Apropos "The Jung-White Letters": The Critique of the Understanding of Evil as Privatio Boni

To mark the publishing of The Jung-White Letters, Richard Capobianco offers this essay (originally published in the journal Philosophy and Theology), which examines an issue central to understanding the correspondence between Jung and Fr. Victor White - the problem of evil.

Apropos The Jung-White Letters:  The Critique of the Understanding of Evil as Privatio Boni
Richard M. Capobianco
Stonehill College

Postcript, July 2007:  The following article, with slight changes, first appeared in the journal Philosophy and Theology in 1991.  What I think makes it especially timely and of interest for those concerned with Jung’s work is the recent publication by the Philemon Foundation of The Jung-White Letters.  Jung’s relationship with Victor White, a Dominican priest and theologian, is fascinating on several different levels, but there is no question that the theoretical issue that most engaged them—and that ultimately most divided them—centered on the problem of evil.  Jung’s research and clinical observations led him to insist on the psychological “reality” of evil, the implications of which White found most troubling.  White remained committed to the traditional philosophical and theological position, clarifed most notably by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, that evil is a kind of non-being, only a “lack” or “privation” of being.  Jung sharply criticized this traditional metaphyscial conception because he found it incompatible with the “empirical” psychological and mythological evidence, yet he was not concerned with formulating a properly philosophical rejoinder to White’s position.  In the article that follows, I attempted some time ago to work out a philosophical basis for Jung’s—and many others’—objection to the traditional understanding of evil as a privation of good, a lack of being, a special kind of non-being.  Naturally, if I were writing this same essay today, I might state certain things somewhat differently, but I will let it stand as it is.  My hope is that as readers make their way through the newly published Jung-White Letters, this article will add yet another layer of consideration.

Affirming the "reality" of evil has been a central concern of twentieth century reflection. Literature, film, painting, sculpture, music, psychology, and even physics have all attempted to take into account a disordered dimension of being. Philosophers have been no less concerned with this issue. Existentialists such as Sartre and Camus made this a principal concern in their literary/philosophical work; Paul Ricoeur has examined the problem through an analysis of myth in his important study The Symbolism of Evil; and William Barrett wrote passionately about this in the book Irrational Man. Yet, despite such efforts to affirm philosophically the being of evil, a systematic critique of the traditional metaphysical understanding of evil as privation of being has not yet been fully worked out. Consequently, I suggest that by turning to the thought of Heidegger, just such a critique may be sketched out and a more adequate philosophical reflection on the being of evil suggested.

Returning to Aristotle and the Notion of steresis
A discussion of the history of the development of the philosophical position that evil is intelligible only as a "lack" or "deficiency" of good/being (privatio boni) lies beyond the scope of this paper. For our purposes, we need only note that it was principally Augustine who consolidated this position and moved it to the center of philosophical reflection.

Heidegger's difficulty with the traditional metaphysical position appears early on in Being and Time.  In section 58, he observes that the classical metaphysical discussion of evil is rooted in a particular understanding of being. "Least of all," he observes, "can we come any closer to the existential phenomenon of guilt by taking our orientation from the idea of evil, the malum as privatio boni. . . . [for] the bonum and its privatio [have their] ontological origin in the ontology of the present-at-hand, . . ." [BT, 332]. Although he adds no further remarks, still, the main lines of his thinking emerge quite clearly: only with the de-construction of the traditional metaphysical understanding of being as “presence-at-hand” or “constant presentness” can the traditional understanding of evil as privation of being be decisively overcome and a more adequate understanding of evil worked out.

