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Title: Horrendous evils and the ethical perfection of God
Author: Vitale, Vincent Raphael
ISNI:       0000 0003 8452 2457
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2012
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Horrendous evils pose distinctive challenges for belief in an ethically perfect God. To home in on these challenges, I construct an ethical framework for theodicy by sketching four cases of human action where horrors are either caused, permitted, or risked, either for pure benefit (i.e., a benefit that does not avert a still greater harm) or for harm avoidance. I then bring the framework and the moral valuations confirmed by this casuistry to bear on the project of theodicy. I construct four analogous structures – one for each case – and identify examples of each structure in theodicies in contemporary philosophy of religion. I summarize each theodicy and evaluate whether it is structurally promising with respect to horrendous evils. That is, if the proposed interconnected set of facts and reasons were true, would God be ethically in the clear? My initial conclusions impugn the dominant structural approach of depicting God as causing or permitting horrors in individual lives for the sake of some merely pure benefit. This approach is insensitive to relevant asymmetries in the justificatory demands made by horrendous and non-horrendous evil and in the justificatory work done by averting harm and bestowing pure benefit. I next argue that the structurally promising theodicies I have identified are implausible due to their overestimation of the extent to which finite human agents can bear primary responsibility for horrendous evils and their underestimation of the importance for theodicy of being consonant with a broadly Darwinian approach to evolutionary theory. The project of theodicy is in trouble. The second half of my thesis develops an approach to theodicy that falls outside my proffered taxonomy. Following a suggestion of Leibniz, Robert Adams has argued that theodicy can be aided by the insight that almost all of the evil of the actual world is metaphysically necessary for the community of actual world inhabitants to be comprised of the specific individuals who comprise it. Beginning with this insight, I develop (what I term) Non-Identity Theodicy. It suggests that God allows the evil he does in order to create and love the specific individuals comprising the community of inhabitants of the actual world. This approach to theodicy is unique because the justifying good recommended is neither harm-aversion nor pure benefit. It is not a good that betters the lives of individual human persons (for they wouldn’t exist otherwise), but it is the individual human persons themselves. In order to aim successfully at the creation of particular individuals, however, God would need a control of history so complete that it might be argued to be inconsistent with beliefs about human free will that are important to some theologies. I construct a second version of Non-Identity Theodicy designed to avoid this problem by considering whether God’s justifying motivation for allowing the evil of this world could be his aiming for beings of our type, even if it could not be his aiming for particular individuals. I suggest that God would be interested in loving those he creates under various descriptions (e.g., biological, psychological, and narrative descriptions), and argue that a horror-prone environment is necessary for us to be the type of being we are under each of the descriptions. I assess the structural promise and plausibility of Non-Identity Theodicy. In order to do so, I engage with Derek Parfit’s non-identity problem and with some influential assumptions in the ethics of procreation literature. I end by recapping what I take to be the key areas of overemphasis and under-emphasis in contemporary theodicy.
Supervisor: Lodge, Paul ; Adams, Marilyn McCord ; Adams, Robert Merrihew Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Ethics (Moral philosophy) ; Metaphysics ; Philosophy,psychology and sociology of religion ; Philosophy ; Theology and Religion ; Christianity and Christian spirituality ; evil ; suffering ; problem of evil ; theodicy ; non-identity problem