Thursday, June 19, 2014

The last enemy


There are two sorts of people who might be tempted to think of death as a friend: those who think the nature of the human person has nothing to do with the body, and those who think it has everything to do with the body; in short, Platonists and materialists.  Protestant theologian Oscar Cullmann summarizes the Platonist’s position in his little book Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead? as follows:

Our body is only an outer garment which, as long as we live, prevents our soul from moving freely and from living in conformity to its proper eternal essence. It imposes upon the soul a law which is not appropriate to it. The soul, confined within the body, belongs to the eternal world. As long as we live, our soul finds itself in a prison, that is, in a body essentially alien to it. Death, in fact, is the great liberator. It looses the chains, since it leads the soul out of the prison of the body and back to its eternal home… [T]hrough philosophy we penetrate into that eternal world of ideas to which the soul belongs, and we free the soul from the prison of the body. Death does no more than complete this liberation. Plato shows us how Socrates goes to his death in complete peace and composure. The death of Socrates is a beautiful death. Nothing is seen here of death’s terror. Socrates cannot fear death, since indeed it sets us free from the body. Whoever fears death proves that he loves the world of the body, that he is thoroughly entangled in the world of sense. Death is the soul’s great friend. So he teaches; and so, in wonderful harmony with his teaching, he dies… (pp. 19-21)

Cullman sharply contrasts the death of Socrates with the death of Christ, and Plato’s attitude toward death with the Christian attitude:

In Gethsemane He knows that death stands before Him, just as Socrates expected death on his last day… Jesus begins ‘to tremble and be distressed’, writes Mark (14:33). ‘My soul is troubled, even to death’, He says to His disciples… Jesus is afraid, though not as a coward would be of the men who will kill Him, still less of the pain and grief which precede death. He is afraid in the face of death itself. Death for Him is not something divine: it is something dreadful… He was really afraid. Here is nothing of the composure of Socrates, who met death peacefully as a friend… [W]hen He concludes, ‘Yet not as I will, but as thou wilt’, this does not mean that at the last He, like Socrates, regards death as the friend, the liberator. No, He means only this: If this greatest of all terrors, death, must befall Me according to Thy will, then I submit to this horror. (pp. 21-22)

For the Christian, death, as St. Paul famously put it, is “the last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26).  And victory over it comes with the resurrection. 

Now, Cullmann overstates the contrast between the two ideas referred to in his title.  He speaks of “the Greek view of death” when what he’s really talking about is a Greek view, the Platonic view.  It is not the same as the view of the Aristotelian, for whom the human soul is the form of the body -- or, more precisely, the form of something which has corporeal as well as incorporeal operations.  Hence, while a human being is not annihilated at death -- his intellect, which is incorporeal and operates partially independently of the body even during life, is not destroyed when the bodily organs are -- he persists only in a radically diminished state.  That the soul persists as the form of this radically reduced substance is what makes resurrection possible, because there needs to be some continuity between the person who dies and the person who rises if they are to be the same person.   But until the resurrection actually occurs, it is not the dead person who in the strictest sense survives, but only a part of him, albeit the highest part.  As Aquinas says (contra the Platonist), “I am not my soul.”  Thus, to Cullmann’s question “Immortality of the soul or resurrection of the dead?”, Christian Aristotelians like Aquinas answer: “Both.” 

In a blog post not too long ago, I responded to an objection to the effect that a Cartesian view of human nature (which is a modern riff on the Platonic view) is better in accord with the Bible than the Aristotelian-Thomistic view.  The critic in question even quoted St. Paul, of all people, in defense of this claim.  In that post I explained at some length what is wrong with this suggestion, and one problem with it is that it cannot account for why death is, in scripture, indeed an enemy, and why St. Paul puts so much emphasis on the resurrection.  This is intelligible only if the body is integral to human nature in a way the Platonic-Cartesian view cannot account for.  Death is your enemy and resurrection your hope because you are radically incomplete without your body -- so incomplete that there is a sense in which you are gone after death and return only with the resurrection.  (Thus does Aquinas suggest that if we were to speak strictly, we would say “Soul of St. Peter, pray for us” rather than “St. Peter, pray for us.”)

The way in which the materialist might see death as a friend is, of course, very different from the Platonist’s way.  Indeed, it might seem that the materialist would be even more inclined than the Christian to see death as an enemy, since he rejects even the Aristotelian-Thomistic conception of the soul -- not to mention the resurrection -- and thus (short of some science-fiction style upload of the “software” of the mind onto a new “computer”) regards death as the end, full stop.  (“Christian materialists” would accept the resurrection, but I will put their odd view to one side for present purposes and confine my attention to atheistic materialists.)   

But on reflection it is easy enough to see how a materialist might look at death in positive light.  If he’s lived an immoral life and is even mildly troubled at the thought that all that damnation stuff could turn out to be true, the idea of annihilation might bring relief.  Or, just as atheists often operate with too crudely anthropomorphic a conception of God, so too do they often operate with too crudely this-worldly a conception of what an afterlife would be like.  Hence, like Bernard Williams, a materialist might conclude that immortality would be a bore and judge death a rescue from endless tedium.  To Cullmann’s two exemplars we could therefore add David Hume, reclining cheerfully on his deathbed, as famously recounted by Boswell.

Then there is the suffering that often attends death.  As I noted in a recent post, for Christian apologists of the Neo-Scholastic stripe, it is not just God’s existence but also divine providence which can be known via purely philosophical arguments.  Hence, even apart from special divine revelation, we can know that God allows evil in the world only insofar as he draws greater good out of it.  These truths of natural theology are crucial to a complete natural law argument against the permissibility of suicide and euthanasia.  (See e.g. the account of the immorality of suicide and euthanasia in Austin Fagothey’s always useful Right and Reason.) 

To be sure, I think the traditional natural law theorist’s account of the good suffices to show that it cannot be good intentionally to end one’s own life or that of another innocent person, quite apart from questions of divine providence.  But even if one sees the power in these arguments, if one is also convinced that there is neither a soul that persists beyond death nor a God who can draw a greater good out of any suffering, the arguments can seem awfully dry and theoretical compared to the intense suffering that can attend death.  There will seem to be no upside to enduring the suffering other than respect for abstract principle.  Hence the temptation in such cases to regard death as a friend, whose arrival one should intentionally hasten.

As always, the Aristotelian-Thomistic philosopher’s talent for finding the sober middle ground saves the day.  The body is integral to you while not being the whole of you.  By avoiding both the Platonist’s error and the materialist’s error we see death for the enemy that it is.

295 comments:

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Daniel said...

Why should death be seen as an enemy rather than an ordeal that just be faced for the soul to come to God?

As for Cartesianism far be it from me to appear to champion it but it seems feasible that a Cartesian might counter the rather crude accusations that he or she 'thinks of the body as an arbitrary excrescence' by stating that the body is a freely given divine gift which allows the soul to interact with a world of experience and other egos.

The 'individualist' Aristotelian might also claim that though the soul loses certain capacities it is able to partake of the theoria of God which more than makes up for it.

The Hylemorphic view is the only I have yet encountered that makes the idea of the Resurrection sound feasible though.

Daniel said...

I’m not sure the Platonist need be troubled by the Resurrection either – one assumes to have a body is part of the Essence of Man and thus despite that historical Platonists may have thought one is better off in having one, preferably if it be an Ideal body interpreted in the Pauline ‘celestial body’ sense.

Some of the reviews of that book chill me (Christian Materialism is truly a repulsive idea – ‘I know let’s cross Bible thumping with Paul Churchland’ – what sane being could ever think that was a good idea?). Apart from the overall metaphysical absurdity it makes a travesty of the Descent into Hell and along with it the awful, tragic realisation of Christ’s dying with all the sins of the world upon his shoulders, of his experiencing not only death but the Inferno. And this is from someone with ordinarily very little interest in particular religious questions.

Edward Feser said...

‘I know let’s cross Bible thumping with Paul Churchland’ – what sane being could ever think that was a good idea?)

ROFLMAO!

(Not saying it's fair, mind you. Just saying ROFLMAO.)

James Chastek said...

Epicurus's "Death is nothing" argument is an important representative of materialist attitudes towards death:

Thus that which is the most awful of evils, death, is nothing to us, since when we exist there is no death, and when there is death we do not exist.

It's also worth mentioning Lucretius's argument that we should be no more afraid of death than of things that happened long before we were born, since we have the same awareness of both.

It would be fascinating to consider all the different injunctions to not fear death, which seems to cut across all the philosophies mentioned in the post. Aristotle's account of the virtue of fortitude, which has its paradigm activity in confronting death on the battlefield, makes for interesting comparisons to both Platonism and Materialism.

Matthew Petersen said...

Daniel:

"Why should death be seen as an enemy rather than an ordeal that just be faced for the soul to come to God?"

Because the body also needs to come to God, who is embodied.

Anonymous said...


Professor Feser,

Thomists maintain that:

" even apart from special divine revelation, we can know that God allows evil in the world only insofar as he draws greater good out of it."

David Bentley Hart has taken issue with this assertion in his brief essay, Tsunami and Theodicy, for which I've pasted the link below. I would be interested in your (and this blog's readers) reaction to Hart's essay. Thank you for this fantastic blog. Jamie

http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2010/01/tsunami-and-theodicy

Scott said...

Where precisely in that piece has Hart "taken issue with [the] assertion" that "God allows evil in the world only insofar as he draws greater good out of it"?

rank sophist said...

Scott,

As someone who's read Hart's The Doors of the Sea, which is an expansion of the essay Anon linked, I can attest to the accuracy of Anon's claim. Hart vehemently attacks the view that God is involved in an economy of evil. Here he goes against Aquinas's own view, as well as the views of certain other important figures in church history. His argument is powerful, though.

Step2 said...

Oddly, the Hart article has many similarities to this one that is far more skeptical.

rank sophist said...

Step2,

Interesting. Looks like Woods wrote a copycat piece.

Jeremy Taylor said...

The problem with Hart's position, as I have seen it, is it does threaten to collapse into sophistry like that article, although his own wisdom prevents this. Evil threatens to become a mystery and our vision is on an intense, largely emotional suffering.

I think Hart, unlike that article and most modern commentators, has enough of a valid point behind his comments. We must take on board the reality of suffering and not be cavalier about it.

But still, I think it is most important to start with metaphysics, rather than emotions. Those who begin with an overwhelming focus on concrete suffering tend, it seems to me, to be too readily led astray by emotion or to lose perspective (well, I suppose many modernists and sceptics never had much perspective to begin with). In Platonism questions of evil and suffering are ultimately subsumed under the question of the existence of imperfection or privation. In this way the Platonist starts from a supremely unemotional position. Only with proper metaphysical bearings can we turn to concrete suffering and properly understand it.

Anonymous said...

Scott,

He says it here, no?

"There is, of course, some comfort to be derived from the thought that everything that occurs at the level of what Aquinas calls secondary causality”in nature or history”is governed not only by a transcendent providence, but by a universal teleology that makes every instance of pain and loss an indispensable moment in a grand scheme whose ultimate synthesis will justify all things. But consider the price at which that comfort is purchased: it requires us to believe in and love a God whose good ends will be realized not only in spite of”but entirely by way of”every cruelty, every fortuitous misery, every catastrophe, every betrayal, every sin the world has ever known;

Crude said...

But consider the price at which that comfort is purchased: it requires us to believe in and love a God whose good ends will be realized not only in spite of”but entirely by way of”every cruelty, every fortuitous misery, every catastrophe, every betrayal, every sin the world has ever known;

Along with every kindness, every fortuitous situation, every windfall, every mercy, every good the world has ever known.

I can understand the emotional appeal of an observation like that. But I've just never been poetic enough to really find the point that powerful. It should intimidate, but the only intellectual force behind it seems to be of the form, 'If that's the truth, it's distasteful. Therefore, it's not the truth.'

Hart talks about yearning to know a higher God than a God like that - but since when do we get to pick our Gods? Nor does recognizing as much have to come in the form of some 'vacuous' platitude. There's something important in the recognition of just what it means to be dealing with the omnipotent and omniscient, and just because it's not immediately and thoroughly pleasant doesn't seem like a good enough reason to discard it.

malcolmthecynic said...

My impression of Hart's post is that it's rhetorically powerful but doesn't make much of an argument. It seems as if he's basically saying, "I wish the world wasn't the way it was".

Well, me too, but that's the world we're in. I'm not sure how pointing out how much suffering there is is supposed to make me believe that it's not used for a higher purpose.

Yeah, some of it is really, really bad. And? As Hart pointed out, it's not as if people like, for example, Aquinas, didn't know this already...

SR said...

Just curious as to what A-T makes of reports of out-of-body and near-death experiences, which I have not seen described as "persist[ing] only in a radically diminished state" -- rather the opposite. Must these reports, then, be lies or delusions?

rank sophist said...

Seems to me that the argument being proposed against Hart is, "Deal with it. Suffering is bad, but that's no reason that God can't be involved in it."

Unfortunately, that's simply to miss Hart's point: if God buys one soul at the cost of another, say, then it seems that God does not transcend what Hart (following Derrida) calls the "economy of violence". Sin and death are no longer unwanted intruders into what would have been a complete, good and beautiful creation, but are instead necessary for the functioning of that creation. God then becomes the economy of violence's highest judge, who, like a human ruler, achieves good by way of necessary evil. In other words, God does not subvert evil; he, in a sense, relies on it.

In response, Hart appeals to Dostoyevsky's existential argument. If God's hands are tied by evil, if he needs it or is complicit in it at all, then why should one worship him? If the source of being is tainted by his association with evil, then, regardless of that source's existence, he is a tyrant to be resisted. This is certainly absurd (in the existentialist sense), since it means that humanity desires a justice that does not and cannot exist. It's an irrational rebellion against an unbeatable foe. But it serves to highlight how outrageous is the idea of a God (or, more accurately, god) who is merely death's capstone and ultimate explainer. The typical theodicy is rationally comforting until one unpacks its implications.

You can disagree with his argument, but at least bother to get it right. These casual dismissals of it as "rhetoric" that "appeals to emotion" are, to put it bluntly, on the level of the typical refutation of Christianity presented in PZ Myers' comboxes.

Jeremy,

In Platonism questions of evil and suffering are ultimately subsumed under the question of the existence of imperfection or privation.

Which is, of course, how every serious thinker approaches it. The problem is how the existence of imperfection and privation can be squared with a God who is supposed to transcend all worldly economies. The typical Greek answer was to make God just the highest arbiter of those economies, which resulted in the necessity of evil. The source of evil, in some sense, became God. Christianity is uniquely positioned to avoid this problem: the myth of the Fall makes the problem of evil historical rather than metaphysical, and it posits man rather than God as the explainer of evil. It was the abuse of free will--a purely good gift--that brought evil into the world. Even though God foresaw it, he did not in any sense cause it: he merely created a creature who could, if it wished, irrationally assert itself against its creator. And this is because free will is a necessary prerequisite to love.

Jeremy Taylor said...

RS,

It seems to me that Hart, perhaps because of the intense, passionate focus on concrete evil, neglect that evil is itself just a relative lack of the good. There is something altogether too positive given to evil when one talks of God's hands being tied by evil or when one focuses so strongly as Hart does on the tears of children.

I'm also not sure what is, in the end, the difference between the theodicy you give and that of Aquinas. Surely, Aquinas was not saying that God wills evil to bring out the greatest good. What he was saying was that God wills a situation where evil is possible and then even makes that evil work for the best. For both you and Aquinas the source of evil here is still God in the sense that God creates with the knowledge this will lead to evil, even if God does not create evil - which is itself nothing.

I don't know if it is strictly relevant for our discussion so far, but perhaps it is worth pointing out what I feel is a flaw in much discussion of the so called problem of evil. This is especially true as concerns the irreligious. In basically all traditional civilisations creation or the cosmos has been thought of as a hierarchy of many levels of which our corporeal realm is actually rather insignificant and even minute. Even medieval Aristotelian thought seems to have accepted this basic idea of the levels of being. Yet it is only in the corporeal (and maybe some even more ephemeral infernal realms beneath) realm that imperfection and privation leads to suffering and actual evil. Much discussion of the so called problem of evil seems to lack perspective by neglecting this.

Vasco Gama said...

What Hart says,

“But consider the price at which that comfort is purchased: it requires us to believe in and love a God whose good ends will be realized not only in spite of”but entirely by way of”every cruelty, every fortuitous misery, every catastrophe, every betrayal, every sin the world has ever known”

Is just too beautiful, not to be true.

Even if sometimes I disagree with Hart, and even if I am not able to provide a convincing argument, in this case, I think those who disagree should have to produce a very (very, very) good argument.

Crude said...

Rank,

Unfortunately, that's simply to miss Hart's point: if God buys one soul at the cost of another,

Where did anyone say that God's buying one soul at the cost of another? That implies that God's damning one person to save someone else - but that isn't the response. It's that good can be borne out of evil.

And frankly, the one major religion where that makes sense is the religion where a violent, humiliating death on a cross ultimately turned out to be a good thing.

Sin and death are no longer unwanted intruders into what would have been a complete, good and beautiful creation, but are instead necessary for the functioning of that creation. God then becomes the economy of violence's highest judge, who, like a human ruler, achieves good by way of necessary evil.

Or sin and death are unwanted intruders, but even they can ultimately be used and turned towards some good. It's not necessarily an either-or situation - and framing it that way may be part of the problem.

This is certainly absurd (in the existentialist sense),

In what sense is it not absurd?

The typical theodicy is rationally comforting until one unpacks its implications.

Is it possible to find it rationally comforting - even after its implications are unpacked? Hart presents the theodicy the way it's always presented - in a lopsided, incomplete way. All good is put to the side during the consideration of it and, yes, as far as that goes, it really is rhetoric and appeal to emotion.

These casual dismissals of it as "rhetoric" that "appeals to emotion" are, to put it bluntly, on the level of the typical refutation of Christianity presented in PZ Myers' comboxes.

Do you really have to do this, Rank? Some people are disagreeing with Hart and yourself. We're largely on the same page. The points have been made politely, if forcefully. But there you go, right for comparison with PZ Myers. Is this really how the conversation is going to end up if it's pursued further? Because if so, please let me know now, so I can throw an insult right back and then move on to worthier discussions.

I don't see anything in your reply that even illustrates a misunderstanding on my part, or really, on anyone else's. I think Hart is ultimately at pains to make sense of the crucifixion given his perspective, and yes, I do think emotion is ultimately all he has. Hart speaks in terms of what he finds loathsome and what gives him comfort. I suggest it's possible to loath and find comfort in the wrong things. He's certainly suggesting that of others.

Lucas Krief said...

Before saying that's the 'Platonic' view or that's the 'Aristotelian' view, doesn't anyone think that you ought to quote actual texts? There are on going controversies on Plato and Aristotle whether the 'Platonic' and 'Aristotelian' in this post are really theirs. We shouldn't take it for granted, at least.

Daniel said...

Ahh I shall say little here as the so called ‘Problem of Evil’ has never been an area I’ve seen much importance in. The real evils we do to one another are more of a concern than the often illusory evils the world casts at us (in which case our blaming God for our own actions is an example of the most ignoble aspects of humanity and one which leads disturbing credence to Baudelaire’s quip about Man deserving more suffering rather than less).

“But consider the price at which that comfort is purchased: it requires us to believe in and love a God whose good ends will be realized not only in spite of”but entirely by way of”every cruelty, every fortuitous misery, every catastrophe, every betrayal, every sin the world has ever known”

See this strikes as radically question begging as the value we attach to all these negatives is precisely what this argument should give us cause to revise. I am not saying I endorse such a position but all these forms of objection expect us to take a knee-jerk harrumphing reaction to the issues in question. It also ignores the somewhat obvious rejoinder that God uses every victory, ever happiness, ever achievement and every mercy as much as he does their negations – there is a quote from someone, Tolkien I think, to the effect that though it utterly strives against it Evil’s actions will in the end always sing the praises of the Good.

It seems a good time to draw a distinction between physical pain and Suffering with a capital S, the latter of which being what really concerns us. A mystic during the dark night of the soul or a nihilist confronted with the world experience Suffering yet not pain whilst (some of) the martyrs experience along with Epicurus on his death-bed experience physical pain but not suffering in that sense. Whether this excludes Evil proper from the lower animals would be an interesting question to ask.

A certain degree of failure, or more accurately the possibility of Privation, seems a necessary consequence of there being a plurality of finite beings of a material nature. A better maxim for theodicy might be: under a just God no creature will experience more suffering than it can reasonably be expected to bear. Much of suffering arises because we have an incorrect sense of priorities (For instance a man may consider his going to die next week a greater tragedy than his having achieved nothing of deeper value in that life), are in error (a parent might grieve over the death of their child because they erroneously believe death to be the end rather than grieving over the fact that they are parted from their offspring) and perhaps more disturbingly because of our actions towards others. The brutal but honest answer to questions like why do Ebola, meningitis and divers other ills to men exist is that like humans they too have their place on the Great Chain of Being – it is only that we occupy a higher place on the chain, we stand at the meeting point of Matter and the Spirits, we have corporeal existence in the world but are not limited to the world.

‘Because the body also needs to come to God, who is embodied.’

Besides the fact that natural philosophy cannot tell us this I’m not sure that holds even in the context of Christianity. Save for the Virgin one cannot be raised up without first having been cast down, in which case Death seems more a trial by fire to determine one’s destiny, a necessary period of endarkening before one may face the Light alone the lines of the Nigredo stage of the alchemical Great Work.

rank sophist said...

