Saturday, April 27, 2013
I've posted an audio version of an article of mine critiquing Peter Singer's "Famine, Affluence, and Morality" on YouTube:
Monday, April 22, 2013
~ The Problem of Good ~
“Leibniz’s solution of the problem of evil, like most of his other popular doctrines, is logically possible, but not very convincing. A Manichaean might retort that this is the worst of all possible worlds, in which the good things that exist serve only to heighten the evils. The world, he might say, was created by a wicked demiurge, who allowed free will, which is good, in order to make sure of sin, which is bad, and of which the evil outweighs the good of free will. The demiurge, he might continue, created some virtuous men, in order that they might be punished by the wicked; for the punishment of the virtuous is so great an evil that it makes the world worse than if no good men existed. I am not advocating this opinion, which I consider fantastic; I am only saying that it is no more fantastic than Leibniz’s theory.”
--Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy, Simon & Schuster (1972), p. 590
Zigur: Greetings, brother Zead.
Zead: Greetings, brother Zigur. May our lord Malus curse you and smite you on the Day of Pain!
Zigur: (Muttering:) Yes, I certainly hope so...
Zead: You hope so?!
Zigur: That is precisely the reason I came to see you, brother Zead. I am starting to doubt my faith, and have come to you for assurance and for counsel.
Zead: I am glad that you have come to me, Zigur. I will do whatever I can to strengthen you, and keep you in the Dark One's fold. Speak then, and tell me of the cause of these doubts.
Zigur: Well, we are told that the lord Malus is most evil, are we not?
Zead: Indeed, brother Zigur; lord Malus is supremely evil, the first cause of all misery and despair. Not only is he the most evil being in existence, he is that than which no fouler can so much as be conceived.
Zigur: Yes, that has been my instruction from the earliest age, and reflecting upon it has been the chief source of my doubt. If the lord Malus is as wicked as you say—omnimalevolent, as our Daemonologists put it—why do we see so much good in the world? In every nation there are some who thirst after righteousness, and they are not smitten. There are some who help the disadvantaged and fight for the freedom of the oppressed, and our lord does not strike them down. I know of some who go so far as to treat their enemies as well as their friends, and yet they prosper. And not only is all this the case, but the virtuous even outnumber the vicious! Why would the lord Malus allow this mockery of his unholy name? For we are taught that he is not only omnimalevolent, but omniscient and omnipotent. Does he not know of goodness? Then he is ignorant. Is he willing to suppress goodness, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able to suppress goodness, but not willing? Then he is beneficent. Is he both able and willing? Then from whence comes goodness? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him a Daemon?
Zead: These are natural questions, brother Zigur, but they have natural answers. Have you not been taught them as well, as a part of your instruction? Do you not know that the lord Malus, though he is wickedness itself, allows there to be some good men and women, so that they may suffer? Some of them receive their due punishment in this life, but in the next they will all receive the greater condemnation. Though all suffering is bad, the suffering of the virtuous is a far worse thing than the suffering of the vicious, because the vicious deserve to suffer and the virtuous do not. This is why the lord Malus, our most beloved Daemon, allows his human creatures free will. Virtue is not truly virtue unless it is freely chosen, and the same is true of vice. This is why he suffers anything good to exist; that out of it, he may bring a greater evil. This too is why we worship him: We also will suffer to satisfy his malice, but not as much as those who are good, for when the vicious receive less punishment than they deserve it is an offense against justice. Let this console you, brother Zigur.
Zigur: All that is well said, brother Zead; so indeed I have been taught, and O how I wish it to be true! But I am afraid that my doubt is greater than you may fear, and extends not only to the wickedness of Malus, but to his existence as well.
Zead: Your doubt is exceedingly great, Zigur! Yet I have in my power the means to dispel it. Surely you can conceive the lord Malus to exist, or you would not have come to me to help strengthen your faith?
Zigur: Yes, I can conceive it.
Zead: And surely you agree that we understand Malus, The Dark One, to be that than which no fouler can be conceived?
Zigur: Certainly, brother Zead.
Zead: Excellent, brother Zigur! It is now within my power to prove to you that our lord Malus exists.
Zigur: How is that?
Zead: I shall tell you, brother Zigur. Suppose that what you fear is true, and that Malus does not exist. Then, since we have acknowledged him to be that than which no fouler can be conceived, does it not surely follow that that than which no fouler can be conceived also does not exist?
Zigur: Most surely, brother Zead.
