Posted in William King

On the Origin of Evil

Portrait of William King (1650-1729) Monasticon Hibernicum (1867) Wikimedia, Public Domain
Portrait of William King (1650-1729) Monasticon Hibernicum (1867)
Wikimedia, Public Domain

Some books (like Hume’s Treatise) fall “stillborn from the press”, as Hume put it. A small number of those (eg. Hume’s Treatise) are rescued from oblivion by later readers. Other books have the opposite fate – they are widely read and discussed only to fall into obscurity. One such is De Origine Mali (1702), by William King, Archbishop of Dublin, later translated by Edmund Law as Essay on the Origin of Evil (1731).

“The most rigorous effort to construct a rational theodicy in this period appears in the closely related work of Leibniz and William King”(Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World, p. 84) Both philosophers were answering Pierre Bayle, who had come to the conclusion that no solution was possible which reconciled the evil of the world and the existence of a perfectly good and all-powerful God (SEP). Their works were highly influential.

Both King and Leibniz argue that evil is privation, an absence of something rather than a positive force in itself.That, however, does not mean that suffering is merely apparent. The cosmos as a whole is imperfect (metaphysical evil), and natural evils (such as disease or natural disasters) and moral evils (sinful acts of humans) cause real suffering. They follow Descartes in claiming that this is a natural result of a cosmos that is not identical with God (the only entity that can be perfect.)
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