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December 7, 2019 / Congau

Evil Is Nothing

Evil as such doesn’t exist – it is just the absence of good. This is a philosophical and theological doctrine defended by Augustine among others. If it is true, then nothing, even the vilest act and most despicable person, is really evil – only removed from goodness.

A cup that is half empty contains fifty percent water and fifty percent nothing. In the same way an individual who comes across as evil, has just been emptied of goodness. He is half good, or a tenth good or a hundredth good, but the remaining 99 percent is not evil; it is nothing.

Could this make any sense to us? Could we possibly look at some of the present and past horrors of this world and refrain from calling it evil? Is there really some good in everything and otherwise nothing?

We may try to investigate this question by attempting to imagine what something would be like if it were a hundred percent evil, and if it’s not imaginable there must be some good in everything. Moreover, if something cannot be imagined to be a hundred percent filled with some matter, that matter cannot exist.

What would a completely evil person be like? Whatever he did would only be aimed at causing damage and not be beneficial for anything. He would want evil for its own sake and not even expect to be benefited by it himself. He would wish to see the world suffer for no particular reason for any reason would count as something good. Would that be possible?

Any goal has some good in it, at least a sense of achievement and justification. The evil person thinks he has the right to do evil and rightness is good. Someone who wants to see the world burn, thinks the world would deserve it, and giving what is deserved is justice and justice is good.

When people do something on purpose, they think they’re doing the right thing, and right is good. If they are tempted to do what they don’t really feel is right, that feeling is still proof of some good.

These traces of good are still present even for the worst sadist. The goodness has shrunk to become almost invisible, but it must still be there. The rest is nothing. Evil is nothing.

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