The true value of a man…

“The true value of a man is not determined by his possession, supposed or real, of Truth, but rather by his sincere exertion to get the Truth. It is not possession of the Truth, but rather the pursuit of Truth by which he extends his powers and in which his ever-growing perfectability is to be found. Possession makes one passive, indolent, and proud. If God were to hold all Truth concealed in His right hand, and in his left only the steady and diligent drive for Truth, albeit with a proviso that I would always and forever err in the process, and to offer me the choice, I would with all humility take the left hand.”

–Gotthold Lessing, Anti-Gokz.E (1778)

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The Knobe Effect

The vice president of a company went to the chairman of the board and said, ‘We are thinking of starting a new program. It will help us increase profits, but it will also harm the environment.’ The chairman of the board answered, ‘I don’t care at all about harming the environment. I just want to make as much profit as I can. Let’s start the new program.’ They started the new program. Sure enough, the environment was harmed.

Did the chairman harm the environment intentionally? In a 2003 study, 82 percent of respondents said yes, he did. But now consider this:

The vice president of a company went to the chairman of the board and said, ‘We are thinking of starting a new program. It will help us increase profits, and it will also help the environment.’ The chairman of the board answered, ‘I don’t care at all about helping the environment. I just want to make as much profit as I can. Let’s start the new program.’ They started the new program. Sure enough, the environment was helped.

Did the chairman help the environment intentionally? Only 23 percent of respondents said yes.

What should we make of this? Yale philosopher Joshua Knobe says, “It seems very puzzling that all we changed was this one word, just changing the word harm to help, and yet we’re now having completely different judgments about whether what he did was intentional or unintentional. Yet it seems like it’s only the moral status of what he did that is changing. … Somehow the moral judgments people are making are affecting their intuitions about something like how the mind works.”

The Problem of Evil: The Theodicies

Epicurus’ formulation:

P1. If a perfectly good god exists, then there is no evil in the world.

1: Omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent

P2. There is evil in the world.

P3. Therefore, a perfectly good god does not exist.

Theodicies can all be refuted with the premise that God is:

A. Omnipotent (all-powerful)

B. (all-knowing)

C. Omnibenevolent (all-loving/good)

The Theodicies

I. Big-plan theodicy

a. What it is:

i. All suffering of innocent beings is part of a big plan and had to happen.  The whole plan, however, is completely good.

b. Defeated:

i. If God is all powerful, he can devise a “big plan” which does not encompass evil.

II. Punishment theodicy

a. What it is:

i. When we see people suffer terribly, the reason for this is that they have sinned.  Their suffering is a punishment for their sins.

b. Defeated:

i. This is explains why God would punish evil-doers.  However, much of the suffering is undeserved.  Take children, and those born into poverty, slavery, or otherwise: they still suffer tremendously.  Also, this can be defeated with the argument of omnibenevolence: an all-loving god would not create suffering in the first place.

III. Suffering-builds-character theodicy

a. What it is:

i. The basic idea is that suffering of innocents will help them to become stronger.  All evil offers us the possibility to learn from it and grow into a better human being.  This theodicy is sometimes called the “soul-making theodicy”.

b. Defeated:

i. If God is all powerful he could have eliminated the need for evil by making us characterized to begin with.

IV. Contrast theodicy

a. What it is:

i. We need evil in the universe to know that there is good.  If there were no evil and everything were good, we could not tell that it is good.

b. Defeated:

i. If God were omnibenevolent he would not have neglected to make the good that we are lacking in place of evil.

V. Devil theodicy

a. What it is:

i. Innocent suffer because the devil likes to let innocents suffer.

b. Defeated:

i. If God were omnipotent he could override the power of Satan.  This also suggests that Satan exists outside of God, a whole new problem unto itself.

VI. Test theodicy

a. What it is:

i. Earthly life is just a test.  God has thrown us into this world full of evil and pointless suffering in order to find out what kind of beings we are.  Without the pointless suffering, his test is not complete.  If we pass, we go to heaven.  If we fail, we go to hell.

b. Defeated:

i. God cannot be omniscient under this premise, because then he would already know whether or not I’m going to fail and the test would be pointless in the first place.

Free will cap:  If God is all knowing, you can’t have free will.

Can Jesus Make A Burrito So Hot He Couldn't Eat It?

Even the cartoon character Homer Simpson (who posed this question) has a philosopher within. And though he is not exactly the paradigm of reverence, the question is a real one for any philosophically reverent person. For one of the first properties that believers ascribe to God is that He is omnipotent or all-powerful, which means at least that there is or could be nothing God cannot do. And here is where Homer’s question fits in—or at least a somewhat more reverent version thereof:

Can God create a stone so heavy that He cannot lift it?

There are only two possible answers here: yes or no.

Suppose, first, we say no. But then there is something that God cannot do: create such a stone. And if there’s something He cannot do then He is not omnipotent after all.

So suppose we say yes. If God can create such a stone then there could exist a stone so heavy God could not lift it. But then there could be something God cannot do, namely lift that stone. And if there could be something God cannot do, then again He is not omnipotent after all.

Some try to avoid this conclusion by insisting that God simply never will make the stone, so there never will actually exist the thing He cannot do. But this doesn’t work. To be omnipotent, it’s not enough that there happens to be nothing He cannot do. Rather, there could not even possibly be something He cannot do. And if He can create that stone—even if He doesn’t— then there could be something He cannot do, namely lift it.

Since yes and no are the only possible answers and each leads to the same conclusion, then either way there is no omnipotent being. So if God is supposed to be omnipotent it follows that there is no God.

That’s some powerful burrito!

Never Mind

“It has been asserted (by C.S. Lewis, for instance) that no determinist rationally can believe in determinism, for if determinism is true, his beliefs were caused, including his belief in determinism. The idea seems to be that the causes of belief, perhaps chemical happenings in the brain, might be unconnected with any reasons for thinking determinism true. They might be, but they need not be. The causes might ‘go through’ reasons and be effective only to the extent that they are good reasons.”

Robert Nozick, “Reflections on Newcomb’s Paradox,” 1974

“If … [determinism] is true, then the intellectual or cognitive operations of its upholders, including their choice or decision to maintain the thesis, … are themselves only the effects of inexorable forces. But if this is so, why should the thesis … be accepted as valid or true?”

Alan Gewirth, Reason and Morality, 1978

“If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motion of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to believe that my beliefs are true … and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.”

J.B.S. Haldane, Possible Worlds, 1927