The experiential problem of evil and theodicy
December 31, 2012 — 5:23

Author: Helen De Cruz  Category: Existence of God  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 53

[this is cross-posted from NewApps] These reflections are prompted by Mike Almeida’s interesting post on the question of whether theodicy can ever be successful, and if so what success conditions a theodicy must meet. I want consider ta related, yet distinct question: can theodicies be convincing in the light of specific instances of evil, and the immediate sense this provokes: “God, if he exists, would not have allowed this”? In the wake of the tragic shooting incident at Newtown, I have been thinking a lot about the problem of evil and classical theodicies and defenses, such as John Hick’s soul building theodicy and various forms of free will theodicies/defenses (e.g., Plantinga’s; Augustine’s).
One way to approach the problem of evil is to look at it as an abstract puzzle to be solved. Wielding modal logic and other tools that analytic philosophy offers, we can argue that evil is unavoidable even for a loving, powerful and omniscient God, if he wishes specific goods like free will to obtain. A different option is to focus on concrete, vivid examples. William Rowe presented the case of a fawn, trapped in a forest fire that was caused by lightning, the fawn suffers horrible burns, and lies in dreadful agony for days until its death. A pointless instance of suffering that, Rowe argues, God could have prevented. Now for cases like Newtown we could invoke the free will defense, since – unlike the forest fire in Rowe’s example – the incident was caused by a human agent, exercising his free will, and it was made possible by other instances of free will, such as American policies on gun ownership. But it still seems to me quite a different thing to argue in the face of particular, vivid instances like this that suffering is outweighed by the greater good of the unbridled exercise of free will by moral agents. When confronted with concrete evil like this, theodicy, or indeed any theistic response to the problem of evil, becomes a formidable task indeed.


Gellman (in the paper “A new look at the problem of evil, Faith & Philosophy, 1992) points to this double nature of the problem of evil. Gellman writes “the problem of evil is first and foremost grounded on a type of experience that provides defeasible grounds for believing in the non-existence of God”. In this respect, Rowe’s fawn in the forest, and Dostojevski’s problem of the suffering children (depicted in vivid detail) are not rhetorical tricks, but rather, provide a way to frame the problem of evil in a challenging way. In his book The End of Philosophy of Religion (2008), Nick Trakakis goes one step further. Not only do theodicies fail, he believes that attempts to construct them are immoral. He writes “in the presence of burning children, the declarations of theodicists are shown to be not merely morally confused, but morally scandalous.” (Interestingly, when John Hick wrote his influential Evil and the God of Love, he also considered whether theodicies are acceptable, but from a very different angle. Hick thought that justifying God might be considered presumptuous on our part.)
Theodicies should not only offer a solution to the abstract problem, but should withstand scrutiny in the face of concrete, horrible instances of evil. and it seems that in concrete cases, theodicies not fare well. For it is one thing to argue that God did not intend the world as a pleasure-garden, but a challenging place fit for spiritual growth (as Hick proposed), quite another to maintain this in the face of concrete instances of evil.
Trent Dougherty, in a (to my knowledge) unpublished paper manuscript argues in detail that not even skeptical theism fares well. Skeptical theism holds that evil occurs for reasons beyond our ken. This view does not sit well with commonsense philosophy that many theists endorse, viz. that an immediate belief, formed non-inferentially that p provides prima facie a reason to believe that p. In Dougherty’s formulation ” If it seems to S that p, then S thereby has a pro tanto reason for believing p”. So, if I have a religious experience, an immediate sense that God loves me, I am prima facie justified that God loves me. But conversely, if I witness some horrible instance of moral or natural evil and immediately form the belief “No loving all-powerful God would allow this”, this provides defeasible grounds for believing that an all-powerful God does not exist.
One way out would be to argue that focusing on concrete cases and the visceral response they evoke is not the best way to approach problems in philosophical theology. One might argue that some philosophical problems are best considered dispassionately, and emotions evoked by concrete cases of evil have little, if any, epistemic weight. But this move does not seem very convincing. Visceral responses drive philosophical thought experiments in ethics and many other areas.
Another way out would be to argue that the evil, especially suffered by children and animals, not only serves some greater good for others, but that the victims additionally get significant benefits in an afterlife. it seems to me that this sort of theodicy + benefits for the victim has a more acceptable feel in concrete situations than theodicies where intense suffering of innocents serves some abstract greater good or contributes to some generally desirable state of affairs.
For example, John Schneider, who was forced to retire from Calvin for rejecting the Augustinian interpretation of the doctrine of original sin, argues that the pain and suffering in animals caused by natural selection predates human sinfulness. Given the magnitude of this suffering, he proposes “We should presume that animals do suffer (contra “Neo-Cartesianism”), and that they suffer in consequence of divine design (contra appeals to a Fall). … Meanwhile, Christian traditions warrant believing that God values all species of animals, that the Atonement (somehow) includes animals, that the Resurrection (somehow) “defeated” evils for animals, and that animals will inhabit heaven.” Dostojevski explores this option in the Brothers Karamazov, but concludes that not even a justification of the victim can push away the intuition that concrete instances of evil provide powerful, non-inferential evidence against the existence of God.
All this leads me to think that perhaps Trakakis is not of the mark when he argues that theodicies are questionable, also in a moral sense. Remarkably, the book of Job which deals with the problem of evil in detail comes to a similar conclusion: upon witnessing Job’s horrible condition, his friends are startled and shocked, and after the initial shock, they attempt to provide various theodicies (e.g., God is testing you, you must have done something wrong). Job rejects all these accounts, and is, at the end of the book, vindicated by God. God admonishes Job’s friends for trying to explain the evil in terms of some retribution or greater good, but he does not blame Job or his wife.

Comments:
  • Mike Almeida

    Hi Helen,
    My guess is that what Trakakis and others feel (maybe you too) is the overwhelming sense that some evil is just pointless and there’s something obscene in claiming that there is a point to it. I share that view, given the standard notion of pointless evil (as evil which is unnecessary to any greater good). It is not the level of suffering endured or the fact that children are made to endure it that matters, though these cases make the case vividly. Children are allowed to suffer horrendous pain enduring multiple operations over a lifetime, for instance, which we do not find morally objectionable. We do not find it objectionable though it often does not provide much relief for them. But getting to the point, Plantinga’s free will defense also concedes that there is pointless evil in the traditional sense of evil unnecessary to any greater good. So we have theodicies/defenses already recognizing this. For Plantinga, all of the moral evil might be prevented at no loss of any greater good, it is just that God cannot prevent it. Significantly free agents have to do it. So the way to respond to this genuine problem for the possibility of theodicy is to concede that there is gratuitous evil. But then argue that God’s existence is consistent with there being gratuitous evil (again, in the standard sense of evil that is not necessary to any greater good). And urge that, though there is gratuitous evil, there is no irredeemable evil. That’s the line I find credible, anyway.

