Friday, April 1, 2016

A new theory of limbo

A fairly standard libertarian response to the question about how people can freely choose right over wrong in heaven is this: They have a morally perfect character that makes them unable to choose wrong but this character is the result of choices in this life, choices that they could have avoided. Thus, the choice of right over wrong in heaven is derivatively free, with the freedom deriving from non-derivatively free choices in this life. For a nice development, see Timpe and Pawl.

I had a student ask the question how this works for those who as small children and who hence have not developed their character through free choices. Multiple answers are possible, but I wanted to offer one that yields a somewhat interesting theory of limbo. The theory of limbo holds that some people--those who die in infancy are often given as an example--have not had the kind of life of faith that is required for heaven but nonetheless have done nothing to deserve hell. They are, thus, in limbo: a happy state that, nonetheless, falls short of heaven.

Here, then, is a theory of limbo. Limbo is very much like heaven. In fact, those who are in limbo are a part of the same community as those in heaven, and there is no difference of location, but only of state. Those who are in limbo enjoy most of the joys of heaven: the beatific vision of God, union with wonderful people, flourishing human activity, etc. Their lives are very much like the lives of those who count as being in heaven. However, their choices of right over wrong are not free, because although they have the same morally perfect character that those in heaven do, in the case of those in limbo, that morally perfect character is not the result of their own free choices in this life--it is simply imposed on them by God. So they don't have the joy of knowing that these choices are free, and they don't have the joy of remembering how they freely formed their character, but otherwise they get to enjoy all the joys of heaven.

On this theory, it is better to be in a heavenly rather than limboic state, but the main joy of heaven--the beatific vision--is equally had by people in both states. The difference is solely that those in the limboic state lack the derivative freedom that those in the heavenly state have.

What I don't like about this theory is this: I have the intuition that God shouldn't force people to love him. But perhaps I should simply say: it is better to love freely, but loving unfreely is still good?

9 comments:

Kolten Ellis said...

I think the problem with it being good to still be determined to love is that without universalism, it implies that God is consigning people to hell when he could have done otherwise and remained faithful to his covenant promises, etc., and that seems like a morally imperfect action.

Heath White said...

"God should not force people to love him." By 'force' you do not mean 'make it the case against their will' since it is the formation of the will itself we are talking about here. So I think you must mean 'make it a necessary consequence of his will'. If that is not exactly what you mean, fill in a better definition.

You have a pretty well-developed account of love. On that account, is there anything contrary to divine love in "forcing" (as defined above) someone to have a perfect character? Or is there anything suboptimal about the love thus "forced"?

I'd actually be pretty interested in this answer.

bethyada said...

I think that love is logically connected to freedom, without freedom there is no love.

2 possibilities seem to appear to me.

One is, there is no snake in heaven. There is no evil to tempt us away from God. So they can have freedom without the likelihood of falling.

The second, not incompatible, is that the lives of others who have sinned and then been forgiven serve to show those who have not sinned what sin does. They get aspects of character by observing others' failures.

Kevin Timpe said...

Given your link to Tim's and mine earlier paper and the topic of the post, you may be interested in this recent paper of mine on limbo, Alex: http://kevintimpe.com/files/Limbo.pdf

Alexander R Pruss said...

Heath:

I think it is possible to love without freedom. I don't think love *logically* requires a history of free choice. However, I think an unfree love is not optimal, because there is an important sense in which the love isn't really the person's own. I am not sure we disagree. We may simply disagree on whether freedom is compatible with divine determination.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Kevin:

Thanks!

Mark Rogers said...


"What I don't like about this theory is this: I have the intuition that God shouldn't force people to love him. But perhaps I should simply say: it is better to love freely, but loving unfreely is still good?"

I think we assume that to see God and to know God entails that we would love God but we have the less than empirical evidence of the Angels that this is not necessarily the case.

Richard Davis said...

Supposing that it is better for a created being to love God freely rather than as a necessary consequence of God's will (and this seems true to me), don't we have some reason to expect that God will provide that opportunity to those who perish as infants? Sure, they don't have that opportunity before they pass away, but why couldn't they have it afterwards?

Richard Davis said...

Supposing that it is better for a created being to love God freely rather than as a necessary consequence of God's will (and this seems true to me), don't we have some reason to expect that God will provide that opportunity to those who perish as infants? Sure, they don't have that opportunity before they pass away, but why couldn't they have it afterwards?