Wednesday, April 11, 2018

A parable about sceptical theism and moral paralysis

Consider a game. The organizers place a $20 bill in one box and a $100 bill in another box. They seal the boxes. Then they put a $1 bill on top of one of the boxes, chosen at random fairly, and a $5 on top of the other box. The player of the game gets to choose a box, in which case she gets both what’s in the box and what’s on top of the box. Everyone knows that that’s how the game works.

If you are an ordinary person playing the game, you will be self-interestedly rational to choose the box with the $5 on top of it. The expected payoff for the box with the $5 on it is $65, while the expected payoff for the other box is $61, when one has no information about which box contains the $20 and which contains the $100.

If Alice is an ordinary person playing the game and she choses the box with the $1 on top of it, that’s very good reason to doubt that Alice is self-interestedly rational.

But now suppose that I am considering the hypothesis that Bob is a self-interestedly rational being who has X-ray vision that can distinguish a $20 bill from a $100 bill inside the box. Then if I see Bob choose the box with the $1 on top of it, that’s no evidence at all against the hypothesis that he is such a being, i.e., a self-interestedly rational being with X-ray vision. In repeated playings, we’ll see Bob choose the $1 box half the time and the $5 box half the time, if he is such a being, and if we didn't know that Bob has X-ray vision, we would think that Bob is indifferent to money.

16 comments:

Walter Van den Acker said...

Alex

Could you enlighten me as to how this parable is relevant to sceptical theism and moral paralysis?
Say I see Bill, who is about to drown and I am "morally paralysed", that is, I don't know whether saving him is the morally correct choice so I do nothing. Bill drowns.
Was not acting self-interestedly rational or would acting have been self-interestedly rational? I can see that in your parable, the chances are 65 over 61, but the point is that on sceptical theism, the chances of me making the correct moral choice are inscrutable.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Well, our typical choices has two values: there is the known part of the value and an unknown part of the value. For instance, if you rescue a drowning child, the known parts are the intrinsic value of the child's life, the happiness of those who love the child, etc. But the unknown parts are the ultimate consequences of the child's life (will they grow up to cure cancer, will they be another Hitler, will they have lots of happy children?), mysterious further goods/bads that only God knows about, etc.

What the sceptical theist is basically claiming that we cannot say anything about the unknown parts on the basis of the known parts. Well, a reasonable way to model this probabilistically is to say that the known and unknown parts are statistically independent. And then we get the parable.

Walter Van den Acker said...

Alex

Actually a sceptical theists knows that every evil is allowed because it brings about some greater good. That is also a known part.
And that is why, on a consistent application of sceptical theism, (which fortunately virtually never happens) we should refrain from interfering in the natural course of affairs. If a child is drowning, we should let it drown, because, whatever we know about the child, we also know that its death leads to a greater good.

So, a consistent application of ST leads to moral paralysis.

Alexander R Pruss said...

It's more complicated than that. There are three relevant outcomes:
A. You prevent evil.
B. You don't prevent evil but God does.
C. You don't prevent evil and God does not.

On standard ST, we know that if case C occurs, then it was better than case B. But we don't know that it was better than A.

Red said...

I am a little confused by moral paralysis objection to ST, it seems ST is employed only in cases of inscrutable evil, but it also seems that cases in which ordinary moral agents are present to prevent evils isn't really inscrutable at all. In genuine cases of inscrutable evils agency is either completely absent or severely limited.

Walter Van den Acker said...

Alex

I know that ST proponents claim that we don't know that C was better than A, but the point is that, to be consistent, they should know C is just as good as A (or B, for that matter).
And that is because every evil must lead to a greater good. The only thing the ST proponent cannot know is exactly which good it will lead to, but that is not relevant here.

Walter Van den Acker said...

Red

"cases in which ordinary moral agents are present to prevent evils isn't really inscrutable"

And that is because ordinary moral agents do not apply ST. ST is only used as an apologetic tactic, but fortunately, is hardly ever used in real life situations.
In real life situations, virtually everybody assumes that preventing an evil is better than allowing it, but on ST this assumption cannot be justified.