    December 31, 2012 — 10:02
  • The evils dealt with in the problem of evil are suffered entirely in the context of the life of a human or (higher) non-human animal, and there is a double meaning of what a “pointless” or “gratuitous” evil would be. On the one hand, we can be speaking about the evil in its causes, and these might have been random. A fawn might burn to death in a forest fire that started by accident (and not “for a reason”) and even if the fire started for a reason, it is not necessary to see the point of the fire as burning the fawn (if the nature has point at all in starting forest fires, it probably has to do with keeping undergrowth down, making fertilizer, etc.). But to take evil in this way is extrinsic to the actual life of the animal, and so it doesn’t touch on the problem of evil in that context where it actually is a problem. In order to do this, we have to consider the evil in the context of the life of the animal. For the animal itself, the evil is an event within its life and is therefore pointless or not within this context. Return to the fawn: either there is some analogue for it to suffer well or there is not; either it can suffer with some analogue to heroism, courage, and fortitude or it cannot. If it can, then this suffering will take its meaning from whatever this is; if it cannot, then within the context of its life the suffering neither has a point nor is pointless, for we deny the relevant sense in which the suffering can have a point within the context of the life in which it occurs.

    December 31, 2012 — 17:31
  • Nathaniel Hagthorpe

    Helena, can i please ask you to help me understand your proposed answer to the question, since i have difficulties of getting it?
    My problem is, that you seem to agree not only with Trakakis’ idea, that theodicies are pointless and even, possibly, morally wrong, but also with Doggerthy’s objections to sceptical theism. In the end, you seem to emphatize with Job. But choosing Job’s answer seems to me to imply sceptical theism, since his answer seem to be “i can’t know the reasons for enabling evil, still God exists and is worthy of devotion” (and that’s also God’s explicit answer to Job in the story). Yet that’s exactly the sceptical theists position, which seem impossible to you based on your text. So, please, can you clarify, how your proposal differs from the scepitcal theist’s?

    December 31, 2012 — 18:32
  • Helen De Cruz

    Hi Nathaniel: I do not have a definite answer to the question. I would not go as far as Trakakis, but I do believe there is some risk in the project of theodicy – the risk is that some horrible evils could be perceived as less horrible because they serve some greater good. Of course, some theodicies do allow for gratuitous evil (e.g., Hasker’s).
    It’s interesting to mention Job. As far as I know, most attention on Job & the problem of evil has focused on God’s response to Job, which does seem to favor an interpretation of skeptical theism. But also consider God’s response to Job’s friends, which is quite different. Job’s friends *should* have offered comfort and support – something they planned to do when they went to visit their stricken friend, but they ended up lecturing him on why this evil befell him. See the following: “7 “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has. 8 So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.” 9 So Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite did what the Lord told them; and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.”
    So one of the messages of this piece of Scripture seems to be that, in the face of horrendous evil, we must not so much try to explain it (as we will end up speaking falsehoods anyway), but try to comfort and help the victims. Afterwards, this is what they do: ” All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver[a] and a gold ring.”
    I am not denying skeptical theism is a part of the message of the book of Job, but I think it is an even stronger claim, viz that we are not only unable to explain evil, but that we also ought not to attempt to do so.

    January 1, 2013 — 3:55
  • Mike Almeida

    For what it’s worth, pointless evil is not typically understood in this way. At least as the problem is described in contemporary discussions of either the logical or evidential problems of evil. Pointless evil is just evil which is not necessary to some greater good. So, the idea is that God is justified in not preventing an evil E if E is necessary (in some relevant sense of necessary) to a greater good. The good need not be an heroic response to the evil (though Plantinga and some others suggest it could be), the good might be ecological or simply unknown to us. What is required though is that the greater good is unachievable without the evil. This is what’s suppose to provide God a reason for not preventing the evil.

    January 1, 2013 — 9:12
  • Donald

    I agree that theodicies tend to seem insensitive and I would never bring them up faced with a parent who had lost a child. (Which has happened too often lately, in my own personal experience, not even thinking of the Newton massacre.)
    But they do one thing, or at least Plantinga has done one thing–he has shown that the argument from evil doesn’t disprove an all-powerful God. That’s all that they can do and all that is necessary. The argument from evil isn’t really so much of an argument anyway, as it is an expression of anger at God or at people who believe in God in the face of some awful tragedy.
    Donald

    January 1, 2013 — 13:01
  • Helen De Cruz

    Hi Donald,
    I agree with you that successful theodicies or defenses can show that God’s existence is not logically or even evidentially incompatible with evil. But I think that the argument from evil is more than an expression of anger at God (it can be an expression of anger too of course). There are quite sophisticated versions of the argument from evil, like Rowe’s, which seem to present a powerful evidential argument against his existence. But even if evil is not considered within an argumentative structure, its epistemic value is significant, as Gellman and Dougherty have argued. Just like I can have powerful, non-inferential evidence for God’s existence (for instance, in religious experience, or in a sensus divinitatis that is elicited when beholding the night sky or some other awesome phenomenon of natural beauty), atrocities and pointless suffering provide non-inferential evidence against God’s existence – it may simply seem to me one such instances that God, if he exists, would not allow for evils like this to occur. I’m not sure how to weigh the two types of evidence against each other. I think that in many cases (except if you are an isolated person, living a life of bliss, not watching the news etc) the occurrences of evil outweigh, at least, quantitatively, the occurrences of religious experience, sense of awe etc. But whether such quantitative comparisons are a good way to pit the two types of non-inferential evidence against each other, I don’t know.

    January 1, 2013 — 14:03
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Mike,
    You ask: “What conditions must a theodicy meet in order to succeed?”
    I think a successful theodicy must show how on our own sense of personal perfection God would want to create a world like the one we find ourselves existing in. It’s not only a matter of showing consistency, let alone logical possibility. Rather, starting with one’s own sense of perfection one should be able to see that God would want to create a world just like ours.
    Here I’d like to stress what conditions a successful theodicy does not have to meet, and probably won’t meet:
    1. It does not have to justify creation to us. God is personal but is not human. The question is not how we would want God to create the world. Indeed, how we would want God to create the world is almost certainly misleading, since we are imperfect creatures with self-centered interests. Nor does it make sense to think about what God can or cannot do, nor about God’s reasoning. The concepts of abilities and reasoning only apply to imperfect persons like we are.
    2. Being human we experience the world as a series of local events, but God in deciding creation considers the whole of it. For God the good of creation is more than the sum of all the goods in it minus all the evils in it. Thus a successful theodicy won’t try to explain each individual fact, but the whole world. For example, it need not answer the question of why God should will that particular child to suffer, but only why God should will to create a world in which children may suffer.
    3. Love entails respect. If it is the case that God would will to create a world in which evils obtain, I would think respect for humans would move God *not* to micromanage how evils (or indeed blessings) fall on particular individuals. Thus I strongly suspect that individual evils are random, which is one more reason not to assume that a successful theodicy will allow for individual explanations.
    4. Even if it is the case that God partakes in creation to the degree of interacting with our individual lives, I think a successful theodicy will not require this fact. The reason I think this is because in my experience the most fruitful (i.e. conducing to love) relationship one can have with God is one where one assumes that God does not do that. The most beautiful kind of love is the one of trust beyond reason.
    Which last point brings me to the following thought: Even if a successful theodicy is there be found, it is likely not to be complete in the sense of removing all doubts. With Hick I tend to think that the world in which most personal value can be created, and in which joy can be the greatest, is one where God is known in small steps. The great beauty of the human condition does not lie in loving because one knows God, but in loving despite not knowing God. And in that beauty one sees God.

