Who Needs Objective Evil?
January 6, 2008 — 14:22

Author: Michael Almeida  Category: Uncategorized  Comments: 45

Does the existence of objective evil matter to the problem of evil? Suppose that whether x is evil or morally bad for S depends (metaphysically) on whether, after due consideration, S (strongly) prefers that x not be the case. Now, importantly, I’m not supposing that there exists no (dis)value. No, there certainly is (dis)value: it just happens that the metaphysics of value is different from what you (might have) thought. The (dis)value is there; you can still quantify over instances of it as you always have: all that’s changed is its metaphysics. Now consider two possible worlds.
1. World (1): Smith is suffering immense pain at the hands of a ruthless torturer, the pain endured is morally bad in the proposed sense that Smith’s welfare is near bottom.
2. World (2): Smith is suffering immense pain at the hands of a ruthless torturer, the pain endured is morally bad in sense that Smith’s welfare is near bottom and the pain is objectively bad.
Now imagine someone advancing both (I) and (II)
I. The suffering is severe and God has compelling reason to prevent it in world (2).
II. The suffering is severe but God has no compelling reason to prevent it in world (1).
There seems as much (to be generous, nearly as much) reason for a being with the attributes of God to prevent the suffering in world (1) as there is for such a being to prevent the suffering in world (2). The reasons are compelling in both worlds. The idea that God would have to check the metaphysical status of the disvalue of the suffering before he knew whether he had any reason to prevent it is just incredible. It is difficult to take seriously someone urging: “Oh yes, that child was raped and beaten to death. But since the terrible suffering didn’t have the additional property of being objectively evil, God had no good reason to prevent it”. This leaves me wondering how much the “objectivity” of the objective disvalue of suffering matters to the problem of evil.

Comments:
  • David Ellis

    The existence of objective moral truths is only relevent to versions of the POE which phrase the argument in terms of a contradiction between God’s supposed moral goodness and the moral badness of inaction in the face of unnecessary suffering.
    However, it can just as easily be phrased in such a way that the meta-ethical question of the basis of moral truths (and whether they exist at all) has no bearing:
    By phrasing the argument, instead, on contradiction between the supposed disposition of God (omnibenevolent) and his inaction in the face of the extreme and unnecessary suffering observed in the world.
    This version of the POE is just as valid if moral subjectivism is true as if moral objectivism is true and, in my opinion, is the best way to formulate the argument for God’s nonexistence based on the POE since it avoids getting diverted into long-winded discussions on meta-ethics.

    January 6, 2008 — 17:18
  • The existence of objective moral truths is only relevent to versions of the POE which phrase the argument in terms of a contradiction between God’s supposed moral goodness and the moral badness of inaction in the face of unnecessary suffering.
    David,
    I agree with the latter half of your comment. But I’m denying what you say here (above). God’s moral goodness is incompatible with the existence of gratuitous evil. The metaphysics of that evil makes no difference to that incompatibility. This is why I was emphatic in rejecting the eliminativist view of good and evil. Subjectivists are not in general eliminativists. They definitely affirm the existence of genuine, real, stomp-your-feet value and disvalue. It’s there! But they argue that value and disvalue have a dependence on considered prefenrences that might be unexpected. The insistence that God’s goodness is compatible with evil that is not objective is, I’m sure, based on the mistaken assumption that subjectivists do not think that there “really” exists disvalue. That they are somehow committed to some form of value eliminativism. But that of course is false.

    January 6, 2008 — 18:09
  • david ellis

    I see what you mean and basically agree. Personally, I think “objective” is the wrong word to apply to the concept of moral truths. I think there ARE moral truths and that they are subjective but nonarbitrary.
    That’s the essential distinction. People almost always seem to think that if the basis of morality is subjective then its arbitrary and any set of values is as good as another.
    I think the flaw in this way of thinking can best be shown by thinking a bit about the experience of pain.
    To be in physical agony is a subjective state of mind. However, only a fool would claim this means agony is not a “bad” thing and that, therefore, its as good to be in agony as to experience joy.
    The same basic thinking can be extended to such things as what it is like to be a loving individual as compared to a hateful one, or to live in a community of caring neighbors as opposed to one full of selfish malicious people, and pretty much anything else involving questions of values.
    As to the POE, though, I think its still better to use the version that I employ, not because I think that version any more valid but simply because the discussion of the POE is, in my experience, always sidetracked by meta-ethical debate when the other form is employed.

    January 6, 2008 — 20:46
  • Personally, I think “objective” is the wrong word to apply to the concept of moral truths. I think there ARE moral truths and that they are subjective but nonarbitrary.
    There is no question that the overuse of ‘objective’ contributes to confusion here and elsewhere. I take ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ to qualify the metaphysics of value, etc. Yes, subjectivists think of value as having a metaphysically dependent existence. But they obviously do not think that value does not genuinely exist. Theists too think that value is metaphysically dependent (ultimately on God). And they too think that value genuinely exists. So, clearly, value’s metaphysical dependency does not make it irrelevant to the problem of evil.

