Saturday, August 6, 2016

I contributed to all the evils of the world

  1. If doing A would have foreseeably been a contribution to decreasing the probability of an evil E, and I culpably did not do A, then I contributed to E.
  2. Praying more for the good of all would have foreseeably been a contribution to decreasing the probability of each individual evil E in the world.
  3. I culpably failed to pray more for the good of all.
  4. So, I contributed to each individual evil in the world.

Mea culpa.

10 comments:

Christopher Michael said...

(1) is false because the reasons for culpability in omitting action X come apart from the evils the probability of which is decreased by Xing, not least of all because the causation is too remote between or accidental to my culpable omission and the evils the probability of which I failed to decrease, even though the omission is culpable for an independent reason.

For example, I can culpably go to the bar (because I'm an alcoholic deliberately putting myself in the near occasion of sin), thereby failing to decrease the probability of my causing a traffic accident on the way to the bar (because, overall, the less cars on the road, the safer everybody is), but if there were to be an accident, I would not have contributed to it in any morally relevant way. I've contributed, sure, but in a morally permissible way that doesn't call for a mea culpa.

Alexander R Pruss said...

That's a good point. One wants a nonaccidental connection between the culpability for the evils and the omitted act.
I don't know how to formulate this exactly - maybe it can't be done, just as we normally can't formulate "in the right way" conditions. But I think that whatever the condition is, it's met in the prayer case.

Christopher Michael said...

Well, I'm not sure it is. We certainly have a duty proceeding from charity to pray for others, but I'm not sure this duty exists in such a way that you could culpably omit praying for the good of all (unless you did so positively, praying but willing that it should not avail unto the good of all), just as I would not violate my duty in charity to come to the aid of the poor by failing to contribute to a charity dedicated to helping all the poor, rather than say, the poor of Texas or the poor of Africa. My duty to pray for my neighbors may extend only to cases of necessity among particular neighbors (broadly defined) or communities. Hence, we never get your sweeping conclusion that you've contributed to all the evils of the world, which is highly unintuitive.

If you have a moral theology citation to the contrary, I'd love to see it.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Clearly, we ought to love everyone. But the only way we can benefit people we have no contact with is by prayer.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Clearly, we ought to love everyone. But the only way we can benefit people we have no contact with is by prayer.

Walter Van den Acker said...

Doesn't, according to most theodicies and defences against the PoE, God allow only as much evil as necessary for whatever greater good God wants to obtain?
Then how exactly can praying more for the good of all be a contribution to decreasing the probability of each individual evil?

Alexander R Pruss said...

That's a good point. One wants a nonaccidental connection between the culpability for the evils and the omitted act.
I don't know how to formulate this exactly - maybe it can't be done, just as we normally can't formulate "in the right way" conditions. But I think that whatever the condition is, it's met in the prayer case.

entirelyuseless said...

I am not sure that any of your premises are true in the ways needed for your conclusion.

I object to (1) for the reason given by Christopher Michael, but also because in practical matters, the small is as nothing. So if the action you culpably omit would have decreased the probability of E by an insignificant amount, then you morally contribute nothing to E. But we know that praying for the good of people in a general way will insignificantly reduce the probability of particular evils like E (if this were not true, it would be extremely easy to show statistical effects of prayer, and it is not). Therefore when you omit to pray for someone, you are not culpable for things like their death in a traffic accident, which cannot be expected at a rate significantly higher or lower than chance in that situation, whether you pray for their good or not. You may of course be culpable if you behave badly to them, because you do not care about them, which you could have changed by praying for them. But this does not tend to show that you are culpable for all the evils of the world.

Thus, (2) is not true in the way needed for the conclusion, namely because it does not foreseeably decrease the probability of E by enough to matter in practice.

Finally, it is not evident that (3) is true even given that (1) and (2) are, since it is not clear how much you should have been praying and whether or not you matched that amount.

Alexander R Pruss said...

entirelyuseless:

I think that even if an action's decrease of the probabilities of evils is small, when the action is non-accidentally morally required one gains responsibility. For instance, suppose that you hire me to protect you from alien abduction. One night, I don't bother to show up, and the aliens come and kidnap you. The probability of alien abduction starts out as small, and the chance that I could actually stop the aliens is very small because any aliens that can come from another stellar system will be so powerful that there will be very little I could do to stop them. Nonetheless, I failed to guard you as promised, and I have contributed.

The reasonable thing to say seems to me to be that if there is a tiny decrease in probability, the degree of contribution is tiny as well. But there is a degree of contribution.

Otherwise we get this paradox. A billion people have buttons, and they each are obligated (say, because they promised) to press their buttons, and they know that the probability you will die linearly scales from 1 if nobody presses the button to 0 if everybody does. Nobody presses the button and you die. Clearly *everyone* is responsible. But any one person's action would only slightly change the probabilities.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Walter:
One of the things that God takes into account, though, is that it is more valuable to produce an outcome that has been requested. So the requests change the values involved.
Moreover, the values tend to be incommensurable: balancing between nonintervention and prevention of evil, say.