In this essay, I respond to Nick Trakakis’ “A Third (Meta-)Critique.” This critique is directed against my argument concerning the inadequacy of the traditional theistic argument from free will. I contend that the argument from free will does not ade
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Reply to Reply ON THE ALLEGED CONNECTION BETWEEN MORAL EVIL A N D H U M A N FREEDOM: RESPONSE TO NAGASAWA A N D TRAKAKIS JOEL THOMAS TIERNO Dept o f Philosophy, Community College o f Southern Nevada joel [email protected]
In this essay, I respond to two criticisms of my essay, 'On the Alleged Connection between Moral Evil and Human Freedom.' According to Yujin Nagasawa, I equivocate on the meaning of'moral evil.' I respond by offering what I believe to be an unobjectionable stipulative understanding of what counts as moral evil which is sufficient for my argument. According to Nick Trakakis, I seriously misunderstand the conception of freedom characteristic of free will theodicists. He suggests that my argument presupposes compatibilism. I respond by showing that my argument does not presuppose the denial of the capacity to have done otherwise.
In this essay, I respond to two criticisms of the argument developed in my essay, 'On the Alleged Connection Between Moral Evil and Human Freedom.' 1 I wish to begin by thanking Yujin Nagasawa and Nick Trakakis for their responses to that essay. It is very gratifying to be the gadfly.
I. Response to Nagasawa In, 'Moral Evil and Human Freedom: A Reply to Tierno,' Yujin Nagasawa's criticism of my essay focuses on the intension and extension of the concept of 'moral evil'. Nagasawa claims that I use 'moral evil' equivocally. It will be beneficial to reproduce the formalized version of my argument: 1. God created human beings 2. God gave human beings the capacity for choice 3. The capacity for choice underlies all kinds of capacities that few human beings realize
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4. We almost universally use the capacity for choice, at one time or another, in ways that bring about moral evil Therefore 5. There must be something about human beings, other than the mere capacity for choice, which accounts for the almost universal disposition to commit morally evil actions I agree with Nagasawa that there is a problem with the intension and extension of 'moral evil'. Traditionally, the categories of moral and natural evil are taken to be exhaustive categories. All evil is either natural evil or moral evil. Now, if all evil consequent upon the intentional actions of free agents is treated as moral evil, that would include cases where intentional actions lead to harms that cannot be reasonably foreseen. In any case, such harms must fall under either natural evil or moral evil to keep this classification exhaustive. Still, there is something odd about categorizing these evils as either moral evil or natural evil.2 Fortunately, there is no need to sort out the intension of moral evil in the present context. Nagasawa claims that in step 4 of the formalization, 'moral evil' is crucially ambiguous. To make the claim at step 4 true, I must use 'moral evil' to refer to acts that cause only 'mildly bad results'. The examples Nagasawa gives are telling a bad joke, telephoning someone who is asleep in the middle of the night, or telling children to wash the dishes when you know that they are disinclined to do so. If the occurrence of'moral evil' in 4 is understood in this way, then, Nagasawa argues, 5 does not follow from 4. The argument fails. Alternatively, 'moral evil' might be used in 4 to refer only to actions that cause 'significantly bad results.' The examples Nagasawa gives are killing someone, raping someone, and causing someone serious bodily harm. This understanding of 'moral evil', Nagasawa concedes, might make it possible to use 4 together with some other premises to derive 5. Here, however, a different problem arises. On this understanding of 'moral evil', 4 is false. It is simply not the case that many actions fall under this sense of term. Again, the argument fails. So, one sense of 'moral evil' is required for the truth of 4 and a different sense of 'moral evil' is required to derive 5 from 4. Nagasawa concludes that my argument is either invalid (on the first understanding of 'moral evil') or unsound (on the second interpretation of 'moral evil'). I think that Nagasawa's framing of the problem involves a false dilemma. There are many harms or injuries that lie between killing or raping someone and telling someone a bad joke or requiring a reluctant child to wash the dishes. To avoid triviality, the argument does not require the degree of severity of harm associated with Nagasawa's understanding of'significantly bad
