Privatio boni: a theological fallacy

Privatio boni, a religious concept that deals with the composition of evil, was another topic we focused on last class. Similar to the relationship between cold and heat, evil is posited to be whatever is absent of good. There’s a slight distinction between absent of good and what’s not good: a grey area, a liminal space between good and evil. Naturally, Privatio boni doesn’t incorporate that liminal space; whatever isn’t good must be evil, thereby removing a third option, something that’s neither good nor evil.

It’s difficult to wrap my head around how this could be possible. In order to understand what’s good we’d have to generate a sound denotation of the word good. “Good” is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “[Something] To be desired or approved of.” If this definition is unanimously agreed fair, then, in adherence to Privatio boni, evil is whatever that’s absent of a quality “to be desired or approved of.” Evil would not only be whatever is undesirable or unapproved of but also whatever is simply not “desirable and approved of.” That is to say that the chair I’m currently sitting on, which I have no feeling toward, is intrinsically bad because I don’t have any feeling toward it. The Devil, the very personification of evil, would be lumped into the same category as the chair I’m sitting on that I feel nothing for nor against. No, this isn’t a fair understanding of what evil is. To lump what’s neutral and what’s truly evil is poor reasoning and a perfect example of a false dichotomy.




melb says:

I understand what you mean; like, if the Devil is evil would they want everyone who went to hell to party because they were evil too? Or by torturing souls, is the Devil punishing human souls for being evil? I missed last class and I’m bummed to say so if we were having such an interesting conversation such as this!

de lap says:

Not exactly. Privatio boni states that everything that’s not good is evil. The idea doesn’t account for things that are neither good nor evil. The idea lumps what’s evil and neither into the same category.

I think privatio boni makes sense in the context of Christian theology; while it is binaried, I don’t think it erases the liminal space. The earth itself is a liminal space reflecting both good and evil and as there are degrees of brightness, so there are degrees of closeness to God’s perfection.

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