1st Edition

The Metaphysics of Good and Evil

By David S. Oderberg Copyright 2020
    240 Pages 4 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    240 Pages 4 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    The Metaphysics of Good and Evil is the first, full-length contemporary defence, from the perspective of analytic philosophy, of the Scholastic theory of good and evil – the theory of Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, and most medieval and Thomistic philosophers. Goodness is analysed as obedience to nature. Evil is analysed as the privation of goodness. Goodness, surprisingly, is found in the non-living world, but in the living world it takes on a special character. The book analyses various kinds of goodness, showing how they fit into the Scholastic theory. The privation theory of evil is given its most comprehensive contemporary defence, including an account of truthmakers for truths of privation and an analysis of how causation by privation should be understood. In the end, all evil is deviance – a departure from the goodness prescribed by a thing’s essential nature.

    Key Features:

      • Offers a comprehensive defence of a venerable metaphysical theory, conducted using the concepts and methods of analytic philosophy.
      • Revives a much neglected approach to the question of good and evil in their most general nature.
      • Shows how Aristotelian-Thomistic theory has more than historical relevance to a fundamental philosophical issue, but can be applied in a way that is both defensible and yet accessible to the modern philosopher.
      • Provides what, for the Scholastic philosopher, is arguably the only solid metaphysical foundation for a separate treatment of the origins of morality.

    Preface and Acknowledgements


    Part I: A Theory of Good as Fulfilment

    1. The basic theory: appetites and fulfilment

    1.1 Actuality and potentiality

    1.2 Appetite as potentiality: the tendencies of things

    1.3 Seven objections to goodness as fulfilment

    1.4 Fulfilment as non-arbitrariness: the principle of finality

    2. Developing the Scholastic conception of goodness

    2.1 Goodness as neither essentially moral nor essentially organic

    2.2 The attributive/predicative debate

    2.3 Final and contributory goodness

    2.4 Goodness ‘in a way’

    3. A case for inorganic goodness

    3.1 Instantiation and approximation

    3.2 Continuation in existence as a tendency

    3.3 The objection from radioactivity

    3.4 False analogies: inertia and conservation

    3.5 Is existence itself good?

    4. The good in the living

    4.1 From inorganic to organic goodness

    4.2 The good in the vegetative appetites

    4.3 The good in the sensitive appetites

    4.4 Sexual cannibalism and related objections

    4.5 The good in the rational appetite

    Part II: A Theory of Evil as Privation

    5. In defence of the privation theory

    5.1 Privation and need

    5.2 Privation and evil

    5.3 Some painful objections

    5.4 Objections from morality: malice and punishment

    6. Evil and truthmaking

    6.1 Truthmaker theory and negative truths

    6.2 Absences

    6.3 The totality theory

    6.4 The exclusion theory

    6.5 Truthmakers for privative truths

    7. Evil as cause and effect

    7.1 The fundamental problem

    7.2 Absence causation

    7.3 Privative causal truths

    7.4 Armstrong’s analysis: the contrast

    8. The reality of evil

    8.1 Non-negotiable truths about evil

    8.2 Why it matters than evil is conceptual being

    8.3 The reality of evil in the good

    8.4 The mystery of evil



    David S. Oderberg is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading, England. He is the author of many articles in metaphysics, ethics, philosophy of religion, and other subjects. His books include Moral Theory: A Non-Consequentialist Approach (2000), Applied Ethics: A Non-Consequentialist Approach (2000) and Real Essentialism (2007). He is also the editor of several collections on ethics, logic, and metaphysics. Prof. Oderberg edits Ratio, an international journal of analytic philosophy.

    "Oderberg’s work provides theologians the clarity necessary to avoid spouting platitudes or nonsense when posed the question: if evil is, in itself, nothing but a lack of being, how can evil wreak so much damage? Oderberg’s response is that the theory on which evils are privations of being does not entail that evils are not real. Despite sin and evil remaining mysterious features of the world, then, the first half of the book and the concluding chapter on the reality of evil would be fruitful to anyone looking to understand or defend classical Christian reflection concerning the mysterium iniquitatis." - Fr. James Dominic Rooney, OP, Religious Studies Review