Is It Time to Rename the ‘Problem of Evil’ / ‘Argument from Evil’?

Is It Time to Rename the ‘Problem of Evil’ / ‘Argument from Evil’? March 6, 2019

I’m starting to wonder if the so-called ‘problem of evil’ / ‘argument from evil’ needs a name change. Consider the following list of known facts about ‘evil’ which have been used as the explanandum for various evidential arguments from evil:

  • biological role of pain and pleasure
  • empathy and apathy (neurological basis of moral handicaps)
  • flourishing and languishing of sentient beings
  • virtue and vice (self-centeredness and limited altruism of human beings)
  • autonomy (having control over one’s destiny) and heteronomy (lacking such control)
  • triumph and tragedy
  • moral progress and the lack of moral prophets
  • the (alleged) failure of theodicy

Putting aside the bogus objection that atheism entails there is no such thing as objective evil, it seems to me that the word “evil” has a connotation of “moral evil.” But most of the items on the list are not instances of moral evil. Grouping all of these arguments together, under the umbrella category of “problem of evil” (or “argument from evil”), isn’t exactly a model of philosophical clarity.

Suppose you agree with me so far. The question then becomes: what we should we do about it? For starters, I’m not sure all of these arguments should be grouped together under a single category. It seems there are multiple categories:

  • argument from (moral) evil, i.e., the morally bad/wrong actions of moral agents: empathy and apathy, virtue and vice
  • so-called arguments from ‘natural evil’ could be recategorized as follows:
    • arguments from imperfection / poor design / dysteleology (pain and pleasure, empathy and apathy, flourishing and languishing; we could also add the arguments from scale, hostility of the universe to life)
    • arguments from suffering (pain and pleasure, triumph and tragedy)
    • arguments from incomplete knowledge (moral progress and the lack of moral prophets, Schellenberg’s ‘free will offense’, failure of theodicy)
    • I am not sure how to categorize or subcategorize this argument: autonomy and heteronomy

Anyways, these are just my thoughts. What do you think?

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