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The Soul-Making Theodicy:
A Response to Dore

3. The Existence of Gratuitous Suffering

The second major objection to the soul-making theodicy that I wish to consider is that, granted that soul-making serves valuable ends, these ends are possible in a world in which there is no apparently useless suffering. That is, it is possible for a world to exist in which there is no suffering that in fact fails to evoke virtuous responses. Since in such a world there is not as much gratuitous suffering, this world is clearly preferable to the actual world. In this possible world (call it W2), God prevents instances of suffering which he knows, if they were to occur, would not be dealt with virtuously. Dore replies to this objection in this explicit form, so I shall restrict myself to his discussion.

Dore [1970: 125] responds to this objection with the claim that for virtuous acts to be valuable they must be freely chosen and that this condition is not satisfied in W2. His argument is as follows.

. . . it is a necessary condition of a choice of mine to do X at time t being freely made by me that I have the option of choosing at t not to do X. But when I choose, e.g., to take pains to relieve your suffering in W2 it is false that I could at the same time choose not to do so, since if God had known that I would make this latter choice, he would have removed the opportunity for me to make it by never having permitted your suffering to start.

Book cover: The Evidential Argument from Evil by Daniel Howard-Snyder

Whether Dore's argument is valid depends on the correct analysis of 'I could choose not to do X at t'. I want to show that it is not valid irrespective of whether we accept a compatibilist or a libertarian analysis of 'I could choose not to do X at t'. For example, on my preferred compatibilist analysis,[4]'I could choose not to do X at t' means (roughly) 'I do not believe that if I do X at t then I will certainly, or almost certainly, lose something of great value to me'.[5] Now, Dore's demonstration that those counterfactual cases in W2 in which I would have taken the opportunity to choose not to do X, if those opportunities had arisen, never in fact arise, does not in the least show that, in those instances in W2 in which I do in fact choose to do X, it is not the case that I do not believe that the alternative choice will have disastrous consequences. So, on a compatibilist analysis, Dore has not shown that I could not have chosen not to do X at t. Consequently, his argument that I could not freely choose virtuous actions in W2 fails.

The same holds on a libertarian analysis. On such an analysis, 'I could choose not to do X at t' means (roughly) 'My act of choosing at t has no sufficient cause'. Once again, Dore's argument showing that those counterfactual cases in W2 in which I would have taken the opportunity to choose not to do X if those opportunities had arisen, never in fact arise, goes no way to demonstrating that in those instances in which I do in fact choose to do X, my choice is completely caused and so not free.

What I think we must do is reject Dore's presupposition here that if it is impossible, given the antecedent conditions (for example, the laws of nature in conjunction with the initial physical conditions, or God's omniscience and activity), for the opportunity that I would have taken to choose not to do X, if it did arise, to in fact arise, then I could not have chosen not to do X in those instances in which I did in fact choose to do X. That is, contra Dore, that the opportunity that I would have taken to choose not to do X, if it had arisen, never in fact arises, does not entail that in those cases in which I do in fact choose to do X, I did not have the opportunity to choose not to do X. I conclude that Dore has not shown that a world in which God prevents instances of suffering from occurring that he knows, if they were to occur, would not lead to virtuous responses is less preferable to the actual world. This objection to the 'soul-making' theodicy, then, has also survived Dore's criticism.

Footnotes

  1. [4] The point that I will make here will hold for other compatibilist analyses, but limitations of space do not permit me to consider these here.
  2. [5] The rationale behind this analysis is that our inclination to judge a paradigm case of coerced choice, such as a victim's choosing to hand over his wallet at gunpoint, as coerced is because the victim recognizes that he will lose something of great value, namely, his life, if he chooses not to hand over his wallet. Perhaps we should add the further necessary condition to the statement, 'I could choose not to do X at t', that I not be under some abnormal psychological condition, such as a hypnotic or drug induced state.

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