The problem of evil does not exist

Thesis

The existence of evil does not constitute evidence against the existence of God. On the contrary, it constitutes a condition without which God could not be God, and hence could not exist.

Argument

The conditions necessary for the possibility of an object existing do not contradict those necessary for the possibility of understanding the concept of that object:

Therefore, the conditions necessary for the possibility of a god existing do not contradict those necessary for the possibility of understanding the concept ‘God’.

But a standard condition assumed necessary for the possibility of god’s existence, namely, a world in which there neither was nor can be any evil, is one in which it is impossible to grasp the concept ‘god’.

Therefore, a world in which there neither was nor can be evil is not a condition necessary for the possibility of god’s existence.

Exposition

The condition of a world in which in which there neither was nor can be any evil is one in which it is impossible to grasp the concept ‘God’. That is, a world in which it is possible to grasp the concept ‘god’ is one in which there was or can be evil.

Proof: I am not concerned here with more philosophical definitions of God, but with a simple one present in every popular theistic religion: by a god, I mean a being to which one should pray. The two chief forms of prayer are petition and gratitude. Petition presupposes the possibility of deprivation. Gratitude presupposes the avoidance of possible deprivation. Deprivation is evil. Without evil, there is thus no concept of prayer; without prayer, no concept of God. Thus, the existence of evil cannot constitute evidence against the existence of God, as a matter of principle.

Corollaries

Eternity is not, strictly speaking, a world distinct from this. If the saints give thanks, it is because they have known evil. If they petition, it is because evil is possible.

The formulation of problem of evil requires some distance from evil itself. This is empirically confirmed by the growth of atheism in proportion with material comfort, i.e. the existence of atheism as essentially a bourgeois phenomenon.

God is called a father, as one who supports and protects; one in heaven, for the altogether simple reason that that is whence the sun and rain come, without which there is no life.

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New paper: The monadothergy

Today, I’m presenting an abridged version of the linked paper at the annual meeting of the North American Levinas Society, which I’m also posting in the My papers section of the website. Here is an abstract:

Abstract: This paper approaches the question of Levinas’ relation to philosophy by situating his understanding of transcendence next to that of Leibniz. After offering some preliminary examples, I detail the structure of transcendence in the philosophies of Leibniz and Levinas, focusing on Leibniz’s Principles of Nature and Grace and Levinas’ Essence and Disinterestedness. From here, I return to the question of whether Levinas’ thinking can be regarded as moving beyond philosophy as such. I conclude with some thoughts on what it would take for a thinking of transcendence to genuinely move past the maneuvers so characteristic of philosophical thinking.

***

The paper is in certain respects more offbeat than most of my other work, and doesn’t easily fit the content or tenor of many journal discussions. It is also one of the works I’m most proud of, mostly because it attempts to state something of lasting importance, and I think states it well. If the paper is read primarily as a comparative exegesis of two thinkers, then the reader may be disappointed. Rather, the aim is to open up an understanding of transcendence, and with it, of the nature of philosophy itself, through a comparative reading of Leibniz’s and Levinas’ texts. Approach this one in the first place as a philosopher asking philosophical questions, not as a scholar with scholar’s concerns, and you may benefit from reading it, as I have from writing it.

The Monadothergy

The Monadothergy figures

A rule for commenting on philosophy blog posts

A rule for commenting on philosophy blog posts

Before posting your comment, read each and every previous comment. Only comment if the point you wish to make has not been previously stated by someone else in some form.

The justification of the rule

A post, along with its comments, is the unified work of a collective body. While it typically has one principal architect (i.e. the author of the post), a number of individuals will make contributions to the final form of the work – primarily through its comments section.

