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.

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