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Evil and Theodicy

Cornelius Van Til

Handwritten, two bound notebooks.
This paper dealing with the problem of evil, dated March 31, 1923, won the middler year contest for the A. A. Hodge prize in systematic theology and was presented to C. W. Hodge, Jr.

Part 1—Philosophy
Introduction
In treating of Evil in relation to Theodicy it is quite impossible to leave out of consideration metaphysics and epistemology. The views of sin will vary as the conceptions of God and man vary. If we view God as infinite, eternal, and immutable in His being, intelligence, and will, and man his organic creation, if we accept the supernatural, grant the need of special revelation, accept the fact of special revelation and the fall of man, we must needs also come to the Biblical view of sin with redemption and restoration. If on the other hand we deny these premises, we must begin with man and experience as we find them, and construct our own views as to the nature of God and man and therefore also of sin, and we come to a fundamentally different theory of Theodicy.
We have accordingly two main theories of evil and two kinds of theodicy. The one is the product of a system of thought that bows before the authority of supernatural revelation and studies the phenomena of experience in the light of the Scriptures. The other is the product of the philosopher who also views the phenomena of experience but feels that it devolves upon him as a rational creature to give an account of things to himself, and that he is able to do so. This may lead him to skepticism or phenomenalism but he will not seek aid from supernatural revelation. "The philosopher as philosopher and irrespectively of his attitude toward the Christian faith, approaches a question as if there were no truth which claimed to be revealed. For him the plan of the world may or may not have been divinely disclosed to man; it awaits discovery or interpretation through the exercise of reason."1
Part 1—Philosophical
The question thus becomes first of all an epistemological one. Can unaided reason explain experience or can it not? If it cannot, can it find aid or is it left alone so that skepticism must result? "The theory of knowledge is usually entangled at a very early point in the theory of reality; and of course where the question is one of validity, the inquiry is bound to issue sooner or later in the region of ultimate problems. But it is a tactical error to force on a final speculative issue before the ground has been reconnoitered and before it is certain that such issue can no longer be deferred."2 If we avoid as long as possible the entanglement of which Professor Bowman speaks, we would gain much in simplicity and clearness. To be sure, we are after validity and the theory of knowledge is only to be studied with a view to obtaining validity, but the knowing process must first of all be studied so as to determine what is to be our ultimate bar of judgment, our last ground of certainty.
Failure to do this has often led to much confusion. Take, for example, Mr. F. R. Tennant's attempt to reconcile the Augustinian and Pelagian view of sin by his solution of the development of the moral consciousness. He admits that he starts from the standpoint of natural reason but fails to appreciate that the difference between Augustine and Pelagius involved an impassable epistemological gulf. Tennant cannot span this gulf because his standpoint is on the same side as that of Pelagius. His presupposition is the correctness of Pelagius' standpoint; how then can he assume the role of a judge?
In general it may be stated that any attempt to bridge the gulf mentioned is foredoomed to failure. Attempts have been made again and again. Mediaeval scholasticism furnishes an interesting example. Unaided reason was to explain the lower strata of experience and special revelation the higher. But their theories naturally ran amuck in the doctrine of a twofold truth. A thing might be true philosophically and untrue theologically. "Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, and Voltaire were all first rate logicians but does anybody suppose that they would have convinced one another had they argued together for an eternity. . . . In the discussion of questions of principle each disputant is at bottom defending himself and his own inherent character."3
Not as though unaided reason cannot posit an a priori to experience. It may be led in its own reasoning to the necessity of this, as was the case with Kant and idealism in general. But this a priori is the fruit of the very production of unaided human reason and is therefore to be carefully distinguished from the a priori which a supernatural revelation affords to him who recognizes his own inability. Here again has been a prolific source of error. The a priori of Kant has been taken as interchangeable with that of scripture. Kant has been hailed as a defender of the faith on this very basis. But his a priori is not only subjective as opposed to the a priori of Hegel, but is based on an epistemology entirely distinct from that presupposed in scripture. When, for example, Principal Fairbairn argues that: "time ought to have within itself its own apology and ought not to require to depend for justification on an appeal from itself to eternity,"4 what exactly is he militating against? Against the a priori of idealistic philosophy or the a priori of scripture, or against both? It certainly is not clear from the words or the context; we can only determine it from his entire philosophical position. And confusion reigns.
We see accordingly the host of thinkers divided into two camps, or to use for the time being a milder figure, we see them at the parting of the ways. We stand here at the crossroads. Which way shall we go? Choose we must. But what makes us choose this road and not the other? Your beginning will be to the other man your and vice versa. There is but one road that leads to the truth.
It becomes necessary to treat the theory of knowledge first of all in a general way. Only afterwards can we review the theories of explanation offered on either standpoint and finally take a stand with one or the other or perhaps offer a modification of solutions offered on the side on which you have taken a stand. This method is also in accord with the general method of modern thought. "Die erkenntnistheoretische Fragen stehen gegenwärtig im Mittelpunkt des philosophischen Interresses."5 If we want to get a hearing for our viewpoint we cannot neglect the trend of the times and ignore the method of modern philosophy.
Epistemological Basis
It has been stated in the introduction that we must needs choose between one road and the other. We cannot do anything but choose. We may feign to let the various theories of knowledge pass before our impartial bar of judgment, but we cannot do so in reality. If we speak of our reason as the impartial bar of judgment we have already taken sides. We have chosen ourselves as an absolute and final standard. There may be fifty-seven varieties of theories of knowledge still to choose from, or we may form a new one outdoing Heinz's ingenuity but we belong to the same species and will need a forceful mutation to be transferred to any other. Equally on the other hand, if we choose to accept special revelation we have used our reason. It has declared itself bankrupt. But it is exactly here that the difference between the two roads becomes clear because he who accepts special revelation posits the working of the Holy Spirit upon his essence and consciousness to bring him to the realization of his own impotence.