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results'. By 'significantly bad results', Nagasawa really means something like life-altering bad results. I respectfully suggest that it is a matter of common sense that the adverse results of human actions do not divide neatly into, on the one hand, the life-alteringly bad and, on the other hand, the utterly trivial. Further, the harms that are counted as moral evil do not have to include utterly trivial harms to make 4 true. We can, in short, expand the extension of moral evil beyond harmful results of actions that are significantly bad in Nagasawa's extreme sense without extending it to include harmful results of actions that are only mildly bad in Nagasawa's trivial sense. Perhaps the best way of responding to Nagasawa is to provide a stipulative understanding of the kinds of results of actions that count as moral evils. To be satisfactory, such an understanding must meet the following three conditions: i It is not controversial ii It can be used at step 4 with the result that 4 is true iii It can be used at step 4 such that, conjoined with 3 and 1, 4 leads plausibly to 5. I think the following understanding of the results of actions that count as 'moral evil' meets these criteria: Suppose that a free action can be reasonably expected to cause a significant harm to a relevantly innocent party. Suppose further that there is no greater good that can be reasonably expected to follow from that action. Suppose finally that there is an alternative possible course o f action that can be reasonably expected to avert this harm without causing either an equal or a greater harm. Under these conditions, the harm consequent upon an action is a clear instance o f moral eviL I think we can unproblematically include such harms within the extension of the concept of 'moral evil'. If any harms meet the intension of 'moral evil', these harms do. They are uncontroversially moral evils. The essential question is this: Using this stipulative understanding of what counts as moral evil, is moral evil both significant (not trivial) and widely distributed? This is a factual question. I think that significant moral evils are widely distributed. Let me provide some instances of the sorts of actions that lead to harms that fall under this stipulative understanding. 1. 2. 3. 4.
Driving very aggressively Driving recklessly Driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs Telling lies about others
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5. 6. 7. 8
Acts of disloyalty to friends Acts of adultery Acts of gross insensitivity that cause emotional suffering Acts of intentional cruelty to friends, mates, and even relative strangers 9. Abusive forms of punishment employed by parents, teachers, and others who have authority over people 10. Other abusive forms of treatment of children, the elderly, animals and all who are powerless or dependent 11. Failure to pay child support 12. The sexual molestation of children 13. Acts of sexual manipulation where one person is unwittingly treated as a mere sex object by another person who knows that the first person does not understand that s/he is being used wholly as a means of sexual gratification 14. Acts of thievery 15. Acts of corruption in the public sphere 16. Selling drugs to children and to people with serious drug problems 17. Acts of assault 18. Misconduct on the part of teachers, lawyers, doctors, pharmacists, accountants, nurses, psychotherapists, automobile mechanics, used car salespeople, insurance adjusters, and many others in the context of their professional activity I believe that harms consequent upon the forms of action listed above can be unproblematically included under the extension of 'moral evil'. This list can undoubtedly be greatly expanded. Even these few forms of action are widely extended among human beings. I know that I have been guilty of some of these forms of action in my life. I have been the victim of others. The harms consequent upon these forms of action are often sufficient in magnitude for the purposes of my argument. They will make 4 true and permit 5 to be reasonably inferred from 4, 3, and 1. I think that other forms of action can be properly placed on this list that would exponentially extend the distribution of actions that fall under moral evil. Consider the following: 16. Buying the products of companies that employ Third World laborers, treat them inhumanely, and pay them poorly 17. Buying the products of companies that show a callous disregard for the environment in their productive operations
