The Theological Virtues in St. Thomas as a Demarcation for Responses to the Problem of Evil -- By: J. Thomas Bridges

Journal: Christian Apologetics Journal
Volume: CAJ 09:2 (Fall 2011)
Article: The Theological Virtues in St. Thomas as a Demarcation for Responses to the Problem of Evil
Author: J. Thomas Bridges


The Theological Virtues in St. Thomas as a Demarcation for Responses to the Problem of Evil

J. Thomas Bridges

The problem of evil is a perennial issue in the philosophy of religion. Perhaps this is because a notion of the problem of evil is misleading. In fact, one’s philosophical interest in the issue of God and his relationship with evil can range across many different philosophical domains, from a formal logical study and a dispassionate metaphysical approach to the sort of emotional responses appropriate in the face of suffering. Commonly the problem is delineated along theoretical and practical lines. Some philosophers take pains to make even finer distinctions. For example, Paul Draper comments:

Practical problems of evil are concerned with what one ought to do in response to evil. They are theological when the issues is what actions one ought to perform, in light of one’s beliefs about God, the assumption being that those beliefs should make a difference to how one responds to evil. If the question

is whether or not one should (continue to) rely on or trust God, then this assumption is obviously true. . . .

Affective problems of evil are concerned with whether the emotions one feels in response to evil are appropriate. They are theological when the issue is how one ought to respond emotionally to evil, in the light of one’s beliefs about God. Many theists have emotional responses to evil that appear to conflict with their beliefs about God. For example, evil may cause a believer to feel despair or hopelessness or anger toward God. . . .

Both practical and affective problems of evil raise doxastic questions about evil. To determine what one ought to do or how one ought to feel in response to evil, one must first determine what one ought to believe, including what one ought to believe about God, in light of evil in the world.1

Draper’s distinctions are well made. However, in this paper I will simply refer to both ‘practical’ and ‘affective problems’ of evil as practical. If one assumes that the emotions are to a significant degree subject to the will, then this is assumption is a safe one, since the affective problem translates to what one does with his emotions in light of evil.

This article will not be concerned with a clear taxonomy of problems of evil. Rather what I wish to accomplish in the following is to track St. Thomas’ description of the theological virtues and explore how their presence or their contraries establish a generic philosophical psychology both of the Christian theist and the atheist, respectively. My con...

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