    January 6, 2008 — 21:20
  • Peter Lupu

    Mike,
    Let me try to offer some rationale for the claim you find difficult to take seriously. I am offering here a *move* on behalf of the theist. It is, I think, a fairly reasonable move for the theist to make, but it is far from being a winning move. Once made, much more needs and can be said on both sides of the debate.
    Suppose the theist thinks that there are certain elite goods that God, being perfectly moral, wants to promote in the world. Suppose the theist thinks that God has a whole catalog of such goods, many of which go beyond our ken, and will always be so;
    Suppose further that God in its omniscience can foresee as far as needed the potential consequences of each event; and also has a complete mapping from each case of suffering onto a bundle of such elite goods so that the suffering in question is necessary in order for the bundle of elite goods to be realized; call each such mapping an e/g-bundle. Since it is possible that there may be several alternative mapping, there could be several e/g-bundle distributions satisfying the requirement that each case of potential suffering is mapped onto a bundle of elite goods. Suppose God in its infinite wisdom is able to figure out which such distributions are optimal (i can but will not define the notion of “optimal distribution” in order to save time and space).
    Now, “objective value” is to be defined as any member of any set of optimal distributions of e/g-bundles.
    Now you say the following:
    “It is difficult to take seriously someone urging: “Oh yes, that child was raped and beaten to death. But since the terrible suffering didn’t have the additional property of being objectively evil, God had no good reason to prevent it”. This leaves me wondering how much the “objectivity” of the objective disvalue of suffering matters to the problem of evil.”
    The theist who holds this view, this theodicy, can now reply to this statement as follows: While to us the situation you depict here looks terrible, we are not in the same epistemic situation that God is in; we do not have the benefits of the universal theory of higher goods that God has (described above). Therefore, we cannot see beyond the terrible pain, suffering, evil and cruelty exhibited in the case you paint. But God is in the right epistemic position to possess this universal theory and, thus, know the objective value that will flow from this terrible suffering. Hence, God has morally justifying reasons to permit this suffering and these moral reasons are as objective as anything can be.
    (NOTE: See Nelson Pike, Plantinga, Rowe, Howard-Snyder, Swinburne, for a defense along the above lines).
    Remember; I myself think this to be one *move* in the chess-game of the problem from evil. There may be good counter-moves.
    peter

    January 6, 2008 — 23:24
  • But God is in the right epistemic position to possess this universal theory and, thus, know the objective value that will flow from this terrible suffering. Hence, God has morally justifying reasons to permit this suffering and these moral reasons are as objective as anything can be.
    Peter, thanks.
    This is a familiar sort of theodicy/defense. But I don’t think it speaks directly to the point I’m after. Let me try to be clearer. The suffering I was describing was gratuitous; by hypothesis, it served no greater purpose. But, IF you think that the metaphysical status of the disvalue of suffering matters to whether God has reason to prevent it, and IF you think that only disvalue that has some objective metaphysical basis could afford God a reason to prevent it, then you are committed to the view that God has no reason to prevent the suffering I describe, terrible and gratuitous as it is. The suffering I describe is morally bad–it is genuinely disvaluable–but it has a metaphysical basis that is not objective. It therefore affords God no reason to prevent it, according to those who defend the need for objective evil. That’s what’s incredible: that the great disvalue of suffering does not give God good enough reason to prevent it unless the metaphysical basis of that disvalue is of a certain sort.
    There is another question in the vicinity that I haven’t pressed. There’s a good argument to be made that the horrible, pointless suffering alone provides God with good reason to prevent it even if some form of error theory turns out right. How could pointless suffering itself not provide a perfectly beneficient being good reason to prevent it? This is a worthy question, but, like I said, it wasn’t the point I was pressing.

    January 7, 2008 — 8:57
  • Alexander Pruss

    It seems to me that objective disvalue is present in both worlds. In World 1, it is objectively bad for anybody to have a pain that she doesn’t want to have.
    But isn’t this just a subjective bad, since it depends on the victim’s preferences? Maybe, maybe not. It all depends on how one uses the words “subjective” and “objective”. When I said in an earlier post that the problem of evil required an objective notion of evil, I clarified this as follows: “any view on which the truth value of ‘E is an evil’ always depends on the interests, views or attitudes of the speaker or her community will not qualify [as talking of objective evil].”
    Now, in World 1, if a third party says “Something bad is happening to Smith”, she says something true, regardless of her or her community’s interests, views or attitudes.
    What matters on views that make evil subjective in my sense are not the interests, views or attitudes of the victim of an evil, but those of the attributor of an evil, and of the attributor’s community. Thus in a world where evil is subjective, we would have relativist claims like: “For Smith, it is true that it is bad that Smith is suffering. But for the torturer, it is not true that it is bad that Smith is suffering.”
    In fact, if the subjectivism is really extreme, the following could be true: “For Smith, Smith’s suffering decreases Smith’s welfare. For the torturer, Smith’s suffering increases Smith’s welfare.”
    The more moderate subjectivism would allow one to solve the problem of evil on the cheap simply by supposing that it is not true for God that the things that are evils for us are bad.
    The more radical subjectivism would also solve the problem David Ellis raises. For we could solve the problem on the cheap simply by supposing that from God’s point of view, these evils are not contrary to our welfare.