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18. Buying meat products from firms that engage in systematic gross mistreatment of the animals in their care 19.Buying the products of companies that engage in unnecessary and often excruciating forms of animal testing of their products 20. Cheating on your income taxes if you are economically solvent Undoubtedly, this list could also be significantly expanded. Each one of these forms of action is foreseeably connected with significant suffering. We often ignore these harms, or the potential for these harms, when we act, but that does not make the harms any less likely or less real. Nor does it weaken the connection between these harms and our actions. In this age of information, there is little excuse for the ignorance of those who do not know when such harms are related to their actions. These harms are foreseeable, they are significant, and they are connected with the actions of human beings on an enormous scale. Hundreds of millions of people engage in these forms of action regularly. Of course, the results of the forms of action that Nagasawa includes under his extreme understanding of 'significantly bad results' would also fall within the extension of 'moral evil' on this stipulative understanding. The harms consequent upon murders, rapes, and severe bodily assaults are surely themselves clear instances of moral evil. Again, this is ultimately a factual question. There is social scientific evidence that applies to this question. In 1991, James Patterson and Peter Kim conducted a study involving two thousand randomly chosen individuals. The respondents were guaranteed complete anonymity. Here are some data from among their results: 1. 7% of respondents said that they would commit murder for 2 million dollars 2. 20% of women say that they were raped by a date 3. 31% of married people are having or have had an extramarital affair 4. 33% of AIDS victims have not told their spouses or lovers about their condition 5. 91% of Americans lie regularly at work and at home If we presume that these data are roughly accurate, they strongly support my view about the distribution of moral evil that falls under the stipulative understanding given above. The view that the harms associated with the first
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four items on this list are trivial is untenable. The size of the classes referenced speaks to the question of extension. 'Women', 'married people', and 'AIDS victims' are sizeable classes. Considering just these three classes and just the three behaviors in question, we are talking about an enormous set of actions. In the last item on the list, the class is 'Americans' and the distribution of the behavior is overwhelmingly broad. Many lies, of course, are trivial. Still, in a group of this size, habitual dishonesty on this scale unquestionably includes many serious deceptions. These data indicate that significant moral evils are far from unusual. They are regular occurrences. They are commonplace! This seems a sufficient response to Nagasawa. My argument does not require an equivocal use of 'moral evil'. There is a perfectly unobjectionable understanding of what counts as moral evil that allows me to hold the meaning of that term constant and make my argument. On this understanding, 4 is true and 5 can be reasonably inferred from 4, 3, and 1.
II. Response to Trakakis In his essay, 'On the Alleged Failure of Free Will Theodicies: A Reply to Tierno,' Nick Trakakis argues that I seek a sufficient explanation for human actions that produce moral evil. That is false. Part of the responsibility for this mistake may lie with me. The dialogue between Jack and Jill, offered as a buttressing consideration in my essay and reproduced in Trakakis' essay, might be taken to suggest that the primary focus of my essay is on individual actions. Strictly speaking, however, this is incorrect. I am primarily concerned with a class of human actions. More specifically, I am concerned with the class offree human actions that issue in moral evil. The question is this: Why do human beings so often use their freedom to act in ways that foreseeably cause moral evil? As I said in my essay: The mere presence of a capacity does not account for the extensive exercise of that capacity. With the capacity for choice comes the capacity for all kinds of decisions and subsequent actions. We have the power to destroy ourselves. We have the power to live as celibates. We have the power to give away all of our earthly goods and devote the remainder of our lives to enlightened altruism - altruism that permits the satisfaction of the agent's survival needs. Some people exercise these capacities. The overwhelming majority do not. Is moral evil like this? No! Moral evil is something nearly all people do at one time or another. Reflect on this. How many people of your acquaintance, on at least one occasion, have acted for the specific purpose of causing another human being to suffer? The exceptions are few.
