Saturday, November 18, 2017

A consideration making the theodical defeat of evil a bit easier

For an evil to be defeated, in the theodical sense, the evil needs to be not only compensated for in the sufferer’s life, but it needs to be interwoven into a good in the sufferer’s life in such a way that the meaning of the evil is radically transformed in that life.

A requirement of the defeat of evil guards against theodicies where the sufferer gets the short end of the stick, the evil being permitted for the sake of goods to other individuals, or abstract impersonal goods like elegant laws of nature. Defeat appears to have an innate intrapersonality to it.

It occurs to me, however, that in heaven the requirement of defeat can sometimes be met through goods that happen to someone other than the sufferer. For all in heaven are friends of the best sort, and as Aristotle says, a friend (of the best sort) is another self, so that what happens to the friend happens to one. So if Alice has suffered an evil and Bob got a proportionate good out of God’s permitting the evil to Alice, if Alice and Bob are friends in the deepest sense, then the evil that happened to Alice is just as much a part of Bob’s life, and the good to Bob is just as much a part of Alice’s. Thus, defeat can be achieved interpersonally given friendship, without any worries about Alice getting the short end of the stick.

And abstract impersonal goods—like aesthetic ones—can become deeply personal through appreciation.

Thus, the intrapersonality condition in defeat can be met more easily than seems at first sight.


entirelyuseless said...

If you are going to worry about this sort of thing, you should worry about the possibility that some people will go to hell, where it would be better for them if they had never been born.

If it is their fault, that does not make things better; it makes things worse, since the damned will be permanently worse off with the knowledge that it was their own fault they are in hell.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I do not read "if they had never been born" as meaning "if they had never existed."

I think evils that are deserved are defeated by the fact that they are deserved.

felipemsmiguel said...

Thank you so much for another fascinating post, Alex!

The interpersonal consideration of your response to the problem of evil in the post reminded me of an argument against the doctrine of hell from the idea that there can't be happy people in heaven if they have loved ones suffering in hell, and I wonder how you would respond to it. Here is the argument:

1. No one who loves another can be perfectly happy or free from suffering if they know that their beloved is suffering.

2. Anyone in hell suffers (at least as long as they are in hell).

3. Anyone in heaven is perfectly happy or at least free from suffering.

4. There can be no one in heaven who is aware of the fact that his or her beloved is in hell. (1, 2, and 3)

This is the central argument of this paper:

Thank you!


Heath White said...

"I think evils that are deserved are defeated by the fact that they are deserved."

At least according to the view I was raised with, all human beings deserve hell. But hell is worse than any earthly suffering. So on these premises, any earthly suffering is deserved, and no further defeat is necessary.

But that sounds like a reductio of at least one premise...

Alexander R Pruss said...


I think with the best kind of love one can accept that someone one loves can choose to be separated from one without this causing suffering to one. One can accept the autonomy of the beloved. (Speculation: It might cause sadness, but not every sadness is a suffering.)

And on my view of hell, for those who are in hell, hell is the place that is best for them given the character they have chosen for them. That's hard to believe, I agree.

Kolten Ellis said...

Heath, it's not clear that the suffering in hell is categorically similar to earthly suffering; hell is explicitly a result of a righteous judicial decision for spiritual wrongdoing, whereas earthly suffering may be for earthly wrongdoing, or to achieve some greater spiritual good, or what have you. Moreover, it's not clear that if one deserves a worse suffering than one is currently receiving, one deserves the suffering one currently receives. A murderer may deserve life in prison or the death penalty, but does he deserve to be seriously injured in a car crash on the way to jail?

Can we not also say, with Aquinas, that we will ultimately rejoice in the right administration of justice being done to those in hell? We may not rejoice at their suffering per se, but we will rejoice in the righteous justice of God being carried out thereby.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Well, for the punishment being what one deserves, it needs to be imposed judicially. Hell is imposed judicially, I guess. The car crash is not.

Could the car crash be imposed judicially? I don't see why not, apart from practical issues, such as that it may kill the person, or that it's expensive.

I think we will rejoice in the right administration of justice, but most of us shouldn't think about that much, because most of us are incapable of *rightly* rejoicing in this. And this rejoicing does not do much theodical work at all.