    January 7, 2008 — 11:13
  • Christian

    Suppose your objector responds as follows: You’ve offered me a problem the setup I believe to be impossible as every world world has moral properties at it. Nonetheless, let me entertain the case. Having done so, I see no reason to be weary of advancing (I) and (II). God has a reason to prevent the bad situation in w2, but God does not in w1. Having a reason to prevent x in w, requires some objective value in w.
    Your objector assumes you’re talking about moral reasons. So when you say…”It is difficult to take seriously someone urging: “Oh yes, that child was raped and beaten to death. But since the terrible suffering didn’t have the additional property of being objectively evil, God had no good reason to prevent it”….you objector, wanting to be taken seriously, is simply at all loss as to why you would deny him that privilege. Either you’re imagining a world in which the above suffering is objectively bad or you’re not. So if it’s possible to stipulate this world contains no objectively badness, then I see no reason to think there is a “moral reason” as opposed to a prudential reason, on anybody’s part, to prevent the suffering in it. If a person, say God, simply stands by with his hands in his pockets, then we ought not criticize him. For such criticism assumes objective badness and we’ve denied that there is a such a thing in this world. You objector wonders why you think you can get similar reasons in w1 and w2, assuming they are moral reasons, having subtracted all the objective value in one of these worlds?

    January 7, 2008 — 13:00
  • Thus in a world where evil is subjective, we would have relativist claims like: “For Smith, it is true that it is bad that Smith is suffering. But for the torturer, it is not true that it is bad that Smith is suffering.
    I don’t deny the possiblity that preferences vary among individuals. But this has nothing to do with subjectivism and, I think, confuses matters. If any view counts as subjectivist, it is a view that makes value dependent on individual preferences even if those preferences are uniform with regard to certain experiences. It’s irrelevant to the question of the subjectivity of value that there is any variation at all in those preferences.
    The two worlds in question do not both have objective disvalue. In world (1) by hypothesis the disvalue is metaphysically dependent on individual preferences. It is therefore not objective disvalue.

    January 7, 2008 — 13:19
  • You objector wonders why you think you can get similar reasons in w1 and w2, assuming they are moral reasons, having subtracted all the objective value in one of these worlds?
    Tell my objector to stop wondering. There is moral disvalue in both worlds. The difference between the worlds is not the presence or absence of disvalue. The only difference is the metaphysics of value in those worlds. In one world there is an objective basis for value, in the other there is a subjective basis. But, again, real, genuine, stomp-your-feet disvalue exists in both worlds.
    I didn’t fuss the modal metaphysics about moral properties existing in every world, if in any world. If I have to, I’ll formulate the question in fictionalist modal metaphysics.

    January 7, 2008 — 13:27
  • When I said in an earlier post that the problem of evil required an objective notion of evil, I clarified this as follows: “any view on which the truth value of ‘E is an evil’ always depends on the interests, views or attitudes of the speaker or her community will not qualify [as talking of objective evil].
    Alex,
    The problem here is that your case for objective disvalue depends on its opposition to an implausible subjectivist theory. But certainly subjectivist theories are not in general simple or implausible. Frankly, even simpler versions of preference-based subjectivism do not make any old preference relevant to determining value. There are uninformed preferences, or ill-considered preferences, or pathological preferences that do not count. Combine any moral view with psychological pathology and you’re likely to get bad results, to (roughly) paraphrase Mill.

    January 7, 2008 — 13:59
  • Christian

    I see.
    My worry is then here: “In one world there is an objective basis for value, in the other there is a subjective basis. But, again, real, genuine, stomp-your-feet disvalue exists in both worlds.”
    The objector does not think that value, when it’s metaphysical basis is subjective, gives generates a moral reason to act in certain ways. So what you have described, as she sees it, is a world in which God would have a moral reason to prevent the suffering, w2, and another in which he has no moral reason to prevent the suffering, but some prudential one, w1, and this is because values, the basis of which are subjective could only give one a prudential reason, not a moral reason, to act. One cannot describe what generates a moral reason without describing the metaphysical basis of that which generates them.
    Perhaps that is the lesson. Moral reasons requires objective moral value to generate them.

    January 7, 2008 — 14:02
  • Alexander Pruss

    Mike:
    I think we have a misunderstanding. What I am calling a subjectivist account of evil is not to be identified with subjectivist accounts of welfare. The subjectivist about welfare nonetheless may well think that, as a matter of objective fact, what a person prefers (or would prefer given full information, or prefers in a settled and endorsed way, or whatever–the details don’t matter here) is good for her, regardless of what other people think.
    The subjectivist about good and evil that I am talking about is a different critter from the defender of a subjectivist account of welfare. One way to see the difference is that the subjectivism about good and evil that I am interested in is a meta-axiological position, while subjectivist accounts of welfare are not at the meta level.
    Thus the subjectivist atheist that was the target of my post is someone who thinks that whether or not it is bad that Smith suffers torture depends on how we feel about Smith’s torture. That is, admittedly, a stupid view. But I never claimed that I was arguing against someone very smart.

    January 7, 2008 — 14:12
  • The objector does not think that value, when it’s metaphysical basis is subjective, gives generates a moral reason to act in certain ways
    The example is designed to bring out what’s wrong with the position you describe. The objector has to do more than simply point out what I already know about his view: viz. that it commits him to an invidious distinction between these two worlds. He has to do more than simply repeat that one world has objective value and the other doesn’t. We all know that already.
    The example illustrates that the objector’s position is either confused or invidious: he either thinks there is no genuine value that is not objectively based. That’s simply false. Or he thinks that there is some genuine disvalue doesn’t matter to God. That’s invidious.