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Of the exceptions, how many have acted for a selfish purpose, fully recognizing that this would cause an innocent person to suffer? Probably most have. To explain these facts we must refer to something more than the mere capacity for choice. The capacity for choice cannot, by itself, explain a prevalent disposition for this capacity to be exercised in a specific fashion. The suggestion of this passage is that human freedom provides a convincing explanation of our capacity to make choices and select actions that produce moral evil. By itself, however, human freedom does not provide an adequate explanation of the distribution of moral evil that we actually find in the world. Again, human freedom makes all kinds of choices and actions possible. Human freedom logically entails that there is a sea of possibilities from which actual free actions emerge. Out of this sea of possibilities, human beings often choose actions that bring about moral evil. By selecting one of the alternative possibilities, these evils might be averted. The implications of this obvious fact seem to be lost on free will theodicists. Human freedom accounts for all the possibilities. It accounts equally for the possibility of both the possible choices we do not make and the possible choices that we do make. It explains our capacity to perform any of the possible courses of action, but it does not by itself explain the actual choices we ultimately make. It sheds no light upon the means by which one of the possibilities is selected for actualization. Freedom explains that we can choose; it does not explain what we choose. Hence, it does not provide an adequate explanation of the choices and actions that lead to moral evil. The argument should not be misconstrued to suggest that free choices can be fully accounted for in terms of a complex of sufficient antecedent causal conditions. The presupposition of the argument is only that some account can be given of the free choices people make. It is an error to infer that no account can be given for an act simply because it is free. Free choices are not properly treated as utterly wild events that are effectively random. It is not as if actions divide exhaustively into those that can be fully accounted for in terms of a set of sufficient antecedent causal conditions and those for which there is simply no accounting whatsoever. Talk of human freedom is a waste of breath in the effort to provide such an account for free actions that issue in moral evil. Human freedom does not explain, in any way, shape, or form, the actual choices we make. It only explains our power to choose. Looking around us, we can see that human beings use their freedom to bring a staggering amount of moral evil into the world. Moreover, they often act in ways that only accidentally avoid bringing more moral evil into the world. The capacity of human beings to choose from among genuinely possible alternative courses of action provides no explanation of the actual distribution of choices and actions that issue in significant moral evil.
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Again, the question is, why does investing human beings with the capacity for choice lead to so much suffering? The answer that we are free is not in the least illuminating. In fact, it seems to involve misunderstanding the question. So, then, am I asking theists for a sufficient causal explanation o f every action that brings about moral evil? No. Definitely not. I am looking for an adequate, convincing, or at least plausible explanation o f the disturbingly large class of free human actions that cause (or even might be reasonably expected to cause) moral evil. Human freedom cannot be used to explain this demographic o f free choice. Trakakis argues as follows: I wish to suggest that Tierno is guilty of a fundamental oversight. In particular, he has completely overlooked the fact that free will theodicists are, by and large, libertarians, and that on the libertarian conception of freedom no complete explanation as to why we (freely) choose one course of action over another is available. The libertarian can, of course, appeal to such factors as heredity, upbringing, and the environment as influencing one's choice. But to borrow from Leibniz's famous dictum, such factors can only 'incline without necessitating'. That is to say, there is no set of factors, independent of the agent's will or 'self', that can fully account for the agent's choosing one way rather than the other. Thus, explanations that seek to identify sufficient reasons for our freely made choices will inevitably be beyond our reach. In demanding such explanations, therefore, Tierno is asking for the impossible from theodicists of the libertarian persuasion. In an endnote he adds: Tierno, however, still seems to be in the throes of compatibilism. Only a compatibilist would seek a complete account of (or sufficient reason for) the relative distributions of potential free actions, and only a compatibilist could account for freely performed actions by means of an appeal to 'human nature'. Trakakis is, o f course, correct about what theists mean by free actions. I f an action that leads to significant injury is a consequence o f a natural set o f sufficient antecedent causal conditions, that injury is not even an instance o f moral evil. It is an instance of natural evil. It follows necessarily from naturally occurring conditions through the inevitable operation o f natural laws. I f I insisted on this form of explanation o f human actions that issue in evil, I would be a compatibilist. I f I were a compatibilist, I would be guilty o f refusing to allow free will theodicists their premises. I would deny that there are actions that occur under the condition that the agent might have done otherwise. My criticism o f the free will argument would then fail. My argu-