    January 2, 2013 — 4:37
  • Zeb

    To me what is objectionable about both the problem of evil and most theodices/defenses is that evil is talked aboutin the third. But is the evil of Newtown or Auschwitz or the fawn really in the revulsion you or I feel in reading about them? I would say no, the real evil is in the experience of the victim and, when applicable, the perpetrator. It seems to me somewhat dishonest and disrespectful to use the victims and perpetrators of evil as mere tools of argument, especially if we’re explicitly talking about the “experiential” problem of evil. If we are to use their experiences, should we not be asking them for answers? Of course when we do we find a diversity of contradiction. Some survivors tell that their experience strengthened or even initiated their faith in God, and others that it weakened or destroyed their faith, or confirmed their unbelief. So to me the whole thing is a wash. All I can speak of is my own experience of evil, such as it is. To be fair, even the knowledge of events like Newtown and the Holocaust can be considered an evil experience, but obviously that evil is much less compelling. I don’t find myself lying awake thinking, “Why God, oh why must I be aware of such horrible events?”

    January 2, 2013 — 7:30
  • Helen De Cruz

    Hi Zeb: thank you for the comments. I certainly don’t think we should discount the direct experience of the victims (and the perpetrators? why do you think it extends to both victims and perpetrators?). As you say – this can go several ways. Some people come closer to God as a result of some horrendous experienced evils. For others, it’s a soul-destroying event. So the experiences of victims are certainly relevant. However, I do not think theirs are the *only* relevant experiences.
    Humans can not only experience suffering through the first-person perspective, but also through the second-person perspective. Neuroimaging studies (by Decety and others) show that when we see, say, someone cutting their finger, or getting their finger stuck between a door, we literally experience some of the pain this person feels. Also, we can feel empathy, pity and a variety of other feelings when confronted with someone who suffers, e.g., witnessing the grief in someone who just lost a loved one can be very hard. Similarly, the anger one feels at someone who harmed someone one cares about can be motivated by empathy for the victim. For instance, suppose a friend of mine got seriously injured by a drunk driver driving into him. I will be angry at the drunk driver, not because he preventing my friend from, say, going bowling with me the next weeks, but also and especially because he harmed my friend. I can similarly feel upset or angry towards people who harm complete strangers, e.g., if I look at a TV documentary on workers in a company working in dire conditions under the minimum wage, I can become angry with the company and boycott their products, not because they harmed me and others close to me, but because they harmed other human beings. So it seems to me under those circumstances not alien (at least to me it is not an alien feeling) to wonder why God would allow for evils like this, and even be upset with him about it.
    Such other-directed emotions I would include in the experience of evil; we are not robots who can dispassionately observe other people’s suffering and only feel it when we are directly concerned. We also feel – in a direct experiential sense – the suffering of others.

    January 2, 2013 — 8:14
  • Mike Almeida

    Hi Dianelos Georgoudis,
    Thanks for the comment. Your comment should probably be on my post, rather than Helen De Cruz’s post. I don’t want to derail her thread, though of course they’re related. I will say that, for the most part, I don’t find (1)-(4) credible. A successful theodicy would have to explain the existence of actual evil, why we have the kinds and distribution of evil we have. It would have to do so in a way that is consistent with God being perfectly good, knowledgeable and powerful, and also with God being perfectly loving. I acknowledge that we can disagree about the nature of perfection, but I disagree that theodicy need only accomodate some personal view of perfection. But mostly I’d want to emphasize that my question concerns the very possibility that theodicy succeeds. There is a pressing question concerning the coherence of God (i) creating a world such as ours and (ii) being justified in doing so. Almost all discussions of evil take up the evidential or logical problem, those that do discuss theodicies do so unconvincingly, or go skeptical. But going skeptical won’t help of the very possibility of theodicy is in doubt, as it is.
    I’m happy to take this up on my thread, if you like.

    January 2, 2013 — 8:54
  • John Alexander

    It seems to me that an interesting approach to understanding the problem of evil relates more to the notion that we would not allow evil (or certain instances of evil) to occur if we had the power to stop it from occuring, then simply trying to justify God’s allowing it to exist. I think that most of us would have tried to stop the shooter at Newtown and we certainly praise those that attempted to stop him. We seem to know what is morally required in these circumstances. Because we consider ourselves to be trying to ‘do the right thing’, it seems to follow from our moral perspective that if we would not allow it then God (at some point) ought not to allow it. If this is so, then it seems that if we are trying to be moral and in doing so we would eliminate an evil from occuring then God either does not exist or if He does exist then He lacks a characterstic that is traditionally ascribed to Him if that evil does exist.

    January 2, 2013 — 14:25
  • Donald

    Helen–I don’t think you can weigh the arguments against each other in any meaningful way. It boils down to an appeal to emotions and/or intuitions. I suppose one could try quantifying it, by assuming some prior probability for God’s existence, then assigning a probability that evil would exist if a good God exists, and one to the chance that evil exists whether or not God exists, and then sticking these numbers into the appropriate slots in Bayes’ theorem. Different people will use different numbers, of course, so it’s all subjective.
    I agree that the argument from evil doesn’t have to be an expression of anger, but in my own experience when I read about it or in real life when someone has used it there’s almost always some anger being expressed, either at God or at the allegedly stupid insensitive people who think an omnipotent and yet good God could exist and allow horrible things to happen. Even the writer of the book of Job could be said to do this (though clearly he isn’t arguing against God’s existence, but against the theodicies of Job’s friends.)

    January 2, 2013 — 23:35
  • Mike Almeida

    I think that’s the way to go, John, since the initial assumption ought to be that moral notions are univocal. The way to avoid appeals to skeptical theism–which generally invoke the idea that God’s perspective is not ours–is note that there are some actions that do not depend on perspective. They are prohibited no matter how much good is on the line.

    January 3, 2013 — 16:06
  • Trent Dougherty

    I have only skimmed the post and read none of the comments, but at the Easter APA, at the Association for the Philosophy of Judaism session David Shatz (check out his stuff on Closer to Truth) obliterated the moral objections to theodicy. In my Analysis piece on the Problem of Evil I list a number of places where people have replied to the moral objection.
    It is true that I don’t think Skeptical Theism works at all against the Bayesian argument from evil nor against my version of the Common Sense Problem of Evil (which is not published yet but which I am giving at the Boulder SCP as an invited talk. Indeed, ST is not even *of the right form* to reply to either of the arguments, so it’s a non-starter.
    However, I am an staunch advocate of the Irenaean theodicy and have just completed a chapter defending it for my forthcoming monograph with Palgrave-Macmillan _The Problem of Animal Pain_.
    I wish people that leveled moral objections to theodicy were consistent and leveled moral objections to atheistic arguments from evil. It’s usually a one-sided critique. But the fact is that theists have an intellectual responsibility to to address these arguments, it’s just that they also have a moral responsibility to do so in a sensitive and humane manner.
    I’m having Nick here for a talk next month, so I’ll bring this up and post on our conversation.

