Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The afterlife and horrendously evil universes

  1. The moral intuitions of people who are a constituent part of a horrendously evil whole shouldn't be trusted absent significant evidence for the trustworthiness of these intuitions independent of these intuitions.
  2. Our moral intuitions should be trusted.
  3. We do not have significant evidence for the trustworthiness of these intuitions independent of these intuitions.
  4. We are constituent parts of the universe.
  5. A universe in which good persons permanently cease to exist is horrendously evil. (Think of the incredible unrepeatable value of persons.)
  6. So, we do not permanently cease to exist.
This is loosely based on an insight by Gabriel Marcel about the connection between 2, 5 and 6.

28 comments:

Alexander R Pruss said...

Potentially fatal counterexample to 1: Decent people who are a part of Nazi Germany.

Maybe, though, they have evidence besides their intuitions, like the intuitions of people outside of Nazi Germany.

Or maybe we should distinguish between Germany and Nazi Germany: the decent people were a constituent part of the former but not the latter?

entirelyuseless said...

I disagree with number 5, because I would rather exist and then permanently cease to exist, rather than not existing in the first place. But it would be better to have no universe than a horrendously evil one. That means I do not believe that a universe where people permanently cease to exist is horrendously evil.

Eric Steinhart said...

I like this sort of moral argument for life after death. It's got a nice axiarchic flavor.

Angra Mainyu said...

Given that I find the negation of 6. more probable than each of premises 1, 3, 5, and even 2, I don't find the argument persuasive.
But that aside, I would like to consider the rationale in support of 5.
Is that the allegedly unrepeatable value of persons, or of good persons?

One might argue as follows:
5': A universe in which persons who are not bad persons permanently become bad persons is horrendously evil (think of the incredible loss of value if a person who is not already morally bad becomes morally bad for all of eternity).
6': Three-year old human children are persons who are not bad persons.
7': If a person who is not a bad person eventually end up in hell for eternity, he or she becomes a bad person permanently.
8': So, it is not the case that any human person who is three years old or older will be end up in hell for eternity.

(Some further argumentation will easily cover the cases of younger humans).

Alexander R Pruss said...

I don't think a universe where some people of their own free will become permanently bad is horrendously evil.

Angra Mainyu said...

I was going by what seems to me like the rationale based on the loss of the positive value (i.e., when you said "(Think of the incredible unrepeatable value of persons.")
The value seems to be lost even if their choice is free, by changing the positive value of a non-evil person into the negative value of an evil person (unless you think that an evil person also has a positive value, and as positive as a non-evil person, or not far from that. Is that your assessment?)

That aside, how about a universe in which people become bad of their own free will, but become permanently bad not by their own choice, but by something that happens to them?

For example, let's say that Bob is a bad person. It's a bad person because of the choices he made. So, he became bad of his own free will. However, it turns out that as long as Bob is alive, he may still choose to be good. And in fact, he never decided to be bad for eternity. If there is an afterlife without free will, in which bad people remain bad forever, and good people remain good forever, then whether Bob is permanently bad does not depend on Bob's free choice to be permanently bad, but on factors such as, say, whether Jack murders Bob before he chooses to be good again, or whether lightning strikes Bob and kills him, etc.
Wouldn't that make the universe horrendous, in your assessment?

On a different note, someone might reply that the value of persons is repeatable if, say, the universe is infinite (i.e., infinitely many galaxies), or finite but infinitely repeating, or something like that.

Side note: If I trust my moral intuitions (as 2. would suggest), I find a universe with an eternal Hell to be much worse than a universe in which everyone ceases to exist (and, for that matter, I reckon that if God existed, a universe like ours clearly would not). But I'm trying to assess the matter from the perspective of the intuitions suggested in your argument.

Angra Mainyu said...

With respect to premise 1, I would raise (among others, but to make it short) the following objections:

A. For all X, X is a constituent part of X.
Premise A seems clearly true (if not, please clarify what you mean by "constituent part").
From A and premise 1 we get that the moral intuitions of horrendously evil people should not be trusted. But then, horrendously evil people should not trust their own moral intuitions.
Granted, maybe sometimes, horrendously evil people should not trust their own moral intuitions. But A and 1 entail that horrendously evil people should never trust their own moral intuitions, which seems clearly false (unless you meant that "in most cases" they shouldn't be trusted; if so, please clarify, but I will then argue that even so, that raises similar issues for their ability to make moral assessments).
So, how should horrendously evil go about making moral assessments?
For example, the Nazis should have realized (some did) that it's immoral to murder Jews in concentration camps. And Aztec priests should have realized (probably some did) that it was immoral to perform human sacrifices. But how should they have gone about making such assessments?

Potential replies:

a. Horrendously evil people should have faith in a revealed religion.