In the summer semester of 1936, Heidegger gave a lecture course at the University of Freiburg on Schelling's treatise On Human Freedom.1  Schelling dealt at length with working out an understanding of the possibility of evil in the Ground of beings, and in his commentary, Heidegger praises Schelling for radically re-thinking the understanding of evil as the "lack" that is "non-being." In Heidegger's view, Schelling boldly attempted to think the "being" of evil precisely as "lack" or "non-presence" [ST, 96-103, esp. 101]. Yet, as important as the Schelling commentary is, in the present essay I would like to confine my discussion to Heidegger's 1940 commentary on key sections of Aristotle's Physics, and on Aristotle's remarks on steresis in particular [OBC].2  Aristotle's statements on steresis (the Greek word was translated into Latin as privatio) figure largely in the medieval elucidation of the position that evil is a privation of being. Consequently, Heidegger’s commentary on Aristotle's understanding of steresis strikes at the very heart of the traditional metaphysical position on evil, even though this issue is not explicitly raised by Heidegger in the course of the discussion. Thus, a distinctively Heideggerian critique of the metaphysical understanding of evil as privatio boni may be systematically worked out on the basis of this one critical text.

According to Heidegger, Aristotle's fundamental insight was this: "movedness" (kinesis) is the basic mode of being.3  Further, Aristotle clearly understood that the central philosophical task was to articulate the different dimensions of "movedness" that is physis or Being, the temporal unfolding or presencing of beings. Thus, three notions, in particular, are central in understanding this process: morphe, hyle, and steresis. Morphe [traditionally translated as form] describes the fullness of a being's appearing or becoming-present or standing in its place. Yet, as Heidegger cautions, stating that a being comes to presence (morphe) does not mean that such a being has ceased “movedness.”  What is present continues to move as it "abides" or "whiles" in its appearance. Therefore, he observes that ". . . morphe is ‘appearance,’ more exactly, the act of standing in and placing itself into the appearance, in general: placing into the appearance. . . . We call it the ‘being at the time’ because as an individual it ‘spends time’ in the appearance and preserves the ‘time’ (the becoming-present) of this appearance, and by preserving the appearance it stands forth in it and out of it—that is, for the Greeks, it is" [OBC, 250; Heidegger's emphasis].

In another place, he more explicitly presses the point that Aristotle was fundamentally misconstrued by later metaphysical thinkers on this issue: ". . . the ‘rest’ that we think of as the opposite of ‘movement’ also has its being as movedness. The purest manifestation of movedness is to be sought where rest does not mean the breaking off and stopping of movement, but rather where movedness gathers itself up into standing still, and where this ingathering, far from excluding movedness, includes and for the first time discloses it. . . . ‘End’ [telos] is not the result of stopping the movement, but is the beginning of movedness as the ingathering and storing up of movement" [OBC, 256; Heidegger's emphasis].

In addition to morphe, hyle [traditionally translated as matter] is integral to physis, the temporal presencing of things. Hyle (related to dynamis, potentiality), according to Heidegger, characterizes the "not-yet" dimension of the presencing of a being. If morphe characterizes the fullness of becoming-present, hyle characterizes presencing precisely as incomplete, on the way, or "not-yet."  But Heidegger appears to be careful to distinguish two different aspects of this dimension of "not-yet-ness."  On the one hand, it may be said that the full presencing of a being "leaves behind" all "not-yet-ness." This characterizes "motion" in the narrow sense; that is, "motion" which has been traditionally opposed to "rest" [OBC, 257].

In the other hand, though, it may be said that a being, even as it has become fully present, retains an aspect of "not-yet-ness."  In other words, even as a being "spends time" in the appearance, it "holds itself back and within itself" [OBC, 258].  Presence (morphe) always retains an hyletic dimension. As Heidegger puts it: "morphe and hyle in their inherent togetherness" [OBC, 254].  Thus, in both these senses, hyle characterizes an integral dimension of physis, Being, the presencing process. For Heidegger, hyle is "a mode of becoming present;" that is, hyle "is" precisely as the presencing of "not-yet-ness" [OBC, esp. 258].

Finally, he notes that for Aristotle steresis, too, is an integral dimension of the presencing of things (physis), and his commentary on this point brings us to the central concern of this paper. He highlights Aristotle's remark at 193b 20 that "he steresis eidos pos estin," which is generally translated along the lines of "privation too is in a way form" [4, Vol. II]. Heidegger, reading as he does eidos as "appearance," translates the line this way: "for privation too is something like appearance" [OBC, 264].4  And he understands Aristotle to be maintaining that privation, as a unique mode of becoming-present, "is." Yet precisely how steresis presences, precisely how steresis "is," needs to be clarified, and Heidegger takes up this task.

