The Soul-Making Theodicy:
A Response to Dore

2. Our Obligation to Minimize Suffering

2.1 Dore's Utilitarian Balance Sheet

In the previous section, I set out the logical structure of the problem of evil and explained how an adequate response to the problem must encompass a convincing normative ethical theory. With that backdrop, I want to consider the first major objection to the soul-making theodicy. This objection is that free virtuous acts[2] are either not intrinsically valuable or are of insufficient intrinsic value to outweigh the intrinsic disvalue of an occurrence of suffering that evokes the virtuous response. The basis of this objection is that we are obligated to reduce suffering as far as we are able, but we are never obligated to cause suffering in order to evoke virtuous responses.[3] Clement Dore is the philosopher who has most persistently and skilfully wrestled with this objection, so my comments below will be restricted to Dore's treatment of this topic.

Book cover: The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis

In those cases in which a single virtuous act relieves an instance of suffering that was already evoking a virtuous response (such as a courageous response to suffering), Dore [1970: 120] offers the reply that net value is not diminished following the relief of suffering because the virtuous act of relieving suffering is at least as intrinsically valuable as any other virtuous act that the suffering may be evoking. Dore underestimates his case here, because all that is required for net value to be maintained is that the virtuous act of relieving suffering be at least as valuable as the suffering plus the previous response. So, for example, if the suffering in this instance has a value of −10 (on an arbitrary scale of value) and the courage evoked has a value of +15, resulting in a net value of +5, the value of the act of relieving suffering need only be greater than +5 for Dore's point to be made.

But even so, I think this argument of Dore's faces difficulties once the duration of the suffering and, say, the courageous response is taken into consideration. If virtuous responses to suffering are intrinsically valuable, it seems very plausible to suggest that one year of unremitting courageous bearing of suffering, say, is much more valuable than ten minutes' worth; that is, that net value is proportional to duration. But there must be some duration of courageous response-cum-suffering such that the net value accrued over this time cannot be exceeded by the value of a virtuous act of preventing that suffering. What this means is that if we accept Dore's reply, we are obligated, before relieving an instance of suffering, to consider the probable duration of that suffering if it were not relieved, in order to be sure that net value will not be reduced by our relieving that suffering. That we do not judge net utilities in this way, and that we even consider it immoral to do so, suggests that Dore's reply is seriously mistaken.

This is just one more problem that Dore could have added to his reasons for rejecting this utilitarian approach to human obligations. For Dore [1970: 121] concedes a similar problem with respect to numbers: If I know that my relieving an instance of suffering will render impossible numerous other virtuous responses that will occur if I do not relieve that suffering, then I am not obligated to relieve that suffering. This conclusion is unacceptable to the 'soul-making' theodicist. Also unpalatable to Dore [1970: 122] are the inferences that if my motives are not charitable, I am not obligated to relieve suffering that is evoking a courageous response and, secondly, that I am obligated to cause another to suffer if I know that this suffering will evoke virtuous responses.


  1. [2] This objection also applies equally to theodicies that a) claim intrinsic value for the strengthening of the virtuous dispositions brought about by actual virtuous acts, and b) claim intrinsic value for the strengthening of the disposition and the act.
  2. [3] This objection is advanced by a number of writers. See, for example, McCloskey [1964: 75, 1974: 75]; Kane [1970: 16] and Penelhum [1971: 239ff].

Copyright © 2015

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