Nietzsche & The Problem of Evil Redefined
The Problem of Evil Overviewed

Evil is understood as a problem when we seek to explain why it exists (Unde malum?) and what its relationship is to the world as a whole. Indeed, something might be considered evil when it calls into question our basic trust in the order and structure of our world.

Peter Berger in particular has argued that explanations of evil are necessary for social structures to stay themselves against chaotic forces. It follows, then, that such an explanation has an impact on the whole person. As David Blumenthal observes, a good theodicy is one that has three characteristics:

  1. "[I]t should leave one with oneís sense of reality intact." (It tells the truth about reality.)
  2. "[I]t should leave one empowered within the intellectual-moral system in which one lives." (Namely, it should not deny Godís basic power or goodness.)
  3. "[I]t should be as intellectually coherent as possible." (It is an answer that is both coherent and life-satisfying.)

This is not to suggest that every culture deals with evil in the same way. As Amťlie Rorty notes, evil and its relationship to the world has been understood in the West in a number of ways, including the following:

  • The Neo-platonic: Evil as the privation or negation of the good or being, so that evil is only evil set against the greater good.
  • Theodicy and coherentism: Evil can be understood as part of or in relationship to Godís larger plans for the cosmos.
  • Manichaeanism: Good and evil are equal conflicting powers expressing their opposition in human history.
  • Pious rationalism: Human reason cannot understand evil, but reason must postulate a God to explain human morality.
  • Pious fidiesm: Human reason cannot understand evil, so a leap of faith is required to trust in God.
  • Pessimism: Evil is real, but the world does not make sense nor can it be understood.
  • Non-existent: Evil does not actually exist; rather, human beings project their own subjective disapproval onto events and actions.

Theodicy Defined

"Theodicy" is a term that Leibniz coined from the Greek words theos (God) and dike (righteous). A theodicy is an attempt to justify or defend God in the face of evil by answering the following problem, which in its most basic form involves these assumptions:

  1. God is all good and all powerful (and, therefore, all knowing).
  2. The universe/creation was made by God and/or exists in a contingent relationship to God.
  3. Evil exists in the world. Why?

Notice what this problem suggests. It begins with the assumption that such a being as God will want to eliminate evil. If God is all good but not all powerful or knowing, then perhaps he doesnít have the ability to intervene on every occasion. Likewise, if God is all powerful and knowing but not all good, then perhaps he has a mean streak. If God is somehow all these things, but the universe does not exist in a contingent relationship, then God has little to do with evil (even though Godís design can still be faulted). However, if God is both good and powerful, then why does evil exist?

Now, this problem assumes several things. The first point implies that God is a personal being, though not all theodicists would agree. Likewise, the second point assumes that God interacts, or at least has interacted at some point, with the world. And that we can recognize evil is in the world assumes that "evil" is something that can be rendered intelligible and, therefore, discussed. Evil is typically defined as any undesired state of affairs and is generally considered to include both moral evil, acts done by humans, and natural evil, which includes pain and suffering that results from natural disasters, diseases, or genetic defects.

As one can see this is an issue within and surrounding monotheism. Evil, its origin and purpose, takes on a different meaning when seen from the perspective of a polytheistic, atheistic, or non-theistic belief system. A system in which there are multiple divine powers, no power, or some form of impersonal cosmic force (e.g Tao) will not conceive of the problem in this way. Evil can not only be conceived in metaphysical and religious terms as abomination, disobedience, malevolence, impurity, and dishonor (or alternately in some Eastern systems as illusion or imbalance), it can also be understood in essentially natural or secular terms as social vice, egoism, partiality, corruption, criminality, and sociopathology (cf. Rorty). And many of these while not antithetical to a theistic belief system are not dependent upon one either.

Nietzsche's Objections to the God of Theodicy

Nietzsche in theory does not believe that God exists; "God" for the philosopher is, after all, a human construction and a poor one at that. So Nietzsche's strong and bitter sarcasm aimed at the Judeo-Christian God should be understood as attacks at human ideas that weaken human beings and deny the noble man his source of power and nobility. However, one can also read these objections with a certain suspicion--Does Nietzsche protest to much? Has he really "gotten over" the God he says he doesn't believe in?  Examine the following passages:

  • 30--an imperfect world and the fiction of a god.
  • 181--Uncaring Father
  • 203--Holy Spirit as source of religious violence
  • 253--The unknown torturing god.
  • 262--God guilty of bad taste in designing the universe

Nietzsche's Alternative Answer

Ultimately, Nietzsche argues that the problem of evil doesn't really exist. The problem in his view is a mistaken understanding of the cosmos. if we move "beyond good and evil" then we cannot embrace the world for what it is. Even things typically defined as suffering or natural evil really should be understood as part of life's drama. Ironically, his answer comes strangely around to something like the view of the noble suffering stoic, except now this heroic nobility is a mask, a creation of meaning we place over the cosmos. Note the following:

  • 86--God is a conjecture; rejection of all views of the One or Unmoved Mover
  • 314--Rejection of the kingdom of heaven for the earth as it is
  • 143--Life is best played by good actors
  • 165-166--Yes and Amen, the blessing of an accidental cosmos
  • 180-Disgrace of praying
  • 201-202--Everything is in flux and should be
  • 314-316--Need for an ironic quasi-religious ritual as veneer over life as it is
  • 319-321--Time, Death, and Eternity

"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding