Evil as Nonexistence and Privation
So far I claimed that in Islamic philosophy evils are seen as non-existential entities. But do we in fact see any sort of nonexistence as an evil?
Now that I am writing this paper, there is not a ball on my desk? Then is the nonexistence of a ball on my desk an evil? It seems not. Thus, a kind of modification is required. Some philosophers associate evil with the nonexistence of a (deserved) perfection, which may be called "privation". Al-Farabi, for example, holds:
Indeed, God is nothing but the perfection of existence and it is the Necessary Being (wajib alwujud) and evil is the privation of existence and the negation of perfection. (Al-Farabi, 1408, p. 49)
Avecinna is much more explicit in this respect.
After mentioning some kinds of evil, he says:
Thus, evil in essence is privation, though not any [type] of privation but only privation of that to which the nature of the thing necessarily leads in terms of the perfections that belong permanently to its species and nature. (Avicenna, 2205, p. 340)
So, we do not count any item of nonexistence as an evil but only the lack of such perfection that a thing normally should possess in terms of its nature. Therefore, the lack of sight is an evil for a blind person and not for a tree.
But an existent may be seen as an evil as far as it destroys or prevents another existent's perfection. Avicenna continues to distinguish between essential and accidental evils:
Accidental evil [on the other hand] is the nonexistent, or that which keeps perfection away from that which deserves it. (Ibid)
Avicenna's example to elucidate this distinction is a case in which heat brings about the lost connectedness of one's organ. In this case, in Avicenna's opinion, the essential evil consists in the nonexistence of the connectedness, while the heat itself is an accidental evil, since though "…it becomes an evil relative to the sufferer from it, it has another aspect in terms of which it is not an evil." (Ibid) I shall return to this issue later.
According to Mulla Sadra, however, "evil"
can be used in two senses:
1) In the first sense, all beings except God possess some evil aspects. God, as the unique Necessary Being, is the absolute good and other beings, since they are contingent, can be described as evils as far as they lack the degree of absolute good. In other words, all God's creatures are evils in the sense that they are more or less imperfect. (Mulla Sadra, 1981, p.58) 10
However, Mulla Sadra reminds us very soon that this is not the sense which is usually meant in the philosophical discussions on evil.11
2) Evil, in the second sense, "… consists in the nonexistence of an object or the nonexistence of one of its perfections which is peculiar to it inasmuch as it is that certain object…. Therefore, philosophers said that evil lacks any [existent] essence, it is instead a nonexistent entity which consists in either the nonexistence of an object or of its perfection." (Ibid)
This second sense is what Sadra's predecessors had in mind when they talked about evils. We may call this view about the nature of evils "the
theory of the nonexistent nature of evil" (henceforth:TNNE )12 It is fair to note here thatTNNE should never considered as equal to the aforementioned view which says that evils are nothing except dreams and illusions. According toTNNE , evils are real as well as goods but their very natures are nonexistential and negative. Thus, the blindness and ignorance are realities andTNNE 's claim is just that philosophical analysis shows that they are nonexistent realities.