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A Non-moral theory of Evil

John Cobb and David Ray Griffin propose a definition of Evil that for me is hard to resist. Evil falls into two categories,

1). Discord.

2). Unnecessary triviality.

This is based on their onto-aesthetic assertion:

“Perfection is the maximal harmonious intensity that is possible for a creature, given its context.”

They expand:

Discord, which is physical or mental suffering is simply evil in itself, whenever it occurs. Triviality, however, is only evil in some cases. A trivial enjoyment is not evil in itself insofar as its harmony outweighs its discordant elements. But if it is more trival, and hence less intense than it could have been, given the real possibilities open to it, then it is evil. Hence while discord is absolutely evil, triviality is only comparatively evil.

Key to their definition of triviality is the concept of intensity. This is how they explain intensity, which reflects something of Aristotle’s aesthetics of the whole:

“Intensity depends upon complexity, since intensity requires that a variety of elements be brought together into a unity of experience.”

For them the process of the Good is ever a process of discovery: “To escape triviality is to risk discord,” or as Alfred Whitehead puts it, “[the evil of discord] is the halfway house between perfection and triviality.”

I would be interested in any views of this non-moral definition of Evil. Are there moral conundrums that could not be subject to it? I have thought of examples of triviality, and each time realized that they would be more “perfected” if made more intense, that is if a greater variety of elements were incorperated into the “unity of that experience;” and though the “evil” of physial or mental discord seems self evident, such discord seems ever redeemed if it leads to greater intensity/unity.

[written Feburary 25, 2006]

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