Augustine and Good Will



Is Good Will Easy to Have?

Augustine in FCW 1 argues that it is easy to have a good will. One only has to will a good will then she will have one. According to Augustine, good will is “a will by which we seek to live rightly and honorably, and to attain the highest wisdom” FCW 1.12, p.19). If Augustine believes that a good will is easy to have, it implies that to will to live rightly and honorably and to attain the highest wisdom is easy to have. I did not find this theory convincing, since there are some empirical counter-examples that challenge his claim. My thesis: Despite what Augustine maintains, having a good will is not easy.

Augustine’s argument can be roughly formulated as follows:

  • Virtue is more powerful/superior than vice.
  • The soul is more powerful/superior than body and its desires.
  • The soul is able to master bodily inordinate desires.
  • The inferior can’t master a superior.
  • The will is in the power of the will.
  • A good will is “a will by which we seek to live rightly and honorably, and to attain the highest wisdom.”
  • The good will “cannot be stolen or taking away” either by its superior or its inferior (FCW 12. p.22).
  • Most people always will a good will. (Perhaps, it is a missing promise by Augustine.)[1]
  • Therefore, it is easy to have a good will.

Will is a property of the mind.

To Augustine, will in general and good will in particular is, perhaps an essential, property of the mind.[2] As long as the mind exists, the will is present too. As he maintains, “Should we then not rejoice a little that in the mind we have something – I am speaking of the good will itself – in comparison with which all the things we have mentioned are completely unimportant, things in pursuit of which we see many people spare no efforts or avoid no dangers?” (FCW 1.12, p.21). Hence, it is not possible to have a mind without having a will, since the former entails the latter.

According to Augustine, there are two types of goods. Goods that our possession over them is temporary, like wealth, beauty, and power. These transient goods not only can be taken away, but losing them is not in our power. On the contrary, the second types of goods are those that our possessions over them are eternal and not only the acquisition of these types of goods is in our power, but maintaining or losing them depends on our will. Unlike transient, external goods that can be taken away from us, good will is eternal and cannot be taken away from us. As an essential part of the soul, they can survive any worldly generation or corruption. The good will as an eternal good survives the generation and corruption in the world.

In the next step, Augustine tries to establish that the soul is more superior to material objects, including bodily inordinate desires. By the virtue of being eternal, the second types of goods are superior to the transient goods. Because the soul is more powerful than matter and virtue more powerful than vice. It is in the power of the soul to overcome inordinate desires. Indeed, Augustine subscribes to a neo-Platonic principle that an inferior cannot master a superior.

By doing this, he then claims that the will is in the power of the will. “Then I think you see now that it lies in our will to enjoy or to lack such a great and genuine good. For what is so much in the power of the will as the will itself?” So far, Augustine’s argument does not support the contention that good will is easily obtained. It merely establishes that we always have access to will, including to a good will or an evil will. Augustine’s next move should show that what make us to will a good will while we can have an evil will, given the fact that giving up to the inordinate desires and therefore to an evil will is easier for a significant number of people. To avoid this problem, Augustine needs to assume that we are naturally inclined to “seek to live rightly and honorably, and to attain the highest wisdom;” otherwise, we could have not a good will as easy as Augustine thinks.

However, there is a major problem with Augustine’s contention that having a good will is easy. Despite Augustine’s claim, to have a good will is not so easy if we are not naturally inclined to have a good will. There are significant numbers of wicked people who not only do not prefer to have a good will, but also willingly and knowingly prefer to have an evil will. If the good will were easy to have, abundance of good will in human societies would be a reasonable expectation. Unfortunately, what we witness in the world is far from the abundance of good will. Augustine himself witnessed the dark aspect of humanity in his own time. It might be due to these concerns that later Augustine admits that an unaided will cannot overcome evils, and one needs God’s grace to live rightly.

[1] Augustine maintains that a good person always seeks to prevent evil, but it is not the same as believing that most people will a good will. If most people did not a good will, it follows that it is not easy to have a good will.

[2] When Augustine asks his interlocutor Evodius whether he has a good will or not, he is clueless about whether he has a will or even he wants to know that whether he has one. After Augustine presses him more, he admits that he not only has a will, but it is a good one.

Cyber-defamation: Cyberbullying’s Cowardly Cousin

When we think of cyberbullying, we tend to think of teenagers tapping away at their phones or computers, too young and immature to fully comprehend the impact of their words or the consequences of their actions.

The unfortunate reality is that too many adults are stooping to the same petty tactics with deliberate, malicious intent, emboldened by the anonymity and/or immunity that the cyber world can offer. As cyberbullying laws tighten, abusers are becoming more creative in how they can digitally terrorize their targets. They choose tactics that safeguard them from culpability, but inflict the same level of distress to their victims.