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ment, however, does not presuppose compatibilism. I believe that human actions sometimes occur under the condition that the agent could have done otherwise. I am focused on the distribution of actions that lead to moral evil within the larger class of actions that occur under precisely this condition. Frankly, I am perplexed by Trakakis' criticism. The suggestion of my essay is that the relatively wide distribution of genuine choices and free actions that issue in moral evil indicates something about human nature. In his reference to Leibniz, Trakakis appears willing to concede all that my argument requires: But to borrow from Leibniz's famous dictum, such factors can only 'incline without necessitating'. Perhaps Trakakis presumes that, from the perspective of a free will theodicist, an action that produces moral evil is unproblematic as long as it is not necessitated by the agent's nature. I think that is incorrect. Suppose that, considering the complete set of my natural dispositions, I am naturally inclined to act in a way that will bring about moral evil. Foregoing that action involves acting against my natural inclination. The natural inclination is not sufficient for action, but ifI do not overcome the inclination, the result is an action that issues in moral evil. If any action occurs under this condition that does not issue in moral evil, an effort of will is required to overcome the natural inclination. The stronger the inclination, the greater the effort of will required to defeat it. For the purposes of my argument, it is enough that there are frequently natural conditions - a factor, complex of factors, or differing complexes of factors in variable situations- such that, all things considered, human beings are naturally inclined to choose and act in ways that bring about moral evil. I do not mean simply that we are inclined to these choices and actions by some features of our nature. That would leave open the possibility that we are inclined to other choices and actions by other aspects of our nature, and, hence, the further possibility that, all things considered, we are not inclined to the choices and actions that issue in moral evil. My argument is that, considering the totality of our natural dispositions, we are sometimes inclined to choices and actions that produce moral evil. That there are such inclinations means that the nature(s) we have received from God sometimes disposes us to choose and act in ways that cause significant injury to others. These choices and actions are free in that they occur under the condition that we might have chosen differently and done otherwise. They are of theodicean concem because they evidence natural inclinations to choose and act in ways that bring about significant evils.
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Here is the crux of the matter. I suggest that the wide distribution, across cultural and historical boundaries, o f human actions that issue in moral evil indicates that there is something on the order o f a natural inertia to moral evil that we must actively and regularly oppose. Human beings frequently deliberate and choose under the condition o f being naturally inclined to act in ways that issue in moral evil. The prevalence of such inclinations is the issue. It is the issue even though the inclinations are not sufficient for action. It is the issue even though the actions are free. Free will theodicy places the broad distribution of natural inclinations to actions that issue in moral evil below the radar screen. It cannot comprehend the theodicean significance o f these inclinations in relation to the fact that we so often choose to act in ways that produce moral evil. I suggest that we should not expect to find such inclinations widely distributed among free agents that owe their existence to an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent creator. Further, I suggest that, given the Judaeo-Christian creation hypothesis, part of the responsibility for free actions that are in accordance with such natural inclinations lies with God. God, after all, is responsible for the existence o f these inclinations. They are logically contingent features o f our received natures. When agents deliberate, genuinely choose, and act under the condition o f being naturally inclined toward acts that issue in moral evil, God is not entirely off the hook even though those acts are free. Suppose that we are the handiwork o f a wholly good and perfectly wise divinity who can do anything that is logically possible. Should we then expect to be naturally constituted such that, all things considered, we are frequently disposed to act in ways that bring about significant moral evils? On the contrary, at the very least, we should expect our nature(s) not to dispose us to act in such ways. At the very least, we should expect the playing field to be level. The observable facts o f human experience do not support the view that we are on a level playing field. To make the same point in another way, responsibility for an act is not necessarily an all or nothing affair. Free will theodicists presume that if we bear any responsibility for an act, then it follows immediately that God bears no responsibility for that act. That seems wrong. Suppose that we are naturally inclined to choose and act in ways that issue in moral evil. If we perform those acts, we bear a measure o f responsibility because our nature did not necessitate them. That we bear a measure o f responsibility, however, does not entail that God bears no responsibility. God clearly does bear a measure o f the responsibility for acts that occur under this condition. He is responsible for the natural inclinations that dispose us toward those acts. The stronger those inclinations, the greater the measure o f God's responsibility. There is something odd about creating contingent conditions that one knows
