Summary Against Modern Thought: Evil is Not Intended, Part II

Summary Against Modern Thought: Evil is Not Intended, Part II

Previous post.

We continue with the proof that evil is not intended, with some seemingly convincing counter-arguments, and the answers to these. Two Chapters this week.

Arguments which seem to prove that evil is not apart from intention

1 Now, there are certain points which seem to run counter to this view.

2 That which happens apart from the intention of the agent is called fortuitous, a matter of chance, something which rarely happens. But the occurrence of evil is not called fortuitous, a matter of chance, nor does it happen rarely, but always or in most cases. For corruption always accompanies generation in the things of nature. Even in the case of volitional agents sin occurs in most cases, since “it is as difficult to act in accord with virtue as to find the center of a circle,” as Aristotle says in the Nicomachean Ethics [II, 9: 1109a 24]. So, evil does not seem to happen apart from intention.

Notes And we know by now what “fortuitous” and “by chance” means.

3 Again, in Ethics III [5: 1113b 16] Aristotle expressly states that “wickedness is voluntary.” He proves this by the fact that a person voluntarily performs unjust acts: “now it is unreasonable for the agent of voluntarily unjust actions not to will to be unjust, and for the self-indulgent man not to wish to be incontinent” [1114a 11]; and he proves it also by the fact that legislators punish evil men as doers of evil in a voluntary way [1113b 22]. So, it does not seem that evil occurs apart from the will or the intention.

4 Besides, every natural change has an end intended by nature. Now, corruption is a natural change, just as generation is. Therefore, its end, which is a privation having the rational character of evil, is intended by nature: just as are form and the good, which are the ends of generation.

Answers to these arguments

1 So that the solution of these alleged arguments maybe made more evident we should notice that evil may be considered either in a substance or in its action. Now, evil is in a substance because something which it was originally to have, and which it ought to have, is lacking in it. Thus, if a man has no wings, that is not an evil for him, because he was not born to have them; even if a man does not have blond hair, that is not an evil, for, though he may have such hair, it is not something that is necessarily due him. But it is an evil if he has no hands, for these he is born to, and should, have—if he is to be perfect. Yet this defect is not an evil for a bird. Every privation, if taken properly and strictly, is of that which one is born to have, and should have. So, in this strict meaning of privation, there is always the rational character of evil.

Notes It remains to be seen whether lack of hair is as evil as hair-regrowth advertisements tell us. (Joke.) We are back to essence and nature again. Everybody knows at least the broad outlines of man’s essence. Review this material from Book 1 if necessary (use the SAMT category).

2 Now, since it is in potency toward all forms, matter is indeed originated to have all of them; however, a certain one of them is not necessarily due it, since without this certain one it can be actually perfect. Of course, to each thing composed of matter some sort of form is due, for water cannot exist unless it have the form of water, nor can fire be unless it possess the form of fire. So, the privation of such forms in relation to matter is not an evil for the matter, but in relation to the thing whose form it is, it is an evil for it; just as the privation of the form of fire is an evil for fire.

And since privations, just as much as habits and forms, are not said to exist, except in the sense that they are in a subject, then if a privation be an evil in relation to the subject in which it is, this will be evil in the unqualified sense. But, otherwise, it will be an evil relative to something, and not in the unqualified sense. Thus, for a man to be deprived of a hand is an unqualified evil, but for matter to be deprived of the form of air is not an unqualified evil, though it is an evil for the air.

Notes A man does not have or possess a lack of hands: he lacks hands. Privation is an absence, not a presence.

3 Now, a privation of order, or due harmony, in action is an evil for action. And because there is some due order and harmony for every action, such privation in an action must stand as evil in the unqualified sense.

4 Having observed these points, we should understand that not everything that is apart from intention is necessarily fortuitous or a matter of chance, as the first argument claimed. For, if that which is apart from intention be either an invariable or a frequent consequence of what is intended, then it does not occur fortuitously or by chance. Take, for example, a man who directs his intention to the enjoyment of the sweetness of wine: if intoxication is the result of drinking the wine, this is neither fortuitous nor a matter of chance. Of course, it would be a matter of chance if this result followed in but few cases.