He asks us to consider, for example, that when a blossom "buds forth, the leaves that prepared for the blossom fall off" [OBC, 266]. What presences to us is not simply the appearance of the blossom but also the loss or absence of the leaves. Similarly, he notes that "when the fruit comes to light, [and] the blossom disappears," what presences to us is not only the appearance of the fruit, but also the lack or absence of the beautiful blossom [OBC, 266].  In general, then, every attainment of a new morphe entails an "absence. " Heidegger sums up Aristotle’s position in this way: “every placing into the apperance always lets something become present in such a way that in the becoming-present a becoming-absent simultaneously becomes present” [OBC, 266]. Consequently, in this way, "lack" or "absence, " what Aristotle called steresis, presences, and the presencing of steresis is an integral and crucial dimension of the presencing process that is physis (Being).     

Heidegger uses another example drawn from everyday experience to underscore this point:

When we say today, for example, “My bicycle is gone!” we do not mean simply that it is somewhere else; we mean that it is missing.  When something is missing, the missing thing is gone, to be sure, but the goneness itself, the lack itself, is what irritates and upsets us, and the “lack” can do this only if the lack itself is “there,” i.e., constitutes a mode of Being.  Steresis as becoming-absent is not simply absentness, but rather is a becoming-present, the kind in which the becoming-absent becomes present.  Steresis is eidos, but eidos pos, an appearance and becoming-present of sorts. [OBC, 266; Heidegger’s emphasis.]

In introducing this example, he refers parenthetically to Aristotle’s Metaphysics (Delta 22, 1022b 22) which suggests that he was aware that a discussion of the human experience of this kind of “lack” takes Aristotle’s discussion of steresis in the Physics a step further.  The “lack” cited in this example is not the “lack” which is intrinsic to the presencing process: the “lack” or “loss” of one’s bicycle is comparatively “incident-al” to the presencing process.  I suspect that in the seminar Heidegger had argued that Aristotle also spoke of this kind of privation as a dimension of physis and the key text is Metaphysics Delta 22 where Aristotle delineates the many ways in which privation ‘presences,’ including the “taking away of something by force” [1, 95].5   We might also note that in Heidegger’s example he observes that the “lack” which presences “irritates and upsets” us.  There is an existential dimension to his commentary that is not present—at least explicitly—in Aristotle’s analysis in either the Physics or the Metaphysics.

Yet, even with these qualifications in mind, we should not miss Heidegger's central point: For Aristotle, the notion of steresis, no less than the notions of morphe and hyle, is necessary to characterize the process of the presencing of beings. Aristotle is our teacher, Heidegger insists, in learning to "hold on to the wonder" of the steresis-dimension of Being (physis) and, thus, to hold on to the wonder that the presencing of "lack," "loss," "absence"—is [OBC, 266].6

Heidegger's understanding of the devolution of Western philosophical thinking about Being from the time of the Greeks is generally well-known. Even in Aristotle's thinking, he admits, there is to be found the tendency to narrow thinking about Being to thinking about beings. That is, Aristotle, following Plato, was especially fascinated by what appears, morphe, eidos, idea, and, thus, evinced the tendency to think Being exclusively in these terms. Yet, what remained a tendency in Aristotle's thinking became philosophical orthodoxy in the thought of later thinkers, including Augustine and Aquinas. One result is that neither Augustine nor Aquinas could "hold on to the wonder" of the steresis-dimension of physis, of Being.