    January 7, 2008 — 14:21
  • Christian

    But my objector denies your example has casts doubt on his distinction. I’m not sure what in your example is supposed to do this. You say, “He has to do more than simply repeat that one world has objective value and the other doesn’t.” But he has not done this. He accepts this, as it is stipulated in your example. He claims, on the other hand, that objective value is required to generate moral reasons, the kinds of reasons that, if God were not to act upon them, are alleged to be inconsistent with God’s goodness.
    So, he accepts that there is objective value that is not objectively based. And he he denies that there is disvalue that does not matter to God. What he claims is, even conceding these points, you have yet to give him a reason to think that jointly holding these positions raises a problem for God’s not acting on moral reasons, since he denies that you have a described a case in which God fails to do this in a world where value is grounded in subjective value

    January 7, 2008 — 15:07
  • So, he accepts that there is objective value that is not objectively based. And he he denies that there is disvalue that does not matter to God. What he claims is, even conceding these points, you have yet to give him a reason to think that jointly holding these positions raises a problem for God’s not acting on moral reasons, since he denies that you have a described a case in which God fails to do this in a world where value is grounded in subjective value
    I’m not following this. I didn’t say (nor do I quite understand) that there is “objective value that is not objectively based”. So I can’t respond to that. And I’m not really following the worry being raised in this passage. I’ll repeat the problem for those defending the irrelevance of nonobjective value.
    1. In w1 there is genuine disvalue whose metaphysical basis is non-objective.
    2. It is true in w1 that Smith’s suffering is genuinely disvaluable and gratuitous.
    3. In w2 there is genuine disvalue whose metaphysical basis is objective.
    4. It is true in w2 that Smith’s suffering is genuinely disvaluable and gratuitous.
    5. Given that the suffering in w2 is genuinely disvaluable and gratuitous, God has compelling reason to prevent it.
    6. Given that the suffering in w1 is genuinely disvaluable and gratuitous, God has compelling reason to prevent it.
    You want to affirm (5) and deny (6). But if you deny (6), then either you deny (1) (and affirm (3)) and claim that subjectively based value is not genuine disvalue. But that is plainly false. Or you affirm (1) and (3)–affirming that there exists genuine disvalue in both worlds–and make an invidious distinction in the kinds of genuine disvalue God should prevent.

    January 7, 2008 — 16:20
  • Peter Lupu

    Mike,
    Let me try to clarify my point a bit.
    All pain and suffering is psychologically undesirable. In this sense it is bad, but only prima facie. Therefore, if there is any obligation to prevent it (or not bring it about) such an obligation is a prima facie obligation.
    Now, if no moral considerations exist that override the prima facie obligation to prevent such suffering, then the prima facie obligation to prevent it becomes an obligation to prevent suffering, all things considered (or absolutely).
    Now, the theist could argue as follows. God’s moral perfection determines the final metaphysical status of each and every instance of suffering. How?
    Well, we have the fact of the psychological undesirability of suffering. From this follows the prima facie moral obligation of preventing it. Can we make sense of the notion that in addition there is this extra metaphysical THING, namely, that the suffering is also objectively bad?
    Sure we can. There is still the question of whether there are moral considerations that override the prima facie considerations in favor of preventing this suffering. If there are no such considerations, then the suffering in question is objectively bad, in addition to being psychologically undesirable. On the other hand, if there are such overriding considerations, then the suffering is psychologically undesirable, but it is objectively good.
    And, now, the theist maintains that whether there are such overriding considerations or not is determined by the nature of God’s moral perfection; it is in this sense these considerations are metaphysical in nature.
    Now, if we define “gratuitous suffering” as suffering that has no overriding moral considerations in favor of permitting it, then the theist will argue that all such suffering is necessarily prevented by God; thus, there cannot be gratuitous suffering in any morally relevant possible world, (either in world (1) or (2)).
    So far as I can see, this position gives an internally coherent answer to your problem. Of course, this is not to say that it is not vulnerable to other difficulties.
    peter

    January 7, 2008 — 16:49
  • Peter, you write,
    Now, if we define “gratuitous suffering” as suffering that has no overriding moral considerations in favor of permitting it, then the theist will argue that all such suffering is necessarily prevented by God; thus, there cannot be gratuitous suffering in any morally relevant possible world, (either in world (1) or (2)).
    But we are engaging those who think that disvalue whose metaphysical basis is not (in some sense) objective, is not such that God has a reason to prevent it. So what we are being asked to believe is that there is some genuine disvalue D that does not have an objective metaphysical basis (for instance, Smith’s intense suffering in w1) that God has no reason to prevent. Of course, it does not matter whether D is gratuitous or not; God has no reason to prevent it. This is what we are invited to believe. And this is what I find incredible.