Jeremy,

You have to read Hart's argument through the lens of his copious writing about the economy of violence, which he explores most fully in The Beauty of the Infinite (although The Doors of the Sea and several of his essays have meaty treatments of it). His case boils down to something very simple: if God relies on evil to achieve good, then divine transcendence is compromised.

Here's Aquinas, for example:

"Now, the order of the universe requires, as was said above, that there should be some things that can, and do sometimes, fail. And thus God, by causing in things the good of the order of the universe, consequently and as it were by accident, causes the corruptions of things" (ST I q49 a2).

In other words, it is impossible for good to exist without evil. God's divine plan must allow evil for the sake of a greater good; and God is trapped inside creation's economy of violence. It would be impossible for him to make a wholly good world.

By contrast, Hart argues that God created only one thing that could "fail": free will. And free will's failure was not necessary for the order of the universe, but rather corrupted that order. This is obviously very different from Aquinas's view.

Crude,

Considering that you still have not addressed Hart's argument (again: God's reliance on evil compromises divine transcendence), I don't know what you expect me to say.

Gottfried said...

' "Now, the order of the universe requires, as was said above, that there should be some things that can, and do sometimes, fail. And thus God, by causing in things the good of the order of the universe, consequently and as it were by accident, causes the corruptions of things" (ST I q49 a2).

In other words, it is impossible for good to exist without evil. God's divine plan must allow evil for the sake of a greater good; and God is trapped inside creation's economy of violence. It would be impossible for him to make a wholly good world. '



I can't help but feel that there may be more charitable ways to read that passage.

Brandon said...

In other words, it is impossible for good to exist without evil. God's divine plan must allow evil for the sake of a greater good; and God is trapped inside creation's economy of violence.

But evil in this context is used very broadly; Aquinas's own examples in the prior article include the inability of little children (through weakness) and the lame (through the limitations of the instrumental cause) to walk well and the transformation of one element to another (which involves destruction), because he doesn't think the failure of free will is necessary for the order of the universe. And Aquinas's argument is not that it is impossible for good to exist without evil; it is that any universe in which the only good was that which never failed would be an incomplete universe (that's the argument to which he is explicitly referring in the passage). And that is certainly true. It would necessarily be a world in which, for instance, no fragile apple blossoms become apples and falling from the tree and spoil to make new apple trees from which apple blossoms grow, and most of the kinds of goods we know in the natural world would not exist.

God is not 'trapped inside' the economy of violence in any way, nor is it 'impossible' for Him to make a world without evil; the necessity is final, which is consistent with God's doing any number of completely different things. It's a claim that, given that God wanted all general kinds of goodness in His universe, the universe must include the kinds of goodness that are destructible. Aquinas's point (ST 1.47, on which the argument of the next several questions is based) is that God created a universe in which things are distinguished from each other so that there are higher things that are incorruptibly good and lower things that admit of corruption to make way for other lower things, and He saw that it was very good.

David T said...

"Now, the order of the universe requires, as was said above, that there should be some things that can, and do sometimes, fail. And thus God, by causing in things the good of the order of the universe, consequently and as it were by accident, causes the corruptions of things" (ST I q49 a2).

In other words, it is impossible for good to exist without evil. God's divine plan must allow evil for the sake of a greater good; and God is trapped inside creation's economy of violence. It would be impossible for him to make a wholly good world.


That doesn't get Aquinas quite right. Good exists without evil in God Himself, and God was under no duty or other obligation to create anything. So, for Aquinas, good certainly can exist without evil.

Notice that your quote refers to the order of the universe, i.e. the product of God's creative act. Any being other than God cannot have its existence identical with its essence, so annihilation as a necessary possibility for anything other than God. Furthermore, not only annihilation, but corruption is also a necessary possibility for any corporeal being, like us. So the question is: Did God do well in creating a world where wolves prey on sheep, or would it have been better to create neither wolves nor sheep?

And remember that in the original dispensation of the world according to Christianity, man was not subject to suffering and death, but only brought that into the world through his disobedience. Now one can argue that maybe God would have done better to create a world where men can't disobey him, but we are already a long way from the idea that it is impossible for good to exist without evil. Even in our own case, it was perfectly possible - and indeed God's desire - that we exist without suffering and death.

But given that we have brought suffering and death into the world, God is still able to turn that evil to good through the Incarnation; but that's not to say God needed evil to bring about good.

Scott said...

"He says it here, no?"

No. In that passage he takes issue with the very different assertion that God's ends can be realized only through evil.

That is not at all the same as the assertion that God allows evil only insofar as He can bring greater good from it.

VictorNolan said...

"It's also worth mentioning Lucretius's argument that we should be no more afraid of death than of things that happened long before we were born, since we have the same awareness of both."

This seems short sighted to me.


You give a man a car as a gift. He's able to enjoy it. It helps him get to work much faster as well as back home.
He can take his family for rides in it.

Then one day you tell him, "Oh, I'm going to take this away from you in alittle bit. It will no longer be your car."

If he were to get upset and a bit anxious at the prospect of losing the car how much sense would it be to say, "whoooaaa.... calm down, pal. It's just going to be like back before you had the car. It really should be no different".

It's because he had the car and the experiences with it that now it matters to him.

Scott said...

By the way, the graphic accompanying the OP is from this comic book.

Anonymous said...

"No. In that passage he takes issue with the very different assertion that God's ends can be realized only through evil.

That is not at all the same as the assertion that God allows evil only insofar as He can bring greater good from it."

I believe it is the same, Scott. If evil "enables" God to "bring greater good from it" then the "greater good" that you refer to required the evil that God allowed (as God is infinitely free). In this conception, evil makes a positive contribution to God's good ends and this is what Hart objects to.

Joe K. said...

Rank,

Is that the point Dostoevsky is making? Interesting; that's not how I took it. At least in what I've read of him. I thought his point was not that God is absurd because he is a tyrant or that his hands are "tied by evil" or that he is complicit in evil. But that God is absurd because no matter what God does, it can never, in principle, make up for evil. Simply, that God, because he is good, cannot exist, because there can be no good.

In other words, assuming the story of Christ and redemption to be true, it still doesn't add up. And no story, Christian or otherwise, can work. Isn't this Ivan's point in a way? I never took Ivan to be saying God is complicit in the whole mess necessarily. But simply that the plan itself just doesn't work, whether he is complicit or not. And can't work.

I thought this was the argument: that salvation, by any means, just can't be achieved, considering evil, especially gratuitous evil, and so God, by definition, can't exist, as God is goodness. This is why, I assumed, Ivan told those stories of horrific suffering that ended in supposed salvation. Even if God "overcame" the evil by transforming evil into goodness, the salvation the people gained by rising out of that evil just Isn't goodness. It can't be. And so since there Isn't goodness, there isn't God.

You may be referring to a different part of Dostoevsky's work, though, and I may just be way off. Apologies if I'm confused.

Scott said...

"I believe it is the same, Scott."

And I must insist in reply that it is not. Compare the following two propositions:

(1) If there is evil, then God is able to bring greater good from it. ("God allows evil in the world only insofar as he draws greater good out of it.")

(2) If God is to bring about good, then there must be evil. "[E]very instance of pain and loss an indispensable moment in a grand scheme whose ultimate synthesis will justify all things. But [this] requires us to believe in and love a God whose good ends will be realized not only in spite of, but entirely by way of, every cruelty, every fortuitous misery, every catastrophe, every betrayal, every sin the world has ever known[.]" Emphases mine.)

The two propositions are very clearly different. They're very nearly converses.

Scott said...

"In this conception, evil makes a positive contribution to God's good ends and this is what Hart objects to."

Well, if that's meant to be a general objection, it's a pretty silly one coming from a Christian. Lots of great goods couldn't exist without evil. How, for example, could there be repentance and forgiveness without sin?

Greg said...

In this conception, evil makes a positive contribution to God's good ends and this is what Hart objects to.

In addition to Scott's comment on this, it should be clarified what you mean by "God's good ends." God brings good out of evil, but the goods that require evil (ie. redemption and forgiveness) are not themselves necessary, ie. there does not have to be redemption or forgiveness for God to be good. (They are goods that are realized in creation, but they are not "God's good ends" if by that you mean God's own final causes, since God does not have final causes.) So redemption could not occur without a fall. But that does not imply that the fall is necessary.

Mr. Green said...

I like Hart. He's educated and intelligent and well-written. But he prefers to pose his arguments in poetry rather than syllogisms, which makes it sometimes difficult to grasp his point, especially for us analytically-minded types. I wonder if these short pieces of his constrain him in a way that a full book doesn't. Or perhaps they are simply too long for poetry.

I keep feeling that a more accurate theme is lurking underneath, but it doesn't come across very well in this piece. There are most certainly claims about evil that must be rejected, and Hart would certainly reject them: the idea that evil is good in own way, the view that good cannot exist without evil to put it in relief, the diabolical position that it's a fine thing to go around sinning, because look at all the good God can bring out of it now! Some bits of such opposition come through in his article, but unfortunately a lot of it sounds like opposition to correct ways of seeing the issue. Perhaps his technique means to go to an contrary extreme to bring out balance, but this is a precarious strategy without making it abundantly clear where the golden mean lies. The response of the "greater good" is, properly seen, entirely valid, and even manifest. It may be conceited to claim that salvation is a greater good than innocence, but it's definitely venerable. Hart may dare challenge Aquinas, or Anselm, but that God brings good out of evil isn't something the Mediaevals made up: it comes straight from Scripture.

So on to the nit-picking...

nor would it be quite human to fail, in its wake, to feel some measure of spontaneous resentment towards God

Well, this is presumably a politically-correct sop to forestall changes of hard-hartedness, since it blatantly isn't true of human nature properly speaking; and speaking statistically, it isn't even true of fallen humanity. So we get off on the wrong foot a bit already.

hence [evil] can have no positive role to play in God’s determination of Himself or purpose for His creatures (even if by economy God can bring good from evil)

To portray it as such is backwards: if all Hart means is to rectify the upside-down picture of how evil "contributes" to a "greater good", then he is of course metaphysically correct. However, his poetry has perhaps obscured his true meaning. For to say that evil can have no positive role is like saying blackness can have no positive role in painting or rests no positive role in music — it may be correct on a philosophical technicality, but nobody who points out the obviously true artistic value of darkness or silence means to make such a metaphysical faux pas. I worry that Hart is so wrapped up in disposing of the bathwater with poetical flourishes that he fails to notice that the baby has inadvertently slipped between his fingers. Meanwhile, those clod-hopping Calvinistic types and their ilk — who to be sure, are sloshing around in a fair amount of leftover post-ablutory liquid — have at least managed to keep the infant firmly (if a tad muddily) grounded.

vacuous cant about the mysterious course taken by God’s goodness in this world, or to assure others that some ultimate meaning or purpose resides in so much misery. Ours is, after all, a religion of salvation; our faith is in a God who has come to rescue His creation from the absurdity of sin and the emptiness of death

Does the purpose reside in the misery, or does the misery reside in the ultimate plan? And where did the absurdity of sin come from (in his article, not in history)? I thought we were talking about tsunami? Some sleight of hand occurred here; and yet where does Hart bother to note the distinction between natural "evil" and moral evil? Of course we can, and should, hate evil qua evil — that is what it means to call it evil — but how is this a response to those who never claimed otherwise?

Mr. Green said...

(capricious cruelty, perhaps? morbid indifference? a twisted sense of humor?).

But a sense of humour must be twisted — that is, without the twist, if it's played straight, then there is no humour. It seems wrong to try to excuse tragedy as comedy because it gets the proportionality the wrong way around: humour does not include tragedy, rather it is "toy tragedy". Humour involves something going wrong, it's a miniature — and thus safe, and safe to laugh at — parody of tragedy. Yet life is not, ultimately, a tragedy but a comedy… a Divine Comedy… with a happy ending, and it is not wrong, merely a bit dumbed-down, to realise that one day we will look back on this vale of tears and laugh. (It's one thing to go up against Aquinas, but here he's going up against Chesterton, and as clever as he is, Hart isn't gonna win this one.)

every instance of pain and loss an indispensable moment in a grand scheme whose ultimate synthesis will justify all things.

This may be where the confusion lies: the indispensability is relative, not absolute. God is still ultimately free in His choice to create, but God obviously had no choice if He wanted to create a universe exactly like this one, because by definition that universe includes various evils. Yet God does have a plan, and creation is directed to an ultimately greater good; so in a rather obvious sense, it is quite true that God allows, even provides in a primary-causal sense, suffering for the sake of a greater good. And while there is more to be said, Hart makes it sound as though saying that much is not merely incomplete, but wrong. And that's just sloppy.

a God whose good ends will be realized not only in spite of—but entirely by way of—every cruelty

Piffle. Partially by way of, just as the composer realises his music by way of some silence. If it were "entirely" by way of silence, then it wouldn't be music at all (it might be a 4½-minute joke, but not music); and if it were entirely devoid of silence… well, at best it would be a very different piece of music. Music that contains some silence can be very good music; and the only way to achieve that particular good is by way of that mixture of sound and silence.

We can rejoice that we are saved not through the immanent mechanisms of history and nature, but by grace

History and natures are graces. They aren't something we are owed, or that God was obliged to create; they are purely gratuitous. And in some sense we are saved by them: at the very least, we couldn't have been saved without them—not the way we actually were in fact saved—because salvation is an event in history, tied to specific dates and places, to a specific Man Who took on our specific nature. Salvation isn't a "mechanism", but it assuredly is immanent.

God will not unite all of history’s many strands in one great synthesis, but will judge much of history false and damnable

That is a synthesis. The painting, with colour and darkness, the symphony, with sound and silence, is not a homogeneous blob, but it is certainly unified. Both/and, dear Hart, both/and!

He that sits upon the throne will say, “Behold, I make all things new.”

Even God cannot make new that which was never old. Renewal is precisely to turn evil to good. It is not that the evil is good qua evil; but the turning, the renewal that is good. It is a kind of good that simply doesn't exist if you start with perfect goodness, though. It is not, per se, obligatory, or a moral demand upon God, or anything else. But it is something God can choose to do, to create a world in which He freely includes moral and physical evils because He can thenceforth vanquish the evils and raise up goods, in which there are tears that can then be wiped away. And that obviously is greater than leaving the evils unvanquished, or than creating nothing. Hart knows this, but somehow gives a good impression of arguing against it.

CCK said...

Augustine's "permitting evil for good" defense is straight from the mouth of Joseph in Genesis. Can Hart really object to this? I know he skewers the Enlightenment optimists in The Doors of the Sea but based on the First Things piece and the comments here it sounds like he's attacking this whole line of response in the Christian tradition.

I get that Hart means to be apophatic and not downplay the horrors of evil as some are prone to do, and that evil, being a privation of being, must necessary fall outside the firm grasp of our intellect, but the the "permitting evil to bring out good" response is only a mere gesture toward an answer anyway and makes no claim toward being a comprehensive solution. It's a pretty simple inference: If God is all good and intends the good of his creation, then any evil must ultimately be turned toward that final good ordained by his providence. Is this not required by a belief in God's providence? If we try to shift the whole burden to free will then we're left asking how a good God could create the indeterminate freedom of creatures, given the costs.

DavidM said...

Cullman: "Jesus is afraid, though not as a coward would be of the men who will kill Him, still less of the pain and grief which precede death. He is afraid in the face of death itself."

This seems like a very strange claim. In the garden, our Lord's soul is "sorrowful even unto death." It is not afraid of death. Is it really the mark of a holy person to fear death? (St. Lawrence, anyone?) Cullman seems to think so, but is this a view that actually is a part of any significant tradition/worldview? St. Paul certainly appears not to be bothered by the "radical diminishment" of his "state" which will accompany his death: for example, "We take heart, I say, and have a mind rather to be exiled from the body, and at home with the Lord" (2Cor 5,8); or "For me, life means Christ; death is a prize to be won. But what if living on in this mortal body is the only way to harvest what I have sown? Thus I cannot tell what to choose; I am hemmed in on both sides. I long to have done with it, and be with Christ, a better thing, much more than a better thing; and yet, for your sakes, that I should wait in the body is more urgent still." (Philippians 1,22).

CCK said...

I see Mr. Green already scooped me on most of my points, and in far superior fashion. I too suspect that Hart's penchant for high rhetoric blurs his targets and obscures his argument, which if cashed out in plain orthodoxy is probably not so radical as it meant to sound.

Mr. Green said...

Scott: Well, if that's meant to be a general objection, it's a pretty silly one coming from a Christian.

Exactly, and Hart is too Orthodox (in both senses) to miss that point. Yet he places himself in opposition to Aquinas and anyone else who talks of greater goods. So to sum up my overly-long response above, Hart is here (and likewise in his infamous article about natural law, I think) being sloppy.

I reckon that if one already understands what Hart wants to say (e.g. RS from having read his book-length treatments), then the piece makes sense; but if the assumption is that the audience already knows it all, what was the point? (Maybe you could argue that he doesn't actually oppose Aquinas et al., merely possible bad interpretations thereof, and he is taking advantage of the lesser evil of confusing writing to bring out the greater good of diligent and penetrating discussion on the topic. Actually, that's so crazy, it just might work!)

Crude said...

Green,

A great analysis, and thank you for it.

Rank,

Considering that you still have not addressed Hart's argument (again: God's reliance on evil compromises divine transcendence), I don't know what you expect me to say.

"I'm sorry." would be a good start, considering the Myers quip.

And yes, I have addressed Hart's argument, at least as you've summarized it, and with some reference to his own article. Maybe you find that lacking, maybe it misses the point. If so, show me, because I'm only working with what I'm being offered and what I take away from it. If, as Green seems to suggest, Hart has a non-obvious point there that is tremendously obscured - well hey, I'll take that instruction.

But you can't accuse me of intentionally misreading Hart here. I like him, I'd like to appreciate his points, but when a tremendous amount of his argument seems to hinge on what he finds emotionally satisfying or not, then we have a problem worth pointing out.

CCK said...

Sorry, the last sentence of my 10:50 wasn't very clear. What I meant was:

If we can't say that a good God permits evil in order to bring out some greater good, then we are left with no direction for how to reconcile the two. If we say all evil arises from the will of creatures, then God is still permitting it, either for some good end or for no good end. If for no good end, then God either lacks the power to bend evil toward good or he is not willing to and thus not truly good. But God is omnipotent and truly good. Therefore he permits evil for some good end.

grodrigues said...

Mr. Green:

"God is still ultimately free in His choice to create, but God obviously had no choice if He wanted to create a universe exactly like this one, because by definition that universe includes various evils."

Can we go even further? This universe contains just this amount of evil be*cause*, at least in part, it contains *me*.

rank sophist said...

Wow, a ton of responses. I should make it clear that I have no interest in actually starting a huge debate on this. My goal was to clarify what Hart meant, then exit. I'll still respond to Brandon and Joe, though.

Brandon,

Aquinas's argument is that the good of a singular must be balanced against the good of the universe. As you say, his discussion of evil is very broad (as is Hart's), and his goal is to prove that the universe cannot operate properly without natural evils that lead to natural goods. Put simplistically, it's an argument for The Lion King's "circle of life". Tied into this are his theories that distinction comes through inequality (as you said) and that antipathy between animals existed in Eden (ST I q96 a1 ro2). Basically, he believes that the order of the universe included and required broad-form evil (violence) even in the Edenic state.

But Hart would argue that this is still an economy of violence, with which God must negotiate in ways that contradict divine transcendence. Further, he would claim that appeals to the impossibility of much natural good without natural evil are based on a defective theory of the Fall. On his interpretation, the Fall corrupted creation in innumerable ways; and (as I read him) the Edenic state therefore cannot be strongly inferred based on the appearance of the world now. It's not total depravity, but it's closer to that than it is to Aquinas's theory. As a result, he is able to claim that natural evil is not full-stop necessary for the existence of many natural goods, even though it is the way that the world works post-Fall. His view is that God wills against the "circle of life" (or economy of violence) that now exists, even though he allows it to continue as a consequence of original sin.

Joe,

That wasn't my interpretation, or Hart's. On your reading, Ivan is presenting a straightforward argument from evil: God is good, evil occurs, therefore God does not exist.

But I'd say that Ivan's argument is much more radical. He says (page 269-270, Garnett's translation) that "too high a price is asked for harmony", and that he "hasten[s] to give back [his] entrance ticket" to it. He makes it clear: "It's not God that I don't accept." Alyosha calls this "rebellion". Ivan then goes on to ask:

"Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature [...] and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect of those conditions?"

Dostoyevsky was an existentialist; Ivan's argument is not a classical refutation. As Alyosha's comment makes clear, it's an existential "rebellion", in which Ivan rejects what he takes to be the actual, existing order of the universe. The idea is that even if God exists, and even if "harmony" is real, Ivan longs for a higher justice. Life therefore becomes absurd (in the existentialist sense of desiring meaning and justice that can't be reached), but Ivan is willing to accept that based on his revulsion to the alternative.

The existential character of this argument is, I believe, what makes Hart call it the most powerful argument ever presented against Christianity. If it was the bare-bones argument from evil that you take it to be, it wouldn't be particularly impressive.

Craig Payne said...

