An Argument from Happiness
October 10, 2013 — 12:19

Author: Michael Almeida  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: ,   Comments: 27

1. I am less than h happy.
2. Necessarily, God can make me happy to at least degree h.
3. Necessarily, if God creates me, it is overall better if he makes me at least h happy.
4. /:. In every world in which I exist it is obligatory that God makes me at least h happy. 2,3
5. /:. In every world in which I exist, God makes me at least h happy. 2,3, 4
6. /:. God did not create me. 1,5
7. /:. God does not exist. 6
(1) is a contingent fact. (2) is a near-trivial modal truth. (3) doesn’t need much argument, and I leave it as an exercise. Premise (4) follows from the fact that it is better if God creates me at least h happy. Premise (5) follows from the fact that God always does what he is morally required to do. The rest just falls out straightforwardly.


Many atheological arguments have this sort of structure. So, notice that (2) or (3) or (4) must be false. (5) cannot be true, since (8) is true.
(8). It is impossible that, in every world in which I exist, God makes me at least h happy.
So, though it is true that, in every world in which I exist, God can make me h happy, it does not follow that, possibly, in every world in which I exist, he does make me h happy. I claim that (4) is false, since (9) is necessary.
(9). Necessarily, in some world or other in which I exist, God does not make me at least h happy.
And it follows from (9) that (10).
(10). It is permissible that, in some world or other in which I exist, God does not make me at least h happy.
If (4) above is true, then it is not permissible that, in some world or other in which I exist, God does not make me at least h happy. So, if (4) is true, then (10) is false. But (10) is true, so (4) is the culprit.

Comments:
  • Aaron Bartolome

    Only a hedonistic utilitarian would accept 4 and reject 10. If hedonism is true then there is no all-powerful perfectly good god.

    October 11, 2013 — 2:07
  • Mike Almeida

    Not sure I see why, Aaron. Note that (10) follows from a necessary truth in (9). And since (10) is not compatible with (4), (4) is false. I make no assumptions about the nature of happiness, so hedonistic theories are not ruled out. I don’t think this shows that hedonistic theories are false, but only that it is impossible to act hedonistically in every world.

    October 11, 2013 — 8:22
  • Aaron Bartolome

    Arguments from evil (against the existence of an omnipotent omniscient perfectly good/loving God) presuppose some theory of value (typically, moral realism). Hedonism implies that the only thing that is intrinsically good for human beings is pleasure/enjoyment, and that the only thing that is intrinsically bad for human beings is pain/misery. The most plausible responses to the argument from evil are incompatible with hedonism (see p. 352 in Thomas Carson’s “Axiology, Realism, and the Problem of Evil” available at http://orion.it.luc.edu/~tcarson/evil-ppr-phpr.pdf ). If we accept both hedonism and the fact that there are no plausible responses to arguments from evil (that presuppose hedonism), then we should conclude that God does not exist.
    (9) seems to be saying, “There is a possible world at which: God exists, I exist, and God does not make me at least h happy.” (10) seems to be saying something about what God is not morally obligated to do. Exactly how does (10) follow from (9)? You may be right but I do not understand!
    Also, (3) and (4) look like they need to be revised. Surely God would be obligated to make me at least h happy only if I deserved to be at least h happy. If a person is less than h happy, then either God does not exist or that person does not deserve to be at least h happy. Right?