    January 3, 2013 — 18:06
  • Mike Almeida

    No doubt this is largely overstated, Trent. The moral problem (formulated in the right way) is a very serious, I’d say insurmountable, problem for the possibility of theodicy as theodicy is currently understood. It’s not a matter of people not having done their homework on replies to the moral problem. Those replies more often than not do not address the real issue, or engage in tedious bullet-biting. Meh. But the real problem is one for which there is no reply other than to concede that theodicy has probably worn out it’s usefulness. And indeed I believe it has. We really need a new way to manage this sort of problem, a way that allows for the consistency of God and gratuitous evil. Lucky for you, I have that way. 🙂

    January 3, 2013 — 20:17
  • Jacob

    My favorite book on this issue is Greg Boyd’s “Satan and the Problem of Evil,” in which he argues that although we can give an account of why there is evil in general by reference to creaturely freedom, we can’t give an account of particular evils aside from divine revelation (e.g. when Jesus reveals that the man was born blind so that God’s glory may be shown). The reason being, we simply don’t know enough about the compendium of causes involved.

    January 5, 2013 — 10:19
  • Eric Steinhart

    I am always perplexed by the fact that the problem of evil (and then the theodicies) rely on an apparently unquestioned hedonism. Goodness is pleasure; evil is pain. I am not aware of any argument for this hedonic axiom. Nor does it seem obvious.
    One might think of universes as ranked in the way that Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas ranked things. Each universe in the bottom rank R0 contains only things that merely exist. Each universe in R0 contains only rocks. The next rank R1 has universes which contain things that merely exist, but also things that live, such as plants. The next rank R2 has universes that contain rocks, plants, and animals. Each universe in R3 contains some rocks, plants, animals, and rational animals (e.g. humans, or rational aliens). Every universe in R4 contains some rocks, plants, animals, rational animals, and creatures that are superior even to rational animals (the Medievalists say “angels”, but more naturalistically we can go with super-human aliens or transhumanist artificial intellects, or whatever).
    It is clear that the amount of suffering increases as the ranks of universes increase. The universes in R0 contain no suffering at all. Perhaps the universes in R1 have some pain and pleasure. The universes in R2 and above have ever greater quantities of suffering and happiness. The main point, of course, is that suffering increases.
    The argument now is that a universe filled with creatures which can and do suffer is vastly axiologically superior to one that is filled with merely rocks, or rocks and unsentient plants. And it would seem that the ways that humans can suffer are vastly more intense than the ways that non-rational animals can suffer. Thus: better universes contain both more suffering and more happiness. Thus: better universes contain more suffering.

    January 5, 2013 — 11:30
  • Mike Almeida

    The argument now is that a universe filled with creatures which can and do suffer is vastly axiologically superior to one that is filled with merely rocks, or rocks and unsentient plants.
    That’s surely not unqualifiedly right. A world filled with creatures that can and do suffer might be vastly worse than one filled with non-sentient things or one filled with no creatures at all. Consider a world in which each sentient being (human beings, say, maybe more advanced beings, or whatnot) suffers excruciating pain for its entire existence and then dies. Let that be true for every being in the world we are envisaging. Such a world includes advanced beings, and that’s good, but it is vastly worse than a world with no suffering and less advanced beings.
    The problem of theodicy arises, I take it, not because anyone thinks the world is overall bad. It arises because, for however good it is, there seem to be the sorts of evils in it that are not compatible with the traditional attributes of God. For what it’s worth, though lots of people feel they can rank worlds morally, I don’t think that they hold or that the ranking entails a primitive utilitarian axiology. I agree that it can sound that way.

    January 5, 2013 — 12:34
  • Eric Steinhart

    Mike –
    I fail to see how your example does anything more than illustrate the hedonic assumption. Please explain why that assumption is justified.
    – Eric

    January 5, 2013 — 12:46
  • Mike Almeida

    I reject the hedonic assumption. And by rejecting that assumption, I am not claiming that I cannot rank worlds morally as ‘better or worse’. The moral value of worlds under the rejection of hedonism depends on deontic principles, principles of justice, in addition to things like pleasure, pain, happiness, unhappiness, etc.
    There are three things to say about my particular example. (i) If you are not sure whether a world in which every being suffers excruciating pain for the duration of its existence is worse than a world in which there are no sentient creatures at all, independently of any commitment to any credible moral view, we probably don’t have much to talk about. I take it as a datum that such worlds are worse than worlds in which nothing is suffering, no matter what else you believe about value. In other words, given a choice between rejecting a moral theory inconsistent with the datum and rejecting the datum, we should reject the theory. (ii) my example does not commit me to any simplistic view about value. It commits me to the platitude that pain and suffering are bad. But all credible theories of value will include the fact that pain is among the intrinsically bad things. This is not to be confused with the view that pain is the only intrinsically bad thing. I’m certainly not committed to that. (iii) the example I offer can be construed as involving widespread violations of distributive justice, since the pain is not described as deserved, and not assumed to be deserved. So, if the excruciating suffering alone is not so bad in your view, maybe the injustice is.

    January 5, 2013 — 13:44
  • Eric Steinhart

    It’s not my intent to accuse you (or anyone else) of having a simplistic view. It is my intention to ask for explanations. Of course, I’ll agree that suffering is psychologically and ethically worse than not suffering. We ought to minimize it (modulo other appropriate moral principles, etc.).
    (On a side note: I deny that possibility is imaginability or conceivability, thus I deny that merely imagining a world in which all creatures suffer for their whole lives means that such a world is possible; it doesn’t make any biological sense.)
    Granted the ethical and psychological aspects of these issues, what I fail to understand is the theological or cosmological applications. Suppose there were some axiological quantity Q that some god wanted to maximize. (Or, if it has no maximum, then perhaps let the god make a series of worlds in which Q is monotonically increasing.) Why would the definition of Q involve pleasure or pain? There are plenty of ways to talk about intrinsic value that don’t involve pleasure or pain at all. Why not maximize complexity, diversity, intensity, etc.?
    Human psychological and ethical criteria are surely appropriate for the evaluation of humans individually and collectively. Why are they appropriate for the evaluation of worlds?

    January 5, 2013 — 14:31
  • Mike Almeida

    Right. I think we all agree that conceivability is not an infallible guide to metaphysical possibility. But most of the fallibility results from necessary a posteriori truths constraining what’s possible (though not constraining what’s conceivable). So guarding against those, we can use it more reliably. Of course it is still fallible. But so is perception, reason, memory, etc., so it is in good cognitive company.
    Getting to your main point, why suppose that the axiological quantity Q that God wants to maximize includes pleasure. I’m not sure I suggested it must. I do say that pleasure is intrinsically valuable. And the fact that it is intrinsically valuable, and contributes to the value of any world one might actualize, is a reason to include it in any world a perfectly good being might actualize. But that’s not to say that it must be maximized. It is also not to say that a world with less pleasure isn’t worse than one with more, other things equal. I do claim that suffering a painful life is morally bad. And that God should not, other things being equal, actualize worlds that include such suffering. But that’s again not to say that God should maximize pleasure. Indeed, it better turn out that God needn’t maximize pleasure, since he certainly hasn’t.