Replying to SR, way up above (sorry if someone else already did):

"Just curious as to what A-T makes of reports of out-of-body and near-death experiences, which I have not seen described as "persist[ing] only in a radically diminished state" -- rather the opposite. Must these reports, then, be lies or delusions?"

My answer: They could be, but not necessarily. The point of the idea of "radical diminishment" after death is simply that the human soul without the body's infusion of sensory data is not the natural order of things and therefore needs something like a resurrection, as promised in Christianity. However, nothing really prevents God from providing a completely gracious infusion of a different sort of cognitive experiences beyond our current modes of understanding--as in after-death experiences.

Brandon said...

Aquinas's argument is that the good of a singular must be balanced against the good of the universe.

On the contrary, his argument is explicitly that God is the cause of distinction, and that the creation that God proclaimed very good is one which has destructible goods because it is a creation full of goodness. The issue is not balance between the singular good and the common good; the issue is whether the singular destructible good should exist at all given that it cannot possibly be a complete good and must be destroyed for other singular destructible goods to exist. The good of the part and the good of the whole are never balanced against each other in Aquinas; they can't be because the good of the whole is the good shared by each and every part by virtue of being a part. Any attempt to make it a matter of trade-off makes nonsense of Aquinas's account of common good. Rather, it's a genuine part of the good of destructible goods themselves that by being destructible, they allow other goods to exist that contribute to the good of the whole.

The only question on the table, in fact, is whether such destructible goods -- which are practically all the natural goods we know -- should exist at all. And Aquinas's answer is that, if God intends His creation to have a fullness of goodness, then of course they should exist: the kind of good that gives itself up so that other goods might exist is one of the major kinds of goodness.

But Hart would argue that this is still an economy of violence,

The issue is not whether one can regard the regime of the actual good world we know as an economy of violence; the issue is whether is whether Aquinas's account in any way implies that God is 'trapped inside' it. It does not.

DavidM said...

"The existential character of this argument is, I believe, what makes Hart call it the most powerful argument ever presented against Christianity."

What does "existential character" mean? Having a basis solely in rebellion? How does this constitute any kind of argument against Christianity (never mind a powerful one)?

Mr. Green said...

Mr. Green: Yet he places himself in opposition to Aquinas and anyone else

This is my being sloppy. Hart doesn't actually challenge Aquinas on this point (at least not directly, although it's implied insofar as one considers Aquinas to offer the "greater good" response). He cites him only once, in giving context to his use of the technical phrase "secondary causality":

"There is, of course, some comfort to be derived from the thought that everything that occurs at the level of what Aquinas calls secondary causality—in nature or history—is governed not only by a transcendent providence, but by a universal teleology that makes every instance of pain and loss an indispensable moment in a grand scheme whose ultimate synthesis will justify all things. But consider the price at which that comfort is purchased"

Of course, working backwards, I can read into this a condemnation of the idea that we ought to rejoice at getting drowned in some sort of masochistic fashion. But nobody claims that pain ultimately pays off because it isn't actually painful! If I am relieved to learn that the pins sticking out of your face are acupuncture, not torture, then I am corrected, not comforted. To be com-fort-ified, to be made strong, is to bear up under something that actually weighs one down; to be consoled is to be soothed over something which actually is painful. So to call it a comfort or a consolation is implicitly to entail that the evil qua evil is something hateful. However much modern man may struggle to understand the problem of evil in a philosophically correct context, as long as he recognises that it calls for comfort to bear it, not correction to evaporate it, then he has not fallen into the trap of Hart's masochistic tangle.

rank sophist said...

Brandon,

I'm aware that the theory of the common good is based on the good of each part. Defining death as part of the good of destructibles, though, is exactly the kind of thing that Hart is attacking. As is the claim that destructibles must be destroyed to make way for other destructibles. This idea of a unified and harmonized cosmos, in which death plays a necessary role, is a Greek one that Hart rejects. He argues that, if God could not make a universe of destructibles without relying on corruption, then God is indeed trapped in the economy of violence: he must necessarily balance good and evil. (As you say, Aquinas argues that the existence of corruption, being necessary to destructibles, is justified by the greater good of destructibles existing at all.) Again, Hart holds a somewhat extreme view of the Fall, in which large portions of the current "natural order" contradict God's will. So it does no good to reply that, given what we know, the destruction of destructibles is right and necessary. Hart calls into question any theory--including Aquinas's--that makes corruption a necessary condition for goodness.

rank sophist said...

Also, one more relevant quote from Aquinas (this is actually the one I was looking for when I cited q49 a2):

"Hence, corruption and defects in natural things are said to be contrary to some particular nature; yet they are in keeping with the plan of universal nature; inasmuch as the defect in one thing yields to the good of another, or even to the universal good: for the corruption of one is the generation of another, and through this it is that a species is kept in existence. Since God, then, provides universally for all being, it belongs to His providence to permit certain defects in particular effects, that the perfect good of the universe may not be hindered, for if all evil were prevented, much good would be absent from the universe. A lion would cease to live, if there were no slaying of animals; and there would be no patience of martyrs if there were no tyrannical persecution" (ST I q22 a2 ro2).

Joe K. said...

Rank,

Perhaps I didn't explain my interpretation well enough. I wasn't saying that because evil exists, God doesn't exist. Because that wouldn't even following considering the Christian explanations put forth here. I'm saying that, even taking the Christian story to be true (which says that evil can be transformed into good, overcome by good, that good can be borne from evil), the price is just Too High (which are Ivan's words) for it to Be actually good. I think this ties in directly with what you are referring, I think, to as something like evil as the means of goodness. He's, as you put it, rejecting the system itself. This, I take it, to be an implicit rejection of God necessarily as the creator and sustainer of that system.

Also, I don't like when people say Dostoevsky was an existentialist. Dostoevsky was called an existentialist. I think Dostoevsky is more than great, and I think that label is sort of below him (but this may have more to do with the existentialists that followed). But I am aware that is often the label that is given to him, and I do understand what you mean by saying that "existential character of this argument."

And yes, from what I understand, even Dostoevsky himself struggled with the refutation Ivan gives. That is, he thought it was too convincing. Which troubled him, as he was a Christian. From what I understand, the Zosima stuff was supposed to be a direct response to Ivan. I remember reading somewhere that he struggled with whether or not the Zosima response was sufficient.

Matt Sheean said...

"Hart holds a somewhat extreme view of the Fall, in which large portions of the current "natural order" contradict God's will."

Well, there you go then, God can't even create a world that will agree with Him! Much less one without an "economy of violence."

It also seems to me to be a different thing to say that a theory, "makes corruption a necessary condition for goodness" or that corruption, rather, is entailed by goodness of a certain kind (that might be in act, or not). To quote Mr Green's observation, "the indispensability is relative, not absolute. God is still ultimately free in His choice to create"

Gottfried said...

My thoughts on this are similar to CCK's above. In short, if God does not allow evil so that a greater good may result, then what could his reason for allowing evil possibly be? Am I missing something?

SR said...

Craig Payne said...
My answer: They could be, but not necessarily. The point of the idea of "radical diminishment" after death is simply that the human soul without the body's infusion of sensory data is not the natural order of things and therefore needs something like a resurrection, as promised in Christianity. However, nothing really prevents God from providing a completely gracious infusion of a different sort of cognitive experiences beyond our current modes of understanding--as in after-death experiences.


Thanks for answering. My take on your answer, though, is that it is saying that the OOBE/NDE experiencers (speaking generally) are deluded. That is, my impression is that they (some? most?) would describe their out-of-body self as the more "real", or complete, or fulfilled, and their embodied existence as diminished. To put it another way, I think if they were polled, they would vote for Plato over Aristotle.

Tom said...

I'm quite unnerved by both the prospect of eternal life and eternal oblivion. The idea of existing forever, as in forever, that even after a Graham's Number of years you'll still have an infinite amount of time to go, is downright terrifying, but so is the idea that everything I and everyone else has done will eventually come to nothing and it will be as though we never existed.

The only really palatable solution is that Heaven will be timeless. Of course, nobody can conceive what that's like, given that we're time-bound in this life, so I'm still stuck, emotionally speaking.

Crude said...

To throw in something in Rank's defense here, or at least try to - Rank's argument and Hart's as I see it.

I'm not totally discounting the power of emotional consideration, or even someone's intuition that a God which permits evil in some way 'feels lesser' than a hypothetical God which would never do such a thing. The problem I have with accounts like Hart's is that I can't help but get the impression that it trades heavily on rhetoric. I have yet to see a piece like Hart's where all the most vicious sides of (real and hypothetical) providence are put on display, but placed alongside all of the benevolent sides that would likewise be the case - it doesn't suffice to eradicate the point being made, but I do think it blunts it considerably.

I also don't completely discount an intuition ultimately rooted in emotion, etc. People have intuitions and biases, and as a practical matter I'm fine with that so long as it's recognized for what it is, and how far it goes. Meaning, if I don't share that intuition or emotional reaction, the argument won't go far with me, and if the goal is to persuade by offering the account, well, there we have a problem.

Craig Payne said...

Dear SR: You wrote, "My take on your answer, though, is that it is saying that the OOBE/NDE experiencers (speaking generally) are deluded."

To this I would respond: No, not at all. What I am saying is that their experiences, if they in fact do occur, are not the natural state of affairs, but are due to God's gracious input of experience.

In the natural state of affairs, humans need bodies for experiences such as those described in OOBE. So any genuine OOBE would occur by God's grace, not by the "natural" state of a separated human soul.

rank sophist said...

Joe,

I see what you're saying now, but I still think it might be slightly off. You said,

"This, I take it, to be an implicit rejection of God necessarily as the creator and sustainer of that system."

Now, there are two ways to take the word "rejected" in this circumstance. The first is the way that I, for example, reject materialism: from a rational standpoint, I don't think it's true. But I don't think that this is what Ivan is doing. I think he chooses a second option: he thinks that God exists, but he refuses to accept him. This is certainly a "rejection", but it's an irrationalist's rejection. Ivan refuses to accept reality as (in his view) it actually is, because that reality is horrific.

As you said, I'm pretty sure that Dostoyevsky struggled with Ivan's argument. Hart has talked about his struggles with it as well. It really puts humanity's attempts to rationalize evil into perspective, and it undermines most attempts at theodicy.

(Also, I don't think there's anything wrong with calling Dostoyevsky an existentialist, even if most 20th century existentialists were intellectual lightweights. I associate him more with Kierkegaard, although Dostoyevsky's probably a greater thinker.)

Step2 said...

Dr. Beck has a useful model for describing this focus on lament and doubt combined with belief, he classifies them as Winter Christians.

Brandon said...

Defining death as part of the good of destructibles, though, is exactly the kind of thing that Hart is attacking.

This is simply not what is at issue, and shows that despite your claim to be 'aware' of the implications of common good, you've missed the relevant ones. Nothing follows about death as "part of the good of destructibles" from anything I said. Other goods are part of the good of destructibles given common good; this is not the same thing.

The ST 1.22.2 passage clearly refers to the complete good of the universe, and so has to be understood in the same way as the previous article to which you referred, in which Aquinas is discussing precisely the complete good of the universe. As with many responses to objections in the early Summa, it is anticipating further discussion.

As you say, Aquinas argues that the existence of corruption, being necessary to destructibles, is justified by the greater good of destructibles existing at all.

Again, there's no balancing or trade-off here. There's an aim: fullness of goodness in creation. There is only one means: all the major kinds of goodness. One of the major kinds of goodness is destructible goodness. That is all the justification to which Aquinas appeals. The only alternative to this is that any possibility of natural evil -- and again, that includes not just death but things like 'inability to use one's legs to walk' and 'is turned into something else' -- is adequate reason for good never existing at all. Aquinas's point is that it's not even the right kind of thing to be a reason -- destructible goods aren't magically made evils by being destructible. They are still a major kind of good, and if the end is completeness of goodness in the universe, they have to be included.

Brandon said...

I should add, incidentally, that the existence of corruption is not necessary to destructibles; any more than the existence of lameness is necessary for legs to exist. It's just a real possibility when the latter do.

Anonymous said...

Rank Sophist,

'I associate him more with Kierkegaard, although Dostoyevsky's probably a greater thinker.'

As someone who enjoys the work of both of these thinkers, I'm keen to know how you have arrived at this evaluation.

Admittedly I think Dostoyevsky is by far the better writer, however Kierkegaard is a thinker who is so layered that a prolonged engagement with his work is immensely rewarding and the body of his works is vast.

Glenn said...

Hart calls into question any theory--including Aquinas's--that makes corruption a necessary condition for goodness.

Since a corruptible thing is a thing which can fail in goodness, and a corruptible thing which actually fails in goodness is said to be corrupted, it follows that it is goodness which is a necessary condition for corruption.

rank sophist said...

Brandon,

I never suggested that q22 quote was something new to be grappled with. I decided to post it because it was the quote I'd been looking for in the first place, and it was longer and clearer than the previous one I'd posted.

Anyway, I'm not sure how else to take your comment at June 20 1:23 PM ("Rather, it's a genuine part of the good of destructible goods themselves that by being destructible, they allow other goods to exist that contribute to the good of the whole") if not as the claim that the destructibility of goods is part of their goodness. Obviously, corruption is against the specific nature that is corrupted (per Aquinas), but you quite clearly stated that, by being corrupted, they enable the universe's perfection. And Aquinas shares this view. As he says, "A lion would cease to live, if there were no slaying of animals". The goodness of the lion is the death of other animals; and, with their deaths, they contribute indirectly to the good of the whole. Their deaths are required for the proper functioning of the universe. This isn't even controversial.

There's an aim: fullness of goodness in creation. There is only one means: all the major kinds of goodness. One of the major kinds of goodness is destructible goodness.

Indeed. But, in Aquinas's thought, destructible goodness is an economy of violence (as you yourself seem to admit). Necessarily, one thing must die so that another may live. God wills the goodness of the universe, and Aquinas believes that the goodness of the universe necessitates evil, so God tolerates evil as a consequence of willing the good--an appeal to the principle of double-effect. That is the very definition of an economy of violence, in which God as ruler of the polis-writ-large allows evil so that his subjects are not denied other goods. And, for Aquinas, there are only two options: either God allows evil for the sake of good, or he prevents evil at the cost of good. There is no possible world in which evil does not exist; not even Eden avoided it. Therefore, God is trapped in the economy of violence, like a ruler who must either wage just war or allow the murder of innocents.

The only alternative to this is that any possibility of natural evil -- and again, that includes not just death but things like 'inability to use one's legs to walk' and 'is turned into something else' -- is adequate reason for good never existing at all.

I think this is a key point of confusion. Aquinas cannot imagine a world that is A) fully good and B) free from corruption. To him, it isn't even a possibility. You seem to be presupposing the truth of this view. But that doesn't work against someone who believes that the Edenic world was free from natural evil, and that order's reliance on corruption is a consequence of the Fall. And yes, that includes "is turned into something else" and "inability to use one's legs to walk". It also includes the lion's need to kill other animals, and the necessity of "tyrannical persecution" for the "patience of martyrs". In an Edenic state, evil would not have been a necessary condition for these goods.

Hart's argument is that God does not allow evil for the sake of good. It's more of a "you made your bed, now sleep in it" situation. Humanity created the economy of violence; God detests it but allows it to exist for a time. Then he will return to "mak[e] all things anew" (Rev 21:5), and the "wolf will live with the lamb" (Isiah 11:6). In the meantime, evil should be seen as an unnecessary, irrational interruption of the universe's proper order. This is Hart's view in a nutshell.

Vincent Torley said...

CCK wrote:

"If we can't say that a good God permits evil in order to bring out some greater good, then we are left with no direction for how to reconcile the two. If we say all evil arises from the will of creatures, then God is still permitting it, either for some good end or for no good end. If for no good end, then God either lacks the power to bend evil toward good or he is not willing to and thus not truly good. But God is omnipotent and truly good. Therefore he permits evil for some good end."

May I make a suggestion? I would suggest that the reason why God permits the evils that afflict us is not in order to realize some "greater good," but because of a pre-existing obligation on His part. God cannot break a promise. We can presume (I'm following C. S. Lewis here) that He gave the angels certain responsibilities at the dawn of creation, and that He promised them a certain degree of administrative autonomy as well. If Lucifer was the prince of this world, and if he subsequently fell, then it is hardly surprising that we find Nature "red in tooth and claw," as Tennyson put it.

We also know from Scripture that God gave Adam the responsibility for deciding the fate of His descendants. Unfortunately, he and Eve chose to reject God, in favor of personal autonomy - even if doing so meant a world filled with human suffering. God, Who cannot break a promise, had no choice but to ratify that decision. Until He finally puts things right, as He one day will, we are stuck with the world we're in.

In other words, I don't see the need to look for a good that God brings out of every evil - there needn't be one. The mere facts that free agents (Lucifer and Adam) sinned, and that God has to honor His promises, are sufficient to explain the mess we're in.

CCK said...

rank,

There have been a lot of posts on this subject and we've never had an exchange before, so I won't be offended if you don't reply to this. Nevertheless, the problem with Hart's argument as you've presented it is as follows:

1. It provides an answer to a question the "greater good" theorists aren't asking. Who denies that God allows fallen man to lie in the bed he's made, for a time, until he one day makes all things new? Every orthodox Christian of every age believes this. The question isn't how sin came into the world through man, or even what God's response to sin is -- we know that he allow it to continue -- but why he does.

2. I fail to see how he escapes the dilemma I posted earlier. The fact is that God permits evil to exist. He either does so for some good end, or for no good end. If Hart would reject the dichotomy and say, "God's purpose is inscrutable," this collapses into the good end, because we know that God is good, and so even his inscrutable purposes must be good. And this is just about all the greater good theorists say anyway -- not that this or that particular evil must cash out into this or that good, but that, since God is good, whatever the purpose is for allowing evil, it must be good. If Hart says God allows evil for no good end, then God allows sin to ravage his creation for some arbitrary period of time for no reason, and it is hard to see how this is a nobler God than the one Hart skewers.

I understand yours was a nutshell presentation so if I'm misrepresenting Hart I am happy to be corrected. I have read The Doors of the Sea but not The Beauty of the Infinite.

CCK said...

Vincent,

Sorry, I didn't see your comment until after I posted my latest.

To say that God is bound by his promise is another way of saying that God is bound by his justice, and justice is a species of goodness, so this is all a way if saying that God, being goodness itself, is bound to be good. And since God made the original promise and chose to create this world of free creatures with full foreknowledge of our eventual sin, that promise and choice must have been good from start to finish.

This is not the same as saying that this is somehow the best of all possible worlds, but it does seem to imply that whatever reason God had for giving us freedom to sin must have outweighed the costs because he knew how much sin would result and still went through with it. And if God's providence is not to be thwarted, it seems the allowance of sin must be subsumed under that "higher" good that is the end of all creation. Or am I misunderstanding?

malcolmthecynic said...

You can disagree with his argument, but at least bother to get it right. These casual dismissals of it as "rhetoric" that "appeals to emotion" are, to put it bluntly, on the level of the typical refutation of Christianity presented in PZ Myers' comboxes.

Very late here, but your categorization of Hart's argument was this:

If God's hands are tied by evil, if he needs it or is complicit in it at all, then why should one worship him? If the source of being is tainted by his association with evil, then, regardless of that source's existence, he is a tyrant to be resisted. This is certainly absurd (in the existentialist sense), since it means that humanity desires a justice that does not and cannot exist. It's an irrational rebellion against an unbeatable foe. But it serves to highlight how outrageous is the idea of a God (or, more accurately, god) who is merely death's capstone and ultimate explainer. The typical theodicy is rationally comforting until one unpacks its implications.

Sorry, but I don't see this, even after your clarification, as more than a rhetorical appeal to emotion, albeit one proposed in a way that makes it sound very rational.

God created everything. The whole world, meaning that if things die in an indirect way God is responsible. If you don't want to worship such a God, fine. But unless Hart doesn't actually believe that God created the world (obviously false), he's stuck in a bind here, and he hasn't given a particularly compelling way out of it.

Vincent,

Your idea isn't a bad one, but then we have a really excellent example of God making good out of evil, the worst evil, even: The Cross.

(I find it funny that being called "on the level of P.Z. Myers" is such a bad insult!)

malcolmthecynic said...

Hart's argument is that God does not allow evil for the sake of good. It's more of a "you made your bed, now sleep in it" situation. Humanity created the economy of violence; God detests it but allows it to exist for a time. Then he will return to "mak[e] all things anew" (Rev 21:5), and the "wolf will live with the lamb" (Isiah 11:6). In the meantime, evil should be seen as an unnecessary, irrational interruption of the universe's proper order. This is Hart's view in a nutshell.

So God created man, knowing evil would result, because it was worth it for the good?

Vincent Torley said...

CCK,

Thanks for your response. You write:

"And since God made the original promise and chose to create this world of free creatures with full foreknowledge of our eventual sin, that promise and choice must have been good from start to finish.

...[I]t does seem to imply that whatever reason God had for giving us freedom to sin must have outweighed the costs because he knew how much sin would result and still went through with it. And if God's providence is not to be thwarted, it seems the allowance of sin must be subsumed under that "higher" good that is the end of all creation. Or am I misunderstanding?"

I should inform you that regarding God's foreknowledge, I am neither a Bannezian (like Garrigou-Lagrange) nor a Molinist, but a Boethian. I hold that God's knowledge of our sins was logically (but not temporally) subsequent to his decision to create a world of free creatures, including angels and humans.