It is of prime importance to grasp the nature of the antithesis of which we have spoken. It is not, on the one hand, an abrogation of the faculties of the human mind in favor of supernatural revelation, and on the other an acceptance of these. Thus it is ofttimes presented. Thus Dr. Orchard in his "Modern Theories of Sin" reviews the contribution of Theology to the problem of evil as in absolute contrast with philosophy. Thus even Principal Caird argues, as though special revelation as opposed to reason involved the contradiction of a revealed mystery,6 as though if one bows before supernatural revelation in the accepted sense one can only get a Deus ex Machina connection between God and experience. Opposed to this, he argues in neo-Hegelian strain for the natural implications of the infinite in the finite. This, however, is subsumed under and presupposed in the Christian view of supernatural revelation. Professor Caird's presentation is true of human nature as such, but the supposition is that sin has obstructed these natural roads of approach to the infinite and that therefore these roads must be reopened by the Holy Spirit. No new roads of philosophical immediacy or anything of that sort need be found; the old road of the general consciousness of man need only be reopened.
Thus a certain theory of evil is already accepted at the outset by whosoever thinks upon the subject. Evil means something for each of us as we begin. We stand in some sort of relation to it. It can be no isolated phenomenon. It affects us in some manner, speaking now barely in the general philosophical sense. It is, as Mr. Bradley points out, an inconsistency to speak of entities and actions as existing without relations and vice versa.7 We are all in the water while describing the swimming process. It is not, as Hegel criticized Kant, that he stood on the shore trying to examine the knowing process without knowing. This is admittedly impossible. No man can jump out of his own skin. Evil stands in some way related to our consciousness, and our view of our own reasoning ability will already be affected with it. And this is especially the case when it touches on questions of morals and religion. Conditionality of knowledge on the inward life is especially strong "in relation to objects which stand in the innermost centre of spiritual life and therefore pervade the entire life, while on the surface in relation to knowledge of more abstract and formal nature, it vanishes."8
This reasoning seems entirely in accord with the line of argumentation used by Principal Caird and men of similar type. Every existence implies all other existence; strange to say, he can still at the outset assume reason as an infallible judge unaffected by the fact of evil. Is evil then an exception to the law of mutual interpenetration of all existence and action? This standpoint is already a floating straw indicating the direction of the current and, incidentally, an argument for the position against him.
Thus we are beginning to feel our way. The problem is stated, and with the statement of the problem we see its far-reaching implications. Either you accept that evil has affected your thinking process and posit the necessity of supernatural revelation objectively and supernatural illuminations subjectively, or you conceive of your consciousness as having escaped the influence of evil and use it as your final bar of judgment.
There may of course be many gradations and different shades of theories. Some on the one side may allow to unaided human reason some remnant of power to know truth (Semi-Pelagianism, Arminianism) or on the other side it may be allowed that there is need of a supernatural revelation of some kind (Pelagianism, modern theology) but fundamentally you cannot help but be on either one side or the other.
Naturally every view of evil and theodicy will thus be colored by the consciousness or lack of consciousness of evil in the knowing process itself. So we expect to and, as a matter of fact, do find only two great types of theories of evil and theodicy. The one type of theory is based on the assumption of special revelation, the other on that of the soundness of human reason.
Let it not be objected that thinkers who do not admit the need of scripture still admit evil in their own consciousness, for they place themselves, in thus speaking, on the judgment seat in determining the character of that very evil. In the act of putting themselves up as judge, they regard their reason as capable of judging and this implies absolute soundness, for nothing but absolute certainty can here suffice. If they admit evil in their own consciousness they would logically have to descend from the judgment seat and take a position among the tried. Unless, forsooth, one wants to accept the illogical position of retaining himself as judge, well aware of his bias. Such a position could lead only to skepticism and despair.
It is not necessary to give a survey of the various epistemological theories. Enough has been said if it has become clear that there are and can of necessity be only two great classes of theories of evil and theodicy, the one based on the assumption of a sound reason, the other based on the assumption of an unsound reason and the need of special revelation. "Der moderne Mensch beansprucht vor dem andere Zeitalter gesundes Denken. Er behauptet, sich im Besitz wie im Gebrauch eines solchen zu befinden. Nach Auffassung des N.T. ist ein Denken gesund, wenn es mit dem weltgeschichtlichen Gesundmachungsakt der Erlösung zusammenhängt, an seinen befreienden Segenswirkungen teilnimdt."9
On such a standpoint it is possible to recognize and appreciate one another's views. There is no need of the believer calling the non-believer all sorts of unpleasant names, of accusing him of the blindness of moles. Neither need the man of faith be accused of Mediaevalism because his position is philosophically as sound as that of his opponent, as the latter must admit, because subjectivism and probability and no more can be granted to both.
This is after a fashion pushing the question back on neutral ground as far as possible. It corresponds to the hypothetical starting point of Hegel's philosophy in its distinction in bare possibility between Sein and Nichts. The one may be interchanged with the other, yet the one has ideality and may become everything though it is as yet nothing, while the other must remain where it is. So after all they are not entirely the same; neutral ground cannot be reached, only a no-man's land. The moment the one or the other begins to assert anything positive, the other must disagree.
With this fundamental unity and distinction before us, let us survey the various theories of evil and theodicy. The position taken in evaluating them is that they are valid insofar as and to the degree that they have regarded evil in all its full reality, in contrast to the highest good. According as the width of the gulf shall the bridge be. According as the depth of the antithesis shall the profundity of the synthesis be. Only that theory of evil that has seen evil at its worst can offer the best theodicy. Such a theory we take it, is that of the theistic standpoint and more particularly that of the Reformed world and life view. The philosophical statement and justification of this claim must appear in the development of the discussion.
In surveying the field of theories on this subject we might take them and divide them irrespective of their time of appearance in the history of philosophy, according as they are pantheistic, deistic, etc. However, it will give us the advantage of historical perspective if we view them as they are implicit or expressed in the different metaphysical theories that appeared in the course of time. We can see the human spirit moving through the ages from Thales to Kant and Hegel, grappling with the problem of philosophy and as its views develop from the immediacy of the Greeks to the synthesis of Hegel we see the theories of evil and theodicy deepen and widen, but deepen and widen not sufficiently to be satisfactory.
Then there comes another stream of thought to us from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses and the prophets, through Jesus of Nazareth, the apostles and the history of the Church. Not as though these currents have not intermingled; not that positive Christianity has not operated on the minds of extra-biblical thinkers, or that Aristotle did not sometimes dominate the Church, but the essential distinction spoken of before, as to the fundamental viewpoint of reason as sound or unsound, remains.