Zead: Now consider this: Doesn't that than which no fouler can be conceived, though we suppose it not to exist in reality, exist in our understanding, since we can conceive the lord Malus to exist, and he is that than which no fouler can be conceived?
Zead: But then, brother Zigur, it follows that one can conceive of that which is fouler than that than which no fouler can be conceived, a contradiction!
Zigur: How so, Zead?
Zead: Like this, Zigur: We suppose that Malus, that than which no fouler can be conceived, does not exist. But we've agreed that that than which no fouler can be conceived can be conceived to exist in reality, which is fouler. But then that than which no fouler can be conceived can be conceived to be fouler than it is—since it would be fouler if it existed in reality—which is absurd. Therefore our lord Malus, the great Daemon and source of all evil, who on the first day created darkness and saw that it was bad, most assuredly exists in reality, and not in the understanding alone!
Zigur: Your argument is wickedly excellent, brother Zead; too excellent, I fear, to be sound. Could one not argue for all manner of other evil things, in much the same way? Consider the foulest possible island, adorned with volcanoes, deserts, and thickets of thorns, and replete with the greatest possible number of inhabitants in the worst possible agony. Surely this island exists in our understanding. Now, if we suppose it not to exist, we can still conceive it to exist in reality, which is fouler. But the island than which no fouler can be conceived surely cannot be conceived to be fouler than it is, whence it follows that it exists in reality as well. Nice as it would be to know that it exists, I have heard no reports of such an island from any corner of the known world, and even if it were discovered, it seems to me that we shouldn't believe in it just on the strength of the argument I have just presented.
Zead: Surely we should not, Zigur. But there is a flaw in your reasoning: We cannot conceive of an island than which no fouler can be conceived, any more than we can conceive of a number than which no larger can be conceived. We can always conceive of a bleaker, more desolate and larger island, with a larger number of miserable inhabitants in greater agony, and for a longer amount of time. If our imagined island grows too large for the Earth's oceans, we can imagine it to exist on another, larger planet. You have already admitted that the existence of an omnipotent Daemon is possible, and so we may suppose that there are possible circumstances where he does exist, and as there is no limit to the foulness of an island which he could create, there is no limit to the foulness of an island which could exist, even if it could not come to exist by natural means. So there cannot be a foulest conceivable island, while you have already admitted that there can be a foulest conceivable being.
Zigur: An excellent reply, brother Zead! I must admit that my objection is vanquished, but my doubts live on. I have another worry: Couldn't one give a similar argument for a most perfect possible being, that than which no greater can be conceived? For it is surely greater if it exists in reality than if it exists in the understanding alone, and can it thus not be proved to exist by an argument exactly analogous to your own?
Zead: Ingenious, Zigur! But nevertheless, mistaken. I will tell you a secret: Those of us in the inner circle know a great truth; namely, that goodness, and hence “greatness” of the sort you have mentioned, is nothing positive, nothing existent in its own right, but is a mere privation, a lack of an evil which rot to be present in a thing.
Zigur: Which rot to be present, brother Zead?
Zead: Yes, Zigur; the perverted, those who seek justice and love the good, think that good is positive and that evil is negative; but their minds have been clouded, and the truth is just the opposite. They would say that what is evil or bad ought not to be present in a thing; which, though true, is not the proper mode of expression, for it can make one think that evil is merely negative, an opinion most abhorrent to us. Thus, we in the inner circle say that that which is evil or bad rot to be present in a thing, and that that which is good rot not to be present in it.
Zigur: I see. But isn't happiness good, brother Zead? And happiness is something positive, which exists in its own right.
Zead: Happiness is certainly good, but it is not an instance of goodness itself. That is, while happiness is something positive, its goodness is negative, being the lack of a misery which the happy creature rot to be suffering instead.
Zigur: Interesting. But how does that answer my objection?
Zead: In this way, Zigur: If a good is nothing but the lack of an evil which rot to be present, and a “perfect being” is one which is supremely good, it is one which must needs also be supremely non-existent. To be, is to be evil; to be good is not to be, in a certain respect. Whence it follows that to be perfectly good is not to be in any respect. So this being cannot be conceived of except as being unreal, while just the opposite is true of our lord. Does this satisfy you, brother Zigur?
Zigur: Indeed I am satisfied brother Zead; you have convinced me at last that there is a Daemon, and that I must have been a fool for my heart to say otherwise!
