Friday, April 30, 2010

The locality of evil

As far as the physical universe goes, we know of no evil that has occurred outside the Solar System. But we know of many goods outside the Solar System—the beautiful and complex arrangements of stars and galaxies. So, as far the physical universe and our knowledge of it goes, evil is a purely local problem, isolated to an almost infinitesimal portion of our galaxy, which is an almost infinitesimal portion of the whole cosmos.

Of course, that doesn't solve the problem of evil. We should not count values by size. If a galaxy doesn't contain any life, while it may have significant value as a complex physical object, it would nonetheless probably be worth destroying it to save one human life. (However, that I feel the need to insert the "probably" is interesting. And notice that galaxies outnumber people, by our best estimates.)


bernardz said...

Are beautiful and complex arrangements of stars and galaxies good in the sense that we use "Good and Evil"?

If so why could a Black hole not be considered evil, and it could swallow up such beautiful and complex arrangements?

Alexander R Pruss said...

At least typically, the black hole's interaction is rather more complex than just swallowing up stars. We have a black hole in the center of our galaxy, and it surely contributes to the behavior of the stars around it.

Moreover, I think that in aesthetic goods, the cessation of the good need not be an evil: it is not an evil when a good novel comes to an end, though there can be a kind of sadness in us at it. Aesthetic goods can have particular extensions in spacetime, and so it can be good that the Double Cluster (a really beautiful object, I think) occupies such-and-such a four-dimensional volume of spacetime, without there being a bad when it eventually dissolves into constituent stars.

The reason for the asymmetry--it's good for there to be beauty in astronomical objects but not bad for beauty to cease to be--is that beauty in inorganic things is not a due good (in the way in which the peacock's beauty may be a due good--the ugly peacock may be defective), but as it were a supererogatory good. The absence or cessation of a supererogatory action is not an evil, and likewise the absence or cessation of a supererogatory good is not an evil and maybe not even a bad.

BernardZ said...


Taking your example further is it evil if a good novel disappears before you finish reading it?

I confess I find the relationship

Beautiful -> good dubious.

If Beautiful -> good
=> not good -> not beautiful

Yet something ugly might be good too.

Also beauty is a relative terms, the Belle of the ball might be in another party a plain Jane.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Something that is beautiful is good insofar as it is beautiful. It might be bad in other ways.

If beauty is entirely relative, then maybe everything is beautiful to some degree. That would be a happy result.