Greek Philosophy—Plato
In our survey of philosophic speculations we begin with the Greeks. With them we have the first systematic thinking on the nature of the universe. And again in Greek philosophy it is in Plato that we meet with the first great metaphysician who reinterpreted the previous threads of thought into one theory.
With a deep appreciation of the beauty of nature and their conception of the immediate connection between man and the gods, the Greeks also saw an inexorable law above it all. Heraclitus and Xenophanes both looked upon the Absolute as something in which all the finite is lost, and not found again—an abstraction. They in a measure sense the dialectic of the finite, but this dialectic could lead only to a pantheistic unity. This strain of thought already in evidence among the Pre-Socratics we again meet with in Plato. Another strain in Plato's thought is idealistic or spiritualistic. In this strain he not only tries to get away from the finite by means of abstraction but wants to reinterpret phenomena in terms of mind.
He is bent on establishing an ideal or spiritual conception of the principle of unity towards which the dialectic of the finite tends. Socrates in the Memorabilia had cleared the way. To him the mind is "a little ray of intelligence drawn from the great soul of the universe," like the body is taken from the matter of the world. But Socrates was no metaphysician. Still, this metaphysic was inherent in his ethics, and Plato grasped and developed it. For Socrates, the source of evil was the want of thought, the want of a definite knowledge of the meaning of life. If man only reflects on the implications of his moral judgment he will spontaneously be virtuous. Each man for himself must search out the moral universal, the summum bonum, and live it. Whether he is a part of a greater teleological network makes no essential difference. If the individual does that which is good he will also be of service to the whole; but the starting point is always the ethical individual. But Socrates' demon already reveals the contradiction of his own theory. He did not always know clearly beforehand what course to pursue and had to have recourse to the still small voice of the universal.
Plato combined these two tendencies of thought and interpreted the one with the other. He took the universal of the Pre-Socratics together with the Socratic idea of reason but converted the latter from an ethical ideal to a metaphysical reality. Thus he thought to cure the individualism of Socrates and give content to the negative universal of his predecessors.
Already in the Protagoras Plato faces the difficulty of the relation between the finite and the infinite. "If the premises be presupposed in the conclusion what is the use of drawing it, and if not how can we legitimately draw it." The relation of the universal to the particular is at the same time the relation of the infinite to the finite. His first answer is his memory theory of the soul. The soul knows all in a dim implicit way. Plato's slave Meno works out a geometrical problem upon the slightest suggestion. They who do not know, may still have true notions of that which they do not know. This is the beginning of idealism.
Moreover, to Plato all things are related to one another in organic union. You may know the whole from any of its parts, but no part can be entirely known separate from the whole. Plato makes no great distinction between knowledge and ignorance. Opinion is not mere ignorance but a state between ignorance and highest knowledge. Right opinion is a kind of accidental grasping of the right without realizing its organic implications, like Poets and Prophets tell us right things ofttimes but do not entirely grasp the meaning of their own words. So the mind is possessed of a universal faculty; deduction must receive a place.
Socrates' method had been purely inductive. He would add all the various pleasures, then subtract from their sum the number of pains and thus arrive at the summum bonum. Plato, on the other hand, rather begins with the whole to interpret any of its parts which is always the safer method. In the Gorgias the universal is conceived of as the organizing principle which determines the relations of all the parts. This principle is not external but implied in the parts, or at least in our conception of them, from the beginning.
Thus Plato seems to be on the road to something far superior to that of his predecessors. He tries to harmonize their antagonisms and establish a vital teleological relation between the finite and the infinite. But with the principle of unity that he employed it was impossible to get the two together. His method essentially remained that of abstraction, though he tried hard to get away from it. Accordingly, in the later dialogues we meet with a twofold current of thought which ultimately must lead to dualism. First there is a seeking of a separation from the things of sense and the body as a "muddy vesture of decay." Does this not reveal the apotheosis of abstraction in which neo-platonism later ran amuck? Yet even here Plato does not consistently use abstraction or make absolute distinction between body and spirit. Even here opinion is not total ignorance but imperfect knowledge. Only through opinion "which is mediated by sense can we rise to a knowledge of the ideality of things."10 Hence Plato's universals do not become merely the highest abstractions. His ideas were unity of differences, though in the Phaedo he employs the negative of the dialectic so strongly that it seems as though "all that is necessary to attain to the ideal is to turn away from the world of sense and opinion."11 Secondly, Plato makes a direct attempt to interpret the things of sense by the idea of a final cause. Plato's imaginary Socrates thinks to find satisfaction in the Anaxagorean but only found reality explained by efficient cause, like all the physical philosophers explained it. Plato sought teleology, but his teleology was too hasty. His teleology could not include all of reality; some parts of it could not be idealized. His farmers and mechanics are instruments of a society whose higher advantages they do not share. He needs his philosopher kings: these are to teach the people that up to that time there never was quarreling among people. Evil is to be kept out of sight, and insofar as it may be treated as an impossibility. "Poetry is to tell its noble untruth; and no skepticism or criticism is to be allowed to breathe a breath of suspicion upon it." In the Republic, then, only the philosophers are to reach an optimism including the reality of evil; the larger number of the people must be satisfied with the immediate unreflective optimism of previous mythology without facing the facts of evil. So that in the Republic we have a duality. Plato cannot see his way clear to draw his synthetic principle clear through to every part of the universe. The Idea sometimes seems to be an abstraction of some common elements in the particulars, at other times a synthetic principle explaining their differences.
It is clear that only in the latter case can any satisfactory theory of evil be formed; the former is only a denial of the question. "The end of Plato's philosophy is dualistic. Plato cannot get his Ideas connected with phenomena, his actus purus with the passivity of nature by any one comprehensive principle. There is a certain externality and necessity in the things of sense that even reason cannot overcome. It realizes its designs in the world in so far as necessity will permit."12 Matter has some sort of chaotic existence before the infusion of reason which transformed it into cosmos, but the nature of the material is somewhat reluctant to receive perfect form and goodness. Hence illae lacrimae; hence all the strife and conflict in the visible world. Man's soul is a sort of middle term between the two worlds, but since these are absolutely separate, the middle term needs mediating terms both ways. Thus we are led into a vicious infinite. After all, we only know God as far as we are material through a changing, uncertain, undependable world which can at best give an unsatisfactory adumbration of god. As far as our spirits are divine they see the pure Idea of God, but the purest activity of our souls is obstructed and weakened by our moral nature.
