Easy Universalism
January 3, 2009 — 3:46

Author: Michael Almeida  Category: Afterlife Concept of God Hell  Comments: 13

Let me try out this proof of universalism in which *perfect goodness* and *perfect justice* seem to coincide. (Inspired by points made in discussion with Ric Otte and AP–neither is responsible for my use of the points).
1. For all x, no matter how morally evil x chose to be, it is *possible* that God says, after x’s death, “I commend x for having led a morally perfect life.”
2. For all x, were God to utter, after x’s death, “I commend x for having led a morally perfect life”, then x would have led a morally perfect life.
3. If God were (i) to utter, after x’s death, “I commend x for having led a morally perfect life” and (ii) to send x immediately to heaven, then it would display *perfect justice and perfect goodness*.
4. For all x, no matter how morally evil x chose to be, *God should and does say*, after x’s death, “I commend x for having led a morally perfect life” and God should and does send x immediately to heaven.
5. :. Universalism is true.


I’m worried about this sort of argument, since I’m not at all sure that (1) or (2) is true. Instead of (2), (2′) sounds at least as right to me.
2′. For some x, were God to utter, after x’s death, “I commend x for having led a morally perfect life”, then (per impossibile) God would have uttered a falsehood.
If (2′) is true, then both (1) and (2) are false. Instead of (1), we have (1′).
1′. For some x, it is *impossible* that God says, after x’s death, “I commend x for having led a morally perfect life.”
The real difficulty here is that there are two ways to resolve these counterfactuals. On some resolutions, (1) and (2) come out true. On others, (1′) and (2′) come out true. My own view is that there is no single correct way to resolve these counterfactuals. But I’d be happy to learn that only one of these resolutions can be right.
**NB**: Two points: (a) it’s a minor point, but we could replace ‘God says “I commend x for having led a morally perfect life”‘ with ‘God says “x led a morally perfect life and I commend x for it”. This is for anyone worried about the inference from “God commends x for doing F” to “x did F”. (b) I assume that each x *could* lead a morally perfect life, but this is probably not essential to the proof. It might be that each agent could lead an imperfect, but morally excellent life.

Comments:
  • Christian Lee

    Hi Mike
    (1) seems true to me. Perhaps God says to Smith, after his death, “I commend you for having led a morally perfect life.” And perhaps his reason for doing this is test Smith, or rather, for some reason one knows not what.
    (2) seems false to me though. What seems true is (2*)
    (2*) For all x, were God to utter, after x’s death, “I commend x for having led a morally perfect life”, then it is probable that x would have led a morally perfect life.
    A reason for thinking (1) is true also functions as a reason for think (2*) is true and (2) is false. For x might not have lead a perfect life even if God commends him for living a perfect life. And if it’s true that he might not have led a perfect life, then it can’t be true that he would have led a perfect life. Anyway, this is one way to assess the counterfactual and its a way that makes (2) false. It assumes that ‘would’ and ‘might not’ counterfactuals express contraries. This point would also apply to (3).
    I’m not immediately seeing how (4) follows, or is supposed to follow, from (1)-(3). Could you spell it out a bit?

    January 4, 2009 — 1:50
  • Mike Almeida

    For x might not have lead a perfect life even if God commends him for living a perfect life.
    I’m not so concerned about this reason for believing that (2) is false, as I say in the note (NB) at the end of the post. Just make the modifications needed. For my part, it is difficult to see why God would commend for X when you didn’t do X. It seems an inappropriate commendation, but it doesn’t matter to what I’m up to.
    I’m not immediately seeing how (4) follows, or is supposed to follow, from (1)-(3). Could you spell it out a bit?
    Right, by the letter of the logic, it doesn’t. But, it’s a trade off, since listing every premise can pall quickly. I took it to be more or less evident that God does whatever he should do, and among the things he should do is whatever instantiates perfect justice and perfect beneficience.
    As I tried to indicate, my focus is on how to resolve the vagueness of similarity with respect to the first two premises. It makes perfect sense to me that God might say, after I die, “I’d like to commend you on living a perfect life, but as it is, I can’t. If that’s true, then counterfactual in (2) is false. The closest worlds in which God commends me, he does something (per impossibile) inappropriate or he says something (per impossibile) false. I’ve tested some modal intuitions about this, and most people do hear the counterfactual that way. The very same people can hear it the other way too, where you do not keep fixed and salient the fact that I did not live a morally perfect life. This seems to me to confirm Lewis’s view that the truth or falsity of many counterfactuals depends largely on the context in which they are uttered.

    January 4, 2009 — 8:30
  • David

    I think that you want (2) to be read, “For all x, if God were to utter, after x’s death, ‘I commend x for leading a morally perfect life,’then x would have led a morally perfect life, regardless of how morally evil x had chosen to be.” But I don’t think that (2) need be read this way, even if (1) is true. It may be that in the closest possible worlds in which God says, “I commend x for leading a morally perfect life”, x hasn’t chosen to be morally evil, even if there is a possible world in which God says this and x has chosen to be morally evil. That possible world may not be close to the actual world and thus not count in the truth conditions of (2).

