Aesthetics and Problem of Evil
December 30, 2006 — 18:55

Author: Jeremy Pierce  Category: Problem of Evil  Comments: 15

Keith DeRose discusses Leibniz and the Problem of Evil. After distancing himself from Leibniz’s requirement that God wouldn’t create a world that isn’t the best of all possible worlds, Keith indicates agreement with Leibniz on one matter. He thinks the best theistic response to the problem of evil will have to involve something like the aesthetic analogy that a whole picture can be improved because part of it is, in itself, less good than it could have been.
Aquinas says something like this, but his view of divine providence, while not agreed by all scholars to amount to theological determinism, does involve a strong enough view of providence that God in creating had an awareness of the entire plan of the history of creation, including what every free being would do. Leibniz, as a theological determinist of some sort, very much needs to say something like this. Keith mentions that Marilyn Adams also says something similar, but as far as I can tell her response to the problem of evil is intended to be fully consistent with compatibilism about free will and determinism. On the other hand, Keith is a libertarian. What I’m not clear on is why a libertarian should think the best response to the problem of evil would require saying something along these lines. Any thoughts?

Comments:
  • Christian Lee

    I didn’t read Keith’s thoughts, but here are a few extra anyways.
    Hud Hudson has a new defense coming out in a metaphysics collection (I think). He appeals to counterbalancing aesthetic properties in the defense. He’s always so clear that it’s worth a read.
    You said “He thinks the best theistic response to the problem of evil will have to involve something like the aesthetic analogy that a whole picture can be improved because part of it is, in itself, less good than it could have been.”
    So this is a response to the logical problem I’m assuming since you say “can be improved”, but what about the evidential version? Any thoughts on the relationship between the aesthetic analogy and the evidential version?

    December 30, 2006 — 23:43
  • Thanks Jeremy, I read Keith’s posting. As far as I can tell, he’s saying that he is impressed by Leibniz’s aesthetic analogy, thinks it is true, and so naturally wants to incorporate it into what he says about the problem of evil. If, like Leibniz, the aim is a theodicy – an account of why God does in fact allow evil, rather than in Plantinga’s sense a defence – an account of why God might allow evil – then the truth of the aesthetic analogy will be why you would include it in your theodicy.
    In Christian theology, the most obvious example is O Felix Culpa. I remember explaining this to an evangelical friend, and he was horrified. How could one describe the sin of Adam and Eve as a happy fault? I said that I thought there were two alternatives. We could say that what happened in the Garden of Eden was a goal for Satan, but that after the crucifixion and resurrection, God won by two goals to one. Or we could say that what happened in Eden appeared at the time to be a goal for Satan, but in the light of the crucifixion and resurrection, it was apparent that he had placed the ball in his own net. If we endorse the latter view, then we have made use of an application of the aesthetic analogy, not so much because that was required by philosophical considerations, but because that was where reading the Bible in the light of tradition and the lex orandi led us.
    I’m also interested in the problem that Keith de Rose raises: what about those instances where things are so evil, that it just seems immoral to apply the aesthetic principle? I can understand where my evangelical friend was coming from, in that Adam and Eve’s sin stands, in a sense, for Everysin, and we do encounter many cases of evil where there is something repulsive about saying ‘This looks bad, but only because we don’t see the whole picture.’
    In other words, I think the aesthetic analogy is itself only a part of the picture.

    December 31, 2006 — 1:09
  • I understand how the aesthetic analogy can be part of the picture for a libertarian. What I’m not sure of is why the best response to the problem of evil must include something like this if libertarianism is true. It seems to me that once you say something like this you don’t need libertarianism at all in your answer to the problem of evil.

    December 31, 2006 — 8:09
  • The Hud Hudson piece is in the latest Oxford Studies in Metaphysics (Vol. 2) collection under the title ‘Beautiful Evils’, and it is also in his The Metaphysics of Hyperspace OUP, chp. 7. I’m not moved much by the analogy, and the paper does not to my mind move the argument along very much. Hudson is clear that he takes the story of many n-1 dimensional evils embedded in a larger (and much better) n-dimensional space to be at best a metaphysical possibility. But the real philosophical work is considering whether some principle of organic unities is right. That’s the hard question, and it is where the work begins. There is a neglected paper by John Hawthorne, ‘Non-Organic Theories of Value and Pointless Evil’ (FP, ’92) in which the assumption of non-organic theories of value and a (fairly liberal) Humean principle of recombination seems clearly to entail that there is pointless evil (if any evil). So it would be nice were there a reason to believe that “something” good might be composed of or consist in lesser goods (or perhaps evils).