Nor can his idea of the universe as the only-begotten universe of God mediate between the two worlds, because in the light of the rest of his philosophy, this can be only a metaphorical expression of the close relation which he wanted to have between the two. In the last analysis "evils can never pass away; for there must needs exist something which stands opposed to the good. They have no seat among the gods but on necessity they cling to the nature of mortal creatures and haunt the region in which they dwell."13
Aristotle
In Aristotle we meet with a similar dualism. At first it would seem as though he has made an advance on Plato. He works out more logically the category of the organism, as expressing the relation between the lower and the higher aspects of being.
This, however, is constantly intermingled with the idea that "all finite existence is a combination of elements which are not essentially related,"14 so that in the end we obtain a view of matter not as the true correlate of form, but as something external in which the form needs to realize itself.
We see Aristotle struggling in his attempt to bridge the gulf between pure reason and matter. But again he takes refuge in a middle term, namely that of human reason. Now because he assumes reason and matter to be entirely separate to begin with, he must needs introduce a distinction in the reason of man. In part it moves in the ethereal spheres of the universal and as such is free; in part it is conditioned by external influences of sense and is subject to them. But such a mediary which is mechanically part of one world and equally mechanically a part of the other world cannot form a real bridge. There is no real interpenetration. Aristotle conceived of our relation to God as only theoretical, not practical. Therefore, in contrast to Plato who would at least attempt to form his ideal state upon the basis of knowledge of the Absolute Good, Aristotle separates ethics and politics from metaphysics entirely. Goodness is shown in making the best of circumstances. The gods have no virtue because they do not descend to the practical; they have no evils to contend with. Nor is there any connection possible between the relative truths of ethics and the absolute principle of pure metaphysics. So man is really a combination of reason and an irrational element. Reason is the real man, while the life of reason that man lives he really lives not as man but as manifesting something divine within. This theoretical reason which man manifests is of the nature of intuition, grasping the universal in its completeness and therefore has absolute truth, but practical reason deals with the doubtful through discursive thought. The unity which the theoretical reaches is not a unity of synthesis which embraces all things in their concrete nature, but only a synthesis of all things in their pure form without any matter; it is a unity which is reached by abstraction.
Aristotle does indeed think that he has established a firmer connection between the physical and the spiritual than his predecessors. The Pythagorean numbers and the Platonic Ideas do not satisfy him, but his conception of the actus purus as the final cause is scarcely more satisfactory. Aristotle does not explain how pure thought only contemplating itself "can become the determination of anything but itself." He certainly does feel the need of a God who is closely related to the things of sense, but his synthesis can only be in "contemplative reason which cannot see anything but an ideally complete whole in which every element is in perfect harmony and unity with every other."15 The subjective and the objective are, in the last analysis, for Aristotle two distinct entities, the union of which they never presupposed, and yet the union of which must be presupposed in any thoroughgoing idealism. No theodicy can be built upon a mechanical connection between God and the world.
Plato and Aristotle "healed the hurt of philosophy slightly" because they could not probe its depth. They started from a dualism of form and matter which they sought to overcome by subjection of the latter to the former. Their philosophy was an attempt to explain the world "on the principle of Anaxagoras that all things were in chaos till reason came to arrange them." Both, however, at least attempt to reach to their system by means of comprehension and synthesis, and this is more than can be said for their followers in Greek philosophy. The latter sought unity only by abstraction. The various parts of reality are separated, some ignored, others explained away. Questions are put in exclusive alternatives. These systems then contribute no advance to the thought of Plato and Aristotle but find their philosophical justification in revealing the premature synthesis of the former, and then to destroy one another in skepticism. Thus they exhibit the deeper nature of the conflict, calling for a peace and not a compromise or truce. The truce of Greek philosophy only prepared for fiercer battle; the fiercer battle led to peace.
In Greek philosophy we have on the one hand a naive assumption of unity between the individual and society, and on the other hand one of opposition between the soul and the world, the inner and the outer life. So we can see a group of Athenians seeking their entire existence in the State and yet having no metaphysics or an imperfect metaphysics as a basis for their religious life. In as far as the early group needed a metaphysic, this was found in Plato's ideas and Aristotle's pure activity, but they are unsatisfactory. In later Greek thought even this group consciousness is broken down and the individual is left without any shelter, while formerly they could at least huddle together and turn their backs to the storm.
Stoicism And Epicureanism
When we go beyond Plato and Aristotle to Stoicism and Epicureanism, we find that the nature of the problem has changed somewhat. To the former, the distinction between subject and object was quite subordinate to the distinction between the universal and the particular. To the latter, the distinction between subject and object becomes all important. The antagonism of the active form and passive matter is set aside; in its place we have the relative opposition of two elements, both of which are regarded as having ultimately the same nature and origin, both of which are viewed as in one aspect material and in another spiritual.16 Thus taking the nature of the universal and the particular to be ultimately the same, Stoicism built up its psychology and metaphysics.
Zeno joined the individual sensationalism of materialism of the Cynics with the pantheism, idealism, and intellectualism of the Megarians. His independence is accordingly not the inverted independence of Cynicism, but a consciousness of the dignity of man in virtue of his connection with rational beings in general. Being most alone the individual is least alone; in the mirror of the recesses of his soul rebounds the reflection of mankind. Homo sum; humani nihil a me alienum pisto. "Instead of admitting a relative difference between subject and object where the Cynics and Megarians opposed an absolute one, he denied all difference and turned to an intuitional monism."17 But thus he only grasped the negative element. Man's relation to the universe becomes such that he can choose to serve freely or accept forced servitude.
