Chapter VII – Nature
The natural world is inherently good. This is the accepted understanding and the implicit comprehension of the habitual man. Empirical science is beneficent in its magnificent description of the natural world, a knowledge that elicits in the common fellow and the educated mind alike, a sense of wonder, of curiosity, and of reverence. Nature appears majestic and powerful in the multiplicity of its beauty; from the microscopic bacteria surviving in the harshly and tremendously high temperatures of the earth, to the impressive displays of geologic power in erupting volcanoes, to the delicate nutrition of plants under warm and rainy climates, to the interplay of species in the animal kingdom ordered to their common population survival living within their ecosystems, to homo sapiens himself, the wise animal, characterized by the interior life of the rational soul, the beauteous achievements of art and literature, and the imposing realizations of technology, science, and engineering.
Indeed, nature represents man, that is, humanity living in its altering eco-system, and the natural and the physical world characterized by physical law and chemical interaction, instinct, sensation, emotivity, and the inherent struggle for survival and sustenance. To state that the world is good, is to inquire into the metaphysical consideration of goodness itself, both in its philosophical implications and its moral and ethical investigations.
In his Nicomachean Ethics, Greek philosopher Aristotle defines the good as that to which all things tend.
“Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim. But a certain difference is found among different ends; some are activities, others are products apart from the activities that produce them. […] the end of medical art is health, that of shipbuilding a vessel, that of strategy victory, that of economics wealth.”
– Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book I, Chapter 1, paragraph 1
All things tend towards their own good in accord with their nature. The good of the plant is realized in the life of growth, nutrition, and asexual reproduction; the good of the animal is realized in sensation, the emotional life, perception and mental activity; and the good of the human person is realized in the activity of reason, and the inner life of abstraction and of willing. In the comprehension of the real, goodness is itself being; being is a metaphysical understanding that refers to the immaterial property of all extant thing and is shared by all substances, from inanimate substances that are the chemical element and the metal, to the combusting star and orbiting planet, to the animate microscopic life of the bacterium, to the sentient activity of aquatic, marine and animal extants, to the inner rational mind of the human being; together formulated in terms called common being or ens commune.
All real extants seek after their own being, which is their goodness. In this way, the natural and physical world is inherently good. The problem of evil is as matter of fact, related to the comprehension of the good. In contraposition to the good, evil is a privation or lack of good, that is, of being. The loss of a hand is a natural or physical evil, that deprives a body from its integrity and from its complete functioning. An error in the deoxyribonucleic acid replication is itself an evil that can lead to difficulty in its transcription into the ribonucleic acid and a misplacement in the genetic code that directs the synthesis of biological proteins. As a privation, evil has no existence in itself, but only, insofar as it inheres in good. Blindness inheres in the eye, in the same way that replication errors inhere in deoxyribonucleic acid. If goodness is both natural and moral, evil too, is natural, physical and moral. St. Thomas Aquinas is synthetic in the apt dictum that good is to be done and evil is to avoided.
Natural evil is chiefly, an evil of corruption. Nature is corrupted, that is, it is deviated from its intended end; for that reason, it is really imperfect. Although planets and orbs rotate in their orbits, with the passing of time, their rotations deviate more from their intended course, and are thus, imperfect. Inanimate matter is corrupted, that is, imperfect: stars arise, burn, illuminate, then combust and meet their end; planets created are ever more inhospitable, visited by the changes of time, and are constantly decomposing or at least, lacking in the perfection of their physical form as they are filled with cracks, holes, canyons, and degrading atmospheres. Corruption is due to the limitations inherent to matter and to the passage of time, which during the evolution of the universe leads to change, and from change, to imperfection. Natural evil is apparent in the existence of disorder and conflict. The physical work that is the feature of inanimate matter and the biochemical work that supplies the energy needed for the existence of organic life, generally increases the total entropy or disorder of the universe; according to physical computational models, the process of evolution that has resulted from the Big Bang, is to ultimately lead to a contraction, a state of maximal disorder, entropy and chaos. On Earth, tectonic plates move creating earthquakes, volcanoes erupt corrupting geographic configurations, disrupting ecosystems, and destroying lands, villages, and cities. It appears that conflict, too, is an imperfect law of nature; the struggle for survival animates sentient being and the law of adaptation drives the generation, the evolution, and the life of biological organisms. In kingdom Animalia, the law of survival and of adaptation is specially visible where animals prey on other animals for their sustenance and survival creates conflicts of strength and power; there exists a hierarchy of adaptation that establishes a “food chain” in which the most fit advantageously are supplied with the life of less fit and less powerful species; sitting at the summit of this chain of survival, is homo sapiens, man.