While I would agree that God's allowing sin is subsumed under that "higher" good that is the end of all creation, I would say that the sin itself is not, and I would add that God is not obliged to draw any special good out of the sinful act itself. Rather, God chose to create a world of creatures with libertarian freedom, because it was a richer world than a world without such creatures.

BenYachov said...

I'm a partisan of Brian Davies here and to a lesser extent Nick Trakakis.

It is part of the goodness of God that He allows evil so that He can bring good out of it.

But God doesn't need evil to bring about good. God could have created a world without the present natural evils but he would not have created this world.

It just gives us a reason as to why God can permits evil at all.

God is not obligated to create any possible world or to create at all. There is no world so good God is obligated to create it and none so bad that as long as it participates in Being God should refrain from creating it.

Perhaps Hart's true problem is his understanding of Aquinas here?

Perhaps we can reconcile the fact God has nothing to do with the economy of evil but God permits there to be evil so he can bring good out of it?


Of course I don't believe God can coherently be called a moral agent unequivocally compared to a human moral agent.

I wonder where that fits here?

Just some thoughts.

rank sophist said...

A few quick responses.

Anon at 7:27 AM,

It's a conclusion only in the weakest possible sense. My knowledge of Kierkegaard is extremely limited; I'm not qualified to judge his work. This is why I said "probably": Dostoyevsky is a genius, and the little I know of Kierkegaard is less brilliant than what I know of Dostoyevsky. But I make no claim to knowing what I'm talking about on this point. Sorry for the confusion.

CCK,

Every orthodox Christian of every age believes this.

You'd think so. But certain Christian thinkers, Aquinas included, attempt to redefine evil (at least in its natural form) as an intrinsic part of the universal order. That is, it has nothing to do with the Fall: many if not most forms of good have an unbreakable reliance on evil. This train of thought is vigorously attacked by Hart in The Beauty of the Infinite, and he addresses it to some extent in The Doors of the Sea.

If Hart says God allows evil for no good end, then God allows sin to ravage his creation for some arbitrary period of time for no reason, and it is hard to see how this is a nobler God than the one Hart skewers.

This seems to be more along the lines of Hart's view, at least as I read him. But it has to be understood in light of the Fall. God allows creation to be "ravaged by sin" because that is the world order that man freely chose. God is honoring man's wishes, as he does with those who choose hell. But Christ redeems us and allows us to choose a different life, and to be resurrected into a world remade according to God's plan. The time before the Second Coming exists so that many men may convert. That, on my reading, would be Hart's view.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I'm still struggling to see how Hart's theodicy does not suffer a similar problem, if we allow it to be, to Aquinas'. After all, saying God gave free will, knowing it by its nature (some modernist sophistry not withstanding) includes the possibility of evil actions, is indirectly responsible for evil in the world in the same the exact same way as Aquinas believed. I suppose you could interpret Aquinas as saying that God not just allowed for the possibility of evil but actively wanted it, to bring out greater good, but I think this would be an uncharitable and unlikely interpretation. So, in the end, I don't much of a difference between Hart and Aquinas.

Drogon said...

Honestly, though I want to believe it, specifically in Hart's terms of the world being originally perfect and unspoiled, I have never understood the Fall-Redemption idea in Christianity:

Suppose humanity fell once, corrupting the world, and suppose that the entire world will eventually be restored to its original perfection. Okay, but then what is the guarantee that this newly redeemed world won't also fall in short order? Where's the guarantee that this Fall-Redemption process won't keep happening again, and again, and again? If humans are free, it seems practically certain to.

As far as I can see, the only way out of this is if the newly redeemed world is in some way better than the original unfallen world, and better in a way that in some way staves off the possibility of another rebellion. But then we find ourselves squarely in Hart's and RS' "economy of violence" problem, in that God needed a passage through evil in order to achieve the final perfection of a redeemed world.

Glenn said...

Rank,

But certain Christian thinkers, Aquinas included, attempt to redefine evil (at least in its natural form) as an intrinsic part of the universal order. That is, it has nothing to do with the Fall: many if not most forms of good have an unbreakable reliance on evil. This train of thought is vigorously attacked by Hart in The Beauty of the Infinite, and he addresses it to some extent in The Doors of the Sea.

Have neither you nor Hart heard of something called... metaphysics?

While I don't for a moment believe that you guys haven’t heard of it, I sometimes do wonder about the cavalier disrespect you guys seem to have for its borders.

But it has to be understood in light of the Fall.

It is true that, as Fr. Robin Ryan writes, "The metaphysical discussion of evil needs to be supplemented by what Aquinas says about original sin."

Excerpted from the link (bold emphases are the author's):

- - - - -

Aquinas draws on [the] idea of original sin as a privation of original justice. For him the state in which Adam and Eve...were created was that of original justice. This condition was not simply a state of natural happiness; it was a way of being made possible by the gift of God’s grace...

Thus the gift of grace, which for Aquinas refers to the action of God leading us to union with God, was present before the “fall" of the human race." The state of “rightness" in which the first human beings were created included a harmony between the various powers of the human person. Aquinas describes it as a condition in which human reason was submissive to God, the lower powers of the human soul were submissive to reason, and the body was submissive to the soul (Summa Theologiae, 1, 95, 1). In this graced condition, the first humans possessed all of the virtues. Their entire being was completely oriented to God and to obedience to the divine will.

...Aquinas...views the essence of original sin as the loss, or privation, of original justice. Through the sin of Adam, humanity lost the gift of original justice, and human nature was modified as a result of this privation. Employing Aristotelian terminology, Aquinas speaks of original sin as a “habit," that is, a disposition according to which a subject is well disposed or ill disposed toward something.

Original sin is “a disordered disposition growing from the dissolution of that harmony in which original justice consisted" (Summa Theologiae I-Il, 82, 1). He likens this disordered disposition to a bodily illness. Human nature has become sick because of the effects of the sin that occurred at the very origins of human history. In this condition, the powers of the human soul have become disturbed...

...It is not just that we are loved by God, we become lovable because of the healing, life-giving action of God within us. In a kind of summary statement, Aquinas offers a deep and expansive account of the effects of grace: “Now there are five effects of grace in us: firstly, the healing of the soul; secondly, willing the good; thirdly, the efficacious performance of the good willed; fourthly, perseverance in the good; fifthly, the attainment of glory" (Summa Theologiae I-Il, 1 1 1, 3). Aquinas, then, underlines the primacy of grace in the Christian life; like Augustine, he is convinced that grace is needed at every step along the path of salvation. And he depicts a God who is generous in offering this grace, bestowing his presence in our lives in a way that is transformative.

...[F]or Aquinas, the Christian is meant to configure his or her life to the crucified and risen Lord and, through union with Christ, be delivered from suffering in eternal life. The postponement of this freedom from suffering is in some mysterious way in keeping with the wisdom of God.

- - - - -

Anonymous said...

Scott,

I agree that your two propositions are different. Your proposition (1):

"(1) If there is evil, then God is able to bring greater good from it. ("God allows evil in the world only insofar as he draws greater good out of it.")
-----

Your proposition number (1) does not have precisely the same meaning as the sentence that follows it (your parenthetical quote from Dr. Feser's essay). Your first sentence may be interpreted as; "God brings greater good from evil, which exists contrary to God's will" (which Hart would not object to). The second sentence (Dr. Feser's) more clearly describes the Thomistic understanding of God's "permissive will" (which Hart objects to on the grounds nicely summarized by Rank Sophist).

Following your proposition number (2) below, which you offer as a summary of Hart's misunderstanding of the Thomistic position:

(2) If God is to bring about good, then there must be evil.

You say:

Lots of great goods couldn't exist without evil. How, for example, could there be repentance and forgiveness without sin.

Of course you are correct on this last point and I appreciate Greg's clarification that followed. But are repentance and forgiveness "greater goods" for which God permitted the evil that ultimately lead to them?

Oh happy fault of Adam?

Thanks for your posts. I'm really enjoying this thread.

Glenn said...

Rank,

Sorry to have to ask, but what's wrong with this picture:

David Bentley Hart: "The story Christian doctrine tells is that sin and death are accidental to our created nature, and so they never occupied any necessary place in God’s intentions for his creatures[.]" (Here.)

You: "But certain Christian thinkers, Aquinas included, attempt to redefine evil (at least in its natural form) as an intrinsic part of the universal order. That is, it has nothing to do with the Fall: many if not most forms of good have an unbreakable reliance on evil. This train of thought is vigorously attacked by Hart in The Beauty of the Infinite, and he addresses it to some extent in The Doors of the Sea."

Aquinas: "[E]vil has no formal cause, rather is it a privation of form; likewise, neither has it a final cause, but rather is it a privation of order to the proper end; since not only the end has the nature of good, but also the useful, which is ordered to the end. Evil, however, has a cause by way of an agent, not directly, but accidentally." (Here.)

Glenn said...

Also, if Hart believes that Aquinas' take on evil is so bad, why does he say, "Again, I recommend Dostoyevsky as a good starting point, and Aquinas’s De Malo thereafter"? (Here.)

Brandon said...

Anyway, I'm not sure how else to take your comment at June 20 1:23 PM ... if not as the claim that the destructibility of goods is part of their goodness....you quite clearly stated that, by being corrupted, they enable the universe's perfection.

You are reading the relation backward: destructible goods enable the universe's perfection by existing as goods. It is the resulting common good that enables them to have other goods as their good in being destructible. Without this latter, destructible goods would just (given the right conditions) be destroyed; through common good, that is no longer the end of the story, because their good does not end with their destruction (a parent's good doesn't end with his or her death, because of his or her children). But this is an asymmetric dependency. Destructible goods exist because of their own goodness; the destructibleness is due to the limitations of the kind of genuine good they are; common good makes other goods part of their good even when they are destroyed.

But, in Aquinas's thought, destructible goodness is an economy of violence (as you yourself seem to admit).

Destructible goodness is a kind of goodness. 'Economy of violence' is a system in which one thing is consistently destroyed in exchange for another. Water is an 'economy of violence' because water derives its major properties from the fact that H20 decomposes into H and OH, and recomposes back into H2O; not because water molecules are decomposable. To have an 'economy of violence' requires having an economy, a system of exchange, and this is not something that destructible goods presuppose but something that presupposes them already existing.

The reason this is important is that the one and only issue here is: Does Aquinas's account tangle up God's creative and providential act in economies of violence? And the answer is that it does not because the main lines are focused on the goodness of destructible goods, not the corruptibility. Everything then follows almost like a catechism. Why do destructible goods exist? Not in order to be destroyed, even in exchange for other goods, but in order to exist as good. Why have destructible goods in the universe at all? Because the universe should have a plenitude of goodness, and destructible goods are genuinely good, and without them the universe would be missing a major kind of good. Why allow the destruction at all, though? Because what matters for determining whether something is worth existing is goodness, not just the goodness intrinsic to the destructible good itself, but even more than that the goodness it has as sharing and contributing to common good. There is no balance, no trade-off, no crude calculus: destructible goods exist because they are good, period. That they are destructible does not change that. If they are destroyed, it does not change that they were good, and it does not change any good that continues on through their contribution to the whole. And if something is genuinely good, it is worth existing.

We can see the issue another way: what makes a good destructible is matter. So talk about destructible goods natural evil is basically talk about the material creation. Substitute talk of material creatures for talk of destructible or corruptible goods; even the idea that there needs to be a trade-off sounds remarkably Manichean. Aquinas's account of evil in creation is clearly and carefully designed to avoid anything even suggesting Manicheanism. So his emphasis is on the goodness of things, even of corruptible, destructible, material things, which are worthy of existence not because of a trade-off but because they themselves are good.

Brandon said...

We can put it all in a picture, as well. Suppose you're given the opportunity to create a sandbox-universe, to make it beautiful. And suppose one of the things you can put into your sandbox-universe a violet that is extraordinarily beautiful, but the kind of beauty it has is very fragile, so that it will likely last only one afternoon.

One way of approaching this, the Manichean way, is to say: "This violet is corruptible, inherently passing, and its corruptibility taints its beauty with ugliness. It could only be allowed if its beauty, or the beauty of things coming from it, were greater than the ugliness of its destruction."

But another way of approaching this, the Thomistic way, is to say: "Though the violet may pass away, it is extraordinarily beautiful, and thus will play an important role in the fullness of beauty that is the end of the sandbox-universe, even if we only have it one afternoon. As for its passing away, we can even set things up so that its contribution of beauty to the universe continues even when it is destroyed by its making possible other beautiful things. By giving up its beauty it will have a share in the beauty of others."

George LeSauvage said...

@rank:

"Unfortunately, that's simply to miss Hart's point: if God buys one soul at the cost of another, say, then it seems that God does not transcend what Hart (following Derrida) calls the "economy of violence".

Sorry to be dense as well as late, but I think malcolm asked the key question here. How can this be reconciled with the Crucifixion?

Also, it seems the sense of "transcend" here is not the standard one, and thus this argument wouldn't necessarily be a problem for anyone who doesn't choose to follow Derrida. (Not a small set, that.)

Anonymous said...

I also share Drogon's questions to some extent, and specifically wonder what most Thomists believe about the idea of Christ "making all things new."

Is the belief that the New World will be a restoration of the pre-fallen world, or that it will be an upgrade of that world?

Captain Peabody said...

Rank Sophist,

I really have to take exception to your characterization of Aquinas here. Aquinas is not, full stop, saying "evil is necessary for good": indeed, in the senses you're taking it, he's not saying that at all.

You're heavily equivocating on the word "evil" here. The passages you're quoting do not have to do with moral evil, or even with "evil" in the sense that we typically use the word, but with metaphysical privation or lack of any kind.

In other words, the "corruptions" which Aquinas is defending here, and which you apparently find impossible to bear, include such things as childhood, chemical reactions, eating a salad, rainbows...oh, and such minor things as matter, energy, and the human person as well. All of these things involve change or lack of some kind, and so involve corruption in the metaphysical sense.

When put like this, it becomes very obvious why Aquinas thinks that these things contribute to the good of the universe...not in such a way that God couldn't have created a universe without them, but in the sense that such a world would bear little resemblance to our own, and would seem to be lacking a number of things which most of us consider quite nice indeed.

If there was no corruption in this sense before the Fall, then the pre-Fall world would seem to have almost nothing to do with our world. Animals eating animals is one thing (this is a borderline case that, at least on some level seems to trouble us more than do chemical reactions); we can say that lions ate grass before the Fall if we want, but that would not change one jot or tittle in Aquinas' argument. It is hard to see how, if Aquinas is wrong, Adam and Eve could have eaten anything before the Fall--or even had bodies at all.

The irony here is that the argument you're making against Aquinas would seem to require the elimination of practically all the goods that you're ostensibly defending. The tears of children are a harrowing thing to see--but if your argument is to be taken seriously, then it would seem childhood (inasmuch as it implies lack with respect to the adult form) really should not exist at all, or must be merely another evil consequence of the Fall.

It's not that these arguments don't have any weight--there are reasons why Manichaens thought that God could not have created matter, or why Origen posited that Adam and Eve were disembodied before the Fall. But it seems very odd indeed to solve the problem of evil by eliminating most of the goods we know.

rank sophist said...

Brandon,

Thanks for the clear and lengthy post.

So, on this reading, the destruction of goods is evil--but the common good allows something good to come out of what would otherwise be completely evil. The death of the lion's prey, for example, is bad; but its use by the lion brings something good out of it. So, the use of evil is a way of making the best of a bad situation, rather than achieving good through necessary evil. This account clearly does not tie God to an economy of violence.

If this is what Aquinas means, then it makes sense. It doesn't involve weighing good and evil with the principle of double-effect. Corruption is intrinsic to the natures of destructible goods; God allows it simply by causing the existence of destructible goods. (Notably, this is the exact opposite of the claim that God allows evil so that good may be drawn from it, which certain other posters have been making.) The only point of contention, then, is what constitutes a destructible nature. No one disagrees that lions should exist, even though this involves the deaths of other animals; but it's possible to disagree that their nature necessarily entails the deaths of other animals. Therefore, if Aquinas gets it wrong anywhere along the line, it's in his understanding of the natures of things. His understanding of evil seems fairly air-tight.

Thanks for the clarification. This would explain why Hart never specifically attacks Aquinas's view as denying divine transcendence of evil, even though it seems at first glance like a perfect example. Definitely a worthwhile discussion; I learned a lot. (Oddly, it now seems that Prof. Feser's original claim, which caused Anon to cite Hart, is based on a misreading of Aquinas similar to mine.)

Brandon said...

RS,

I think a trickiness to it is that it's a case where opposing things can be stated in very similar ways, which seems to have been part of the problem above. It's strictly speaking wrong to say, "God allows evil so that good may be drawn from it," simply, but I think a slight adjustment or the right background qualification may give it an entirely OK meaning in the right context.

I think the real difference between Hart and Aquinas is at its root probably a Platonist / Aristotelian divide, and on precisely the point that you suggest.

Anonymous said...

Thank you all for fine discussion of a difficult topic.
(Anonymous 2)

Greg said...

For those interested, over at his blog, Bill Vallicella has a post on divine simplicity and real/formal distinctions. He claims there is an aporia. His combox is open.

Anonymous said...

"I also share Drogon's questions to some extent, and specifically wonder what most Thomists believe about the idea of Christ "making all things new."

Is the belief that the New World will be a restoration of the pre-fallen world, or that it will be an upgrade of that world?"



Is this an either/or situation?

Anonymous said...

About an upgrade: would a world in which nothing suffered and died be metaphysically impossible?

(Jes' wondrin'. Anonymous 2)

Scott said...

"Your proposition number (1) does not have precisely the same meaning as the sentence that follows it[.]"

True, it doesn't quite. But it certainly follows from the quoted sentence, whereas (2) does not.

That is, if "God allows evil in the world only insofar as he draws greater good out of it," then if there is evil, it must be that God is able to bring greater good from it. It does not, however, follow that such evil is necessary for His bringing about good at all.

Scott said...

(It also, by the way, doesn't follow that God allows evil so that He can draw good from it. Pace rank sophist, I, at least, have not made that claim.)

Scott said...

@Greg:

Thanks for the link. I'll be interested to see where Vallicella goes with this.

Scott said...

I wonder whether it might be helpful here to invoke the distinction between primary and secondary causation.

I don't think God allows evil so that He can bring good from it, any more than I think He allows acorns so that He can bring oaks from them. (The analogy isn't perfectly apt, but there's a loose sense in which an acorn has to "die" as an acorn in order to bring forth an oak; cf. 12:24.)

As Christopher Martin remarks somewhere, if God wants there to be oaks, then poof, there are oaks; omniscience doesn't require the use of means to ends. Obviously what God wants must therefore be the entire process of acorns-becoming-oaks—a process of secondary causation, of the entirety of which God is the primary cause.

Likewise (to a degree, though, again, the analogy isn't perfect), God doesn't allow evil for the purpose of bringing good from it. He allows evil as part of a process of secondary causation and wills the entirety of that process insofar as each part of it is good. He wills, that is, the existence of the goods Brandon has helpfully described as destructible insofar as they are good, and the bringing from them via secondary causation of other goods when they're destroyed (as the acorn "dies"), but at no point does He allow evil for the purpose of bringing about a good.

He allows evil insofar as He brings good from it, but not so that He can do so. Does that make sense?

Scott said...

(Sorry, that should be "John 12:24.")

Scott said...

(Yikes, and "omniscience" should be "omnipotence." Sorry, gang.)

Glenn said...

Scott,

He allows evil insofar as He brings good from it, but not so that He can do so. Does that make sense?

Sometimes a distinction is easier to see than it is to articulate. I'm seeing a distinction, and, as far as I know, it's the distinction you're calling attention to. So, yes, that makes sense to me.

dguller said...

Scott:

He allows evil insofar as He brings good from it, but not so that He can do so. Does that make sense?

I’m not too sure. When you say that he allows evil insofar as he brings good from it, I read you as saying that he allows evil to the extent that he brings good from the evil. In other words, if he could not bring good from the evil, then he would never have allowed the evil at all, which is equivalent to saying that if he allows evil, then he must bring good from the evil, presumably in order to justify its “existence” at all. And that seems close to just saying that he allows evil so that he can bring good from the evil. Or maybe I’m missing something here?

Glenn said...

He allows evil insofar as He brings good from it, but not so that He can do so.

How about this,

- While God can bring good from evil, He does not allow evil for the specific purpose of bringing good from it.

Or this,

- Although God can bring good from evil, it is not for the purpose of bringing good from evil that evil is allowed.


What seems key in each of the three formulations is motive or intent -- we acknowledge that God can bring good from evil, but note that His allowing of evil is not for that purpose.

Glenn said...

Perhaps something this might be said:

A pencil can be used to stir a can of paint, but that is not why pencils are made. Similarly, God can bring good from evil, but that is not why God allows evil.

dguller said...

Glenn:

A pencil can be used to stir a can of paint, but that is not why pencils are made. Similarly, God can bring good from evil, but that is not why God allows evil.

But if the creator of the pencil also foresaw that the pencil could be used to stir a can of paint, then that would have been part of why the pencils were made, because some people would benefit from using the pencils in that way, even if that was not the primary function. And if the extra benefit of the pencil was to stir a can of paint, then the pencil was even more good than it would be if it was only used to write.