    October 13, 2013 — 0:40
  • Mike Almeida

    It is an interesting claim that arguments from evil presuppose a theory of value. I don’t think that’s true, unless you treat commonsense morality as a theory. Perhaps they assume moral realism, but moral realism is not a theory of value; it is a metaethical view about the nature of value. But even if, say, expressivism about value is right, there is still a problem of evil. There is still evil, it is just not what you thought it was.
    I guess the central point here is that I am not assuming hedonism is true. Hedonism takes pleasure/pain/happiness (if you like)/unhappiness to be what has intrinsic value exclusively. I don’t assume that here. I assume only that happiness matters morally, along with many other things.
    (10) follows from (9) by ought-can. If God cannot make me h happy in some world, then he is not obligated to do so. If he is not obligated to do so, he is permitted not to do so. On (3) and (4), I deny that God is required to allot happiness on the basis of desert. I assume that he is required to bring about a better world if he can.
    Places in which more might be said concern whether there is a best possible world or ever-better worlds. I think these can be handled in obvious ways. I’ve no doubt there is a best world, for the construction of which there are straightforward recipes. But I’m trying to avoid such complications in order to address a neglected assumption in these atheological arguments that is false:It looks like (2)-(4) can all be true together, but they can’t. That’s what I’d like to draw attention to.

    October 13, 2013 — 9:24
  • Mike:
    I don’t understand (3). Do you mean: “…if he makes me h happy while fixing everything else that’s of moral significance”? But it’s not at all clear that God can make me h happy while fixing everything else that’s of moral significance.

    October 14, 2013 — 10:06
  • Mike Almeida

    Alex,
    Yes, I think that’s what I mean. To take a crude example, God increases the levels of dopamine in my brain: i.e. causes my brain to produce more of it faster. Or, God makes his presence more lively to me. Or God causes other pleasurable states in me. Something like that. I wonder why you think God’s making me happier will have a moral cost. Or maybe the examples I offer don’t count as increasing happiness on your view.

    October 14, 2013 — 16:13
  • Aaron Bartolome

    Wouldn’t an increase in the undeserved happiness of wicked people actually decrease (ceteris paribus) the overall value of the world?

    October 14, 2013 — 23:13
  • Mike:
    Well, I certainly don’t want to identify happiness with pleasure. I don’t even consider pleasure a part of happiness–only veridical pleasure is a part of happiness. (With Socrates, I take pleasure to be a perception of a good.)
    But bracket all that. Still:
    1. I deserve punishment for all sorts of wicked deeds that I have committed. If my happiness is increased, with everything else kept constant, these wicked deeds receive less of their deserved punishment. Now maybe my happiness matters more morally than my getting what I deserve. But the consideration is enough to show that other things aren’t morally the same if I am made happier.
    2. If my pleasure is increased, while keeping everything else constant, my motivations change. But as my motivations change, my actions change. It is hard to believe that this would happen without something of moral significant changing. Perhaps God could miraculously ensure that my motivations don’t change or that they change but don’t affect morally significant action. But the difference between things happening miraculously and things happening naturally is itself morally significant–there is a value to the natural functioning of the world.
    3. There is a value to the natural functioning of the world. Miraculous ways of increasing happiness derogate from that value to some degree.
    In all of these cases, you’re free to argue that on balance the increase in happiness could be worthwhile. But the question isn’t whether the increase in happiness could be worthwhile, but whether it could happen with nothing of moral significance lost. And an on-balance improvement can, nonetheless, involve a loss of something of moral significance.

    October 16, 2013 — 10:26
  • Mike Almeida

    Aaron,
    I don’t have these sorts of Kantian intuitions, nor do I think they’re part of commonsense morality. I’m trying not to wander on to some specific moral theory for the sake of this discussion.

    October 16, 2013 — 16:15
  • Mike Almeida

    Alex,
    You are bringing to the discussion a specific moral theory, and that’s what’s yielding the morally significant implications. I’m trying not to make any moral assumptions that are not a firm part of commonsense morality. Still, I think I can say something, even granting your moral views. Concerning (1), the increase in happiness might be the result of God’s gratuitous giving, and so needn’t diminish your deserved punishment (such as it is). Properly appreciating the source of the additional happiness won’t affect you motivationally or actionally. Concerning (3), I don’t make the distinction. There are no natural events that are not fully dependent on the supernatural. The miraculous no more interferes with natural events than does the pervasive divine preservation of the natural world.

