A Key Assumption of TASO

In Chapter 8 of The Existence of God, 2nd edition (hereafter: EOG), Richard Swinburne defends two teleological arguments for the existence of God.  

The second argument he calls the Teleological Argument from Spatial Order (TASO):


1. The laws and boundary conditions of the universe are such as to make probable the evolution of human bodies.
Therefore:
2. God exists.



Swinburne argues that (1) provides relevant evidence in support of (2), significantly increasing the probability that (2) is true (relative to the probability of (2) if the only evidence we had was that there exists a complex physical universe which is governed by simple natural laws).


Swinburne argues for the correctness of the inductive inference from (1) to (2), and one of the premises in his argument for the correctness of this inference is as follows:


3. It is quite likely that, if there is a God, the laws and boundary conditions of the universe are such as to make probable the evolution of human bodies.


In a recent post on TASO (http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/2012/06/swinburnes-teleological-argument-from.html), I pointed out that this premise was based on a key assumption of Swinburne’s case for God:


A. It is fairly probable (probability is approximately .5) that God, if there is a God, would bring about the existence of humanly free agents.  (see EOG, p.123)


If (A) is false or dubious, then not only is TASO in trouble, but so are most of Swinburne’s arguments for God, and thus so is his general case for the existence of God.  If (A) is true, that would not show that Swinburne’s case for God was solid, but it would show that his case was based upon a solid foundation.


From Swinburne’s point of view, several of the general features of the universe and human experience and human history can be explained as having been designed or brought about by God for the purpose of bringing about humanly free agents (HFAs) and making it possible for these agents to live out lives in accordance with their potential for making morally significant choices and carrying out actions in accordance with those choices.  So, in order to understand Swinburne’s case for God and to properly evaluate it, one must understand this key assumption and properly evaluate it.


(A) does not mention bodies or embodiment, so another assumption is required in order for (A)  to be relevant to (3) which talks about ‘human bodies’:


 B. God will bring about the existence of HFAs only if God brings about embodied HFAs.


The point here is not that it is impossible to bring about disembodied HFAs.  The point is that disembodied HFAs would fail to fully realize the potential that makes it worthwhile to bring HFAs into existence.  Bringing about a disembodied HFA is, on Swinburne’s view, like designing and manufacturing a car that has no engine or no wheels: it won’t be able to fulfill it’s primary purpose, at least not very well (you can drive an engine-less car down hill, but once you get to the bottom of the hill, you won’t be able to go much further).


Here is a summary of Swinburne’s argument for the key assumption (B):


4. God will bring about the existence of HFAs ONLY IF God does so in such a way that the HFAs have limited free choice to make deeply significant differences to themselves, others, and the physical world for good or ill. (see EOG, p.130)
5. God will bring about HFAs in such a way that HFAs have limited fee choice to make deeply significant differences to themselves, others, and the physical world for good or ill ONLY IF God brings about embodied HFAs (see EOG, p.130)
Therefore:
B. God will bring about the existence of HFAs ONLY IF God brings about embodied HFAs.


Swinburne gives a lengthy and somewhat complex argument for (5) in EOG on pages 123-131.
I won’t try to restate his reasoning here, but will try to provide a general sense of his thinking.  Swinburne contrasts angels and spirits with humans at one point:


Angels traditionally are finite creatures, but we cannot blind them or embrace them, because there is no place at which to direct our activity; we cannot capture them in order to affect them.  Mere telepathic communication with individual spirits does not allow for public discussion with many humans and spirits.  And, if you begin to add to these situations features that do make for the ability to capture angels or have public discussions with spirits, you will find that you are beginning to give them bodies in my sense. (EOG, p.130)


These comments help clarify what Swinburne has in mind when he speaks of making “deeply significant differences” to oneself and others.  Another comment gives a feel for Swinburne’s thinking about why it is worthwhile for God to bring about the existence of embodied HFAs:


For the same reasons as humanly free agents, animals need bodies in order to have a location in space where they can influence each other, learn from each other, and be affected by each other. (EOG, p.131).


In summary, God has good reason to bring about the existence of HFAs because of the potential of HFAs to learn, communicate, and interact with each other, and especially to make choices that have significant impact (good or bad) on their own lives and the lives of others.  But such potential cannot be realized (or cannot be realized to a significant degree) unless God brings about HFAs that have bodies.  So, God has good reason to bring about embodied HFAs, and if it is fairly probable that God, if God exists, would bring about HFAs, then it is also fairly probable that God, if God exists, would bring about embodied HFAs.


Assumptions (A) and (B), when taken together, can be used to provide some support for premise (3).

About Bradley Bowen
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    Bradley,

    @Bradley,

    Good points.

    I would say, for the reasons I mentioned in another thread that that A) is false.

    And while the expression 'significant free choice' might make it sound good on the surface, I'd say that bringing about such agents would not be morally acceptable for an omnipotent, omniscient being who can bring about, say, morally perfect beings.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Angra Mainyu said…
    Bradley,

    @Bradley,

    Good points.

    I would say, for the reasons I mentioned in another thread that that A) is false.
    ==============
    Thank you for your interesting and thoughtful comments (associated with Jeff Lowder's post: http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/2012/06/20-questions-for-theists.html) concerning Swinburne's assumption about the likelihood that God, if God exists, would bring about embodied humanly free agents.

    If you are correct that his assumption is false, then I believe his case for theism fails, at least as it stands. If this basic assumption is false, then at the very least his case would require significant revision and repair.

    I'm skeptical about his basic assumptions (A) and (B), but they appear plausible to me, for now. I'm certainly open to being persuaded that they are false.

    Because these assumptions are so critical to his case for God, I will attempt to defend them against your objections. It is important to get this right, so I want to make sure your objections are solid before I agree that these basic assumptions in Swinburne's thinking are false.

    Also, Swinburne's thinking is deeply influenced by traditional Christian theology, so the problems that you raise might well apply to more than just Swinburne's thinking about God; they might be objections to Christian theology in general, or at least traditional Christian theology.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    Your welcome, and thanks for the posts too.

    So, would you like me to raise objections in this thread, or do you prefer to reply to the ones I presented on the other thread?

    I could write a more detail objection, but I'd probably need a good number of posts to write them if I want to be thorough and I do not not what your defenses of his arguments will be, so I'd prefer to take a look at your defenses before I go on if you don't mind.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    You don't need to re-post your objections from the other thread. I will quote you and respond.

    I prefer to work with the comments you have already made, and just discuss them here. You can add whatever clarifications you wish as the discussion goes on.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Angra Mainyu said…
    @Bradley

    I do not find the rationale convincing at all. Quire the opposite, for the following reasons among others.

    Swinburne claims that what he calls 'significant free choice' is good, and from that he goes on to say that it's something God would want to do.

    The issues here are what Swinburne means by "significant free choice", and whether it would be morally good for an omnipotent, omniscient creator to bring about such beings.
    ==============
    Response:

    I do not fully agree with your statement of the issue. This may seem a small point, but I think the issue is whether God has good reason to bring about embodied HFAs (and no compelling or overriding reason to refrain from doing so), NOT whether it would be morally good to do so.

    But it depends on what you mean by 'morally good'.

    It certainly must not be morally bad or morally wrong for God to bring about embodied HFAs, for that would be a compelling reason for God to refrain from doing so, a reason which would presumably outweigh a non-moral reason in favor of bringing about embodied HFAs (esp. on Swinburne's view of moral reasons).

    My point is that God can have a good reason that is not a moral reason for doing something. God can bring flowers into existence, for example, because they are beautiful, not because it is morally good for God to do so, but because it is aesthetically good for God to do so. God can have good reason to bring flowers into existence even if there is no moral reason for doing so, so long as there is no moral duty that God is violating in doing so.

    Your objection might be that it is morally bad or morally wrong for God to bring about embodied HFAs. If that is your objection, then that is certainly relevant, because that would be a compelling and even overriding reason for God to refrain from bringing about embodied HFAs.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Angra Mainyu said…
    @Bradley

    [...]

    Swinburne argues that what he calls "humanly free agents" do have that ["significant free choice"], but – surprisingly – God, angels and some other beings do not. Swinburne seems to be saying that an entity that has a fixed morally good character does not have significant free will.
    ================
    Response:

    You are interpreting Swinburne here, which is fine, but I need some clarification before I can accept you interpretation.

    What do you mean by a being having 'a fixed morally good character'?

    Although Swinburne believes that God is 'perfectly free'(EOG, p.7 & p.94), you are correct that he claims that God does not have "the freedom to choose between good and evil" (EOG, p.120). I don't recall what Swinburne says about the freedom of choice of Angels.

    If by "significant free choice" you mean "the freedom to choose between good and evil", then Swinburne does not argue that HFAs have this; rather, he defines the concept of an HFA in a way that makes having the freedom to choose between good and evil a necessary condition for something to fall into the category of being an HFA (EOG, p.118)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Angra Mainyu said…
    @Bradley

    [...]

    However, if someone with a fixed morally good character does not have what Swinburne calls "significant free will", because they do not and would not act immorally, then it seems to me that creating beings with that feature – which shouldn't be called "significant free will", but rather something like "limited depravity" – would be a morally bad thing, all other things equal, and for an omnipotent being who could choose to make morally perfect beings.
    ===============
    Response:

    OK. I see that here you do make the claim that it "would be a morally bad thing" for God to bring about beings that have the freedom to choose between good and evil, and thus it "would be a morally bad thing" for God to bring about HFAs.

