Monday, April 13, 2009

Injustice

The following argument is valid:

  1. (Premise) If there is no person who is causally responsible for an event E, then E is not an injustice, but at most a misfortune.
  2. (Premise) There have been injustices (think of a child's dying after horrible suffering in an earthquake) for which no person was causally responsible by means of natural causal processes (in the sense of "natural" that naturalists talk about).
  3. Therefore, some injustices were caused not by means of the natural causal processes of nature. (1 and 2)
  4. (Premise) If naturalism holds, then all causal processes are the causal processes of nature.
  5. Naturalism is false. (3 and 4)
There are two options in (3): either the injustices were caused by a supernatural person (e.g., a devil) or they were caused by a natural person but through processes that go beyond nature (e.g., Adam and Eve in causing the Fall).

The naturalist will likely deny (2). Thus, then naturalist is going to have to be an irrealist about a significant amount of human experience of the world—for people do experience various evils not that are not naturally caused by human beings as injustices.

31 comments:

Mattie said...

Wouldn't a better rendering of (1) be,

1') If there is no person who could've prevented an event E, then E is not an injustice, but at most a misfortune.

This would accommodate those who think that causality is more than mere counterfactual dependence, etc., right?

I guess one way that a naturalist could try to undermine 2) with a smidgen of plausibility is to argue that "Look, if everyone had got their act together 3000 years ago then the world would be an excellent place by now!" Or at least that that could be true for all we know, and so when we feel outraged at the fact that our child was killed in a hurricane, we are really outraged at the collective behavior of our ancestors which was such that it prevented the present availability of devices that could completely control the weather from being a real possibility.

Chris Hoover said...

[I'm only restating your premses because this is how I read them, and that could be where I'm slipping up. In which case, you'll know its my reading of the statements and not the logic]

(1) says if no personal causal responsibility, then no injustice

and (2) says there exist injustices which don't require personal causal responsibility.

It seems that there is an equivocation between injustice in (1) and in (2).

To me, it seems that, from (1), to have an injustice means to have personal cause behind the action. and yet in (2) it says there do indeed exist injustices that lack personal cause.

larryniven said...

Actually, I disagree with 1, even under these alternative formulations...

Alexander R Pruss said...

Mattie:

I think your way of undermining (2) is quite plausible. However, it's not going to work for the case of an earthquake at a sufficiently past time at which we had no chance to have figured out how to protect people from earthquakes.

Chris:

(2) does not say "there exist injustices which don't require personal causal responsibility." Rather, it says that there are injustice for which no natural person is naturally causally responsible.

Larry:

I think denying (1) is quite an interesting option--it leads to the idea of "natural injustices" and raises interesting questions whether, for instance, we don't have a stronger obligation to fight natural injustices than we do to fight natural misfortunes, say. Still, I am inclined to think (1) is true.

Chris Hoover said...

ah, I did not read into it that there is "no natural person". Thanks for responding.

Matthew said...

It looks like the kind of argument that seems to define it's way to it's conclusion.

And by that I mean that you can have premisses that make sense alone, but once you use them in conjunction, they seem strange.

Allow me to use an example, borrowing from you:

A being x is omnipotent provided that in every possible world, x's free choices are collectively the ultimate explainers of the rest of contingent reality.

(A) Omnipotence is a perfection
(B) If a property is a perfertion, it's negation is not a perfection
(C) If a property P is a necessary condition for a perfection, P is a perfection

(1) If there does not exist a being that has the property omnipotence, it's not possible that there exists a being that has the property omnipotence
(2) If it's not possible that there exists a being that has the property omnipotence, every being has the property of non-omnipotence
(3) If every being has the property of non-omnipotence, non-omnipotence is a perfection (from C)
(4) Non-omnipotence is not a perfection (from A and B)
(5) There exists a being that has the property omnipotence (from 1,2,3,4)

While the premisses seem quite plausible, one should pay close attention to how the definitions used in the arguments lead to the conclusion.

Another example would be the "ontological spoof" which (to me) seems to argue that the universe is so great because it was created by a non-existent creator.

I feel that this argument is similar. The crucial point seems to me that we both consider injustice as misfortune and misfortune as injustice.
But what's interesting is that this argument has the quite plausible implication that naturalists can't consider natural evil as unjust, which might be useful for theodicy.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think there is nothing very wrong with your ontological argument. Premise (A) is probably what the atheist will challenge, but I think it's a pretty nice ontological argument.