    December 31, 2006 — 12:50
  • Christian Lee

    Mike,
    I’m no expert on this and haven’t read the paper, but you said “the assumption of non-organic theories of value and a (fairly liberal) Humean principle of recombination seems clearly to entail that there is pointless evil (if any evil).”
    That’s surprising. Are you sure the claim isn’t weaker, that with the principle of recombination you get the “possibility” of pointless evil.
    And you said Hud’s paper is missing the real philosophical question. But do you think he provides a successful defense? I think that is all he is trying to do.
    Anyway, I’d be curious to hear if anybody thinks any amount of aesthetic value could outweigh any amount suffering. There really are different questions here, whether a part/whole analogy is apt and whether an appeal to aesthic value is helpful in either a defense or theodicy.

    December 31, 2006 — 13:26
  • Hi Christian,
    Hawthorne’s conclusion is that, under his assumptions, every instance of actual evil is pointless. Under the Humean recombination assumption, there are no necessary connections between world-stages. So (with some qualification) any world-stage can be combined with any other. The basic idea is that, for any evil event E in any world stage W, that event is not necessary to some greater good in stage W’, since no world-stages are necessarily connected. We could in short have stage W’ (the good stage) without stage W (the bad stage). And that holds for any actual evil holding in any actual world-stage. But then those actual evils are not necessary to some greater good or, for short, they’re pointless.
    The only way out is to assume that some organic unity of world-stages that includes some evil is better than any organic unity that doesn’t. But he assumes a non-organic value theory.

    December 31, 2006 — 15:12
  • What exactly does he mean by an organic or non-organic theory of value? Google wasn’t much help in figuring that out.
    By the way, here is the abstract for John’s paper:
    In this paper, I shall argue that if a certain theory of value is correct, then there is pointless evil in the world. I shall not try to defend the theory. Nor shall I assume that a justified belief in pointless evil is sufficient epistemic warrant for atheism. Thus I am not arguing for atheism here. This paper is intended rather to help elucidate what it would take to demonstrate that no one is justified in believing in pointless evil. If my thesis is correct, then any successful attempt to show that no belief in pointless evil is justified will, inter alia, have to demonstrate that belief in what I shall call “a non-organic theory of value” is irrational.

    December 31, 2006 — 16:49
  • Christian Lee

    Hi,
    I think this is just a terminological misunderstanding on my part. You said, “and that holds for any actual evil holding in any actual world-stage. But then those actual evils are not necessary to some greater good or, for short, they’re pointless.”
    I thought pointless evil is evil for which there is no actual justifying good. You seem to mean evil which is necessary for some distinct good. Is that right? If so, I have no beef with what was said.
    But what about the other question: can an aesthetic good outweigh some human undeserved suffering?

    December 31, 2006 — 19:25
  • Christian,
    It is typically argued that if some evil E is not broadly logically necessary to some greater good G (or to the prevention of some greater evil E’)–so that [](G -> E) or [](~E’ -> E)–then God could have created a world with G and not E. E is therefore gratuitous or pointless. It is not enough that E is causally necessary given G or that the world happens to contain G and E. E has to be such that it is impossible for an omnipotent being to actualize that good state of affairs G without the evil state of affairs E.
    Jeremy,
    I’m sure the place to look for organic theories of value is Moore. The basic idea is that total value is not additive–it is not the sum of the value of its parts, if you will. So you might have a state of affairs (or whatever your ontology permits) including parts/aspects/properties that are not individually valuable, and whose total value is greater than (or less than) the sum of those values. Something like having an exceptional team none of whose players is exceptional or having a poor team all of whose players is exceptional.

    December 31, 2006 — 21:44
  • One problem with the use of the aesthetic analogy that should trouble the non-consequentialists concerns the relations between the evil parts of greater goods and divine intentions. I take it that one of the reasons people are interested in the organicity of value is that the thesis that value is organic is supposed show that removing an evil can lead to a worse state of affairs or refraining from creating the evil can prevent you from creating an optimal state of affairs.
    If what we’re looking for is a justification for the evil’s creation, that the evil’s realization would result in a greater amount of good than would have been realized had it not been created doesn’t seem to justify an act that requires adopting the intention to create the evil (Consider someone who subscribes to the doctrine of double effect, for example). One worry, Jeremy, is just that regardless of whether value is organic or not, we still want to know how the evils are related to divine intentions to know whether they’re actualization tells against the existence of a morally perfect being.

