Saturday, October 20, 2012

Olson's privative theodicy

rogereolson says:
April 23, 2012 at 4:30 pm

With Augustine and most of Christian tradition I think of evil as the absence of the good. Creatures with free will can bring it about, but it’s not a substance (like a germ or a virus). It’s like a broken bone–not a substance but a deformation.

There’s an obvious problem with that solution to the problem of evil:

The standard solution adopted by medieval thinkers was to deny something the above argument affirms, namely, that evil is a “something.” Evil, they claimed was not a positive reality, but a “privation” or “lack.” As a result, evil has no more reality than the hole in the center of a donut. Making a donut does not require putting together two components, the cake and the hole. Instead, the cake is all that there is to the donut. The hole is just “privation of cake.” Thus, it would be silly to say that making the donut requires something to cause the cake, and then something to cause the hole. Causing the cake causes the hole as a “by-product.” Thus, we need not assume any additional cause for the hole beyond that assumed for the causing of the cake.

The upshot of our pastry analogy is simply this: since evil, like the hole, is merely a privation, it needs no cause on its own (or as the medievals, and Leibniz, liked to say, it needs no “cause per se”). Thus, God is not a “knowing causal contributor to evil” since evil per se has no cause at all. But since God does not contribute to evil, God cannot be implicated in the evil. Thus, the holiness problem evaporates.

Early in his career Leibniz, like many seventeenth century figures, scoffed at this solution. In a short piece entitled “The Author of Sin,” Leibniz explains why he thinks the privation response to the holiness problem fails. Since, Leibniz argues, God is the author of all that is real and positive in the world, God is, by extension, “author” of all of its privations, “It is a manifest illusion to hold that God is not the author of sin because there is no such thing as an author of a privation, even though he can be called the author of everything which is real and positive in the sinful act.” [A.6.3.150]

The reason, says Leibniz, can be gleaned from an example. Consider a painter who creates two paintings, one a small scale version of the other. The details of the pictures are identical in every respect, only the scale is different. It would be absurd, Leibniz remarks,

    … to say that the painter is the author of all that is real in the two paintings, without however being the author of what is lacking or the disproportion between the larger and the smaller painting… . In effect, what is lacking is nothing more than a simple result of an infallible consequence of that which is positive, without any need for a distinct author [of that which is lacking] [A.6.3.151]

Thus, even if it is true that evil is a privation, this does not have as a consequence that God is not the author of sin. Since what is positively willed by God is a sufficient condition for the evil state of affairs obtaining, willing what is positive makes God the author of that which is privative as well [A similar early critique is found at A.6.3.544].

1 comment:

  1. Steve,
    Just wanted to let you know I appreciated this post. Thanks for that.