    Can you say a bit more in support of this claim? Is there a moral rule or principle that applies here? Perhaps an analogy with some more ordinary moral evaluation?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    Bradley Bowen said:

    "I do not fully agree with your statement of the issue. This may seem a small point, but I think the issue is whether God has good reason to bring about embodied HFAs (and no compelling or overriding reason to refrain from doing so), NOT whether it would be morally good to do so. "

    Response:

    On page 7 of 'The Existence of God' (second edition), Swinburne says that he understands 'God exists' as equivalent to the claim that there is an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect spirit, creator of all other beings, and also eternal, and what he calls 'perfectly free'.

    Based on that, it appears that the only information that we have about God's potential reasons for acting is the morality of an action, since the hypothesis specifies that he is morally perfect, but provides no further information about God's motivational makeup.

    In other words, as a morally perfect being, he would be motivated by morality: he will try to behave in a morally good manner, at least. Given his other properties, he will succeed. But the definition (which is Swinburne's hypothesis) provides no further information about God's motivational makeup.

    Granted, someone might try to get further information about God's psychological makeup (assuming God's existence) from empirical data, but that is an argument that would have to be made separately from Swinburne's (and not an easy one; I would probably object on a number of grounds to any such arguments).

    In addition to that, trying to get further information about God's psychological makeup before assessing what we would probably expect from such a being would not be compatible with the approach taken by Swinburne in his case for theism, which requires precisely making probabilistic assessments about what kind of behavior we would expect from a being with the properties included in the definition of 'God', which only include morality in the definition.

    So, my conclusion is that morality is our only guide to what kind of behavior God would probably carry out. No other information about his motivational makeup is included in the definition, and thus in the hypothesis 'God exists', which Swinburne defends.

    "But it depends on what you mean by 'morally good'."

    Response:

    Swinburne's case on based on a number of metaethical assumptions (though he only seems to mention one), one of which is a common meaning of moral terms across cultures.
    I'm granting that assumption, so by 'morally good' I mean the ordinary sense of the term. If there is no such ordinary sense, then it seems in particular that moral realism (in any common sense of 'moral realism') is false, and Swinburne's case is blocked.

    "It certainly must not be morally bad or morally wrong for God to bring about embodied HFAs, for that would be a compelling reason for God to refrain from doing so, a reason which would presumably outweigh a non-moral reason in favor of bringing about embodied HFAs (esp. on Swinburne's view of moral reasons)."

    Response:

    While I do not agree at all with Swinburne's view of moral reasons, I would agree that if it would be morally bad for an omnipotent, omniscient moral agent to bring about embodied HFA, God would not do so.
    On the other hand, I'm claiming that it would be morally bad, but I propose we leave that for later, since there are a number of issues we would have to discuss first.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    "My point is that God can have a good reason that is not a moral reason for doing something. God can bring flowers into existence, for example, because they are beautiful, not because it is morally good for God to do so, but because it is aesthetically good for God to do so. God can have good reason to bring flowers into existence even if there is no moral reason for doing so, so long as there is no moral duty that God is violating in doing so. "

    Response:

    Normal individuals of the species 'Homo sapiens' have a mental mental makeup that makes them find the sight, smell, etc., of certain flowers pleasant (say, healthy roses, roses for short), and the sight, smell, etc., of some other things, unpleasant.

    Other animals on Earth have different mental makeups, and find different things pleasant, or unpleasant.
    Aliens from another planet might find roses disgusting. Indeed, smelling roses might even be, say, nauseating to them (incidentally, a claim that all normal individuals of sufficiently intelligent species across the universe would find roses (for instance) pleasant would commit a theist to an extraordinary bold claim about exobiology, with no support for it whatsoever, and pretty good evidence against it based on what we know about evolution on Earth, so they better not try that).

    Now, back to the issue of God, he might create roses because he finds them pleasant. That would be a non-moral reason for creating roses. However, for all we know based on the concept of God, he might as well refrain from creating roses because he finds them extremely unpleasant. That would be a non-moral reason for refraining from creating roses.

    The problem is that we do not have any information about motivational aspects of the God's mental makeup that are related to roses. For all we know given the definition of 'God', he might find roses pleasant, unpleasant, horribly unpleasant, exquisite, or he may not have any preferences about roses, one way or another.

    Furthermore, even if the fact that humans find roses pleasant were evidence for the hypothesis that God does so as well under the assumption of God's existence, that evidence should not be used in the context of Swinburne's case when ascertaining what God would probably do, since the prior probabilistic assessment needs to be made only based on the information provided by the definition of 'God' and a priori knowledge, not based on empirical evidence we could find by looking around us.

    Perhaps, the following example will illustrate my objection:

    Let us suppose that there are some aliens on a distant planet that have a moral sense, as we do (I'd say there is no good reason to think that that would be so, but that would lead to yet another objection to a number of theistic claims, so I'd rather leave that aside, at least for now), but as a result of the conditions of their evolutionary past, they find some plant-like lifeforms on their planet (which we would find horrible), extremely pleasant.

    Would the aliens be warranted in assessing that God would have reasons to create such lifeforms?
    I think the answer is clearly negative; similarly, the answer is negative in our 'roses' case (or flowers, or whatever).

    Side note: while I'm using what we know about evolution, other species, etc., in this context, I'm only doing so for the purpose of giving examples, arguments, etc., to illustrate my position, not in the context of making a priori probabilistic assessments about what God would do, so that's not a problem: I might as well leave the aliens and the roses aside and just say that Swinburne's definition of 'God' contains no information about the motivational aspects of his mental makeup other than the stipulation that he is morally perfect, so what matters is whether an action would be morally good, but I'm using the examples above (e.g, roses, aliens) just to explain my position more clearly.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    "Your objection might be that it is morally bad or morally wrong for God to bring about embodied HFAs. If that is your objection, then that is certainly relevant, because that would be a compelling and even overriding reason for God to refrain from bringing about embodied HFAs. "

    Response:

    That is another claim of mine. It's stronger in the sense that, if correct, it can actually used to make a case against the existence of God. On the other hand, it requires that some of my moral intuitions on the matter be correct, which my previous point does not require, so in that other sense, it's weaker.

    So, I would suggest, if it's okay with you, to focus on the other issue first, namely my claim that, and for the reasons I've been explaining, in order to show that the probability that God would bring about embodied HFAs is high, Swinburne would have to show that it would be morally good for an omnipotent, omniscient moral agent to bring about embodied HFAs.

    If he cannot show that, then even if I'm mistaken in my assessment that it would be morally wrong for such a being to behave in such a way, then Swinburne's claim is blocked.

    Now, Swinburne is somewhat obscure about the matter, perhaps due to his metaethical mistakes, but he does seem to claim that it would be morally good for God to create embodied HFAs.

    So, I'm taking issue with that claim (if he claims that), and further making the counter assessment that it would be immoral for an omnipotent, omniscient moral agent to do so, but the counter assessment is not required to block the case: it's enough if we have no good reason to believe that it would be morally good for such a being to do so.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    "What do you mean by a being having 'a fixed morally good character'?"
    Response:

    What Swinburne means by 'fixed character' (implicitly 'moral'), in note 4., page 239., at least if I understood that correctly. It means that the character is morally good (or bad) and given the conditions of that character and other states of the world, that will not change in the future, either.
    He's talking about angels, in which the moral character is allegedly fixed only after the first choice, but that's not part of the meaning of 'fixed moral character'.

    So, on this account, angels would have what he calls 'significant free choice' only once, and God would never have it. But as I mentioned, if it's okay with you, I would focus on the first objection first (i.e., what counts is what's morally good, etc.).

    "OK. I see that here you do make the claim that it "would be a morally bad thing" for God to bring about beings that have the freedom to choose between good and evil, and thus it "would be a morally bad thing" for God to bring about HFAs.

    Can you say a bit more in support of this claim? Is there a moral rule or principle that applies here? Perhaps an analogy with some more ordinary moral evaluation? "

    Response:

    Actually, my position is that Swinburne's analysis of freedom is mistaken, that God (assuming existence) would have the freedom to choose between good and evil, and that it would not be immoral of him to bring about, say, other morally perfect beings with the freedom to choose between good and evil (obviously, they would always choose good).

    What I'm saying is that it would be immoral to make moral beings who have false moral beliefs, make moral mistakes, and will certainly behave immorally in some cases, for a moral agent who can instead create morally perfect beings, and not introduce any moral imperfection in the world (of course, if the agent is morally perfect, he would not do that).

    Now, Swinburne is is using his moral intuitions, plus some reasoning, to make a number of claims about what God would do, and he's using his moral intuitions and commending them to his readers (e.g., pages 123 and 151).
    My objections consist on both objections to his reasoning, and making my own intuitive moral assessments to counter his claims. Readers would have to use their own moral intuitions (as usual) to assess the matters.

    I could present analogies, but that would take me longer, and I'd rather focus on the other matters first if you don't mind, so that the discussion does not become too long.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Bradley and Angra — I'm working on a massively overdue review of J.L. Schellenberg's book, Wisdom to Doubt. It occurred to me that chapter 12 of Schellenberg's book is very relevant to this discussion. Schellenberg argues that free will provides evidence for atheism. It seems to me that pretty much all of Schellenberg's points in that chapter are relevant to Swinburne's TASO.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    Jeffery,

    That's interesting.

