Theism and Suffering

I have been a theist for quite some time now (a bit less than a year), as well as a Catholic. The conversion (from an atheist) was a long a very difficult one, and my thinking has changed considerably as a result.

However, I noticed recently a tension in some of my assumptions. It is a problem closely related to the problem of evil, and could be considered a particular instance of evil, that is a bit more personal than the traditional problem of evil. The problem goes something like this.

I have a girlfriend (Megan, M for short) who I love very much. But suppose M were to die (~M) tomorrow? I think that I would lose my faith both in Catholicism and theism. It seems that the world would have been a better place had Megan not died[~(~M)], and that her death is preventable. It can be stated as,

(1) For any actual world W1 with the event (~M), there is another one W2 which contains both [~(~M)] & retains the good of W1 all things considered.

From premise one, we cannot conclude much, since (a) it may not be true and, (b) it may not apply to everyone–it may be an agent-relative fact. But (1) isn’t an agent-relative fact, because,

(2) If God ought to prevent (~M) or actualize a world which contains [~(~M)], all things considered, then he ought prevent all M-type events, or actual a world in which M-type events do not happen, given that eliminating all M-type events does not diminish the good of W1 (in relation to W2), all thing considered.

If we accept (1), then (2) is uncontroversial, since (1) is of the nature such that accepting it entails (2). In other words, if God should have prevented Megan’s death (should she die), then qua God he should prevent unnecessary death as much as possible.

We still do not yet have a problem for theism (or Catholicism). We must add a third premise to get non-theism,

(3) In W1 (the actualized world) all M-type events have not been eliminated & W1 is constituted such that God could & ought to eliminate more M-type events than have been eliminated (or actualize W2, which contains few or no M-type events), such that a greater good is not lost in the eliminate of certain M-type events, all things considered.

Of course (3), entials (4).

(4) With regard to W1 (as opposed to W2, W3 … Wn), God likely does not exist.

But should we conclude that (4) is correct? I have no idea. Intuitively I would say yes, but I at the same time I realize that (1) and (3) are very controversial. Most theists would probably attack (3), but I think I need to deal more exclusively with (1).

Perhaps its more than just the problem of evil. Maybe its because the potential evil would be so personal, should I lose Megan.

July 12, 2006 at 12:34 am 2 comments

My Rambling Metaphysics of Fiction

(These are some of my thoughts on the philosophy of fiction. It would seem that reading a novel or watching TV are a few activities that are at least a safety zone from philosophy and philosophizing. But this is not so. There are many difficult issues associated with something as simple as enjoying a sitcom, such as the metaphysical status of fictional objects, the rationality of emotional responses to fiction, what fiction is, whether consumers of fiction have any ethical duties, the authority of the author in making truth claims about the story etc. I find this to be a revealing testiment about the power, scope and value of philosophy).

Fiction readers often grant their writers much creative liberty in their fiction. It is often assumed that the author has ultimate authority to define the particulars and norms in their stories, and that the author’s stating any proprosition is sufficient for its being true within the story. If, for example, the author populations his/her story with large, red, firebreathing dragons this is taken to be a sufficient condition for his/her fictional world containing dragons. Let us call this the authoritarian view of fiction:

(AvF) For any story s, the author of s affirming x is true of s is a sufficient condition of x being true of s.

So we can assume that on AvF, anything that the author affirming within his/her story is true of that story. And additionally that this view of fiction is widely affirming by most people who enjoy fiction on a consistent basis.

A confusion might arise at this point. Principle AvF may be confused with another principle of fiction which also seems to be widely held, namely the disconnect between fiction and reality,

(DFR) For any proposition p, the affirming of p by the author r is not a sufficient or necessary condition for p being realistic (believable) of any story s by r.

At first it may seem as though AvF and DFR are inconsistent or conflicting in some way. The confusion hinges on the assumption that those things which are true of x, must also be believable. In other words, if a story’s author affirms the existence of red dragons, then their are red dragons in the story, so how could this be unrealistic or unbelievable?

This is of course another way of making the assumption more explicit. But here is an example. Suppose you were witnessing a fist in the street during the afternoon of a clearly lit day. One of the guys gets his face bloodied up and falls to the ground. But after he gets up you see his face heal up in a matter of seconds. Cuts and blood disappear. Suppose also that you can verify both that his face was really cut when you first saw him AND that his face really healed up on the spot. That is a ‘real-life’ example of something that would be true and yet unbelievable.