Monday, April 15, 2013
Now that The Hobbit has come out on video, I feel it's appropriate to re-post my lyrical review:
"Song of the Lonely Tolkien Fan, Or: There and Back-Before-it-Ended Again (Extended version)":
It drove them, greedy ambition bold/
To seek out treasure, as dragons did of old/
They slave away, both night and day/
To pile up stores of, ill-gotten gold/
Fans began feeling, that something wasn't right/
Their groans resounding, in the night/
The film was bloated, the story's soul was lost/
The movie tickets, had not been worth the cost/
The news would spread, it was a dread/
Those who like halflings, should read the book instead!/
Monday, April 01, 2013
Cross-posted at Scholardarity: Click Here
In this post I want to introduce the idea of a higher-order modal logic—not a modal logic for higher-order predicate logic, but rather a logic of higher-order modalities. “What is a higher-order modality?”, you might be wondering. Well, if a first-order modality is a way that some entity could have been—whether it is a mereological atom, or a mereological complex, or the universe as a whole—a higher-order modality is a way that a first-order modality could have been. First-order modality is modeled in term of a space of possible worlds—a set of worlds structured by an accessibility relation, i.e., a relation of relative possibility—each world representing a way that the entire universe could have been. A second-order modality would be modeled in terms of a space of spaces of (first-order) possible worlds, each space representing a way that the entire space of (first-order) possible worlds could have been. And just as there is a unique actual world which represents the way things really are, there is a unique actual space which represents the way that first-order modality actually is.
Why, though, should we adopt a framework like this? To motivate it, consider the fact that people have mutually conflicting intuitions about what the space of all (first-order) possible worlds is like. Does God exist in all, none, or only some worlds? Or consider the famous dispute between Platonists and nominalists concerning predication. Platonists think that at least some predications can be true only if objects exemplify properties, and nominalists deny this. They think that there are no properties, but that predications can still be true. For the one party, some predications essentially involve properties, and for the other none do. Platonism, if true, is necessarily true, and if false, is necessarily false. The same goes for nominalism. Either some predications essentially involve properties or none do. On the face of it, this is problematic for the view that conceivability implies possibility: Platonism and nominalism have both been believed, and by many very able philosophers at that. What is believed is conceivable in some sense, otherwise such “beliefs” would have no content. So both positions are conceivable, but only one is possible. Either way, conceivability doesn't imply possibility.
But maybe that's not quite true. Perhaps, though only one of these positions is actually true, and hence first-order possible, both views are second-order possible. So maybe conceivability does imply possibility—at some order or other. Related considerations might apply to semantic content and possibility: If we can coherently mean something, it can be the case—at some order or other.
And what is the accessibility relation itself like? Presumably it is reflexive, but is it also symmetric, or transitive? And whichever of these properties it may or may not have, could that itself have been different? Could at least some rival modal logics represent ways that first-order modality could have been?
To be clear, the claim is not just that some things which are possible or necessary might not have been so, but rather that the nature or structure of actual modality could have been different. Even if the accessibility relation is actually both symmetric and transitive, maybe it could have (second-order) been otherwise: There is a (second-order) possible space of worlds in which it is different, where it fails to be symmetric, or transitive. We must, therefore, introduce the notion of a higher-order accessibility relation, one that in this case relates spaces of first-order worlds. The question then arises as to whether that relation is symmetric, or transitive. We can then consider third-order modalities, spaces of spaces of spaces of possible worlds, where the second-order accessibility relation differs from how it actually is. I can see no reason why there should be a limit to this hierarchy of higher-order modalities, any more than I can see a reason why there should be a limit to the hierarchy of higher-order properties.
The accessibility relation is not the only thing that might be thought to vary between spaces of worlds: Perhaps the contents of the spaces can vary as well. While I presume that the contents of the worlds themselves remain constant—it makes doubtful sense to suppose that in one space an object o exists in w_1 and in another space o doesn't exist in w_1—we may suppose that the spaces differ as to which worlds they contain. Thus we might have a higher-order analogue of a variable-domain modal logic.
I do not expect this kind of framework to settle the issue of how modality at any order actually is—no more than I expect ordinary first-order modal logic to settle (aside from first-order necessary truths) what is actually the case. What goes for the actual world goes for the actual space of worlds, and for all higher-order spaces of spaces. What I do hope for is that it will, if it proves to be coherent, help to clarify the terms of the debate about the way modality is—to help us to state the issues, and to see their interrelations, as clearly as we can.
I think that's enough for this time. I'll leave the further development of such a framework for another occasion--or occasions—provided that you, my readers, think it merits further development.