Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Instrumental bads

Suppose that a process Q has a chance r of producing some non-instrumentally bad result B, and nothing else of relevance. That fact gives us reason not to actualize Q. But suppose Q is actualized. Is it bad?

Well, if it’s bad, it seems it’s only instrumentally bad. It is no worse to be killed by a well-aimed arrow than by a well-aimed bullet, even though in the case of the well-aimed arrow the process of a deadly projectile’s flight lasts longer. Yet if a process producing a bad result were non-instrumentally bad, it would be worse if it lasted longer.

So we now have four options:

  1. Q is always instrumentally bad (whether or not B eventuates)

  2. Q is never instrumentally bad

  3. Q is instrumentally bad if and only if B eventuates

  4. Q is instrumentally bad if and only if B does not eventuate.

Option (4) is crazy. Option (2) destroys the very idea of an instrumental bad. So that leaves options (1) and (3).

If we opt for option (1), then we can have a world that contains instrumental bads without any non-instrumental bads—just imagine that Q obtains, B does not eventuate, and nothing else that’s bad ever happens. This seems a little counterintuitive: instrumental bads are derivatively bad, but how can something be derivatively bad without anything that is non-derivatively bad?

That suggests we should go for option (3): a process that has a chance of leading to a non-instrumental bad is bad only when the non-instrumental bad eventuates.

But now imagine Molinism is true. Suppose that God knows that Q, if actualized, would not lead to B, even though it has a non-zero chance r of doing so. In that case, the fact that Q has a chance r > 0 of leading to B is no reason for God not to actualize Q. But that something is bad is always a reason not to actualize it. If instrumental bads are an exception for this, then instrumental bads aren’t bads.

Now, I think Molinism is false. But whether (3) is true should not, it seems, depend on whether Molinism is true. So if (3) is false on Molinism, it is simply false.

So we seem to be stuck!

Maybe the right move is this. Fake money isn’t money and merely instrumental bads aren’t bad. This allows us an escape from the Molinism argument. For if merely instrumental bads aren’t bad, there is no problem about the fact that the Molinist God has no reason not to produce them.

Another move might be to say that (3) is true, but disproves Molinism. This doesn’t strike me as right, but maybe it’s defensible.

Until this is resolved, one really shouldn’t be running any arguments that depend on instrumental bads being actually bad.

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