    January 5, 2013 — 15:49
  • Chad Marxen

    Why think that pleasure is intrinsically valuable? Take a serial killer who is taking pleasure in the suffering of his victims. Doesn’t it seem pretty clear that this pleasure is not valuable? If anything is going to be attributed to the pleasure, it seems that badness is the only quality worthy of attributing to the pleasure.

    January 6, 2013 — 0:38
  • Mike Almeida

    I’m not persuaded by such cases, since they’re too easy to come by. Consider another case. Supposed I’m pained at the sight of Jones’ suffering. Is the state of affairs of my being pained at someone’s suffering good? Lots of people say yes, but no one concludes that therefore pain is not intrinsically bad. Thankfully no one concludes that it does not matter morally how much pain one causes. I’d say the same thing about your case. The state of affairs of the killer’s experiencing pleasure in killing is bad. That does not entail that pleasure is not intrinsically valuable.

    January 6, 2013 — 8:37
  • Chad Marxen

    “I’m not persuaded by such cases, since they’re too easy to come by.”
    I’m not following your point here, could you clarify please.
    “Is the state of affairs of my being pained at someone’s suffering good? Lots of people say yes, but no one concludes that therefore pain is not intrinsically bad.”
    Interesting, that case makes me think that pain is not intrinsically bad actually. If pain is intrinsically bad, then I fail to see, given your case, how that state of affairs isn’t bad. Maybe it would help if you clarified what you mean by, “intrinsically valuable.” If you think that pleasure is “intrinsically valuable” doesn’t that mean that whenever pleasure occurs, it adds value to the given state of affairs? If it doesn’t, I don’t quite understand what you mean by “intrinsically valuable”. Now, maybe you want to agree but conclude that taking pleasure in killing is bad, and that this bad outweighs the value of the given pleasure, but even this seems wrong. Further, it seems that pleasure can’t be considered by itself, but only as taking pleasure in something. If this is right, then saying that pleasure is “intrinsically valuable” would seem to mean that regardless of what one is taking pleasure in, that pleasure is good. All this would entail, given your view, that the case I offered is a good state of affairs.

    January 6, 2013 — 12:51
  • Mike Almeida

    If you think that pain is not intrinsically bad, or you’re not sure, then we probably don’t have enough in agreement morally to make it worth while. But just to repeat a bit, I differentiated states of affairs and properties. I said that the state of affairs of taking pleasure in the suffering of others is bad and the state of affairs of taking pain in another’s suffering is good. So, what is good or bad in these cases is the state of affairs of taking an inappropriate attitude toward suffering.
    1. Taking the attitude of enjoying other’s misfortune.
    The poorly directed attitude expressed in (1) is bad. But there is nothing bad about the mental state of enjoying pleasure itself. The mental state is good. The mental state is a property of me, not a state of affairs.
    I guess I’d sum up with a few points. (i) this is not my thread and the discussion is really far afield of the thread’s aim (ii) even on my own thread, this discussion, though interesting, is really way off topic. I’m happy to discuss matters that are more on topic on my own thread (or even those closer to topic) and (iii) as with most discussions in metaethics, it is difficult to make progress when the discussants diverge in basic moral beliefs. As i said above, since you’re not sure whether pain is intrinsically bad, I’m pretty there’s nothing I can say that would be of any use to you.

    January 6, 2013 — 15:54
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Helen,
    There are two basic ways to experience life, namely to experience life religiously or non-religiously.
    According to the religious interpretation the world is fundamentally good and our presence in it has a purpose and is deeply meaningful. Further, according to theism, the goodness of the world is grounded in the presence of a being which is no less than the greatest being one can conceive. According to the non-religious interpretation the world is basically a blind mechanism, there is no ultimate purpose or meaning in anything, and thus our presence in it is coincidental. Given these two ways to experience life, religious and non-religious people describe what’s basic in reality in different ways. For example theists explain the fact that the goods in our life are orders of magnitude greater than the evils by pointing out the goodness and love of God, and try to justify the evils in the various well-known ways. Naturalists, on the contrary, explain our experience of goods and evils on biological/mechanistic grounds. If challenged I suppose a naturalist will explain the supremacy of good over evil in our experience by pointing out that evolutionary advantage of having brains which experience life as something good to hang on.
    In the OP I understand you speak of “horrendous evils”. Those evils the effect of which appears to be soul-numbing, and which push religious people away from experiencing the fundamental goodness of creation – and thus provide reason for doubting or disbelieving the existence of God. How can any theodicy fare when confronted with the reality of such evils?
    Well, I think that on the intellectual level such evils can be accounted for, or at least that we are moving closer to accounting for them. John Hick’s soul-building theodicy explains the reason for God’s epistemic distance and why the presence of God should not be obvious in our experience of life. The absence of the rare instances of horrendous evil would weaken that epistemic distance (for we would be protected from them by some magic power), perhaps to a degree which is sufficient to counteract the value of our love for God. There is of course much to be said here, but I don’t think the situation is really that formidable. At least I think there is slow but evident progress towards a successful theodicy.
    Now the problem of horrendous evils is not only an intellectual one, but, as you say, an experiential one. One may think that in the face of such evils to try to build a theodicy which justifies them is somehow morally reprehensible. Trakakis even says it’s scandalous. Or perhaps the idea is that in the face of such evils we are built in such a way as to reject God, without listening to reason. In the context then of the experiential dimension of horrendous evils, how does theism fare? And does theodicy help or hurt?
    I think theism fares extremely well in that it drastically removes the horrendousness of such evils. Theism in general, and in particular the mystics’ realization that “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”, greatly reduces one’s fear of suffering some such evil, and (presumably – I don’t know from personal experience) fortifies one in the unlikely case that one should suffer one. Thus theism’s experiential response to the presence of horrendous evil is for me one of its greatest practical benefits. Given this, one feels motivated to share theism with others in order that they too partake in these benefits. Should I have to explain to somebody why I think that theism is such a great blessing in one’s experience of life, I would use the case of horrendous evils as a major case in point.
    And theodicy clearly helps. I am not of course saying that when meeting somebody who has just suffered some horrendous evil one should try to explain to her why God allows such things to happen. Rather, given that for many people reason is a mayor motivator for forming beliefs, given that beliefs do affect one’s path and experience of life, given that many people think that naturalism is more reasonable than theism, and given that the problem of evil is felt by many to be a defeater for theism – it has great moral usefulness to work on solving that problem. Indeed I feel the moral imperative for theodicy comes from trying to help others. For the steadfast theist the problem of evil is not really a “problem”, but an opportunity to understand God better. And being able to understand God better is marvellous.

