Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Is utility the ultimate good?

From a recent Facebook debate:

There are second-order goods that require evil. Many goods are possible apart from evil, but there are goods which a world devoid of evil cannot capture. A world devoid of evil will have a different world history, including a different set of people. Most, perhaps all people, who exist in our world, would not exist in a world without evil, due to the nature of historical causation. If you change variables, you change outcomes down the line. And the change increases. So there are countless people who'd miss out in a world without evil since they'd never get a chance to exist in the first place. You can take a hardline Epicurean position on that, but that's highly disputable. Nonexistence is arguably a deprivation.

Yes, there's a superficial sense in which soul-making virtues are unnecessary is a world devoid of evil. But that doesn't mean agents lacking soul-building virtues are as good, or even good at all. Take fair-weather friends. Even if their friendship is never put to the test, even if their lack of sacrificial love is never exposed, there was something profoundly deficient all along.

"These second-order 'goods' are unnecessary"

Unclear what you mean by unnecessary. In a sense, everything contingent is unnecessary. The point, though, is that some things are conditionally necessary as a means to an otherwise unobtainable end.

"I would gladly trade in my existence for the not-having happened of the Holocaust."

That's very facile, but many people exist as a result of the Holocaust who wouldn't otherwise exist. So there are tradeoffs. What makes their lives less valuable?

"But God is omnipotent, so He could have created me in a different time."

Sorry, but that's incoherent. You're not a discrete, self-contained unit. Rather, you are the produce of a chain of causes leading up to you. God would have to change the past. You are the product of a particular set of parents, mating at a particular time, and their parents, and so on.

If an omnipotent God works through nature media, then that limits what he can do. Even an omnipotent God can't make a grandson without making his father and grandfather. 

"And there are a potentially infinite number of people, so there's always going to be people who miss out"

Not if God creates a multiverse. But that's different from excluding people in worlds with countervailing goods. The question is the cut-off.

"An antinatalist could argue strongly against that."

That's because the antinatalist has such a jaundiced view of life. Antinatalism is existential nihilism. That may make sense from a secular viewpoint, but so much the worse for secularism.

"And in a paradise where no one ever sees a need for bravery or patience, they would never be cognizant of the 'deficiency.'"

You fail to distinguish between moral epistemology and moral ontology. Whether or not one would be cognizant of that is beside the point.

Take a survival situation in which a friend endangers his life and health to protect me from harm, compared to a fair-weather friend who leaves me to die. Even if there's no actual occasion that reveals the difference, it remains the case that the selfish fair-weather friend is morally deficient.

You may assert "that there are no overriding goods worth pursuing that merit the necessary means of evil," but many people don't share his priorities. Since when is existential nihilism (=antinatalism) the unquestioned criterion?

"And these ends are also unnecessary in that we could happy without them."

i) Nonexistent people can't be happy people. Happiness is a property of existents, and they can't exist apart from certain prior conditions.

ii) Happiness is not the only good. Virtue is good.

"They accomplish nothing"

Utility is not the only good.

"and their existence allows for the great sufferings."

And the great suffering is offset by second-order goods.

"I find it disgusting and offensive that you implicitly defend the existence of millions of people being tortured horrendously just so some people get to exist."

And I find it amusing that an existential nihilist presumes to take the moral high ground.

"As I said, there's always going to be an infinite number of people who don't get to exist."

Yes, you're repeating yourself. You need to update your objection to take the counterargument into consideration.

"And what about the people who would have come to exist in the non-Holocaust timeline? What makes their live less valuable?"

Which is why I mention a multiverse, where multiple alternate timelines are instantiated. You need to keep up with the actual state of the argument.

"So would you defend the mass rape of children on the grounds that it may lead to someone's existence?"

i) You act as if that's worse than existential nihilism. 

ii) What I'm defending is God's permission of evil. God has certain prerogatives we don't.

iii) Keep in mind that this life is just a blink of the eye. So, for instance, there's the question of eschatological compensations. Christian theism has resources that naturalism does not. What solace, what healing, does naturalism offer the victims of child rape? You're attempting to beat something with nothing. 

"God could make me atom for atom, and I would still have the same personality."

If you were born at a different time or place, you'd turn out differently. If you were an orphan, you'd turn out differently. Personality is a combination of nature and nurture.

"Not if God is the author of nature."

i) Changing the laws of nature doesn't change the fact that if God works by natural means, that's an self-imposed limit on what he can do.