    January 3, 2007 — 16:32
  • If what we’re looking for is a justification for the evil’s creation, that the evil’s realization would result in a greater amount of good than would have been realized had it not been created doesn’t seem to justify an act that requires adopting the intention to create the evil (Consider someone who subscribes to the doctrine of double effect, for example).
    Clayton, that’s an interesting point for those who subscribe to DDE. I’m guessing the response is that God is required to maximize good, and so intends to do just that. But he cannot maximize the good without permitting some evil. So I don’t think the evil has to be intended as a means to the good, as is prohibited in nearly every version of DDE.
    Maybe you’re suggesting that in the aesthetic case, the aesthetically displeasing has to be(?) intended as a means to the aesthetically pleasing. Is that why the analogy is bad?

    January 3, 2007 — 16:47
  • What I’m not clear on is why a libertarian should think the best response to the problem of evil would require saying something along these lines.
    Jeremy: I think the best response would include some use of a notion like evils being defeated. But I also think it would include some appeal to some form of free will defense (or more generally: indeterminism defense). I’m interested in ways these very different responses (where the relation between evils and the goods for the sake of which (at least the possibility of) the evils are allowed are very different) can be combined.
    It seems to me that once you say something like this you don’t need libertarianism at all in your answer to the problem of evil.
    I was going to say that the defeat of evils is more likely to seem sufficient if you’re a consequentialist, which I’m not — but it looks like Clayton’s thinking along at least somewhat the same terms. I think that in addition to DDE, free creatures might also help get God’s relation on the sunny side of the doing/allowing distinction. (I think Marilyn Adams has something on this in her book, though I’m not sure. I remember discussing this with her & others back when I was at UCLA.)
    Also, it’s possible for some evils to be defeated, but others might be explained via something like the FWD — Though I think it’s promising to suppose that some evils would be doubly-accounted for: side-effects of indeterminism, and defeated on top of that.

    January 3, 2007 — 19:09
  • Mike,
    I think that what we have here is a difficult question about characterizing the intentions of someone who chooses to create a complex state of affairs. On it’s face, I don’t think we want to say that if x, y, and z are constituent parts of some state of affairs, S1, whoever intends to create S1 intends to create x, y, and z even if the agent knows that these are parts of S1.
    You’re right that someone could say that God’s intention is just to maximize the good, in which case the DDE might not be violated.
    There is a further question that is worth considering. Suppose S1 is a complex state of affairs consisting of x, y, and z. Suppose S2 consists of just x and y. Suppose that z is the locally evil part of S1 and that S1 is better than S2. If we say that God lacked the intention to create z (getting God off the hook with respect to DDE), can we say that God can be credited for creating S1 and S2? You might think that to get credit for creating both S1 and S2, someone would have to adopt the intention to create z in order to maximize the good, in which case we’d have to say that either the DDE is violated or God doesn’t get credit for producing the better state of affairs.
    Clearly, I don’t have this all worked out, but I suspect, as I think Keith does, that a fully satisfactory response will need to appeal to more than just the organicity of value claim but perhaps also something having to do with libertarian freedom.

    January 4, 2007 — 12:07
  • Clayton,
    I think God can intend to bring about z (the bad part of S1) without violating DDE. How? Well, when you go for surgery, your surgeon will, say, intentionally cut open your abdomen in order to save your life. He causes lots of pain, no doubt, but does he violate DDE? No. He does not intend to cause you pain as a means to saving your life. Similarly (if I’m not already sounding absurdly Scholastic) God can intend to bring about the constituent z without intending the evil as a means to the good outcome.

    January 4, 2007 — 13:07
  • Mike,
    I see the point about the surgery, but I think there’s a way to get around it. (Emphasis on think–I’m thinking aloud here).
    Suppose that it’s z’s being evil that allows it to play the role that it does in generating the total value of S1. That would distinguish it from the surgery example since the event that is the opening of the abdomen doesn’t play the role in the surgeon’s intentions because it is painful. The doctor intends to bring about an event that has disvalue (accidentally, we might say) but not because it has disvalue. (That it has this disvalue is besides the doctor’s intentions).
    I suspect that if we look through all the cases of evil that the organicity of value is supposed to help us deal with, we will find some cases where z could only play the value generating role because it is evil, in which case we might have a disanalogy.

    January 4, 2007 — 15:29