Ken Gemes
Birkbeck College
The problem of evil can be captured by the following four statements which taken together are inconsistent: 1) God made the world 2) God is a perfect being 3) A perfect being would not create a world containing evil 4) The world contains evil Traditional attempts to grapple with this problem typically center on rejecting (3). Thus Descartes, following Augustine, rejects (3), arguing that evil is the result of man’s exercise of his free will. However, given Descartes plausible claim that God could have created man in such a way that through exercising his free will man comes to only virtuous actions, it is not clear how the problem is solved. Descartes also repeats the Augustinian orthodoxy that though the world contains evil it does not contain it as a positive existence; evil has no real being but is simply the reflection of the inherent lack of full-being in merely finite individuals. Again, that this is a solution is open to serious doubt.
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