    January 7, 2008 — 19:32
  • Christian

    Oops. You: “I didn’t say (nor do I quite understand) that there is “objective value that is not objectively based.” By this I meant that there is genuine disvalue that does not have its basis in properties like badness, but rather, it has its basis in preference frustration, or something that counts as “subjective”. Though now I’m beginning to think I’m missing your point. Your point, I thought, was that assuming that some event of suffering is genuinely disvaluable (and non-gratuitous), God has a compelling reason to prevent it and independently of the metaphysics of the disvalue. In short, the metaphysics of the disvalue, whether it makes the disvalue count as “objective” by some standard of objectiveness or not, is irrelevant as to whether God should prevent it. The fact that it is a disvalue (and non-gratuitous) is enough, full stop.
    Anyway, that’s what I thought you were getting at. Let me try once more, but if it’s seeming muddled to you, then we can let it go okay. You said, “Or you affirm (1) and (3)–affirming that there exists genuine disvalue in both worlds–and make an invidious distinction in the kinds of genuine disvalue God should prevent.”
    I am indeed affirming (1) and (3) and I’m claiming that, by doing so, I have made “no” invidious distinctions. I claim that you have given no reason, at least yet, to think the distinction is in fact invidious. So, first, I was wondering why you thought such a distinction would be troublesome? Moreover, here is a reason to think the distinction is not troublesome but true: (A) God should prevent some disvalue only if God ought morally to. (B) God ought morally to only if God has a moral reason to. (C) God has a moral reason to only if that value is both a genuine disvalue *and* one that has its disvalue in virtue of something like, or including, the property of being bad. By hypothesis, this is not true in w1. Thus, God does not have a compelling reason in w1 to prevent the disvalue in it.
    You seem, so far as I can see, to want to deny (C). I just don’t see why you think a denial of (C) requires making an invidious distinction. (A) and (B) are jointly plausible. And the basis of something’s disvalue seems to me to be at least one way, one non-invidious way, to distinguish between moral reasons for actions, and some other class of reasons for action, what I was calling, though no doubt inaptly, prudential reasons. So though God has no moral reason to prevent the non-objectively based disvalue in w1, he may have some non-moral reason to. But God’s not acting on some non-moral reason, so far as I can see, is not going to do much in an argument from evil.

    January 7, 2008 — 20:17
  • Peter Lupu

    Mike,
    “So what we are being asked to believe is that there is some genuine disvalue D that does not have an objective metaphysical basis (for instance, Smith’s intense suffering in w1) that God has no reason to prevent. … This is what we are invited to believe. And this is what I find incredible.”
    But, why is this so “incredible”?
    The dis-value emanating from the sheer psychological undesirability of Smith’s intense suffering suffices only to yield a prima facie obligation to prevent it. If there are no other overriding moral considerations to permit it, then it ought to be prevented. If there are, then such considerations constitute morally justifying reasons to permit it, despite the presence of the intense suffering.
    What seems to me to be the problem is that you think that the intense suffering by itself should be a sufficient justification for any moral agent to prevent it, if they can. According to you, there should not be any further question about whether a perfect God ought to or ought not to prevent this suffering. No further facts should bear on this question.
    I can understand this position.
    However, I can also understand how someone might hold a position that the sheer quality of the intense suffering provides only prima facie moral grounds for preventing it. If no other overriding considerations exist, then the sheer suffering is by itself sufficient reason to prevent it. If there are, it is not.
    Do you think this is a logically incoherent position? Or you think that it is logically coherent, but psychologically very difficult to accept?
    Incidentally, if this position is incoherent, then so will be, it seems to me, any consequentialist position.

    January 8, 2008 — 0:37
  • Christian,
    We’re maybe miscommunicating. You say this,
    (C) God has a moral reason to only if that value is both a genuine disvalue *and* one that has its disvalue in virtue of something like, or including, the property of being bad
    But it is true in both worlds that the suffering has the property of being bad–that is, of being morally bad. What differs in those worlds is the metaphysics of “badness” if you like. This is the source of the invidious distinction: why must God prevent the moral badness in one world and not the moral badness in the other? If there is moral reason in one world to do so, then there is moral reason in the other. The metaphysics of disvalue does not affect that fact.
    You might think about it a different way. When metaphysicians are argue about the nature of disvalue, they all agree (leaving out some nihilists, maybe some error theorists) that certain states of affairs–Smith’s intense suffering in our case–genuiniely have the property of being morally bad. That’s not in dispute. What’s in dispute is the nature of this property. So in both worlds Smith’s suffering has the property of being morally bad.

    January 8, 2008 — 8:56
  • But, why is this so “incredible”?
    The dis-value emanating from the sheer psychological undesirability of Smith’s intense suffering suffices only to yield a prima facie obligation to prevent it. If there are no other overriding moral considerations to permit it, then it ought to be prevented. If there are, then such considerations constitute morally justifying reasons to permit it, despite the presence of the intense suffering.

    But the disvalue does not emanate from the sheer psychological undesriability of if Smith’s intense suffering, if what you mean is that God has only psychological reasons to prevent that suffering. Just incidentally, these are no mean reasons in themselves. But they are not the only reasons God has in this context. Let me emphasize again, that I am not defending a subjectivist metaphysics that is value eliminativist. Again, there is genuine moral badness in w1; there is genuine moral disvalue in that w1, just as there is genuine moral badness in w2. The only difference is the metaphysics of value in these worlds. The metaphysics of disvalue is different, but God has moral reasons in both worlds to prevent the suffering.

    January 8, 2008 — 9:07
  • Christian

    Mike,
    We were miscommunicating. I was thinkking differently about what giving a metaphysics of (dis)value amounts to. To be honest, it isn’t clear to me now what counts as giving a metaphysics of the same property, moral badness, and what does not. But I certainly agree that God would have a reason, and an extremely important one, to prevent Smith’s suffering on the assumption that the suffering itself is morally bad.

    January 8, 2008 — 10:09
  • Christian,
    The miscommunication is not surprising. To be careful in discussing subjectivism is (too?) painstaking. It’s easy to get subjectivism confused with other non-realist/non-objective positions (e.g., various forms of moral non-cognitivism or moral error theory) and it is easy to confuse it with relativism, too. But it is none of those things. It makes moral judgments truth-apt, it does not without additional premises yield relativism, and it does not deny that there are moral properties.
    On a different score, it would be interesting to consider whether there are good forms of relativism–say, something like Harman’s moral relativism–that could also generate a problem of evil. I honestly don’t know whether a plausible (or at least interesting) argument could be made there.