What is Cyber-Defamation?
Cyberbullying laws vary from place to place. Generally, cyberbullying can be defined as “the use of electronic communication to bully a person, typically by sending messages of an intimidating or threatening nature.”

Despite the strides that have been made in anti-cyberbullying legislation, what constantly slows down reform is the persistent and inaccurate perception that what happens online “doesn’t really count,” that abuse conducted in the digital world holds less weight than abuse in the real world. Yet so often cyber abuse is an extension of preexisting abuse in reality. Cyber abuse can and does emerge when the victim is no longer available to the abuser in the physical realm.

While there is still a lot more to be done in policy-making to bring cyberbullying to a complete end, by now many abusers and stalkers realize that contacting their victims directly through text, email, or the like could wind themselves in deep trouble should the victim show such evidence of harassment to the police.

To sidestep any legal accountability for their actions, abusers now resort to cyber-defamation, where they do not contact their victim in any way, but utilize social media and other online platforms to destroy their victim’s reputation. That way the abuser can relish in their online abuse with very little if any consequences.

What is Cyber-Defamation meant to accomplish?
Cyber-defamation is intended to accomplish three main goals for the abuser:

(1) It intends to preserve their false image by demonizing the victim.
Abusers who stoop to cyber-defamation are usually very conscientious about their own public image and view their victim as a threat to that image. From that fear of exposure cyber-defamation occurs. Once their image is one the line, these abusers take a Machiavellian approach where no act of retaliation is too cruel or vicious.

(2) It intends to damage/destroy the victim’s social support.
Isolation is one of the most deadly weapons in the abuser’s arsenal, so if the abuser is no longer in a position to isolate their victim themselves, they must rely on others to do it for them. They will do that by spewing gross exaggerations and full-blown lies to everyone in the hope that everyone will sever their association with the victim.

(3) It continues the abuse.
Regardless of what the relationship between abuser and victim was, cyber-defamation becomes a way to continue punishing the victim, to show them that they will never be fully free of the abuser. It is the abuser’s way of saying, “You thought life was so miserable with me? Watch this!”

The Impact of Cyber-Defamation
Cyber-defamation can just as emotionally distressing as cyber-bullying. Depending on how much the abuser’s and victim’s social circles intertwine, the abuser can wreak serious social and/or economic havoc for their victim. Their social circles may not even intersect at all, yet the abuser uses social media to track down the family, friends, co-workers and anyone else close to the victim, people they don’t know or even really care about, all with the intent to destroy the victim’s good name.

Cyber-defamation can sometimes be even worse than cyber-bullying because it is a type of abuse that does not guarantee intervention from a higher authority should the victim complain about the abuser. So often abusers try to mask their abusive rhetoric as free speech. Often a victim’s only possible recourse is a civil lawsuit for defamation, an option that is an unpractical gamble unless the victim can prove a certain degree of tangible damage beyond psychological distress. Personal accountability for cyber-defamation should also be based on the severe emotional pain brought onto the victim.

Perhaps a victim has a sympathetic social circle and their reputation is saved, but does that mean the abuser’s actions should simply be ignored? Let’s say someone tries to stab me in the back, but I turn around and prevent them from doing so. Does their failure to kill me mean that the police should just ignore the attacker’s murderous intent? Of course not.

That mentality should be applied to cyber abuse as well. Just because circumstances beyond the abuser’s control prevented them from inflicting a certain level of desired damage does not mean that their malicious online behavior should be swept under the rug.

Such antagonistic behavior should not be overlooked because it has far-reaching implications beyond mere threats to one’s reputation. Cyber-defamation goes hand-in-hand with cyber-stalking, since the abuser must keep tabs on their victim to know to whom and where they should showcase their online smear campaign.

As stated earlier, cyber-defamation can come into play when the option of abuse in reality has been removed. However, the information the abuser gathers through cyber-stalking and cyber-defamation could bring about the potential for real-life abuse in the future, which leaves the victim in a constant state of fear. No one should have to deal with the anxiety of looking over one’s shoulder until the day the abuser’s self-restraint snaps and online abuse doesn’t satisfy them anymore.

What Should Be Done?
We all need to work together to push for cyber-defamation to be classified as a cyber crime with real consequences. Without that, abusers with continue to abuse their victims gleefully. The lack of contact between abuser and victim does not promise the absence of abuse. The abuse is real and countless people are living in fear because of it. Cyber-defamation is not free speech; it is hate speech, and it has no place in the civilized world.

Written by Amy Sophiamehr