In any case, arguments like the one I gave have the property of making the denial of their conclusion more costly. We do, I think, have the intuition that certain events that have no natural personal causes are unjust. Assuming that (1) is clearly true, we either have to reject this intuition or we have to reject naturalism. Ceteris paribus, the more intuitions we have to reject to hold on to a thesis, the more cautious we should be about the thesis. After all, the more of one's intuitions that one has to reject to hold on to naturalism, the more suspicious one is going to have to be about one's intuitions. And that suspicion will, surely, affect even the intuitions that are behind one's adherence to naturalism.

Dan Johnson, in a really nice forthcoming paper in Faith and Philosophy, also has a very interesting story to tell about the value of arguments like yours which are sound but in some sense question-begging. Dan's story is this. By a sensus divinitatis, we all initially know that God exists. From this knowledge, many of us come to know various entailments, such as that possibly God exists or that omniscience is a perfection. But then, through our sinfulness, we may unjustifiably reject the knowledge that God exists. However, even though we have rejected that knowledge, we continue to know (or at least correctly believe--I can't remember what Dan says) the entailments. Then, along comes an argument like yours. This argument shows that the rejected knowledge of God can be reconstructed from the still-believed entailment. And that is valuable.

I don't know if a similar story can be told about my argument. Perhaps not.

Matthew said...

Thanks for the response. I will see if I can find Johnson's paper and see how it affects my judgement.

Matthew said...

Oh and by the way, allow me to add comment to this:

In any case, arguments like the one I gave have the property of making the denial of their conclusion more costly.That's why I picked your account of omnipotence. The conclusion makes perfect sense, given the principle of sufficient reason. The PSR alone is good reason to conclude (5), this little ontological argument is just my way of answering "Why God rather than nothing?".

And to be honest, of all premisses that are painful to deny, it's the PSR that I believe hurts the most.

The Injustice-argument also seems to make a good point. One should keep it in mind as a sort of dilemma for naturalistic ethics.

larryniven said...

So, in keeping with what I guess is the trend, I actually disagree with (3), not (A). I think, and correct me if I'm wrong, that (3) needs the unstated premise that some perfection is exemplified, but I'd disagree with that and therefore (3).

Matthew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matthew said...

This is off-topic, but actually, the argument doesn't need any perfection to be exemplified. Exchange (3) for

(3*) If every being has the property of non-omnipotence, then [for any A, if A has the property omnipotence, A has the property of non-omnipotence]
(4) If [for any A, if A has the property omnipotence, A has the property of non-omnipotence], then non-omnipotence is a necessary condition for omnipotence

and you get the same result

larryniven said...

I don't think that's what (C) says, though: on an empty conditional like the one you're proposing, I think (C) fails to trigger. If we can assume for the sake of argument that unicorns are impossible, then does that mean that being purple is a necessary condition for being a unicorn? I would very much like to say no, even though the following evalutes as true (again, assuming unicorns are impossible):

[](for all x)(Ux -> Px)

(i.e., necessarily if x is a unicorn then x is purple)

So I think you do need something to exemplify or instantiate the front part of the conditional, in this case.

radical_logic said...

I would deny premise (2): "injustices" for which no person was causally responsible by means of natural causal processes are not injustices at all, but great misfortunes.

You say: "Thus, then naturalist is going to have to be an irrealist about a significant amount of human experience of the world—for people do experience various evils not that are not naturally caused by human beings as injustices."

I don't think this is what happens. Instead, I think people perceive immense suffering (say, in cases of natural calamities) and *impute* - probably unconsciously - agential characteristics to those events (e.g. "the universe is angry at us") that give them the perception of agency-caused injustice.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I doubt one can draw a line where experiencing ends and imputing begins.

radical_logic said...

We normally feel anger when reacting to injustice, and this can be explained by our finding fault with the agent responsible for causing it. If we believe person P brought about injustice E, we would typically feel anger towards P. But if later on we realize no one was at fault for bringing E about, who would we direct our anger towards? I think the *rational* answer is 'no one.'