    January 8, 2008 — 16:41
  • Peter Lupu

    Mike,
    congratulations on your own site.
    looks interesting.
    how do i post comments there? tried but failed.
    anyone, i owe you one here.
    peter

    January 9, 2008 — 10:37
  • Peter,
    Do you have a Google account? That’s all you need. Just sign up for one by following the links from the comments area. Thanks — Mike

    January 9, 2008 — 11:18
  • Peter Lupu

    Mike,
    congratulations on your new site. unable to comment there for some reason.
    peter

    January 9, 2008 — 15:07
  • Peter Lupu

    Mike,
    i just did it, hopefully it works.
    thanks
    peter

    January 9, 2008 — 15:13
  • Christian

    Mike,
    Let me set my imagined objector to the side. I want to raise a worry that I have. I agree with what you say above: January 8, 2008 4:41 PM.
    It is not clear to me, however, that (6) is true.
    6. Given that the suffering in w1 is genuinely disvaluable and gratuitous, God has compelling reason to prevent it.
    In w1 the state of affairs that involves Smith’s suffering, though morally bad and disvalueable, has a truthmaker the metaphysics of which is not objective. I don’t know what it takes to be objective or not. But I think that the truthmaker for the moral badness of this state of affairs needs to be of “a certain kind” in order for God to have a moral reason to prevent it. That is, I think the truthmaker for the claim that Smith’s suffering is morally bad, whatever it turns out to be, must be such as to provide God with a reason such that, if he does not act on it, would make God deserving of some criticism inconsistent with His perfect goodness. It is this desert of criticism or praise, perhaps, that makes a reason for acting a moral reason, and hence, the failing to act upon it a problem for God’s goodness.
    There are a variety of views of what the truthmaker for this claim, which is truth-apt, really is. But I think that if the truthmaker turns out to be something like the following, then God’s not acting on a reason provided by it is not obviously inconsistent with His goodness:
    Def. 1: A state of affairs s is morally bad iff a fully informed person would disapprove of s.
    I want to count Def. 1 as a non-objective account of the truthmaker for claims of the moral badness of states of affairs. It is non objective since, though truth apt, its truthmaker involves essential reference to the attitudes of subjects. So let’s take it as a candidate (and set to the side the complexities of the subjunctive it incorporates).
    Does God’s not acting on a reason to prevent states of affairs that fully informed subjects would disapprove of, in any way, make God deserving of criticism for failing to so act? Arguably, no. For either the class of fully informed persons includes God or it does not. If it does not, then God may know something fully informed humans do not know, that would make disapproval of s inapt if one was as informed as God. If yes, then defenders of the AFE would deny that we have a good reason to believe there are any states of affairs that are morally bad, thus understood, as they would deny that, for some state of affairs s, God does not have some compelling moral reason to allow s even though s appears, to us, to be morally bad.
    These are complications. But having raised them, it isn’t clear to me that whether the truthmaker for some state of affairs that appears to be morally bad, is irrelevant to the question as to whether God ought morally to prevent it.

    January 9, 2008 — 17:15
  • Does God’s not acting on a reason to prevent states of affairs that fully informed subjects would disapprove of, in any way, make God deserving of criticism for failing to so act? Arguably, no. For either the class of fully informed persons includes God or it does not. If it does not, then God may know something fully informed humans do not know, that would make disapproval of s inapt if one was as informed as God
    Christian, nice question. This is quite complicated, so I might not have space to address every issue. There is one very important point, though. You have to be sure that your concern that God would not have to observe the recommendations of DEF1 are not due to DEF1 being false. That is, you have to be sure that the subjectivist theory you advance for consideration is one that, given what we want from a moral theory, could be true. If you advance a subjectivist view that is more or less a non-starter, then the reason God would not have to observe its recommendations is because it is false, not because it is subjectivist. Does that make sense?
    But now consider your objection to DEF1. As I read DEF, it is not an epistemological principle. It is a metaphysical principle, no? In that case we need to distinguish your epistemological worry about whether any of us (humans) would ever be in a position to know (or justifiably believe) that an action is right and the metaphysical worry about whether what DEF proposes is really what makes an action morally right. I am not so worried about the epistemological concern. So I would say that,
    1. Whether or not any one of us (humans) are fully informed about action A, certainly God is so informed.
    2. Assume that A is genuinely the right action to perform (i.e., we are not considering the recommendations of some false subjectivist theory) and God knows that.
    3. Given (1) and (2) God has moral reason to perform A.