    October 16, 2013 — 19:55
  • Mark Rogers

    Hey Dr. Almeida,
    You say “The miraculous no more interferes with natural events than does the pervasive divine preservation of the natural world.”
    Well consider the short book of Habakuk. Miraculous events certainly changed natural events in this instance. Your fact #3:
    Necessarily, if God creates me, it is overall better if he makes me at least h happy.
    Just does not seem right as what seems to be true is that being less than h happy is as necessary a part of our creation and continuing evolution as physical pain and suffering. Thanks for the post, very interesting.

    October 17, 2013 — 6:00
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Mike,
    I don’t think that Aaaron’s observation above is specifically Kantian. On the contrary it reflects an almost universally accepted theistic judgment. Actually I’d say all religions consider that pleasure in wickedness has negative value. And in particular, given theism’s fundamental premise that the metaphysically ultimate is the greatest conceivable person, arguments about theism which violate our sense of greatness make little sense.
    In this same context I think that Alex is right to point out the relationship among pleasure and morality, or at least the relationship among pleasure and morality that should hold in all the great worlds. Here’s another example which I hold to be significant:
    When we give one dollar to a person who needs it more than we do, we feel some pleasure. Which is OK since there is beauty in that choice we make. But suppose God would make the world in such a way that giving a dollar to a needy person would cause orgasmic pleasure. Then the very beauty and moral meaning of the good act would be lost. Here then we have another case where a great world should limit our pleasure.

    October 18, 2013 — 0:03
  • Mike Almeida

    Dianelos,
    I did not say that pleasure in wickedness is good. So I’m not sure why you suggest I did. I have no idea what “violating our sense of greatness’ might be or what it has to do with intelligibility.
    On the other hand, it is Kantian to maintain that happiness is not valuable unless deserved. That is the intuition that I do not share, nor is it part of commonsense morality. And as I’ve said above, I’m trying not to make any substantive moral assumptions besides those entrenched in commonsense.
    Again, this is far from anything related to what I say in the post, but you remark,
    But suppose God would make the world in such a way that giving a dollar to a needy person would cause orgasmic pleasure. Then the very beauty and moral meaning of the good act would be lost
    I have no idea why the act is supposed to be beautiful in the first case (suppose your only goal is the pleasure evoked) and not beautiful in the second (suppose your only goal is to benefit another person).

    October 18, 2013 — 7:41
  • Mike Almeida

    You say “The miraculous no more interferes with natural events than does the pervasive divine preservation of the natural world.”
    Well consider the short book of Habakuk. Miraculous events certainly changed natural events in this instance

    I don’t deny that there are miraculous events or that such events change things. My point is that we’re effectively living in a constant miracle in the sense that the natural world is constantly kept in existence supernaturally. So, it is not like God’s interference in the natural world is something that happens occasionally.
    Just does not seem right as what seems to be true is that being less than h happy is as necessary a part of our creation and continuing evolution as physical pain and suffering
    It is certainly not necessary. For the sake of the argument, we can make h simply 0, so God ensures that I lead a pain-free existence. Or, again for the sake of the argument, God might just ensure that every patient in hospital H has a pain-free day. Any one of these, and countless other possibilities, would suit the argument.

    October 18, 2013 — 7:47
  • Mike:
    “You are bringing to the discussion a specific moral theory, and that’s what’s yielding the morally significant implications. I’m trying not to make any moral assumptions that are not a firm part of commonsense morality.”
    But if the only moral assumptions you make are those that are a firm part of commonsense morality, then these assumptions need to be compatible with every moral theory that is compatible with the firm parts of commonsense morality. (Assuming the firm parts of commonsense morality are consistent.) But the kinds of moral theories on which my objections work are compatible with the firm parts of commonsense morality. Their denial, thus, goes beyond the firm parts of commonsense morality.