    I've only read a review so I don't know the details, but as far as I can tell, it sounds relevant to the TASO, especially to the issue of whether it would be morally bad for an omnipotent, omniscient being to create embodied HFBs.

    Have you made an assessment on that matter?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    No, I haven't made an assessment yet. One of his many points is this:

    "while a relationship marked by human free will is one style of relationship God might be free to choose, so long as intimacy with God is not excluded by different styles of relationship, the latter could not reasonably be regarded as inferior. (Remember that we're talking about everlasting, ever-growing intimacy with unsurpassable greatness.) But then we have an even more forceful reason to infer that the value realizable by creatures without free will would not be surpassed by the value to be associated with free will–a reason that, together with the other points previously adduced, puts that claim altogether beyond doubt." (p. 282)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    Interesting; it seems to me his approach is different from mine, both on value and free will. For instance, I think that morally perfect beings with free will are possible if morally perfect beings are.

    But I get the impression that there are a number of previous issues to discuss (like the issue of what Swinburne would have to show to make his case) before we get to those one.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Sorry for taking so long to respond. Thank you for your recent comments.

    Angra Mainyu said…

    In other words, as a morally perfect being, he would be motivated by morality: he will try to behave in a morally good manner, at least. Given his other properties, he will succeed. But the definition (which is Swinburne's hypothesis) provides no further information about God's motivational makeup.
    =============
    Response:

    First of all, since your claim is that bringing HFAs into existence is a morally bad action for God to do, my objection to the effect that non-moral reasons can motivate God is probably beside the point. We agree that if your claim is correct, then it is NOT at all likely that God would bring HFAs into existence. So, the main question is whether or not it would be a morally bad action for God to bring about HFAs.

    However, before I get into the main issue, I want to push on with my previous point, which relates to what it means for an action to be a 'morally bad action' in Swinburne's understanding of that concept.

    Swinburne could be accused of blurring the distinction between moral and non-moral reasons for action. In any case, it is important to note a couple of points about what Swinburne means by saying that God is 'perfectly good'.

    First, God's goodness is based on two of his properties: (a) perfect freedom, and (b) omniscience (EOG, p.99 & 105).

    Plus, Swinburne assumes that evaluative judgements can be objectively true or false, and that moral judgements are judgements about which is action is overall better than some alternative action:

    "But sometimes competing reasons can be compared objectively; clearly sometimes doing A is overall better than refraining from doing A (better when all reasons are taken into account), or conversely, I undstand by one action being morally better than another that it is overall better."

    Reasons for action are NOT limited to satisfaction of a moral duty.

    If bringing a flower into existence increases the amount of beauty in the universe, and does not harm to any creature, then there is a good reason for God to bring a flower into existence, and it may also be the case that there is no good reason to refrain from doing so, and thus that performing this action is overall better than refraining from performing this action, and thus performing this action would be 'morally better' than refraining from performing this action, based on Swinburne's concept of 'morally better', even though there is no moral duty for God to bring flowers into being.

    In short, Swinburne's view is NOT that God is motivated only to act in accordance with moral duties and principles, but rather that God's choices and decisions are based on what is most rational to do in view of objective value judgements: which action is overall best? If it is overall better to perform A than to refrain from performing A, then performing A is 'morally better' than refraining from performing A.

    The moral judgment 'Performing A is morally better than refraining from perforning A' is grounded on objective value judgements about performing A verses not performing A. Moral duties provide one sort of reason for (or against) performing actions, but there are other kinds of reasons that can make performing an action overall better than not performing it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Response continued…

    Your contention is that it would be a morally bad action for God to bring HFAs into existence.

    We need to understand what this claim means, in terms of Swinburne's conception of 'morally bad action' (to avoid the fallacy of equivocation):

    "…[I understand]by an action being morally bad that it is overall better to refrain from doing it than to do it, that there are overriding reasons for refraining." (EOG, p.101)

    Thus:

    If it would be a 'morally bad action' for God to bring HFAs into existence, then it would be overall better for God to refrain from bringing HFAs into existence rather than to bring HFAs into existence.

    Note that it being 'overall better' does NOT require that there be a moral duty or principle that applies here. It only requires that there are true value judgements that apply to these alternative possibilities.

    Swinburne defines the term 'morally bad' in terms of value judgements, which need not be moral in nature (e.g. aesthetic value judgements can show one action to be better than an alternative action).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    No problem, and thanks for your reply.

    "First of all, since your claim is that bringing HFAs into existence is a morally bad action for God to do, my objection to the effect that non-moral reasons can motivate God is probably beside the point. We agree that if your claim is correct, then it is NOT at all likely that God would bring HFAs into existence. So, the main question is whether or not it would be a morally bad action for God to bring about HFAs. "

    Response:
    In the context of assessing an argument for theism, and given that if it's not morally good the argument is already blocked, whether it's also morally bad is a superfluous point.
    If I'm correct and it would be immoral, that's a decisive point against theism, but even if I'm wrong, the
    case for theism fails if creating them would not be morally good.

    "However, before I get into the main issue, I want to push on with my previous point, which relates to what it means for an action to be a 'morally bad action' in Swinburne's understanding of that concept."

    Response:

    We have to distinguish between a stipulative definition and a claim of meaning of a term.
    In case of a stipulative definition, the meaning is whatever the argues stipulates.
    In case of a claim of meaning, the meaning of the term is not changed, and we're still entitled to use our own intuitive grasp of the term; moreover, the person making the claim has the burden to defend said claim.
    Swinburne makes claims about the meaning of moral terms, but does not give stipulative definitions (which would make them not moral terms anymore).

    "Swinburne could be accused of blurring the distinction between moral and non-moral reasons for action. In any case, it is important to note a couple of points about what Swinburne means by saying that God is 'perfectly good'.

    First, God's goodness is based on two of his properties: (a) perfect freedom, and (b) omniscience (EOG, p.99 & 105). "
    Response:

    That is a claim made by Swinburne, not a stipulative definition.
    He claims that what he calls 'perfect freedom' plus omniscience entails moral perfection, but he's not giving a stipulative definition of 'moral goodness', or 'morally good', etc.

    I do not agree that what he calls 'perfect freedom' resembles freedom in any way (i.e., I disagree with his analysis of the meaning of the term 'freedom'), and I also disagree with his claim that 'perfect freedom' + omniscient entails moral perfection.

    If you'd like to defend Swinburne's arguments on the matter, I'm willing to make a counterargument, though it will be a bit long (or if you prefer, I can post a link to my counterargument to Swinburne's argument from 'perfect freedom' + omniscience to moral perfection on my blog, and you can reply here if you like).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    "Plus, Swinburne assumes that evaluative judgements can be objectively true or false, and that moral judgements are judgements about which is action is overall better than some alternative action:"
    I would be willing to grant the first assumption as long as we go by the usual understanding of 'objective'; I'm not willing to grant the second assumption, or rather claim.
    As before, if you want to argue for Swinburne's claim, I offer to make a counterargument. Alternatively, I can post a link to my counterargument.

    "Reasons for action are NOT limited to satisfaction of a moral duty."
    True, but that's not what I was saying.
    There is a difference between morally obligatory actions – which are actions required to satisfy a moral duty or obligation -, and morally good (aka morally praiseworthy) actions – which may but do not have to be morally obligatory.

    For instance, if Alice decides to become an oncology because she wants to help treat cancer and alleviate suffering, then her actions plausibly are morally good (all other things equal, etc.), but surely they're not morally obligatory: she could have chosen to become, say, an engineer, and she would not have been acting immorally (i.e., against moral duty) if she had so chose.

    Given that the definition of 'God' has no information about the motivational aspect of God's psychology other than moral perfection, then if we can make probabilistic assessments about what he would want to accomplish, we can only consider moral motivations.
    That does not entail that only the satisfaction of a moral duty counts in making that assessment. For instance, we may try to make a probabilistic assessment of morally good but not obligatory actions.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    "If bringing a flower into existence increases the amount of beauty in the universe, and does not harm to any creature, then there is a good reason for God to bring a flower into existence, and it may also be the case that there is no good reason to refrain from doing so, and thus that performing this action is overall better than refraining from performing this action, and thus performing this action would be 'morally better' than refraining from performing this action, based on Swinburne's concept of 'morally better', even though there is no moral duty for God to bring flowers into being."
    Response:

    I already replied to the point about the flower. I do not know what your objection to my objection to that is.
    The brief answer is that, for all we know, God might have a reason to make a flower, but for all we know, he might have a reason to never make it; the fact that human beings find the flower appealing does not tell us anything about the preferences of God, who might find it as disgusting as some aliens from another planet would.
    You can find more details in my previous answer.

    "In short, Swinburne's view is NOT that God is motivated only to act in accordance with moral duties and principles, but rather that God's choices and decisions are based on what is most rational to do in view of objective value judgements: which action is overall best? If it is overall better to perform A than to refrain from performing A, then performing A is 'morally better' than refraining from performing A."
    Response:

    a) I do not claim that moral duties are the only way we can make probabilistic assessment. I argue that moral motivations are the only way, for the reasons I've explained.
    That includes both morally obligatory and morally good but not obligatory actions.
    However, it does not extend to something like creating roses, or other flowers. There is nothing in the definition of 'God' that tells us that he will have the same appreciation of flowers as normal Homo Sapiens do, rather than some very different reaction (like that of some possible aliens on another galaxy), so we're only entitled to make probabilistic assessments based on moral motivations.