    January 9, 2008 — 17:56
  • Peter Lupu

    Mike,
    Seems like we get to third base, and never agree to get to home base.
    1)You respond:
    “But the disvalue does not emanate from the sheer psychological undesriability of if Smith’s intense suffering, if what you mean is that God has only psychological reasons to prevent that suffering.”
    But I said that the psychological undesirability of suffering is prima facie moral reason to prevent it; These are as real as can be.
    Then I said:
    “If there are no other overriding moral considerations to permit it, then it ought to be prevented. If there are, then such considerations constitute morally justifying reasons to permit it, despite the presence of the intense suffering.”
    The ought to be prevented means all things considered–hence, it objectively ought to be prevented. So if no overriding considerations exist to permit the suffering, then it objectively ought to be prevented. If there are, then it objectively ought to be permitted. So clearly according to my view it is not the case that “God has only psychological reasons to prevent the suffering”; for if no overriding moral considerations exist, then the prima facie obligation to prevent suffering becomes the overriding moral consideration to prevent suffering.
    Do you disagree with this way of putting the matter?
    2)You say:
    “Again, there is genuine moral badness in w1; there is genuine moral disvalue in that w1, just as there is genuine moral badness in w2. The only difference is the metaphysics of value in these worlds. The metaphysics of disvalue is different, but God has moral reasons in both worlds to prevent the suffering.”
    Depends what you mean by ‘genuine moral badness’. I agree that there is “genuine moral badness’ in w1; since ex hypothesis you do not allow in w1 any overriding moral considerations, it follows that the undesirability of the suffering is the final say in w1. Hence, it becomes also the overriding moral considerations; no other moral reasons exist to override it.
    The difference between w1 and w2 is that in the later there are other moral considerations that override the undesirability of suffering; in the former it becomes the final say; in the later it may be overridden. However, either way it is real and objective; but in the later it does not have the status of ‘all things considered’ or ‘absolute’ if you will.
    Is there something wrong with this?
    peter

    January 9, 2008 — 21:11
  • Christian

    Hi Mike,
    “If you advance a subjectivist view that is more or less a non-starter, then the reason God would not have to observe its recommendations is because it is false, not because it is subjectivist. Does that make sense?”
    Yes, it does. I think subjectivists views are false. And yes, Def. 1 is a metaphysical principle, not an epistemological one. And like you, I’m not worried about whether we could know whether Def. 1 is true. And yes, I agree with your argument. Where does that leave us?
    I’m not sure. I think all subjectivist views are false. So there is no world like w2. That is, there is no world in which the moral badness of Smith’s suffering is grounded non-objectively. So, in a sense, we needn’t concern ourselves about whether the metaphysics of moral badness is objective because it couldn’t possibly be subjective. It is, however, epistemically possible *I think* that a true account of moral badness is subjective. But then we need to assess such accounts on their own merits. I think they fail, at least those I’m aware of.
    My worry was broader than these. My worry is that no subjectivist account could, for reasons independent of their falsity, ground reasons to act that would count, correctly, as moral reasons to act. The idea was a simple one. If we assumed moral badness consisted in what some people would disapprove of, then, on such a view, the theists should (a) deny such an account, and (b) even accepting such an account, deny that moral badness, so understood, generates a problem for God’s goodness. God could allow, for good reasons, things that count as morally bad by the subjectivist criteria. This would be okay since God would not have a reason to prevent them, given that, by the true criteria of moral reasons, such accounts of moral badness do not generate moral reasons to prevent states of affairs that instantiate moral badness.
    But this just pushes the point that arguments from evil do require the relevant evils to be grounded objectively. For if they are not, they are false. If they are, per impossible, then we should deny they pose a problem for God’s goodness since on such views we should deny that God has a reason to prevent moral badness.

    January 10, 2008 — 2:51
  • God could allow, for good reasons, things that count as morally bad by the subjectivist criteria
    Christian, we are more or less back where we started. There are two options here, and it is not clear to me which you think is right. But as far as I can see, both are false.
    1. On the one hand, it seems like you want to say that, given moral subjectivism, there are moral properties, but moral properties do not generate moral reasons. That’s incoherent.
    2. On the other hand, it seems like you want to say that, given moral subjectivism, there are no moral properties, really. But this is just to say that subjectivism entails nihilism. This is false.
    Now you might have an argument that all forms of moral subjectivism are false. But this is largely beside the point I’m trying to make. I’m not saying that moral subjectivism is true, nor am I assuming it. I’m saying that moral subjectivism is epistemically possible. The view is not incoherent and retains at least some appeal (for instance, I seem to recall that Richard Double is a subjectivist). My question gets raised in epistemically possible worlds in which moral subjectivism holds. So we should be having this discussion at those worlds. In any case, I think you’re committed to either (1) or (2) and, as I said, I think both are false.

    January 10, 2008 — 9:12
  • Peter,
    This is a little confusing to me. Concerning the moral value in w1, you say in you most recent post,
    But I said that the psychological undesirability of suffering is prima facie moral reason to prevent it; These are as real as can be.
    But in your previous post you put things this way, with no mention of a moral obligation at all.
    The dis-value emanating from the sheer psychological undesirability of Smith’s intense suffering suffices only to yield a prima facie obligation to prevent it.
    Maybe you mean ‘moral obligation’ by ‘obligation’. That’s fine with me and I’m prepared to read it that way. But then when I assert that there is genuine moral badness in w1 you seem to balk a bit.
    Depends what you mean by ‘genuine moral badness’. I agree that there is “genuine moral badness’ in w1; since ex hypothesis you do not allow in w1 any overriding moral considerations, it follows that the undesirability of the suffering is the final say in w1. Hence, it becomes also the overriding moral considerations; no other moral reasons exist to override it.
    You seem to be saying that there is no overriding moral reason to prevent the suffering. But that is exactly what there is in w1. You seem to be distinguishing reasons to prevent the suffering that derive from its undesirablity from reasons to prevent the suffering that are moral reasons. But there is no such distinction in w1. The reasons deriving from the undesirability of the suffering ARE the moral reasons. And every other moral reasons would be based on such subjective considerations as well. So I’m having a little trouble tracking the details.
    Set all of that aside. If we agree that there are moral reasons in w1 to prevent the gratuitous suffering that a morally perfect being must observe, then I think we more or less agree on the general point.