    January 7, 2013 — 1:41
  • Mike:
    …”since you’re not sure whether pain is intrinsically bad”…
    I am curious what you think of the cases (I don’t have a reference, but one of our grad students mentioned them) of split-brain patients, who before the split had debilitating pain, and who report that they have exactly the same pain as before the operation but who also say that now they don’t mind it? I have a strong intuition that what they had after the operation wasn’t bad, or at least not very bad.
    Maybe it’s just a terminological issue? The patients seem to be reporting a pain quale, P, that they had before and after the operation. Before the operation, P bothered them a lot and made it difficult to function. After the operation, P didn’t bother them.
    Maybe what the patients call pain is just P, while what you are calling pain is P+bothering? But is it P+bothering that is bad, or just the bothering? I feel a pull to saying it’s the “bothering”, whatever that is, that’s bad.
    None of this affects the larger argument, of course, since it can all be rephrased.

    January 8, 2013 — 9:54
  • “All this leads me to think that perhaps Trakakis is not of the mark when he argues that theodicies are questionable, also in a moral sense.”
    There doesn’t seem to me to be any moral questionability at all when the suffering involved is your very own. It seems a very good thing for sufferers to try to find meaning in their suffering.
    But love blurs the moral lines between self and other. If so, then it can be a good thing to try to find meaning in the suffering of those one deeply loves.
    And the vivid portrayals of suffering, as in Dostoevskii, precisely invite a response of love. Hence, perhaps paradoxically, they can lay the foundations for a morally appropriate search for theodicy.

    January 8, 2013 — 10:01
  • Mike Almeida

    I’d deny that it is the same quale, if one experience is unpleasant and another pleasant. I take pain to be essentially painful, my intuitions line up with Kripke on this score, and I take painful experiences to be apriori ones that hurt. That’s just what pain is, so I couldn’t discover any pains that don’t hurt. Now maybe what you’re saying is that all this is true, but there are some people who “don’t mind” experiences that hurt, they don’t mind them in the sense that they find them easily tolerable. That’s probably true, but the fact that some people can tolerate pain better than others is consistent with it being bad.

    January 8, 2013 — 10:58
  • Helen De Cruz

    Alex and Danielos: thanks for these helpful distinctions. My opinions are not firm on this issue. I think that Trakakis might go too far by arguing that it is morally scandalous to offer theodicies. Nevertheless, proposing them to people who suffer greatly (e.g., presenting someone who just lost a close person or someone who has a grave illness with a theodicy) is morally questionable. But if one has a theistic outlook on life, it seems almost unavoidable that one will try to understand evils (occurring to oneself, close ones, or even strangers) in a theistic light. An interesting problem arises for clergy and other people in similar functions. My vicar frequently gets asked by parishioners who suffer greatly (e.g., prolonged debilitating diseases) why God would allow this. He answers, as he believes, that God is sovereign who would not allow evil if it did not have some reason, and that evil does have a reason, albeit one we can’t discern. I don’t think in this case, it’s morally objectionable on his part, as the parishioners ask him what he thinks about evil, and he answers what he believes to be the case.
    Love blurs the lines between the self and the person one loves, I agree, and because humans are very good at empathizing, the line can also be blurred between oneself and a stranger who suffers, so that this suffering in a sense also becomes a personal experience (albeit, of course of a different quality and to a far lesser extent than what the person in question experiences).

    January 8, 2013 — 16:44
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Helen, I think a better answer the vicar could give is this: I don’t really know why God would allow this. What I do know is that God loves us all dearly and will see to it that all shall be well in the end. Nothing that is good can ever be lost, because by being good it partakes in the nature and reality of God.

    January 9, 2013 — 9:13
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    On whether pain is intrinsically evil. It seems to me clear that *suffering* is intrinsically evil. Since physical pain usually entails suffering, it is usually an evil too, but not always. The case I am thinking of is the pain one feels while exercising. It is a true pain, but one does not suffer from it. On the contrary it is part and parcel of the glory of exercising.

    January 9, 2013 — 9:36
  • Mike Almeida

    The case I am thinking of is the pain one feels while exercising. It is a true pain, but one does not suffer from it. On the contrary it is part and parcel of the glory of exercising.
    I don’t know who your trainer is, but I’ll have ot look him/her up. Training is hell. 🙂

    January 9, 2013 — 12:40
  • I think the Georgoudis-Almeida disagreement on the pain of exercise gives evidence that pain isn’t intrinsically bad. Dianelos thinks that the pain while exercising is a good thing. Mike thinks it’s clearly bad. A plausible explanation of both sentiments is that when Dianelos exercises, the surrounding factors are such that the pain is indeed a good thing, and when Mike (or I, for that matter) exercises, the surrounding factors are such that the pain is indeed a bad thing.
    What are the “surrounding” factors? Maybe it’s just that when Dianelos exercises, he likes the pain, while when Mike and I exercise, we hate the pain–it bothers us. Or maybe it’s something else. But in any case, it seems to me that the goodness/badness of pain in exercise might just be, as we say, “a matter of taste.”
    Granted, I don’t want to make this “relativistic” move in very many other cases. Thus, if Thrasymachus thinks that becoming unjust is good for him, I will just say that Thrasymachus is mistaken about what is good or bad for him. But Dianelos’ widely-shared sentiment about the pain of exercise just doesn’t seem to me to be in the same boat as Thrasymachus’ sentiment about injustice. For one, Dianelos’ sentiment is shared by many otherwise virtuous people, and one expects virtuous people to be good judges of what is good or bad for them. For another, the paradigmatic kind of badness that becoming unjust has is the sort of badness that one can be routinely unaware of befalling one. But the paradigmatic kind of badness that being in pain has, when it has it, doesn’t seem to be the sort of badness that one can routinely be unaware of befalling one.
    But what I do want to agree with is this: Where there is pain, there is always a bad.
    For painful sensations perceptually represent bads, in the way visual sensations perceptually represent shapes and colors. The represented bad either is there or not. If it’s there, there is a bad there! If the represented bad is not there, the painful sensation is nonveridical, and nonveridical perceptions are bad. So in either case, there is a bad there–either the represented bad or the badness of the representation.

    January 9, 2013 — 14:12
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Alex,
    “Dianelos thinks that the pain while exercising is a good thing.”
    That’s not really what I meant. I meant that pain isn’t always an evil thing because it is part and parcel of some good things such as exercise. From that it does not follow that pain is sometimes a good thing. Rather it shows that pain is not a thing that may itself be good or evil, but a property of things that may be good or evil.
    Perhaps a proper theistic ontology should never fail to ultimately define the goodness of evilness of things by their relationship to the ground of all value which is God. Similarly the truth or falseness of propositions should be defined by their relationship to the ground of all truth which is God. I don’t want to sound too mystical, but if theism is true then truth must be of an intrinsically holistic nature, and analytic philosophers should resist the temptation of atomizing concepts and thinking about them as if they are independent entities amenable to individual manipulation. There is ultimately no order beyond God’s order.
    Coming back to Helen’s issue with pain and its place in our experience of life, what I think on contemplation becomes apparent is how little present significance pain has. When I think about my own life and my occasions of painful experiences, they feel as light as feathers, almost as if they have never happened. What weights on my soul, and what I would like to escape if I could, are the evil choices I made. The evil in my present condition is almost exclusively a matter of the evil I myself did. The suffering I have caused others pains me now far more than any moral or natural evil I have ever suffered. The sense of injustice that suffocates me is not the world’s injustice towards me, but my injustice towards the world. Not how the world failed me, but how I failed the world. I know how we are all born cry-babies, but I trust that on contemplation what I describe above is a common realization.

