Saint Augustine, who lived in the late 4 th and early 5 th centuries, created a very interesting perspective on the notion of evil. Augustine first views of evil followed the doctrine of the Manichaen Dualists. Their idea was that there were two omnipotent forces, good and evil, constantly fighting. Both forces, according to the Manichaen Dualists, were of equal power. Augustine later rejected this idea and developed his own theory on the nature of evil. Saint Augustines view concerning evil is, simply put the privation of good.
Augustine believes that evil is not a separate force, but a lack of good. This view is contradictory to the Manichaen view. Augustine does not view evil even as a substance, but as a void. This void, sort of like the Nothing in the Never Ending Story, takes over the being that it infects. A being that used to contain good becomes empty as evil corrupts it. Augustine believes that all beings were created good and all beings have the potential to become corrupted.
Even if a being is partially corrupted the being still only consists of good, since evil, in and of itself, does not truly exist; it is only the lack of good. Beings do possess free will and their goodness may fluctuate: But because they are not, like their Creator, supremely and unchangeably good, their good may be diminished and increased. (Cahn, 177) Saint Augustine states that There can be no evil where there is no good (Cahn, 177) Augustine sees evil as a dependent, not an independent. Evil must have good to exist. Not only is evil a void, it is an ontological parasite, needing a host to survive. The host is the being, or the good, since both exist within one another.
Augustine also points out that nothing is totally evil because it would cease to exist. If a being were to be completely consumed by evil, there would be no good left within the being. Since some good must exist for there to be being or existence, a totally corrupt bein cannot exist. When there is no being there is no good and with out good, there can be no evil.
Although it may seem like a contradiction, everything that is evil is good. Augustine proves this claim by showing that evil is just an imperfect good. As stated before, evil is not a substance, it is just a void. An analogy would be, good / being is like a full glass of water. When the glass is full, it is completely good, without corruption / evil . Good or being is represented by the water and the physical body is the glass.
As the glass becomes empty, it becomes less good. Just like being, the glass does not become filled with any other substance as it becomes empty. When the water is gone, good is gone and in turn evil is gone because there is nothing left, but an empty space and a glass. Since the body cannot live without being, it will also cease to exist. Using this logic, Augustine shows that an evil man is an evil good. (Cahn, 177) the previous statement claims that evil is partially good, since it is simply the lack of good.
Augustine also makes note that one must not forget that everything that is evil is good, but everything that is good is not evil. Good, unlike evil, can exist freely and independently. Although good and evil are contraries, one can exist without the other, namely good. Something can be truly good; meaning that it possesses no corruption, but nothing can be purely evil because then it would be nonexistent.
Evil then, must arise from what is good, which would mean that anything evil is an evil good because it still must contain some good to exist. If there were no good there would be no evil because there would be no being to corrupt. If there were no evil, only pure uncorrupted good would exist. According to Augustine, Satan must be partially good to exist, although he is considered the ultimate evil in Christianity. This would follow the teachings of the Bible, making Satan a fallen angel, once being good but becoming corrupt. But, am I to understand that the only way to defeat Satan is to make him more evil or more good.
Using the arguments of Augustine, to make something not exist is to contain no being or good. So if Satan exists, he must have some goodness, but the only way to make him nonexistent is to corrupt him more. I wonder if it is possible, to make the ultimate evil, more evil. Augustine further illustrates that man should be most concerned with the cause of good and evil. Knowing the causes of good and evil will help man avoid corruption of being that comes from ones troubles in life. Augustine believes that true happiness is the avoidance of these troubles, which can be more easily eluded by the knowledge of good and evil.
I think that Aristotle influenced Augustine because they both believe that one must know the good and then do the good, not to be evil. Socrates believed that if one knew the Good, then he / she would do the good all the time. Augustine allows human error to play a role. Augustine feels that error is an evil because it is a mistake, which cannot be good, even if it is beneficial.
One can have errors that are advantages to them, but they are still mistakes and are evil nonetheless. If a man believes something to be true when it is false, Augustine considers that to be a small evil. The man who is the deceiver, is committing a great evil. Augustine believes that it is the duty of all men to avoid being deceived and to err, since all are considered evil.
Lying is also a great evil, if one purposely deceives someone. If one is lying, but does not know they are lying, it is only a small evil because they believe what they are saying is true... In conclusion, Saint Augustine creates a very interesting notion of what evil is, or shall I say what it is not, since evil does not really exist. Saint Augustines view is important because his philosophy stresses that all beings are created good and then are corrupted, or become evil by free will.
The choices made throughout an individuals life determine whether he / she is good or evil, rejecting any notion of fate or predetermination. Later philosophers, like Rousseau and Locke will expand upon Saint Augustines view.