Consequently man's moral ideal is to live consistently with nature, with nature in general as it is manifest in the universe, and with the nature of his own soul, for these two natures are essentially one. On this basis, however, morality can be nothing more than the sacrifice of the individual to the universe. The latter must drown his personality in the former. Stoicism is pessimism when it looks at the particular things of the world. It claims to be optimistic as to the whole, but such optimism is to disbelieve evil, to deny the reality of the individual's struggles, to look upon him as a means and not as an end; it is an optimism that is not all-embracive and hence no optimism at all. Stoicism did well to release the individual from the bondage of society, but when it placed upon him the obligation of a good will in harmony with nature, it scarcely improved his condition. For that good will is, after all for the individual, a contentless thing. The Stoic individual was dependent for his welfare largely on a peculiar form of the state. The individual comes on the one hand to stand absolutely alone without relations to his fellow man; on the other hand he is identified with nature. Now this extreme individualism took away from man his only avenue of self-realization and negation of evil. The consciousness of self cannot thus be separated from the consciousness of other selves. I stand related or I am nothing. Hence we see that their universal becomes one of abstraction, not of comprehension, with which the individual must be identified instead of related. The road from the particular to the universal is not via the only true road of particular interest and relation, but by leaps and bounds from abstraction to abstraction. Stoicism thus sacrifices parts of the whole which it wishes to obtain; thus by losing parts it can never attain the whole. Its whole becomes a part.
The whole of Stoicism thus becomes a refined materialism unable to distinguish between matter and mind; their theory of knowledge is expressed by the term "impression" of one form of matter upon a more refined form of it. Thus the individual can, strictly speaking, only know himself or his own states and cannot enter into any but external relations with his fellowman; only with God within him can he converse because he is identical with God.
After the individualism of the Stoics and Epicureans came skepticism, and it served the purpose of overthrowing the superficial epistemology of Stoicism and revealing its contradiction. Upon Stoic epistemology the world about us is only a show world; we must rest content in ourselves; there is no help for our own evil. But skepticism went the wrong way in refuting Stoic epistemology. In refuting any kind of dogmatism it puts up its own dogmatism of the unknowable. "Now any attack upon the possibility of knowledge is foiled by the impossibility of finding a ground upon which to place its batteries."18 It is an attempt to get beyond the intelligible world by an act of the intelligence itself.
Thus far then we find that Greek philosophy can offer no solution for the problem of evil and theodicy; its two worlds are either entirely separate or identical; responsibility in any deep sense of the term has no meaning. On such basis there cannot be any real evil, and certainly no theodicy is necessary. Do we then expect to find a better solution from Philo, who intermingled Greek philosophy at this stage with Judaism?
Philo
In Philo's theology, God has to call in the aid of subordinates to "create a being who is not altogether good." Philo introduced the tendency to separate God and man as it manifested itself in Greek thought, into the Old Testament. He thinks Greek philosophy has stolen this notion of separation from the O.T. Accordingly all anthropomorphism goes by the board. Creatures are related to God, but God is not related to his creatures. When Philo then introduces his middle term or his subordinate, the Logos, he finds it difficult to connect this middle term with the two entities that it is to bring together. And no great wonder, he was trying the impossible. Two entities separated by supposition can never more than mechanically be brought together by any mediary, or whatever nature this mediary partakes, and mechanical connection is no connection for human spirits. Sometimes this mediary of Philo partakes of the nature of the one entity then again of the nature of the other. No larger unity or relative distinction is allowed between the entities; only absolute separation and therefore only mechanical connection. In the nature of man a similar division is introduced. He becomes a combination of "dross and deity"; the soul is related to God; the body is its prison house. As somewhat of an advance upon Stoicism, Philo offers his individual rescue from himself not only in himself but in God. But this refuge is obtained not by realizing the spirit of the divine through the faculties of man, but by renouncing these very faculties, by being absorbed in ecstasy, in immediate communion with God. So the main trend of this philosophy is emphasis on the transcendence of God.
Plotinus
Now of this emphasis on the transcendence of God and the only union conceivable upon it, namely negative mysticism, Plotinus is the classic exponent. In him this tendency in Greek thought finds its culmination. That extreme transcendence and mysticism should go together may seem strange at first sight, but it is only natural. The soul cannot do without union with God. If this union cannot be affected through the ordinary faculties of man it must be sought in the merging of the consciousness of self and the world in the consciousness of God. In ordinary thought we presuppose the union of the finite and the infinite; here it is not presupposed, rather the contrary, but it is made an immediate object to strive after. God escapes our knowledge but does not entirely escape us. Thus Plotinus would steer free from agnosticism because even negative relation is relation and penetrates the impregnable aloofness of the Absolute. God is supposed to be in immediate contact with us. The mystical approach involves an entire reversal of the natural order of consciousness. The mystic Plotinus, though his language is often similar to that of Pantheism, is in his conception of the way of knowledge entirely opposed to Pantheism. He does not see God in everything, but must rather be released from everything to see God. With Spinoza he speaks of God as absolute indeterminateness, but does not add to it the self-determination which Spinoza attributes to God. Plotinus cannot find the finite again in the infinite as Spinoza did. "Thus we have the strange paradox that the Being who is absolute, is yet conceived as in a sense external to the relative and the finite, and that he leaves the relative and the finite in a kind of unreal independence which has no value, and yet from which it as finite cannot escape."19
Now Plotinus' view is important especially as marking the culmination of all Greek philosophy. The dualism began already with Anaxagoras'. Plato also distinguishes between the world of pure intelligence and the world known by a kind of spurious intelligence. Even Aristotle, though at times he tries hard to conceive of form and matter as necessary correlatives, fails to develop any organic union between the two. The existence of the world of sense he cannot entirely account for in terms of his actus purus. It has some sort of vicious independence. Absolute intelligence is absolutely separated from the world. This standpoint implies a psychology on which a self can be absolutely separated from other selves. The Stoics had recourse to this in their materialistic individualism. The self of the Stoic is an abstract individual. Its union with the universal only adds another abstraction because God is also above all relation, so that the result is only abstraction. Zero plus zero equals zero. The skeptic follows on its heel and denies the reality of all external things because they have no relation to the individual. When the consciousness of this lack of relation is taken to its logical consequence, as applying within the subject as well as in its relation to the object, we have a tragedy of a thorough skepticism which out-Pilates Pilate and draws the quiet spectators to the scaffold to suffer from the flames of their own kindling.
