Monday, October 4, 2010

Theism and flourishing

  1. (Premise) No life centered on love of someone who never exists is a flourishing life.
  2. (Premise) Some people lead a flourishing life centered on love of God.
  3. Therefore, it is false that God never exists.
  4. (Premise) God either always exists or never exists.
  5. Therefore, God always exists.
(I use "always" and "never" in such a way that a timeless being would count as existing always.)
One thing that is interesting in this argument is that it makes it harder to be a "sympathetic atheist/agnostic"—someone who, while not believing in God, can positively evaluate the lives of theists.
It's also interesting that there does not seem to be a parallel argument for atheism. One might try:
  1. (Premise) No life centered on the denial of someone who exists is a flourishing life.
  2. (Premise) Some people lead a flourishing life centered on the denial of God.
  3. Therefore, God does not exist.
But I deny (7). The denial of God is a merely negative attitude, and as such is not fitted out for being the center of a flourishing life, regardless of whether God exists. Those atheists who lead a flourishing life make their life be centered on something other than the denial of God—friendship, the pursuit of truth, etc.
This points out an important asymmetry between theism and atheism. If theism is true, one's life should be centered on theism. But if atheism is true, one's life should not need be centered on atheism, but on valuable things like friendship and understanding.


Dustin Crummett said...

There are Christians who think that some non-theists are in communion with God without recognizing it (anonymous Christians.) Couldn't an atheist who thinks a theist can live a flourishing life say that the theist's life is *really* centered around whatever sufficient good the atheist recognizes, and the theist just doesn't recognize it?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Maybe. But the goods that the atheist recognizes are also goods that the theist recognizes and ideally pursues, and so the theist might be able to recognize whether her life is indeed centered on them--whether she is pursuing these goods central, or these goods in the light of a love for God.

Douglas said...

Hi Alex,

A question: might an atheist plausibly deny premise 2 on the grounds that you can love a person only if he or she exists? Of course, you can have psychological attitudes and behavioral dispositions that seem for all the world to be driven by love of someone, but if the object of your attitudes and dispositions doesn't exist it seems false to say that you love him or her. Compare: it would be incorrect for me to say of a man that his life was centered on his love of his wife and children, if he had no family (he is alone in his bed in the psychiatric ward). Perhaps this is why skeptical scenarios threaten loving human relationships.

Alexander R Pruss said...


I think then we will want to define love* as a psychological attitude like that of love, but which one can have towards a non-existent being. Replacing "love" with "love*" renders an argument that is still plausible, no?

Douglas said...

I find the modified premise puzzling.

Can one center one's life on love* of something? I have the sense that if God exists, then one centers one's life on love of God. One's love* of God is not what one centers one's life on. Although one loves* God by loving him, one's life is not thereby centered on one's love* of God. But if God doesn't exist, then one attempts and fails to center one's life on love of God. Has one thereby succeeded in centering one's life on love* of God? I doubt it. Although one loves* God, it seems wrong to say that one centers one's life on that love*. Love* without love seems to be an intrinsic state of one, not a relation to something outside of one, on which one's life could be centered. Can one center one's life on part of one's intrinsic mental makeup? I am uncomfortable with thinking that one could. The second premise is thus puzzling to me.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Well, I take it that when the object of the love* exists (and is connected with the love* in the right way), then the love* is a love, just like an apparently genuine dollar bill, when the appearances are non-defective, is a genuine dollar bill.

David Balcarras said...

Wouldn't prolific authors of fiction or perhaps scholars of fiction or particular fictional characters be counterexamples to (1)? Consider how the lives of people like Tolkien or maybe Dickens really did seem centred on their fictional characters. It seems plausible that such obsessive life-centring and fixation on the personalities of non-existent persons is necessary for the creation of such literary masterpieces. And by most accounts it would seem these people flourished.

Alexander R Pruss said...

That's an interesting suggestion.

The best novelists neither center their lives nor their literary work on a single character. Austen, Dickens, Dostoevskii and Tolstoy certainly did neither.

There are some second- and many third-tier novelists who do center a much of their literary career on a single character. E.g., Lucy Maud Montgomery, R. Austin Freeman and Arthur Conan Doyle. I would hope that they don't center their lives on this character--if they do, that's sad.