Tuesday, September 24, 2013

An argument from physical disability against naturalism

  1. On average, severely disabled people report not being dissatisfied with life.
  2. Thus, probably, on average severely disabled people are rightly not dissatisfied with life.
The defeasible inference is due to the presumption in favor of the correctness of people's judgments about their wellbeing.

But (2) is very surprising on naturalism. Given naturalism, one would expect that human wellbeing be extremely tenuous, and that any significant downward push, such as from disability, should push people into the illbeing range. The theist, on the other hand, has a rather better explanation of (2).

Of course the naturalist can talk about evolutionary and social mechanisms that make severely disabled people report satisfaction even though their lives are on balance unsatisfactory. But that isn't a naturalistic explanaton of (2). It is an explanation of (1) coupled with a patronizing denial of (2).

The theist, like the naturalist, might question people's self-reports. But she could also accept (2). Of course, the theist will then have a serious problem of evil in the case of the large numbers of severely disabled people whose life satisfaction self-report is negative. But since the theist has very good reason to think that life continues infinitely beyond death, a dissatisfaction—even a rightful one—over a finite initial period is not perhaps quite that surprising.

6 comments:

John Moore said...

I don't understand this part where you wrote: "Given naturalism, one would expect that human wellbeing be extremely tenuous, and that any significant downward push, such as from disability, should push people into the illbeing range."

Couldn't naturalism allow for many different paths toward well-being? If you're blocked from following one path, should you immediately give up and surrender to despair?

Life is tough and relentless. Today's living creatures are the descendants of millions of generations who refused to give up. Evolution rewards those who keep trying no matter what. Isn't this compatible with naturalism?

Alexander R Pruss said...

It's compatible, but I am not sure it's likely. Particularly since from an evolutionary point of view, if you're severely disabled, there is not much point to promoting your genes.

John Moore said...

Many disabled people are unable to have children themselves, so they can't pass on their own individual genes. But maybe they can help their close kin to have more children or raise those children better.

Imagine the wise old blind man lying paralysed in his cave. Villagers always come to him for advice. He's actually a powerful member of the community.

Life gives us myriad paths toward success.

Drew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alexander R Pruss said...

"Imagine the wise old blind man lying paralysed in his cave. Villagers always come to him for advice."

How often did that actually happen?

Drew said...

For many disabled people, especially the severely disabled, they consume more resources than they produce, and so would not contribute toward the propagation of their bloodlines or of their relatives' bloodlines.

And yet they do not seem dissatisfied with life.