25 July 2010

The Problem of Evil

If a loving God is all-powerful, why is there evil? Why, for example, do the good so often die young?

Efforts to answer such questions are known, technically, as "theodicy," or less technically as the problem of evil.

Here is Josiah Royce, giving it a run from his own idealistic-Hegelian point of view.

"If our theory of Being assigns to every objective fact a character as a relative fulfillment of the ideas which refer to it, death also, in so far as it fulfills ideas about death, is to just this extent no instance against our theory. Or, in case you will to know the facts about death, would your will be fulfilled if you remained ignorant of death?"

Of course, if a friend of mine dies young and I am parted from him forever, I am unlikely to be consoled by the thought that this is part of my knowledge of death, so I am "fulfilled" thereby. Royce acknowledges this. Still, he says a bit later: "And in presence of death you do thus seek for the Other, namely for the meaning of the fact, for the solution of this mystery, for the beloved object that is gone, for the lost life, for something not here, for the unseen, -- yes, for the Eternal. And in this your search for the eternal lies for you the very meaning of death and of finite despair."

(I'm not endorsing this theodicy, simply quoting what seems to me a very well-phrased sample of such thinking.)


Henry said...

It seems to me that, in the quotations you provide, Royce addresses the problem of death, not the problem of theodicy. These are the same only if one regards every death as evil.

Christopher said...

Royce is addressing the problem of evil, although taking deaths as a particular paradigm thereof.

More specifically, he is talking about deaths that come as an "unwelcome empirical fact," the death of a still-young friend in particular.

If such a friend dies after a wasting illness, we may speak of the death not as an evil but as a blessing. Nonetheless, it is then the wasting illness that is the evil to which a theodicy has to address itself, and Royce would presumably apply analogous thoughts.

Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.