It is widely agreed that the ‘Logical’ Argument from Evil (LAFE) is bankrupt. We aim to rehabilitate the LAFE, in the form of what we call the Normatively Relativised Logical Argument from Evil (NRLAFE). There are many different versions of a NRLAFE.
This paper examines an evidential argument from evil recently defended by William Rowe, one that differs significantly from the kind of evidential argument Rowe has become renowned for defending. After providing a brief outline of Rowe’s new argument
There’s a growing sense among philosophers of religion that (i) Humean arguments from evil are some of the most formidable arguments against theism, and (ii) skeptical theism fails to undermine those arguments because they fail to make the inferences
A traditional subject for discussion in population debates is whether the world or any subdivisions of it are overpopulated. Some proclaim that we are indeed in a state of overpopulation, while others persistently deny this claim. However, statements
Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca's practical reasoning theory has attracted a great deal of interest since its publication in 1969. Their most important assertion, however, that argument is the logical basis for practical decision-making, has been under
Int J Philos Relig (2014) 75:189–196 DOI 10.1007/s11153-014-9448-3 ARTICLE
Has Plantinga “buried” Mackie’s logical argument from evil? Anders Kraal
Abstract In seeking to undermine Mackie’s logical argument from evil, Plantinga assumes that Mackie’s argument regards it as a necessary truth that a wholly good God would eliminate all evil that he could eliminate. I argue that this is an interpretative mistake, and that Mackie is merely assuming that the theist believes that God’s goodness entails that God would eliminate all evil that he could eliminate. Once the difference between these two assumptions, and the implausibility of Plantinga’s assumption, are brought out, Plantinga’s celebrated critique of Mackie’s argument can be seen to be far less compelling than is often assumed to be the case. Keywords John Mackie · Alvin Plantinga · Logical argument from evil · Problem of evil In “Evil and Omnipotence” (1955) Mackie famously argues that the three beliefs (1) God is infinitely powerful, (2) God is wholly good, and (3) evil exists, are inconsistent, and in so arguing he appeals to the further premises (4) there are no limits to what an omnipotent thing can do, and (5) a wholly good thing always eliminates evil as far as he can. In view of the alleged inconsistency, Mackie judges that theists (or at any rate theists who hold the relevant beliefs) are “positively irrational.”1 1 Mackie (1955, pp. 200–201). In subsequent writings Mackie identifies the relevant sorts of theists as “traditional” theists; see e.g. Mackie (1962, p. 153; 1982, p. 150).
A. Kraal (B) University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive NW, Calgary, AB T2N 1N4, Canada e-mail: [email protected]
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In The Nature of Necessity (1974a) and God, Freedom and Evil (1974b) Plantinga argues, also famously, that Mackie’s argument isn’t sound.2 So influential has Plantinga’s reasoning been that it is today widely assumed, among analytic philosophers of religion, that Mackie’s argument has been “buried.”3 Plantinga’s argument against Mackie rests on a largely unexamined interpretation of Mackie, however, and only holds if this interpretation is exegetically sound. Those who hold that Plantinga has “buried” Mackie’s argument assume, in effect, that Plantinga’s interpretation is exegetically sound. Nonetheless, I shall venture to argue that a compelling case can be made for regarding Plantinga’s interpretation as exegetically unsound, and in such a way as to render his argument against Mackie unsuccessful. In what follows I seek to substantiate this claim.