    January 14, 2013 — 3:59
  • Helen De Cruz

    Suppose we grant that pain is part and parcel of good things. Intuitions about what this means for theism differ significantly on this part. Take, for instance, childbirth. A particularly painful ordeal, much greater in magnitude and duration than the light pain felt in exercise, and it is, is under most circumstances part and parcel of something we value as good (viz bringing new life into the world). Someone like Trakakis would say that the pain endured by women during childbirth is a form of natural evil incompatible with the goodness of God (surely, God could have come up with a better solution than the present conflicting demands of narrow pelvis and large brain size) – I am not a biblical literalist, so the biblical explanation of pain experienced during childbirth is, in its narrow and literal interpretation, unsatisfying for me. I would not agree with Trakakis about what this natural evil means for theism – for all we know, the mechanics of childbirth and its accompanying pain are the best solution, given God’s goals and plans, and perhaps the pain has some instrumental value.
    But unlike Danielos, I am deeply troubled by moral evil; the evil we deliberately inflict on other people. Especially the way human social institutions seem to perpetuate evil and to protect those who afflict pain to others. For instance, the quality (and access to) health care being dependent on one’s income, which itself correlates with where one is born, the fact that half of the world’s food is thrown away while so many people lack access to it, etc etc. I am troubled by the suffering I inflict on others, but I cannot simply look past these forms of institutionalized evil. Examined holistically, I see such instances falling nicely within a Schleiermacherian concept of sinfulness as a social phenomenon. I find it still a challenge, though, to explain why God would allow such forms of sinfulness to continue and propagate themselves.

    January 14, 2013 — 7:29
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Helen,
    Pain is not part and parcel of the goodness of childbirth in the sense that pain is part and parcel of the goodness of exercise. Exercise without the pain is not exercise. Childbirth without the pain is still childbirth. If I were offered a pill that suppresses the pain of exercise I would choose not to take it, whereas I see little sense in a woman refusing epidural.
    In general I would say that pain is part and parcel of the goodness of struggle. Is struggle a good thing? I find very much so. Modern Greek writer Kazantzakis thought it is the best thing in our life, indeed its very meaning. And, poignantly, the Greek word for “agony” which is “agonia” is derived from the word for “struggle” which is “agon”.
    Let me give an example to illustrate my meaning. Visualize, if you will, Plantinga rock-climbing, and a rich admirer in a helicopter hovering by and telling him: “Professor I see you are sweating, your muscles are aching, your fingers are badly scratched. Your goal is to reach the peak of the mountain, isn’t it? Here, let me give you a ride there in my comfortable helicopter.” You see my point? The rock-climber’s goal is not just to reach the peak of the mountain, but to reach it on his own power, by his own effort. There is no rock-climbing, let along the joy of rock-climbing, without the painful struggle. The value and joy of having reached the peak is not grounded in one standing on the peak, but in the struggle that brought one there.
    It should be clear how the above relates to Irenaean theodicy. Personal perfection entails (and indeed is grounded on) moral virtue, and some of the greatest virtues are not possible without the temporal action of evils. So, for example, courage entails having encountered dangers, forgiveness entails having encountered moral evils, steadfastness entails natural evils, generosity and charity entail social evils, trust entails grounds for doubt, and so on. Love entails the imperfection of the beloved, for what merit is there in loving someone who strikes one as being perfect?
    Thus Irenaen theodicy does not only help me understand evil but also understand Christianity better. For by incarnating does God realize the perfections which are available only in the context of imperfection.

    January 15, 2013 — 2:33
  • Exercise requires effort but I don’t see that it requires pain.

    January 15, 2013 — 14:33
  • Helen De Cruz

    I’m with Alex on this one. There is a passage somewhere in the Narnia books (perhaps in the Last Battle?) where the children are in paradise, and they run. They feel the elation and pleasure of physical exercise, but not the pain, nor the exhaustion. They can just keep on going, if they so wished. It seems at least logically possible to have the joys of exercise without the pain.
    Interestingly, in response to Danielos: many women do refuse epidurals (I did so too). They don’t do this because the joy of the result (i.e., having the child in their arms would otherwise be diminished), as in the mountain climbing example. They don’t do it out of some strange masochism either. My guess is they do it because they think pain is an intrinsic part of child birth.

    January 15, 2013 — 16:47
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Helen,
    Aren’t you here providing much stronger evidence for the claim that pain is not intrinsically evil than I did? I only suggested the pain of exercise and that I wouldn’t choose to avoid it in the hypothetical case that I had that option. Whereas you mention the much greater pain of childbirth and your actual choice of not avoiding it. Further, in my case the choice of not avoiding pain is based on considerations of joy and merit. But, as I understand you make clear, the considerations of your choice go beyond these. And your choice is not uncommon among women.
    So I wonder what are the grounds for such a choice? I take it, it’s not health considerations, or the fear of the needle, or masochism, or some kind of religious attraction to pain. So, why does a woman in her right mind allow such a great pain to obtain? This is an important question in the context of our discussion about the experiential problem of evil and theodicy. You write that the choice is grounded in the fact that “pain is an intrinsic part of childbirth”.

    January 16, 2013 — 1:14
  • Helen De Cruz

    Dianelos: I will try to see if I can articulate reasons for refusing epidurals (I didn’t poll this, so the sample size is N = 1), but here goes. Childbirth is one of those things where you see that the terms “awesome” and “awful” are semantically related (in fact, “awful” used to mean what “awesome” means now), in the sense that it evokes a sense of awe: on the one hand it is beautiful and overwhelming, on the other hand it is extremely painful and messy. I think that taking away the painfulness in some sense diminishes the overall character of the experience (of course, I perfectly understand why people opt for pain relief anyway, so I think it is pretty much an individual choice).

    January 16, 2013 — 2:48
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Helen,
    If I understand correctly there is a difficult to define but overwhelmingly valuable “awe” factor which would be diminished if you chose to avoid the pain, which justifies permitting that extreme pain to obtain. But then I wonder about this: If a woman is justified at giving birth to permit extreme but temporary pain to obtain in order not to diminish the awe factor of the act, can’t it similarly be the case that God is justified at creating the world to permit extreme but temporary pain to obtain in order not to diminish the awe factor of the act?
    An obvious difference here is that you chose for yourself, whereas God chooses for others. Two thoughts come to mind: First, it is not clear that for God, being the metaphysical ultimate and ground of all, there is a significant “I-others” relationship. It would seem that God’s total love for all creatures justifies choosing for them as S/He would choose for Him/Herself. And secondly, on Christianity, God is literally choosing for Him/Herself too. One is used to thinking of Christ’s incarnation as something that follows creation, but one may also think of Christ’s awesome passion as the reason for creation – in which we all, similarly to Christ, partake. (This last bit reminds me of a theodicy proposed by Plantinga – i.e. that all the greatest worlds are such that something as awesome as Christ’s atoning passion obtains in them, and therefore all the greatest worlds are such that significant evil must temporarily exist in them.)

