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The value of freedom

May 17, 2007

The Free Will Defence claims it is possible that significant freedom is purchased only at the cost of evil. Plantinga defines freedom as 

“If a person S is free with respect to a given action, then he is free to perform that action and free to refrain; no causal laws and antecedent conditions determine either that he will perform the action, or that he will not. It is within his power, at the time in question, to perform that action, and within his power to refrain.” (Problem of Evil, 84-5)

He adds that 

“… let us say that an action is morally significant, for a given person at a given time, if it would be wrong for him to perform the action then but right to refrain, or vice versa.”

According to Plantinga, when a person is free to perform actions with moral significance, she is significantly free. Plantinga takes the following claim as a pillar of the Free Will Defence: 

“A world containing creatures who are sometimes significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all.”

I’m wondering in what sense he takes significant freedom to be valuable. Is it only a means to some other valuable end, such as the state in which such creatures freely perform more good than evil actions? Or is it also a good in itself?

In any case, what is the point of Plantinga including the part in parentheses (i.e. and freely perform more good than evil actions)?

I’m wondering if he thinks that God would create creatures with significant freedom only if he knows they would freely perform more good than evil actions. While he did not endorse such a claim, I’m puzzled by the inclusion of that part. Wouldn’t the free will defender be saddled with the task of showing that there is indeed such a surplus of good over evil?

This relates to Mackie’s objection to higher-order goods defences, including (I believe) the Free Will Defence. He argues that if God allows some form of evil because it is logically necessary for a second-order good, a problem arises: along with the second-order good (possibly) comes second-order evil. Wouldn’t there be (at least) a need then for third-order goods to justify the existence of second-order evil, and in similar fashion, infinitely higher-order goods?

Perhaps we wouldn’t need an appeal to third-order goods if we justify the existence of first-order evil by the existence of a surplus of second-order good over second-order evil? It could be the case that God knew that if he allows pain, more instances/quantity of courage (etc) would be shown than otherwise. However, such a response requires one to argue for the truth of a surplus of higher-order good over evil.

I’m more inclined towards another response to Mackie (albeit along broadly similar lines): the alleged regress of justification (i.e. infinitely higher-order goods) could be stemmed by rejecting the claim that the second-order good possibly comes with second-order evil. If this claim could be reasonably rejected, there wouldn’t be a need to appeal to third-order goods.

In the case of the Free Will Defence, let us say a first-order good (i.e. significant freedom) results in second-order evil (moral evil). The Free Will Defender need not claim that the second-order evil is justified by a third-order good (A) whose existence is dubious or difficult to prove (i.e. a state of affairs in which there is a surplus of moral good over moral evil), or (B) which possibly comes along with third-order evil (e.g. the formation and destruction of meaningful relationships). The relevant third-order good the Free Will Defender could appeal to is the *opportunity* to freely and significantly form one’s own character, build significant relationships and choose one’s destiny. These opportunities are arguably entailed by the first-order good (and therefore not difficult to prove to be true) and arguably come without the possibility of third-order evil. Suitably qualified, I think the existence of moral evil is justified by (though not logically required for) a higher order good. The qualification, I believe, includes limits to the kind and amount of evil that could be done by such creatures, the realization of one’s freely chosen destiny and that justice would ultimately be served.

The objector might say that opportunities in themselves are not goods, or in any case, not sufficiently good to justify the second-order evils. What is needed is the actual formation of good characters and significant relationships. But is this true?

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7 comments

  1. >>Wouldn’t the free will defender be saddled with the task of showing that there is indeed such a surplus of good over evil?

    Hmm Plantinga seems to be addressing this question when he answers “Is God’s existence compatible with the amount of moral evil the world contains” (“The Freewill Defense,”46), where he is trying to account for the apparent “vast amount and variety of moral evil”- that we can actually imagine a world that contains less moral evil than it is in this actual world.

    The Freewill defender only has to defend the following position: that God is unable to actualise a world with an equal amount of good but lesser evil, and it was done this way:

    (1) For every world W containing as much moral good as our actual world, there is at least one essence E, an action A, and a maximal world segment S’ such that
    (2) E contains the properties: is free with respect to A in W and goes right with respect to A in W
    (3) S’ is included in W and includes E’s being initiated but includes neither E’s initiation’s performing A nor refraining from A

    The freewill defender’s burden is thus easy because (1) is compatible to the existence of an ominipotent, omniscient and wholly good God.

