Free Will and Evil Attachment

In our last episode, we saw that St Augustine identified evil desires as that which causes an action to be evil. Now in chapter iv he begins to refine that answer. He observes that life without fear is a good thing, and that it is not wrong to want it. But some evil deeds are done out of fear, and out of a desire for a life without fear. He proposes the slave who kills a brutal master because he fears torture as an example. Not wanting to be tortured is a good thing; no one wants that! So it cannot be said that this slave has murdered out of evil desire. Consequently the conclusion of the previous chapter appears to be mistaken.

St Augustine preserves it by clarifying the nature of the slave’s action. He says:

For to wish to live without fear is not only the desire of good men, but the desire of all evil men as well. However the difference is this: that the good seek it by turning their love away from those things which cannot be possessed without the risk of losing them. Evil men, however, try to remove obstacles so that they may safely rest in their enjoyment of these things, and so live a life full of evil and crime, which would be better named death.

Evodius. I have come to my senses. Now I am glad that I clearly know the nature of that blameworthy desire called lust. It now appears to be the love of those things which a man can lose against his will (p. 10; emphasis added).

So the critical thing he adds here is that the evil desires in view should be specified as having to do with an attachment to temporal goods rather than eternal ones. More will need to be said (and he will do so), since there are obvious flaws in the state of the argument as it stands right now: is all enjoyment whatsoever of earthly things wrong?

Posted in Augustine, Free Will

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