    2) I do not grant Swinburne's claim that 'morally better' means 'overall better'. As I mentioned earlier, if you want to defend Swinburne's claim, I offer to post counterarguments. If you prefer, I can post a link to my counterargument to Swinburne's arguments in support of that claim.

    3) I do not grant that there is mind-independent value.
    I grant the assumption that moral assessments are true or false propositions; I also grant that if two people disagree on a moral issue, at least one of them is wrong.
    But Swinburne seems to jump from that to 'objective value', apparently in the sense of 'mind-independent value'.
    I do not grant that assumption. If you want to argue for it, I offer to give counter arguments.

    "The moral judgment 'Performing A is morally better than refraining from perforning A' is grounded on objective value judgements about performing A verses not performing A. Moral duties provide one sort of reason for (or against) performing actions, but there are other kinds of reasons that can make performing an action overall better than not performing it. "
    Response:

    As I explained above, I do not agree with the claim that there are 'objective value judgments' if you mean 'judgments about mind-independent value', and in any case, I do not agree that 'morally better' means 'overall better'.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Angra Mainyu said…

    So, I would suggest, if it's okay with you, to focus on the other issue first, namely my claim that, and for the reasons I've been explaining, in order to show that the probability that God would bring about embodied HFAs is high, Swinburne would have to show that it would be morally good for an omnipotent, omniscient moral agent to bring about embodied HFAs.
    =========
    Response:

    You want us to focus (for now) not on the strong claim that it would be a morally bad action for God to bring about HFAs, but rather on the weaker claim that we have no good reason to believe that it would be a morally good action for God to bring about HFAs.

    Is that correct?

    I'm happy to focus in on the weaker claim, although I am confident that the strong claim is relevant and I doubt that the weaker one is relevant (to assessing Swinburne's case for God), but we can get into that discussion after you confirm whether I understand your proposal.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    "Your contention is that it would be a morally bad action for God to bring HFAs into existence."

    Response:
    That is one of my contentions, but as I mentioned, it's superfluous unless I want to show that theism is false.
    I'd much rather discuss the previous points of contention first.

    "We need to understand what this claim means, in terms of Swinburne's conception of 'morally bad action' (to avoid the fallacy of equivocation):"
    Response:

    He claims that

    I do not agree with that.
    Swinburne makes a claim about the meaning of moral terms. He does not provide a stipulative definition. Given that, it's up to the claimant (i.e., Swinburne) to defend his claim, and I offer to give a counterargument.
    But regardless of what he claims about the meaning of the terms, the meaning that matters is the actual, common meaning of moral terms.
    Swinburne assumes that there is such common meaning. I grant that assumption.
    Swinburne claims that that common meaning is 'overall better', talks about objective values, etc.; the claim about 'objective value' seems to be a jump from the metaethical assumptions he stated to a claim of mind-independent value, if so, I do not grant that claim.

    "
    …[I understand]by an action being morally bad that it is overall better to refrain from doing it than to do it, that there are overriding reasons for refraining." (EOG, p.101) "

    Response:

    The wording of that sentence and the previous one does suggest a stipulative definition.
    However, considering the context, I do not think that that's what Swinburne is doing.
    If, however, he's giving stipulative definition, then there appears to be no good reason to believe that the term refers to anything, since there is no good reason to think that there is such thing as 'overall better'.

    For instance, and continuing with the flower examples, is creating a rose overall better than not creating it?

    Well, normal Homo Sapiens might find roses appealing.
    Some aliens might find them nauseating.
    So, better for what, or from whose perspective?
    What does 'overall better' mean?

    Moreover, if Swinburne is providing a stipulative definition, then he's the one who appears to equivocate, since he's talking about what he calls 'morally good' in a moral context, as if his word 'morally good' meant the same as the usual meaning of the expression 'morally good' (e.g., it would make no sense to consider the argument from evil if you're using 'evil' to mean something other than, well, 'evil').

    Moreover, even if we assume otherwise, we no longer have a means of assessing what's 'morally good', since we have no means of assessing 'overall good', and the definition makes 'morally good' no longer a moral term, but a technical term picked by Swinburne.

    "Swinburne defines the term 'morally bad' in terms of value judgements, which need not be moral in nature (e.g. aesthetic value judgements can show one action to be better than an alternative action)."
    Response:

    Are you saying that he's providing a stipulative definition of 'morally good', and he only claims that God is morally perfect in the sense that is stipulative in his definition, and regardless of whether that matches the actual meaning of the moral terms involved?
    I don't believe he's doing that, but if he is, then I would say that there is no good reason to think that there is such thing as 'overall better', and furthermore, that if we assume there is, we still have no way of ascertaining what's 'overall better' (e.g., the rose example).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    More on the meaning of 'morally bad', 'morally good', etc., in this context.

    On pages 99 and 100, Swinburne defends his claim that moral judgments express propositions that are either true or false (which I grant), and uses the example of the Holocaust.
    According to Swinburne, a claim that Hitler's actions in that regard weren't morally wrong would be a false claim (which I grant).
    In that context, he's using our ordinary understanding of the concepts of right and wrong, and appealing to the readers' sense of right and wrong. Nothing wrong with doing that, but my point is that Swinburne is using the words 'morally wrong', etc., in the usual sense, which is why he can appeal to the readers' understanding of the terms.
    Moreover, he says that if moral judgments weren't true or false, it would not be correct to say that moral goodness is a property of God, because it would not be true that he does not do morally bad actions.
    That means that in his definition of 'God', Swinburne is using 'good' in the ordinary sense of 'morally good', not in a technical sense he defines.
    So, switching in the middle of the argument from a usual sense to a stipulative sense would be an equivocation on his part.
    I'm not saying he equivocated on that, though. Maybe he just spoke sloppily when it made it sound as if he was given a stipulative definition.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    "You want us to focus (for now) not on the strong claim that it would be a morally bad action for God to bring about HFAs, but rather on the weaker claim that we have no good reason to believe that it would be a morally good action for God to bring about HFAs.

    Is that correct?"

    Response:

    While I would prefer that because the weaker claim would be sufficient to block Swinburne's argument, whereas the stronger claim would be a claim against theism, I was asking to focus first on another issue first: namely, my claim that in order to in order to show that the probability that God would bring about embodied HFAs is high, Swinburne would have to show that it would be morally good for an omnipotent, omniscient moral agent to bring about embodied HFAs.

    But if you prefer to focus on the stronger claim before the weak one, or both at the same time.

    However, after the latest exchange, it seems to me that before discussing either the weak or the strong claim, it seems to me we need to further discuss the matter of what Swinburne 'morally good', 'morally bad', etc., in this context.

    "I'm happy to focus in on the weaker claim, although I am confident that the strong claim is relevant and I doubt that the weaker one is relevant (to assessing Swinburne's case for God), but we can get into that discussion after you confirm whether I understand your proposal."
    Response:

    Okay, in light of the most recent exchange, I think before we discuss any substantive matter about whether it's morally good or bad for an omnipotent, omniscient moral agent to create HFA, we'd have to discuss the question of what Swinburne means by 'morally good', 'morally bad', etc., since we'd have to agree on what it is that we're trying to settle before we can try to settle it.

    Also, there might or might not be other issues to be discussed before we can address either the weak or the strong claims. But if you're confident that the strong claim is more relevant, how about we discuss both at a time? (it's longer, but we're both discussing the claim we consider the most relevant).

    In any case, I will agree with your choice of order, but as I mentioned, it seems to me we have to discuss the issue of what Swinburne means by 'morally good', 'morally bad', etc., before we can get into a discussion about whether such actions would be morally good, morally bad, etc., in the sense that is relevant to Swinburne's case for theism.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Angra Mainyu said…

    In any case, I will agree with your choice of order, but as I mentioned, it seems to me we have to discuss the issue of what Swinburne means by 'morally good', 'morally bad', etc., before we can get into a discussion about whether such actions would be morally good, morally bad, etc., in the sense that is relevant to Swinburne's case for theism.
    ==========
    Response:

    OK.

    Here is a bit of reflection on Swinburne's understanding of "morally better"…

    1. In some instances it would be overall better for me to go home rather than go to the cinema (see EOG, p. 104).
    2. If it would be overall better for me to do A rather than B, then it would be morally better for me to do A rather than B (see EOG, p.101)
    Therefore,
    3. In some instances it would be morally better for me to go home rather than go to the cinema.

    I'm not sure that Swinburne is aware of this implication of his understanding of "morally better".

    It might be overall better for me to go home for purely prudential reasons that we would not normally consider to be moral reasons. Perhaps the only movies playing are bad movies or ones I have already seen, and perhaps I'm tired and would be more comfortable going home and taking a nap, rather than sitting in a cold air-conditioned theater for two hours.

    Swinburne's understanding of "morally better" appears to blur the distinction between prudential and moral reasons.

    Nevertheless, since it is Swinburne's definition of God that we are dealing with, and his conception of 'perfect freedom' and 'perfect goodness', we should respect his understanding/definition of "morally better" in order to avoid the fallacy of equivocation, by drawing an inference from a concept of 'perfect goodness' that does not align with Swinburne's definitions.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    Bradley Bowen said:
    "1. In some instances it would be overall better for me to go home rather than go to the cinema (see EOG, p. 104).
    2. If it would be overall better for me to do A rather than B, then it would be morally better for me to do A rather than B (see EOG, p.101)
    Therefore,
    3. In some instances it would be morally better for me to go home rather than go to the cinema.

