[cross-posted at The Philosophers’ Cocoon] This is the first installment of a series of interviews I am conducting with academic philosophers about their religious practices. Curiously, there’s relatively little attention for religious practices, with most work in philosophy of religion strongly focusing on beliefs (this is changing thanks to excellent work by Terence Cuneo, Howard Wettstein, Sarah Coakley and others, but this work is still decidedly in the minority).
In this series of interviews, I ask philosophers who are religious practitioners—they go to church or temple, pray, utter blessings, engage in stoic meditation, read the Torah, serve in the capacity of priest—about their religious practices and the influence on their philosophical work. I have interviewed (and am in the course of interviewing) agnostics, theists and atheists, hopefuls and skeptics. The contributors are in various stages of their career, tenured and untenured. Interviews were conducted through e-mail and responses are not edited, except for some occasional shortenings (indicated by ellipses)
The first interview is with Marcus Arvan, who is an assistant professor at the University of Tampa. Arvan self-identifies as a hoping Agnostic and attends Catholic mass weekly.
I listed five false consequences of the standard view of personhood. Let me offer the continuant argument that I’m not a person. I mean, of course, that I am not essentially a person in the standard sense of personhood. I’d like to know where the argument goes wrong. I can’t see any place where it does. It’s actually a simple argument.
Let’s say someone is a person if and only if he possesses self-awareness, consciousness, rationality, the ability to communicate, and so on. Call that the standard view. The standard view is found in Singer, Glover, Tooley, Lowe, Williams, McMahan, and Parfit and goes at least as far back as Locke. According to the standard view, the property of being a person confers a special moral status on those who instantiate it. Only persons have the full profile of moral rights, so their lives have a moral protection that is not afforded to non-persons.
If I were a person, then all of the following would be true:
Suppose for the sake of discussion that (1) is true. I have no idea whether there are worlds in which there are just 100 happy people, but it does simplify the discussion.
1. w includes 100 happy people existing for 10 minutes only.
The value of w, I think, is ten times the value of w’ in (2).
2. w’ includes 100 happy people existing for 1 minute only.
Now let w” be exactly like w, but add the fact that w” is an eternalist world. w” includes 100 happy people. There is no time in w” at which it is false that 100 happy people exist.
3. w” includes 100 happy people and it is true at each time t that 100 happy people exist.
Since it is true at each time in w” that a 100 happy people exist (and despite the fact that it is not true at each time that 100 happy people exist at that time), the value of w” should be much higher than the value of w. The value of a world is a function (in part) of the number of happy people existing in the world over time. It doesn’t much matter where in the world they are (spatially or, it seems to me, temporally).
Are there possible worlds that include unimaginable suffering? On behalf of the Anselmian theist, Tom Morris denies that there are such worlds.
Such an [Anselmian] God is a delimiter of possibilities. If there is a being who exists necessarily, and is necessarily omnipotent, omniscient, and good, then many states of affairs which otherwise would represent genuine possibilities, and which by all non-theistic tests of logic and semantics do represent genuine possibilities, are strictly impossible in the strongest sense. In particular, worlds containing certain sorts or amounts of disvalue or evil are metaphysically ruled out by the nature of God, divinely precluded from the realm of real possibility. (‘The Necessity of God’s Goodness’ in his Anselmian Explorations 48 ff.)
But I think there’s an interesting argument that there are such worlds. I call it the Property Argument.
One objection to some solutions to the problem of evil, particularly to sceptical theism, is that if there are such great goods that flow from evils, then we shouldn’t prevent evils. But consider the following parable.
I am an air traffic controller and I see two airplanes that will collide unless they are warned. I also see our odd security guard, Jane, standing around and looking at my instruments. Jane is super-smart and very knowledgeable, to the point that I’ve concluded long ago that she is in fact all-knowing. A number of interactions have driven me to concede that she is morally perfect. Finally, she is armed and muscular so she can take over the air traffic control station on a moment’s notice.
Now suppose that I reason as follows:
- If I don’t do anything, then either Jane will step in, take over the controls and prevent the crash, or she won’t. If she does, all is well. If she doesn’t, that’ll be because in her wisdom she sees that the crash works out for the better in the long run. So, either way, I don’t have good reason to prevent the crash.
This is fallacious as it assumes that Jane is thinking of only one factor, the crash and its consequences. But the mystical security guard, being morally perfect, is also thinking of me. Here are three relevant factors:
- C: the value of the crash
- J: the value of my doing my job
- p: the probability that I will warn the pilots if Jane doesn’t step in.
Here, J>0. If Jane foresees that the crash will lead to on balance goods in the long run, then C>0; if common sense is right, then C<0. Based on these three factors, Jane may be calculating as follows:
- Expected value of non-intervention: pJ+(1−p)C
- Expected value of intervention: 0 (no crash and I don’t do my job).