Red said...

And that is because ordinary moral agents do not apply ST. ST is only used as an apologetic tactic, but fortunately, is hardly ever used in real life situations.

What is this supposed to show? What do you mean by applying ST in "real life" situations? if a theist is proponent of ST then of course he can said to be applying in real life situations i.e wherever there is a case of inscrutable evil.

n real life situations, virtually everybody assumes that preventing an evil is better than allowing it, but on ST this assumption cannot be justified.

Again I am not sure what this is supposed to show? repeating what I said above, in cases where responsive agency is present there doesn't seem to be cases of genuine inscrutable evil, so Here our scepticism can be safely and consistently ignored.


Walter Van den Acker said...

Red

On ST, every instance of evil is inscrutable. That's the whole point of sceptical theism.

Red said...

That doesn't seem quite true or that relevant. Putative "inscrutable" evils are those which are prima facie gratuitous, about which nothing we can say by way for justification for God's allowance.

Walter Van den Acker said...

Red

On sceptical theism, there is nothing we can say with any amount of certainty by way of justification for God's allowance. We could only speculate.
If there are cases in which we can say something by way of justification for God's allowance, this is not based on ST. The claim e.g. that it is impossible to have the good of free will without the possibility of choosing evil is not based on ST, and even in those cases, God can have another reason for allowing the evil.
So, for every evil E, it is possible that there is an unknown good resulting from it. So, whether we should prevent E or not is inscrutable.

Red said...

On sceptical theism, there is nothing we can say with any amount of certainty by way of justification for God's allowance. We could only speculate.
If there are cases in which we can say something by way of justification for God's allowance, this is not based on ST. The claim e.g. that it is impossible to have the good of free will without the possibility of choosing evil is not based on ST,


But certainty is no requirement for scrutability and In those cases we simply do not apply the relevant sceptical thesis in the first place, that is What I've been saying.

and even in those cases, God can have another reason for allowing the evil.
So, for every evil E, it is possible that there is an unknown good resulting from it. So, whether we should prevent E or not is inscrutable.


First once again, from what I said above in such a case theist might simply wouldn't apply the sceptical thesis. because he can insist that presence of his agency here make relevant goods scrutable, and if what you say here is plausible then we are morally paralyzed in most cases even without ST because even without ST unknown goods might result from this.

Red said...

Further, It seems consistent application of your principles here would remove moral paralysis for ST , If I end up preventing an evil which was supposed to result in a greater then that itself is some evil permitted to result in greater good, So I totally should prevent the first evil. So that means we can consistently have independent reasons for our actions.

Jeroen Van den Acker said...

Red

But in order not to apply the relevant scepsis, you need justification and you simply can't have this on sceptical theism. You can't just say, "let's not be sceptical."

And yes, I agree we are morally paralyzed if we presuppose that there are so many instances of non-gratuitous evil. That's why we should always consider an evil to be gratuitous until we have serious reasons to think it serve a purpose. But a consistent application of Sceptical Theism does not allow for that.

I am afraid we have come to a stage at which we can only agree to disagree, Red. I enjoyed our discussion.

Red said...

But in order not to apply the relevant scepsis, you need justification and you simply can't have this on sceptical theism. You can't just say, "let's not be sceptical."

Well It seems I have identified relevant conditions under which that can be consistently held.

"And yes, I agree we are morally paralyzed if we presuppose that there are so many instances of non-gratuitous evil. That's why we should always consider an evil to be gratuitous until we have serious reasons to think it serve a purpose."

But we simply can not do this, because its obvious those affairs always have unknown consequences, moral value of which are unknown to us, this would be exactly like supposedly fallacious insistence of "let's not be sceptical." which STist is guilty of.

I am afraid we have come to a stage at which we can only agree to disagree, Red. I enjoyed our discussion.

You're the same person?, Yes, you're right, thanks for discussion.

Walter Van den Acker said...

Red

I accidently used my son's account, but yes, I am the same person.