    I'm not sure that Swinburne is aware of this implication of his understanding of "morally better".'
    I'm not sure that he's aware, either. In fact, I'd say that your point is a good way of refuting his hypothesis about what 'morally better' means.

    Other ways are just to use his own examples: it's just bizarre to say that it's morally better to create lions and tigers than only lions, or lions and tigers and pumas is even better, etc., and it's not even clear what it would mean to say it's morally better.

    "It might be overall better for me to go home for purely prudential reasons that we would not normally consider to be moral reasons."
    But in that case, 'overall better' seems to be something like 'what's better for achieving goal X', and then you can't assess what goals God would have.
    In other words, if Swinburne actually defined God (but I do not think that's the case; see below) as an entity that does what's 'overall better', then we would have no means of ascertaining what he would do, if 'overall better' means 'overall better for achieving his goals', since we wouldn't even know what his goals may be.

    "Swinburne's understanding of "morally better" appears to blur the distinction between prudential and moral reasons."
    Agreed.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    Bradley Bowen said: "Nevertheless, since it is Swinburne's definition of God that we are dealing with, and his conception of 'perfect freedom' and 'perfect goodness', we should respect his understanding/definition of "morally better" in order to avoid the fallacy of equivocation, by drawing an inference from a concept of 'perfect goodness' that does not align with Swinburne's definitions. "
    What I've been arguing, perhaps not sufficiently clearly, is that Swinburne does not define 'God' in terms of 'overall better'.

    More precisely, my take on this is as follows:
    Swinburne defines 'God' by naming a number of properties, including perfect goodness.
    He also says that by 'perfectly good', he means that God always does a morally best action when there is one, and does no morally bad action.
    My position is that in that context, 'morally good', and 'morally bad', have the usual sense, and Swinburne did not mean to give a stipulative definition of those terms.
    Evidence of that is the fact that Swinburne defends the metaethical position that moral judgments express propositions that can be true or false, etc., and in doing so, he is appealing to the readers grasp of the words.
    In other words, he's talking about moral judgments, not about something that is called 'morally good', but does not mean what the words normally mean, but what he stipulates.

    I said more on that in this previous post.

    It is true, as I mentioned, that the wording of a sentence on page 101 and the previous sentence does suggest a stipulative definition. 
    However, considering the context, I do not think that that's what Swinburne is doing.
    If, however, he's giving stipulative definition, then there appears to be no good reason to believe that the term refers to anything, since there is no good reason to think that there is such thing as 'overall better' (except agent-relative), let alone that we can assess what's 'overall better'.

    Now, to be clear, when I claimed that if an omnipotent, omniscient moral agent were to create HFA, that would be a morally bad action, I did not mean 'overall bad' (but what does that mean?), or anything like that; I meant 'morally bad'. I wouldn't have made the claim in terms of prudential reasons; if we understand the definition of 'God' in terms of prudential reasons, then I would say that we have no means of assessing whether it would be 'overall better' to make HFA or not.

    So, if you think that the stipulative definition is what Swinburne had in mind, then I disagree for the reasons I've been explaining, but I can discuss the matter under that definition if you like.
    In that case, I would ask the following: how do you propose we go about ascertaining whether an action is morally good or morally bad?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Comment:

    It is a pleasure to discuss this with someone who thinks and writes as clearly as you do.

    I probably need to think this over a bit to try to figure out the best, most productive way to advance this discussion.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    Thanks, and likewise.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Angra Mainyu said…

    So, I would suggest, if it's okay with you, to focus on the other issue first, namely my claim that, and for the reasons I've been explaining, in order to show that the probability that God would bring about embodied HFAs is high, Swinburne would have to show that it would be morally good for an omnipotent, omniscient moral agent to bring about embodied HFAs.

    If he cannot show that, then even if I'm mistaken in my assessment that it would be morally wrong for such a being to behave in such a way, then Swinburne's claim is blocked.
    =============
    Response:

    I can see you understand the point I was making about what Swinburne means by "morally better" (and "morally good"), although you disagree with my interpretation of Swinburne.

    I would like to set aside my concerns about Swinburne's understanding of these terms, and see if we can make progress with your or my understanding of these terms (or some proposed alternative).

    So, your main objection is that Swinburne fails to show that bringing about embodied HFAs is a morally good action for God to perform?

    Or are you making the stronger claim that it is not possible for anyone to show that bringing about embodied HFAs would be a morally good action for God to perform?

    One minor objection to consider: Swinburne does not claim that it is highly probable that God would bring about embodied HFAs. Rather, he claims that the value of bringing them about is counterbalanced by the potential or likelihood of evil and suffering that would result from the choices of such creatures, so that there is about a probability of .5 that God would bring about embodied HFAs.

    In terms of moral goodness, Swinburne would say that bringing about embodied HFAs would be as morally good for God to do as refraining from bringing about embodied HFAs.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Or…Swinburne would say that God choosing to refrain from bringing about embodied HFAs would NOT be morally better than God choosing to bring about embodied HFAs.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    Bradley Bowen said:

    "I can see you understand the point I was making about what Swinburne means by "morally better" (and "morally good"), although you disagree with my interpretation of Swinburne.

    I would like to set aside my concerns about Swinburne's understanding of these terms, and see if we can make progress with your or my understanding of these terms (or some proposed alternative)."
    Response:

    Okay. My proposal is to go by one's intuitive grasp of the terms 'morally good' and 'morally bad'.
    Do you have an alternative?

    Bradley Bowen said:
    "So, your main objection is that Swinburne fails to show that bringing about embodied HFAs is a morally good action for God to perform?

    Or are you making the stronger claim that it is not possible for anyone to show that bringing about embodied HFAs would be a morally good action for God to perform? "
    Response:

    As an objection to Swinburne's argument, the weaker claim is enough; moreover, I would say that anyone who makes the claim that it's morally good for God to bring about embodied HFAs has the burden of showing so.

    The second is entailed by an even stronger claim of mine, namely that it would be morally bad for an omnipotent, omniscient moral agent to carry out such an action, but that's more than an objection, and actually a claim implying (giving our existence) the non-existence of God.

    So, I'm not sure which one you'd characterize as the 'main' objection; at any rate, if I have to pick one, it would be the weaker one.

    Bradley Bowen said:

    "One minor objection to consider: Swinburne does not claim that it is highly probable that God would bring about embodied HFAs. Rather, he claims that the value of bringing them about is counterbalanced by the potential or likelihood of evil and suffering that would result from the choices of such creatures, so that there is about a probability of .5 that God would bring about embodied HFAs."
    Response:

    1) One problem with all of his probabilistic assessments (which goes beyond the claims I've made so far) is the following:
    He defines 'God' as 'perfectly good', and by that he means that God would do a morally best action if there is one, and no morally bad action (page 7).
    However, that does not tell us anything about the probability that God would carry out morally good actions that are not morally best, and without further information about God's propensities, that alone seems to block any probabilistic assessment about what God would do.
    In fact, he does not indicate at all how he goes about making that assessment.

    Leaving 1) aside for the sake of the argument, we have the following:

    2) Even if he does not assign more that 0.5 probability, it seems to me that he's implying that it's morally good for God to make HFAs, for the following reasons:

    a) If he's only saying that there is a 0.5 chance that it would be morally good for God to make HFAs; he would need something like an assumption that if an action is morally good for God to do, there is a probability 1 that God will do it (which he is not assuming).

    b) If he's not saying that it would be morally good for God to make HFA, how can he go about assessing whether God would do it?
    After all, we know nothing from the definition about the motivational aspects of God's mind other than that he's perfectly [morally] good.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    Bradley Bowen: "In terms of moral goodness, Swinburne would say that bringing about embodied HFAs would be as morally good for God to do as refraining from bringing about embodied HFAs. "

    Response:

    That would seem to imply that it's morally neutral for God to do that. Else, it's hard to see how it can be morally good to do X, and morally good not to do X.

    But that aside, there are still two possible alternatives:
    a) He is claiming that it would be morally good for God to bring about HFAs, and so the burden is on him.
    b) He is not, but then how does he go about assessing probability? (not that he can properly assess probability anyway, but even assuming he could in case the action were morally good).

    Bradley Bowen: "Or…Swinburne would say that God choosing to refrain from bringing about embodied HFAs would NOT be morally better than God choosing to bring about embodied HFAs. "
    Response:

    I would disagree with his assessment, but even granting it for now for the sake of the argument, that would not be enough to make a probabilistic assessment about what God would do.
    For instance, making an inanimate universe with black holes, stars, etc., or even with some life but nothing with brains (e.g., plants) would be neither morally good nor morally bad. But then, it seems we have no means of ascertaining whether God would do that, or making any probabilistic assessment (else, how would you propose we make such an assessment).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    Bradley,

    I see I've not been clear enough on an issue: "an omnipotent, omniscient moral agent creates HFAs in a world previously devoid of them" is not an action, but a class or category of actions.

    Swinburne would have to have a way of assessing that the probability at least one action in the category would be carried out by God.

    But that can't be done if no action in the category is morally good; even if some such actions are morally good, it's not clear how Swinburne could possibly make the probabilistic assessment.