Given that there is no inconsistency between AvF and DFR, it is important to realize that many times we take them of be inconsistently implicits while watching a movie or reading a book. Of times finding a character or circumstance unbelievable or forced viewers/readers may take this as in indication that AvF is false, that the writer’s affirming of proposition within the story is not a sufficient condition for it being true in the story, we shall call this the inconsistent thesis,

(IT) If any proposition p is incredible (unbelievable) in any story s, then that is a sufficient condition for p not being true of s inspite of the author’s authority.

In other words, most viewers/readers take AvF and DFR coming in conflict (supposed conflict) to be reason enough to throw out or modify AvF. But why should we accept this? AvF and DFR coming into apparent conflict is not enough to modify AvF for two reasons; first, AvF and DFR do not come into conflict upon further analysis as I showed earlier in this post, and secondly something being unrealistic has not bearing on the truth of the story. As I showed earlier something can be actually true and yet unbelievable. There is no logical connection between something being true and it being belieable (realistic).

Modality (possible worlds talk) is the model I wish to use for fiction. Fictions are simply possible worlds as narrative. In other words a fictional story is simply another way of talking about possible worlds. Any state of affairs which is logically possible (not a contradiction) can be put into the language of possible worlds. Let us call this the logically possible view of fiction,

(LPF) For any story s, any proposition that is affirmed of s by the author of s is true iff s is a possible world (i.e. logically possible).

On such a view AvF and DFR are fully consistent.

However, there is another problem with AvF, since it seems to contradict LPF. Suppose the author affirms that necessary truth nt is false in his story. Does this give us reason to believe that nt is false? No. On the LPF model of fictional truth, something is only true of a story if it is both affirmed by the author AND it is logically possible. Let us call this the logically impossible thesis,

(LIT) For any proposition p affirmed of story s by the author of s is true of s iff p is logically possible, but not necessarily capable of being actualized.

Of course LIT is a modification of AvF, since the combination of AvF and LPF is inconsistent. Enough said about fiction of a bit.

July 12, 2006 at 12:33 am Leave a comment

Burgess-Jackson and What Philosophers Do, Part Two

Keith Burgess-Jackson has argued on a number of occasions (see here and here) that philosophers have no factual expertise, and that their expertise is solely conceptual [he sometimes says logical]. He has argued that philosophers have no more business making legal, social, ethical or scientific claims than anyone else who lack training in those respective fields.

When it comes to specific disciplines, Dr. Burgess-Jackson is probably correct to criticize philosophers, after all there are a number of subjects in which philosophers are not trained qua philosophers. But this point is irrelevant to his broader point for at least three reasons:

1. Philosophers do have factual training. They are trained in the history of their own field. Of course they do not study their past in quite the same way a historian would, nor should they be expected to do so. However, they do possess knowledge of their discipline that experts in other fields lack qua experts in other fields (i.e. the history of philosophy is not standard training for an economist, even though economists may have knowledge of such on an individual level).

2. Dr. Burgess-Jackson is taking a position with regard to meta-philosophy. He is arguing that there is no factual data/problem which is by its very nature philosophical. In other words, for any problem, the factual aspect of that problem is decidedly non-philosophical. But why should we accept this? It sounds so reductionist, so to speak. What of the mind/body problem? What of other numerous metaphysical problems that are by nature philosophical. What of political philosophy, which deals with the philosophical aspects of political theory? These are not factual, in some sense, and yet specific to philosophers. (Independent philosophical problems).

3. Dr. Burgess-Jackson is also denying another important aspect of philosophy. Philosophical aspects of a subject matter, that depend on the subject matter for their emergence and yet are unsolvable by the subject matter. For example, the social sciences have a number of philosophical problems which arise within the context of the social sciences, are philosophical in nature and are yet not solvable by the social sciences for the very reason that they are philosophical in nature. (Dependent philosophical problems).

In summary, philosophers who think they are scientists or economists can come off as ridiculous, however philosophers who think they have no factual expertise are short changing themselves and helping to buy into the myth that philosophers are irrelevant these days.