    October 18, 2013 — 13:22
  • Mark Rogers

    Hey Mike,
    You hold that being less than h happy is not necessary.
    “It is certainly not necessary. For the sake of the argument, we can make h simply 0, so God ensures that I lead a pain-free existence. Or, again for the sake of the argument, God might just ensure that every patient in hospital H has a pain-free day. Any one of these, and countless other possibilities, would suit the argument.”
    If this is true how then do I reconcile this notion with:
    (8). It is impossible that, in every world in which I exist, God makes me at least h happy.

    October 19, 2013 — 9:37
  • Mike Almeida

    Alex,
    Juts take your claim in (1) above,
    I deserve punishment for all sorts of wicked deeds that I have committed. If my happiness is increased, with everything else kept constant, these wicked deeds receive less of their deserved punishment.
    I’d submit to you that it is not a part of commonsense morality either that each of use deserves (I’m assuming it’s not you alone who are so wicked) punishment for all of the wicked deeds we have committed, or that it would be bad for our happiness to increase. Happiness is good, even if undeserved. Why would you think otherwise? Salvation is good, isn’t it? And surely we agree that it is undeserved if anything is. Salvation is a gift, and happiness is too.

    October 20, 2013 — 11:31
  • Mike Almeida

    Right, Mark, here’s how. While it is true in *each* world in which God creates me that God can make me h happy, it is not true that God can make me h happy in *every* world in which he creates me. Here’s an analogy. It is true in *each* world that God can create me with six fingers on my left hand. But it is false that God can create me with six fingers on my left hand in *every* world in which he creates me.

    October 20, 2013 — 11:34
  • Mike:
    I’m not claiming that this is a part of commonsense morality but that its denial is not entailed by commonsense morality.
    Salvation is good, but so is punishment.

    October 20, 2013 — 18:34
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Mike,
    “I did not say that pleasure in wickedness is good.”
    Isn’t this entailed by premise #3? After all if pleasure in wickedness is not good then in those worlds where I do wicked things it is perhaps not overall better if God makes me at least h happy.
    “I have no idea what “violating our sense of greatness’ might be or what it has to do with intelligibility.”
    Our sense of greatness is a major epistemological principle in natural theology. Theism is the premise that the metaphysically ultimate is the greatest conceivable being. The natural theist, as well as the atheologian, depend on their sense of greatness in order to judge what theism implies. Indeed it’s on that sense of greatness that the logic of the argument from evil rests. And it’s based on that sense that, as we plainly observe, theists and atheologians communicate with each other in philosophical debate about theism.
    “On the other hand, it is Kantian to maintain that happiness is not valuable unless deserved. That is the intuition that I do not share, nor is it part of commonsense morality.”
    I think it is part of commonsense morality. It is certainly a common belief among religious people. I understand most participants in this thread think so, Aaaron and myself explicitly so by pointing out that pleasure in wickedness is not a good thing. Which entails that it is one of the evils of the actual world when pleasure in wickedness obtains. – Incidentally, to avoid a potential misunderstanding, the idea is not that happiness for the wicked persons is evil. The idea is that getting happiness from doing wicked things is an evil.
    “I have no idea why the act is supposed to be beautiful in the first case (suppose your only goal is the pleasure evoked) and not beautiful in the second (suppose your only goal is to benefit another person).”
    Right. Well, it seems clear to me that if one gives a dollar to a needy person because of the pleasure one expects then the beauty of the choice is lost and therefore the ground for the pleasure is lost too. It seems the world is such that the joy of doing good obtains only if one does the good out of love for the other and not out of love for oneself.
    As for the second, I think you are right, there would be beauty in the choice. Still in such a world something would be lost, wouldn’t it? It seems to me what would be lost is deserved pleasure, the merit of having chosen the good. And the power of morality to make us greater people.