Similarly, if God knew that the creation of composite reality would necessarily involve deficiencies, defects and death, but that the inclusion of the latter ultimately make composite reality have more goodness than it otherwise would have had, then whether his intent was primary or secondary becomes itself secondary. He knew that allowing evil would bring forth more good in creation than blocking its “existence”, and since he did nothing to block evil’s “existence”, then why can’t it be said that God favored a creation with evil for the sake of a greater good? In other words, if there wasn’t this greater good from evil, then evil would never be allowed to “exist” at all.

Glenn said...

Actually, I have in mind one reason Aquinas gives for God allowing evil, and this reason -- which I'll leave unstated for the time being ;) -- is very much tied in with the following from Brandon (June 20, 2014 at 5:33 AM):

"...Aquinas's argument is not that it is impossible for good to exist without evil; it is that any universe in which the only good was that which never failed would be an incomplete universe[.]"

dguller said...

Glenn:

"...Aquinas's argument is not that it is impossible for good to exist without evil; it is that any universe in which the only good was that which never failed would be an incomplete universe[.]"

But why? If goodness is proportionate to the degree to which a thing’s essence is actualized, then a universe with entities whose essences are fully actualized would be more good than a universe with entities whose essences are not fully actualized.

Glenn said...

Hello dguller,

We meet again.

But if the creator of the pencil also foresaw that the pencil could be used to stir a can of paint, then that would have been part of why the pencils were made,

I've given my wife some ideas regarding things which can be used as a weapon if ever someone should break in while I'm not here and she is in need of defending herself.

One such item is frozen filet mignons from Omaha Steaks. Those suckers are right hard when frozen, and there are two in a pack -- and each in the pack in such a way that you can hold the pack by one filet mignon and get some good whipping action with the other filet mignon when swinging.

However -- Bzzt! -- no, we do not order steaks from Omaha Steaks in order to increase the number of potential weapons available for use against an intruder in our home.

dguller said...

Glenn:

However -- Bzzt! -- no, we do not order steaks from Omaha Steaks in order to increase the number of potential weapons available for use against an intruder in our home.

And yet, if the owner of Omaha Steaks designed those filet mignon to have a secondary function as weapons, then perhaps that wouldn’t be as foolhardy a strategy. After all, many items have multiple functions and uses, and if someone anticipated that a thing X has functions F and G, then even if F is primary and G is secondary, the designer is responsible for both F and G.

Glenn said...

I also know that if I go swimming in the ocean, it is quite likely that sand will be in my bathing suit when I get out of the ocean. However, I don't go swimming in the ocean in order to, amongst other things, get sand in my bathing suit.

Nor do I drive a car in order that I might get into an accident -- even though, like most drivers, I know that being involved in an accident while driving is a possibility.

This isn't to say that there aren't some people who might go driving in order to get into an accident -- someone might do just that in an attempt to commit insurance fraud, or with the perverse hope that they might succeed in committing suicide, or for the vindictive, vengeful and/or insane end of causing someone else harm; but it is to say that when I am driving a car, getting into an accident is not one of the reasons I am doing so.

Similar thing is true for most people -- at least in the world I inhabit. ;)

dguller said...

Glenn:

Yes, but that is all true of "the world [you] inhabit". If it was a world that you designed from the start to include those possibilities, then you are responsible for those possibilities.

Scott said...

@Glenn:

"What seems key in each of the three formulations is motive or intent -- we acknowledge that God can bring good from evil, but note that His allowing of evil is not for that purpose."

As usual, you have caught my meaning quite clearly.

Glenn said...

dguller,

Let's cut to the chase:

I will agree that your position entails that it is God's fault that you are not perfect, or, if not that, that it is God Who is responsible for the fact that you are imperfect.

For future reference, here's a confirmation number (so to speak) of my agreement:

snide modifications beget i not a feathering photo

As you may suspect, the 'confirmation number' is an anagram. When the letters of the anagram are properly rearranged, an interesting quotation from Aquinas will be yours to enjoy.

Glenn said...

Scott,

Thanks. There is someone here, a not infrequent contributor, whose adeptness at clarification is difficult not to notice. I have been paying attention, and, hopefully, am learning a little by osmosis.;)

dguller said...

Glenn:

What seems key in each of the three formulations is motive or intent -- we acknowledge that God can bring good from evil, but note that His allowing of evil is not for that purpose.

Sorry, I missed this comment. You say that God’s allowing of evil is not for the purpose of increasing the overall good in the universe.

A few comments.

First, is there another reason that you have in mind for why God allows evil, if not to increase the overall good of the universe? Or maybe the reason is inscrutable? Or maybe there simply is no reason at all?

Second, even if what you say is true, the reality is that God could have created a universe in which every created entity maximally actualized its nature, which would be a universe with more goodness than ours, and have the utter absence of evil of any kind. After all, there is nothing logically contradictory about such a scenario, and thus it is within his power to do it. The fact that he did not means that he intentionally created a universe with less goodness than was actually possible for him to create, which is inconsistent with the claim that God wants to maximize the amount of goodness in the universe.

I will agree that your position entails that it is God's fault that you are not perfect, or, if not that, that it is God Who is responsible for the fact that you are imperfect.

Great. The next question is what this admission implies, and that depends upon whether God desires to maximize the degree of goodness in the universe that he created. I don’t know whether your religious beliefs would affirm or deny that proposition.

Oh, and I'll get right on that anagram. ;)

Glenn said...

dguller,

Great. The next question is what this admission implies, and that depends upon whether God desires to maximize the degree of goodness in the universe that he created.

Getting a little ahead of yourself, aren’t you?

A person may agree that a certain conclusion follows from certain premises, but this in no way implies that that person agrees that those premises are worthy of his adoption and/or are true.

Now, it may happen, and sometimes does happen (but we won't mention when it happens), that a person may, for the reason that it furthers his ultimate end, take another's agreement that a certain conclusion follows from certain premises and proceed as if that other person had agreed that those premises are worthy of his adoption and/or are true.

If I knew someone who had a habit of doing that sort of thing, then... well, his stature would be diminished in my eyes.

Good luck with the anagram. ;)

Johannes said...

According to Feser, Aquinas said (contra the Platonist): “I am not my soul.”

According to Luke, Jesus said (to the crucified thief): "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

Will a courageous Thomist suggest that if Jesus had spoken strictly, He would have said "today your soul will be with me in Paradise" rather than "today you will be with me in Paradise"?

And just in case someone argues that speaking of "your soul" would have sound extremely contrived in the concrete cultural environment of Palestine 30 AD, I call their attention to what Jesus had said to Peter, James and John just a few hours before in Gethsemane:

"My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death." (Mk 14:34)

So, if Jesus had wanted to say "Your soul will be with me", He could have perfectly done it. But He did not, and said "You will be with me".

As if this piece of evidence were not strong enough by itself, which in my view it clearly is, I submit another which is relevant for Catholic eyes only: the "Letter on certain questions regarding Eschatology" issued by the CDF on May 17, 1979. Quoting from it:

"The Church affirms that a spiritual element survives and subsists after death, an element endowed with consciousness and will, so that the "human self" subsists. To designate this element, the Church uses the word "soul", the accepted term in the usage of Scripture and Tradition."

Just in case someone objects that "self" does not mean "person", I will quote a key expression in other languages, noting that there was no Latin version of that Letter:

- so that the "human self" subsists.

- in modo tale che l'« io » umano sussista.

- de manera que subsiste el mismo « yo » humano.

- en sorte que le « moi » humain subsiste.

Clearly, the literal translation of the original expression in English should have been:

- so that the human « I » subsists.

Therefore, if the same « I » (or « me » in colloquial English) subsists after death, how can someone say that a disembodied soul is not a person?

Greg said...

Johannes,

The full paragraph you're quoting from is as follows:

The Church affirms that a spiritual element survives and subsists after death, an element endowed with consciousness and will, so that the "human self" subsists. To designate this element, the Church uses the word "soul", the accepted term in the usage of Scripture and Tradition. Although not unaware that this term has various meanings in the Bible, the Church thinks that there is no valid reason for rejecting it; moreover, she considers that the use of some word as a vehicle is absolutely indispensable in order to support the faith of Christians.

I think you are trying to draw a lot out of smudging over the families of uses of common terms.

A Thomist holds that a metaphysical part (my form) of me subsists after my death. The Thomist also believes that the subsistence of this form is what is necessary for the resurrected-me to be numerically identical to me.

By contrast, the CDF does not appear interested in laying down a rigorous philosophical treatise on the metaphysical composition of my disembodied soul. There is a sense, which the Thomist admits, in which it is "mine" (ie. it is the soul that was associated with me and will later be associated with me). The quotes around "human self" suggest that the CDF is using the phrase in a broad sense (since the Church does not have an "official" philosophy, I expect). I don't think the CDF would be peeved here if a Thomist wanted to qualify that the subsistent soul is not a complete substance and therefore can't be numerically identical with me.

Johannes said...

To note, Aquinas' statement “I am not my soul” can be easily interpreted in a way compatible with the notion that a disembodied soul, i.e. after death, is a person. Because Aquinas said that while he was alive. And any living human being is the composite of his soul and body, and not only his soul. I certainly affirm that.

But after death, if the same «I» (or «me» in colloquial English) subsists, clearly that «I» is only the soul.

Johannes said...

To Greg:

I am not questioning the notion that the subsistent soul is not a complete substance. That is quite clear.

What I am questioning is the notion that "person" requires a complete substance.

To note, the issue has been recently examined by Mark K. Spencer:

http://www.academia.edu/3467526/The_Personhood_of_the_Separated_Soul

Greg said...

I didn't say you were questioning whether the subsistent soul is a complete substance. You implied that that was inconsistent with the CDF letter you cited.

Step2 said...

@Glenn,
So far no luck on the anagram, although I think faith and reason must be in there somewhere. When I tried it from the other angle and attempted to find quotes of Aquinas I came across one that references Aquinas that had me in stitches.

"I couldn't make any judgment on the Summa, except to say this: I read it for about twenty minutes every night before I go to bed. If my mother were to come in during this process and say, 'Turn off that light. It's late,' I with a lifted finger and broad bland beatific expression, would reply, 'On the contrary, I answer that the light, being eternal and limitless, cannot be turned off. Shut your eyes,' or some such thing." — Flannery O'Connor (The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor)

Glenn said...

Step2,

So far no luck on the anagram, although I think faith and reason must be in there somewhere.

Well now, that is a very interesting thought. And it puts you quite close, in one sense at least, to the quotation.

I did a cursory search on the quotation, and the results weren't promising: Bing and Yahoo! each returned 9 hits, Google Web 8 hits, and Google Books a whopping 24. So, some clues seem to be in order:

1. Although the anagram is comprised of 9 words, the quotation itself is comprised of 10 words. (Same 43 letters in each case, of course.)

2. While the quotation can stand as a complete sentence by itself, it is actually the last clause of a sentence.

3. Faith and reason often are thought of as being less related to the will, and more related to the _________.

4. The quotation is (taken from)/(can be found) here.

5. The act of providing only these clues may signify that I'm being stingy.

- - - - -

Re the O'Connor quote: Ha! ;)

Vincent Torley said...

Hi dguller,

You wrote:

"...the reality is that God could have created a universe in which every created entity maximally actualized its nature, which would be a universe with more goodness than ours, and have the utter absence of evil of any kind. After all, there is nothing logically contradictory about such a scenario, and thus it is within his power to do it. The fact that he did not means that he intentionally created a universe with less goodness than was actually possible for him to create, which is inconsistent with the claim that God wants to maximize the amount of goodness in the universe."

I would like to ask: maximal goodness for whom? Perhaps God could have created a universe in which every created entity maximally actualized its nature, but it would be a universe without us. Think about it. You probably have Viking ancestors, as I do. Chances are, then, that one of your ancestors was conceived in rape - which means that you owe your very existence to someone sinning. (You would not be who you are if you had different parents, grandparents, etc.) A sinless world would be a world without you and me.

The next point I'd like to make is that while some goods can be regarded as commensurable (although Germain Grisez would disagree, when it comes to basic human goods), human beings are certainly incommensurable. You can't say that a world with Tom and without Harry is better or worse than a world with Harry and without Tom. Each person is unique and irreplaceable.

For that reason, while it is true that God could make a world of sinless human beings, we can't say that it would be a better world than ours, because the people in it would be different.

Thoughts?

dguller said...

Glenn:

A person may agree that a certain conclusion follows from certain premises, but this in no way implies that that person agrees that those premises are worthy of his adoption and/or are true.

I know. That’s why my very next statement was: “I don’t know whether your religious beliefs would affirm or deny that proposition.” I didn’t want to proceed down that path without knowing where you stood on it.

dguller said...

Vincent:

I would like to ask: maximal goodness for whom? Perhaps God could have created a universe in which every created entity maximally actualized its nature, but it would be a universe without us. Think about it. You probably have Viking ancestors, as I do. Chances are, then, that one of your ancestors was conceived in rape - which means that you owe your very existence to someone sinning. (You would not be who you are if you had different parents, grandparents, etc.) A sinless world would be a world without you and me.

I agree. Perhaps a world with more goodness would lack many of the things that we cherish, including ourselves. But would God prioritize our needs over the objective of maximal goodness? In other words, if God had a number of possible ways to create the universe, and his guiding objective was to create a universe with a maximal degree of goodness, then why would he intentionally choose to create a universe that fell short of that standard? He would have to do so on the basis of believing that it was more good to create a less good universe, which is a contradiction, and God does nothing that is logically inconsistent.

You can't say that a world with Tom and without Harry is better or worse than a world with Harry and without Tom. Each person is unique and irreplaceable.

Yes, but their goodness does not flow from their uniqueness. Their goodness is coextensive with their degree of actual being, and thus a world with five individuals who have actualized their natures only 50% is less good than a world with five individuals who have actualized their natures 75%. And this holds true even if each individual is “unique and irreplaceable”. In other words, there is a primary goodness that each being has simply by existing as some kind of thing, and then there is a secondary goodness that each being has by actualizing their powers and becoming as ideal a member of their kind as possible. I see no reason why this framework frowns upon a calculus of goodness of some kind.

Glenn said...

dguller,

>> A person may agree that a certain conclusion follows from
>> certain premises, but this in no way implies that that person
>> agrees that those premises are worthy of his adoption
>> and/or are true.

> I know. That’s why my very next statement was: “I don’t know
> whether your religious beliefs would affirm or deny that
> proposition.” I didn’t want to proceed down that path without
> knowing where you stood on it.

That's a fairly huge swing -- is it not? -- going from what is implied by my agreement being dependent on "whether God desires [X]" to what is implied by my agreement being dependent on "whether [my] religious beliefs would [Y]"?

Glenn said...

dguller,

On further reflection, I see that I may have misunderstood you, and that you actually may have meant to say something like this:

"What is implied by your agreement is dependent on whether your religious beliefs would affirm or deny the proposition that 'God desires to maximize the degree of goodness in the universe that he created.'"

Is that closer to your meaning?

Glenn said...

If so, then this doesn't make much sense to me:

...the reality is that God could have created a universe in which every created entity maximally actualized its nature, which would be a universe with more goodness than ours, and have the utter absence of evil of any kind...The fact that he did not means that he intentionally created a universe with less goodness than was actually possible for him to create, which is inconsistent with the claim that God wants to maximize the amount of goodness in the universe.

The reason why that doesn't make much sense to me is that it seems to boil down to, "If God desires to maximize the degree of goodness in the universe that he created, then he would have created some other universe instead."

Scott said...

@dguller:

"[God] intentionally created a universe with less goodness than was actually possible for him to create, which is inconsistent with the claim that God wants to maximize the amount of goodness in the universe."

And who has made this latter claim? No one here, so far as I can see. Aquinas didn't think there was even any such thing as a maximally good universe.

Glenn said...

a world with five individuals who have actualized their natures only 50% is less good than a world with five individuals who have actualized their natures 75%

If my understanding of the matter is not too far off the mark, then:

1. On a Thomistic account, a world with five individuals, each of a different grade of being, and each of whose natures has been actualized only 50%, is a more complete world than a world with five individuals, each of the same grade of being, and each of whose natures has been actualized 75%.; and,

2. The "calculus of goodness", if there is such a thing, would be, from a Thomistic perspective, based not on some kind of actualization percentage, but on the variety of grades of being.

Glenn said...

The reason why that doesn't make much sense...

Scott has provided a simpler, more direct, and therefore better, reason "why".

dguller said...

Scott:

And who has made this latter claim? No one here, so far as I can see. Aquinas didn't think there was even any such thing as a maximally good universe.

I thought it was implied. If God has a choice of action A or action B, and A has more goodness than B, then shouldn’t God choose A over B? Isn’t that precisely what intellect and will are supposed to do? In other words, the intellect determines the good, and the will moves to make the good a reality, which in God’s case, would be one and the same activity. If God knew that A is more good than B, and yet God chose B over A, then was that because (a) his intellect didn’t know that A is more good than B, in which case he isn’t omniscient, or (b) did his intellect know that A is more good than B, but his will did not follow his intellect, in which case divine simplicity is violated, or (c) his intellect knew that A is more good than B, his will wanted to do A more than B, but he couldn’t, in which case he isn’t omnipotent?

dguller said...

Glenn:

1. On a Thomistic account, a world with five individuals, each of a different grade of being, and each of whose natures has been actualized only 50%, is a more complete world than a world with five individuals, each of the same grade of being, and each of whose natures has been actualized 75%.

So, according to Thomism, a world with an ant, a monkey, a salmon, a blue jay and a dog is better than a world with five human beings? I thought human beings were closer to God than the rest of material reality on the basis of our possession of an immaterial intellect that makes us resemble God, which would make human beings more good, because more like God, than other non-rational animals.

2. The "calculus of goodness", if there is such a thing, would be, from a Thomistic perspective, based not on some kind of actualization percentage, but on the variety of grades of being.

See above.

DavidM said...

Brandon wrote:
One way of approaching this, the Manichean way, is to say: "This violet is corruptible, inherently passing, and its corruptibility taints its beauty with ugliness. It could only be allowed if its beauty, or the beauty of things coming from it, were greater than the ugliness of its destruction."

But another way of approaching this, the Thomistic way, is to say: "Though the violet may pass away, it is extraordinarily beautiful, and thus will play an important role in the fullness of beauty that is the end of the sandbox-universe, even if we only have it one afternoon. As for its passing away, we can even set things up so that its contribution of beauty to the universe continues even when it is destroyed by its making possible other beautiful things. By giving up its beauty it will have a share in the beauty of others."


Very interesting. So if I'm reading correctly, the Manichaeans were beauty-utilitarians? Is that correct? And the Thomistic way presented here (wherein I question the use/purpose of the terms "extraordinarily" and "important") seems not to call into question the notion of a beauty-calculus being the basis for determining what exists, but to claim that the violet can be justified within the utilitarian calculus of beauty. Maybe I'm reading this wrong, but that makes me uncomfortable.

Scott said...

@dguller:

"I thought it was implied."

It wasn't. Aquinas himself says that for any world that God creates, there will be some other world He could have created that would have been better. The Thomistic view is that there's no world so good that God is obliged to create it, nor is there any world so bad that God is obliged not to create it. (The idea of God being "obliged" to create or not is alien to Thomism in the first place anyway, but I think you'll take my meaning easily enough.)

Whatever God creates is good as far as it goes, and any "evil" in it consists not in positive being but in privation. Insofar as it is, it's good.

Another point that could be made (though Aquinas didn't make it as far as I know) is that we don't know that God didn't create a multiplicity of worlds, or even every world that He could possibly have created. All we know is that we live in this one.

Glenn said...

dguller,

>> 1. On a Thomistic account, a world with five individuals,
>> each of a different grade of being, and each of whose
>> natures has been actualized only 50%, is a more complete
>> world than a world with five individuals, each of the same
>> grade of being, and each of whose natures has been
>> actualized 75%.

> So, according to Thomism, a world with an ant, a monkey, a
> salmon, a blue jay and a dog is better than a world with five
> human beings? I thought human beings were closer to God
> than the rest of material reality on the basis of our possession
> of an immaterial intellect that makes us resemble God, which
> would make human beings more good, because more like
> God, than other non-rational animals.

My wife and I were walking after eating out one night. We stopped at a fruit stand on the sidewalk, and my wife pointed to the cantaloupe she wanted. I said to the vendor, "We'll take that one." He picked up the cantaloupe, and bent down, whereupon he, apparently, retrieved a paper bag from beneath the stand and placed the melon into it. He then he stood up and made to hand the bag to me. Rather than take the bag, I said, "We'll take the one my wife selected." The vendor looked offended, and started to protest. I cut him off, saying, with a smile, "It was a nice try, I'll grant you that." After a pause, he relaxed and chuckled. And then replaced the rotting melon in the bag with the melon my wife had selected.

My comparison was between two worlds -- one world with five different grades of being, and one world with but one grade of being. If you want to pose an innocent sounding question about a comparison between two worlds ostensibly each with only one grade of being, that is fine. But it makes for a different subject.

Brandon said...

DavidM,

The Manichaeans weren't; it's Manichaean in the sense that it's the way this particular problem would be handled on the Manichaean assumption that corruptibility as such makes something to that extent evil -- this, given certain other minor assumptions, requires a weighing of good against evil.