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tend, in the final analysis, toward a certain outcome, and then claiming to have no responsibility when that outcome becomes a reality. I see no conceptual or logical error in my argument. I suggest that it is reasonable to conclude that the wide distribution o f genuine choices and free actions that issue in moral evil is somehow grounded in our nature(s). I do not seek to explain any o f our particular choices or actions by reference to a set of sufficient antecedent causal conditions grounded in our nature(s). We may grant to the theist that we are free and still ask what it is about us that accounts for the fact that we so often act in ways that lead to moral evil. This question does not become illegitimate simply because the actions we are considering occur under the condition that the agents might have done otherwise. I do not 'seek a complete account of (or a sufficient reason for) the relative distributions of potential free actions'. I do not seek a 'set o f factors, independent of the agent's will or "self", that can fully account for the agent's choosing one way rather the other'. Nor do I seek to fully 'account for freely performed actions by means of an appeal to "human nature"'. My argument does not amount to asking the free will theodicist for the impossible. I am concerned with the relative distributions o f different forms of potential free actions. Many o f these forms o f potential action are practically never realized. Others are widely distributed. One can ask why this is so without seeking a sufficient causal explanation of anything. I am also interested in the relative distributions o f actual free acts that issue in moral evil in relation to potential free acts that would not. Whenever we freely choose a form o f action that issues in moral evil, other options are open to us. We nonetheless frequently choose the acts that issue in evil. To ask why this is so is perfectly legitimate! To sum up, if freedom is more than a fiction, it follows that different actions are often possible for us. Many of the forms of action that human freedom makes possible are almost never realized. Others are very broadly realized. The fact that we are free explains equally our capacity for the former and the latter. That is all it explains. One of these broadly realized forms of action is action that issues in moral evil. Are these relative distributions significant? I think that they are. Is it reasonable to ask after the explanation o f these relative distributions? I think it is more than reasonable. These relative distributions cry out for some form o f explanation. Can they be explained by appeal to environmental factors? Not well! As I have noted above and argued in my essay, the cross-cultural and trans-historical prevalence o f forms of actions that issue in moral evil tends to undermine the credibility of an environmental explanation. Some might like to lay these relative distributions down as one of the mysteries of free choice. That seems
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evasive and unpersuasive. I argue that the most reasonable explanation of the comparative prevalence of genuine decisions and free actions that issue in moral evil is to connect these decisions and actions with features of our presocial nature(s). Again, this does not involve seeking a sufficient explanation for any of the relevant individual human actions. The possibility of such an explanation is logically ruled out. The relevant acts are~ee. What is sought is an adequate explanation of the broad demographics of free choice. What is sought is an adequate explanation of why human beings are so widely inhumane in the exercise of their capacity for free choice. Trakakis is simply wrong in thinking that asking for an explanation of these relative distributions involves denying those who advance the free will argument their conception of free actions. The question is why human beings so often choose as they do. The sheer volume of the class of free actions that issue in moral evil leads the objective inquirer to wonder why human beings qua human beings use their freedom so badly. I suggest that the most reasonable answer is that features of the nature(s) we have allegedly received from God often dispose us toward actions that produce morally evil results without necessitating those actions. On the supposition that we are works of God, it is reasonable to conclude that his creative activity is evidenced not only in our capacity for choice, but also in consistent patterns of choice that cross virtually, if not absolutely, all cultural and historical boundaries. Hence, free will theodicy fails to provide an adequate account of moral evil on the scale and in the distribution that we actually find in the world.
1. 'On the Alleged Connection Between Moral Evil and Human Freedom', Sophia, Vol. 40, No. 2, 2001, 1-6. 2. In my book, Descartes on God and Human Error, and, more thoroughly, in an unpublished manuscript that I have recently finished, entitled, Epistemic Evil: To Err is Divine, I describe in detail what I call 'epistemic evil'. This form of evil does not fall neatly under either natural evil or moral evil. My sense is that there may well be still other forms of evil.