As a work, the post, along with its comments, is precisely not a documentary of a moment in time, but rather, has something artificial to it. In live talk, a latecomer to a conversation might need to be updated on the previous topics of conversation, leading to considerable repetition; whereas in the literary form of a philosophical dialogue, such a newcomer may come across as having no such need, as though he had been listening in on the conversation all along. In the latter case, the shift from the spoken to the written word brings with it a corresponding shift in the character of the text, from the transience of the utterance to the stability of the written mark. The spoken word moves from absence to presence and back again; the written manifests itself simultaneously as a synoptic whole. As text, the work is a concrete unit of simultaneous presencing, bringing with it the impression that all of its participants share a panoptic view of it.[1]

Because of this, the post-with-comments is governed by the ideals of good philosophical writing in general: specifically, by the idea that powerful speech is parsimonious speech; and in particular, by the idea that redundancy is to be avoided. Repetition crowds out: it disrupts the integration of the various parts of the conversation, and therefore serves to obfuscate the whole rather than foster its clarification as a whole. Verbal economy, by contrast, promotes the essential integrity of the totality.

[1] This remains the case even when the standpoint of some of the participants is what we would call ‘incomplete.’ The standpoint of a Glaucon is incomplete not because it fails to grasp all of the parts of the conversation, but because it fails to grasp the whole in its fullness: the failure is a one of depth rather than breadth.

This is also a key difference between philosophical fiction and tragedy: in the latter, but not the former, one often encounters precisely this other sort of partiality, where the hiddenness of some piece of information sets the series of events on a certain course.

About my posts

Different genres of writing have different advantages relative to each other. Another way of saying this is that every genre of writing is inherently constricting. There is nothing wrong with this. In order for one kind of writing to be this kind rather than that, it must conform to certain norms regarding style, length, and even content whereby it is distinguished from other genres. Concomitantly, this means that certain matters may be more apt for certain genres of writing than others. For instance, citation-heavy work finds a better home in an academic article than a news column, even when it is treating some subject matter common to both media.

Today, the primary genre for philosophical writing is the journal article. Characteristic features of the article include its length (usually no more than 5000-7000 words), its breadth (relatively small – an article, characteristically, attempts to answer some small, manageable question that gets incorporated into a body of knowledge often oriented by some larger question or questions), and its need to be dialectically engaged with relevant and recent literature on the topic the article purports to treat.

It should be obvious that different genres lie relatively close or far from different dangers. The essay style dominant through early modernity, for instance, could easily lead to non-rigorous, superficial treatments of meaningful topics. And no one can seriously doubt that the concentration of philosophy in the form of the journal article has given inordinate attention to micro-problems (and occasionally even to pseudo-problems); that the proliferation of secondary literature on has obfuscated some topics more than it has clarified them; that length requirements have muzzled attempts to answer larger questions. If the philosophical canon consisted solely in the kind of philosophy written today, Plato’s Dialogues would be too aloof, Kant’s Critiques would be too long, Nietzsche’s aphorisms would be too baseless, and Rousseau’s essays would be too rhetorically bloated. Perhaps the only body of work that would remain intact would be the scholastic literature stretching from the 13th to the 17th century.

The posts of this page are just that – posts. This means, obviously, that they are not journal articles (you may access my articles on the my papers page of this site). Part of my aim in publishing them here has been to give voice to certain ways of doing philosophy that are very difficult, if not impossible, to do within the medium of the journal article. If what you see here is less polished than what you will find in an article, it is often more raw. If it is less connected to the literature, it is often more accessible to those who have no need for a literature. If its questions are occasionally too wide, no one will doubt that those questions are genuinely philosophical ones. My style will often rely more on personal experience and pithy observations than would be justified in a journal format. But this is just to recognize that such things have a place in philosophy, while still ceding to the article its place.

Lastly, many of the questions encountered in one way or another in these posts seek to shed light on the meta-theoretical structures governing the practice of philosophy today. What exactly, for instance, is referred to by the phrase “the literature”? What do the use of citation networks suggest about the way philosophical research is evaluated? What does it mean to characterize philosophy as a kind of “research” in the first place? For obvious reasons, these kinds of questions have no real place within the traditional media of the contemporary philosophical landscape.

That having been said, I hope that you enjoy what you find here. More importantly, I hope that it spurs you on to pay love and heed to that wisdom, forgetful though we are of it, in whose service we have been enlisted.