Privato Boni: Evil Through The Eyes Of Carl Jung And Victor White

AuthorMary Stefanazzi
PositionPhD, Independent researcher
[2021] Irish Judicial Studies Journal Vol 5(2)
Abstract: Psychiatrist Carl Jung and Dominican theologian Fr. Victor White engaged in a lengthy dialogue
about how evil is understood conceptually. They scrutinised the traditional Western account of evil as a
privation of good privatio boni from various angles. Jung was polemical in his argument against the
concept, while White set out to explain the soundness of privatio boni based on centuries of thought in the
Aristotelian/Aquinas tradition. Although consensus was never reached, Jung and White, both pioneers in
their own right, have left us a considerable legacy - a template for dialogue on difficult matters of considerable
ethical importance.
Author: Mary Stefanazzi, PhD, Independent researcher, accredited psychotherapist (Irish Council for
Psychotherapy) clinical supervisor, ethics consultant and guest lecturer Her doctoral
research at Trinity College Dublin considered the Jung-White dialogue. Her publications to date include
articles relating to that research and on contemporary ethical issues from an Aristotelian perspective.
History provides ample evidence of what human beings are capable of. It tells of battles,
wars, murders, rapes, torture and genocide among a litany of evil acts that have been
perpetrated down the ages. This fact is not in dispute. But what is less clear is how evil is
understood conceptually. The traditional Western philosophical account holds that evil is a
privation of good malum est privatio boni. The aim of this paper is to introduce the concept
of evil, traditionally understood as a privation of good. In doing so, it expands on some
material from an earlier article published by the IJSJ.
The context for this consideration is the well-documented dialogue about evil between the
Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) and the English Dominican theologian Fr.
Victor White OP (1902-1960). White’s anthropology is grounded in the Aristotelian/Aquinas
tradition. The liaison between Carl Jung and Victor White is the main subject of two
monographs: In God’s Shadow: the Collaboration of Victor White and C.G. Jung,
and Fr. Victor
White, O.P.: the Story of Jung's White Raven.
Their correspondence is published in The Jung-
White Letters.
Jung and White spent many years discussing the subject of evil without
reaching a consensus. In spite of this, they agreed that the topic most certainly demands
concentration and careful consideration. Many of the challenges they faced are still relevant
Background and context
To place our subject in context we need to go back in time to ancient Greek philosophy, in
particular to the Aristotelian/Aquinas tradition of thought. The work of Aristotle (384-322
BC) had effectively disappeared from scholarship in the West until the eleventh century when
there was a substantial translation movement from Arabic into Latin. This made his works
Peter Charleton, ‘Carl Jung, Father Victor White and the Book of Job’ (2020) 4(2) Irish Judicial Studies Journal.
Ann Conrad Lammers, In God’s Shadow: the Collaboration of Victor White and C.G. Jung (Paulist Press 1994).
Clodagh Weldon, Fr. Victor White, O.P.: the Story of Jung's ‘White Raven’ (University of Sc ranton Press 2007).
Ann Conrad Lammers, Adrian Cunningham and Murray Stein (eds), The Jung-White Letters (Routledge 2007).
[2021] Irish Judicial Studies Journal Vol 5(2)
available to Western scholars for the first time. The more significant of whom were St. Albert
the Great (1206-1280) and St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274).
In this ancient mode of philosophical thought, all propositions are considered through first
principles and an appeal to the universal experience of mankind in an attempt to reach what
can reasonably be said to be true. It follows therefore that any conclusions reached must be
applicable to all of humanity, irrespective of whether people believe in a deity, and also be
able to accommodate the concept of the transcendent without seeking to prove it. The
following quotation tells how Aquinas thought about this matter:
Aquinas thought that in any kind of true knowledge, any scientia, there must
be certain first principles that are simply taken for granted; they are not part
of the subject of the scientia itself. The statistical study of economics is
permeated by the truths of arithmetic but it is not about them. Economics is
done in terms of arithmetic, it does not seek to establish these truths.
This brief background is relevant because it serves to set the foundation stone of our enquiry.
The first principle that humankind is good forms the basis of our enquiry into evil
understood as a privation of good. Thus, although our consideration is done in terms of this
principle, it does not seek to establish this truth.
Against this backdrop any notion that some people are intrinsically evil can be ruled out
because it contradicts the first principle that humankind is good. This brings to light another
first principle in the Aristotelian/Aquinas tradition of thought the principle of non-
contradiction, a principle that similarly cannot be proven but it does not need to be proven
because it is self-evident to reason. It is impossible for the human mind to think coherently
about something that contains a contradiction. Thinking about a square circle serves to
illustrate this impossibility. Whenever people contradict themselves in their line of thought,
they are proved wrong by virtue of the principle of non -contradiction. Thus, being proved
wrong is a matter of critical analysis, not of opinion.
The traditional understanding of evil as parasitic on good, or as a privation of good, is in
contrast to evil having existence being in its own right. The context for this statement is
rooted in Aristotle, who discusses the relation between being and truth in Book II of his
Metaphysics (993b), where he writes that ‘as a thing relates to being, so also to truth’, for being
is that which is first known.
Likewise, regarding Aquinas and the teachers and schoolmen of the Middle Ages, McCabe
states: ‘for St. Thomas, the meaning of the word ‘evil’ depends on the meaning of ‘good’,
and an understanding of this depends, in its turn, upon an understanding of ‘being.’
The significance of the line of thought we are about to consider is that it allows for the
possibility of redemption from evil for all human beings, whether believers in God or not.
For more on the translations of the Greek philosophers from Arabic into Latin and the subsequent
collaboration between Christian and Arab see: Mona Baker and Gabriela Saldanha (eds), Routledge Encyc lopedia
of Translation Studies (2nd edn, Routledge 2009) 481.
Herbert McCabe, ‘Aquinas and Good Sense’ (1986) 67 (798) New Blackfriars 425. L ater published as Herbert
McCabe, God Still Matters (Continuum 2002) ch 14.
Rik Van Nieuwenhove, Thomas Aquinas & Contemplation, (Oxford University Press 2021) 50.
Herbert McCabe, God and Evil in the Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, (Continuum 2010) 15. McCabe’s work
focused on ‘key areas of Aquinas: the nature of human a ction and thinking, and the question of how to live
well.’ Herbert McCabe, On Aquinas (Continuum 2008) xii. See also Herbert McCabe, The Good Life (Continuum

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