July 12, 2006 at 12:32 am Leave a comment

Subjectivism in Aesthetics

I don’t quite understand why so many people (even philosophers) find subjectivism in aesthetics so compelling… I suppose I used to, but then I became a philosopher, and ever since have found myself wondering why this doctrine is so pervasive.

Subjectivism is the view that there are no good or bad works of art, its all subjective (relativistic).

The best approach to subjectivism is to give a soft defense of a more objective approach to art,

(S) With regard to art, things such as beauty and status may be true even given a diversity of opinion.

Points commonly made in defense of subjectivism,

i. No one can agree on what is ‘good’ art and what is ‘bad.’ This does seem to be true sometimes, especially with movies or abstract art. But is this really true. Many times it is true, but many times it isn’t. Many of the people who claim art is subjective, will avoid going to see a “bad” movie-and they aren’t the only ones. Movies and other arts forms can be seen as good and bad by a number of different people, i.e. whether a book, or movie has a good story. If we really believed this about movies and other forms of art, what would be the point of movie and books reviews and art critics? Of course this doesn’t mean they are always accurate, or that disagreements don’t exist. It is rather that there is more of a consensus than the subjectivist would have us believe.

But let us suppose this isn’t true. Let us suppose that there aren’t a number of times when consumers and critics can predict popularity/unpopularity with regard to specific pieces of art. Let us also suppose that no two people see exactly the same thing about any one piece of art. So what?! This would only prove that a number of people believe different things. If everyone disagreed about the existence of the sun, it wouldn’t suddenly cease to exist. In other words, something can be true independent of what people believe. This hardly proves subjectivism.

2. The standards for deciding what is “good” art and what isn’t aren’t very clear. This seems to be a very bad objection to the notion of objectively deciding between good and bad art. First off, this has little to do with the actual truth of whether there are objective differences between good and bad art, but rather what criteria we could appeal to in order to justify our claims that this piece of art is good or bad. In other words, the objection fails to distinguish metaphysical claims with epistemic ones; just because we lack knowledge of x, it does not follow that x does not exist. In other words, lack of consensus does not prove (by itself) subjectivism.

This is a criteria issue rather than lacking a metaphysical basis for making a claim that a piece of artwork is good or bad. But it is more than a general-criteria issue. It is about an empirical-crtieria issue; there is nothing we can point to in order to make the judgement that this or that piece of art is good.

Ultimately, the problem with aesthetic subjectivism is that it is inconsistent. Many of the reasons given for aesthetic subjectivism could easily be given for religious, ethical and empirical subjectivism, and yet they are not, which is partly why arguments for aesthetic subjectivism don‘t work. What criteria can we use to justify sense perception, WITHOUT begging the question? One need only look back to the history of philosophy to understand how hard such a task would be, unless one is prepared to beg the question. Of course far fewer people have questioned the basis for making perceptual judgments rather than aesthetic judgments, but this doesn’t make perceptual judgments any more grounded; truth isn’t decided by numbers. It does demonstrate an inconsistency, in that people who lack a solid basis for making “objective” perceptual judgments, use the lack of criteria as a criticism of aesthetic judgments. I am not maintaining that one cannot make perceptual judgments, but rather that one can make aesthetic judgments; at least some of the time.

(Some who advocate subjectivism also mistake the notion of something being subjective with something being certain, private or individual. Something can be certain and yet private or individual. Something can be private and yet not individual or certain. And something can be individual without being certain or private. These varieties of subjectivism need to be distinguished. We can also take subjective experiences to be very certain, ie. the content of one’s own conscious experience).

There are a few others, but they are just as weak as the two “defenses” of aesthetic subjectivism already discussed. It is not unreasonable to maintain that at least on a few occasions, valid aesthetic judgments can be made– its not all individually-subjective!

July 12, 2006 at 12:31 am 2 comments

Compatiblism and Theism

There more I think about it (which doesn’t really guarantee its truth), the more it seems that if compatibalism (or determinism) is true, then theism is likely false. The relationship can be expressed like,

[1] (CT) C v D –> >> ~T
(CT) ‘If compatibalism or (~xor) determinism is true, then theism is likely (>>) false.’

In other words, if God made the world such that humans are determined to be the way they are by both external/internal factors OR if God made the world such that humans were determined internally, then he could have made the world such that humans never choose the bad, but always choose the good.