In cases of natural calamities, it is certainly quite natural to react at those situations with anger. But how can this reaction be explained? It makes sense only on the assumption that we believe there's something/someone to blame, and of course there isn't anything. It makes no more sense to blame the rock that falls on one's head than to blame the hurricane that causes widespread devastation. Hence, if people react with anger in cases of the latter, it is because they aren't clearly seeing the situation as it actually is.

radical_logic said...

1. If it makes no rational sense to feel anger towards the cause(s) of event E, then E is not an injustice.
2. It makes no rational sense to feel anger towards the cause(s) of natural calamities.
3. Therefore, natural calamities are not instances of injustice.

Alexander R Pruss said...

How about this alternative:

1. If it makes no rational sense to feel anger towards the cause(s) of event E, then E is not an injustice.
2. Natural calamities are injustices.
3. It makes sense to feel anger only towards persons.
4. Therefore, natural calamities have one or more persons as causes.

radical_logic said...

But if calamities are natural (as opposed to artificially constructed), then they don't have personal causes. Who were the persons behind the recent earthquakes in China?

My point is that if people experience those events as injustices (and of course they do), it's not because persons are REALLY behind them, but that agency gets imputed to the causes. Otherwise, why think the calamity is an injustice if there's no one to blame?

radical_logic said...

Revised:

1. If it makes no rational sense to blame the cause(s) of event E, then E is not an instance of injustice.
2. It makes no rational sense to blame impersonal causes.
3. Natural calamities have only impersonal causes.
4. Therefore, it makes no rational sense to blame the causes of natural calamities. (3,2)
5. Therefore, natural calamities are not instances of injustice. (4, 1)

Alexander R Pruss said...

The conclusion of the argument is that there were persons behind the earthquake. The argument does not say who the persons were. Prima facie available guilty parties include:
1. Adam and Eve
2. Demons
3. Evil deities of various religions

I am inclined to think that if people experience x as F, that is evidence, albeit defeasible evidence, that x is an F. Of course, in any particular case where people experience x as F, it is quite possible to explain that experience away as an unjustified imputation or the like. But unless one has positive evidence that there is unjustified imputation going on, or that x is not in fact an F, the move of explaining the experience away is a merely sceptical argument of a sort that can be made in response to just about any experiential claim.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Your revised argument nicely shows that we need to choose between:

(3) Natural calamities have only impersonal causes

and

(~5) Natural calamities are instances of injustice.

You opt for 3, and thus deny ~5. But as far as the logic goes, one might equally well opt for ~5, and deny 3. I think there is an advantage of opting for ~5 and denying 3, which is that we should prefer theories that require less disagreement with people's experiences. (That preference is presumably one major reason for our saying that Berkeley was wrong.)

radical_logic said...

Regarding your epistemological principle, I don't see why there needs to be "positive evidence that there is unjustified imputation going on." Suppose a rock falls on my head causing a large bump, and then in a fit of anger, I throw the rock on the ground intending to shatter it. Clearly, my reaction indicates that I hold anger towards the rock. On your view, is this evidence of an injustice caused by one or more persons? If not, then what is the "positive evidence" that I have imputed agency where there is none?

Or another example: suppose I experience the sudden blackout of my house as the work of a conspiracy. Do I know who the conspirators are? No. Do I know why anyone might want to conspire against me? No. Hence, on your view, is my experience of the event as the work of a conspiracy *evidence* of a conspiracy? If not, how does this case relevantly differ from the case where a person experiences an earthquake as the work of some agent? In the latter case, let's stipulate that (a) the person doesn't know who the agent is, and (b) doesn't know why anyone would want to cause him suffering via an earthquake. Despite (a) and (b), he believes the earthquake was the work of some agent. How are the two cases different?

radical_logic said...

I think the question of 'what are the causes of E' is logically prior to the question of 'is E an injustice?'

So the choice is really between:

(3) Natural calamities have only impersonal causes

and

(3') Natural calamities have personal causes.

(3') and your (~5) are not logically equivalent, nor does the former entail the latter. It COULD be the case that natural calamities have personal causes but are not instances of injustice. Why? Because it could be the case that the agents causally responsible for causing those natural calamities have morally sufficient reasons for doing so (why not?).

Therefore, in order to settle the dispute between (3) and (~5), we need to first settle the dispute between (3) and (3'), and there's just no good reason to think (3') is true, even if people experience calamities as instance of injustice.