The issue on the other side wouldn't be a calculus but a practical assessment of how means relates to its ends, as one finds in prudential judgment. If it looks somewhat utilitarian, it might be because, as it happens, utilitarianism is the only major post-medieval ethics that takes proportioning of means to ends very seriously. But the means-end reasoning and the calculus of utilities are different things even in utilitarianism, and scholastic thought in general has the former without the latter.

George LeSauvage said...

@dguller:

Part of the problem is that you seem to see it as self evident that, as you put it, "Second, even if what you say is true, the reality is that God could have created a universe in which every created entity maximally actualized its nature, which would be a universe with more goodness than ours, and have the utter absence of evil of any kind."

Now, you may be able to defend this, but it is not self evidently true. It depends on the assumption that the best universe is one in which the only question is whether every creature "maximally actualized its nature", considered individually. However, Aquinas holds that the order of the universe - as a whole - is something over and above this, and this can be better given that some creatures might not, and do not, do so. (I, Arts 47-49, especially the last.)

I can see that this is the kind of thing we, given our upbringing, in our culture, tend to assume. But it isn't really axiomatic. All societies have their blind spots; this is one of ours.

(This is an addendum to Scott's reply of 2:44pm, 6/24, which makes the point better than I could.)

(NOTE: These captchas are clearly designed for someone whose eyes actualize their natures more nearly maximally than mine.)

George LeSauvage said...

@Glenn:

"1. On a Thomistic account, a world with five individuals, each of a different grade of being, and each of whose natures has been actualized only 50%, is a more complete world than a world with five individuals, each of the same grade of being, and each of whose natures has been actualized 75%.; and, "

I think the most you can say is that, to St Thomas, your 5 species world may the "more complete world."

dguller said...

Scott:

It wasn't. Aquinas himself says that for any world that God creates, there will be some other world He could have created that would have been better. The Thomistic view is that there's no world so good that God is obliged to create it, nor is there any world so bad that God is obliged not to create it. (The idea of God being "obliged" to create or not is alien to Thomism in the first place anyway, but I think you'll take my meaning easily enough.)

I understand all of that, but I’m wondering if the Thomist account of intellect and will itself is inconsistent with the account that you provided above.

The intellect apprehends the good, and presents it to the will to execute via activity to make the good a reality. With us, we often fall short of doing the good in a given situation, because our intellects are imperfect at apprehending the good and our wills are weak and interfere with the intellect’s activity.

However, in God, the intellect’s apprehension of the good is the will’s activity to make the good a reality. There is no possibility of misapprehension by the intellect or distortion by the will. God knows what the ideal good action would be with respect to the creation of the universe, and his knowing the ideal good action is his doing the ideal good action. There is no distinction between them, except in our finite minds, and thus there is no gap between God’s knowing the good and God’s doing the good.

So, say that God wills an action A that is less good than action B. How is this possible? God knows that B is more good than A. That should be identical to God’s doing B rather than A. Otherwise, either God does not know that B is more good than A, which is impossible, or God knows that B is more good than A, but God cannot do B rather than A, which is impossible, or God both knows that B is more good than A and can do B rather than A, but somehow chooses A instead, which makes absolutely no sense on the Thomist account of intellect and will, because it would place a real distinction between the divine intellect and the divine will, and thus compromise divine simplicity.

So, I just don’t see how this could possibly work.

dguller said...

George:

Now, you may be able to defend this, but it is not self evidently true. It depends on the assumption that the best universe is one in which the only question is whether every creature "maximally actualized its nature", considered individually. However, Aquinas holds that the order of the universe - as a whole - is something over and above this, and this can be better given that some creatures might not, and do not, do so. (I, Arts 47-49, especially the last.)

First, please see my response to Scott below for an argument for my claim.

Second, what is the order of the universe as a whole, but that arrangement within which individual substances strive to maximally actualize their natures? Again, there is primary goodness in the sense of an entity’s sheer existence, and there is secondary goodness in the sense of how well an entity exemplifies the kind of thing it is supposed to be. What is the good of the whole but the order and arrangement of the parts to maximally actualize their natures?

DavidM said...

Brandon wrote:
The Manichaeans weren't; it's Manichaean in the sense that it's the way this particular problem would be handled on the Manichaean assumption that corruptibility as such makes something to that extent evil -- this, given certain other minor assumptions, requires a weighing of good against evil.

Okay, good; I'm glad they weren't. But I'm still wondering what the other minor assumptions would be here.

As an aside, it almost sounds like the Manichaean error is based on a simple modal fallacy: thinking that corruptibility is actually a form of corruption.

The issue on the other side wouldn't be a calculus but a practical assessment of how means relates to its ends, as one finds in prudential judgment. If it looks somewhat utilitarian, it might be because, as it happens, utilitarianism is the only major post-medieval ethics that takes proportioning of means to ends very seriously. But the means-end reasoning and the calculus of utilities are different things even in utilitarianism, and scholastic thought in general has the former without the latter.

But would you agree that one would have to be very careful in thinking of divine prudence or providence in terms of means-end reasoning? The end of divine providence is only the communication of divine perfection. But we have zero direct (a priori) insight into the essence of God or into the essence of God's communication of the divine perfection. Therefore we can affirm the goodness of actual creation (a posteriori), but any attempt by us creatures to weigh the relative goodness-in-relation-to-divine-providence contained in counter-factual creation scenarios is necessarily groundless. In considering such scenarios one implicitly puts oneself in the position of God's advisor: "Well, Lord, if you had done this instead, this would have been a very good means for achieving your end - and, may I suggest, perhaps even a better one than the one you chose? Oh well, I suppose it's too late now. I'm just saying..."

Glenn said...

George,

I think the most you can say is that, to St Thomas, your 5 species world may the "more complete world."

Well, there are different ways of looking at this, one of which is as follows:

Of "is more complete" and "may be more complete", the former (is)/(may be) 'stronger' and the latter 'weaker'.

St. Thomas seems to imply that the strong version (is)/(may be) acceptable when he writes, "...for the completion of the universe there are required different grades of being..." (ST I q 23 a 5 ad 3).

St. Thomas also seems to sometimes use 'perfection' as a synonym for 'completion' when discussing or mentioning grades of being.

For example:

a) "...the perfection of the universe required various grades of being..." (ST I q 89 a 1); and,

b) "...different grades belong to the perfection of the universe..." (ST I q 99 a 2).

In light of this (i.e., in light of ‘perfection’ seemingly employed as a synonym for ‘completion’ (when grades of being are mentioned or discussed)), it seems to be neither unwarranted nor inappropriate to suggest that St. Thomas explicitly makes use of the strong version when he writes, "...the universe of creatures is more perfect if there are many grades of things than if there were but one." SCG II 45 5

(It was, in fact, precisely this from the SCG which served as the basis for my modifying dguller's example of two worlds, each with five individual beings, to an example of two worlds, one with five grades of being and one with one grade of being.)

Another way of looking at it is to recognize that the 'weaker' version isn't really weaker, just more humble, and that the real, helpful suggestion is that my speech might showing a little more humility. ...Mea culpa.

Scott said...

@dguller:

"So, say that God wills an action A that is less good than action B. How is this possible?"

It isn't. God's act of creation (of any world or worlds) is good, full stop.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi dguller,

You write: "If God has a choice of action A or action B, and A has more goodness than B, then shouldn't God choose A over B?"

I would ask: why? You say that A has more goodness than B. That's an odd way of phrasing things: why don't you just say that A is better than B? In that case, your argument boils down to: "If action A is better than action B, shouldn't God choose A over B?" But again I would ask: better for whom? If A is good for X and B is good for Y, but A would benefit X more than B would benefit Y, is God obliged to perform action A? I think not. Only if A and B both benefit the same individual, X, could one make the case that God is obliged to perform A rather than B - and even that conclusion only holds true if there's no alternative action that God could perform for X, which is better than either A or B. So I think the ethical dilemma you pose for God doesn't really bite.

Glenn said...

("might showing" s/b "might show". However, given the context in which the mistake occurs, it is perhaps best to let it stand as "might showing". ;))

dguller said...

Scott:

It isn't. God's act of creation (of any world or worlds) is good, full stop.

I think that we agree that there are a number of possible divine actions, e.g. not creating anything, creating universe A, creating universe B. If this were not true, then the actions of the divine will would be necessary, but since they are contingent, it follows that there are a number of possible divine actions. Those different possible divine actions carry different degrees of goodness associated with them. For example, not creating anything has less goodness than creating a universe, and a universe which has (a) a greater number of degrees of being, and (b) more individuals with a higher degree of actualization of their natures has more goodness than a universe that lacked (a) and (b). So, there are a number of divine actions, each of which corresponds to a certain degree of goodness, such that one divine actions have more goodness than others.

Given the above, it does not make sense to say, as you do, that God’s act of creation of any world or worlds is good, full stop, because that would mean that an act of creation that had (a) and (b) would be as good as an act of creation that lacked (a) and (b), which is impossible. However, if you are distinguishing between primary and secondary goodness, as I described in an earlier comment, then your position can make sense. For example, you would be correct that any act would have being, and thus have goodness, which would correspond to primary goodness, but it does not follow that all acts have the same degree of goodness, period, when you look at secondary goodness, i.e. the degree to which an act corresponds to some ideal for that kind of action. I think that you are focusing upon primary goodness, and I’m focusing upon secondary goodness.

Does that make sense?

Glenn said...

Some guidance on this matter can be had via the reply to objection 1 under article 6 re Question 25. The power of God.

Scott said...

@dguller:

You're conflating the goodness of an act of creating something with the goodness of the thing created.

@Glenn:

Bingo.

Scott said...

@dguller:

Additional guidance can be found in the main answer under the same article, where Aquinas distinguishes two senses in which things may be "good."

In fact, the entire article is very much on point. As I'm sure Glenn is aware, this is the one I had in mind a day or so ago when I said that, for Aquinas, there simply isn't any best possible world.

Glenn said...

Scott,

As I'm sure Glenn is aware, this is the one I had in mind a day or so ago when I said that, for Aquinas, there simply isn't any best possible world.

Yep. Although, truth be told, the awareness occurred more as a delayed reaction than as an instantaneous recognition.

(Sometimes there's a lack of alacrity in the movements of my mind. Sigh.)

dguller said...

Scott:

You're conflating the goodness of an act of creating something with the goodness of the thing created.

That is a fair point, but I don’t think it neutralizing my criticisms. Even if there is a real distinction between the goodness of an act of creating something and the goodness of the thing created, it does not follow that the goodness of the act of creating something is completely independent of the goodness of the thing created. In one sense, it is, because the act qua act is necessarily good simply by virtue of existing at all, but in another sense, it is not, because the goodness of the act also depends upon the goodness of the thing created, and thus cannot be completely excluded from evaluating the goodness of the act.

Otherwise, one could argue that all actions are equally good, and thus there is no basis for judging some actions good and other actions bad, because they are all good by virtue of their actual existence as actions. But we do differentiate actions independent of the fact that they are all equally good qua existing actions. For example, I could say that a murder is a good act that should not be punished, because as an existing action, it has being, and thus goodness, but the fact that murder is the result of an unjustified killing of another person that violates both my nature and theirs is what makes it punishable. To simply say that I am conflating the goodness of the act of murder with the goodness of the murder itself would be true, but completely miss the point.

So, although I agree that there is a distinction between the goodness of the act of creating something and the goodness of the thing created, the latter is an important factor in determining how good the former is. In fact, I would say that the latter partially constitutes the former, much like the goodness of an act of creating a piece of artwork is partially constituted by the goodness of the created piece of artwork.

Additional guidance can be found in the main answer under the same article, where Aquinas distinguishes two senses in which things may be "good."

Thanks to Glenn for pointing out that article, but I don’t see how it helps both your case, because Aquinas makes it clear that there is, at least, one way that God can make creation better than it already is, i.e. by increasing the degree of a substance’s secondary actuality. (Presumably, he can also make creation better by replacing a lower order creature with a higher order creature, e.g. replacing an insect with a human being.) However, what he cannot make better is a particular thing’s primary actuality, i.e. the powers that flow from a thing’s essence, and that is partly because the possession of an essence, or primary actuality, is an all-or-nothing affair, whereas secondary actuality is a matter of degree. As he writes: “He can give to things made by Him a better manner of existence as regards the accidents, although not as regards the substance”. So, clearly it is possible for God to create a better universe, which Aquinas confirms: “God could make other things, or add something to the present creation; and then there would be another and a better universe”.

dguller said...

Vincent:

I would ask: why? You say that A has more goodness than B. That's an odd way of phrasing things: why don't you just say that A is better than B? In that case, your argument boils down to: "If action A is better than action B, shouldn't God choose A over B?" But again I would ask: better for whom? If A is good for X and B is good for Y, but A would benefit X more than B would benefit Y, is God obliged to perform action A? I think not. Only if A and B both benefit the same individual, X, could one make the case that God is obliged to perform A rather than B - and even that conclusion only holds true if there's no alternative action that God could perform for X, which is better than either A or B. So I think the ethical dilemma you pose for God doesn't really bite.

An action is good insofar as it brings a person closer to the ideal contained within their essence, and the reason why that is good is not because it is good for them, although clearly it is, but rather that the closer a person comes to the ideal contained within their essence, the closer they get to God himself by theosis via reditus. In other words, the more the cosmos actualizes the individual natures of the substances within it, the more goodness the cosmos actually possesses, and the closer the cosmos is drawing to returning to God himself. That is the classical framework that I am framing my questions within.

Scott said...

@dguller:

"Even if there is a real distinction between the goodness of an act of creating something and the goodness of the thing created, it does not follow that the goodness of the act of creating something is completely independent of the goodness of the thing created."

In God's case, though, it does, for we have independent grounds for holding that God is perfect (I prefer this term to "good") and that He is not in any way the author of evil.

Much of the point of the evil-as-privation view is to show that evils in creation do not in any way detract from God's perfection/goodness. If you disagree, then you'll need to show why the evil-as-privation view is mistaken.

"[A]lthough I agree that there is a distinction between the goodness of the act of creating something and the goodness of the thing created, the latter is an important factor in determining how good the former is."

And yet you seem to agree with Aquinas that no matter what world God had created, He could have created a better one: "clearly it is possible for God to create a better universe, which Aquinas confirms: 'God could make other things, or add something to the present creation; and then there would be another and a better universe'."

In that case you appear to be arguing for the view that God should have created a maximally good universe even though there's no such thing. Why should that not be taken as a reductio ad absurdum argument against your claim?

dguller said...

Scott:

In God's case, though, it does, for we have independent grounds for holding that God is perfect (I prefer this term to "good") and that He is not in any way the author of evil.

I don’t think that is relevant. What is relevant is that he could make things more perfect, to use your preferred term.

In that case you appear to be arguing for the view that God should have created a maximally good universe even though there's no such thing. Why should that not be taken as a reductio ad absurdum argument against your claim?

First, I don’t see why there can’t possibly be a maximally good (or perfect) universe. There is nothing logically contradictory about it, as far as I can tell. Furthermore, I thought that the Beatific Vision was a state of human perfection in the afterlife, which means that perfection is attainable, but only with divine intervention and assistance.

Second, my argument does not even need a maximally good (or perfect) universe, but only the possibility of a better universe than this one, which Aquinas concedes is possible. If God could have created a better universe than this one, then the question is, if he knows that such a universe can exist, then what possible reason would he have to not create it? The only reason is if a less perfect universe was more perfect than a more perfect universe, which is incoherent. Therefore, God must create the best universe that he can, even if it falls short of maximal perfection.

Scott said...

@dguller:

"An action is good insofar as it brings a person closer to the ideal contained within their essence, and the reason why that is good is not because it is good for them, although clearly it is, but rather that the closer a person comes to the ideal contained within their essence, the closer they get to God himself by theosis via reditus."

I'm not sure I understand this reply to Vincent Torley, because taken at face value it appears to make hash of your claim about some of God's possible actions being "better" than others. Surely you're not saying that God's actions are good insofar as they bring Him closer to God, and that some actions might do so more than others.

Are you perhaps saying that an action is good for God to take if, and to the extent that, it brings (or tends to bring) a person closer to Him? If so, then even assuming you're correct, you'll still need an argument that this is the only way for God's actions to be good.

"Otherwise, one could argue that all actions are equally good, and thus there is no basis for judging some actions good and other actions bad, because they are all good by virtue of their actual existence as actions."

Only if one forgets e.g. that our human intellects sometimes mistake what our true good is, and that we can judge actions not to be good on that ground. Your statement here at the very least ignores Aquinas's distinction between the different senses of "good."

dguller said...

Scott:

Surely you're not saying that God's actions are good insofar as they bring Him closer to God, and that some actions might do so more than others.

No, God’s actions are good insofar as they bring creation closer to him, which he does in two ways: (1) by creating something at all, and conferring being upon it, which is analogous to his being, and (2) by assisting and facilitating his creatures’ actualization of their potencies and achieving a maximal state of actuality, again resulting in as much of a return to him as possible.

Only if one forgets e.g. that our human intellects sometimes mistake what our true good is, and that we can judge actions not to be good on that ground. Your statement here at the very least ignores Aquinas's distinction between the different senses of "good."

First, I’m not ignoring Aquinas’ distinction. In fact, I keep referring to it, again and again.

Second, whether we misjudge what our true good is does not change the fact that objectively speaking, whether we know it or not, our actions are good or bad to the extent to which they actualize our powers that flow from our essence as secondary actualities. To focus exclusively upon our primary actuality, i.e. the existence of a concrete individual with a specific nature from which various powers flow from, and say that this is the only good that matters when evaluating how good an individual is would be to miss and ignore the equally important matter of secondary actualities. To properly assess the goodness (or perfection) of a concrete individual is to take into account both primary and secondary actuality.

DavidM said...

guller wrote:
First, I don’t see why there can’t possibly be a maximally good (or perfect) universe. There is nothing logically contradictory about it, as far as I can tell. Furthermore, I thought that the Beatific Vision was a state of human perfection in the afterlife, which means that perfection is attainable, but only with divine intervention and assistance.

Is 'maximally perfect universe' any more conceivable than, say, 'greatest natural number'? Perfection, as in the BV, is attainable (I hope), but it is not 'maximally' attainable (so far as I can see that's a meaningless notion).

Second, my argument does not even need a maximally good (or perfect) universe, but only the possibility of a better universe than this one, which Aquinas concedes is possible. If God could have created a better universe than this one, then the question is, if he knows that such a universe can exist, then what possible reason would he have to not create it? The only reason is if a less perfect universe was more perfect than a more perfect universe, which is incoherent. Therefore, God must create the best universe that he can, even if it falls short of maximal perfection.

This seems plainly contradictory. If God was only always compelled to create better-universe B over 'worse'-universe W, and he could ignore the BEST, and go with any BETTER, then every universe but the WORST (presumably, no universe at all?)counts as a BETTER, so God is free to create any universe. So you do indeed need the notion of 'maximally' good/perfect (i.e., BEST) universe.

Scott said...

@dguller:

"First, I don’t see why there can’t possibly be a maximally good (or perfect) universe."

Then why do you accept (and still invoke in your favor) Aquinas's "concession" that there can always be a better universe than the one that exists?

"[M]y argument does not even need a maximally good (or perfect*) universe, but only the possibility of a better universe than this one, which Aquinas concedes is possible. If God could have created a better universe than this one, then the question is, if he knows that such a universe can exist, then what possible reason would he have to not create it?"

That's not the question. The question is, "If it's always possible for God to have created a better universe than the one (or more) that He did in fact create, how can it be the case that His decision specifically to create this one somehow tells against His goodness/perfection?"

"The only reason is if a less perfect universe was more perfect than a more perfect universe, which is incoherent. Therefore, God must create the best universe that he can, even if it falls short of maximal perfection."

There is no such thing as "the best universe that God can create." You're invoking the same premise as the one you said you didn't need. God, being omnipotent, can do anything that we would today call "logically possible"; it simply makes no sense to speak of the best universe God can create, "even if it falls short of maximal perfection." The best universe God can create just is a universe of maximal perfection—or would be, if there were any such thing, which Aquinas's argument implies that there is not, so that it is your conclusion that is incoherent.

[cont'd]

Scott said...

[cont'd]

"God’s actions are good insofar as they bring creation closer to him, which he does in two ways: (1) by creating something at all, and conferring being upon it, which is analogous to his being, and (2) by assisting and facilitating his creatures’ actualization of their potencies and achieving a maximal state of actuality, again resulting in as much of a return to him as possible."

And again, are you saying that these are the only ways in which God's actions can be "good"?

"[W]hether we misjudge what our true good is does not change the fact that objectively speaking, whether we know it or not, our actions are good or bad to the extent to which they actualize our powers that flow from our essence as secondary actualities."

Your argument was that if God's act of creation could be said to be "good" independently of the (in a different sense) "goodness" of the universe thereby created, then we could likewise say that any human act was "good" insofar as it existed as an action. I replied that it's not the existence of an action merely as an action that's at issue in our judgment of human actions as good or not good. Your reply here actually supports my point rather than yours: we can intellectually misjudge whether our actions are objectively good (and our actions can accordingly be judged bad even when we think they're good); God can't (so such judgments simply fail to apply to Him).

But there's another perhaps more fundamental problem here…


"To focus exclusively upon our primary actuality, i.e. the existence of a concrete individual with a specific nature from which various powers flow from, and say that this is the only good that matters when evaluating how good an individual is would be to miss and ignore the equally important matter of secondary actualities. To properly assess the goodness (or perfection) of a concrete individual is to take into account both primary and secondary actuality."

