Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Fork in the road

i) A popular theodicy is the greater-good defense. While that has an element of truth, I don't think there needs to be a greater good to justify the existence of evil. 

ii) Suppose a man gets married, fathers two sons by his wife, then she has an affair and leaves him for the other man. In addition, she leaves the kids behind.

Suppose he has a time-machine in the basement. He could travel back into the past and obliterate the original timeline. In the replacement timeline, he has a successful marriage. He has different sons. 

In a sense, this is better than the first time around. It has the advantages of the first timeline without the disadvantages of the first timeline. Admittedly, it's not better for the sons in the first timeline, since they don't exist in the second timeline. 

However, even though there's a sense in which the alternate timeline is better, it's too late for him to consider that. Although it's possible for him to start from scratch by stepping into the time machine, he is now far too invested in the original timeline to erase it and start over from scratch. He's too attached to his actual sons to trade up for a better life. It's inconceivable that he'd zap them out of existence to be dealt a better hand. 

If he was standing at the fork in the road before turning right or left, and if he had foreknowledge or counterfactual knowledge of where each led, he'd opt for the greater good. But having already gone down one road, if he had a chance to go back in time, knowing the outcome, he'd decline. Emotionally speaking, he's crossed a line of no return. He can't make a dispassionate choice. Despite the fact that he never wanted to be a single dad and divorcé, that's offset by the actual good of having a life with those two sons in particular. For him, the anguish of marital betrayal is offset by the sons he had by that marriage. Even though the package of a happy marriage is a better good overall, he will opt for the lesser good, because that's what he's actually experienced. 

iii) Finally, from a Christian standpoint, there's the hope of eschatological compensation for missed opportunities in this life. 


  1. Steve you have nailed something that I have known experientially for sometime. When I was younger I frequently would daydream about being able to go back in time and fix some aspect of life that I wish would have gone differently. That all changed after I got married and had children. I have often told my wife how not only can I no longer enjoy such daydreams, I can no longer entertain those daydreams for even a moment. Because every change, no matter how small, would obliterate my children. They would not exist. Every time my brain starts to think, "I wish I went to that college or did that in high school" my family's faces immediately pop into my mind and I feel real fear of, not wishfulness for, the world in my imagination. The thought of a world where I did X instead of Y is no longer fun, it is a nightmare.