Friday, April 26, 2013

Naturalism and injustice

  1. (Premise) All instances of severe suffering of small children are unjust.
  2. (Premise) Only things agents are responsible for are unjust.
  3. So, all instances of severe suffering of small children are things that agents are responsible for.
  4. If (3), then naturalism is false.

A quick argument for (1): all unfair things are unjust, and all such instances are unfair. The naturalist will, I think, in the end want to deny (1) if she is to remain a naturalist. However I do think a lot of people have a strong intuition that such suffering is not just really bad, but that it is unjust.
Premise (2) is very plausible.

I think (4) is plausible, as well. For while some cases of severe suffering of children are things agents are responsible for even if naturalism is true—say, suffering directly imposed by agents—there will be many cases which are not like that. Say, a couple lovingly procreates in order to share their good life with a child, and the child has a congenital disease that causes severe suffering. There is no naturalistically-acceptable agential explanation.

What sort of non-naturalistic agential explanation could be given of these injustices? Here are the three most obvious options:

  • An evil deity.
  • A devil.
  • The Fall.
Moreover, there is a special non-naturalistic story that could be given as to (1) is false: one could hold to reincarnation and say that all instances of severel suffering of small children are fair punishments for a life of wickedness.

Which is the right story? Well, it's not an evil deity and it's not reincarnation.


Unknown said...

How does premise 3 fit in? It looks like (4) follows from (1) and (2) by themselves, and (3) is extra.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Yup. I revised it to remove the premise. My original version did use that premise about sufferings not being actions, but then I changed the argument and it wasn't needed.

Unknown said...

Interesting argument! An altered version:

P1. Necessarily, no purely random event is wrong.
P2. Naturalism implies that possibly, there are purely random events of enormous, unmitigated suffering by innocent people.
P3. Necessarily, any event like that is wrong.
C. So naturalism is false.

Unknown said...

Naturalists could accept your premises (1) and (2) while denying premise (4) if they took the following view: at every moment, on the basis of the 'observations' made at that moment, the state of the entire present and past quantum collapses out of a superposition of all possible physical/mental states of the present and the past into some more specific (less superpositional) state. If so, then maybe our 'observations', or at any rate some of them, are at least partly free acts and so subject to moral fault. So the reason there have been genetic defects among children (on this view) would be that some presently existing moral agents are making morally culpable --- in fact, unjust --- observations that result in the past and present universe collapsing into a state in which there have been such defects.

I don't know enough about the philosophical interpretations of quantum mechanics to know if this sort of view is scientifically plausible.