5 So the evil of natural corruption, though a result which is apart from the intention of the agent of generation, is nevertheless an invariable consequence, for the acquisition of one form is always accompanied by the privation of another form. Hence, corruption does not occur by chance, nor as something that happens in few cases; even though privation at times is not an unqualified evil, but is only so in relation to some definite thing, as has been said. However, if it be the kind of privation which takes away what is due to the thing generated, this will be by chance and unqualifiedly evil, as in the case of the birth of monsters. For, such a thing is not the necessary result of what is intended; rather, it is repugnant to what is intended, since the agent intends a perfect product of generation.

6 Now, evil in relation to action occurs in the case of natural agents as a result of the defect of an active power. Hence, if the agent has a defective power, the evil is a result apart from the intention, but it will not be a chance result because it follows necessarily from this kind of agent, provided this kind of agent is subject to this defect of power, either always or frequently. However, it will be a matter of chance if this defect is rarely associated with this kind of agent.

Notes Rarely as not expected.

7 In the case of voluntary agents, the intention is directed to some particular good, if action is to result, for universals cause no movement, but particular things do, since actions go on in their area. Therefore, if a particular good that is intended has attached to it, either always or frequently, a privation of good according to reason, then the result is a moral evil; and not by chance, but either invariably or for the most part. This is clearly the case with a man who wills to enjoy a woman for the sake of pleasure, to which pleasure there is attached the disorder of adultery. Hence, the evil of adultery is not something which results by chance. However, it would be an instance of chance evil if some wrong resulted in a few cases from the object intended: for example, in the case of a person who kills a man while shooting at a bird.

8 That a person may frequently direct his intention to goods of this kind, to which privations of good according to reason are consequent, results from the fact that most men live on the sense level, because sensory objects are better known to us, and they are more effective motives in the domain of particular things where action goes on. Now, the privation of good according to reason is the consequence of most goods of this kind.

9 From this it is evident that, though evil be apart from intention, it is nonetheless voluntary, as the second argument suggests, though not essentially but accidentally so. For intention is directed to an ultimate end which a person wills for its own sake, but the will may also be directed to that which a person wills for the sake of something else, even if he would not will it simply for itself.

In the example of the man who throws his merchandise into the sea in order to save himself [cf. Ethics III, 1: 1110a 8-29], he does not intend the throwing away of the merchandise but his own safety; yet he wills the throwing not for itself but for the sake of safety. Likewise, a person wills to do a disorderly action for the sake of some sensory good to be attained; he does not intend the disorder, nor does he will it simply for itself, but for the sake of this result. And so, evil consequences and sins are called voluntary in this way, just as is the casting of merchandise into the sea.

Notes Examples should now be brought readily to mind.

10 The answer to the third difficulty is similarly evident. Indeed, the change of corruption is never found without the change of generation; neither, as a consequence, is the end of corruption found without the end of generation. So, nature does not intend the end of corruption as separated from the end of generation, but both at once. It is not the unqualified intention of nature that water should not exist, but that there should be air, and while a thing is so existing it is not water. So, nature directly intends that this existing thing be air; it does not intend that this thing should not exist as water, except as a concomitant of the fact that it is to be air. Thus, privations are not intended by nature in themselves, but only accidentally; forms, however, are intended in themselves.

11 It is clear, then, from the foregoing that what is evil in an unqualified sense is completely apart from intention in the workings of nature, as in the birth of monsters; on the other hand, that which is not evil in the unqualified sense, but evil in relation to some definite thing, is not directly intended by nature but only accidentally.


  1. Peter Aiello

    Saint Paul’s analysis of the “law of sin” seems to be the one that is closest to the reality that we all experience. He says that we do the things that we don’t want to do; and not do the things that we should (see Romans 7:14 thru 8:2).

  2. Not intended evil is considered bad luck. That’s why in Dutch law the maximum jail sentence for murder by a minor is only one year. According to the Bible, God knew what he was doing when he created heaven and earth, so it’s very strange to read that people can act without God knowing, as Thomas has very well argumented, even angels know everything. According to Thomas, God is all knowing so He knew all consequences of creation. He is also omnipotentent. Giving a loaded gun to a toddler is considered evil in every culture.

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