Monday, April 16, 2012

Hope and afterlife

The following argument is valid, and is sound if we take the conditional in (2) to be material.

  1. (Premise) In despairing, one engages in a vice.
  2. (Premise) If there is no afterlife, it is sometimes appropriate to despair.
  3. (Premise) It is never appropriate to engage in a vice.
  4. So, there is an afterlife.

Let me say a little about (2). Despair is appropriate in situations of objective hopelessness. But if there is no afterlife, then when one has misspent one's life in wickedness, and is now facing death with no opportunity to make things up to those whom one has mistreated, then despair is appropriate.

If there is an afterlife, then one can hope for mercy or justice.

31 comments:

Alex Pat's Blog said...
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Alex Pat's Blog said...

But surely then by the same logic this is true:

1. (Premise) In despairing, one engages in a vice.

2. (Premise) If there is violence, it is sometimes appropriate to despair.

3. (Premise) It is never appropriate to engage in a vice.

4. So, there is no war.

Isn't the issue that we're trying to extrapolate from purely subjective phenomenon an objective truth about reality?

Heath White said...

I would argue:

It is never appropriate to engage in a vice.
If there is no afterlife, despair is sometimes appropriate.
Therefore, if there is no afterlife, despair is sometimes not a vice.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Alex Pat's Blog:

I don't see reason to believe your (2).

And we extrapolate from subjective, or at best intersubjective, phenomena to objective truth about reality all the time.

Heath:

One can argue that way, but I think we do have an intuition that we shouldn't despair. That intuition may depend on theism. But that need not be a problem.

Alex Pat's Blog said...

How about changing the word 'violence' in Premise 2 and the conclusion to 'evil', hence:


1. (Premise) In despairing, one engages in a vice.

2. (Premise) If there is evil, it is sometimes appropriate to despair.

3. (Premise) It is never appropriate to engage in a vice.

4. So, there is no evil.

Alexander R Pruss said...

That's more promising.

But I don't think your 2 is true.

Imagine a world where there is only one evil that ever occurs, and it is not very large. It is quickly overcome and leads to a much greater good. There is evil there, but no grounds for despair.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...
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Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Well said on "Hope and afterlife" in original post. I agree fully. I've encountered the exeriental truth of this in many of my closest friends.

Dustin Crummett said...

Alex: what if somebody's in hell?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Hell's a tough one.

I am inclined to think that the folks in hell shouldn't despair, because justice is being done. Of course, since the justice that is being done is constituted by harsh treatment of them, they are unlikely to rejoice in this justice. Nonetheless, the appropriate reaction to this justice is not despair, but a kind of joy that they are gradually, asymptotically, "paying their debt". Whether they actually feel this joy, I don't know. But the question isn't about what they feel, but what they should feel.

Craig said...

Alex, if despair presupposes complete objective hopelessness, then I don't think you've described a situation in which despair is appropriate. Even if I've misspent my life in wickedness, there is still hope that I might do one of a number of any other appropriate things: I might come to better acknowledge my own wickedness, I might come to regret my wickedness, I might deepen my moral or philosophical understanding, I might do something good for someone else, I might avoid violating some norm of rationality or etiquette, etc. If my doing any of these things is appropriate, and there is still hope that I might do any of these things, then there is not objective hopelessness. Any attitude which presupposes otherwise would therefore not be appropriate.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I don't think despair involves lack of all hope. Maybe, lack of hope about things that matter most?

I suppose my scenario might need a few more provisos, though.

Craig said...

About that last suggestion, one challenge would be to identify the things that matter most in a way that doesn't beg the question about the afterlife. Supposing that there is no afterlife, what objectively matters most with regard to the person who has misspent her life in wickedness may seem to have only trivial value to the person who assumes an afterlife. I suspect that this is common. What an atheist finds meaningful or worthwhile may seem to be of trivial value to the theist; conditions in which certain kinds of theists would intuitively react with despair are conditions in which the atheist intuitively doesn't (or, at least, intuitively doesn't think that despair is entirely appropriate).

Heath White said...

I would have thought that despair was a vice on earth precisely because there is hope of a good future state, and thus despair is overly pessimistic. However, in hell as traditionally conceived, there is no hope of a good future state. I do not have any kind of intuition that one should not despair in (such a) hell. I think I have Dante with me: “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”

Alexander R Pruss said...

Craig:

I think one's moral state, and justice, ought to be central things that matter to everyone. But there may be important differences of detail here.

Heath:

A future in hell is a good future state, because it is a state of paying one's debt. It sure beats ceasing to exist with the debt unpaid.

