Money, power, sex, and recognition form the Mighty Tetrad of human motivators, the chief goads to action here below. But none of the four is evil or the root of all evil. People thoughtlessly and falsely repeat, time and again, that money is the root of all evil. Why not say that about power, sex, and recognition? The sober truth is that no member of the Mighty Tetrad is evil or the root of all evil. Each is ambiguous: a good liable to perversion.
One might wonder about recognition especially as it shades off into fame, and beyond that, into empty celebrity. Is it really good? Surely a modicum of recognition by certain of one's fellows is necessary for human happiness. To that extent, recognition is good. But a little suffices, and more is not better. To be famous would be horrible, after the initial rush wore off. And it might even get you killed by some crazy, as witness the case of John Lennon.
1. Money is the root of all evil.
2. Love of money is the root of all evil.
3. Inordinate love of money is the root of all evil.
4. Inordinate love of money is the root of some evil.
It is easy to see that each of (1)-(3) is false, and that (4) alone is true. Money is an abstract form of wealth and wealth is obviously good. How can something good be the root of all evil? It is not even the root of some evil. It makes more sense to say that the love of money is the root of all evil. But this too is plainly mistaken. Since money is good, a certain ‘love’ or desire of it is both wise and morally legitimate. It is the inordinate love of money that bears some connection to evil. But to all evil? Surely some of the evil in the world derives from such other sources as the inordinate love of power, sex, and fame. Therefore, the most we can say with a show of plausibility is that the inordinate love of money is at the root of some evil.
An inordinate love is an excessive love, a love unhinged and unbalanced. One form of excess consists in taking for an end in itself what can only be viewed as a means. Thus the miser’s mistake is in taking money to be an end in itself when it can only be a means.
Generalizing the opening quartet yields:
A. X is the root of all evil.
B. Love of X is the root of all evil.
C. Inordinate love of X is the root of all evil.
D. Inordinate love of X is the root of some evil.
I claim that whatever one plugs in for ‘X’ — whether it be money, property, progeny, power, influence, sex, fame, knowledge, alcohol, tobacco, firearms — results in a pattern of three falsehoods and one truth. You may verify this for yourself. Or else present me with a counterexample.
One conclusion I draw is that evil has no one root. So one should not speak of the root of evil. Evil has many roots corresponding to our many inordinate loves. Since there is no one root of all evil, the eradication of evil is no simple matter. Or if there is a single root, it lies not in things desired, but in the disordered human heart. Only metanoia, a change of heart/mind, could eradicate evil, assuming evil can be uprooted.