Thursday, December 13, 2012

Another start on the problem of evil

According to Socrates the greatest goods and evils are moral ones. Call this the "Socratic thesis". On the Socratic thesis, the worst thing that can befall one is to act culpably wrongly. Now, we may divide up the evils of the world into three classes:

  1. Culpable wrongdoings.
  2. Harms other than culpable wrongdoings resulting from culpable wrongdoings.
  3. Harms neither identical with culpable wrongdoings nor resulting from them.
For instance, if Jones tortures Smith, then Jones suffers a Class 1 evil while Smith suffers a Class 2 evil.

Each of these three classes of evils is very large. I think we can say that if we confine ourselves to evils happening to humans (bracketing the problems of animal suffering and angelic fall): Class 1 is roughly as large as the Class 2 (granted, some culpable wrongdoings result in many harms; but many culpable wrongdoings stay at the level of an evil thought that leads to no harmful action) and also roughly at least as large as Class 3. So roughly, about a third of the evils of the world are in Class 1.

Next notice that we have a theodicy for Class 1 evils: the free will theodicy, in its different versions (straight free will theodicy, soul-building, autonomy, need for love to be a free response, etc.) By the Socratic thesis, we thus have a theodicy for the greatest evils that occur, and these evils are roughly a third of all the evils that occur to humans. This provides us with some inductive reason to think that there is a theodicy for the rest of the evils: if a theodicy can be found for the greatest evils, and indeed for about a third of the evils happening to humans, then the existence of a theodicy for the rest seems more plausible.

Moreover, some versions of the theodicy for Class 1 evils extend to theodicies for many Class 2 evils. First, our free will would be a bit of a sham if it wasn't effective—if evil choices never resulted in in the chosen state of affairs. (This is less plausible for the worst Class 2 evils.) Second, while terribly harms do befall undeserving people, most of the evils that befall are, I suspect, quite deserved. Those evils, then have a justice theodicy, given a freedom theodicy for the actions that deserved them. (This might shift our count of some evils from Class 3 to Class 2, though we might also say that there are evils in Class 3 that do not result from our culpable wrongdoings, but that on account of our culpable wrongdoings weren't prevented by God.)


Dagmara Lizlovs said...

When addressing the problem of evil, there are several points I would like to bring up. I will start with Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s position that the dividing line between good and evil does not run between different groups of people but through the heart of every person. There are people who look at the brutality of the Gestapo or KGB and think that they can never be like that because they are good people. Unfortunately they are wrong. This is brought to bear by the Stanford Prison Experiment of 1971 by researchers at Stanford University under Professor Philip Zimbardo. They took a sample of 24 ordinary individuals and assigned to them at random to be guards or prisoners, with the guards having absolute power and control over the prisoners. The experiment had to be stopped after 6 days because of how quickly the guards became excessively abusive. A brief synopsis is found here:

An even more disturbing thing with the Stanford Prison experiment, was that only one graduate student spoke up during those 6 days about the abuses going on and that Zimbardo himself became so absorbed in his own role as prison superintendent that he allowed the abuses to continue.

Another case was the Milgram experiment carried out in 1961 - 1963 by Yale University Psychologist Stanley Milgram where the subjects were asked to deliver electric shocks to a “learner” for providing wrong answers. Milgram made this comment: “ Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process.” A brief synopsis is found here:

Then there was this incident in my social studies class when I was in the 6th grade. The teacher had us role play different events in history and would record on tape our acting out the event which would then be played back to the class. We did two events. One was a 16th century witch trial, the other was a slave auction. In the slave action we had students assigned to be the slaves, students assigned be the seller and buyers, and students assigned to be the guards of the slaves. I was assigned to be one of the guards. Things spiraled out of control very fast as the slaves became more restless and rebellious and the guards more aggressive with keeping the slaves in line. After about ten minutes with the situation hopelessly out of control, the teacher stopped the whole thing. I will be bluntly honest about this that I was one of the more aggressive guards. (Note: this happened in 1971 or 1972. Our school system did not have any African-American students at the time.)

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

We may look at the institutions for their abuses such as the Magdalene Laundries and Industrial Schools run by the Sisters of Mercy and the Christian Brothers and wonder why the abuse, documented by the Ryan Commission, was so systemic and why so little was done to stop them. The above paragraphs of my post point to the dynamics of human nature, particularly when you have two groups of people placed together in an isolated setting, with one group having absolute power and control over another group which has no power and control and is at the complete mercy of those in power as in the Stanford Experiment, and with the notion that some people deserve or must be given punishment per the Milgram experiment.

I also hold that in every war the Devil recruits soldiers from both sides even from people who are fighting on the right side. A case in point is the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 of Cheyenne Indians who agreed to live peacefully under the protection of the US Army. The Indian camp flew both the US flag and a white flag indicating that they were peaceful. A force under the command of Col. John Chivington attacked the Cheyenne camp, massacring and mutilating men, women, children and even fetuses. Later this force paraded about with their victim’s body parts including reproductive ones. John Chivington had been a Methodist pastor, As a pastor, he fought against slavery, he was known as the “fighting parson”; however, Chivington harbored a hatred of Indians and wanted to kill them. The Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War conducted an investigation of the massacre and found Chivington guilty of reprehensible conduct but did not punish him because he had already resigned his commission. Chivington did, however, live out the remainder of his life with reproach and disgrace. More details here. Caution, gruesome subject matter:

I know to people who are of Native American descent. One of them is a devout Christian, the other told me that he could never be a Christian because of all these kinds of killings. He told me that his grandmother would have absolutely none of that Christian stuff also because of killings like these.

Martin Cooke said...

I'm interested in your "if a theodicy can be found for the greatest evils, and indeed for about a third of the evils happening to humans, then the existence of a theodicy for the rest seems more plausible"

Why does it seem more plausible? I suspect that it is by analogy. Suppose you are defending a city against an army, and you get a defence against its worst seige engines. You will feel more optimistic. But maybe you have only changed the ordering of the seige engines: What was once seen as worst is now not so seen. That is little help; or does the place you got your defence from now seem more likely to be able to give you an effective defence against enough of the enemy's other seige engines? It does not seem that way to me: Where are those defences. In short, your optimism seems premature, to me.

Martin Cooke said...

I suppose I'm thinking of something like a parent watching while one of the children hits another, who asks the parent to stop that one. If the parent says that the harm is all that one's fault, and adds that that one is self-harming to a much greater extent, well, I would not be impressed.