Necessary and Sufficient Cause: On Evil and Anger

In which we examine if evil is real, and, while assuming it is, what it’s causes and expressions are…

A wise man told us once “it is easier to make it worse than to make it better.”  We wonder if this is true, and if making it worse is merely an expression of mere laziness or full-blow corruption and insanity, while, conversely, if making it better is the product of pure Good.  We have to assume a theory of human nature in this and, for time’s sake, we’ll plug in the concept of Evil.

Question: By believing Evil is a necessity of human nature, does this excuse “evil” acts?

This question makes several assumptions, for instance, the one which implies a universal human nature.  We will assume there is something like a biological unity tying us to one another, and perhaps a social one as well which shows us that certain things like a smile, can exist across cultures to mean something “about happiness.”

The excusing “evil acts” is loaded as a prescription, in the end, but it takes an ethical form first.  To excuse is value-laden – one makes excuses, at least in the the culture we are part of.  But it ultimately asks, should one attempt to control one’s evil nature so that it does not harm others or self?

Well, how do we do that?

But first, what are examples of evil behavior?  Many would consider homicide and dishonesty classic examples of the worst possible of evils.  We have heard once or twice that these may be universals among human culture, and when presented with a dilemma of having to choose murder over lying or visa versa, it is difficult to do.  We presently consider the quality (in humans) of anger which exists in most or all of us, as a cause of much evil in the world.

And now to the metaphysics.  We have proposed that Evil does absolutely exit.  This is in direct contrast to a friend’s metaphysics which denies the existence of evil outright, as nonsense. While this certainly needs its due in this argument, we will only briefly use it for contrast.

We looked at the concept of causation this morning in preparation for this question.  Aristotle’s classical four Four Causes were considered.

Material: The physical nature of a thing determines its behavior (assumes that our physiology, neurochemistry, or wiring determines how we will be in the world – deterministic view).

Formal : A thing’s form (human or plant or mineral) determines its nature or role (assumes that because we have the shape and constitution of humanness we will act fitting to that structure – might involve social features).

Efficient: The agency of the thing imparts change (so humans have some will over their actions independent of their material make up or human structure in body or society).

Final: is the ultimate end for which the thing exists, perhaps unknown (a human may believe there is some greater purpose to its existence, though may not be able to pinpoint it exactly).

The Material Cause and Formal Cause interpretations show us that Evil (and anger) are somewhat pre-determined either by brain structure or the structure of our human life in society by virtue of our place on the food chain.  (This deserves a much richer analysis than what we are giving at present.)

The Efficient Cause interpretations place much greater weight on human choice, action, will –  or agency.  We can think first and then act, or, we have some, if not all control over our inherent evils, such as anger.

The Final Cause interpretation might likely be deterministic if one believes in a God or it might be a mix of will and determinism given our propensity to reflect of past and imagine future.  It also involves a sort of self-creation (i.e. if I believe i am evil I will perform evil acts, if I believe I am good, it follows I will perform good acts).

The last bit we wish to put forth are the concepts of Necessary and Sufficient Causes.  Necessary means something must exist for an outcome to happen, though it won’t necessarily happen.  Sufficient cause relies on a Necessary condition to be there, but certain key variables must also for the necessary cause to be realized.

The example provided by Robert Chadwill Williams from The Historian’s Toolbox: A Student’s Guide to the Theory and Craft of History, is excellent for demonstrating Necessary and Sufficient conditions:

“Causation is like an explosion.  Necessary causes are like dynamite, plutonium, or hydrogen – that is, the fuel.  Sufficient causes are like the fuse, match, implosion lenses, or atomic trigger – that is, the ignition device.

Ignition causes explosion – but only because the fuel is present.”

What causes someone to explode in an expression of evil may have many causes.  It might be controlled to an extent, and with a lot of practice, but the metaphysics here pose (without sufficient analysis, granted) it will not go away from the human form, so long as we continue to exist.  Much of these causes imply determinism and therefore excuse evil acts as simply part of human life.

But it is easier to make life worse, than better, said the wise person.  Don;t we owe it to pride to overcome evil, to control it through some kind of self-determinism?



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