Let’s suppose that common sense is right and C<0. Will Jane intervene? Not necessarily. If p is sufficiently close to 1, then pJ+(1−p)C>0 even if C is a very large negative number. So I cannot infer that if C<0, or even if C<<0, then Jane will intervene. She might just have a lot of confidence in me.
Suppose now that I don’t warn the pilots, and Jane doesn’t either, and so there is a crash. Can I conclude that I did the right thing? After all, Jane did the right thing—she is morally perfect—and I did the same thing as Jane, so surely I did the right thing. Not so. For Jane’s decision not to intervene may be based on the fact that her intervention would prevent me from doing my job, while my own intervention would do no such thing.
Can I conclude that I was mistaken in thinking Jane to be as smart, as powerful or as good as I thought she was? Not necessarily. We live in a chaotic world. If a butterfly’s wings can lead to an earthquake a thousand years down the road, think what an airplane crash could do! And Jane would take that sort of thing into account. One possibility was that Jane saw that it was on balance better for the crash to happen, i.e., C>0. But another possibility is that she saw that C<0, but that it wasn’t so negative as to make pJ+(1−p)C come out negative.
Objection: If Jane really is all-knowing, her decision whether to intervene will be based not on probabilities but on certainties. She will know for sure whether I will warn the pilots or not.
Response: This is complicated, but what would be required to circumvent the need for probabilistic reasoning would be not mere knowledge of the future, but knowledge of conditionals of free will that say what I would freely do if she did not intervene. And even an all-knowing being wouldn’t know those, because there aren’t any true non-trivial such conditionals.
The winners of the 2015 Summer Seminar Awards have been chosen! The winners are:
Kenny Boyce University of Missouri
Rebecca Chan University of Colorado/Notre Dame
Frances Howard-Snyder Western Washington University
Kristen Irwin Loyola University Chicago
Yoaav Isaacs Princeton University
Anne Jeffrey Georgetown
Samuel Lebens Rutgers University
Errol Lord University of Pennsylvania
Dan McKaughan Boston College
Michael Pace Chapman University
Ted Poston University of South Alabama
Lindsey Rettler The Ohio State University
For more information about the project, visit the Project website.
Stephen Grover offers an interesting version of the Mere Addition Paradox (‘Mere Addition and the Best of all Possible Worlds’, Religious Studies, 1999) against Swinburne’s brief argument (The Existence of God, Oxford, 1979, 114 ff.) that there is no best world. Swinburne’s argument goes this way.
… take any world W . Presumably the goodness of such a world.will consist in part in it containing a finite or infinite number of conscious beings who will enjoy it. But if the enjoyment of the world by each is a valuable thing, surely a world with a few more conscious beings in it would be a yet more valuable world W’ . . . I conclude that it is not, for conceptual reasons, plausible to suppose that there could be a best of all possible worlds, and in consequence God could not have overriding reason to create one.
There are good reasons to deny that Swinburne’s argument shows anything like there is no best world. Still, the argument does not suffer from the Mere Addition Paradox (MAP).
There is widespread belief that compatibilism + theism cannot offer a credible solution to the logical problem of evil. Why does anyone believe that? I think they’re reasoning this way: if compatibilism is true, then, necessarily, God can actualize a morally perfect world. That’s of course true, and it entails that the free will defense fails. But then they reason, if, necessarily, God can actualize a morally perfect world, then, necessarily, God does actualize a morally perfect world. It is then observed that, obviously, there is evil. So, compatibilism + theism is incoherent; it cannot solve the logical problem.
Many of you will know that I’m sympathetic to modal realism; I think it solves many more problems than it causes, especially for theists. I want to address here what I think is a mistaken objection to modal realism: the so-called problem of indifference. The objection is originally formulated in Robert Adams.
Indeed, if we ask, “What is wrong with actualizing evils, since they will occur in some other possible world anyway if they don’t occur in this one?”, I doubt that modal realism can provide an answer which will be completely satisfying ethically (Theories of Actuality, 1974).
If Lewisian modal realism is true, then, just as we exist and our worldmates exist, so does every other individual and person inhabiting every other world. They all exist even though they are not all actual; they all exist, though they are not all our worldmates; they all exist though they do not all exist in our world. And these existing, non-actual persons are all as concrete, sentient, caring, and rational as we are. What Adams is calling attention to is that, if all of these beings exist in the same sense that we do, then they all matter morally, just as much as you and I do. But if we consider (literally or unrestrictedly, now) every existing sentient being in deliberating about what we should do, Adams complains, we will always reach the conclusion that it just doesn’t matter what we do.
No matter what we do–whether we do good or evil–it does not matter to the overall value of the pluriverse (i.e. the overall value of all possible worlds). If we do good, some counterpart of ours in similar circumstances will opt to do evil. If we do evil, some counterpart of ours in similar circumstances will opt to do good. It will necessarily balance out; the pluriverse and all of it’s inhabitants will not be any better off, or any worse off, overall no matter what we do. The overall value of the pluriverse is unchangeable. So, what difference does it make what we choose to do? We are led to moral indifference.