September 28, 2012

The Value Component of Plantinga's Free Will Defense

A defense (in Plantinga's sense) against the logical problem of evil requires two components: a metaphysical component, which claims that a certain scenario is logically possible, and a value component, which claims that if the scenario in question were actual then it would be consistent with God's goodness to weakly actualize a world containing evil. In Plantinga's Free Will Defense (FWD), the scenario in question is one in which every creaturely essence suffers from transworld depravity (TWD). Now, in both The Nature of Necessity and God, Freedom, and Evil Plantinga's focus is squarely on the metaphysical component, defending the coherence of Molinism and the possibility of every creaturely essence suffering from TWD. The value component is almost completely ignored. Plantinga supposes that, if every creaturely essence suffered from TWD, then God would create a world with evil, and this would not in any way impugn his goodness. But why does Plantinga think this? I suppose he probably endorses:


(1) God's perfect goodness consists in his actualizing the best world he can

and

(2) If every creaturely essence suffered TWD, then the best world God could actualize would contain some evil.

However, both of these claims are open to question. First, a non-consequentialist (such as myself) will deny that (1) is any kind of obvious consequence of moral goodness. It might hold in the case of God, but it needn't hold in general. Second, (2) implies that creating Molinist-free creatures who sometimes go wrong is better than creating compatibilist-free creatures who always go right. (The plausibility of (2) also depends on how bad the choices the creatures are going to make will be, so we might want to be more precise about that.) This could be controversial as well.

I want to suggest an alternative value component for the FWD which I take to be better than the one I think Plantinga implicitly endorses.

Call a moral theory accommodationist if it holds that I ought to accommodate my actions to the immorality of others, even to the extent that, in an immoral world, I am sometimes obligated to do things I would be prohibited from doing in a moral world. Act utilitarianism seems to be accommodationist. For instance, it recommends that, if someone credibly promises to kill ten people unless I kill one, I should kill the one person, which I would be prohibited from doing were it not for the immorality of others. (There are complications related to punishing wrongdoers and so forth, but let's set these aside for now and assume that the distinction between moral theories I am getting at can be made out somehow.)

A moral theory is anti-accommodationist if it says that my obligations and prohibitions are not altered by the immorality of others. (This is consistent with claiming that the relative value of actions which are merely permitted changes.) Some versions of rule utilitarianism are anti-accommodationist: they say I should follow the rules such that it would be best if everyone followed them, and I should follow these rules even though others won't. Obviously deontological theories tend to be anti-accommodationist.

Now suppose we adopt an anti-accommodationist moral theory, and apply it to divine moral perfection. Now suppose that there is only one way for the BPW to come about, namely, for God to strongly actualize a certain set S of states of affairs which includes the existence of Molinist-free creatures, and for those creatures to then make all and only the morally correct decisions. Suppose, further, that, if it were the case that (if God should actualize S, then the creatures would make the right decisions, leading to the BPW), then God would be obligated to actualize S. Finally, suppose that all creaturely essences suffer TWD. The TWD of the creaturely essences is the immorality of others, so (by anti-accommodationism) God's moral obligations don't change to accommodate it. Therefore, God is still obligated to actualize S, even though creatures will make wrong decisions, so that God's actualizing S will not lead to the BPW. Thus, if anti-accommodationism is true, and the BPW contains Molinist-free creatures who make only right actions, and God is obligated to bring about the BPW if he can, then if all creaturely essences (or even only all essences which are instantiated in the BPW!) suffer TWD, then God will be obligated (!) to weakly actualize a world containing moral evil, even if he could have weakly actualized a better world.

Put in a more loose and intuitive way, my idea is this: Plantinga thinks that God can't bring about the BPW all by himself, without the cooperation of free creatures, and that there is nothing God can do to ensure that he will receive the cooperation of free creatures. If this is right, then perhaps God is nevertheless obligated (or at least permitted) to do his part toward the actualization of the BPW even if he knows creatures won't do theirs. If this was the case then what we would expect, in the scenario where all the creaturely essences instantiated in the BPW suffer TWD, is that God would create a world which was such that if all the creatures had always decided rightly, the BPW would have been actual, but which is nevertheless very different from the BPW.

One trouble with my approach is that, if it's really true that God is obligated to do this then, although we started out trying to make a mere defense, we end up committed to offering our story as (part of) a theodicy. More specifically, we end up committed to the claim that, in fact,


(3) if all creatures had always made only right decisions, the BPW would have been actual.

Is (3) plausible? Perhaps not, though I do like it rather better than the claim that, given how the counterfactuals of freedom were, this is the best world God could have created, which is a claim we would have to make if Plantinga's FWD were to become (part of) a theodicy. Note that this needn't commit us to the claim that we exist in the BPW, since the decisions of earlier creatures effect which later creatures exist. Also, I have strong anti-accommodationist intuitions, which makes the moral account I've just outlined more attractive to me than Plantinga's. Actually, if we could make some kind of sense out of a historical (even if not fully literal) Fall of Man, then (b) might start looking pretty good. Of course, that's an extremely hard thing to do.

To end on an anti-climax, I have serious reservations about the metaphysical component of Plantinga's FWD to begin with. However, I think it is worth thinking more seriously than has been done so far about the value component, and I think that the alternative sketched here is superior to the original.

(cross-posted at The Prosblogion)

Posted by Kenny at September 28, 2012 4:35 PM
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