… so, okay, I'll bite. What secondary potentialities (of God's, that is) does God fail to actualize in choosing to create one universe rather than another "better" one?

----

* Just to clarify: when I said this was my preferred term, I meant that it was so in talking specifically about God's "goodness.

DavidM said...

Remember that if you refer to God's actions as 'contingent,' you indicate only that God acts freely, and we say this of God only insofar as freedom is a perfection, and therefore must be attributed in a pre-eminent way to God. Insofar as freedom is an imperfection, implying change, we do not attribute freedom to God. (God's freedom does not mean that in state1 God's creative actions were yet to be determined, then in state2 they became fixed as the result of some process of deliberating about various ends and means.)

DavidM said...

Scott wrote: "Your reply here actually supports my point rather than yours: we can intellectually misjudge whether our actions are objectively good (and our actions can accordingly be judged bad even when we think they're good); God can't (so such judgments simply fail to apply to Him)."

Yes. In other words, it is a necessary property of God's creative act(s) that it be purely gratuitous; and it is impossible that the act of any creature have this same property.

Brandon said...

But would you agree that one would have to be very careful in thinking of divine prudence or providence in terms of means-end reasoning?

It's the universe, not divine providence itself, that is thought of in terms of means-end reasoning in this particular case; divine prudence is God's direction of other things to their ends, in this case of the universe to its end of fullness in goodness. But this is indeed the reason why it makes little sense to weigh actual creation against counterfactual scenarios -- if the scenarios are genuinely different universes, they have different ends and the parts would be related to each other and the whole in a way that would be simply different. (It's also one reason why there's no maximally good universe.)

dguller said...

DavidM:

Is 'maximally perfect universe' any more conceivable than, say, 'greatest natural number'? Perfection, as in the BV, is attainable (I hope), but it is not 'maximally' attainable (so far as I can see that's a meaningless notion).

Then let’s settle for something a little more attainable. Say that there is a universe U with a finite number of entities, each of which has a specific nature as a primary actuality, and each is striving to maximize their secondary actualities that flow from their essences. Further, say that there are different possible U’s with different degrees of secondary actualization of the finite number of entities within each U. Finally, say that there are two possible universes U1 and U2 such that each has the same number of entities, but U1 has all its members with a maximum degree of secondary actualization whereas U2 does not, which means that U1 is perfect relative to the set of possible U’s, and U2 is not.

Under this scenario, why would God create U2 and not U1, especially if he knows that U1 is perfect whereas U2 is imperfect? It seems to me that if God’s intellect is his will, then if he knows that U1 is more perfect than U2, then he would will the existence of U1 and not U2. That is precisely how intellect and will work, i.e. the intellect determines what the good is, and the will acts to make that good a reality. In God, the two are one and the same, and so how, under that account, can God create U2 and not U1?

If God was only always compelled to create better-universe B over 'worse'-universe W, and he could ignore the BEST, and go with any BETTER, then every universe but the WORST (presumably, no universe at all?)counts as a BETTER, so God is free to create any universe. So you do indeed need the notion of 'maximally' good/perfect (i.e., BEST) universe.

I hope that my revised account above addresses your objection, because there is a finite number of U’s under the above scenario with U1 being the most perfect of all possible U’s. That avoids any infinite regress.

dguller said...

Remember that if you refer to God's actions as 'contingent,' you indicate only that God acts freely, and we say this of God only insofar as freedom is a perfection, and therefore must be attributed in a pre-eminent way to God. Insofar as freedom is an imperfection, implying change, we do not attribute freedom to God. (God's freedom does not mean that in state1 God's creative actions were yet to be determined, then in state2 they became fixed as the result of some process of deliberating about various ends and means.)

Aquinas writes that God wills some things necessarily (such as his divine goodness, which is coextensive with his divine essence) and other things not necessarily (such as creation, which is other than the divine essence). God has free will only with respect to the latter, but not the former (see ST 1.19.10), which means that free will is only applicable in the absence of necessity. And to say that something is not necessary means that it might not have happened, which is precisely the case with creation. God has no need to create, because he is perfect unto himself, and thus has no privation that needs to be filled by creating. So, free will with respect to God actually has nothing to do with the absence of external coercion, and everything to do with whether God could have willed otherwise.

Yes. In other words, it is a necessary property of God's creative act(s) that it be purely gratuitous; and it is impossible that the act of any creature have this same property.

I agree that God’s creative act is done as a result of anything that is due to creation. However, that does not mean that God’s creative act is utterly random and without any reason at all. And since any reason involves intelligibility, which is coextensive with being and goodness, it follows that any divine reason would have to be coextensive with goodness, as well. That is why I do not understand why God would choose to create U2 and not U1 when his intellect clearly knew that U1 is more perfect than U2. It would mean that God thought that the less perfect is more perfect than the more perfect, which makes no sense.

dguller said...

Scott:

I probably won't reply to your comments tonight. I'll do my best tomorrow. Gotta go. Baby crying!

Scott said...

@dguller:

Yep, no problem, and of course I have time constraints myself. Sounds like the latest dgullerette is in good health and being well cared for.

Step2 said...

@Glenn
"The operation of a thing indicates its mode of being."

George LeSauvage said...

@dguller:

"Second, what is the order of the universe as a whole, but that arrangement within which individual substances strive to maximally actualize their natures? Again, there is primary goodness in the sense of an entity’s sheer existence, and there is secondary goodness in the sense of how well an entity exemplifies the kind of thing it is supposed to be. What is the good of the whole but the order and arrangement of the parts to maximally actualize their natures?"

The problem is that you are looking at the parts in isolation, rather than the pattern of the whole. ("[The] arrangement of the parts to maximally actualize their natures".) This is definitely not what St Thomas has in mind as the only way it can be viewed.

Q49, A2: "But it is manifest that the form which God chiefly intends in things created is the good of the order of the universe. Now, the order of the universe requires, as was said above (22, 2, ad 2; 48, 2), that there should be some things that can, and do sometimes, fail."

Q47, A2: "Reply to Objection 1. It is part of the best agent to produce an effect which is best in its entirety; but this does not mean that He makes every part of the whole the best absolutely, but in proportion to the whole; in the case of an animal, for instance, its goodness would be taken away if every part of it had the dignity of an eye. Thus, therefore, God also made the universe to be best as a whole, according to the mode of a creature; whereas He did not make each single creature best, but one better than another."

There are others like this. (QQ 22, 25, 47-49 are the main ones I know of, but as always with St Thomas, there are other places relevant, too.)

Perhaps it can best be seen by analogy to a work of art, a game, or a dance. It is the balance of the whole, the interlocking roles played by each part, which is the primary end, not the value of each part, considered individually. As in a cathedral, or the Divine Comedy (or Casey Stengel's Yankees); it is the complex unity, labyrinthine but ordered, which is the overraching goal, more than each individual part. (Another example of this is the Summa itself.)

Thus, gargoyles are certainly not there for their own beauty, but for the completeness of the building.

This is not very Russellian, but then, why would we expect it to be otherwise?

DavidM said...

guller wrote:
"Under this scenario, why would God create U2 and not U1, especially if he knows that U1 is perfect whereas U2 is imperfect?"

I suppose we could go ahead and say, "Yes, if this represented God's perspective on creation, God would not create U2 - he would certainly choose to create U1."

"That is precisely how intellect and will work, i.e. the intellect determines what the good is, and the will acts to make that good a reality."

But not in God! The intellect and will are perfectly united in God. We affirm that the reality of both are present in God, but one never precedes the other or determines the other or takes orders from the other.

"...So, free will with respect to God actually has nothing to do with the absence of external coercion, and everything to do with whether God could have willed otherwise."

I don't see how this conclusion follows from what preceded it. (Do you?)

"I agree that God’s creative act is done as a result of anything that is due to creation. However, that does not mean that God’s creative act is utterly random and without any reason at all. And since any reason involves intelligibility, which is coextensive with being and goodness, it follows that any divine reason would have to be coextensive with goodness, as well."

Correct. So the divine reason for creating any universe is always coextensive with the goodness of that universe. (It is never coextensive with the divine goodness, because (obviously) no created universe is identical to the divine essence.)

dguller said...

Scott:

Then why do you accept (and still invoke in your favor) Aquinas's "concession" that there can always be a better universe than the one that exists?

I never endorsed the idea that there could always be a better universe than the one that exists, especially if there is a maximally good universe. That’s why I wrote: "[M]y argument does not even need a maximally good (or perfect*) universe, but only the possibility of a better universe than this one”.

That's not the question. The question is, "If it's always possible for God to have created a better universe than the one (or more) that He did in fact create, how can it be the case that His decision specifically to create this one somehow tells against His goodness/perfection?"

The key question is whether God ought to create in such a way to maximize the degree of perfection in his creation. I think that he should, because “determined effects proceed from His own infinite perfection according to the determination of His will and intellect” and “His inclination to put in act what His intellect has conceived appertains to the will” (ST 1.19.4). If his intellect determines and conceives that A is more perfect than B, and his will acts according to what his intellect determines the good to be, then how can God not create A? If God creates B over A, then God’s intellect determined that the less perfect is more perfect than the more perfect, which is incoherent. Since God does nothing that is impossible, and what is incoherent is impossible, then God cannot create B over A. And yet, God did create B over A, because even Aquinas agrees that this universe could be more perfect. It is this inconsistency, if it is one, that I am struggling to reconcile.

There is no such thing as "the best universe that God can create." You're invoking the same premise as the one you said you didn't need. God, being omnipotent, can do anything that we would today call "logically possible"; it simply makes no sense to speak of the best universe God can create, "even if it falls short of maximal perfection." The best universe God can create just is a universe of maximal perfection—or would be, if there were any such thing, which Aquinas's argument implies that there is not, so that it is your conclusion that is incoherent.

There are only a few possibilities here, none of which are good. Let’s say that it is always possible that a better universe could be created than the one actually created. If that is true, then no matter what universe God creates, he will always know that a more perfect universe could be created. But if the will acts according to what the intellect presents as the good, then if God willed the less perfect to exist, then he must have done so, because the less perfect is more perfect than the more perfect, which is impossible. So, we must reject either (a) that it is always possible that a better universe could be created than the one actually created, which would mean that there is a possible maximally perfect universe, or (b) that God’s will acts according to the determination of the divine intellect regarding what the good is.

You clearly reject (a), which would leave rejecting (b). The problem with rejecting (b) is that, first, it completely violates how intellect and will work at all, which Aquinas clearly claims is applicable to the divine intellect and will, and second, it would create a real distinction between the divine intellect and the divine will, because the will would act to some extent independently of the intellect, which would create a gap of sorts between the divine intellect and the divine will.

Again, I don’t see a way out of this dilemma.

dguller said...

And again, are you saying that these are the only ways in which God's actions can be "good"?

Yes. I suppose that one could add to my account the goodness involved in the act of creation itself, but I don’t see a real distinction between an act of creation and a thing created. They are one and the same thing, and thus only notionally distinct. Thus, the goodness of the act of creation itself would just be the primary and secondary goodness of the thing created.

Your argument was that if God's act of creation could be said to be "good" independently of the (in a different sense) "goodness" of the universe thereby created, then we could likewise say that any human act was "good" insofar as it existed as an action. I replied that it's not the existence of an action merely as an action that's at issue in our judgment of human actions as good or not good. Your reply here actually supports my point rather than yours: we can intellectually misjudge whether our actions are objectively good (and our actions can accordingly be judged bad even when we think they're good); God can't (so such judgments simply fail to apply to Him).

What I’m saying is that the goodness of an act of creation is the combination of the primary and secondary goodness of the thing created, much like the goodness of a work of art is a combination of the primary and secondary goodness of the created artwork itself. So, if we call primary goodness, goodness1, and secondary goodness, goodness2, then the goodness of an act of creation is the thing created’s goodness1 and goodness2. And that remains the case whether a person is able to objectively know the thing created’s goodness1 and goodness2. And certainly, God would know both, and thus have an objectively true understanding of how good (i.e. good1 and good2) a created thing is.

What secondary potentialities (of God's, that is) does God fail to actualize in choosing to create one universe rather than another "better" one?

That’s a great question. I actually cannot make sense of the notion that God could have done otherwise without imputing potentialities in God himself, which is impossible. Certainly, one can delimit the kind of freedom attributing to God as exclusively the kind that does not involve external coercion, but Aquinas himself does not do so. In fact, he says that God’s actions are divided into those that are necessary and those that are not necessary (ST 1.19.10), and that neither are due to external coercion, which means that there is some other principle involved in divine free will than the absence of external coercion. And since he says that God’s freedom of will is only with regards to actions that are not necessary, then God’s freedom of will depends upon the possibility that he could have done otherwise. I have no idea how this can be consistent with a being that is pure act. After all, God is always and eternally doing the same thing, which means that he could not possibly have done otherwise. In fact, the possibility of doing otherwise seems to presuppose the presence of potency within the agent in question. But maybe you could help clarify matters for me here?

But to specifically address your point, the primary and secondary actuality and goodness that I was talking about was referring to the thing created, and not to God himself.

dguller said...

DavidM:

But not in God! The intellect and will are perfectly united in God. We affirm that the reality of both are present in God, but one never precedes the other or determines the other or takes orders from the other.

Aquinas: “His inclination to put in act what His intellect has conceived appertains to the will” (ST 1.19.4). I agree with you that the activity of the divine intellect and the activity of the divine will are one and the same activity, but that just means that whatever the intellect determines and conceives of as good is the will’s activity of bringing the good into reality, which means that there is simply no gap between what the intellect determines and conceives of as good and the will’s activity to make that good a reality. And without such a gap, it is impossible for God to will what is less good than his intellect conceives, which would have to be the case if there is a universe that could be better than this one.

I don't see how this conclusion follows from what preceded it. (Do you?)

Just wanted to be clear about what free will means with respect to God. It involves both the absence of external coercion and the possibility that God could have chosen otherwise. If we’re on the same page here, then we can proceed.

Correct. So the divine reason for creating any universe is always coextensive with the goodness of that universe. (It is never coextensive with the divine goodness, because (obviously) no created universe is identical to the divine essence.)

And if God’s intellect only knew about that universe, then we wouldn’t have any problem, but presumably, the divine intellect also knows about other possible universes, many of which are more perfect than that universe. And that is a problem, because if the divine will acts according to what the divine intellect knows to be the good, mainly because they are one and the same activity, it follows that if God chose to create a less perfect universe over a more perfect universe, then he did so, because the less perfect universe is more perfect than the more perfect universe, which is incoherent.

dguller said...

George:

The problem is that you are looking at the parts in isolation, rather than the pattern of the whole. ("[The] arrangement of the parts to maximally actualize their natures".) This is definitely not what St Thomas has in mind as the only way it can be viewed.

A few problems that I have with that analysis.

First, the universe is the totality of all that exists in a composite mode of being. It is not the universe that has an essence that it is striving to actualize by attaining its final end, but rather it is the individuals that exist within the universe that have such essences and that are striving to actualize their final ends. I think that Aquinas’ version commits the fallacy of composition. Remember that the laws of nature are actually the laws of natures of individual substances.

Second, if goodness is coextensive with being, then presumably the more actuality that exists, the more goodness that exists, and thus a universe with more actuality would have more goodness than a universe with less actuality. Given that the universe just is the totality of composite entities within it, it follows that the more actuality that those composite entities attain, the more goodness that universe can be said to possess.

Perhaps it can best be seen by analogy to a work of art, a game, or a dance. It is the balance of the whole, the interlocking roles played by each part, which is the primary end, not the value of each part, considered individually. As in a cathedral, or the Divine Comedy (or Casey Stengel's Yankees); it is the complex unity, labyrinthine but ordered, which is the overraching goal, more than each individual part. (Another example of this is the Summa itself.)

I don’t see how any of those examples works here, because those are examples in which the whole is more than the sum of its parts, and thus has formal and final ends that are above and beyond those of their parts. The universe is not like that, I think. What is the overall purpose of the universe, over and above the purposes of the entities that exist within it?

George LeSauvage said...

@dguller:

The crux of the disagreement is, I think, right here:

"I don’t see how any of those examples works here, because those are examples in which the whole is more than the sum of its parts, and thus has formal and final ends that are above and beyond those of their parts. The universe is not like that, I think. What is the overall purpose of the universe, over and above the purposes of the entities that exist within it?"

The assertion that the universe is not, relative to God, as a work is to the artist, is odd, I think. (At least so far as these analogies can go.) I see no reason per se to favor your view over the general view of Christians here. And the assertion that "the universe is the totality of all that exists in a composite mode of being" is just an assumption. It certainly is not what Aquinas thought, and therefore it cannot just be assumed wrong.

Granted, this entails a belief that creation as a whole is something to be considered as such. But again, I don't see why this position is to be considered out of court.

I also do not see how the fallacy of composition would apply here. Aquinas is not saying that what is true of the parts is true of the whole, not at all.

(Also note that the fallacy of composition is one of the slipperiest of all. It is not something which can just be asserted from the form of a claim; often what is true of the parts is true of the whole.)

dguller said...

George:

The assertion that the universe is not, relative to God, as a work is to the artist, is odd, I think. (At least so far as these analogies can go.) I see no reason per se to favor your view over the general view of Christians here. And the assertion that "the universe is the totality of all that exists in a composite mode of being" is just an assumption. It certainly is not what Aquinas thought, and therefore it cannot just be assumed wrong.

That is why I specifically asked you what the purpose of the universe is over and above the individual purposes of the entities within it.

I also do not see how the fallacy of composition would apply here. Aquinas is not saying that what is true of the parts is true of the whole, not at all.

The best way for you to demonstrate that the fallacy of composition is inapplicable here is simply to provide a purpose for the universe that is over and above the individual purposes of the entities within it. That is the only way for the whole to be more than the sum of its parts. If the whole lacks any such overall purpose, then the whole just is the sum of its parts.

Step2 said...

dguller,
The purpose is 42. You're welcome.

dguller said...

Step2:

And me without my towel.

DavidM said...

guller: "...And since he says that God’s freedom of will is only with regards to actions that are not necessary, then God’s freedom of will depends upon the possibility that he could have done otherwise."

No. Since God’s freedom of will is only with regards to actions that are not necessary, then God’s freedom of will relates only to things that are not necessary in themselves. (All things are necessary insofar as God does freely will to create them.)

Since there is no best-possible-universe (BPU), God (or his intellect, if you want) knows that there is no BPU.

Thus God cannot will to create the BPU.

If there is no BPU, then for any possible universe U1, there is always a better possible universe U2. (otherwise U1 would, by definition, be BPU)

If the possibility of creating better universe U2 implied the impossibility of creating U1 (which it does, given your conception of the divine intellect and will), then U2 is not in fact better than possible universe U1 (since U1 is shown to in fact be impossible). And in this case, there isn't really a possible universe U2 either (since U2, by definition, must be better than possible universe U1, which cannot in fact be a possible universe).

In other words, as Scott has also explained well enough, what you are trying to say appears to be simply incoherent (if you think it through).

George LeSauvage said...

@dguller:

It is idle to ask me what the purpose of the universe is. Why in the world would you think anyone would, or should, have an answer?

The key to your objections have been that, given evils in the world, God cannot have all the attributes we believe Him to have. Since one of them is reason, it is anything but irrational to say that He has a purpose in creating the world. But it would be equally irrational to claim a knowledge of what that purpose is.

Given that we believe in Him on other grounds, there is no conflict in saying that He has a purpose we don't know. But that is all it takes to disarm your objection. There is no logical force to an objection which comes down to "I don't like it, and He hasn't explained it to me."

You see, there is no need for us to say what that purpose is, to avoid the argument as we see it. Your final argument, that our doing so is " is the only way for the whole to be more than the sum of its parts" would apply only if their were some presumption that it isn't. But that is not the case here. In so far as there is a presumption, it goes the other way. (I will grant that the question of what is presumed may be attitudinal, for each of us. But that goes nowhere in establishing a logical argument.)

Glenn said...

Step2,

@Glenn
"The operation of a thing indicates its mode of being."


This presenting of the correct solution begets a feather in your photo. (Er, I mean in your cap.)

Excellente.

Truly.

- - - - -

Here is another mode-related quotation (there has been enough scrambling here, so no need to anagrammatize it):

o [T]the thing known is in the knower according to the mode of the knower.

dguller said...

George:

The key to your objections have been that, given evils in the world, God cannot have all the attributes we believe Him to have. Since one of them is reason, it is anything but irrational to say that He has a purpose in creating the world. But it would be equally irrational to claim a knowledge of what that purpose is.

But there is a difference between saying (1) that each created being has a purpose, and (2) that the universe as a whole has a purpose. Both are possible, and neither is necessarily true or false, given what we know about God and creation. (1) would be consistent with the view that the universe is just the sum of its parts, and (2) would be consistent with the view that the universe is more than the sum of its parts. I am defending (1), and you are defending (2). My argument for (1) is that no-one can explain what the purpose of the universe is supposed to be, over and above the maximal actualization of the potencies of its members. Your argument for (2) is that the universe as a whole might have a purpose over and above the purpose of the individual entities within the universe, even if we do not know what that purpose is. But why believe there is such a purpose at all, especially if it isn’t necessary and you have no idea what it would be anyway?