Thus the abstraction process goes on and we find no possibility of building up any conception of evil that grasps it in its reality and overcomes it. Instead of seeking a higher synthesis in which the two worlds are presupposed and the world of sense and evil can be overcome, Plotinus continues in abstraction. One drug is taken to overcome the effect of a previous one, and the craving becomes ever greater. The union of the self-consciousness with the abstract self-consciousness of the Absolute sought in a still further regress than did the Stoics. He would find it in the One preceding all difference or division, preceding even the distinction of self-consciousness. In reality we cannot even call it the One because that already involves relation to the Many, so our only recourse is silence. Plotinus does feel, of course, the necessity of some sort of relation of the finite to it, but the expression of this relation involves him in all sorts of contradictions. Then he has to speak again of the one and the Good from which all springs. But it is difficult to speak of the unknowable and yet we must.
Mr. Spencer is the modern embodiment of such a dilemma.20 The Stoics had attempted to escape from dualism by identifying spirit and matter, but Plotinus absolutely distinguishes these two, and the only bond he could find was in the soul of man. The union of the soul with the Absolute is therefore different in Plotinus' philosophy than in that of Stoicism. In Stoicism it is a certain identity of being in abstract individuals; both God and man are a refined material. There is no distinction between matter and spirit. With Plotinus these are distinct. Union is sought in an eternal regression from all difference to the annihilation even of self-consciousness. Or rather, union between the world and God is not at all effected; only man, insofar as he abstracts himself from God, can be one with God. The unity of the soul with God, as a distinct sphere opposed to the sphere of the sensible world, regresses into the One which precludes all difference and yet is potentially the source of all difference.
Plotinus attempts in vain to explain the origin of evil by his theory of the individual soul. The soul partakes essentially of the nature of the higher world, and even though upon his principle that the higher necessarily produces a lower copy of itself, which principle is itself already vicious, it is not clear why particular souls should be affected by evil. Was there something defective in them? If we say that some matter existed which was predisposed to evil, we may ask why matter should exist. Why should perfection have to produce imperfection? No intelligible connection between God and the world can be effected on this basis, and still less of evil.
Thus in the end Greek philosophy is afraid to connect the finite and the infinite. It results in giving the finite a sort of semi-independent existence. Evil turns into a positive opposite to God; it is not entirely under His control. The power of God must be limited to excuse Him from evil. We have to abstract from our conception of God to relieve Him from the responsibility of evil. Or rather, there can really be no question of evil in two worlds essentially unrelated; each is a law unto itself and has no responsibility to the other. Evil can only exist where responsibility is; theodicy presupposes intimate relation.
Plato and Aristotle had taken the world for granted so that for them the problem of the origin of evil did not exist, but Plotinus had to explain also the origin and in reality places fate above God. He is "solicitous to guard against attributing deliberation or design to God in the creation of the world because this would throw upon God the responsibility for all the evils and imperfections that are found in it."21 God created because he cannot help it. Plotinus protects God from connection with evil by interposing a series of mediaries, each of which is of necessity forced to cast an image of itself below its own value. Moreover, this production of evil is totally accidental. But we may urge against this that accidents do not fit in with an absolute, and distribution of evil does not explain its source nor excuse it. So it is difficult to ascertain whether Plotinus wishes to justify evil as a means to a greater good as he seems to do in his presentation of the soul as being purified through conflict, or whether he wishes to deny its reality except as a transient experience.
The most we can give him credit for is that in his opposition to the Gnostics, who conceived matter as absolutely evil, he at least contended that it was the best possible image of the good, and that there seems to be some use for it as a battling ground for the soul to develop itself. So Plotinus' philosophy at least points beyond itself. It brings strikingly to the foreground the great problem of the relation of the divine and the human and the necessity of reconciliation. Thus it prepared the thinking world for the acceptance offered by Christianity. Surely Christianity had to fight the solutions of neo-Platonism—witness the Christological controversies—but in these very controversies we see the biblical solution expressed in the dogma of the person of Christ as very God and very man. In this lies the solution of the problem of evil.
This lengthy discussion of Greek philosophy seems justified because it is insufficient to take mere statements of various philosophers on a subject like evil and weigh them in the balance. It is necessary to see how their views are the logical outgrowth of their systems, and only as these systems are valid or invalid is the theory worth accepting or requiring rejection.
Moreover, it gives us the advantage of historical approach to modern philosophy which cannot be understood when taken by itself. Modern philosophy has entered upon the inheritance of the Greeks; its problems are the same, its solutions slightly different. Then also it throws light, largely by way of contrast on the Christian doctrine. Christianity came slowly to an ever larger consciousness of its own implications much in relation to Greek philosophy. The Christian consciousness was rudely awakened out of its erstwhile satisfaction, joy, and immediacy and roused to a long and bitter struggle which could not help but lead to its victory. The value of Greek philosophy in this respect has often been underestimated. It goaded the Christian consciousness to render an account to itself of its treasure without losing the enjoyment of its possession.
Modern Philosophy
It is not necessary to dwell long on the transition to modern philosophy. Ancient philosophy even at its culminating point could not bring the sensuous and the supersensuous together. The sensuous world is left to itself with all its evil. It cannot eradicate this evil nor can it get rid of it by reference to the other world. Then also, the category of personality, as it exists for modern philosophy, does not yet exist. Even the individual of the Stoics was a material individual; subject and object were as yet imperfectly distinguished. Hence no adequate, not even a deep, theory of evil could be formulated. Not until we see evil working in the deepest fountain of human existence, in the individual personality, have we at all grasped its import. To refer evil to matter only is to ignore the greater part of the problem. The higher can never be interpreted in terms of the lower; the lower must always be interpreted in terms of the higher.
We now take a leap from Plotinus to Descartes. It is not necessary to dwell on Gnosticism and Manichaeism here; they have been refuted implicitly in the survey of Greek philosophy because to them sin lies in matter altogether. Moreover, insofar as it must be touched upon, it, as also scholasticism, can be treated in connection with the Christian doctrine of which it was a departure.