    If you prefer, I can make a case directly against Swinburne's claims and reasons, but it will be somewhat long.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Angra Mainyu said…

    b) If he's not saying that it would be morally good for God to make HFA, how can he go about assessing whether God would do it?
    After all, we know nothing from the definition about the motivational aspects of God's mind other than that he's perfectly [morally] good.
    =============
    Response:

    There are overall or all-things-considered judgments and there are narrower some-things-considered judgments.

    An action can be morally good in one respect and morally bad in another respect (just in terms of ordinary intuitions about morality of actions).

    If the moral goodness of an action outweighs the moral badness of an action, then the action could be considered morally good all-things-considered, even though the action is morally bad in one respect, morally bad some-things-considered.

    One might lie to the Nazi at the door in order to save the life of a Jew hiding in the house. This might be a case where an action has a morally bad aspect (telling a lie), but is nevertheless a morally good action, because of a different aspect of the action which is morally good (saving a life, and preventing the murder of an innocent person), and the morally good aspect of the action outweighs the morally bad aspect.

    In the case of bringing about embodied HFAs, there is a morally good aspect and a morally bad aspect, and according to Swinburne, neither the morally good aspect nor the morally bad aspect outweighs the other, so that the choice between bringing about embodied HFAs and refraining from doing so is a toss up for God.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    Bradley Bowen said:

    "There are overall or all-things-considered judgments and there are narrower some-things-considered judgments.

    An action can be morally good in one respect and morally bad in another respect (just in terms of ordinary intuitions about morality of actions)."
    Response:

    I do not agree with that assessment. A

    Bradley Bowen said: "One might lie to the Nazi at the door in order to save the life of a Jew hiding in the house. This might be a case where an action has a morally bad aspect (telling a lie), but is nevertheless a morally good action, because of a different aspect of the action which is morally good (saving a life, and preventing the murder of an innocent person), and the morally good aspect of the action outweighs the morally bad aspect."

    Response:

    I do not agree that the action (more precisely, any action in that category, all other things equal, etc., but to simplify) is morally bad. As I see it, it's morally good. And I wouldn't blame the person who carries out that action, which would be appropriate if the action were morally bad.

    However, even going by your position, the conclusion in the case of an action with morally good and morally bad aspects that balance each other would be that we have no way of assessing the probability of the action, since it would be morally neutral, like, say, making an electron, or a rose.

    Bradley Bowen said:
    "In the case of bringing about embodied HFAs, there is a morally good aspect and a morally bad aspect, and according to Swinburne, neither the morally good aspect nor the morally bad aspect outweighs the other, so that the choice between bringing about embodied HFAs and refraining from doing so is a toss up for God."
    But that does not do it when it comes to probabilistic assessments, because in that case the action would be morally neutral, and we don't know whether God would be inclined to do a specific morally neutral action, nor we have a way of assigning probability.

    The only information about God's motivations provided in the definition of 'God' is that he's perfectly [morally] good[10], which means he'll never do a morally bad action, and he'll do a morally best action when there is one
    If we go by that, whenever an action is neither morally best nor morally bad, it appears that we simply have no means whatsoever of assessing whether God would do it, or assigning any probability to it.
    On the other hand, if we extend moral perfection to a propensity to do morally good actions even if not the morally best when there is no morally best action, it might be argued that that would give us, in some cases, a means of rationally assigning probability that God would carry out some morally good action.
    But the question is: how?
    How do we make such assessment, where there are infinitely many possibilities?
    Moreover, even granting for the sake of the argument that, sometimes, we can make rational probabilistic assessment about God's potential actions even if such actions are only morally good and not morally best, we still would have no means of making any assessment when it comes to morally neutral actions, since we do not know anything else about the character of God that would allow us to make such an assessment.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    Bradley, I'd like to take a look at Swinburne's attempts to estimate the probability of God's actions in general, to see whether we're on the same page on some points (which can be used in the case of HFAs), or not.

    For instance, let's consider the case of an inanimate universe (which he calls the "physical universe", and which apparently includes plants, or plant-like organisms).

    I'd like to ask you whether you disagree with the following reasoning, and if so, where:

    On page 120, Swinburne says that "of course" God has reason to create a beautiful inanimate world/physical universe; moreover, Swinburne says that anything God creates is 'a good product', and that any physical universe he creates would be beautiful.

    However, Swinburne does not have any justification for making such a claim, since whether God would be inclined to make such a thing would depend on features of his mental makeup other than moral perfection, or anything that is part of the definition of "God", or follows from it.
    The previous example of the rose illustrates this point:
    Let's consider the following scenario:
    On a distant planet, some intelligent aliens (say, kelorans) evolve. As a result of a different evolutionary past, any normal keloran would find anything that looks like a rose nauseating, and some alien plant-like organism (let's call it a 'k-rose') very appealing, while any normal human would find a k-rose nauseating as well.
    Assuming that kelorans also have a moral sense and are assessing the prior probability of God (I see no good reason to think they would, but leaving that aside), then we could ask:
    Would kelorans be justified in assessing that, say, God would be likely to make k-roses, or more likely to make k-roses than something as nauseating to a keloran as a rose?
    Clearly, the answer is no, kelorans would not be so justified.
    But then, and for the same reasons, humans are not justified in assessing that roses are more likely created by God than k-roses. We have no information about God's predispositions to behave other than his moral perfection.
    Now, previous example does not require 'assuming' unguided evolution. It's enough to point out that the kelorans are conceivable, and conceivably rational, even if they would find a rose nauseating.
    The point is that as far as we can tell by the meaning of the words:
    1) There might be rational and moral agents (and even morally good ones) who find roses appealing and k-roses nauseating.
    2) There might be rational and moral agents (and even morally good ones) who find k-roses appealing and roses nauseating.
    3) There is no good reason to suspect that agents such as those described in a) are more or less probable than those described in b), given that words like 'rational', 'moral', 'morally good', etc., have no implications whatsoever regarding how appealing an agent would find either roses or k-roses.
    We may well also conceive of rational, moral and morally good beings that would look at what Swinburne calls the 'inanimate world' and find it nauseating.
    The crucial point here is that there is nothing in the concept of moral goodness, and/or the concept of rationality, that would provide any information as to whether an entity would find the 'inanimate world' (or, for that matter, roses) appealing, nauseating, or would just be indifferent to them.
    So, Swinburne's claim that God has good reason to create a 'beautiful inanimate world' is unfounded. In fact, we ought not to make that assessment; rather, and for the aforementioned reasons, we ought to conclude that we cannot tell or even probabilistically assess whether God would have reasons to create an inanimate universe that looks at all like the inanimate parts of our universe (I'm limiting this to the inanimate parts to assess the matter without contamination from the problem of suffering, pain, etc.).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    Bradley,

    On the issue of what you call actions with morally good and morally bad aspects which do not outweigh each other, I would like to ask you what God's motivation would be in those cases.

    If, overall, they're neither morally good nor morally bad, why would we suspect that God would feel inclined to carry them out, or refraining from carrying them out?

    It's pretty much like actions with no moral component, like, say, creating electrons and other particles in a world without particles, or creating roses in a world without minds other than God's.
    How would you assign probability to that?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Angra Mainyu said…

    On the issue of what you call actions with morally good and morally bad aspects which do not outweigh each other, I would like to ask you what God's motivation would be in those cases.

    If, overall, they're neither morally good nor morally bad, why would we suspect that God would feel inclined to carry them out, or refraining from carrying them out?
    ==========
    Response:

    Traditional utilitarianism weighs the positive (pleasure, satisfaction, and happiness) results of an action against the negative (pain, suffering, and sorrow) to see whether an action is good all-things-considered.

    Suppose God was a traditional utilitarian. Suppose that God determined that bringing embodied HFAs into existence would result in 200 units of happiness and also 200 units of misery. Suppose that each unit of happiness is worth one unit of misery, so that the positive results of this action were counterbalanced by the negative results. Why would a utilitarian God bring about embodied HFAs, given this determination? Because doing so would result in 200 units of happiness, not because it would result in 200 units of misery.

    But if the resulting misery exactly counterbalanced the resulting happiness, what would push God one direction (performing this action rather than refraining from performing the action)? According to Swinburne, this would be a 'mental toss up' for God. God would in effect, toss a coin to make the decision, because morality would not determine which way to go.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    Bradley Bowen: “Traditional utilitarianism weighs the positive (pleasure, satisfaction, and happiness) results of an action against the negative (pain, suffering, and sorrow) to see whether an action is good all-things-considered.”

    Response:
    I do not think that utilitarianism is correct, but let's leave that aside for now.

    Bradley Bowen: “Suppose God was a traditional utilitarian. Suppose that God determined that bringing embodied HFAs into existence would result in 200 units of happiness and also 200 units of misery. Suppose that each unit of happiness is worth one unit of misery, so that the positive results of this action were counterbalanced by the negative results. Why would a utilitarian God bring about embodied HFAs, given this determination? Because doing so would result in 200 units of happiness, not because it would result in 200 units of misery.”
    Response:

    Let's consider the first supposition: What is a traditional utilitarian?

    If a traditional utilitarian is someone who believes that what's morally good or bad to do is ascertained as you mentioned above, and who tries to carry out actions that are morally good all-things-considered, and tries to refrain to carry out actions that are morally bad all things considered (by the utilitarian standards you explained above), then assuming HFA is neither morally good nor morally bad all things considered, we have no means of knowing how he would act, or to assess that he has any motivation to create or to refrain from creating HFAs.

