A problem in theodicy / AFE (pt. 2)

Theodicy and atheological arguments aren’t about evil as such but seem to be pretty clearly about suffering as such.

So what is the worst* sort of suffering, then? The consensus seems to be the non-moral or pre-moral. Some suffer well, like saints or revolutionaries heroically and patiently enduring hardships, and others suffer not so well – like those who continually complain, or become bitter at life, or who can’t accept a suffering that is their comeuppance. The consensus points to the suffering of children or animals, who are presumably treated as pre-moral and therefore unable to suffer well or poorly.

But since natural causes couldn’t contribute to bringing forth reason except by first making a pre-rational being that is only sentient, they equally couldn’t bring forth moral suffering without the pre-moral suffering of the merely sentient. Though I don’t agree with the free will defense of theodicy, I agree with its analogue here: allowing for moral suffering requires allowing pre-moral suffering just as allowing for moral perfection allows for moral degradation.

One could object that God could just magically make rational beings without merely sentient ones, but this could only happen by brushing off the activity of natural causes in a way that, were he willing to do it, he might just as well brush aside free choice while he was at it.

*”Worst” here can’t mean morally worst, and it also can’t mean the most extreme form of suffering, but only “the form of suffering least compatible with the goodness of a creator”. IOW,  “worst” is what the last post called “most problematic”, which means we are assuming a God with goals and intentions and looking for what is least amenable to being subsumed to his goals. But my thesis is that if (a) moral suffering is a goal and (b) God respects natural causes, then allowing the pre-moral suffering of the merely sentient is part of what has to be tolerated.


A problem in theodicy/ Argument from Evil

Would it make a difference to theodicy if moral evils were worse than physical ones? (M>P)*

There seems to be a consensus that physical evils are more problematic than moral ones, e.g. the suffering of children or animals from disease or abuse or natural disasters is harder to explain or justify than the freely-willed evil of a moral agent inflicting needless suffering.

On M>P this raises the problem of why a greater degree of something bad is more problematic than a lesser amount of it. How can this be so if the problem arises from evil as such? If some problem arose from curiosity as such we’d expect more curiosity to create more of the problem, or if Christianity as such had a fatal flaw we’d expect the problem to be more pronounced in a more intense and devout Christianity.

So the aporia seems to be this:

1.) When X as such is a problem and X can be greater, more X is more problem (axiom)

2.) Physical evil is more problematic than moral evil (assumption of argument from evil).

3.) M>P.

*Newman famously defended M>P and refused to back down from it when challenged:

The Catholic Church holds it better for the sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die of starvation in extremest agony, as far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one wilful untruth, or should steal one poor farthing without excuse.

Apologia Pro Vita Sua p. 247

Song of Songs 8:6

Set me as a seal upon your arm, a seal upon your heart.

Seals are of two kinds.

In one sense, a seal is an image that can’t be destroyed without destroying what the seal is on, e.g. seals on liquor bottles are broken to show the bottle was opened. In this sense, the one loving God wants to be a seal placed upon him so that his presence could no more be erased from divinity than divinity itself could be destroyed. Through this, love both anticipates and  accomplishes the way in which it is stronger than death (ibid). God also desires to be present in the soul in this way, since the mystery of human existence is that what is most human is that which is above human nature (Nic Eth. X. 7) and so we can’t efface the divine image in ourselves without also destroying what we most of all are.

In another sense, the seal is the sign of the authority manifested in a communication. The king’s letters bear his seal whether their contents are glorious or banal. In this sense God wants to place his seal upon us, as Paul says:

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. 

Col. 3:16-17.


Living in a non-christian culture (2)

The Church only succeeds or fails relative to what it is offering, and all it is offering is God. More exactly, it offers a spiritual life with three stages: (1) a way dominated by driving out seriously sinful habits (2) a subsequent stage where one no longer habitually separates himself from God and therefore is free to develop the light that gives him growing interior evidence of the inherent value of a life spent in union with God and (3) a stage where one accepts and lives in total divine union.

Like any division of life the stages bleed into and interpenetrate each other. An adult carries and relives parts of his own childhood and adolescence, and childhood behaviors are tied up with what the adult will be. Add to this that the spiritual life doesn’t advance by sheerly natural causes but by free choice and providence, and the picture becomes even more obscure. Still, the spiritual life has a beginning, middle and end and the Church is offering the way.