Heath White said...

A future in hell is a good future state, because it is a state of paying one's debt. It sure beats ceasing to exist with the debt unpaid.

I guess we just have a fundamental clash of intuitions here.

Consider regular monetary debts. Suppose I am deeply in debt, so far that I can never work it off. I have a choice between (a) being a debt slave for eternity, doing extremely unpleasant work and living like a serf, for eons, or (b) dying in debt. I think nearly everyone will choose (b). I do not know why anyone would think (a) was certainly the preferable alternative.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think moral debt is different from financial debt.

There is also the question whether the preference people have for (b) is a morally appropriate preference. It is well known that we humans try to escape punishment as best we can, but that doesn't come from what is noblest in us.

Craig said...

Alex, I'd also like to raise a question about the first premise.

Any intuitive plausibility of the first premise seems to be matched by the plausibility of this: despairing is a vice only if it is not appropriate. This follows from a more general principle that it is never appropriate to engage in a vice. In a world with no afterlife, if there is some sense in which it is appropriate to despair, then such despairing is not a vice in that world.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Could be. I only need premise 1 in the actual world, and we have an intuition that it's true. That intuition may depend on culturally-ingrained theism, but that's OK if Dan Johnson is right.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Heath:

How about this argument: If a future in hell is not a good state, then a loving God does not give anyone a future in hell. But God is (a) loving and (b) sends some to hell. So, a future in hell is a good state.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...
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Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Hell is not a good state. It is an existance without God and without there ever being a chance at having a relationship with God. God sends no one to hell. Rather those who go there chose their way into hell. We were created with a free will. We are radically and fearfully free. We were created by God this way so as to be heirs in the Kingdom and His co-creators. We were created for a specific relationship with God. If we were created without a free will we would be automatons incapable of having this relationship. The issue of the free will, is that there were always be some who will choose to reject this relationship because they want to be their own gods. God allows them to reject Him, and this is how those who are in Hell have got there.

Heath White said...

Well, it's valid!

Alexander R Pruss said...

Dagmara:

Isn't it good to receive justice?

Craig said...

Given your defense of premise 1, we might think of using our moral intuitions to draw lots of conclusions about what the world is like. Many such arguments would be just as compelling, except for their absurd conclusions. E.g.,

1. Lying is wrong.
2. If there are would-be murderers, it is sometimes permissible to lie.
3. So, there are no would-be murderers.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Craig:

Nice! I do think that the initial plausibility of your 1 and 2 increase the probability of 3. It's just that we have very strong evidence against 3 which outweighs the plausibility of 1 and 2. But absent that very strong evidence, I think your argument would give us some noteworthy reason to think there are no murderers.

Given that there clearly are murderers, we need to reject the conjunction of 1 and 2. I do it by rejecting 2.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Notice, too, that those who do and those who do not believe in an afterlife might understand the word "murderer" differently.

Say that a murderer in the strong sense is someone who permanently takes away existence, while a murderer in the weak sense is someone who at least temporarily takes away bodily life.

Then we might say:

2'. If there are murderers in the strong sense, then lying is sometimes permissible.

And then we conclude, correctly, that there are no murderers in the strong sense. :-)

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Alex:

On your quote "Isn't it good to receive justice?" I'll throw this out there: By the grace of God there is no justice.

Dustin Crummett said...

Alex: why isn't the (as far as you can tell) possibility of an afterlife enough to get the wrongness of despair? As long as you can't rule out the possibility, you could still hope that there is an afterlife, and that it will be good in the relevant ways.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Well, the possibility of an afterlife is, arguably, enough to rule out materialism. :-) So that's a substantive and interesting consequence.

A merely logical possibility doesn't suffice to rule out despair.

Here's one worry that I've been having about the argument. Maybe a merely epistemic possibility of an afterlife makes it not appropriate to despair. If so, then the argument would only yield the conclusion that an afterlife is epistemically possible.

But that's still a pretty big conclusion--the typical philosophical naturalist will deny it, I think.

Dustin said...

Yes, sorry, I had epistemic possibility in mind.

Also, do you mean with your first sentence to suggest that an afterlife might (plausibly) be *logically* impossible on materialism? Do we have strong reason to think the following is logically impossible on materialism: every time (or even just some of the times) someone "dies," what actually happens is friendly and extremely advanced aliens use their super-technology to teleport your about to be dead brain away and replace it with a perfect, already dead replica. They then, if necessary, heal the brain, and then they put it in a new body and whisk it off to some alien planet. (If this wouldn't count as an afterlife, then it seems like the argument doesn't require an afterlife after all.)