That we take the leap from Plotinus to Descartes does not mean that no thinking on the subject was done between their respective periods. Besides scholasticism, there was Meister Eckhart who offers little of importance over the ancient negative theology of the East. To him man must come to God by pure abstraction, but abstraction always leads to impoverisation. God remains unknowable, to whom one is scarcely responsible. Evil must be got rid of through mystic contemplation, which is to crawl out of one's own shell, leave the husk behind, a thing impossible; and if possible would furnish no theodicy because evil is left behind—unexplained, unjustified, ignored.
Of more importance is the thinking of the Renaissance. Its chief value, however, lay in its preparation for modern philosophy. The Renaissance thinkers have not only the heritage of ancient philosophy but also that of Christian dogmatics and scholastic speculation. A new tendency shows itself first of all in an attempt to explain everything in terms of the individual man. "The inner became conscious of its unity and entrenched itself within its own territory while the outer world receded to take an inferior position and lost all inner life, since its function of movement in space did not seem to need any explanation by a spiritual principle."22 On the other hand, there was a movement that gloried in the beauty of the external world, that dwelt upon its magnitude and grandeur and the insignificance of man in comparison with it. As the former was a movement toward the subject, this was a movement toward the object. On the one hand, we find concentration within the subject; on the other absorption of the subject in the object.
Thus we see the possibility of a new problem arise—the psychological. It is now no longer only the relation of the sensuous, including man, to the supersensuous, but within the one term a split has been made. The individual man as a spirit is opposed to the rest of nature. The relation between these two now absorbs the greater interest. Metaphysics is largely abandoned for psychology. Now as far as the immediate consequence was concerned this was a loss, but if taken in its setting it was an immeasurable gain. Metaphysics cannot be completely studied without psychology. The ancients too had tried to study the origin of evil in the individual, but they had never taken him as an individual spiritual existence and studied him as such in relation to the things about him.
Thus now also the problem of evil takes on a more variegated, more distinct and deeper form. A division can now be made between physical and moral evil upon the basis of the earlier metaphysic. Better distinction and more clearness of thought results.
The chief advantage of the new tendency at the dawn of modern philosophy lies in its opening the way for a better epistemology which led the great thinkers of a later period to a more fundamental handling of the problem of evil.
From Descartes to Kant we see two currents of thought based on the same psychological presupposition, that of a total distinction between the new subject and object. They wander farther and farther apart till the cord that held them together burst. Kant healed the breach and led them back to a new beginning. The one current is empiricism. Through Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume it leads out into skepticism. The other current is rationalism, foreshadowed by Nicholas of Cusa and Bruno, worked out by Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, and finding its reduction to absurdity in Wolff. Both of these currents went to such extremes in their Konsequensmacherei as to reveal the invalidity of their method. These two tendencies are brought together in Kant and especially in Hegel, who includes the most extreme abstraction with the wealth of empirical fact in his Notion of the Concrete Idea. Since then, thought has made little progress along epistemological lines and accordingly the theories of evil offered have been in the main, modifications of those of the great masters.
Descartes
Let us now briefly return to empiricism and rationalism and examine their solutions to the problem of evil. Both trends of thought are found in Descartes. "He placed the two worlds of mind and matter in direct opposition in the full conviction that each must be studied in itself, according to its own special laws and nature, and that it only remains to discover in what way these act upon one another as our consciousness itself assures us that they do."23
Descartes' dualism is explicit. Not as though he had no metaphysics. His idea of matter is that it is a passive [?] which is determined purely from without. He remains so far at the same point where Plato was, but he, in distinction from Plato, considers the spirit as a substance totally apart from matter. But the essence of this spirit is self-consciousness of which thought is the highest function. Upon such a dualistic metaphysic Descartes builds his epistemology and method of philosophy. The consciousness of self is turned against the external world or against God or against both. The external world is to Descartes not only extended and external to itself, but also external to us. But these are already the results of his investigation. He has reached them by his famous method of doubt. The natural prejudices which we inherit tend to give us wrong conceptions of things. Hence we must begin with doubt. Now we can doubt the existence of everything except the existence of the doubter. But this is a judgment and implies the reality of the self-consciousness. Even if a superior being sought to deceive me in all my thinking, he could not succeed unless I existed; he could not cause me not to exist so long as I thought.
Now this cogito ergo sum is not to be thought of as a syllogism, with a major premise that whatever thinks exists. We must rather turn this about—that whatever thinks exists is an inference derived from my particular self-consciousness. The latter is to be the Archimedian. Having this premise, it follows that whatever idea is as clear to me as the idea of my self-consciousness, exists also. Such an idea is God. Thus the ontological argument of Anselm, that the idea of God is an integral part of human nature, is changed to one of clarity of idea. This much established, Descartes is prepared to establish the reality of the rest of the universe from the nature of God. Thus the existence of nature is established via the consciousness of God. But all existences are external to one another and unrelated. His method must, therefore, become that of the scale and the yardstick, that of mathematics.
It was necessary to dwell at some length on the Cartesian metaphysic because it forms the assumed basis of rationalism and empiricism. If we refute Descartes' standpoint we have done with rationalism and empiricism. A theory of evil built upon a false basis cannot stand. Now the main criticism of Cartesian metaphysics is that it does not see the reciprocal implications of all the principles on which the world as an intelligible world rests. The question for him is how we are to know anything besides our selves and our own ideas. And we cannot know upon his basis of a world of unrelated mechanically separated units. Knowledge first of all implies the relation of subject and object. "Hence the value of mathematics in helping us to explain any phenomena is in inverse ratio to the complexity and comprehensiveness of the phenomena themselves."24 In a sense we may say that the inorganic world can be explained on Descartes' method because its chief essence consists in being externally exclusive entities, though even these cannot entirely be so explained. But when it comes to the things of the spirit, these surely cannot be known by the thumb rule and quart measure. Things are never mere units having no relations being capable of addition. "They are what they are just because they attract or repel each other chemically or mechanically, and which combined are never merely the sum of their parts."25 Thus we need only take the weapons of Kant to refute the Cartesian dualistic metaphysic and the Newtonian arithmetical method of thought.