    January 17, 2013 — 17:15
  • Nick Trakakis

    I have only now come across this interesting discussion, and so I am not entirely sure if anyone would like to take it up again. In any case, I wish to make a brief response to Trent Dougherty’s recommendation that those who offer moral objections to theodicy be more consistent by also offering criticisms of a similar sort to atheistic arguments from evil. The “anti-theodicy” view, as I call it (this being the view, roughly, that theodicy ought to be rejected as inherently flawed) is a position available to theist and nontheist alike. However, in some ways it is more naturally allied with the anti-theist cause, given that the anti-theodicist will typically want to repudiate certain forms of theism, or certain ways of thinking about God that hold sway in theistic communities. (This is why much of what Mike Almeida has to say here resonates with the anti-theodicy view.)
    Also, the anti-theodicy view is not solely, and not even principally, a moral critique, but also involves considerations of a non-moral (including conceptual, metaphysical, and even meta-philosophical) sort. This is sometimes missed by critics of this view.

    May 27, 2013 — 5:44
  • Trent Dougherty

    I don’t recall what I said above, and my recollection is that I mostly stayed out of it, because I think the anti-theodicy stance is so utterly misguided that I may have nothing helpful to say. It’s clear, though, in many cases (I think I note some in my Analysis piece), it is *principally* moral. David Shatz has a nice reply to this kind of thinking, and I think it is on his website.
    Nick, a clarificatory question. I assert the following parity thesis:
    Parity If it is morally objectionable to give theodicies, it is approximately just as morally objectionable to advocate atheistic arguments from evil.
    Do you agree? That is what I had in mind.

    June 4, 2013 — 15:45
  • Mike Almeida

    Nick,
    I do hold a non-theodicy view, but maybe not in the sense that you do. First, I agree that some evils are so bad it’s positively irrational to believe that some set of goods might compensate for them. Theists have to stop trying to make a virtue of believing things for which they have no good evidence. Please stop. Second, even if there were such goods, God would be in violation of deep and important deontological constraints in obtaining the goods in the way he does (or would). But finally (and here’s perhaps where we disagree) God does not need a theodicy. The theodical approach, in my view, is what’s mistaken, the idea that there would have to be a good, credible theodicy. There does not have to be one. What must be shown is that worlds can be redeemed, not that worlds can be justified theodically.

    June 5, 2013 — 12:00
  • Nick Trakakis

    TRENT:
    The version of anti-theodicy I espouse does not merely, or even principally, consist in thinking of theodicy as morally objectionable (that is, thinking of theodicy as something that is morally wrong or unjustified to practice). I would say that this is also true of other anti-theodicists, such as D.Z. Phillips, whose criticisms of theodicy are mainly of a conceptual nature (even though the specific concepts he is concerned to elucidate are often moral concepts such as (moral) goodness and (moral) responsibility). The point here is that the “anti-theodicy” view is defended by a wide range of philosophers and theologians, whose criticisms of theodicy are not always the same, and quite often are not criticisms of a moral nature at all. So, it’s this complexity that gets lost by simply calling this approach “a moral objection to theodicy”.
    Regarding your parity thesis: I don’t agree with it. Many of the ideas and argumentative strategies taken up in atheological arguments from evil are often quite useful in bolstering the anti-theodicy cause (and vice versa). So, I’m curious: why do you endorse the parity thesis?
    MIKE:
    I find your comments very insightful, and they may in fact be entirely compatible with the anti-theodicy view. I agree that God does not need theodical justification. But I’m not sure about your requirement that, if the theist does not need a theodicy, the theist does at least need to show how (or that) the world created by God is a “redeemed” world. I’m a bit worried about this: How different is a redeemed world from a theodically justified world? My view, if I may put it like this, is that redemption cannot remove tragedy.

    June 6, 2013 — 8:18
  • Mike Almeida

    Nick,
    I argue this way (in Freedom, God, and Worlds). It is necessarily true that there are worlds including gratuitous evil. There is nothing God can do about that. On the other hand, given that there is such evil, God (and perhaps more importantly, we) can act in ways that redeem it. The evil remains gratuitous, even if redeemed. This is how God and we can regret the evil ever occurred, though we have redeemed the evil. So, an example. Suppose some tragedy occurs for which there is no point. We can act in ways that give it a point. We can celebrate the person’s life, we can use the tragedy to help others avoid a similar fate, we can help others for the sake of those who suffered, etc. It can be true both that the tragedy T is necessary for the good G we produce, that G & T is overall positively valued (G > T), but that it would have been better had there been no tragedy at all. There are worlds in which ~T holds that are better than any in which T & G hold. . So, we get T redeemed by our actions (and God’s), but it would have been better had T never occurred, T is gratuitous.

    June 6, 2013 — 9:38
  • Nick Trakakis

    Thanks Mike, that is a view I would heartily endorse.
    However, a theist of the traditional/theodicist sort is likely to reject your premise that it is necessarily true that there are worlds where both God and gratuitous evil exist. In fact, such theists (and even non-theists like Rowe) regard that premise as necessarily false. So, how would you go about supporting that premise?

    June 6, 2013 — 9:49
  • Nick Trakakis

    Mike, it seems you have answered my last query in your most recent reply to Kenny Pearce — is that right?

    June 6, 2013 — 9:56
  • Mike Almeida

    However, a theist of the traditional/theodicist sort is likely to reject your premise that it is necessarily true that there are worlds where both God and gratuitous evil exist. In fact, such theists (and even non-theists like Rowe) regard that premise as necessarily false. So, how would you go about supporting that premise
    My argument (this is how I argue in FGW, but I would like to generalize it in the way I argue above) is that (i) there are extremely good morally perfect worlds (ii) it is impossible that there are extremely good morally perfect worlds unless there are very bad worlds. That is, part of what makes the extremely good worlds so good is that the agents in those worlds are constraining their behavior in ways that conform to principles of justice and beneficence. Most of justice amounts to requiring us to refrain from harming others in various ways. But our restraint has no mora value unless it is at least metaphysically possible that we do not constrain ourselves in ways that conform to the principles of justice. But if it is possible for us not to conform to the principles of justice, then it is possible that we act in terribly unjust ways. That is, there are worlds in which we act in extremely bad ways, violating principles of justice and beneficence. As I say, there must be such worlds, since there are very good worlds. And very good worlds get their value in part from having moral agents who freely refrain from actualizing the very bad worlds.
    Yikes, that’s as brief as I can put it. But that’s why there must be very bad worlds.

    June 6, 2013 — 10:28
  • Nick Trakakis

    That is indeed quite different from the anti-theodicy position as standardly developed, though there are similarities and correspondences.
    In any case, once again I feel that the traditional theist/theodicist will simply reply that these “very bad worlds” cannot contain any gratuitous evil, no matter how bad these worlds may be.
    I have just bought your FGW, and I look forward to reading it.

    June 6, 2013 — 20:13
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