    The answer you provide, namely he would do so because doing so would result in 200 units of happiness, is not a reason we can tell a traditional utilitarian would have, if their goal is as stated above.

    For instance, it would be consistent with a utilitarian that, in addition to the propensity to carry out actions that are morally good all-things-considered, and tries to refrain to carry out actions that are morally bad all things considered (by the utilitarian standards you explained above), this particular utilitarian has a mental makeup such that he would never do a morally neutral action that brings about any units of pain.

    If so, then that utilitarian would have no reason whatsoever to create HFA.

    The problem is that in order to know whether such a utilitarian would have some reason to bring about HFA, we would need to know some aspect of this particular utilitarian's motivational mental makeup other than the fact that he's a traditional utilitarian.

    If, on the other hand, a “traditional utilitarian” is something else, I would ask you to please define 'traditional utilitarian'; in particular, I would like to ask what motivations go into the definition of 'traditional utilitarian'.

    However, regardless of those motivations, the issue is what God would do (rather than a traditional utilitarian), and the motivation the only aspect of God's motivational mental makeup we know about is that he's morally perfect…to be continued…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    …continues…

    Regardless of the definition of 'traditional utilitarian', the issue is what God would do (rather than a traditional utilitarian), and the only aspect of God's motivational mental makeup we know about is that he's morally perfect., or (in Swinburne's terminology) perfectly good, which means he'll never do a morally bad action, and he'll do a morally best action when there is one. That's Swinburne's only definition.

    If we go by that, whenever an action is neither morally best nor morally bad, it appears that we simply have no means whatsoever of assessing whether God would do it, or assigning any probability to it.
    On the other hand, if we extend moral perfection to a propensity to do morally good actions even if not the morally best when there is no morally best action, it might be argued that that would give us, in some cases, a means of rationally assigning probability that God would carry out some morally good action.

    Moreover, even granting for the sake of the argument that, sometimes, we can make rational probabilistic assessment about God's potential actions even if such actions are only morally good and not morally best, we still would have no means of making any assessment when it comes to morally neutral actions, since we do not know anything else about the character of God that would allow us to make such an assessment.

    That's as far as the objection goes, but I have a question about the 0.5. What about bringing about humans, not just HFA?
    If the reasoning is that bringing about HFA has a probability of 0.5 because it's a toss-up, that fails for the reasons I've been explaining, but if it did not, why can't one just make the 'toss-up' argument for humans, and say that bringing about humans has a probability of 0.5.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    I understand the essence of your point about God's perfect goodness giving us no indication of what God would do in a situation where an action is neither morally bad nor morally best.

    You have reiterated that point a few times now – thank you for being so patient with me.

    I don't have a good reply to your objection yet. Will see if I can come up with something to say in defense of Swinburne on this.

    In the meantime, please consider another reason in support of Swinburne's position on this…

    It seems to me, at least at a first look, that if it is not morally good for an all-knowing, all-powerful being to bring about embodied HFAs, then there would be nothing morally bad or wrong about instantly destroying all embodied HFAs. But it does seem wrong to me to instantly destroy all embodied HFAs, so that casts doubt on the view that it would not be morally good for God to bring about embodied HFAs.

    Suppose I was able to temporarily bestow omniscience and omnipotence upon you (qualified in that I would maintain that ability to remove these powers from you after a brief period of time). Would you then take the opportunity to destroy all embodied HFAs in the universe? If you did perform this action, wouldn't this be a morally bad thing to do?

    If you agree that it seems like a morally bad thing to instantly destroy all embodied HFAs, do you agree that this gives us good reason to believe that bringing about embodied HFAs would be a morally good thing for God to do?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    Bradley Bowen:
    "I understand the essence of your point about God's perfect goodness giving us no indication of what God would do in a situation where an action is neither morally bad nor morally best.

    You have reiterated that point a few times now – thank you for being so patient with me."
    Response:

    No problem, and sorry if that was repetitive; sometimes, I'm not sure whether some of my points are unclear or are clear but fail to convince you.

    Bradley Bowen: "I don't have a good reply to your objection yet. Will see if I can come up with something to say in defense of Swinburne on this.

    In the meantime, please consider another reason in support of Swinburne's position on this…"
    Response:

    Fair enough, I will consider your argument.
    I'd like to ask you if you could consider another reason for rejecting it as well, please – namely, my objection considering the case of humans (which I posted earlier), rather than HFA.

    Bradley Bowen: "It seems to me, at least at a first look, that if it is not morally good for an all-knowing, all-powerful being to bring about embodied HFAs, then there would be nothing morally bad or wrong about instantly destroying all embodied HFAs. But it does seem wrong to me to instantly destroy all embodied HFAs, so that casts doubt on the view that it would not be morally good for God to bring about embodied HFAs."

    Response:

    While I would agree that it would be immoral for such a moral agent to kill every HFA like that, I do not have the impression that if it's not morally good for an omnipotent, omniscient moral agent to bring about HFA, it would not be immoral for him to destroy them all.

    At least, I do not see why we should make an exception in the case of an omnipotent, omniscient being on this matter, and generally speaking, from the fact that it's not morally good to bring about X into existence, it does not follow that it's okay to kill all X's.

    For example, let's consider the following case:

    Just as scientists have made oncomice, which are mice genetically modified to have a very strong predisposition to get cancer, someone (say, Dr. Malo) decides to make "oncohumans", who are humans genetically modified to have a very strong predisposition to get cancer.

    If you like, let's further stipulate that Dr. Malo does so for fun, so it seems to me that his action is not only not morally good, but very immoral.

    After some of the oncohumans grow up (others die earlier), most of them want to cling to life and do not want to be killed. Other than the fact that they have such a strong predisposition to develop cancer and will very probably die young (of cancer), they're regular people, not criminals or anything like it, and their conditions is not contagious at all.

    Then, it seems to me that while Dr. Malo's actions in making oncohumans were very immoral, if he chooses to kill them all, that action would also be very immoral.

    Granted, this is an analogy, not a perfect match, but I do not see why that would be different in the case of the omnipotent, omniscient moral agent who created HFA.

    If you prefer to avoid the analogy and go with the direct intuitive assessments, my intuitive assessment is that it would be immoral for the omnipotent, omniscient moral agent to kill them, but not morally good for him to bring them into existence.

    To be continued…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    Bradley Bowen said:

    "Suppose I was able to temporarily bestow omniscience and omnipotence upon you (qualified in that I would maintain that ability to remove these powers from you after a brief period of time). Would you then take the opportunity to destroy all embodied HFAs in the universe? If you did perform this action, wouldn't this be a morally bad thing to do?"

    Response:

    Yes, I agree that that would be a morally bad thing for me to do. Very bad.

    Bradley Bowen said: "If you agree that it seems like a morally bad thing to instantly destroy all embodied HFAs, do you agree that this gives us good reason to believe that bringing about embodied HFAs would be a morally good thing for God to do? "
    Response:

    No, I do not agree.

    I have a question too: If you agree that it would be immoral for Dr. Malo to kill all of the oncohumans, do you agree that this gives us good reason to believe that bringing about oncohumans would be a morally good thing for Dr. Malo to do?

    Moreover, let's remove the stipulation that Dr. Malo brings about oncohumans for fun.
    Let's say that, instead, Dr. Obscure brings about the oncohumans, and we do not know why.

    If you agree that it would be immoral for Dr. Obscure to kill all of the oncohumans, do you agree that this gives us good reason to believe that bringing about oncohumans would be a morally good thing for Dr. Obscure to do?

    If your answer to those questions is 'no', I would suggest that this line of argument in support of Swinburne's claim does not work, since the fact that it would be immoral for Dr. Malo or for Dr. Obscure to kill the oncohumans does not give us good reasons to think that it would be morally good for either of them to bring about those oncohumans, and similarly it seems to me that there is no good reason to think that the fact that it would be immoral for the omnipotent, etc., creator to kill all HFA gives us reason to think that it would be a morally good thing for him to create HFA in the first place.

    For that matter, let's suppose that an omnipotent, omniscient, moral agent brings about oncohumans. Would you not agree that the omnipotent being would be acting immorally if he killed all of the oncohumans, yet it would not be a morally good thing to do for him to create them in the first place?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    Bradley,

    The following is another argument in support of my position that if a behavior is overall neutral, we have no means of assigning probabilities.

    I will grant for the sake of the argument the idea of behaviors that bring about some good and some bad, and so they're partly bad and partly good, and also overall good, bad or neutral, etc.

    So, let's consider the following four people: Bob, Alice, Mary and Tom. They can all assess whether some behavior would be overall good, overall bad, or overall neutral; moreover, they can assess whether their behavior would bring about some good, some bad, etc., and how much of each.

    If X is overall good, then all three of them are equally motivated to carry out X, in order to bring about more good stuff to the world.
    If X is overall bad, then all three of them are equally motivated not to carry out X, in order to avoid bringing about more bad things to the world.
    If X is overall neutral, then Bob may or may not be morally motivated to carry out X, or not to carry it out. The good balances out the bad, and then Bob about half the times carries out that kind of action, even if it brings about bad things. So, the probability that Bob would do X is 0.5.
    If X is overall neutral, then Alice is always strongly motivated not to carry out X, since she has a propensity to avoid bringing about bad stuff, even when balanced by an equal amount of good stuff. So, the probability that she would do X is 0.
    If X is overall neutral, then Mary is always strongly motivated to carry out X, in order to bring about the good stuff, even when balanced by an equal amount of bad. So, the probability that she would do X is 1.
    If X is overall neutral, then Tom decides on non-moral grounds, and we have no means of assigning probability to the hypothesis that he would do X.