As to his theory of evil, little further need be said. The foundation under it has been removed. He really offers no systematic theory of evil at all. "The problem of the moral faculty he ignores, assuming with Plato that there is but one intellectual faculty which judges right and wrong as it judges falsehood. The problem of moral obligation he shirks altogether, or else resolves it in an eudaemonistic sense, as merely a proper computation in attaining the greatest happiness."26 We are to follow virtue as best we know how.
The extravagance of the Cartesian hypothesis itself awakened a protest and a controversy which was not settled until the limits of the merely mathematical explanation of physical phenomena were established and the idea of quantity was subordinated to the idea of force or physical causality in the nineteenth century. But for the time being, empiricism and rationalism each took a side on the metaphysical gym floor laid by Descartes, and fought the psychological battles of innate ideas versus tabula rasa; or to use another figure, each stands on a side of an unbridged chasm and the arrows aimed to kill the foe are carried away by the waters that flow between. Neither finds the way between the dangers of Scylla and Charybdis. Rationalism listens to the Siren song of rational consistency only to lose its material world; empiricism escapes this danger because it has not heard the music.
Spinoza
Spinoza's logical presuppositions lie in the fundamental ideas of Descartes. These he accentuates, transforms, and adopts. His Brevis Tractatus is divided into two parts, the one concerning God—that he is known from our clear idea of him, the other that God is a substance which includes all possible attributes. There is no limited substance. There cannot be, for if limited then it must be limited by itself or by something else. If unlimited, there can be only one. So we are led to believe that God is the only substance. There is consequently only one category of Being. There are not two equal substances, nor can one substance produce another, so there is no more in God's mind than is revealed in nature. God then is nature. For Descartes, nature was a limited substance, natura naturata. For Spinoza, God is nature, substance, the only category of being. It follows that God also has the attribute of extension.
Turning from his metaphysics to providence—chapter five of the Ethics—his thought is explicit. Nothing exists or is intelligible without God. Whatever is, is necessary. Are there then accidents in nature? No, since uncaused existence would be self-contradictory. Everything proceeds according to eternal law. There is here no room for the freedom of the will to which the origin of evil might be attributed. What then is the source of all the evil in the universe? There is no confusion or evil at all. For you to say so would mean for you to know all possible causes. There may seem to be confusion to you, but you cannot judge because you are only finite. Sin is a term relative to us; it comes in only when we compare things or circumstances. Sin is a matter of relations, not of things. Spinoza here takes up the problem of evil and answers that every individual thing has its individual purpose. It follows that you would have to know every individual purpose or cause before judging whether a thing is good or bad. "Vice is as truly an outcome of nature as is virtue; virtue is power, vice is weakness; the former is knowledge, the latter is ignorance. But whence the powerless natures? Whence defective knowledge? Spinoza answers that the concept of imperfection expresses nothing positive, nothing actual, but merely a defect, an absence of reality. It is nothing but an idea in us, a fiction which arises through the comparison of one thing with another possessing greater reality or with an abstract generic concept, a pattern which it seems unable to attain."27 Music is good for the melancholy of one but may be bad for the mourning of another. If evil were something real, God would be the cause of it, but Spinoza shows that evil has no reality. It follows that the question of theodicy can be dropped; in God is no idea of evil at all.
The nearest that Spinoza comes to explaining the existence of evil to our consciousness is that it is inherent in finitude, involved in a chain of causality. Secondly, because God created everything that He conceived, matter "was not lacking to Him for the creation of every degree of perfection from the highest to the lowest; or more strictly because the laws of his nature were so ample as to suffice for the production of everything conceivable by an infinite intellect."28 Now sin and error is the lowest degree of perfection.
Thus we see in Spinoza all qualitative distinctions reduced to difference in degree. His ethic implies a denial of the freedom of the will and the result is only a "physics of morals." The universe is immanent in God, therefore Hegel has called Spinoza an acosmist instead of a pantheist, but this distinction does little to relieve the situation and has later been dropped.
By a parsimony of argument, Spinoza's system is its own refutation. Man on his basis can absolutely know God, in the manner that he knows the attributes of a triangle. But how do we reconcile this with the statement that we as finite beings cannot judge whether anything is evil because we do not know all causes? The relation between the finite and the infinite is not consistently the same in Spinoza with the result that he can offer us no consistent theory of evil even on his own basis. Considered from the point of view of later philosophy, Spinoza's system is especially weak in its epistemology, which is based on Cartesian dualism. Yes, we may speak of a dualism in the case of Spinoza though he himself was led to a monism. For to him also, things are only extensively, quantitatively related. This is itself a dualism. The only logic for Spinoza also is that of mathematics. This, Kant has once for all overthrown by showing the primary reciprocal implications of an intelligible world. The evil of the spirit—how can it be measured in Spinozism?
Before taking up Leibniz's philosophy as, in a sense, a further development of rationalism, it is well to trace the development of empiricism because Leibniz in a sense tries to join the two; in him they are brought into contact, yet not joined.
Locke And Empiricism
Locke's Essay Concerning the Human Understanding in some measure disturbed the philosophical world at the time of its appearance in 1690. "Descartes had divided ideas according to their origin into three classes, those which are self-formed, those which come from without, those which are innate, and had called the third class the most valuable."29 Locke disputes the existence of ideas in the understanding from birth and makes it receive the elements of knowledge from the senses, from without. Thus epistemology is turned about, the perception of external objects becomes the basis for the perception of self. Ideas come to us from without, not in the narrow sensationalistic sense that thinking is mere transformed sensation, but in the sense that the mind in itself is a tabula rasa upon which external and internal perception inscribes its characters. Thus passively the mind takes into itself knowledge of the primary qualities inherent in things perceived as caused by motion, and secondary qualities caused by motion but not perceived as such. In the reception of simple ideas the mind is entirely passive. The activity of which it is capable is confined to the power of variously combining and rearranging simple ideas. Mind is active but not creative. Complex ideas arise from simple ideas through voluntary combination of the latter.
As to their validity, ideas are valid if they correspond to their archetypes, as things real or possible or an idea of something. But our ideas are, in the nature of the case, inadequate as representations of the inner essences of things because we receive only copies of these essences upon the retina of our understanding. It follows that knowledge can never be direct but must always be only "relations of ideas among themselves." The mind can perceive and operate upon nothing but its own ideas cast upon it. Has the mind the criteria to know whether the ide