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For Aquinas, at it's heart, goodness is a measure of our self-actualization; it is the degree to which we have become what we are drawn to become. He thinks goodness is woven into the fabric of existence. All created things are drawn to be themselves and will naturally seek to grow into their own natures, and by doing so exhibit their goodness.

For Aquinas, the ultimate good is to self-actualize. Now obviously, we can be drawn (as TV psychologist Dr. Phil might say) to things that aren't ultimately going to further our growth (e.g., booz, overeating), even if they look quite attractive at the time. The trick in human behavior for Dr. Phil (and also Aquinas) is to replace the short-term good with the good that moves us closer to what we should become, because that is what ultimately we most desire and is the only thing will satisfy the yearning of the soul.

The more we realize our inherent potential, unfold and grow into what we should become, the more good we are. And the more good we are the more attractive we become, since goodness is naturally attractive. This inherent unfolding, this trueness to nature, and this becoming is what he calls goodness. And this is how God is good: not, like us, by going through the process, but by being already there.


If goodness is woven into the fabric of existence, how does Aquinas account for the fact of evil? He sees evil basically not as something that exists in its own right, but as something that ought to be there but is not: a kind of non-being, a disfiguring of form, a lack or a breakdown of growth, a failure to actualize. So rather than asking why there is evil, Aquinas would ask why is there less good.

Then he distinguishes two kinds of privation of good, one caused by bad luck and the other caused by free will.

Evil suffered, the bad luck kind of evil, is a privation of good caused as a result of another thing flourishing, such as a hurricane or a virus. The victim gets nailed, but the thing causing it is not evil itself.

Evil done is the free will kind of evil. It is a result of an absence of goodness, a negligence, a falling short of what could be, on the part of the perpetrator. In his book The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck defines evil as the choice to hurt someone rather than undergo the pain of growth. Aquinas would agree. And he would add that such evil damages not only the victim but the evildoers themselves. More on this when we get to Aquinas on Humans.

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"For everything, in as much as it exists, is actual and therefore in some way perfect, all actuality being a sort of perfection. Now ... anything perfect is desirable and good. It follows then that, inasmuch as they exist, all things are good."
(1a. 5. 1)

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