Rational creatures, such as human beings, are governed by a different principle, which is the interior life of reason and will that is the foundation of human desire. Desire or pleasure, pride, and ignorance are the chief motivating factors that drive moral evil. From the Christian perspective, primitive evil takes its starting point from the rebellion and the fall of the angels from Heaven; this marks the Christian theological worldview, the genesis and the emergence of spiritual and rational evil. Original Sin, is the theological understanding that at the spurring of the temptation of the devil, the first parents of humanity, Adam and Eve, fell into sin, a transgression of the divine and natural laws, which has deprived the human nature of salvific grace, and wounded and stained it in its inner constitution resulting in ignorance and an inherent inclination to evil. Human beings tend to and desire the good, and yet, their intellects, their wills, and their passions are at times, inclined to evil. If natural evil appears in disorder and conflict, catastrophe in natural disasters, and misfortunes in diseases and plagues; moral evil is essentially visible in war, poverty, injustice, exploitation, crime, inequality, and human and rational corruption.
Contemporary societies have abandoned the antique wisdom of yester epochs that once understood the natural moral law as the ethical foundation of social living, with the consequent result of a living moral malaise that consistently and indifferently confuses good and evil and sets into question their moral relevance. The abandonment of the Judeo-Christian moral order is particularly evident and certainly striking. It involves the setting aside and the rejection of a heritage that is two millennias old, a wisdom that has guided Western civilization over the ages, and that has provided the moral justification of its intellectual ideals. This development implicates the abdication of human reason and the purported admission of its inability to arrive at any moral or any metaphysical truths whatever. Finally, evil is accepted as a norm of moral behavior, and the re-questioning of moral good and of moral truth.
Moral goodness is embraced as relative, or is perhaps, mistaken; this is possibly, an irreversible reality since it is accepted in the general psyche to be the mark and the realization of the human, material, and scientific progress that has marked humanity since the advent of modernity that emerged with the period of the Renaissance in the 14th century. A humanity appears whose conscience is quite oblivious to any moral truths. Objective moral goodness in its truth, is no longer sought unless this truth is practical and functional and is considered under the principles of utility, namely that, actions should be evaluated with regards to their consequences, and that, the greatest good for the greatest number of people are to be propounded. Increasingly, amorality is becoming the guiding ethical framework as evidenced in egotism, subjectivism, and individualism. Hence, the moral growth of the human conscience is impeded coming with the realization that a new ethical orientation is to be investigated and found; in short, mankind is in search of enlightenment, and seeks to move beyond the classical canons of good and of evil.
The foundations of novel moral orientations are to be sought out. The character of the post-modern age has been the diffused conviction of the inability of human reason to arrive at any objective moral truths. The result has been the decided embrace of the relativity of existence and of the celebrated acceptance of the subjectivity of the human conscience. Post-modernity has inherited from modernity its emphasis on the inherent goodness of nature as a characteristic of being and of its amoral innocence as a reality. The artificial pace of the contemporary culture as evidenced in the increased use of technology in order to relate human interactions and to facilitate the transfer of good and of information, and the mechanistic frame of the present material society visible in its emphasis on efficient uniform organization and mass economic production, have offered reasons to celebrate and to extol the natural dimension in its mystery and in its authenticity, despite its apparent harshness and because of its certain harmony. Truly, the popular subconscious is infused with the parallel views of the natural human being as one existing in his actual place, in proper consonance with the natural world and at the same time, constituting a retrograde stage in the march of progress.
The natural human being appears to be an indeterminate conception. It presents the attempt to find the human seat in the natural sphere, a condition in which humankind has decidedly lost its moral bearings. The evolutions since the emergence of post-modernity have contributed to the discarding of reason, both human and divine, as the cornerstone of ethical verity; a demand for a renewed basis for moral existence has arisen which can be discovered in the chief principle that constitutes natural sentience itself: movement.