How plausible is it to say that P experiences another person causing P pain, when P cannot in any way identify/describe that person? If P cannot in any way identify/describe the person causing him pain, then why should we think his experience is not an unjustified imputation?

Alexander R Pruss said...

I take it you're denying that in general

(*) A's experiencing x as an F is a good reason to take x to be an F.

For if we do in general take A's experiencing x as an F to be a good reason to take x to be an F, then we do have good reason to accept (3').

A challenge is to see how one can deny (*) without becoming a sceptic.

"If P cannot in any way identify/describe the person causing him pain, then why should we think his experience is not an unjustified imputation?"

I don't think much at all in the way of identification and description is needed for justified imputation. If I observe that a faint star cluster unammbiguously spells out "Earthlings are not alone" in perfectly formed Latin characters, I may have very little idea who is responsible, but I am quite justified in thinking someone is.

We may well have basic agency-detecting skills, and prima facie deliverances of our agency-detecting skills should be given as much deference as the deliverances of our light detecting skills.

I do think that in the case at hand, one needs to check whether the experience of injustice isn't simply the effect of a prior belief in, say, malevolent beings. Sometimes it may indeed be. But I suspect that it is just as likely to be the cause of the belief in malevolent beings.


I should, to be fair, say that I didn't initially think the argument I gave was much evidence for its conclusion. But as the discussion progressed, I've grown to like the argument some more. Still, I do not think it is at all close to a conclusive argument, and I continue to harbor suspicions of it (more theological than philosophical, I think).

radical_logic said...

I think matters will be clearer if we get more precise on the meaning of "P experiences event E as an injustice." If an injustice is an evil caused by one or more persons (and not, say, a TRULY natural evil caused by no persons), then we should understand the phrase to mean: P believes on some level that event E is an evil caused by one or more persons.

It's a safe empirical assumption that most people who claim to experience natural calamities as instances of injustice either: (a) explicitly deny that they are evils caused by one or more persons, (b) do not attribute personal causes to those events, or (c) would explicitly deny that they are evils caused by one or more persons if asked. Therefore, we have strong reason to think those who claim to experience natural calamities as instances of injustice do not really accept (even if they believe on some level) that the events are evils caused by one or more persons.


Moreover, there is a clear difference between attributing agency to the cause of the words "Earthlings are not alone" and attributing agency to the cause of the weak tree branch falling on my head. The difference is one of inference: In the former, we have good inductive reasons for thinking that the words are a product of intelligent causes, but no good inductive reasons in the latter.

radical_logic said...

Here's another key difference: we can explain why a natural calamity occurs in terms of impersonal causes, but the same can't be said about those words.

You need argue that despite the fact that we never needed to attribute personal causes to natural calamities, we are nevertheless justified in thinking they have personal causes (in addition to impersonal ones). But this is a very implausible position. Surely, if wholly impersonal causes cannot explain why natural calamities occur, then personal causes *need* to be posit, and I think the absence of such a need tells against your view.

radical_logic said...

"I am inclined to think that if people experience x as F, that is evidence, albeit defeasible evidence, that x is an F."

If my above analysis is right, then people experiencing calamity C as injustice I reduces to: people believe C is a natural evil caused by one or more persons. But the fact that people *believe* C was caused by one or more persons is no reason, in and of itself, to think that their belief is true.

Alexander R Pruss said...

1. Perception is not belief. I may have a perception of a broken stick in the water, but not believe that there is a broken stick in the water. Likewise, I may see a real miracle but not believe my eyes.

2. As a matter of fact, even though belief is not necessary for perception, a lot of people worldwide probaby do believe that there is some agency behind various natural disasters. For instance, Christians and Jews who believe that the sin of Adam and Eve has brought calamity on the world. Various polytheists who think that evil or angry deities are responsible. Etc. I have no idea on the total numbers.

radical_logic said...

I agree that perception is not belief. Is it your claim that people *perceive* agency behind natural calamities?

Alexander R Pruss said...

One of our grad students also ran a more cheerful argument in the same vein. Here's my version of it. Emotions are cognitive. Therefore, feeling grateful is makes it likely that what one is grateful is something that it is worth thanking someone for. But people feel grateful for all kinds of events which are such that if they have a cause at all, that cause is God. Thus, probably these are events that it is worth thanking someone for. But if they are events that it is worth thanking someone for, they have a cause, and that cause will then be God.