Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Limitations, art and evil

It's a standard thought that art thrives on limitations. These may be imposed by the technical capacities of the medium (I was reading this today) or by repressive authorities (think here of communist-era Eastern European literature), or they may be limitations imposed by the artist or her artistic community. In this regard art is like sport, where there are rules that constrain one from what might otherwise be thought of as efficient ways to achieve the goal, such as using a car to "run" a marathon.

Let's not think of God as setting out to create the best possible work of art. The idea of a best possible work of art divorced from model on which God "first" institutes for himself a set of limitations which both constrain and constitutively make possible a particular kind of artistic achievement, and "then" tries to produce the best work within those limitations. For instance, among these limitations there might be a small number of laws of nature and of fundamental kinds of things (compare pixel artists who limit their palette), perhaps with a limited number of self-allowed deviations from the laws. But in addition to such "technical" restrictions, there might be restrictions coming from the content of an artistic vision: what kind of thing it is that God is trying to say in the work.

If we have this sort of a model, then two things happen. The first is that the worry that a perfect being couldn't create since there is no best of all possible worlds disappears. For it is not so hard to think that within certain genre constraints there could be an optimal work (after all, some genre constraints may constrain a work to a finite size; see also this).

The second is that some progress is made on the problem of evil--though by no means is this a solution. For we can answer some "Why did God not do it this way instead?" questions by pointing to the self-imposed artistic limitations. Nonetheless, caution is required. One is very uncomfortable with the thought of God allowing horrendous undeserved suffering for art's sake. Though maybe if the sufferers eventually fully appreciate the art...?

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