Ethics and the Third Person--the fall of me

Introductory note from Jason Pratt: I am here appending in several parts some excerpts from an unpublished book of mine (not CoJ incidentally), originally composed late 99/early 2000, wherein I work out a progressive synthetic metaphysic. The topic of this Section of chapters is ethical grounding; and in the first several entries I analyzed crippling problems along the three general lines of ethical explanation, including general theism. After this though, I returned to the argument I had already been developing for several hundred (currently unpublished) pages, and used those developed positions to begin solving the philosophical dilemmas I had covered in previous entries. Along the way, I ran into a potential problem last seen back in my (unpublished) Section Three; but slotting that problem into my developing argument allowed me to discover that I should believe that a 3rd Person of God exists. Having covered some introductory inferences regarding the 3rd Person's relationship to the other two Persons in the substantial unity of God, I proceeded to consider some preliminary issues in regard to requirements for personal interaction between the 3rd Person and each of us, as persons; and I inferred that an encouragement to avoid accepting what we perceive to be contradictory, would be the minimum communication we could expect from the Holy Spirit. After considering what an intention to foster contradictions would involve, first for God and then for myself, I reached the topic of enacted human sin; and I began considering the consequences of my sin. This allowed me to also spend some time, discussing anti-theistic arguments from evil and/or suffering, in context of my own developing argument; after which I returned again to considering the relationship of sin and death in me, raising the technical possibility of annihilation. My conclusion was that although the technical possibility would always remain (just as it does for God in a way), I can expect (if trinitarian theism is true) that God will never annihilate me or allow me to be annihilated. An insistence on my part to continue loving and enacting my sin would, however, lead to progressively worse results in me; with this continual degradation being, ironically, a perverted shadow of the death that God (in the Person of the Son) sacrificially undergoes in order for any creation at all to exist (including myself.)

In my most recent entry, I turned my attention to the highest death that God undergoes: the sacrificial, loving submission of the Person of the Son to the Person of the Father, which eternally completes the active circuit (so to speak) of God's own self-existence. To actively share in this death would be tantamount to my salvation from my sin, and moreover would be the death-into-life I ought to have always been submitting to. (The fact that I haven't, and still to some degree don't, ends up perverting the other deaths I might otherwise properly undergo for the sake of life, especially other lives; those deaths of mine would and should have been following in the path of the Son as well.) This exposition, however, hasn't yet taken into account the problem of unjust suffering and torment and death.

This entry begins chapter 39, "the Fall", in my original text. Some side commentary I would otherwise relegate to footnotes, is included below in [Footnote] text. Where I thought a footnote would be too disruptive to represent in my main text, I have put it into the comments below instead; this will be marked where so.

.......[excerpt begins here]

In my previous chapter, I probably sounded as if I was waxing rhapsodic about death, and how great it was, and how much I need it.

In a way, I was doing precisely that. But I agree it seems specious for me to sit here in my comfortable chair, sniffling over whatever puny sins I have committed in my life and trying to resolve myself to Face Death Like A Man; when all across our planet tonight vicious rapes and murders and grotesque physical and psychological violations are being performed by human fiends upon people whom I cannot possibly have definite grounds for saying 'the victims deserved that'.

No, I refuse to argue that each and every victim of atrocity is receiving the just deserts of their own sins. There is no way I can possibly know that, and I staunchly insist that it certainly doesn't look that way to me--as it doesn't to most sceptics (as well as to most believers).

Then again, agnosticism on a topic tends to cut both ways: if I cannot possibly know that every victim is getting (thereby) what he or she deserves, then I also cannot possibly know that they aren’t getting it (thereby), either. That may not be a very palatable thought, especially to a charitable heart (such as I presume honest and righteous sceptics have); but that is the way the logical math goes--at least, from this direction. [See the first of the comments below for an extended footnote here.]

This is why I started with the one person I have any real chance of deriving the most accurate information about: me.

I know I do things I think are wrong. I know (especially after factoring in the arguments I have been developing throughout this book, concerning the existence of God and the properties of His relationship to me) that I deserve at least someof the sufferings which happen to me--not only as part of the self-consistent chain of cause and effect, but ethically speaking as well.

But: am I inflicted with sufferings I do not deserve?

It seems to me that this happens to me; and I think I can safely presume that you, my reader, also have had sufferings that you think you do not deserve. I don't mean sufferings for which you or I merely cannot happen to see why we would deserve them--within such a vacuum of understanding, such sufferings might (after all) also be something we deserved and perhaps even were sent to help us.