Certain natural outcomes are nested relations. Not even omnipotence can produce them directly.

ii) Moreover, God can't change the laws of nature willy nilly. For all the laws of nature must be mutually consistent. 

"A grandson, by definition, has to have a father and grandfather…"

You concede my point. That's progress.

"by the property of being a grandson is not what makes a person the person"

I never said otherwise. Rather, I used an example to illustrate the fact that some outcomes are internally related to prior conditions such at even omnipotence can't bypass the intermediate stage. 

"Infinity is a limit never reached, so no matter how many people God creates, there's always an infinite number of more."

i) You're operating with a quaint, pre-Cantorian definition of infinity. But abstract actual infinities are possible. Moreover, according to the B-theory of time, concrete actual infinities are possible.

ii) In addition, I fielded that objection from another commenter. You need to keep up with the actual state of the argument rather than just repeating yourself.

"If no one is cognizant, then the 'deficiency' is of no value…"

It may be of no value to you, but you're not the arbiter of my value system. 

"and doesn't detract from everyone's enjoyment."

Enjoyment isn't the only good. Justice is a good. Retributive punishment is a good. If Himmler is suffering eternally for his atrocities, that's good. If naturalism is true, then he got away with it. That's bad.

"When did it become a moral deficiency? Still, it doesn't matter if one friend is deficient, since in a paradise world of no danger, no one is hurt by it."

You have a bad habit of repeating your talking points rather than advancing the argument.

"You think the Holocaust was worth it because of goods that other people got to experience? You are disgusting."

i) Not just goods other people experience, but the good of existence itself. The gift of life.

ii) Your antinatalism is disgusting. 

"These people are not benevolent, then, if ensuring everyone's happiness is not their top priority."

Happiness is not the only good. Some people deserve to be miserable. 

"They care more about the police officer's getting to show off his bravery…"

You seem to lack the critical detachment to accurately represent the opposing position. This is not a question of "showing off" one's bravery, but having a moral character.

"Meaningless, unneeded goods can go to Hell if they require the rape of a single child."

And your alternative is that no one should be happy if anyone is unhappy. That's a spiteful attitude. 

And, yes, antinatalism is the epitome of existential nihilism.

The painfully acute irony is that child rape is only evil in a world made by God. The Holocaust is only evil in a world made by God. That's the secular dilemma. 

i) If atheism can't justify moral realism, then child rape isn't wrong.

ii) If this life is all there is, then life has no ultimate value.

iii) If humans are temporary, replaceable biological units, then life has no ultimate value. 

iv) If naturalistic evolution is true, then the blind, amoral process of evolutionary psychology has brainwashed us into valuing certain things, but that's a psychological projection that doesn't correspond to reality. An illusion of goodness.

You act as though justice is only good if that's an instrumental good (remedial punishment, deterrence) rather than an intrinsic good. But something needn't be "useful" to be good.

Discussions like this always come to an impasse because different people have different moral intuitions. You might as well say human existence is useless.

If usefulness is the criterion of what makes something valuable, then there are no intrinsic goods, only instrumental goods inasmuch as what's useful is a means to an end rather than an end in itself.

Lots of things we enjoy that are useless, like a pretty sunset. If usefulness is the criterion of what's valuable, then nothing is ultimately good. God doesn't exist because he's useful. Are humans useful? Is the universe useful? Every thing that's contingent could not exist. Given existence, some things are useful to sustain or enhance existence, but is utility the justification for existence itself?

i) Your entire position is predicated on the reductionistic assertion that happiness is the only intrinsic good. You can repeat that to yourself as often as you like, but it doesn't make your position persuasive to anyone who doesn't share your axiological reductionism. 

ii) Your transhumanism is New Age flimflam. If you wish to define "paradise" in New Age terms, that's your prerogative, but you can't legitimately attack Christian theology by stipulating the truth of your flakey alternative.

iii) Once again, God can't put "everyone" in heaven right away since "everyone" can't exist in a sinless world. 

iv) Just desert doesn't rely on libertarian freedom. There are sophisticated versions of compatibiism (e.g. John Martin Fischer). 

iv) That suffering according to psychological time is slower is beside the point once that is past, and increasingly distant.

