Monday, October 3, 2011

Is Molinism Utilitarian?

The moral theory of utilitarianism, in its basic form, is that whatever achieves the greatest amount of a particularly desired result is what is good and right to do. Hence, if the outcome is, say, greater human flourishing, or greater happiness, then any act bringing this about is good. Moral philosophers have long recognized the basic problems inherent in such a bare-bones view. But could such a criticism apply to Molinism?
It seems easily demonstrable it does not. First, Molinism is only a framework for understanding God’s omniscience. Hence, any criticism of utilitarianism cannot come against “Molinism proper.” However, many Molinists apply this teaching to the problem of evil, the free will defense, and other such areas. The charge made is in response to the somewhat common Molinist belief that God so orders the world to achieve the greatest number and optimal balance of those saved to those lost, all the while including as little evil as possible. This, charges the objector, makes such a particular conception of Molinism both utilitarian and unacceptable (and hence only this particular application within the problem of evil would have to be abandoned).
There is a possible defense that does not rely wholly on utilitarian moral reasoning. Consider that it is entirely reasonable, given some entity X’s existence being a good thing, that God prefers a world full of redeemed sinners in Heaven to a world where only a select handful come to him. In other words, it is a better world with greater good than the other. If this is true, consider also God would desire the salvation of every individual as he or she is. Now suppose God, desiring the salvation of every individual, could instantiate a world in which every person (no matter how many there were) would choose God and be saved. It is easy to suppose that God would then instantiate such a world containing many persons that would yet be limited in number (hence demonstrating no utilitarian concept is at work, but merely benevolence and love).
Of course, not all persons will choose to receive Christ and be saved. But since a populated world is better than a sparse world, God desires all men to be saved, and not all persons will be saved, it only follows that whatever world God instantiates will contain the greatest number of persons saved, given other certain goals (which we may debate amongst ourselves as to what they are). In any case, the reason the number is the greatest that can be achieved given these truths is not due to utilitarianism, but due to God’s benevolence toward every creature.
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  1. Hey Randy,

    I hope my question is not too tangential.

    You claim in your last paragraph that '... a populated world is better than a sparse world... .' Why should we think this is true? Why would a world populated by humans and God be better than a world populated only by God?

  2. Hi Aaron, it definitely is not too tangential! I meant that amongst created creatures, a populated world is better than a sparsely populated world. Indeed, a world with no creation and God alone is a good world! But bringing in a creation is itself a good state of affairs, and that's part of the reason I think God did in fact create.

  3. Randy,

    I am a bit unclear about this: 'amongst created creatures, a populated world is better than a sparsely populated world.' What, exactly, are you asserting here?

    Are you asserting that a world populated solely by God and a world populated by God and His creation are equally good, or are you asserting that the latter is a better state of affairs than the former, or vice versa?

  4. P.S. If you are merely asserting that, from our perspective, existence is better than never-existing, then I think you (1) assert too much [in the sense that, epistemically, I cannot imagine how one might *know* that this is the case], (2) strain the bounds of plausibility if you also accept a literal conception of Hell, since it seems patently obvious that one would rather never have existed than suffer eternal torture, and (3) ipso facto assert that an existing Aaron is in a better state of affairs than a non-existing Aaron, which is problematic because it is not clear in what sense one could meaningfully assert that there is a non-existing Aaron such that he could be in a inferior state of affairs- that is, unless you wish to venture into Meinong's Jungle, but I do not advise it.

  5. Hi Aaron. I am comparing between the state of only some created beings existing versus a multitude of such beings existing. This would prevent the direct comparison of the article between God and nothing vs. God and something, and would also not apply to existence being better for X than non-existence (incidentally, I don't think it's the case that the two categories can be compared, even ontologically, since non-existence is not a state that can have good or evil circumstances. We could only speak of what would be the case were those states of affairs to obtain and existence were in place, which would defeat our point here.), as these would be two differing categories. Hope that helps!

  6. Randy,

    Thank you for the clarifications. Though, I am not sure I am convinced that simply 'more' created beings is better than 'less'. Many questions come to mind, like: If more is better than less, then why not an infinite amount of created beings. Oh well, we need not get into that discussion as it is largely tangential to the theme of the present post.

    P.S. I would like to know your views on modal realism, modal logic, etc. Perhaps you could write something up or, if you already have, point me in its direction; or send me an e-mail, whatever.

  7. Hi Aaron, no problem! I agree this part will take us too far afield, but I certainly do not intend to say it is always true that more is better than fewer people, though I would say something like this with the qualifications "all things being equal." I think, and most Christians would agree, that God has other, ultimate goals in mind, and that these goals or objectives for mankind, at least in part, govern what kind of world God chooses to actualize. Obviously, the kinds of counterfactuals that would be true could vary wildly from world to world if the goals were different.

    Anyway, I do not accept modal realism as true, at least as understood by David Lewis (I certainly do not think there's another universe identical to our own containing a version of myself typing this with one extra comma six lines up, for instance), and I love modal logic (though I am confessedly no expert on the topic), hence "Possible Worlds." :) I will also send you an email tomorrow evening concerning a meeting! Have a great night!


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