That one does not work, because:

I. How do they assess whether a religion is true, without resorting to their moral intuitions? That does not seem to work.
II. For any given allegedly revealed religion, one may consider a horrendously evil person who lived before that religion existed, or before it reached the region where they lived. In the case of Christianity, Aztec priests who performed human sacrifices work as an example.

b. Horrendously evil people should trust the intuitions of the majority, which tell them that theirs are wrong.

That does not work, either. For example.

We may consider a case in which most of the people around them are also horrendously evil, or there are no other people around.
For example - and to follow up on the Nazi example -, how should the Nazis themselves go about making moral assessments?
Or how about Aztec priests that perform human sacrifices?
Or the Taliban? Or a zillion other real-life examples?

c. Horrendously evil people should trust the intutions of good people, even if the good people are a tiny minority.

Here, a problem is: How do horrendously evil people assess who is a good person - in order to trust that person's moral intuitions -, without using their own moral intuitions as a guide to moral truth?

B. How about the victims of the Aztec sacrificial system, or the prisoners in a Nazi extermination camp?
Are they not constituent parts of the system of sacrifice/extermination?
If they are, then premise 1 is clearly false.
But if they are not, why is that so, and why are we constituent parts of the universe?
Granted, an Aztec or Nazi system like that does not depend for its existence on any of its individual victims (others might take their place). But then again, the universe also does not depend on the existence of any specific human for its existence.

Angra Mainyu said...

Just a clarification point:

I'm assuming for the sake of the argument that premise 3 is true, and that's why A and premise 1 entail that the intuitions of horrendously evil people should not be trusted (or more precisely, that the people who do not have such evidence should not trust it).

So, to make it more clear, A and premise 1 and premise 3 entail that the intuitions of horrendously evil people should not be trusted.

Also, it's clearly not plausible that we lack such independent evidence but, say, Aztec priests who performed human sacrifices had it.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Good point about horrendously evil people having reason to trust themselves in some cases. I think we can tell a bit more of a story there. It seems that I should be more suspicious of those moral intuitions that tell me that I'm a good person than of those that tell me that I'm a bad person. So the Nazi who has a moral intuition that tells him he is wicked might well have reason to trust that intuition. Maybe, though, I can say that they have evidence for the trustworthiness of these intuitions independent of the content of the intuitions, namely that the intuitions are inconvenient for them? I am not sure.

Regarding hell, I am inclined to think no one who hasn't made a choice that is "close enough" to choosing eternal badness doesn't go to hell.

I've also toyed with the hypothesis that those in hell improve gradually, becoming asymptotically non-bad. On that hypothesis, the total amount of badness over eternity (the integral of their badness over time) might actually be finite. I don't know that the hypothesis is true, but if this is the only way that hell can be made just and good, then it *is* true.

Mark Rogers said...



I'm inclined to think, regarding hell, that no one who hasn't made a choice that is "close enough" to choosing eternal goodness necessarily goes to hell. It may also be true that some will be called to preach the gospel to the denizens in hell and hell consequently could wind up being populated far more thinly than many imagine.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Is there an extra negation in your first sentence?

Mark Rogers said...



Yes, thank you.
I'm inclined to think, regarding hell, that one who hasn't made a choice that is "close enough" to choosing eternal goodness necessarily goes to hell. It may also be true that some will be called to preach the gospel to the denizens in hell and hell consequently could wind up being populated far more thinly than many imagine.

Angra Mainyu said...

I don't think any decision made by humans is "close enough" ("enough" in which sense? Either the choice is for infinity, or it's not) to choosing eternal evilness. Moreover, the loss of the freedom to change one's mind in the future is also a loss of value, etc., even if a bad choice was made. And so on.
But all that aside, it seems that some evil people have no means of accessing moral truth other than their own moral intuitions (here, "intuitions" does not mean just preliminary intuitions, but even intuitions after reflection). I'm not talking about whether we should trust their intuitions, but whether they should trust them (the argument, after all, would apply to everyone if sound).
For example, let's suppose that an Aztec priest thought that it was not immoral on his part to perform horribly painful human sacrifices.
Wouldn't you say that he shouldn't have believed that, in the epistemic sense of "should"? (i.e., wouldn't you say he was being epistemically irrational in holding such belief?).
If he was not being epistemically irrational, then there is the following difficulty: did he have the means to access moral truth?

But if he was being epistemically irrational, his epistemic irrationality didn't come from his trusting his moral intuitions, but rather, for not trusting some of them - at some level, he had to have the intuition that it was wrong, and suppress it.
Perhaps, he also had a twisted prima facie intuition that told him it was not wrong, but in case of conflicting intuitions, after reflection, he rationally ought to have sided with the most basic intuition - which said it was wrong.