    Hmm I think the gist is this: God cannot actualise a world that contains more moral good than ours, given his omnipotence, omniscience and wholly-goodness. And freewill given is such that given an equal amount of moral good, an equal amount of evil will result, given God’s inability to control the initiation of E in doing A. Am I correct? 🙂


  2. “The freewill defense” also tries to answer another question: “Is God’s existence compatible with natural evil?”
    Two answers were offered: (1) “Some people deal creatively withy certain kinds of hardship or suffering, acting in such a way that on balance the whole state of affairs is valuable”; and (2) Augustine’s explanation: God’s punishment aside, natural evil is the act of Satan. (Plantinga also emphasized that Augustine offered this explanation as theodicy rather than defense. (48-49)


  3. Interesting post!

    Jason can we put down in point form?:

    1. 1st order good: significant freedom
    2. 1st order evil: sufferings
    3. second order good: cultivation of virtues
    4. second order evil: moral evil
    5. 3rd order good: eg. the destruction of meaningful relationships
    6. 3rd order evil: eg. the destruction of meaningful relationships
    Pronounced stemmed.

    If I understand you correctly, you are saying that the 3rd order evil can be explained by 1st order good: and thus in this example, the destruction of meaning relationship can be explained by significant freedom. Kind of strange, or did i get you wrong? 🙂


  4. interesting comments, bendick! just a quick clarification about comment 3 first:

    my claim is that

    1st-order good: significant freedom
    2nd-order good
    (which requires 1st-order good): moral good
    2nd-order evil: moral evil
    3rd-order good: opportunities to to freely and significantly form one’s own character, build significant relationships and choose one’s destiny.
    3rd-order evil: none

    if this is right, there need be no regress. One might argue that there are 4th-order evils and goods (destruction and formation of meaningful relationships, formation of good and bad characters, etc), thereby suggesting that we need some 5th-order good and so on.

    however, such an argument fails to understand the claim. This is because there is no 3rd-order evil which comes along with 3rd-order good and thus there is no need to appeal to 4th order goods to justify 3rd-order evils. If there are 4th-order evils, it is a separate issue and need not affect the justification of 2nd-order evils by the postulated 3rd-order good. I think the 4th-order evils can be justified by the 3rd-order good in the sense that even if for creatures to have such opportunities, such evil might result, the opportunities are worth it (recall qualifier). i’d love to hear your thoughts on this 🙂


  5. >> This is because there is no 3rd-order evil which comes along with 3rd-order good…

    Thanks for the clarification. I think i understand a bit, but lets see if it is for the same reason by asking a question: Perhaps lets do the bribing thought experiment and see how it applies:

    1st-order good: significant freedom
    2nd-order good: integrity shown in rejecting the bribe
    2nd-order evil: greed manifested in accepting the bribe
    3rd-order good: opportunities of significantly forming one’s integrity

    3rd-order evil seems here to be the refusal to accept opportunities to significantly form one’s integrity? 🙂


  6. “I think the gist is this: God cannot actualise a world that contains more moral good than ours, given his omnipotence, omniscience and wholly-goodness. And freewill given is such that given an equal amount of moral good, an equal amount of evil will result, given God’s inability to control the initiation of E in doing A. Am I correct?”

    — I think we must add “possibly” to “God cannot actualise…” and “given an equal amount…”

    “3rd-order evil seems here to be the refusal to accept opportunities to significantly form one’s integrity?”

    — I wouldn’t take that as a 3rd-order evil but a fourth order one. The refusal to accept such opportunities wouldn’t not negate one’s being given such opportunities.


  7. Oh ok! Now for the interesting point that Mackie pointed out about the problem with Plantinga’s modal logic,
    (The Miracle of Theism, 58-59):

    A1 We can imagine a world where maximal excellence is exemplified. (Maximal excellence= 2 omnis + perfectly good)

    A2 We can also imagine all possible worlds where maximal excellence is exemplified. Thus we have maximal greatness.

    A3 This is not internally self-contradictory and is thus logically possible.

    How do we refute that? – The “No-maximality” method.

    B1 We can imagine a world where there is no maximal excellence.

    B2 The existence of this world means there is no maximal greatness.

    B3 Which is also not internally self-contradictory and thus logically possible.

    A and B does not agree. Therefore even plantinga admits that this is “not a successful piece of natural theology.” (p58)

    This applies to greatest evil as well, if i remember accurately what jonathan said to me once:

    C1 we can imagine a world where the greatest evil is exemplified
    C2 the existence of the greatest evil means there is no maximal greatness.
    C3 which is not internally self-contradictory and thus logically possible

    A and C also does not agree. 🙂



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