Everybody remembers where in Plato’s Republic Socrates asserts that evil cannot be done consciously, or rationally, for one doing evil believes himself to be doing good, and one cannot do evil to another, because one can only do good or evil to oneself.
“The true quality of God we must always surely attribute to him whether we compose in epic, melic, or tragic verse.
And is not God of course good in reality and always to be spoken of as such?
But further, no good thing is harmful, is it?
I think not.
Can what is not harmful harm?
By no means.
Can that which does not harm do any evil?
Not that either.
But that which does no evil would not be cause of any evil either?
How could it?
Once more, is the good beneficent?
It is the cause, then, of welfare?
Then the good is not the cause of all things, but of things that are well it is the cause–of things that are ill it is blameless.
Entirely so, he said.
Neither, then, could God, said I, since he is good, be, as the multitude say, the cause of all things, but for mankind he is the cause of few things, but of many things not the cause. For good things are far fewer with us than evil, and for the good we must assume no other cause than God, but the cause of evil we must look for in other things and not in God.”
(Plato, Republic II 379a-c)
One really would think that Dante read Plato’s Republic, but apparently truth needs no outside source, because, in Dante’s Paradiso the very same concept is proved in a deeply similar way! For one, for Dante, God’s Nature is the same as Man’s. For two, Dante then explores the concepts of contingent will and absolute will. One’s contingent will is the will one uses everyday to make the choices one makes. One might call it a “human will”. The absolute will is the call or thrust of one’s Nature which one shares with God. Therefore, the absolute will is the manifestation within one of one’s connection or identity with the Divine Nature, which is by definition perfect, and therefore always wills what is correct eternally. One might consider it similar to instinct. The goal, then, is for a human to align his contingent will with the absolute will in order to place his human nature in harmony with his divine nature. What does this mean? This means that each human’s nature is perfect, and therefore no human is, by nature, imperfect. Each human, however, is not simply nature or form, but a composition of matter (body) and form, which leads to one’s temporal and imperfect existence (and the existence of a contingent will–which is how one has free choice, the greatest gift of the Divine.)
There are some interesting implications to these observations by Dante. If one’s nature as a human is shared with god, then it must be perfect and therefore not imperfect or evil. One cannot be evil by nature. How, then, might we call one evil? Well, if one’s contingent will turns from or acts against the absolute will, then one is doing evil or harm to one’s own being, because one is straining the relationship between contingent will and absolute. So for example when Cain kills his brother Abel, Cain is doing evil to the absolute will (which will curse him and place a mark upon his head) by acting against it with his contingent will by killing his brother. How this gets decidedly Platonic, though, is that in Cain killing his brother who is it that he does evil to? Not his brother, but to himself. How can this be? If doing evil or harm involves one’s contingent will acting against the absolute will, one can only ever do harm or evil to one’s own being or self. Of course one can “physically” harm another being or abuse it in some way, but if doing evil is defined as one’s will acting against the divine will, or absolute will, the only person one can ever do evil to is one’s self by acting against one’s truest nature, the nature one shares with God.