Now, if this is not the case, then how should he have ascertained moral truth? (i.e., leaving his own intuitions aside)
In particular, how should he have come about figuring out that it was immoral to perform those sacrifices?

Perhaps, the victims would say so. But what if they didn't? (e.g., they were just screaming for mercy, not telling him his actions were immoral, which they reckoned would probably not be of help).
Moreover, if the victims had told him that his actions were immoral, why should he have trusted the moral intuitions of his victims?
Perhaps, that was intuitively clear to him? But we're assuming that he shouldn't have trusted his own intuitions - so, an intuition that his victims' moral intuitions were to be trusted would be out.

So, I'd say that 1. is not true, at least if 3. is (with respect to the Aztec priest; different people may have different pieces of evidence).

With regard to the inconvenience of the intuition, that would also apply to our moral intuitions, when they're inconvenient, so it would imply that 3 is false.

But moreover, what about those cases in which it's not inconvenient to the Aztec priest, or the Nazi?

For example, let's say that a Nazi officer in charge of law enforcement - and who is a part of the horrendously evil Nazi judiciary system - judges a case of rape, and intuitively reckons that the perpetrator is guilty and behaved immorally when he raped a German woman. It seems to me he should have that moral belief. It's not the case that he should refrain from trusting his intuition that the rapist behaved immorally.
What if an SS officer intuitively judges that a man who murdered or raped his own wife or daughter acted immorally?
What if an Aztec judge (part of the Aztec judicial system) also intuitively reckons that the behavior of a murderer who murders in a way not approved of by the Aztec system, was immoral?

I'd say it's not the case that people who are constituent parts of a horrendously evil whole should always refrain from trusting their moral intuitions when those intuitions are not inconvenient to them.

Mark Rogers said...

Angra,
It does not matter if the Aztec priest had direct revelation from an angel, one of many minds, a space alien or was caught up in the social milieu, he knew better. So:

The moral intuitions of people who are a constituent part of a horrendously evil whole shouldn't be trusted absent significant evidence for the trustworthiness of these intuitions independent of these intuitions.

Mark Rogers said...

Oops, I did not add "unless he was one of the small percentage of people who are irrational".

Angra Mainyu said...

Mark,

I'm not sure what your objection is.
My point is that it is not the case that the Aztec priest should not trust his moral intuitions. He should at least trust some of them. I provided examples of why this is so.
Your reply denies that this is so, but doesn't let me know why. I'm not sure what your point about the angel, the many minds, the alien, etc., is.
Could you clarify what the objection is, please?

At any rate, let me ask you: assuming that - as you imply - the Aztec priest should not have trusted his own moral intuitions, then how should the Aztec priest had gone about ascertaining moral truth?
He shouldn't have used his moral intuitions - you imply -, and he had no access to revelation, either (no one does, and in any case moral intuitions would be required to ascertain the right revelation, but leaving that aside).
So, how should he have proceeded, in order to ascertain moral truth?

Mark Rogers said...

Surely it must be difficult to ascertain moral truth without the right revelation.

Angra Mainyu said...

Mark, I don't agree with that. Purely for example, it's not difficult for me to ascertain that a person who tortures another person for fun behaves immorally, and a person who eats an apple because she likes it usually (i.e., it's her apple, there are no unusual consequences, etc.) does not behave immorally. I'm not using any revelation to ascertain that.

By the way, how do you go about ascertaining whether a purported revelation is true without a reliable means of ascertaining the purported revelation's moral claims that is independent of the purported revelation in question?
(Well, okay, the proper prior of any actual purported revelation is negligible, and there is no good evidence that would significantly raise its probability even if its moral claims were all true, so one can tell that any purported revelation is false, but of course I don't expect you to agree with that, so I'm asking how you would propose going about ascertaining whether a purported revelation is true).

Anyway, leaving that aside, my question is not whether ascertaining moral truth was difficult for the Aztec priest, but rather, how should he go about ascertaining moral truths, if he shouldn't trust his own moral intuitions?
If the difficulty is the "moral truths" part, let me rephrase: How should the Aztec priest go about making moral assessments, assuming he should not trust his own moral intuitions?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Angra:

I've been thinking about your objection to the argument, and I think it is successful. Premise 1 now looks false.

Perhaps one can save the argument -- at the cost of some ad-hoc'ery -- by adding some clause like "unless there is a good source of these moral intuitions going beyond the horrendously evil thing"? If so, then the Aztec priest's moral intuitions come from God if theism is true, or from some enlightened teachers. I am not happy with the ad-hoc restriction. I suspect there may be counterexamples to it.

I still feel that there is something to the Marcel line of thought, though.

Mark Rogers said...

