Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Van Inwagen on evil

Peter van Inwagen argues that because a little less evil would always serve God’s ends just as well, there is no minimum to the amount of evil needed to achieve God’s ends, and hence the arguer from evil cannot complain that God could have achieved his ends with less evil. Van Inwagen gives a nice analogy of a 10-year prison sentence: clearly, he thinks, a 10-year sentence can be just even if 10 years less a day would achieve all the purposes of the punishment just as well.

I am not convinced about either the punishment or the evil case. Perhaps the judge really shouldn’t choose a punishment where a day less would serve the purposes just as well. I imagine that if we graph the satisfaction of the purposes of punishment against the amount of punishment, we initially get an increase, then a level area, and then eventually a drop-off. Van Inwagen is thinking that the judge is choosing a punishment in the level area. But maybe instead the judge should choose a punishment in the increase area, since only then will it be the case that a lower punishment would serve the purposes of the punishment less well. The down-side of choosing the punishment in that area is that a higher punishment would serve the purposes of the punishment better. But perhaps there is a moral imperative to sacrifice the purposes of punishment to some degree, in the name of not punishing more than is necessary. Mercy is more important than retribution, etc.

Similarly, perhaps, God should choose to permit an amount of evil that sacrifices some of his ends (ends other than the minimization of evil), in order to ensure that the amount of evil that he permits is such that any decrease in the evil would result in a decrease in the satisfaction of God’s other ends. If van Inwagen is right about there not being sharp cut-offs, then this may require God to choose to permit an amount of evil such that more evil would have served God’s other ends better.

The above fits with a picture on which decrease of evil takes a certain priority over the increase of good.

1 comment:

Testing123 said...

The very fact that the no-minimum thesis entails God might allow gratuitous evil is a very good reason on it's face to assume the thesis goes very wrong.

One issue here is that humans are not omniscient. We simply don't know what the minimum number of jail time that would still serve purpose P. Due to this ignorance, we have a cloudy range and this is what gives Inwagen's argument this intuitive force that it has. Suppose we are discussing an omniscient being however - one who knows every psychological state of the criminal - this being would know the exact number he could get away with while still having his purpose be served. I think the cloudiness and lack of a clear cut off point is more of a reflection of human ignorance.

Also, another issue is that even if there is no sharp cut off point objectively, Michael J. Almeida showed that this is actually still consistent with the standard position on evil.

My thought is that any argument that says God may allow some gratuitous suffering must be wrong somewhere. The very fact that a thesis can come to that conclusion is a good reason to reject the thesis outright. If it is true that 9 years and 364 days would serve the purpose just as much, then clearly God would not allow that extra day as he is merciful and just.

This would have to go as far back as we can day by day until we reach a day where the purpose is no longer served.

If we never reach that day and it goes all the way to zero? Then all this shows is that God could achieve his purposes without any suffering at all! This would make all suffering allowed by God unjustifiable.