No, those inscrutable sufferings are not what I mean, although those are still important and worth considering in themselves.

I mean that I (and I expect you) have had sufferings happen which, as far as we can tell, we should not have had to suffer.

In my own case, the sufferings were not that great--not in retrospect, although emotionally they were intense at the time--but that does not change the fact that as far as I can tell I was truly a victim of the sufferings, and not receiving them as part of a punitive and/or purgative process related to particular sins of my own. [Footnote: For what it is worth, I do think I have also received, and still am receiving, some intense sufferings that serve a purgative purpose. I expect to receive more, too. But I am not talking about those here.]

I am presuming that at least some of my sceptical readers shall have had experiences of the same sort, and have drawn the same inferences about them: you did not deserve what happened to you as part of some punishment or purgation related to a sin of your own. Beliefs such as this (which I remind you I share) can legitimately be severe emotional, and even logical, stumbling blocks toward accepting certain types of theism.

Nevertheless, another piece of information should also be accounted for, when discussing the problem.

I might think sufferings happen to me, which I did not particularly deserve in relation to some sin of mine.

But I know that I have inflicted troubles on people, which as far as I can tell they did not deserve!

They may or may not have 'deserved' the troubles after all--I don't know that; but I do know that I was inflicting those troubles either in total disregard for whether the people might deserve it, or after essentially deciding that I was going to do it even if they didn't deserve it--because I wanted to!

Once again: however terrible the problem of suffering (and evil) is, I find that when I take my own actions into account the problem becomes, not less terrible (I think it becomes even more terrible!), but far more coherent, explicable and understandable in principle.

The question "Why do people suffer things they apparently don't deserve?" is not only difficult to answer, but any attempt to answer it can look as though the scholar is some sort of monster who advocates needless suffering.

But when I ask the same question from the perspective of myself, matters begin to smooth out:

"Why am I allowed to be some sort of monster who on occasion can and does instigate suffering which as far as I know is undeserved?"

I think I can say that the sufferings I unjustly instigate are (and so far have been) relatively small: but the fact of the unjust suffering I instigate, is the important point in principle; just as the fact that my own (apparently) undeserved sufferings are really quite minor, makes no difference to the problem in principle.

I do not know what you, my reader, think of your own actions. Perhaps you think that every single action you have ever taken concerning other people, or even concerning yourself, has been completely justified--not merely by your own flat wish that they be justified, but justified objectively.

But if you can think of even one action you have taken, that you not only didn't know whether it was justified but you didn't care whether it was justified, and you also know that the receiver of the action suffered because of your action--then you are in the same boat with me.

I have a ground for thinking that virtually all humans are in the same boat with me here; but it is not a ground I have 'grounded' yet, so to speak, and I may never be able to ground it sufficiently for you, so I do not apply to it. If you recognize that you are in the same condition I am, then perhaps you can follow along more closely; but if you do not, then I think it is still technically possible for you to understand why I am drawing the conclusions I will draw.

I am not basing my conclusions primarily on whether you or some other person actually must be instigating undeserved suffering. I don't have to talk about the sins of other people, to make this point. I know suffering exists which is to some extent undeserved--and that is the only fact necessary in principle for my argument to continue--because I know that I contribute to it myself. I am guilty of not basing all my own actions upon the constant resolution that I will never induce undeserved suffering.

Notice, by the way, that it doesn't even matter whether you and I agree over definitions of what sorts of suffering are or are not 'undeserved'. I admit, as shameful as it is, that I am occasionally willing to induce suffering, even if only very minor suffering, that I think is undeserved. This sort of admission of intent establishes the principles adequately.

Also, I will point out that if I constantly resolved to treat all actions I take as automatically justified, that would most certainly not solve the problem. It would perhaps fit into a reality where the only 'ethics' are intentionally invented in an individually subjectivistic manner; but I have already deduced that objective ethics exist which are independent of derivative reality--and my own wishes would count at best as part of that derivative reality.

This being the case, even though I could resolve to insist that whatever I choose to do is automatically justified by my mere intention of doing it, such an intention on my part would eventually entail resolving to set myself over against the objective standard of final reality--an usurpation which is not only impossible to ultimately succeed at (I cannot ever be the final standard for what is ethically right and wrong) but which in and of itself is just the type of action on my part I have been calling 'sin'.