Hey Angra,
You say:

"If the difficulty is the "moral truths" part, let me rephrase: How should the Aztec priest go about making moral assessments, assuming he should not trust his own moral intuitions?"

It does not seem to me that the Aztec priest would ever change his ways unless he distrusted his own moral intuitions. For instance he might think about his friend, an Aztec judge, and ponder:

What if an Aztec judge (part of the Aztec judicial system) also intuitively reckons that the behavior of a murderer who murders in a way not approved of by the Aztec system, was immoral?

And so he might reflect "how is it that I can kill under the umbrella of the religion/society and it be morally good and yet another murders and it is morally wrong?"


Angra Mainyu said...

Alex,

With regard to the "enlightened teachers" option, the objection can still be raised: what if the Aztec priest grew up in Aztec culture, and was indoctrinated by people who were far from enlightened?
That is not only possible, but even very probable in actual cases. One may ask: How should he go about making moral assessments? And so on.

As for the "God" option, my impression is that it might work if the argument is only meant to be accepted by theists. I don't know whether there is a counterexample assuming theism, because on theism, arguably everyone's intuitions come from a good source beyond the horrendously evil thing. However, theists are usually already convinced that good people do not cease to exist (well, some theists might say that no one is a good person in some sense, and so 5 would not support 6 (which assumes that we are good persons), but that's a detail). But then again, that might not be a problem. It depends on whom the argument is meant to convince.

A non-theist who isn't a moral skeptic would almost certainly (or at least should) reject the modified premise 1 (as for a moral skeptic, I'd say it depends on the reasons for their skepticism), even if they also don't believe that 3. or 5. are true.

Angra Mainyu said...

Mark,

But if the Aztec priest is reflecting on that, he is using his own moral intuitions. Perhaps, after reflection, some of his moral intuitions will conflict with some other moral intuitions, and then he would put some of them aside (the weakest). But that's still an assessment from within his own moral intuitions.
For example, you say that he might say "how is it that I can kill under the umbrella of the religion/society and it be morally good and yet another murders and it is morally wrong?"
Fair enough. But if he intuitively find it odd or problematic that some of those killings are immoral and others aren't, that's one of his moral intuitions at play. Assuming that he shouldn't trust his moral intuitions, then he shouldn't trust that one, either. And moreover, it seems that the assessment that other murders are morally wrong is also based on some moral intuitions - either his, or those of the judge who is part of a horrendously evil system, etc.

In brief, the problem is that if he shouldn't trust his moral intuitions, he no longer has a means of properly making moral assessments. But it seems to me that he did have a means (albeit flawed and damaged by the socially prevalent false moral beliefs) of properly making moral assessments.

Angra Mainyu said...

"(well, some theists might say that no one is a good person in some sense, and so 5 would not support 6 (which assumes that we are good persons), but that's a detail)"

I mean "no one" among us, excluding divine persons, perhaps angels and the like.

Mark Rogers said...


"In brief, the problem is that if he shouldn't trust his moral intuitions, he no longer has a means of properly making moral assessments. But it seems to me that he did have a means (albeit flawed and damaged by the socially prevalent false moral beliefs) of properly making moral assessments."

Other than what you have in parentheses sounds right. Angels I do not think are infallible.

Angra Mainyu said...

Mark,

What's in parenthesis is "albeit flawed and damaged by the socially prevalent false moral beliefs".
That means that the Aztec's means of properly making moral assessments (i.e., his moral sense, if you like, plus capability for reasoning, etc.) is flawed (he's human, so his faculties are flawed) and also damaged by the false moral beliefs that were prevalent in Aztec society (which make his moral sense even more flawed); but it's still a generally reliable sense that he may properly use.
What part of that do you disagree with?

As for angels, I mentioned them only as part of a side note, because perhaps (or perhaps not; who knows?) some Christians might say that some of them are good people in a sense we are not (perhaps, they made an irrevocable morally good decision and that's the only free choice they make, or something like that; I don't know, Christian beliefs vary widely).

Sleety Dribble said...

Can you clarify point 5? Is it saying:

A universe in which all good persons permanently cease to exist is horrendously evil.

or is it:

A universe in which each good person permanently ceases to exist is horrendously evil.

And then, if it's the former then isn't it possible that each and every good person will cease to exist (and so fail to have life after death), but where God continually replaces each expired person with a new one?

And if it's the latter, why does the expiration of a single good person represent horrendous evil on a universe scale?

Sleety Dribble said...

I said:
> ... why does the expiration of a single good person represent horrendous evil on a universe scale?

Or is that dealt with by "...the incredible unrepeatable value of persons" in 5?

Alexander R Pruss said...

I was thinking that the ultimate cessation of any one individual is itself a horrendous evil. That seems to be the Gabriel Marcel point.