Consider two theses.
ST: Sceptical Theism.
Chaos: The world is deeply chaotic and the human race is likely to have a long future.
I stipulate that both ST and Chaos are to be understood in such a way that they imply Further Value Scepticism:
FVS: For no ordinary sort of event E (I am excluding here events like the annihilation of the human race) do we have any reason to say that when we consider E’s further non-obvious consequences and aspects, including the long-term ones, the overall value of these further consequences and aspects will be negative or positive.
So, now, we have the question whether FVS implies some sort of moral paralysis. Weak moral paralysis is the thesis that for no positive action A is it the case that one ought to do A. Strong moral paralysis is the thesis that for every positive action A, one ought not do A.
Consider two asymmetry theses. First, Doing-Refraining Asymmetry:
DRA: It is significantly worse to be the cause of an evil by means of a doing than by means of a refraining, even when one is the cause unknowingly and unintentionally.
Second Good-Evil Outcome Asymmetry:
GBOA: The disvalue of being the cause of a great evil is significantly greater than the value of being the cause of a comparable great good.
I will now offer a handwaving argument for this thesis:
(*) If both DRA and GBOA are true, then strong moral paralysis follows from FVS.
(**) If at least one of DRA and GBOA is false, then neither kind of moral paralysis follows from FVS.
Here’s the argument for (**).
Suppose FVS, and suppose either DRA is false or GBOA is false (or both). I will show that moral paralysis is not true. Suppose now we have an opportunity to prevent some moderately sized evil E by a positive action A, and we have no reason to think there are any reasons not prevent E, besides the reasons coming from FVS. Then, given FVS, we should reason thusly:
– If I do A, this will prevent E, and additionally I will cause stuff whose evaluation is beyond my ken.
– If I don’t do A, then E will occur, and additionally I will cause stuff whose evaluation is beyond my ken.
First, suppose DRA is false. Then we have a symmetry between causing by doing and causing by refraining. Since DRA is false, there is no significant moral difference between causing bad stuff–and presumably, by the same token, good stuff– beyond one’s ken by doing rather than by allowing. Thus, in my evaluation of the prospects for doing A, then “I will cause stuff whose evaluation is beyond my ken” parts cancel out. Thus, I should do A. And hence, if DRA is false, then even if FVS is true, I should do A, and neither weak nor strong moral paralysis is true.
Second, suppose GBOA is false, so goods and evils are on par in my evaluations. Then we have a symmetry between causing goods and causing evils. Now, among the “stuff whose evaluation is beyond my ken”, there is potentially good stuff and evil stuff. I have no reason to think the beyond-my-ken stuff is biased towards evil rather than good. So given the symmetry between goods and evils, the potential goods beyond my ken and potential evils beyond my ken should cancel out in my consideration, and I should prevent E. Thus, neither weak nor strong moral paralysis is true.
And here’s the argument for (*).
Suppose FVS and both DRA and GBOA. Then for any positive action A, as far as I know, A’s further consequences include great evils. Of course, they may include great goods as well, and the evils and goods are on par, but by GBOA, in my practical deliberations, I should worry about the evils a lot more than about the goods. This gives me reason to refrain from A. But what about refraining from A? That, too, for all I know, may have great evils and great goods in its further consequences. So perhaps I also have reason to refrain from refraining to do A. But by DRA the reason to refrain from doing A beats out the reason to refrain from refraining to do A, since it is significantly worse to be the cause of great evils than to merely permit them by one’s inaction. Therefore, if DRA and GBOA, both kinds of moral paralysis follow from FVS.
So, the STist or Chaos theorist who wants to resist moral paralysis needs to argue against the conjunction of DRA and GBOA. At the moment, I am inclined to agree with GBOA, but I am not sure about DRA. I have some intuitions in favor of it, but I worry that they may come from the case of intentional or foreseen outcomes.