    January 10, 2008 — 9:27
  • Christian

    It’s epistemically possible that if x is morally bad in virtue of some non-objective facts, then God has no reason to prevent x. Wouldn’t you say? If so, then it’s epistemically possible that whether some evil is objective or not makes a difference as to whether God should prevent it. So we’re back where we started.
    (1) is false, agreed. I was suggesting (though I don’t blame you for not getting it) that moral properties “subjectively based” do not generate moral reasons. This was too strong. I should have said, let’s look at each account and assess it on its own merits. I then suggested one particular account doesn’t work.
    (2) *perhaps* is false. But perhaps being objectively grounded is essential to something’s being a moral property. Subjectivist views are missing the boat, spending time stipulating a concept that shares important features with a moral concept, but failing to pick out a moral property when something satisfies their concept so stipulated.

    January 10, 2008 — 13:09
  • Christian

    This is the third time my entry was double-posted. I’m unclear why this happening. Any advice would be lovely.

    January 10, 2008 — 13:53
  • It’s epistemically possible that if x is morally bad in virtue of some non-objective facts, then God has no reason to prevent x. Wouldn’t you say?
    No, I guess I wouldn’t. I’d say that he plainly has moral reasons to prevent x. Obviously, right, he has moral reasons to prevent x, since by hypothesis x is morally bad. You seem to be considering a world in which God has moral reasons but remains unmoved by them. I think that’s not possible.

    January 10, 2008 — 14:07
  • I don’t know what’s going on with the comments posting. I have the same double-posting problem, now and then.

    January 10, 2008 — 14:10
  • Christian

    Mike: I feel like I’m asserting P and you are asserting not-P. Then you say epistemically possibly not-P and I say epistemically possibly P. Then you say no, not epistemically possibly P because I know not-P. Q: If you know not-P then you just know you’re thesis. What’s the (non-circular) argument for it then?

    January 10, 2008 — 15:30
  • Christian,
    I think we’ve arrived at the disagreement. You think it’s epistemically possible that [x is morally bad in virtue of some non-objective facts & God has no reason to prevent x]. I think that’s not possible: I mean, I think there is a conceptual incompatibility between those conjuncts (assuming, as we have been, that x is an instance of gratuitous evil).

    January 10, 2008 — 15:44
  • Christian

    Yes. And I’ve avoided entirely the bit about gratuitous evil for a reason. I don’t understand how you are using the expression as it has a common use amongst philosophers of religion (those I know anyway). The existence of gratuitous evil, the way I understand it, is metaphysically incompatible with the existence of God. But there is no incompatibility between the conjuncts on this construal.

    January 10, 2008 — 15:55
  • Christian,
    There is no worry about God prventing evil that is not gratuitous. I’ve been using the term in the standard way: an instance of evil E is gratuitous iff. E is not necessary for the occurence of some greater (outweighing/justifying) good or the prevention of some greater (outweighing/justifying) evil. So, worlds in which E occurs and E is gratuitous are such that God can prevent E in w without losing a greater good or bringing about a greater evil. You defend this position,
    You think it’s epistemically possible that [x is morally bad in virtue of some non-objective facts & God has no reason to prevent x].
    And that is controversial only on the assumption that the morally bad event x is an instance of gratuitous evil. If x is non-gratuitous, we have no disagreement. But it is not even worth asserting if x is non-gratuitous.

    January 11, 2008 — 9:33
  • Christian

    Mike,
    That was the def. of ‘gratuitous evil’ that I had in mind. The conclusions you are making partly on its basis completely confuse me.
    “So, worlds in which E occurs and E is gratuitous are such that God can prevent E in w without losing a greater good or bringing about a greater evil.”
    I suppose there are two ways to read this.
    1. So, worlds in which E occurs and E is gratuitous are such that if God were to exist in w He could prevent E in w without losing a greater good or bringing about a greater evil.
    2. So, worlds in which E occurs and E is gratuitous are such that God exists in w and can prevent E in w without losing a greater good or bringing about a greater evil.
    But (1) is a counterpossible and God knows how to evaluate them. It is not jointly true and non-trivial on any plausible way of reading it though. And (2) is false since God cannot exist in a world with gratuitous evil since God, by hypothesis, would not allow such evil given He is morally perfect in every world in which He exists.
    “And that is controversial only on the assumption that the morally bad event x is an instance of gratuitous evil.”
    I don’t know why you think this. Defenders of the AFE aim to establish that it’s likely that there are, as a matter of fact, gratuitous evils. The position I’m putting forward would have the interesting consequence that, any AFE could not establish that it is epistemically necessary, for one, that there is gratuitous evil since, it is epistemically possible, for one, that all evil is non-objectively based and consistent with God’s moral perfection.

    January 11, 2008 — 12:16
  • (1) is not a counterpossible. Lots of people believe there is gratuitous evil in our world. It is nonetheless true that if God were to exist in our world, there would be no gratuitous evil. All that said, this has little to do with our disagreement that I can see. Just so we can together avoid any red herrings, make the precisifying changes you think apt for the analysis of gratuitous evil. Our disagreement remains unresolved.

    January 11, 2008 — 13:49
  • Christian

    Agreed. Interesting discussion. I learned something new.

    January 11, 2008 — 15:44