Virtue and gratuitous evil

All arguments from evil turn on gratuitous evil – i.e. an evil from which no good can result. Suppose there are such evils. It certainly seems to follow that some evil could force you to say your life is meaningless. Were this not so, then any evil you experienced could be an integral part of a meaningful life, and so would have meaning and purpose in light of that narrative. You could take pride in how you faced it, how you stuck to or turned back to your principles, how you didn’t despair, etc.

A gratuitous evil appears to be one which would be impossible to face with courage or to endure with patience. After all, these evils are gratuitous:  it’s not as if they could be an integral part to the exercise of a virtue. So either there are no gratuitous evils or human beings are unable to experience them, and either way we appear to have a blessed life.

The same line of argument extends to animal suffering. If evil is not the sort of thing that can deprive my life of meaning, why assume that it has the power to render an antelope’s life meaningless? But if any experienced evil can be an integral part of a meaningful life, then how could it be gratuitous?


  1. outofsleep said,

    September 25, 2011 at 9:03 pm

    You seem to be talking about evil that happens to a person. What about evil that one commits? And especially that one does not repent of? Does this still fall under the category of non-gratuitous because it’s presumably not “meaningless”? (Not “meaningless” because it has consequences… bad ones).

    • September 26, 2011 at 5:02 am

      I hadn’t thought about it that way. Within the limits of the post, all I’m concerned about is the sorts of evils the AFE is concerned with, and the evils we commit are never among them. But choosing to be evil really does make life meaningless” “better that one had never been born” etc.

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