Sunday, August 18, 2019

Blood on my hands

In theodicy, freewill theists lean on the notion that God merely permits evil to happen. The intuition is that if an agent directly causes or determines an event, then that makes him morally complicit in a way that just allowing, or not preventing, an event caused by another agent does not. A cliché comparison is the distinction between killing a patient and letting him die, in medical ethics. 

And sometimes that's a morally salient distinction. But sometimes not. Suppose I'm a guard at a Nazi concentration camp. Suppose I secretly despise Hitler and the Third Reich. I'm not there because I signed up. I was conscripted. I'm there against my will. I privately hope the Allies will win. 

Suppose the commandant has a plan. If it becomes unmistakable that German lost the war, and the Allies are marching into Germany, the prisoners, including Jews, as well as Allied war captives, will be executed so that the Allies can't liberate the camp. After executing all the prisoners, the Nazi personnel will evacuate the camp. Even though the Nazis lost, they will kill as many Jews and Allied war captives as they can on the way out. A final act of spiteful revenge. 

Suppose I have a choice: I can stand by and let the prisoners be mowed down, or I can turn my machine gun on my nominal comrades and save the prisoners. Under that scenario, is inaction morally preferable to action? If I do nothing to prevent the massacre, does that let me off the hook? Conversely, if I take direct action by shooting the commandant and his henchmen to prevent them from murdering the prisoners, am I culpable? 

1 comment:

  1. I don't get the free will defense. At one level, I do. It seems initially plausible, but quickly is shown to be false.

    First, should we be defending God as a moral agent who is bound by some standard he must follow to be good? I don't think so. He is the paradigm of goodness. His will is perfect, not by conforming to something else.

    Second, any plausible conception of free will won't function as a second order good for whose sake God must allow sins. Free Will only entails the possibility of sin, but as Mackie and Davies (an athiest and theist respectively) point out, God could make a world in which free creatures never sin, though able to. It's as if God made a world out of water, which given its nature, could freeze, but which God never allows to get that cold.

    Third, these means to ends defenses of God attempt to morally justify God in allowing evils by a standard that we would not think justify fellow humans. Maybe, God is not a moral agent like us. I think this ties into the point you're making.

    Myself, when I hear claims like God was in the death camps in Nazi Germany, or their furnaces, I think, 'He was in the fires furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendego, and sent an angel to save them from the fire.' why did God allow some to die by fire and not others?

    Whatever sort of free will there may be, it most be something whose activity God can predestine and which God is the ultimate cause of.