Plantinga’s assumption that Mackie proposes (5) as a necessary truth Plantinga’s critique of Mackie comprises two main parts. The most well-known part is the Free Will Defense, which is a “way of arguing that […] (1) and (2) are in fact consistent [with (3)].”4 In arguing this conclusion, the Free Will Defense seeks to identify a proposition that is (i) possible, (ii) consistent with (1) and (2), and (iii) such that in conjunction with (1) and (2) it entails (3).5 The proposition Plantinga suggests centres on the claim that “Every possible person suffers from transworld depravity,” that is, that every possible person is such that there is some morally significant action with respect to which they would go wrong and hence would introduce some evil into the world.6 The Free Will Defense builds on what Plantinga calls his “first project,” however, which consists in “explor[ing] the ways in which the atheologian might argue that (1) and (2) are incompatible, and to point out that this is enormously more difficult than the atheologians seem to suppose.”7 More specifically, the first project consists in arguing, in opposition to what Plantinga takes to be Mackie’s view, that (4) and (5) aren’t necessary truths, and so can’t be properly used to derive a contradiction from (1)–(3). This first project has received relatively little attention in the literature, which instead has been dominated by discussions of the Free Will Defense. It is worth noting, though, that the success of Plantinga’s Free Will Defense depends on the success of the first project. It is in connection with this first project, I shall argue, that we find a crucial interpretative mistake on the part of Plantinga. 2 See Plantinga (1967, pp. 115–155; 1974b, pp. 12–55; 1974a, pp. 164–190). 3 See e.g. Dougherty (2011, p. 560). 4 Plantinga (1985, p. 41). 5 See Plantinga (1974b, p. 26). 6 Plantinga (1974a, pp. 184–189; 1974b, pp. 49–54). Note that I say that Plantinga’s additional proposition
“centres” on the claim that “Every possible person suffers from transworld depravity,” which is not to say that this claim is identical to the relevant proposition. The relevant proposition is in fact a conjunctive proposition consisting of this claim in conjunction with the further proposition that “God created a world containing moral good”; see Plantinga (1974a, p. 189; 1974b, p. 54). 7 Plantinga (1985, pp. 40–41).
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In seeking to show that the conjunction of (4) and (5) isn’t a necessary truth, Plantinga grants that (4) is necessarily true (with the minor qualification that the “limits” spoken of in (4) are “nonlogical” limits),8 and in what follows I shall allow that Plantinga is justified in this. With regard to (5) Plantinga is more critical, however. His objection, in brief, is that “a good person would not be obliged to eliminate a given evil if they could do so only by eliminating a good that outweighed it.”9 In line with this it is suggested that if a wholly good being could eliminate all evil in the world only by eliminating outweighing goods, then it is far from clear that a wholly good being would eliminate all evil in the world—in which case (5) wouldn’t be a necessary truth.10 Suppose that Plantinga is right in this, and that he accordingly has succeeded in showing that (5) isn’t a necessary truth. Does it follow that Mackie is wrong in contending that (5) can be used to show that (1)–(3) is contradictory? Only if we suppose that Mackie is proposing (5) as a necessary truth. Interestingly, in God and Other Minds Plantinga recognizes that (5) could be put to effective use in Mackie’s argument even if it falls short of being a necessary truth, provided it is either “essential to theism” or a “logical consequence” of claims essential to theism.11 But he doesn’t entertain seriously the possibility that these latter things are what Mackie had in mind, regarding it instead as more or less obvious that Mackie proposes (5) as a necessary truth in its own right. Why does Plantinga take Mackie to be proposing (5) as a necessary truth? Because if these claims aren’t regarded as essential to theism or as logical consequences of claims essential to theism, the claim can only be used to generate a contradiction with (3) if it is a necessary truth in its own right. To better understand Plantinga’s reasoning on this point we do well to attend to a few preliminary definitions. An explicit contradiction, says Plantinga, is “a conjunctive proposition, one conjunct of which is the denial or negation of the other conjunct.”12 In line with this a set of propositions is said to be explicitly contradictory “if one of the members [of the set] is the denial or negation of another member.”13 A set of propositions, moreover, is said to be formally contradictory if “an explicit contradiction can be deduced [from it] by the laws of logic.”14 With the help of these definitions Plantinga introduces the notion of implicit contradiction, which he defines as follows: “a set S of propositions is implicitly contradictory if there is a necessary proposition p such that the result of adding p to S is a formally contradictory set.”15 We can now see why Plantinga takes Mackie to propose (5) as a necessary truth: if (5) were only a contingent truth, there would be some possible world in which it would be consistent with (3), in which 8 Plantinga (1974b, p. 17). 9 Plantinga (1974b, p. 20). 10 Plantinga (1974b, pp. 22–24; cf. p. 54). 11 Plantinga (1967, p. 117). 12 Plantinga (1974b, p. 12). 13 Plantinga (1974b, p. 13). 14 Plantinga (1974b, p. 14). 15 Plantinga (1974b, p. 16).