    October 21, 2013 — 9:41
  • Mike Almeida

    Isn’t this entailed by premise #3?
    Definitely not.
    Theism is the premise that the metaphysically ultimate is the greatest conceivable being.
    That’s not theism. Theism is the view that there is a personal God. The ultimacy of God is a matter of dispute; theists needn’t believe (I don’t, for instance) that God is ultimate in the sense of existing prior to the existence of possible worlds, or that God creates even abstract objects, etc.
    I understand most participants in this thread think so, Aaaron and myself explicitly so by pointing out that pleasure in wickedness is not a good thing.
    Again, we are talking about undeserved happiness, not taking pleasure in wickedness. And it is certainly no part of commonsense morality that only deserved pleasure is valuable, whatever most religious people feel. I, incidentally, have no such intuition. I think it will be a very good thing if S goes to heaven, for any S whatsoever. It will certainly increase S’s happiness. But for no S is it true that S deserves that happiness. On your view, this would make the happiness a bad thing. But that’s false; it’s a good thing.
    It seems the world is such that the joy of doing good obtains only if one does the good out of love for the other and not out of love for oneself.
    It is difficult to understand why people say such things. First, I doubt any human being is capable of such action; I’d be deeply suspicious of anyone (any non-God) who went around “doing good just from love for others”. What we should expect is that people treat themselves with the consideration and respect due to themselves. So, when you’re choosing some moral action, it is not pure altruism–pure love of the other, as if anyone ever acted in this way–that is recommended. What is recommended is that you give equal consideration to every morally relevant being affected by your actions, and that includes you.

    October 21, 2013 — 14:45
  • Mike Almeida

    Alex,
    You say this,
    If my happiness is increased, with everything else kept constant, these wicked deeds receive less of their deserved punishment.
    But the commonsense view is that if your happiness increased, your wicked deeds need not receive less of their deserved punishment. Why would you think they must, even if all else is equal? The increase in happiness might be entirely unrelated to your desert, it might be a gift to you. Doesn’t this seem too obvious to say? What am I missing?

    October 21, 2013 — 16:51
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Mike,
    Suppose the reason for the creation of the world is a moral one centered in the value of creaturely moral agents. If premise 3 is true then one gets into an infinite regression which leads to the view that it is overall better for God to give me, as a gift, maximal happiness. But I submit such a state of affairs defeats the moral purpose in the world.
    “The ultimacy of God is a matter of dispute”
    If God weren’t the metaphysically ultimate then God wouldn’t be the greatest being I can conceive. And I don’t see any problems with the metaphysics of mathematical objects, which one may consider to be uncreated ideas in God’s mind.
    “I think it will be a very good thing if S goes to heaven, for any S whatsoever.”
    What if S is an unrepentant extremely evil person? Would you say that it would still be a good thing for S to be in heaven?
    “But for no S is it true that S deserves [to go to heaven].”
    I assume you think that the greatest conceivable being would bring into heaven even those who do not deserve to be there, as a gift to them. But I find that the greatest conceivable being would give all creatures an even greater gift, namely to bring them in heaven when they deserve it. After all, who will be happier in heaven, one who is there undeservedly or one who is there deservedly?
    “First, I doubt any human being is capable of such action”
    Actually I think self-transcending love is a common thing. Most if not all people have done some acts of kindness only out of concern for other creatures and with no thought whatsoever about personal gain, whether here or in the afterlife. And this is a common experience of people regardless of whether they are religious or non-religious, theists or non-theists.
    “What is recommended is that you give equal consideration to every morally relevant being affected by your actions, and that includes you.”
    Recommended by whom? For this does not sound to me like the ethics that Christ taught. And even though quite reasonable on its face, it does not really comport with the ethics I most admire, namely the ethics which is sacrificial, beyond the call of duty, even beyond apparent reason.
    But here’s an interesting thing: If theism is true then one can’t do anything which is good without greatly benefiting oneself anyway. As the Gospels have it, by giving one’s life one gets true life, by giving one’s earthly possessions one builds treasure in heaven. But only if one is moved by self-transcending love to do these good things. So, perhaps significantly, God’s hiddenness profits us. For if the rewards of good deeds were evident to us the way tables and chairs are evident, instead of just promised in ancient texts that speak of Jesus of Nazareth or kind of suggested by our sense of morality – then it would be more difficult to get these rewards. In other words, if the rewards were evident then they would be more difficult to get. And, similarly, if God were more evident then the love for God would have less value. If theism is true then God’s hiddenness in our condition is a good thing, and therefore to be expected.
    I’ve wandered far from your argument in the OP, but my main point is this: On theism (or at least on theism as I understand it) the fabric of reality at its deepest levels is moral. Thus all understanding about reality is ultimately moral too.