In speaking about evil, Aquinas often cited the example of blindness. Blindness in an adult human being is the lack or privation of a good that ought to be present, namely sight. According to Aquinas, such a privation is nothing existent in reality; it is not an ens reale: "In one sense, being (ens) signifies the entity of a thing, according as it is divided by the ten predicaments, and is thus convertible with thing. In this sense, no privation is a being, and therefore no evil either" [6, I, 48, 2, ad 2]. Indeed, privation is a kind of non-being: "Non-being, understood as simple negation, does not require a subject. Privation, however, is a negation in a subject ... and evil is that kind of non-being" [6, I, 48, 3, ad 2].

There is only one sense in which Aquinas allows that privation, and therefore evil, may be said to be—as a being of reason, an ens rationis: "In another sense, being (ens) signifies the truth of a proposition which consists in composition whose mark is this word ‘is.’  In this sense, being is what answers to the question, is it?, and thus we speak of blindness as being in the eye, or of any other privation being in its subject. In this way even evil can be called a being" [6, I, 48, 2, ad 2].7  In De Malo I, 1, ad 20, he is more explicit: “Evil is indeed to be found in things but as privation and not as something real.  But evil exists in reason as something understood; and, thus, it can be said that evil is a being of reason and not a real being because it is something in the intellect but not in reality [my emphasis].”8  For Aquinas, then, every evil, physical and moral, is undestandable as a “privation” of being, a kind of non-being, which, strictly speaking, “is” only as a being of reason [a being of the mind].  This conclusion does not deny that Thomas states that evil is somehow “found in things.”  The decisive point is that for Thomas evil may be said to be only as a being of reason: what is at issue here is the being of evil.    

Aquinas’ reasoning is impeccable, but it all turns on an understanding of being that, following Heidegger’s reading of Aristotle, represents a narrowing of Aristotle’s position.  In the less nuanced understanding of being of Aquinas, “modus, species, and ordo” [measure, form, and order] characterize “anything whatever” that “is” [6, I-II, 85, 4; see also I, 5,5], and, thus, Aquinas can find no way to speak of what presences to us as lacking measure, form, and order (privation) as be-ing.  Aristotle’s insight that steresis (“lack,” “privation”) constitutes a mode of being (physis) is lost.    

Of course, we must keep in mind that Aristotle did not comment on the presencing (be-ing) of “lack” precisely as evil.  And, too, as I noted at the outset, Heidegger did not explicitly deal with this issue in his commentary on Aristotle.  Even so, his interpretation of Aristotle’s understanding of steresis lays the groundwork for a critique of the metaphysical understanding of evil as a “deficiency” of being from within Aristotle’s own thinking and, thus, from within the very core of Western metaphysical thought.    

Thus: a person loses his or her sight.  Such a person is terribly pained, possibly devastated.  Yet what pains so? It is the “loss,” the “lack” itself, to re-work Heidegger’s words, which so grieves this person, and the “lack” can do this only if the lack itself is “there,” that is, constitutes a mode of Being.  Therefore, this steresis, surely a malum, is eidos, but eidos pos, an appearance and becoming-present of sorts.9

In his commentary on Schelling's treatise, Heidegger addresses this very example: "As a lack, it is true that a lack is a not-being-present. Nevertheless, this absence is not nothing. The blind man who has lost his sight will argue vigorously against the statement that blindness is nothing existent and nothing depressing and nothing burdensome. Thus, nothingness is not nugatory; but, rather, something awesome, the most awesome aspect of the unfolding of Being" [ST, 101; slightly modified].

Consider another example. A friend has promised to pick me up at a certain hour so I may get to work. My friend, however, arrives a half-hour late, and I am late for work. I relate this episode to a colleague, and she remarks that my friend "showed a lack of consideration." Precisely so. And my friend's "showing" a "lack" of consideration annoyed and hurt me only because the becoming-present of "lack" constitutes a mode of Being. Such a "lack" is.

Other examples could be cited, but I do not wish to lose sight of the central issue. As important as affirming the "existential" reality of evil is, still, such testimony cannot be given its proper weight in philosophy until the traditional philosophical understanding of evil as lack of being is attacked at its metaphysical roots. At least indirectly, this Heidegger has done by returning to Aristotle, and by virtue of this effort, philosophy in the present day can find its own voice in affirming the being of evil.

