings, according to Aquinas, have a knowledge of good and seek to obtain goodness. However, when they reject the good and willingly choose a direction that “veers away” from goodness, they find themselves “in” evil. It can be explained this way:
A man knows whether or not he can swim, and all human beings on earth are familiar with water. Therefore, if this rational man stands beside a deep pool of water, if he cannot swim, he knows not to jump into the water. But if he does so as a willing choice, he does not become the pool. Rather, he is engulfed by the pool. Also, if he is engulfed by the pool and begins to drown because he cannot swim, then he cannot blame anyone for drowning but himself.
Aquinas says that rational human beings as moral agents of free will are fully able to become “engulfed” in evil of their own free will. This is why people who are mentally impaired in some way cannot be considered moral agents because they are not rational. I suppose children can be placed in this category also. So while mentally impaired people can commit bad acts, they do not end in a state of evil–they are unaware. People who are insane and commit crimes are found not guilty by reason of insanity. Evil, strangely enough, to be truly evil, can only be attained by people of rational minds who have made a willing choice to reject the moral choice in favor of the immoral choice, and this with intent. If Aquinas is right, then the term “criminally insane” is an oxymoron.
So back to the idea of a universal evil…there is no such “thing” because the nature of evil is that it is not a “thing” at all. It’s not an action. For instance, to shoot a person and cause their death is murder. And immoral. Therefore evil, right? But what if the shooter is a soldier or a police officer acting within the parameters of their duty? So shooting itself cannot be considered evil. And for that matter, neither can the act of killing another person. It all depends on the intent of the shooter. If a police officer returns fire, shooting and killing a criminal, it is not the same as some guy shooting his neighbor for stealing his lawn mower. It’s complicated. But what I have gleaned this far is that there cannot be any act that results in a state of evil without the direction of reason, free will, and the intent to do the act. Evil can only be reached by sane persons with their eyes wide open.
I am researching free will and evil in order to better understand Milton and Lewis’ characters in “Paradise Lost” and “The Chronicles of Narnia”. And because I want to see how these elements of free will and evil are applied within their story worlds. In the end, I will be seeing if the characters of Satan and Jadis parallel. Then I will be able to decide if Jadis is an allegory of Satan.