Given that we believe in Him on other grounds, there is no conflict in saying that He has a purpose we don't know. But that is all it takes to disarm your objection. There is no logical force to an objection which comes down to "I don't like it, and He hasn't explained it to me."

But there is logical force in an objection that says that, we all agree that X is occurring (i.e. individual entities in the universe have particular purposes that they are striving to achieve), and we disagree whether Y is occurring (i.e. the universe as a whole has a purpose over and above the individual purposes of the entities within it). You are making the affirmative claim, and I am making the negative claim. My negative claim is based upon the fact that Y is neither necessary nor apparent, and you cannot tell me what Y is supposed to be anyway. Your positive claim is based upon the fact that Y might be true, even if we have no idea what Y would be. Under such circumstances, I would sake the negative claim as more compelling.

DavidM said...

@guller:
"And if God’s intellect only knew about that universe, then we wouldn’t have any problem, but presumably, the divine intellect also knows about other possible universes..."

But understand that for God to "know about other possible universes" is just for God to know that his own essence is necessarily infinitely more perfect than any possible creature.

"And that is a problem, because if the divine will acts according to what the divine intellect knows to be the good, mainly because they are one and the same activity, it follows that if God chose to create a less perfect universe over a more perfect universe, then he did so, because the less perfect universe is more perfect than the more perfect universe, which is incoherent."

Indeed, that is incoherent, and also a complete non sequitur (no, it does not follow!). What follows is that if God chose to create a 'less perfect' universe (etc.), then obviously he was free to do so, and, necessarily, (by his intellect) he understands that he was free to do so, even if (by your intellect) you don't. Right?

DavidM said...

Let me suggest: The universe is one (un). It is not one heap. It is a beautiful, orderly cosmos. Thus it must have a purpose, commensurate with that orderly unity. (If not, how else do we recognize purpose?)

dguller said...

DavidM:

No. Since God’s freedom of will is only with regards to actions that are not necessary, then God’s freedom of will relates only to things that are not necessary in themselves. (All things are necessary insofar as God does freely will to create them.)

What does not mean to say that a divine action is necessary or contingent, if not that the former could not have possibly been done otherwise, and the latter could possibly have been done otherwise? Saying that creation is not necessary for God just means that God could have willed not to have created at all.

If there is no BPU, then for any possible universe U1, there is always a better possible universe U2. (otherwise U1 would, by definition, be BPU)

Yes. Agreed.

If the possibility of creating better universe U2 implied the impossibility of creating U1 (which it does, given your conception of the divine intellect and will), then U2 is not in fact better than possible universe U1 (since U1 is shown to in fact be impossible). And in this case, there isn't really a possible universe U2 either (since U2, by definition, must be better than possible universe U1, which cannot in fact be a possible universe).

Yes, you are correct that if U1 is impossible, and U2 derives its meaning from its position relative to U1, then U2 is also impossible.

A better way to put it would be as follows. Let us assume that there is no BPU, but rather there is an infinite series of possible universes. Let us further assume that for any possible universe U1, there is always a possible better universe U2. In the divine intellect, God knows that U2 is more perfect than U1, which just means that the goodness of U2 is greater than the goodness of U1. If the intellect conceives of two possible courses of action in which one has more goodness than the other, then the will will actualize the course of action that has the most goodness as recognized by the intellect. So, it would follow that if the divine intellect recognizes that U2 is more perfect than U1, then the divine will will actualize U2, and not U1.

But for U2, there is a better U3, because for any universe, there is always a better universe, and thus God should create U3 instead of U2, and given the fact that there will always be a possible better universe that God could have created, then unless there is a BPU, then God would never create anything at all. In some ways, this is kind of a first cause argument. Of course, that would mean that not only must there be a BPU, but that this universe is the BPU, because if God can only create the BPU, and this universe exists, then this universe must be the BPU. However, this is impossible, because even Aquinas acknowledged that this universe could be improved upon by God. Therefore, there cannot be a BPU at all.

So, I find myself in an aporia in which there must be a BPU, but there cannot be a BPU, which is certainly “incoherent”, as you put it, and I’m not too sure which assumption(s) I need to abandon to resolve the aporia.

But understand that for God to "know about other possible universes" is just for God to know that his own essence is necessarily infinitely more perfect than any possible creature.

But that already assumes that God knows (a) his own essence, and (b) any possible creature, such that (a) is necessarily infinitely more perfect than (b), which means that his intellect must already contain (b), otherwise that comparison itself would be impossible.

dguller said...

What follows is that if God chose to create a 'less perfect' universe (etc.), then obviously he was free to do so, and, necessarily, (by his intellect) he understands that he was free to do so, even if (by your intellect) you don't. Right?

I don’t think so. If the will acts according to what the intellect conceives to be the good, then if the will acts in such a fashion as to choose an action A that is less good than B, then either (1) the intellect incorrectly conceived that A > B, which is impossible for God, or (2) the will overrode the intellect, even though the intellect correctly apprehended that A < B, which is impossible for God. In other words, under the Thomist model of intellect and will such that the intellect apprehends the good and the will acts according to what the intellect apprehends, then if the intellect is the will in God, then their activity is one and the same, which means that to know the good is to do the good, and thus, if God knows that U2 > U1, then God must do U2 and not U1. There is no “gap” between knowing and doing in God that would allow the possibility of God’s choosing U1 > U2 in this scenario, unless one wants to say that God’s intellect is really distinct from God’s will, which would compromise divine simplicity.

dguller said...

DavidM:

Let me suggest: The universe is one (un). It is not one heap. It is a beautiful, orderly cosmos. Thus it must have a purpose, commensurate with that orderly unity. (If not, how else do we recognize purpose?)

First, the order of the cosmos is derived from the order of the entities that compose it, each striving to achieve its final end through interactions with the others.

Second, the purpose of the individual entities does not have to be derived from the order of the universe itself. In fact, it could be derived from God instead.

Scott said...

@dguller:

"What I’m saying is that the goodness of an act of creation is the combination of the primary and secondary goodness of the thing created, much like the goodness of a work of art is a combination of the primary and secondary goodness of the created artwork itself."

And that's precisely what I'm denying.

First of all, your account omits the wisdom and goodness with which the act of creation is performed. As Aquinas says in his reply to Objection 1 in the article cited above, God can't make anything from greater wisdom and goodness than He does. In this sense, His act of creation of anything is already perfect and can't be improved upon.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, your account jumbles together various sorts of "goodness" (of an agent, of the act of an agent, of the object created by an act of an agent, and so forth) to the point that the goodness of an act includes what you're calling the secondary goodness of the object created by the act—the "secondary goodness that each being has by actualizing their powers and becoming as ideal a member of their kind as possible." While I acknowledge that this is an important kind of goodness (and so does Aquinas), it doesn't seem to me to be a necessary part of the goodness of the act by which something is created.

Suppose (to continue the analogy, which I think will hold this far) an author writes two novels. In one, everybody is perfect. In the other, there are several flawed characters who not only never achieve their full perfection but indeed commit certain horrible acts. Why would that mean that the act of creating the second would be less "good" than the act of creating the first?

Suppose further that the "novels" are real, self-contained worlds. In either case the author (God) has done something entirely gratuitous in giving that world and its inhabitants being at all, and insofar as He has done so, not only His act of creation but its object is good. (Please don't confuse this, as you have previously, with the claim that His act of creation is good just because it has being itself.)

Why should we turn around at this point and say that, just because some parts of the second created world are lacking in what you're calling "secondary goodness," the author's act of creating this world was less "good"?

Scott said...

@dguller:

"I find myself in an aporia in which there must be a BPU, but there cannot be a BPU, … and I’m not too sure which assumption(s) I need to abandon to resolve the aporia."

In my view, as I've tried to explain, the main assumption to abandon is that just because a universe U2 in some way contains more of what you're calling "secondary goodness" than U1, God's will must therefore be determined by His intellect to create U2 rather than U1 (or rather than not create at all). I think it's simply false that God's creating U2 is a better act than His creating U1.

Scott said...

To put it another way: if there's no such thing as a BPU, then God can't be in any way constrained/bound/obliged (even by His own intellect, by which He of course knows that that there's no such thing) to create it. Right?

Here again, this looks a lot like a reductio ad absurdum of the claim that God is in some way bound to create universe U2 rather than U1 (or no universe at all) just because U2 contains more "secondary goodness" than U1.

DavidM said...

guller:
"...if the divine intellect recognizes that U2 is more perfect than U1, then the divine will will actualize U2, and not U1."

Right, and the important thing to keep in mind is that this scenario is thoroughly per impossibile (it has already been shown to be incoherent).

"...unless there is a BPU, then God would never create anything at all."

Correct: that is what YOUR position entails. You really should stop waffling on that point. The coherence of BPU is NOT dispensable for your argument - it is a crucial presupposition. Do you want to stick with it or not?

"Aquinas acknowledged that this universe could be improved upon by God."

Did he? In what sense? Where?

"Therefore, there cannot be a BPU at all."

Well, by supposition, this universe is necessary, and thus the only possible universe (and thus, trivially, the BPU). But it is not absolutely necessary, or absolutely the best, because such a concept can only coherently apply to God. Effectively, you keep hoping it will somehow make sense to talk about something that is both absolutely best but not absolutely good (both creator (God) and creature). Good luck with that!

"But that already assumes that God knows (a) his own essence, and (b) any possible creature, such that (a) is necessarily infinitely more perfect than (b), which means that his intellect must already contain (b), otherwise that comparison itself would be impossible."

Yes. And I take it you think this is a problem?

"If the will acts according to what the intellect conceives to be the good, then if the will acts in such a fashion as to choose an action A that is less good than B, then either (1) the intellect incorrectly conceived that A > B, which is impossible for God, or (2) the will overrode the intellect, even though the intellect correctly apprehended that A < B, which is impossible for God."

...or (3) the will was under no compulsion to maximize the possible good by its choice between A and B, a fact which is necessarily known and understood by the divine intellect (and even by created intellects, in accordance with the reasons laid out here), which knowledge and understanding thus set the condition for the perfectly free act of the creative will of God.

Scott said...

This horse is well dead, but I'll post just once more to illustrate the problem. Emphases are mine:

"If the will acts according to what the intellect conceives to be the good, then if the will acts in such a fashion as to choose an action A that is less good than B, then [there's a problem.] … [I]f God knows that U2 > U1, then God must do U2 and not U1."

But U1 and U2 are not actions; they are the results or objects of acts of creation. Your unstated assumption here is that if U2 is in some way better than U1, then the act of creating U2 must also be better than the act of creating U1. I think that if, as I've suggested, you make this assumption explicit and examine it carefully, you'll at least find reason to question it.

DavidM said...

Or rather:
"...which knowledge and understanding thus set the condition for the perfect freedom of the act of the creative will of God."

Scott said...

@DavidM:

"'Aquinas acknowledged that this universe could be improved upon by God.'

Did he? In what sense? Where?"

Here, in his reply to Objection 3, although strictly speaking Aquinas isn't saying that this universe could have been improved upon (in fact he expressly says otherwise) but that God could have created another universe that was better than this one. dguller is, I expect, speaking a bit loosely.

DavidM said...

" the purpose of the individual entities does not have to be derived from the order of the universe itself. In fact, it could be derived from God instead."

But how can the order of the universe itself fail to be one of the purposeful entities derived from God?

dguller said...

Scott:

First of all, your account omits the wisdom and goodness with which the act of creation is performed. As Aquinas says in his reply to Objection 1 in the article cited above, God can't make anything from greater wisdom and goodness than He does. In this sense, His act of creation of anything is already perfect and can't be improved upon.

And I don’t see how that makes sense, if God can create a better universe. How is his act of creation itself perfect and beyond improvement if the product of his act is imperfect and improvable? That is like saying that an artist’s creative abilities are flawless, but his works of art are pieces of junk. Well, if his creative abilities were flawless, then his creations would be equally flawless.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, your account jumbles together various sorts of "goodness" (of an agent, of the act of an agent, of the object created by an act of an agent, and so forth) to the point that the goodness of an act includes what you're calling the secondary goodness of the object created by the act—the "secondary goodness that each being has by actualizing their powers and becoming as ideal a member of their kind as possible." While I acknowledge that this is an important kind of goodness (and so does Aquinas), it doesn't seem to me to be a necessary part of the goodness of the act by which something is created.

Yes, that seems to be a point of disagreement between us. I don’t see how one can separate the evaluation of an act from the constituents of the act itself. For example, to build requires something being built. It makes no sense to talk about the act of building independent of the thing being built, because each are two aspects of a single activity, and thus are mutually dependent upon each other. In some ways, it is like talking about thoughts without a thinker. Yes, there is a distinction between the two, but they are fundamentally inseparable and mutually reinforcing such that you cannot really discuss one without involving the other, at least implicitly.

Why would that mean that the act of creating the second would be less "good" than the act of creating the first?

Because the quality of the act of creating is intrinsically dependent upon the quality of the creation. For example, the quality of the act of building depends upon the quality of the built object, the quality of the act of thinking depends upon the quality of the thoughts being thought, and so on.

Suppose further that the "novels" are real, self-contained worlds. In either case the author (God) has done something entirely gratuitous in giving that world and its inhabitants being at all, and insofar as He has done so, not only His act of creation but its object is good. (Please don't confuse this, as you have previously, with the claim that His act of creation is good just because it has being itself.)

But that still seems to me to be the barest minimum and trivial kind of goodness, i.e. that of sheer existence or being. Furthermore, it still ignores all the other relevant factors that are involved in appraising whether an act is good or not. For example, say God gratuitously created a world that consisted of little children being raped by demons for centuries, and after dying a horrible death, there was no assurance of an afterlife of eternal bliss. In one sense, that world would be good, because any kind of existence is better than non-being, simply by virtue of the interconvertibility of being and goodness. However, in another sense, and a more important sense, such an existence is horrifying and awful. So, I think that focusing upon God’s gratuitousness and the interconvertibility of being and goodness will only get you so far, and to see the total picture requires one to go beyond that basic foundation to include how well the individuals that he has created are actualizing their natures and fulfilling their ends.

dguller said...

Why should we turn around at this point and say that, just because some parts of the second created world are lacking in what you're calling "secondary goodness," the author's act of creating this world was less "good"?

Again, it all hinges upon whether one can appraise an action’s goodness completely independently of the constituents of that action. In one sense, you can, but that requires excluding other kinds of goodness that you agree are “important”.

In my view, as I've tried to explain, the main assumption to abandon is that just because a universe U2 in some way contains more of what you're calling "secondary goodness" than U1, God's will must therefore be determined by His intellect to create U2 rather than U1 (or rather than not create at all). I think it's simply false that God's creating U2 is a better act than His creating U1.

And you would be correct if the quality of an action could be determined irrespective of the quality of the constituents of the action itself. This seems to be the fundamental sticking point.

But U1 and U2 are not actions; they are the results or objects of acts of creation. Your unstated assumption here is that if U2 is in some way better than U1, then the act of creating U2 must also be better than the act of creating U1. I think that if, as I've suggested, you make this assumption explicit and examine it carefully, you'll at least find reason to question it.

So, there can be an act of creation without creation? They are simply two different ways of talking about the same thing, and thus are notionally distinct.

Here’s one way to look at it. Is the act of creation distinct from God or not? If it is not distinct from God, then it is identical to his divine essence, and thus creation becomes a necessary act, which compromises God’s free choice to create. If it is distinct from God, then how is it not identical to creation? After all, anything that is not God must be creation, including the act of creation itself. And if the act of creation is neither distinct from God nor not distinct from God, then it is simply an incoherent concept altogether. I think that the act of creation must be distinct from God, and as such, would be identical to creation, which means that there is no evaluation of the act of creation without including an evaluation of creation itself.

Scott said...

@dguller:

"How is his act of creation itself perfect and beyond improvement if the product of his act is imperfect and improvable?"

My main point (following Aquinas in the article already cited) is that it's entirely intelligible that God does a perfect job of creating a being who is, in your terms, secondarily imperfect; as Aquinas says, in making a greater being, God would have been creating, not this being, but another, different one.

My subordinate point is that because of God's act of creation, the "imperfect and improvable" product of His act gratuitously has being that it would not otherwise have had, and God "owes" it nothing further.

I don't think I have much more to add on this subject and I'm about to be under some time constraints myself, so I'll have to bow out for now.

DavidM said...

dguller: "That is like saying that an artist’s creative abilities are flawless, but his works of art are pieces of junk. Well, if his creative abilities were flawless, then his creations would be equally flawless."

That seems fair to me, if abstract. But who says they are pieces of junk? The artist himself? Or is it the work of art calling itself junk? Or one work of art calling the others junk? Or is it the works of art calling the artist a lousy artist? (Why? By what criterion? In relation to what end?) If the works of art disagree with the artist, whose opinion expresses the fuller understanding?

George LeSauvage said...

@dguller:

No offense, but I think your argument has reached the point of terminal weirdness.

"...My argument for (1) is that no-one can explain what the purpose of the universe is supposed to be, over and above the maximal actualization of the potencies of its members. Your argument for (2) is that the universe as a whole might have a purpose over and above the purpose of the individual entities within the universe, even if we do not know what that purpose is. But why believe there is such a purpose at all, especially if it isn’t necessary and you have no idea what it would be anyway?

1. It's unnatural to speak of "the purpose of the universe", as if it were a hammer. It is perfectly natural to speak of God's purpose in creating it.

2. It is always in order to treat the acts of a rational agent as purposive, whether you know the reason or not. If someone asks why Napoleon cancelled the invasion of England, before Trafalgar, I may or may not have a theory, or I may just say "I don't know." But admitting I don't doesn't move you one iota toward the notion that Boney's decision wasn't purposive.

3. The same here; if God did create the universe, then he had a reason for doing so, as He is a rational and free agent, if anyone is. But it's much more likely that I would be able to see and understand Napoleon's reason, than God's. While I'm not a military genius, I'm a lot closer to being one, than to being divine. At least Boney and I are both human, and I have some knowledge of the situation he was dealing with.

4. For the reasons I have given, it is necessary to assume God had a purpose, contrary to what you say. The alternative is that He just did it randomly, for no reason. But that would mean rejecting the notion of God, per se, thus it cannot arise.

dguller said...

Scott:

My main point (following Aquinas in the article already cited) is that it's entirely intelligible that God does a perfect job of creating a being who is, in your terms, secondarily imperfect; as Aquinas says, in making a greater being, God would have been creating, not this being, but another, different one.

First, I disagree that a perfect job, especially by God himself, could possibly result in an imperfection creation, no more than a perfect artist could produce an imperfect piece of art.

Second, what Aquinas means, at least insofar as I understand him, is that there is a difference between improving this being with this nature by increasing its secondary actuality and changing this being with this nature into another being with another nature. He says that God can certainly improve this creation in the former way, but not in the latter way.

My subordinate point is that because of God's act of creation, the "imperfect and improvable" product of His act gratuitously has being that it would not otherwise have had, and God "owes" it nothing further.

It’s not a matter of God’s debt to creation, but rather God’s need to act according to what his intellect determines is the good. Even if his actions are entirely gratuitous, they still must be according to the good as determined by his intellect, as Aquinas affirms.

I don't think I have much more to add on this subject and I'm about to be under some time constraints myself, so I'll have to bow out for now.

No worries, and thanks, as always, for the helpful dialogue. By the way, I know that you have a mountain of books to read, much like myself, but I’m just finishing Lloyd Gerson’s From Plato To Platonism. I think that you would enjoy it, because it elaborates on the themes that he discussed in his Aristotle and Other Platonists.

Take care.

dguller said...

DavidM:

Your points are important, and I'd like to think a bit more on them. I'll reply tomorrow, if I can.

Take care.

George LeSauvage said...

@dguller: (pt 2):

You also argue:

" My negative claim is based upon the fact that Y is neither necessary nor apparent, and you cannot tell me what Y is supposed to be anyway. Your positive claim is based upon the fact that Y might be true, even if we have no idea what Y would be. Under such circumstances, I would sake the negative claim as more compelling."

This misses the point. It really reminds me of an argument I have seen, from an ID-proponent, directed at a Darwinist. Mr Evo said that for some organ or other, which Mr ID had said couldn't be evolved by natural selection, a plausible scenario had been produced in which it could. Whereupon Mr ID objected that no one could show that the scenario had occurred.

But this doesn't work. Mr ID had started saying A could not be true, so it was quite sufficient for Mr Evo to reply that he had show it could.

The same here; you are claiming that we must show what God's purpose was, in creating. But to refute your claim of a contradiction, it is necessary only to show that the there isn't necessarily a contradiction.

Altogether, I really don't see your case, at all. It's not that I think it weak, but I really don't get it, at all.

Matt Sheean said...

"That seems fair to me, if abstract. But who says they are pieces of junk? The artist himself? Or is it the work of art calling itself junk? Or one work of art calling the others junk? Or is it the works of art calling the artist a lousy artist?"

And a work of art in a semi-finished state, no less.

Glenn said...

Given that "created things are then called perfect, when from potentiality they are brought into actuality, this word 'perfect' signifies whatever is not wanting in actuality" (ST I q4 a1 ad. 1), it follows that:

a) God's act of creation is perfect for the reason that that act itself actually exists and is not wanting in actuality;

b) creation itself is perfect, in the sense given above, for the reason that it too actually exists, as an act of God, and is not itself wanting in actuality; and,

c) not all things in creation are themselves perfect for the reason that some things in creation have potentiality and, therefore, are wanting in actuality.

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