The Complexity of the K-not in Being
The philosophical task of reflecting on the being of evil is not yet complete, however, for, surely, our experience of evil is not confined solely to the experience of "lack" or "absence." As William Barrett observed some time ago, it is Augustine himself who so vividly and chillingly described the human encounter with evil, not simply as an encounter with "lack," but also as an encounter with a kind of positive malignancy, distortion, and twistedness [2, 9697].10  In part, Augustine remains such a fascinating figure precisely because he so passionately defended a philosophical position on evil which so pointedly belied his own poignant experience of the terrible k-not in being.

But how shall we speak philosophically about this experience of a positive or active distortedness at the heart of reality? Heidegger admits that already in Aristotle's thinking this dimension of the presencing process (Being) had fallen out of philosophical sight. Only by reaching further back to the origins of Greek thinking, he suggests, may we dis-cover thinking about this dimension of Being, and Heidegger often found help by turning to the fragments of Parmenides and Heraclitus.

In Introduction to Metaphysics [1935], he sets out the position that the essence[-ing] of Being is physis and the essence[-ing] of physis is appearing. And he proceeds to discuss the manifold dimensions of "appearing" along the lines that we have discussed. Yet, in IM, in the context of a consideration of Parmenides' poem, he reflects on a particular dimension of the presencing of beings that he names "seeming-to-be" (Anschein) [IM, esp. 104-113].  The earliest Greek thinkers, he maintains, attempted to articulate their experience that Being, the temporal presencing of beings, bears within it a dimension of distortion.  Every appearing is simultaneously a disguising of sorts; every appearing is in some way distorted, and this distortion is two-fold.  First, that which appears also appears "as what it actually is not" [IM, 109]. Second, the presencing of "seeming-to-be," which is intrinsic to every presencing, itself presences as hidden, cloaked, concealed [IM, 109]. Thus, the presencing of a two-fold distortedness, in addition to the presencing of "lack," is an integral dimension of Being. As he puts it, a two-fold distortedness constitutes "a definite mode of emerging self-manifestation [and thus] belongs necessarily to Being" [IM, 109].

Heidegger admits, then, that there is a sense in which Being may be said to deceive: "Because appearance thus essentially distorts itself in its cloaking and dissembling, we rightly say that appearance deceives. This deception lies in the appearance itself” [IM, 109].  It is arguable that this dissembling-dimension of Being is the very condition of the possibility of the particularly cruel physical distortions and deviations which haunt this mortal realm. In the commentary on Schelling's treatise, Heidegger gives a phenomenological account of illness that speaks precisely to this point—and that also inevitably calls to mind Augustine's descriptive accounts:

In the case of sickness, there is not just something lacking, but something wrong. "Wrong" not in the sense of something only incorrect, but in the genuine sense of falsification, distortion, and reversal. This falsification is at the same time false in the sense of what is sly. We speak of malignant disease. Disease is not only a disruption, but a reversal of the whole existence which takes over the total condition and dominates it. [ST, 143-144]

In IM, Heidegger more explicitly raises another consideration: he cites this dissembling-dimension of Being as a crucial condition of the possibility of all concrete instances of human going astray—including, presumably, human moral evil. He regrets, however, that we, unlike the earliest Greek thinkers, have ceased to "recognize" the "power" [IM, 109] of this k-not in Being which contributes to the k-notting of our judgment in matters both great and small.11

We need not examine how Heidegger articulates a fundamentally similar position in other places in his work. Even so, it is worth noting that one of his favorite approaches to this issue is by way of a discussion of a fragment of Heraclitus: physis kryptesthai philei. Even in his commentary on Aristotle, he concludes the discussion with a brief reflection on this fragment. "Being loves to hide itself," he translates Heraclitus' words, and he understands Heraclitus to mean that "self-hiding” is intrinsic to Being.  Concealing, covering-over, disguising is an integral dimension of physis, Being, the presencing of beings. "And therefore," he concludes, "the kryptesthai [concealment] of physis is not to be overcome [once and for all], not to be stripped from physis. Rather, the task [for thought] is the much more difficult one of allowing to physis, in all the purity of its becoming-present, the kryptesthai that belongs to it" [OBC, 269].

