Aquinas in his Article 3 of “On Evil” argues that good cannot cause evil insofar that good is not deficient in any way. “Good insofar as it is deficient causes evil, it follows that good causes evil insofar as good already has within itself some evil. ” (Aquinas 68) And Aquinas then places this into 2 separate categories. The first category, good insofar as it is deficient meaning that it is not intrinsically good and evil threatens its perfection and the second category is that good causes evil by accident. Aquinas 71)
Using the metaethical theories of Rachels and Mackie I will be arguing that Aquinas’ argument fails due to evil being a social construct that cannot answer to the metaethical theories. The ground on which I make this assertion include the lack of accounting for culture differences, as well as the differences throughout different times and subjectivity of actions. The subjectivity of actions including how decisions are made and what values are given to certain tasks and meanings and how one determines what outweighs another action.
Aquinas in his endeavors to prove that good cannot cause evil seems to create two different types of “good” one that is pure and intrinsic and one that is created good which he describes will always be the cause of evil. Aquinas however then argues that just as power executes commands, a deficiency, caused by weakness is excused, and this insofar as it is a deficient good does not cause evil. (Aquinas 69) Aquinas labels the “cause of evil is good in the way in which evil can have a cause” (Aquinas 70) but, we must also note that this does not mean that evil has an intrinsic cause like good possesses.
He then uses the example of the grave digger whom upon digging a grave discovers treasures which are beyond his intentions. Aquinas then argues that no person does something evil intentionally but because it seems like it is good to that person. Aquinas in the second and third part of his answer states that every intrinsic effect resembles what caused it in a way or has the same nature but evil is not like its efficient cause because what one classifies as efficient causes positivity whereas evil does not, thus evil cannot have an intrinsic cause because it is attributed only to good.
He then concludes that because evil does not have an intrinsic cause that good can accidentally cause evil. Aquinas then cites nature as his example to prove these two premises, stating that, “the destruction of water is the causal power of fire. … this power indeed does not chiefly strive to destroy water… which end necessarily involves the destruction of water. ” (Aquinas 71) Ultimately, what Aquinas strives for through this method is to prove that evil is not intentional but accidental because it does not have an intrinsic cause, and what is wrong is morally wrong although it brings pleasure to the one who commits such an evil.
Logically speaking Aquinas’s view is a rather understandable one and coherent to an extent. However, his assessment that evil is accidental and has no intrinsic cause only appears to work conceptually as opposed to actuality. In J. L Mackie’s piece “The Subjectivity of Values” he makes the claim that there are no objective values. (Mackie 181) Mackie’s approach prefers subjectivity insofar as it relates to judgements and standards that one uses every day and in various situations.
Mackie describes the subjectivity as “This action is right means I approve of this action” (Mackie 182), it can also be interpreted as | believe this action is morally right or wrong or “moral judgements are equivalent to reports of the speaker’s own feelings or attitudes. ” (Mackie 182) In evaluating standards Mackie notes decisions made by judges or experts in certain fields about a variety of topics all of which have a subjective guideline detailing what is exceptional and what is subpar.
Mackie however does argue that standards do bare relations to the work that is in question but standards are not concrete as a(n) (objective) rule would be. Mackie then argues similarly to Rachels, who will be introduced later, that moral values do not rely upon desires and this can work in Aquinas’s favor however, the argument as a whole does not. It can also be said that under Mackie’s moral skepticism Aquinas’s view of evil having no intrinsic cause could be presented as false. Let us say that Donald enjoys making others suffer through various means that are not important for this example.
Donald gains immense pleasure from others suffering and pleasure can be labeled as an intrinsic good if we were to use the hedonistic view of Plato or subjectivity. In turn because Donald gets pleasure from making others suffer and pleasure is an intrinsic good then evil can in fact have an intrinsic cause but there is still no good that come of such a thing. Aquinas says “good as an accidental cause causes evil” (Aquinas 71) however one could say that it is subjective and a person chose the option which would benefit them the most all the while knowing the “evil” that would be caused by their decision.
To take this argument one step further we will look to James Rachels and his argument of cultural relativism. Rachels argues several points one being “Different societies have different moral codes” and “There is no objective standard that can be used to judge one societal code better than another” (Rachels, 152) this can be understood through the example of eating the dead in comparison to erecting a funeral pyre. Under the argument of cultural relativism neither of these is right or wrong and one cannot say that either method of the disposal of the dead is better than the other.
Alternatively, under the cultural difference argument it can be understood as “… neither objectively right nor objectively wrong. It is merely a matter of opinion, which varies from culture to culture. ” (Rachels 153) Aquinas argues that “good insofar as it is deficient causes evil” (Aquinas 68) but using Rachels theory of cultural relativism there can be no deficiencies because there is no standard good across cultures and to judge one culture or ethics better than another is a matter of opinion rather than fact.
Evil insofar as using Rachels has no definitive definition across various cultures and the concept of accidental causes of evil can also vary to the extent that evil may well not exist within certain cultures or across time. In conclusion, insofar as Aquinas’s view on evil is assessed it is coherent in his division of good as causing evil through deficiency and accidentally. However, Aquinas does leave himself open to objection through the metaethical theories of moral skepticism and cultural relativism.
Aquinas does not account for cultural differences as Rachels points out in his theory and this proves to be problematic due to evil not having a definitive answer or cause. So much so to the point that evil may not exist within a culture or across certain spans of time. Mackie also works against Aquinas with his moral skepticism in proving that there are no objective values thus making values subjective, which in turn can give evil an intrinsic cause something Aquinas deems only good can possess.