    October 23, 2013 — 4:28
  • Mike Almeida

    If God weren’t the metaphysically ultimate then God wouldn’t be the greatest being I can conceive.
    First, conceivability is a poor indicator of what God is like. Second, the arguments concerning ultimacy are complex and difficult to assess. This sort of conceivability point does not move the discussion at all.
    Actually I think self-transcending love is a common thing.
    The fact is that neither you nor anyone else–I don’t care how deluded they are about their own saintliness–is acting from pure love of other, much less doing so commonly. It just does not happen. I don’t deny that there is a lot of self-gratulatory and self deceived people who truly think they’re just the one’s who are commonly self-transcending..
    This discussion reminds me of schlocky hagiographic art depicting the “saint” in the most unrealistic and sentimental terms. Please stop doing that. It is so false to what life is like, and so false to what saints are like. And on top of that–the worst sin of it all– it is absolutely dreadful art. This grandiose talk of “acting from pure love of the other” makes us all look like sentimental idiots.

    October 26, 2013 — 9:18
  • Ryan Smith

    Mike, your argument seems to morally justify everything, if I understand it correctly.

    1 is just that some X is not the case.

    8 is that, given 1, it is impossible that X is true in every possible world.

    9 says that X not being the case is necessarily true in at least one possible world,

    10 is that X is permissible in at least one possible world.

    But X could be anything! “I ate a baby. Therefore it’s false that I didn’t eat a baby in any possible worlds. Therefore it’s necessarily true that I ate a baby in at least one possible world. Therefore it’s permissible that I ate a baby in at least one possible world.

    It all seems to follow from 1 and nothing but 1, so the conclusion is, “If somebody did it, it must be permissible in at least some cases.”

    Are we comfortable with that? Am I misreading something?

    November 5, 2013 — 0:39
    • Michael Almeida

      Hi Ryan,

      I’m not sure I follow the objection. The argument applies to any evil that is possible. Is it possible that God eats a baby? If so, then, right, he cannot be obligated to refrain from doing so in every world. It follows from some mundane assumptions about omnipotence, actually. Ordinarily (but not always) we’d say that G is omnipotent does not entail that G can do the metaphysically impossible. Assume that A is possible. If A is possible, then necessarily A is possible. If necessarily A is possible, then not even an omnipotent being can render A impossible. So, given ought-can, God does not have an obligation to render A impossible. That’s how the argument goes. The argument that he is required to render A impossible must assume that God can do the metaphysically impossible.

      So, yes, the argument applies to anything that we take to be antecedently possible. I don’t think it is antecedently possible that God eats babies, or that he inflicts suffering for fun or the like. These are limitations on what God can do following from God’s nature. But I don’t think there are such limitations when it comes to preventing every evil state of affairs, but then, neither does any other theist. Theists believe that God is compossible with evil that he cannot prevent. I believe that God is compossible with evil that he cannot rid from logical space.

      November 5, 2013 — 7:47
  • Elliott

    I find this thread quite interesting, even though I found and posted to it quite late.

    I agree that (4) is false. It seems that, at least in the Biblical tradition, God does not have obligations. Persons not subject to the moral law and its commands have no obligations. Although the moral law and commands are grounded in God’s nature, and God acts in accordance with his nature, God is not subject to the law and commands.

    November 19, 2013 — 15:50
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