Since there are not always bright yellow lines between our inner and outer life we also don’t always  find them between interior and exterior manifestations of the spiritual life. Scripture, liturgy, vocal prayer, works of mercy, etc are all strightforwardly exterior in one sense but also need to resonate with the interior life. Meditation and insight are all interior but are brought on by and call out for an exterior world of a certain kind. This demands political and social reforms of various kinds, since if the good that the Church offers exists it deserves to have all other goods subordinate to itself. That said, socio-political questions are inherently prudential and can only be answered from within the flux and indeterminacy of the concrete situation. Any political principle that would be true for all time wouldn’t be of much use in telling us what to do here and now.

Maybe complaint, outrage, and frustration over news stories about the success of the Spirit of the World have some part to play in working with the indeterminacy of the concrete situation. Maybe, but none of them show any particular shrewdness or wisdom about how to increase or make more likely the amount of supernatural virtue in souls. I have no idea how to reform anything for the better, and perhaps I don’t need to know. The absence of answers and the silence of God is part of the spiritual life too.

Living in non-Christian culture

1.) To the extent that the culture is sinful, the Church condemns itself by thinking it is powerless to deal with it; to the extent that it’s not, why should the Church assume it’s at war with it?

2.) What’s more hilarious than imagining Christ saying “Oh no! Sinners are everywhere! Whatever can be done?”

3.) One person advancing in the interior life towards the unitive way justifies the value of the Church on earth. No mere culture of Christians would.

4.) Seeing yourself in a culture war contextualizes your problems in exterior terms: falling Church attendance, disheartening responses to telephone polls about faith, frustrating battles of soundbites and combox threads, unfavorable national-news stories, lack of success within what Christ called “The World”… The Church, on the other hand, offers advance in the interior life irrespective of what your larger culture is like, though always under the assumption that it will contain a good deal that is incompatible with divine friendship.

5.) Some starstruck fan of Mother Teresa once called her a saint, but the now-saint rebuked her saying “You want me to be a saint so you don’t have to be”. Celebrity holiness threatens to be another way of avoiding interiority. A fortiori, so is complaint about corruption.

6.) When I read Ron Dreher I can’t escape the image of someone who immolates himself in despair every night only to rise in fresh despair every morning.

7.) If Dreher and others like him wrote a gospel the whole thing would be dramatic, critical descriptions of the courts of Pilate, Herod, Caesar, and the Sanhedrin, along with polls and lurid descriptions of unobservant Jews and pagan nonsense. The depravity! The corruption! The hopelessness! The clickbait!


Physicality and soul

(3 column, 5 row table is below)

1.) Divide rows 1-5 and columns A-C.

2.) Rows 1-3 can all be called physical, meaning that if there are none of the chemicals necessary for life (C,H,N,O) then we could not have life in any of these senses.

3.) Row 4 is partly physical since if there were no chemicals necessary for life there could still be possible objects of sense (like helium or sodium) but there obviously could not be sense organs.

4.) Row 5 is wholly non-physical since one needs no physical parts to make the non-physical, and if there are even sense objects without sentience, a fortiori there are intelligible ones.

5.) Rows 1-3 are physical in another sense: if the thing in column A is actual, the thing in column C cannot be, and vice versa. If you have beef you don’t have the cow; if you have food in the cupboard you can’t have food in your bloodstream; if you have parts of a parent you don’t have a baby, and vice versa.

6.) But rows 4 and 5 are non physical in the sense that if the thing in A is actual, the thing in C is necessary. If I am sensing (as opposed to hallucinating) then there is some object in the exterior sensible world; if I am intellecting there is an object in the intelligible world. Call this sense of the non physical the cognitive. 

7.) The cognitive differs from the physical by way of contradiction, by what cannot be an what must be. The wholly non-physical differs from the physical as a contrary, allowing for a middle state that is neither of the two.

Dimensions of life

Living being Life Thing that, when separate and on its own, is a corpse. Usually called “body”
Feeding or growing thing The source of maintained identity through parts assimilated and sloughed off All parts that living thing can assimilate: food, air, water, etc.
Reproduced thing/offspring/ baby Life of the reproduced/offspring/baby Life of the parent.
Conscious sentient experience Sense organs, i.e. actions of central nervous system The sensible object
Conscious noetic experience Action other than action of central nervous system The intelligible object

Simplifying an argument in Nagel

(Mind and Cosmos, c. 4)

The cognitive act of any organ arising by natural selection can be rationally justified. 

This is, one assumes, exactly what natural selection has to do. The organ exists like so because of some reproductive advantage or as a spandrel of some other reproductive advantage. But the fact that the organ exists in the way that it does as opposed to some other possible way suffices to explain its action

Reasoning cannot be rationally justified. 