My observation wasn't based on the exegetical case for everlasting punishment but the nature of justice. Retributive justice is a philosophically serious principle, cf. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/justice-retributive/

"And keep in mind that although your spoiled ass might not be able to take this in…"

You keep trotting out the Holocaust and child-rape as your paradigm-examples, but how many victims of child-rape or the Holocaust share your dismissive attitude towards retributive punishment? Ironically, Holocaust survivors turned Nazi hunters would regard your attitude as the reflection of a "spoiled ass" social commentator who, not having experienced the horrendous evils he cites, lacks the empathy to enter into the moral viewpoint of those who do.

"My essential make-up does not require the existence of sin. I'd be different, but I'd still be me."

World histories require a temporal sequence of events, where some things happen after other things, as a result of prior events. It's not all simultaneous, which is incoherent.

No, he can't just make you anytime and anyplace, because your experience dramatically conditions the kind of person you are. 

Moreover, you're suggesting occasionalism, but there are theological and philosophical reasons why a world that operates according to ordinary providence (allowing for miracles) is superior. Constant divine intervention isn't better, since every time God intervenes, that has disruptive effects on the future.

Now you're changing the subject because you can't answer the challenge directly. You presume to speak on behalf of child-rape/Holocaust victims/survivors, but when I point out that many or most of them probably don't think retribution for their assailants is "retarded", you punt to whether they disregard pain. Actually, it's because they don't disregard pain that some of them became Nazi hunters. How "retarded"! 

"So you would defend a girl being raped for 800 years, as long as she got Heaven afterwards, even though an omnipotent being could do it right away? What about a trillion years, you sadist?"

It's your hypothetical, not mine. Since that scenario is not in the cards, I don't take it seriously.

"It is in the cards given your multiverse pseudo-science theory."

My multiverse scenario isn't based on physics but metaphysics.

That doesn't commit God to instantiate every possible timeline, but only timelines with redeeming values. 

"Then you're a sadistic monster."

And what's the moral status of a "sadistic monster" according to your hard determinism?

"On theism, God is said to be all-loving, so I can still run an argument from suffering without even bringing up the word 'evil'. Even without that, the argument from evil is about showing an internal inconsistency: God would not allow evil (whatever that refers to) if He existed. I needn't personally believe in moral realism to run the argument."

i) Typically there's a suppressed premise when an atheist replaces "suffering" for "evil" in the argument from evil inasmuch as he is alleging that it's wrong for God to permit evil. On that view, he still needs moral realism to get his argument off the ground.

ii) Typically, the argument from evil involves a very abstract formulation of God. It doesn't work so well if you plug Yahweh into the formula. Many atheists think Yahweh is not benevolent as they define benevolence. But in that event, Yahweh's coexistence with evil is logically consistent. 

Atheists begin with their preconception of benevolence. They're not getting that from biblical theism. But if one takes the notion of divine goodness from Scripture, then that's compatible with divine permission regarding moral and natural evils. Indeed, atheists routinely think Yahweh does or commands moral evils. So there's a contradiction between how they formulate the argument from evil and their view of Yahweh's moral character.

iii) If by "all-loving", you mean God loves everybody, while that's an assumption of freewill theism, that's not a given in predestinarian traditions like classical Thomism, Calvinism, Augustinianism, and Jansenism. In predestinarian theological traditions, God loves the elect, but not necessarily the reprobate.

"We'd be happier people in a state of euphoria instead of having people die in gas chambers."

But you have an inhumane view of human existence. You seem to think it would be better if God created every human ex nihilo, then sent them straight to heaven, skipping over the whole process of maturation, family life, social existence, friendship, disappointment, betrayal, forgiveness, falling in love, being thirsty, &c. Basically, you don't think humans should be human. You rebel at what it means to be human. 

"since in every instant people come into and out of existence."

If you're a physicalist. I think humans have immortal souls. 

"Plus, on theism, my soul ex nihilo was created by God anyway. As far as the body, God can do whatever He wants with matter, so it's not like He'd be dependent on my parents for me to have the same nose (assuming appearance is even relevant to a locus of awareness being what it is)."

Actually, I'm a traducian. That better explains why kids share psychological traits in common with their parents. Some of the parent's personality is transmitted to the kids. That's one reason the bond is so deep and strong.

"This is for a greater good."

Actually, my position isn't based on greater goods, but alternate goods that can't be realized apart from evil as a necessary precondition. It's not that a redeemed world is necessarily better than a sinless world. Rather, among the better possible worlds, each is better in some ways but worse in others. There is no greatest possible world. 

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