    January 4, 2009 — 22:02
  • Pumbelo

    Interesting idea, but I think the New Testament is sufficient to build a case for universalism.

    January 5, 2009 — 5:04
  • Mike Almeida

    I think that you want (2) to be read, “For all x, if God were to utter, after x’s death, ‘I commend x for leading a morally perfect life,’then x would have led a morally perfect life, regardless of how morally evil x had chosen to be
    I can’t see what the phrase ‘regardless of how morally evil x had chosen to be’ adds to the conditional. In worlds where x is commended by God for leading a morally perfect life, x did not choose to be evil at all. So the conditional you recommend is true iff. it is true that (2) for all x, if God were to utter, after x’s death, ‘I commend x for leading a morally perfect life,’then x would have led a morally perfect life.

    January 5, 2009 — 8:06
  • Mike Almeida

    Pumbelo,
    Interesting idea, but not all theists believe the New Testament, and not all who do believe it find a compelling case for universalism there.

    January 5, 2009 — 8:08
  • Luke Gelinas

    Mike,
    The proof seems to assume trans-world identity of human persons. If you believe counterpart theory, it seems you’re committed to the falsity of (1)–at least, literally interpreted. If I exist at @ and only at @, and if it’s true that I led a morally imperfect life, it’s impossible that God commends me for living a morally perfect life. Since I only exist at @, and led a morally imperfect life there. Maybe it’s still possible for God to (properly) commend my counterpart at some other world; but presumably when we’re worried about universalism and such matters, we’re worried about what happens to *us* strictly speaking, not our counterparts.

    January 5, 2009 — 15:27
  • Mike Almeida

    For all x, no matter how morally evil x chose to be, it is possible that God says, after x’s death, “I commend x for having led a morally perfect life.”
    Luke,
    That’s very interesting, though I’m not sure (not entirely sure) I’m following you. Is this a version of (Kripke’s) Humphrey objection? I say that because you could say almost the same thing about the following claim:
    a. Possibly, I’m 5’10” tall.
    On counterpart theory, that just means that I have a counterpart in some world who is 5’10”. But (you might say) that counterpart is not you! You are worldbound, and so you are necessarily whatever height you are.
    Counterpart theorists would deny that of course, since, they say, (1) just means that you have a counterpart that is 5’10” tall.

    January 5, 2009 — 15:56
  • Luke Gelinas

    I think it probably does boil down to something like the Humphrey objection. So I was probably a bit rash to say that the proof requires TWI, since counterpart theorists no doubt think they have responses to Kripke’s challenge, and I’m not up enough on this literature to speak confidently about the plausibility of these replies.
    But my general feeling is that Kripke was right–that counterpart theory breaks down precisely in cases like this, where it seems like we have reason to care (perhaps unlike the 5’10” case) about whether it is us or our counterparts under discussion.
    Also, doesn’t the truth of (1) and (2) require that nobody is trans-world depraved?

    January 5, 2009 — 16:25
  • Mike Almeida

    Luke,
    My sense is the Krikpe was wrong on this one(Plantinga made a very similar objection, incidentally). Ted Sider has an excellent paper on the objection here http://tedsider.org/papers/counterpart_theory.pdf

    January 5, 2009 — 16:45
  • Luke Gelinas

    Cool–thanks for the link!

    January 6, 2009 — 8:05
  • David

    Probably because I don’t know enough modal logic, I’m having trouble seeing how this argument supports universalism. Suppose that in the actual world, x chose to act with great evil. In determining the truth value of (2), we don’t hold fixed that x has chosen to do evil but instead consider the possible world(s) where x leads a morally perfect life. (From[1], we know that there is at least one such world) But then in (3)and (4), when God says that x led a perfectly moral life and sends x to heaven, doesn’t God do so only in the possible world(s) where x led a perfectly moral life, not in the actual world? If so, this seems to me not to amount to universalism, if that is the view that everyone in the actual world is saved: all that (3) and (4) entail is that if x had chosen differently, God should and would have sent x to heaven. Alternatively, if (5) means that God saves x in the actual world because there is a possible world(not identical with the actual world) where x leads a morally perfect life, it isn’t evident (at least to me), why God’s doing this manifests perfect justice and goodness. We wouldn’t think that a judge who exempted a criminal from punishment because he might have chosen otherwise was judging with perfect justice and goodness. What am I missing?

    January 7, 2009 — 19:12
  • Mike Almeida

    If so, this seems to me not to amount to universalism, if that is the view that everyone in the actual world is saved: all that (3) and (4) entail is that if x had chosen differently, God should and would have sent x to heaven.
    But all of the actual people are saved. It is just that, the actual world would be different were God to assert “I commend you all for living a morally perfect life”. His making that utterance would make it the case that you actually led a morally perfect life and you possibly, non-actually led a depraved life. Keep in mind that different worlds count as actual depending on whether he says this.

    January 8, 2009 — 9:02