Sunday, December 2, 2007

Is eternal suffering in hell infinite?

The damned will be in hell suffering forever. Does it follow that their overall sufferings will be infinite? I will argue in the negative. (I am not claiming that the suffering sin hell are finite, just that infinity of suffering does not follow from everlastingness.)

Argument 1: Suppose that the amount of suffering decreases exponentially to zero as time goes on. Then, it seems, the total suffering (the integral of momentary suffering) is finite, even though the suffering goes on forever.

This argument has some weaknesses. One of them is that total suffering is not just the sum of momentary sufferings. Such phenomena as boredom, dread of the future and hopelessness also have to be factored in.

Argument 2: What determines how much total suffering one has gone through is not the objective length of time that the sufferings have taken, but the subjective length of time. If one had a painful operation that in fact lasted an hour, but neurological manipulation made that hour seem subjectively like ten seconds, then one really had only ten seconds' worth of suffering. Now imagine that the internal clock of one of the damned is continually slowed down. During her first year of objective time in hell, she undergoes a year's subjective time of suffering. During her second year of objective time in hell, she undergoes half a year's worth subjective time of suffering. During her third objective year, she has a quarter of a year's worth of suffering. And so on. Even though she suffers for eternity, her total subjective time of suffering is two years. So, assuming that the intensity of her sufferings doesn't go up with time, her total suffering is finite.

An oddity about this scenario. If her future is subjectively finite, does that mean that her life feels like it is cut short early? But in fact she objectively lives forever. This is weird.

8 comments:

Alexander R Pruss said...

Argument 2 fails if the structure of our experience is discrete.

N.M. Owen said...

I'm not clear on what "if the structure of our experience is discrete" means, at a glance anyway (and still here after several more). But as per your closing comment on argument 2, I was thinking the same thing about halfway through reading it. In fact it feels, subjectively, like I'm still thinking about it, even though I'm done.

Alexander R Pruss said...

If we're aware of only a finite number of things in any given interval of time, then we can't stretch out of a finite number of things to fit through eternity...

N.M. Owen said...

Oh right. Got ya. Thank you.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I withdraw the speculation that the pains of hell decrease asymptotically. Such a view has apparently been condemned (non-definitively) by the Holy Office in 1893.

Alexander R Pruss said...

After further research, it's less clear to me what view has exactly been condemned. Mivart wrote an article where he argued that the folks in hell were happy, and even happier than on earth. The article was condemned in general terms as far as I can tell, and I do not know if there were any specifics in regard to the condemnation, so I may have been hasty in my comment.

iMentieth said...

It would be interesting to tie this to the Hebrew word "olam" (I probably got that wrong...), which means "eternity" or an intense feeling. Jonah said that he was in the belly of the fish for "olam", but the same word is also used for eternity...

Small Heath Net_007784 said...

As a theistic satanist, I'm actually looking forward to suffering with my Hero.