Continuing the recent theme of skeptical theism. It only recently occurred to me to puzzle over the fact that skeptical theism–at least for leading proponent Mike Bergmann–has nothing to do with theism. Of course, there’s the axiom ST —> T, but that’s not what I’m talking about.
What I mean is that skeptical theism’s skeptical thesis are just about the nature of the good. That seems a *bit* odd to me: there’s nothing theological motivating skeptical theism as Bergmann expresses it. It has nothing obvious to do with “God’s ways being greater than ours.” It’s just that we don’t understand goodness well enough.
And here’s another thing I noticed recently that bothered me–then I’ll put the criticism below the fold: It’s almost all deontolgical stuff. But I’m a virtue and value guy. As such, I think I have some insight into the *nature* of the good, which tells me something about *all* goods. This gives one more purchase than may be compatible with Bergmann’s versions of the “S” in “ST.”
So the last thought calls to mind a debate in moral theory: whether the good precedes the right or vice versa (spoiler: good comes first). Moral theory debates have varying degrees of generality and specificity. There are various positions on the nature of the good. Grasping the nature of the good gives one more knowledge of the good than seems compatible with skeptical theism. There are also various theories about the nature of roles like citizan, farmer, wife, son, president, and father.
Bergmann’s skeptical theses are quite radical. Here’s the first one:
(ST1) We have no good reason for thinking that the possible goods we know of
are representative of the possible goods there are. (From his Oxford Handbook article, p. 376)
But this entails that no one has a good reason for thinking that they hold the correct moral theory! Not a single good reason! That’s pretty darned skeptical. And why would there be anything special about moral theory? Unless Bergmann wants affirm that moral theory is somehow special among branches of philosophy in being extra hard, then what’s to stop this seeping into all the other branches. Think of what this would do to epistemology:
(ST1-E) We have no good reason for thinking that the possible reasons to believe we know of
are representative of the possible reasons to believe there are.
But I digress. I think it is surely true that
(CSM) Most moral theorists have some reason to think they hold the correct moral theory. [If you want to talk epistemic significance of disagreement, I’ll do that all day long, but I think that’s tangential.]
So far, it seems to me that (ST1) and (CSM) are in tension. Unfortunately, this is a basic intuition, so I have no way of arguing for it until I achieve some kind of conceptual breakthrough at a deeper level. Research project.
BERGMANN’S WAY OUT? or BERGMANN’S DILEMMA
On the page after the one quoted above (and in some emails), Mike indicates that by “representativeness” he means something very literal along the lines of statistical representation: that the fact that all examined F’s have been G’s doesn’t even raise the probability that most F’s are G’s because of X.
A. I’m not sure what X is supposed to be, and there must be some X because normally most observed F’s being G’s is a reason to think most F’s are G’s (though Nicod’s criterion is strictly speaking false).
B. This would only block the inference from
P Most possible goods considered do not suffice for featuring in a God-justifiying reason for permitting the inscrutible evils we observe.
Q No possible good is sufficient to feature in, etc.
But that would be a pretty flat-footed argument from evil.
As I read Rowe and others (though Rowe has a veritable stable of versions of the argument), and certainly as I think about it, we think we see something about the *nature* of good and evil which make it looks as if we were all alone. It’s not some piece of grand ennumerative induction.
This then is Bergmann’s dilemma:
Either “representative” is read loosely like “sufficiently relevantly resembles” in which case he faces a kind of moral skepticism quite different from the kind I’ve seen levied against him (one very theoretical rather than practical); or “representative” is read strictly, and it seems to beat a straw man.
As a virtue guy, I think all goods have this property: they are desirable to the virtuous person. And I think there are some virtuous people who claim to see that a God would provide us some insight into why there is so much suffering of such depth on such a grand scale. This tells against either the truth or the relevance of (ST1).
The theodicist attempts to fill the gap. If we cannot fill the gap, then evil remains a strong reason to think there is no God.