Thus, for Heidegger, positive dissembling, in addition to the unfolding of "lack," constitutes a mode of Being. No doubt, then, he does provide a way for us to begin to articulate philosophically our experience of the powerful and terrible reality of the distortions, deviations, and deceptions that permeate our lives and our world and that we have named evil. But I am not sure that even his reflections on the dissembling-dimension of Being are adequate to the task of articulating philosophically the complexity of the k-not at the very heart of our existence. Yet, even so, what is clear is that by virtue of Heidegger's philosophical efforts, the long-standing philosophical scandal of understanding evil as a lack of being has been put to rest. We must now get on with the task of heeding Plato's advice: "But if we will truly tell of the way in which the work [of the creation of the world] was accomplished, we must include the errant cause as well, and explain its influence" [Timaeus, 48b].

1. Schelling's treatise first appeared in 1809.  Joan Stambaugh recommends the translation by James Gutmann: Schelling: Of Human Freedom (Chicago: Open Court Press, 1936).
2. Consider also [3, 309-313] and [5, 146-155].
3. As will become clear in what follows, Heidegger understands kinesis to name the essence[-ing] of both "movement" ("motion") and "rest." Consequently, he does not translate kinesis as Bewegung but chooses the novel word Bewegtheit. Sheehan translates Bewegtheit as "being-moved" and Richardson offers "movedness."  I have opted for “movedness.”
4. The German text reads: "denn auch die 'Beraubung' ist so etwas wie Aussehen."
5. In [4, Vol. VIII] the line is translated: “the violent taking away of anything is called privation.”
6. For Heidegger, then, Aristotle understood very well that Being unfolds with "lacks,""gaps," and "holes." This suggests an interesting genealogy: Derrida via Heidegger - via Aristotle.
7.  See also De Ente et Essentia, Ch. 1, 2; Summa contra gentiles III, 9; De Malo I, 1 ad 19.
8.  The Latin text reads: Ad vicesimum dicendum, quod malum quidem est in rebus, sed ut privatio, non autem ut aliquid reale; sed in ratione est ut aliquid intellectum: et ideo potest dici, quod malum est ens rationis et non rei, quia in intellectu est aliquid, non autem in re; . . . .
9.  Citing the example of blindness, William Barrett made an “existential” protest against the Thomist position in [2, 289].
10. For Augustine's impassioned account, see esp. City of God, Bk. 19 and Bk. 22, ch. 22.
11. Heidegger no doubt overstates his case here. Surely, Freud and Jung, to name two thinkers, profoundly appreciated the "power" of this terrible k-not in reality.  Consider also Heidegger’s remarks on die Irre or “errancy” in his essay “On the Essence of Truth” [1930, published 1943].

Works by Heidegger
[BT]  Being and Time. Trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. New York: Harper & Row, 1962.
[IM] Introduction to Metaphysics. Trans. Ralph Manheim. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959.
[OBC] "On the Being and Conception of physis in Aristotle's Physics B, 1," trans. Thomas Sheehan, Man and World 9:3 (August 1976), 219-270.
[ST] Schelling's Treatise on the Essence of Human Freedom. Trans. Joan Stambaugh. Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1985.

Other Works Cited
[1] Apostle, H.G. Aristotle's Metaphysics. Grinnell, Iowa: The Peripatetic Press, 1979.
[2] Barrett, William. Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy. New York:Doubleday, 1962.
[3] Richardson, William J. Heidegger: Through Phenomenology to Thought. The
Hague: Nijhoff, 1963.
[4] Ross, W.D., ed. The Works of Aristotle. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962.
[5] Sheehan, Thomas. "On the Way to Ereignis: Heidegger's Interpretation of physis," in Continental Philosophy in America, ed. Silverman, et. al.Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1983, 131-164.
[6] Thomas Aquinas. Summa theologiae.