[2] (e) D v C —> ~E
(e) ‘If determinism is true OR compatibalism is true, then God could have created humans such that they did not choose evil.’

So, it follows that incompatibalism is consistent with both theism and atheism,

(IT) I –> T v ~T
(IT) ‘If incompatibalism is true, then either theism is true or theism is false.’

But there are two more considerations that are important in this atheological argument,

If traditional theism is true, then God is a necessary being. If God is a necessary being, then God exists in all possible worlds.

[3] (Tx –> Nx) & (Nx –> Px)
‘If theism is true, then God is necessary AND if God is necessary, then God exists in all possible world’

And finally, it seems prima facie plausible to say that there exists at least a possible world such that it contains beings of which determinism OR compatiblism is true with regard to the beings freedom AND that these beings commit acts of evil.

[4] (PE) (Dx v Cx) & (Ex)
‘There exists at least one possible world such that determinism or compatiblism is true of that world AND that world contains moral evil.’

[5] (a) ‘[4] –> ~T’; (b) [4]; (C) ~T

So from [1] – [4] it follows that, if [4] is true, then theism is false. [4] is true, so theism is false.

This follows from [1]-[4]. These premises seem to be reasonable. But of course in philosophy that is not much of a guarantee.

— Apendix A – Overview of the Proof —
[1] (CT) C v D –> >> ~T
[2] (e) D v C —> ~E
[3] (Tx –> Nx) & (Nx –> Px)
[4] (PE) (Dx v Cx) & (Ex)
[5] (a) ‘[4] –> ~T’; (b) [4]; (C) ~T (from 1, 2, 3, 4)

July 12, 2006 at 12:30 am 7 comments

Anarchy and Political Philosophy

It is unfortunate that very few political philosopher take anarchy seriously enough to comment on it, not to mention defending it. Two prominent examples would be Richard Taylor and Robert Nozick, both of whom comment on anarchism and both ultimately reject it.

Of there are a number of authors who have defended anarchism, such as Colin Ward, and historically Bakunin and Proudhon. But these thinkers are not formally trained as professional philosophers.

The only philosopher who has defended anarchy to my knowledge is Robert Paul Wolff in his In Defense of Anarchism.

This is most unfortunate. If anarchy is wrong (and I am not convinced that it is), its weaknesses may perhaps give us some insight into how government is justified at all. It is commonly thought that the government can be justified quite easily, so easily that many people do not even bother trying. For isn’t it obvious that people are too primative and brutish to be without a ruling power.

Democracy is a case in point. People often assume that consent is a sufficient (perhaps not necessary) condition for governing justifiably. In other words, consent is a sufficient condition for x. But this simply does not follow without further argumentation. Consent may be given my a group of children to perform a sexual act s on them, but this is not a sufficient condition for s being morally justified.

So basically, it is not enough to say that people consent to being government. The question still remains, is that sufficient for the state to rule justifiably? In other words, justification of the power of the state is still lacking. (Of course it also does not follow that the state cannot be justified).

The point being that wrongheaded or not, political philosophy could learn a lot from anarchy.

July 12, 2006 at 12:29 am 1 comment

Gay Marriage and Definitions

I’ve a number of people make what I would term a definitional argument against gay marriage, one of them has even been a philosopher (Burgess-Jackson), unfortunately; a philosopher should know better.

The definitional argument states that since the definition of marriage involves a single man, and a single woman. And so from that, we can conclude (it is argued) that marriage is a union of a man and women. So, gay marriage is a misnomer.

First, the definitional argument trades on a type of definition known as a descriptive definition. Descriptive definitions describe how a word is used in contemporary society, and perhaps also how it has been used. However, this is the fallacy of non-sequitor. Why does it follow that because marriage has been defined by people, and it currently used as a word which means a union of straight people that it should continue to be used in this way.

That is why the definitional argument also commits the fallacy of equivocation going from a descriptive definition to a normative definition–because the word marriage is used in a certain way, it should continue to be used in this way. But it confuses two different notions of definitions, what is the case and what should be the case. There are numerous cases of things are and shouldn’t be, and things that should be and aren’t.

So from this equivocation we can conclude that gay marriage makes little sense? But that is yet to be established, marriage should be a certain way because that is way it has always been?! That is simply begging the question.

July 12, 2006 at 12:28 am 1 comment

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