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case it wouldn’t contradict (3), since it contradicts (3) only if it entails ∼ (3) in every possible world. Plantinga’s idea that Mackie is proposing (5) as a necessary truth is of course connected to his more basic idea that Mackie’s contention is that (1)–(3) is “implicitly contradictory” (in the above defined sense). For (1)–(3) to be implicitly contradictory it is required that there is some further proposition which is both necessary and such that in conjunction with (1)–(3) it yields a formal contradiction. This further proposition, Plantinga thinks, is in Mackie’s argument the conjunction of (4) and (5). Says Plantinga: [W]hen Mackie says that set A is contradictory, we may properly take him, I think, as holding that it is implicitly contradictory in the explained sense. […] What he means, I think, is that to get a formally contradictory set we must add some propositions to set A (i.e.  and ); and if we aim to show that set A is implicitly contradictory, these propositions must be necessary truths—“quasilogical rules,” as Mackie calls them.16 In what follows I argue that Plantinga is mistaken in assuming that Mackie is proposing (5) as a necessary truth.
Does Mackie propose (5) as a necessary truth? Mackie formulates his basic contention as the claim that the theistic claims (1) and (2) are inconsistent with (3), and that religious beliefs are by consequence “positively irrational” on account of their contradictoriness.17 Now Mackie’s contention that (1) and (2) are inconsistent with (3) could be understood in at least two ways.18 On one view, Mackie is contending that the meanings of terms like “infinite power” and “infinite goodness” in (1) and (2) are such as to render (1)–(2) inconsistent with (3); let’s call this “the Meaning Interpretation.” On another view, Mackie is contending that the nature of things is such as to render the attributes mentioned in (1)–(2) incompossible with (3); let’s call this “the Ontological Interpretation.” Briefly put, the Meaning Interpretation regards the contention as grounded in the meanings of words, whereas the Ontological Interpretation takes it to be grounded in the nature of things. That Mackie has the Meaning Interpretation in mind is made initially plausible by the fact that he seeks to support his contention by means of what he calls “quasilogical rules connecting the terms ‘good’,” ‘evil’, and ‘omnipotent’.”19 Clearly, if the contention was grounded in the nature of things as opposed to the meaning of words 16 Plantinga (1974b, pp. 16–17). 17 Mackie (1955, p. 200). 18 According to a third interpretation, due to Michael Tooley, Mackie isn’t urging a logical argument at all, but is really urging an evidential argument from evil; see Tooley (1981, pp. 361–362). The mistakenness of this interpretation was made clear by Mackie himself one year after the publication of Tooley’s paper, however; see Mackie (1982, pp. 150–151). 19 Mackie (1955, p. 201) (my emphasis).
