I want to talk about a problem I should have noticed sooner. Of course I’d appreciate any help with clarifications, corrections, objections, etc.
Many discussions of moral rightness converge on the assumption that there are right-making characteristics or properties of actions that determined the *objective* rightness of actions and that actions exemplifying a certain number or degree (or an on balance number or degree) of such properties are objectively morally right.
We can perhaps distinguish the metaphysical question in (1) from the practical question in (2): (1) what makes an action right?, (2) what should we do? I want to worry about (1). If it is true that properties P make an action A objectively right, then I claim that properties P make A objectively right for everyone (including God). I’d also like to avoid contextualist (and neo-relativist) worries that seem to arise mainly with respect to question (2).
My first reason is that moral assertions are going to vary in truth value on such accounts depending on the nature of proposed actions and variation in moral standards endorsed. But I see no reason from a theistic perspective to deny that there is a single correct moral standard for everyone. Second, barring some new commitment to ordinary language philosophy, I’m not even sure how linguistic data concerning ordinary use of moral language (which feature so prominently in these discussions) is supposed to figure in genuine metaphysical disputes. So I’m setting these aside.
Let’s take two views.
P1. An act A is (objectively) morally right at t in w iff. the *causal* consequences A at t are better than those of any alternative to A at t.
P2. An act A is (objectively) morally right at t in w iff. the *best* possible consequences of A at t are better than those of any alternative.
Note that (virtually) every discussion of pointless evil assumes that P2 is true. That is. God is morally required to prevent an evil E if the best possible consequences at t includes God’s preventing E at t.
If P2 is true then the range of worlds that matter to the moral assessment of A at t includes the set of all metaphysically possible worlds available at t (or perhaps more cautiously, the set of worlds an omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good being could actualize at t).
So, if P2 is true, almost every action we perform on any occasion is *objectively morally wrong*. We almost never do anything objectively right since we almost never actualize one of those best possible consequences. This of course is not to say that we do not do the best that we can do. It’s just that the best we can do is often objectively morally wrong.
But I think it is crazy to believe that anything like P2 is true. Certainly no moral theorist (and no one else) believes it’s true. But then suppose something like P1 is true.
If P1 is true then the range of worlds that matter to the moral assessment of A at t includes a subset of the set of all causally possible worlds. If P2 made relevant all causally possible worlds we would again almost always be acting wrongly. No finite being (or set of beings) can actualize the best causally possible worlds, either.
If P1 is true, it is true for everyone, including God. Notice then that God would be morally required to prevent those evils whose prevention would result in the best causal consequences (in some restricted sense of causal consequences). And this makes the problem(s) of evil much more manageable.
So, two possible conclusions:
C1: Everyone is almost always acting in ways that are morally wrong.
C2: God is not required to prevent evils whose causal consequences are better than those of preventing that evil.