god and utlititarianism

I just came across an inter­est­ing post from David Hunter at Pros­blo­gion. A while back I talked about the argu­ment from evil and the result­ing theod­i­cies that try to rec­on­cile the exis­tence of evil in the world with the exis­tence of God. Hunter argues that these theod­i­cies will only work “if some­thing like consequentialism/utilitarianism is true.”

To give a crude exam­ple sup­pose the free will theod­i­cy is being used as a glob­al response to the argu­ment from evil. Often at least some of the ben­e­fits of the exis­tence of free will will accrue to those who suf­fer from the neg­a­tives of the exis­tence of free will. But this will not always be the case, nor will the dis­tri­b­u­tion of these ben­e­fits be com­par­a­tive to the harms, some­times some will ben­e­fit very lit­tle but be harmed very much.

Giv­en this then a pro­po­nent of the free will theod­i­cy as a glob­al response to the argu­ment from evil must also endorse this unequal dis­tri­b­u­tion, and claim that some­times the harms to one are jus­ti­fied because of the ben­e­fits to others.

I claim (though I won’t defend it here) that most oth­er theod­i­cies face the same prob­lems, and that there are at least some evils which can­not be explained except by ref­er­ence to ben­e­fits to others.

Take for exam­ple the rape and mur­der of a small child.

I have heard of respons­es to theod­i­cies that cite the fact that God (by allow­ing cer­tain evils) seems to be using peo­ple as a means to oth­er ends (often thought of as immoral)…but this post seems to cite the more gen­er­al assump­tion upon which “using peo­ple as means” seems to be jus­ti­fied on: the acts are jus­ti­fied so long as it results in over­all ben­e­fit. And, as Hunter goes on to point out, utl­i­tar­i­an­ism is itself quite con­tro­ver­sial, and if many theod­i­cies depend upon this prin­ci­ple to jus­ti­fy their claims, then they need to either state this as an assump­tion or, bet­ter yet, defend this principle.

2 thoughts on “god and utlititarianism”

  1. Why could­n’t the assump­tion just be some exten­tion of divine com­mand the­o­ry that says that what­ev­er God com­mands, either ver­bal­ly *or* implic­it­ly, by [his] actions, is what is true, oblig­a­tory, right, wrong, or what­ev­er. Using peo­ple as a means (in the way you’re dis­cussing) is per­mis­si­ble, at least for any being like God (of which there is only one of course), while it is not for oth­ers. I’m a novice at this debate, but it’s a sug­ges­tion from the cheap seats! 🙂

  2. Well, I think that such a claim is real­ly just a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent response to the argu­ment from evil. Instead of try­ing to jus­ti­fy God’s actions (which seems to assume that what is good is defined inde­pen­dent­ly of God…so if some­thing that God does seems wrong, then we need to explain how it is nonethe­less right), the claim is that God’s actions don’t need to be jus­ti­fied, since any­thing he does is good in virtue of the fact that he is doing it.

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