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there would be little point in appealing to connections between the terms “good,” “evil” and “omnipotent” in seeking to support this contention. Moreover, Mackie takes his argument to show that religious beliefs are “positively irrational” and require “[an] extreme rejection of reason” on the part of those who hold them.20 In order to show such a thing it wouldn’t suffice to show merely that the nature of things is such as to render the non-linguistic propositions expressed by (1) and (2) inconsistent with (3), for it might very well be that religious believers are unaware that the nature of things is such as to give rise to the relevant inconsistency, in which case they could hardly be charged with irrationality in believing (1)–(3). It seems then that Mackie’s contention should be understood in line with the Meaning Interpretation. Now the Meaning Interpretation could, in turn, be understood in either of two ways. Mackie could be contending that what religious believers mean by the expression “goodness” in (2) is such as to give rise to inconsistency. Alternatively, Mackie could be contending that in view of the ordinary meaning of the expression “goodness” in (2), the relevant inconsistency follows. That Mackie’s contention should be understood in the first way is made clear in Mackie’s “Theism and Utopia” (1962) and The Miracle of Theism (1982). In “Theism and Utopia” he says: [Critics of theism] are not putting forward any positive theological doctrines, they are questioning the coherence of the traditional theistic view. They are asking whether this view can be made coherent, or whether it involves an ineradicable contradiction. That being so, it is not for the critics to say what constitutes goodness. On this matter the theist can take his pick, he can adopt whatever interpretation of goodness he prefers, so long as he sticks to it consistently. The question is whether God’s being what the theist calls wholly good, and omnipotent, is compatible with the existence, which he recognises, of what he calls evil.21 In The Miracle of Theism he says similarly: Since I am charging the theist with holding incompatible beliefs, it is his conceptions of good, evil, and so on that are in play here.22 So Mackie’s contention is clearly that in view of what “religious believers” or “theists” mean by the term “goodness” in (2), a contradiction follows. In order to support this contention, Mackie sketches the following strategy: [T]he contradiction does not arise immediately; to show it we need some additional premises, or perhaps some quasi-logical rules connecting the terms “good,” “evil,” and “omnipotent.” These additional principles are that good is opposed to evil, in such a way that a [wholly] good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can, and that there are no limits to what an omnipotent thing can do. From these it follows that a good omnipotent thing eliminates evil completely, and 20 Mackie (1955, p. 200). 21 Mackie (1962, pp. 153–154) (my emphasis). 22 Mackie (1982, p. 165) (emphasis in the original).
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then the propositions that a good omnipotent thing exists, and that evil exists, are incompatible.23 Plantinga understands Mackie to here be proposing (5) as a necessary truth. Referring to the set of propositions (1)–(3) as “set A,” he says: [O]f course, if Mackie means to show that set A is implicitly contradictory, then he must hold that (19) and (20) [i.e. (4) and (5) in our numbering] are not merely true but necessarily true.24 As should be clear from the foregoing, I believe Plantinga gets Mackie wrong on this point. What Mackie intended to say is not that (5) is a necessary truth, but rather that it brings out what the (traditional) theist implicitly believes in believing (2). This interpretation is made initially plausible by the fact that Mackie takes (5) as “connecting” the terms “good” and “evil,”25 which terms occur in (2) and (5). Stronger reasons for holding this interpretation to be correct, are, however, the following three. First, Mackie is explicit in that the contradiction he is seeking to exhibit is a contradiction “between these three propositions,” i.e. between (1)–(3).26 To say this, and then to immediately add a further proposition to the list,—be it an analytic or necessary truth—doesn’t make sense. In that case Mackie would presumably have said that the inconsistency holds between more than three propositions. By regarding (5) as part of what the traditional theist implicitly believes in believing (2), however, it becomes entirely proper to say that the inconsistency holds between the three claims (1)–(3) rather than between (1)–(3) and (5), for in that case (5) simply makes explicit what is implicitly believed in (1)–(3). Second, Mackie is explicit in that (5) is adduced for the sake of ‘show[ing]’ that (1)–(3) are inconsistent.27 If (5) weren’t part of what the theist implicitly believes in believing (2) but an additional necessary truth, the addition of it to (1)–(3) wouldn’t suffice to show that (1)–(3) are inconsistent, but only that (1)–(3) in conjunction with (5) is inconsistent, and this is something different. And third, and as we saw above, Mackie is explicit in that he “[is] not putting forward any positive theological doctrines,” but is arguing on the basis of what “the theist” (or “the traditional theist”) believes about God, goodness, and evil.28 If Mackie was earnest in making this claim, he couldn’t have brought any additional principle into his attempt to demonstrate an inconsistency, be it ever so analytic or necessary, if this principle is not part of what the theist himself at least implicitly believes or is committed to. For if Mackie brought in such an additional principle, he would not be arguing solely on the basis of what the theist believes. If, on the other hand, we regard (5) as part of what the theist implicitly believes in believing (2), then Mackie could
23 Mackie (1955, p. 201). 24 Plantinga (1974b, p. 17). 25 Mackie (1955, p. 201). 26 Mackie (1955, p. 200) (my emphasis). 27 Mackie (1955, p. 201). 28 Mackie (1962, pp. 153–154; 1982, p. 165).
