Monday, September 18, 2017

Some arguments about the existence of a good theodicy

This argument is valid:

  1. If no good theodicy can be given, some virtuous people’s lives are worthless.

  2. No virtuous person’s life is worthless.

  3. So, a good theodicy can be given.

The thought behind 1 is that unless we accept the sorts of claims that theodicists make about the value of virtue or the value of existence or about an afterlife, some virtuous people live lives of such great suffering, and are so far ignored or worse by others, that their lives are worthless. But once one accepts those sorts of claims, then a good theodicy can be given.

Here is an argument for 2:

  1. It would be offensive to a virtuous person that her life is worthless.

  2. The truth is not offensive to a virtuous person.

  3. So, no virtuous person’s life is worthless.

Perhaps, too, an argument similar to Kant’s arguments about God can be made. We ought to at least hope that each virtuous person’s life has value on balance. But to hope for that is to hope for something like a theodicy. So we ought to hope for something like a theodicy.

The above arguments may not be all that compelling. But at least they counter the argument in the other direction, that it is offensive to say that someone’s sufferings have a theodicy.

Here is yet another argument.

  1. That there is no good theodicy is an utterly depressing claim.

  2. One ought not advocate utterly depressing claims, without very strong moral reason.

  3. There is no very strong moral reason to advocate that there is no good theodicy.

  4. So, one ought not advocate that there is no good theodicy.

The grounds for 8 are pragmatic: utterly depressing claims tend to utterly depress people, and being utterly depressed is very bad. One needs very strong reason to do something that causes a very bad state of affairs. I suppose the main controversial thesis here is 9. Someone who thinks religion is a great evil might deny 9.


Angra Mainyu said...


But the lives of good people who suffer - no matter how much - are not worthless in a moral sense. For example, that they suffer is a bad thing, if someone else were to, say, kill them in order to steal their money (or for most reasons), or beat them or rape them for fun, etc., their behavior would be immoral, etc. In short, their lives do matter, in a wide variety of contexts. Additionally, it generally matters to them that they live, that they are good persons, etc., and so their lives are not worthless from that perspective, either.

Perhaps, you can specify in which sense their lives are "worthless", but in usual senses of the word, I'd say they aren't - and I don't know that in the sense you have in mind, 4. will hold.

That aside, here's a brief modification:

4'. It would be offensive to a virtuous person that her horrific suffering was allowed by an almighty, omniscient morally perfect person as a means to some end.

5. The truth is not offensive to a virtuous person.

6'. It's not the case that her horrific suffering was allowed by an almighty, omniscient morally perfect person as a means to some end.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Maybe the sense of "worthless" here is that the world would be better without them?

Note that in 4', there is an ambiguity whether the suffering is the means to an end or the allowing of the suffering is.

Angra Mainyu said...

I think that "worthless" in that sense is offensive, but that's because of how it's usually understood. A claim like "the world would be better without you" is usually understood as a claim that blames the person for something (e.g., bringing some evil into the world). But then again, would the world be better without them? Arguably, the world wouldn't be better without them, since their existence in our world increases the amount of moral goodness in the world and "better" is a moral concept sensitive to moral goodness, but would be better if they hadn't suffered what they have. In any case, I think premise 5 has significant problems (more below).

Regarding 4', I meant that the omnimax entity decided to let the suffering begin and/or continue as a means of achieving something like allowing the victim somehow "build character", or allowing the perpetrators to exercise their free will, or something else. Let me try another way: let's say that someone told the virtuous person who suffered horribly that Superman was watching, but chose to let it happen so that the perpetrators could exercise their freedom to refrain from continuing the torture (or rape, or whatever), or that someone else could intervene (or let's say there was no one else around), or so that the victim could build character, or any other reason humans could come up, assuming no one with a power comparable to that of Superman is said to have been around. Then the virtuous person would be offended if someone told her that Superman behaved in a morally virtuous manner when he engaged in that omission (well, she probably won't believe in Superman, but that aside).
What I'm saying is that she would be also offended if someone told her that an omnipotent omniscient person was aware of what was going on but chose to let it go for any of those reasons (or any a human can come up with), and yet that person is morally perfect. Well, sort of - I mean that would be a counter in this context, but premise 5 is very problematic anyway.

It seems to me that there are plenty of virtuous people who already find the claim that there is an omnimax person offensive (given the amount of suffering, moral evil, etc.), and there are many more who find Christianity (or Islam, Judaism, etc.) even more offensive - extremely so, even. But as long as 5. is true, that renders Christianity, Islam, etc., and even theism false. Of course, there is the question of virtuous people who find nontheism offensive as well!

So, what happens?

In the end, I think premise 5. is pretty weak, but if it is accepted, then the argument seems to be about who's virtuous, and of course defenders of each religion, ideology, or non-religion/ideology, etc., might want to argue against the virtuousness of anyone who finds their views offensive.