I have deduced in previous chapters that I can possibly be, and actually am, a person who sins. Even if I disregarded that I am a sentient person, and that God is a sentient Person, then I could still account for the severity of this breach by describing it as a fundamental inefficiency on my part in relation to basic reality.

If I partially factor back in my sentience, the situation becomes even worse: I am intentionally acting in such a way that I am inefficient in relation to basic reality.

If I factor God's own sentience back into the situation, then I am describing a treachery which, in its own minor(!) derivative fashion, mirrors the cataclysmic results that would follow from the breaking of the divine Unity.

Now--would it, in any cogent sense, be love or justice to me (much more for any other people who have to put up with me!) for God to have created me in this condition originally?

Well, what is my condition?

I can willfully choose to sin. It makes sense for this capability to exist in me originally (or at least originally in concurrence with the development of my cognitive faculties), because the risk is a necessary corollary of my free will. If God creates a derivatively active entity, such as myself, it always remains technically possible that I could choose to personally transgress against the personal standard of basic reality, thus bringing upon myself the consequences of my actions--consequences which would reach deep into my relationship with basic reality, including my person-to-Person relationship. And if my relationship with basic reality becomes dissonant (it cannot ever become ontologically separate, for there is nowhere 'outside God' for me to successfully reach), then I shall obviously suffer something sooner or later.

To put it bluntly (and mechanically, in a reductive metaphor), this was not how I was designed to most efficiently behave.

It is therefore justice to me, if negatively so--it is another way of saying that some types of consequences necessarily follow from some types of events--that I should suffer for my transgressions: for my injustice.

Would it be love to me for God to allow me to suffer for my willed faults?

I think it would be love to me.

If I did not suffer from my willed faults in some fashion--even if the fashion was merely an ache of emotional conscience--then how could I possibly know I was doing something wrong?

In the Sam Raimi movie Darkman, the hero has lost the ability to feel pain, and is struggling to retain as much as he can of his humanity. At the end of a montage of frantic months-long research, he is so weary that his attention wanders while warming a test-tube over a bunsen burner. Without realizing it, his hand drifts over the burner, and he bursts into flame. But he doesn't feel it; he only realizes later that his hand is burning, from the sound and perhaps from the increase of light from that direction.

The scene is pitiful: the man, as a man, deserves to know he is burning his hand--so that he can do something about it!

In much the same way, I deserve to know that I am doing something ethically wrong; because without having some way to know it, I can never be in a position to responsibly do something about it.

Perhaps a mere warning 'of the conscience' would be sufficient?

I do not know about you, my reader, but I can testify that it is entirely possible for me to feel such a warning in my conscience--and then choose to smother it so I can get on with doing what I want to do! That smothering actively denies, and tries to cut off, my relationship with even what little personal relationship to God trickles through that channel.

What should happen to me then?

If you think I should be given more direct, and harder-to-ignore warnings, then I quite agree with you--but is it merely your uncharitable barbarity that prompts you to wish this for me?

Or is it, in your own degree, a perception on your part of what it would take to fulfill love and justice in me?

I, at least, in my moments when I am simultaneously rational and willing to take responsibility for my actions, say: such a result to me, such an increase of intensity of warnings, fulfills the principles of love and justice to me.

So, I can expect provisions to be built-in to me, so that it is not only possible for me to suffer to greater and greater degrees, but so that the suffering follows necessarily upon certain cause/effect sequences (be they natural, or supernatural, or any combination of the two).

But, these things could be true in potential even if I have never done anything to 'realize' that terrible possibility. Would God originally create me, so that I was already in the state I would otherwise willingly choose to reach by wishing (in essence) 'to hell with reality'?

No, I think this would be contradictory to His own standard of interPersonal willed intention.

Yet, here I am: in that condition of existence.

I conclude, therefore, that somehow, in some way, I have 'fallen'--fallen out of the ideal state God would have acted to create me to be in, and into the condition I find myself in.

[Next up: the Fall of Man]

[A very abbreviated and incomplete summary of the several hundred pages of argument preceding these chapters, can be found in my July 4th essay The Heart of Freedom.]


Jason Pratt said…
Back when I first posted this chapter, I hadn't realized that without dropping in a comment I wouldn't be registered in the blogger system for comment alerts--despite being the author of the post!

So, here's the registration. {wry g}


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