In Ambrose’s Dē bonō mortis his main proof for why death is not evil, lies in his link between the corporeal body and the soul. In short, he argues that death is not evil, because it causes no harm to the soul; from that (according to him) follows that what is not evil must be good, and therefore that death must be good.

This is foundational to his argument, and he follows up on this towards the end. I quote:

[…] sī vīta onerī, mors absolūtiōnī: sī vīta supplĭcĭō, mors rĕmĕdiō: aut sī jūdicium post mortem, etiam vīta post mortem. Vīta igitur hīc nōn est bona: aut sī hīc nōn est bona quōmodō mors illic nōn est bona, cum ibi nūllus supersit terrĭbilis jūdiciī metus?

[…] if life be a burden, death is its release; if life be a punishment, death is its remedy; if there be sentence after death, there also is life after death. Does it not then follow that life here is a good? Or if life here is not a good, how is death beyond not a good when there is no fear there that horrible judgment remains?

― Ambrose of Milan: On the good of death (Dē bonō mortis) 4.14, from Documenta Catholica Omnia.

To me, there is something here that seems illogical. I am, to be clear, not asking about this from a theological perspective; I am interested in the absolute logic behind it. It appears to me that you cannot prove an aspect to be positive by proving it not to be negative. My question is therefore threefold:

  1. Is a positive proven by a non-negative?
  2. Following this, can it therefore be demonstrated that Ambrose’s logic is flawed?
  3. How can you express ‘a non-negative does not mean you have a positive’ with symbolic writing?


I am not a philosopher, nor a logician, so I apologise in advance for my lack of knowledge and probably simple approach to this question.

I should also add that Ambrose does in fact distinguish three kinds of death. I am, though, not convinced that this is enough to cover his bases.


The tags and might be relevant, but I am not sure; should moderator find it useful, I hope you can edit my question with this.

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  • The issue seems too much related to "words"... "positive proven by a non-negative?" In math, positive IS not non-negative because zero is non-negative but it is not positive. Jan 31, 2022 at 14:09
  • Usually, a pair of "properties" P vs not-P will "cover" the universe of discourse, but in natural language we have to be careful on usage: Good=not-Evil ? Jan 31, 2022 at 14:10
  • I agree with that (how can one refute it?), but as with so much in human life and endeavours, things become more complicated when you are trying to describe the human experience and not simply observational facts.
    – Canned Man
    Jan 31, 2022 at 14:12
  • More specifically, Ambrose is discussing a set of pair where one of the term is evaluated as "bad": burden, punishment, and the other as "good": release, remedy. He seems to use the dichotomies as exhaustive. Jan 31, 2022 at 14:13
  • 1
    In conclusion, IMO is not an issue of "logic". But in the translation above of Ambrose's argument, it seems more e rhetorical discourse than a "logical" argument. Jan 31, 2022 at 14:15


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