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indeed make use of this claim even while arguing solely on the basis of what theists hold to be true, for in that case (5) is just part of what the theist already believes. To this interpretation it might be objected that (5) can’t be part of what the theist implicitly believes in believing (2), for (2) is a belief about God whereas (5) is a belief about what anything with the quality “wholly good” would be like. This objection takes a too literalistic view of Mackie’s formulation of (5), however. The formulation Mackie gives of (5) in “Evil and Omnipotence” is given mostly in passing, and as Mackie clarifies in his later piece “Theism and Utopia” (quoted above) his argument is really just concerned with “the question […] whether God’s being what the theist calls wholly good, and omnipotent, is compatible with the existence, which he recognizes, of what he calls evil” (my emphasis). So it is clearly not Mackie’s intention that (5) be understood as a universal claim as opposed to a claim exclusively about God. Rather, it should to be understood as claiming (5*) that God, qua wholly good, always eliminates evil as far as he can. It would be nice if we could make Mackie’s assumption that (5) is part of what the theist implicitly believes in believing (2) a bit more precise. One way in which this might be done is as follows: (i) In believing that God is “wholly good,” theists believe that God never falls short of doing what it would be perfectly good to do. (ii) Theists hold that for God to refrain from eliminating all the evil that he could eliminate counts as not doing what is perfectly good. (iii) Hence, in believing that God is “wholly good” theists implicitly believe that God never refrains from eliminating all the evil that he can eliminate. Something of the above sort is clearly what underlies Mackie’s assumption that (5) is a “quasi-logical rule” which connects the terms “good” and “evil” in such a way as to show that (1)–(3) is inconsistent. In conclusion If the above defended interpretation of Mackie’s argument is correct, it is clear that Plantinga gets the argument wrong, and so fails to undermine it. Plantinga gets the argument wrong because he presupposes that Mackie is proposing (5) not as part of what the traditional theist believes in believing (2), but as a necessary truth in its own right; and this, I have argued, is not what Mackie is doing. If this is right, it is evident that the widespread belief that Plantinga has “buried” Mackie’s argument is just wrong. To bury the argument, it must be shown that it is no part of the traditional theist’s belief in the infinite goodness of God that God eliminates all evil as far as he can. But this isn’t something Plantinga has as yet shown. References Dougherty, T. (2011). Recent work on the problem of evil. Analysis, 71, 560–573. Mackie, J. (1955). Evil and omnipotence. Mind, 64, 200–201.
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Mackie, J. (1962). Theism and Utopia. Philosophy, 37, 153–158. Mackie, J. (1982). The miracle of theism. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Plantinga, A. (1967). God and other minds. Ithaca, London: Cornell University Press. Plantinga, A. (1974a). The nature of necessity. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Plantinga, A. (1974b). God, freedom, and evil. New York: Harper and Row. Plantinga, A. (1985). Self-profile. In P. van Inwagen & J. Tomberlin (Eds.), Alvin Plantinga (pp. 3–97). Dordrecht: Reidel. Tooley, M. (1981). Alvin Plantinga and the argument from evil. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 58, 360–376.