Any attempt to give rational justifications for reasoning are, by definition, question-begging and therefore fallacious.

Therefore, reasoning cannot be the cognitive act of any organ arising from natural selection. 

Notice that “natural selection” is just a paradigm case of any account of the structure of some organ. Reasoning cannot be explained as the act of some organ that exists in way X but could have existed in way Y. This also rules out explaining it by Nagel’s desired Naturalist teleology, or by any other theory that sees reason as the act of an organ that could exist in some other way for some other reason. This does not rule out saying that reason is created since creation is not the actualization of some real potencies as opposed to others. As explained below, abstracting from the creative act, the creature is not only not actual but not even really possible (though it is obviously logically possible, i.e. not impossible.)



Divine outpouring

1.) God, as infinite perfection, lives out this perfection by outpouring, like someone becoming more sure of a truth by living it out, teaching or writing it.

2.) The first outpouring is into the infinite: deep calls out to deep with the sound of many waters. One outpouring is source and the other complete reflection – complete because unlike the reflection of light off a mirror or sound off a wall the whole substance of one infinite is reflected in the other, making the first infinite Source and the second infinite Logos, both being identical in nature as Father and Son.

3.) In virtue of its perfect reflection, the Logos outpours just as the Father; in virtue of its distinction from the Father it is outpouring with the Father. In the first sense, it is identical to the Father, in the second both the Father and Logos are distinct from a third.

4.) All modalities of outpouring are therefore fulfilled. Nothing is left to be done – all perfection is complete and no potentiality remains unfulfilled.

5.) There is an outpouring into the finite simultaneously making the possibility of the finite and its existence in fact. That said, we visualize this as fulfilling some subjective possibility, i.e. what is in reality from nothing is conceived as actualizing a subjective possibility.

6.) Absent creating, there is neither actual finite things nor their real possibility. Real possibility is of a thing in time to a later time, and there is no such state before creation.

7.) When a productive action ceases at X, we have only what existed before X. In the case of creation, there was nothing at all before X, not even the possibility of the thing. Creation must therefore be seen as continuous and ongoing.  Absent any ongoing creative act, creatures are not even really possible. Creation is the outpouring of the infinite into the finite.

8.) The creature is distinguished into a possibility receiving the creative power and the actualization of that possibility. Taken in the first way it is a reservoir and therefore a limit; taken in the second way it must be taken as neither infinite nor finite. If water could fill all reservoirs then the lake qua water is infinite, but qua basin or reservoir it is finite. This is why Thomas teaches that esse as such is neither finite nor infinite.

9.) Creation manifests infinite perfection and is desirable because of its suggestion of it. In one sense the existence in creatures is infinite and divine so far as it is esse, but as received it is limited to one dimension of this esse. 


Aristotle’s ultimate account of happiness

Aristotle defines happiness as excellent activity of the soul, where “soul” means reason and an irrational part that reason can train. In keeping with this the first excellence the soul can have is in training its irrational parts until they enjoy responding to the world correctly. At the far end of his discussion, however, Aristotle raises the possibility of a higher sort of excellence, because given that reason rules it also:

Take[s] thought of things noble and divine, whether it be itself also divine or only the most divine element in us, the activity of this in accordance with its proper virtue will be perfect happiness. That this activity is contemplative we have already said.

In ruling the irrational world under its power reason shares a property with divinity, and if we rule by  a divine thought we have a share in the fullness of divine thought, which, beyond providently ruling and having concern for the irrational, also enjoys the possession and contemplation of the highest activity of soul in continually meditating on, praising, glorifying and savoring sublime things.

After showing that this sort of life most of all satisfies his definition of happiness, Aristotle writes a very paradoxical and therefore very uncharacteristic conclusion:

But such a life would be too high for man; for it is not in so far as he is man that he will live so, but in so far as something divine is present in him; and by so much as this is superior to our composite nature is its activity superior to that which is the exercise of the other kind of virtue. If reason is divine, then, in comparison with man, the life according to it is divine in comparison with human life….

So far, so good. The divine life is beyond man since it is the activity of intelligence alone whereas human intelligence – soul – is not just intelligence but intelligence with an irrational component capable of being trained. But right after this…

This would seem, too, to be each man himself, since it is the authoritative and better part of him. It would be strange, then, if he were to choose not the life of his self but that of something else.

That which is above the person is most of all who that person is.  Figuring out what is being said here would be less pressing had Aristotle not made it the conclusion of his whole vision of the human person.

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