Monday, 13 September 2010

The Problem of Evil

Suppose that you found yourself at school or university in a dormitory. Things are not too good. The roof leaks, there are rats about, the food is almost inedible, some students in fact starve to death. There is a closed door in the corner, behind which is management, but the management never comes out. You get to speculate what the management must be like. Can you infer from the dormitory as you find it that the management, first, knows what conditions are like, second, cares intensely for your welfare, and third, possesses unlimited resources for fixing things? The inference is crazy. You would be almost certain to infer that either the management doesn’t know, doesn’t care, or cannot do anything about it. Nor does it make things any better if occasionally you come across a student who declaims that he has become privy to the mind of the management, and is assured that the management indeed knows, cares, and has the resources and ability to do what it wants. The overwhelming inference is not that the management is like that, but that this student is deluded. Perhaps his very deprivations have deluded him.

Similar remarks apply to the belief that this world is a ‘vale of tears’, which is a kind of proving ground for that which is to come. The inhabitants of my dormitory might believe this: the management is looking to see how they behave in order to sort them into better or worse – indeed, perfect or hellish – dormitories next year. This might at a stretch be true. But they have no shadow of a reason to believe it is true, based on what they have got. All they have to go on is what they see of the management. And if he, she, they, or it does not establish good conditions here, why suppose that they do so anywhere else? It would be like supposing that since it is warm here, there must be a dormitory somewhere else where it is perfectly hot, and another where it is perfectly cold. The inference is crazy.

excerpts from Ethics, by Simon Blackburn

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