    My question is: based on that information and no more, all other things equal, are we justified in concluding that Bob is [probably] a morally better person than any of the others?

    If the answer is 'no' (which is my assessment), then I would say that that supports my point that there is nothing in the concept of moral goodness, or moral perfection, etc., that would allow us to make a probabilistic assessment that there is a 0.5 chance that God would bring about a neutral action, or type of action, when confronted with an exhaustive choice of two possibilities.

    That is because someone who acts with that probability (i.e., 0.5) in the cases of overall neutral actions can't be said to be morally better than others who have different propensities. So, for all we know, a morally perfect being would have a propensity other than one that allows us to make a 0.5 assessment.

    On the other hand, if you think the answer is 'yes', we may have to agree to disagree on this. In that case, please let me know, so that I might try to argue on other grounds.

    On a different issue, and regarding my point about the intrinsic probability that God would create humans (and not just HFA), if you're interested I can make a more detailed argument, also considering potential objections and raising a number of objections to Swinburne's reasoning (due to time constraints, it would mostly be copying and pasting from part 3 of the argument on my blog, so there might be some repetition).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Angra Mainyu said…

    Thank you for hanging in there with me on this discussion. I appreciate the above analogies, and will need to reflect on them a bit to see if I have any objections to them.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Scratch the phrase "Angra Mainyu said.." above. I was not quoting you, just responding to your recent comments.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    I would like to try to get clear about some of your objections in terms of how they relate to a key argument of Swinburne on this subject:

    1. God bringing about HFAs is an equal morally best act with God refraining from bringing about HFAs.

    2. If God bringing about HFAs is an equal morally best act with God refraining from bringing about HFAs, then the probability that God would bring about HFAs [if God exists] is 1/2.

    Therefore:

    3. The probability that God would bring about HFAs [if God exists] is 1/2.

    4. God brings about HFAs only if God brings about embodied HFAs.

    5. If God brings about embodied HFAs, then God brings about HFAs.

    Therefore:

    6. The probability that God would bring about embodied HFAs is 1/2.

    =====

    Bradley Bowen:
    In terms of moral goodness, Swinburne would say that bringing about embodied HFAs would be as morally good for God to do as refraining from bringing about embodied HFAs.

    Angra Mainyu:
    That would seem to imply that it's morally neutral for God to do that. Else, it's hard to see how it can be morally good to do X, and morally good not to do X.

    But that aside, there are still two possible alternatives:

    a) He is claiming that it would be morally good for God to bring about HFAs, and so the burden is on him.

    b) He is not, but then how does he go about assessing probability? (not that he can properly assess probability anyway, but even assuming he could in case the action were morally good).

    Bradley Bowen:
    Or…Swinburne would say that God choosing to refrain from bringing about embodied HFAs would NOT be morally better than God choosing to bring about embodied HFAs.

    Angra Mainyu:
    I would disagree with his assessment, but even granting it for now for the sake of the argument, that would not be enough to make a probabilistic assessment about what God would do.
    For instance, making an inanimate universe with black holes, stars, etc., or even with some life but nothing with brains (e.g., plants) would be neither morally good nor morally bad. But then, it seems we have no means of ascertaining whether God would do that, or making any probabilistic assessment (else, how would you propose we make such an assessment).
    ==========

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    I think your main objection is to premise (1).

    Is that correct?

    Aren't you challenging Swinburne's claim in (1)as being implausible and in need of defense, and aren't you inclined to assert the contrary claim, namely that God refraining from bringing about HFAs would be morally better than God bringing about HFAs?

    Can you translate your points about what acts would be "morally good" for God to do into Swinburne's language about what would be "morally best" for God to do?

    An equal morally best action is one out of two or more actions that tie for first place in the race to be the morally best action.

    Does "morally best act" imply "morally good act"? At least for humans it seems possible to get into a situation in which every alternative involves bringing about some evil or suffering, and thus some degree of moral badness.

    Of course if one is stuck with nothing but bad alternatives, then the best one can do is to choose the lesser of evils.

    If I must make a choice between injuring a child and failing to save the world from impending destruction, then I might be morally obliged to injure a child, to do evil that good might come.

    This is the sort of moral choice that utilitarians, at least, would see as being "morally best". But if choosing the lesser of evils is the "morally best" choice in some situations, then that would also appear to be a "morally good" choice or action as well.

    So, when there is a "morally best" choice or action available, that would seem to be a "morally good" choice or action, even if the action resulted in pain, suffering, or evil, so long as the alternatives were morally worse.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Oops, I dropped an important qualification in the conclusion (6).

    It should read:

    6. The probability that God would bring about embodied HFAs [if God exists] is 1/2.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    Bradley Bowen:
    "I think your main objection is to premise (1).

    Is that correct?

    Aren't you challenging Swinburne's claim in (1)as being implausible and in need of defense, and aren't you inclined to assert the contrary claim, namely that God refraining from bringing about HFAs would be morally better than God bringing about HFAs? "
    Response:

    I have a number of objections. I would not call that one the main one, but still, with regard to that objection, I would say we ought to distinguish different issues:
    a) Bringing about HFA is not an act, but a category of acts; in fact, the category would be 'an omnipotent, omniscient moral agent brings about HFA into a world previously devoid of them.
    b) Swinburne has not given any good reasons to think that any act in the category in question is true.
    c) I claim that all acts in the category would be morally bad, but I did not get into arguing for that yet, as it wasn't necessary. There are other, previous objections.

    However, I also have an objection (as important as that one) to premise 2.

    First, we're not talking about actions, but categories of actions.
    Second, if it is true that bringing about HFA is morally equal as not doing so, then for the same reasons Swinburne gives, the same can be said about humans, which would lead to the conclusion that the intrinsic probability that God would bring about humans is 0.5, which leads to an assortment of absurdities (which I've not listed yet, since I think the conclusion that his reasoning leads to a 0.5 for humans is decisive enough; but I can get into details if you like).
    Third, I gave other arguments against the 0.5 probabilistic assessment.
    I would like to know what you think about them (see, for instance, the example of Bob, Alice, Mary and Tom, in which I argue against the 0.5 probabilistic assessment even in the case of morally equal actions (not that we even have actions in the case of someone creating HFA, but categories).

    Bradley Bowen: "An equal morally best action is one out of two or more actions that tie for first place in the race to be the morally best action.

    Does "morally best act" imply "morally good act"? At least for humans it seems possible to get into a situation in which every alternative involves bringing about some evil or suffering, and thus some degree of moral badness."

    Response: I do not agree that suffering entails moral badness; that depends on the situation. I do not think that humans can be in a situation in which every action they bring about (no matter what they do) is morally bad.

    That's for the following reason:

    Suppose that Alice has to decide what to do, and her possibilities are A(1), …, A(n).
    If, for all j, A(j) would be a morally bad action for Alice, then it it not the case that Alice should do A(j), for any j, because it's not the case that he should behave in a morally bad way.

    In other words, to say that she should carry out (for instance) A(1) is to say that she has a moral obligation to bring about A(1).
    But if we also stipulate that A(1) is morally bad, then (I'd say analytically), she has a moral obligation to refrain from carrying out A(1).
    But then, it follows that Alice has a moral obligation to do A(1) and ¬A(1), which is impossible.
    I do not think that we have moral obligations to do what is impossible. Ought implies can.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    Bradley Bowen: "Of course if one is stuck with nothing but bad alternatives, then the best one can do is to choose the lesser of evils.

    If I must make a choice between injuring a child and failing to save the world from impending destruction, then I might be morally obliged to injure a child, to do evil that good might come."

    Response:

    While I would agree that (given some other assumptions), you would be morally obligated to injure a child to save the world, I do not agree that it would be morally bad for you to do so.
    I do not think that 'lesser of two evils' counts as moral evil.

    But let's say I'm wrong about that. It would remain the case that:
    1) Swinburne has not offered actions, but categories of actions.
    2) He's not offered any good reasons to think that any action in the category 'an omnipotent, omniscient moral agent brings about HFA to a world previously devoid of them' is morally good.
    3) Even if we leave all that aside, he's not justified the 0.5 probabilistic assessment in the case of what he calls 'equally best' actions.
    4) I've argued that even leaving 1) and 2) aside, the previous example (e.g., Alice, Tom, Mary and Bob) shows that the probabilistic assignment 0.5 is unwarranted, even under the assumption that creating HFA and not creating them would be equally best for God.
    I do not know whether you have any objections to that argument.
    5) I've argued on different grounds that even leaving 1) and 2) aside, the example of humans show that it would not be reasonable to assign 0.5; in fact, we shouldn't make any assignments.

    Bradley Bowen: "This is the sort of moral choice that utilitarians, at least, would see as being "morally best". But if choosing the lesser of evils is the "morally best" choice in some situations, then that would also appear to be a "morally good" choice or action as well.

    So, when there is a "morally best" choice or action available, that would seem to be a "morally good" choice or action, even if the action resulted in pain, suffering, or evil, so long as the alternatives were morally worse."

    Response:

    I just do not think Swinburne has provided any good reason to think that any action in the category would be morally good.

    However, even if we assume equally good (but what? The actions? Which ones, since it's a category? Anyway…), there are other problems, like the ones I've been arguing for.


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