Category Archives: ethics

Arguments Against Universalism: Justice Must Be Served, Part 3–An Eye for an Eye?

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Last time we discussed whether infinite retribution for even the worst of finite sins is just.  Our answer to that was, “No.”  Here, though, we’ll look at a more fundamental question:  Is retributive justice itself truly just?

In the first post of this discussion, we looked at the various types of punishments for transgression, and what purposes they try to achieve:

  1.  Restitution seeks to redress a loss.  For example, if you steal from me, you must give the money back.
  2.  Prevention or containment seeks to prevent a crime from happening again.  If you’re in jail for bank robbery, you can’t rob another bank (at least until you are released).
  3.  Deterrence seeks to prevent crime in the first place.  If I know I’ll go to jail for bank robbery, I’ll be less inclined to rob banks to begin with.
  4.  Rehabilitation seeks to retrain or reform a criminal so that he or she can become, in the words of the cliche, a “productive member of society” who will not be inclined to be a repeat offender.
  5.  Retribution is the notion that certain responses are inherently appropriate for certain offenses.

All of these models of punishment are more or less intuitively obvious.  Certainly a criminal should make restitution for his or her crime; prevention and deterrence are fairly obvious motivations for punishment; and while rehabilitation had been controversial for various reasons, it still is fairly logical on its face.  Retribution–that a person deserves a certain punishment because of what he or she did–is, however, more mysterious.  It seems to be uncontroversial and intuitively right; and yet it seems to defy easy analysis.

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Arguments Against Universalism: Justice Must Be Served, Part 2–Just Desserts

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Not that kind of dessert; but I couldn’t resist the visual pun!  🙂

Back here we began the discussion of the traditional argument in favor of Hell (and thus against universalism) which asserts that God is just in condemning to Hell the souls of those who are not saved (by whatever specific criteria that is determined).  In that context, we looked at the functions of punishment for transgression, and we came up with the following:  restitution, prevention, deterrence, rehabilitation, and retribution.  After discussing these various motivations for punishment, I concluded with this:

Hell certainly won’t rehabilitate the damned, since they are said to be damned eternally, incapable of reform.  It won’t give the saved restitution–if someone murders me, no amount of Hell he experiences will bring me back to life.  Further, whether I go to Heaven or Hell is traditionally said to be dependent on my own spiritual state.  In short, Heaven is not a “restitution” to me for getting murdered.  If I’m in a state of mortal sin, I’d go to spend eternity in Hell with the one who murdered me.  Prevention and deterrence are not operative here, either.  Fear of Hell might keep a living person on the straight and narrow.  However, after the Last Judgement, when everyone is either in Heaven or Hell, neither prevention nor deterrence has any further purpose.  The saved can no longer sin, so there is no necessity to deter them from evil.  Even if the damned were “let loose” from Hell, the saved can no longer be harmed in any way, so there’s nothing the damned can be prevented from doing to the innocent.

Thus, the only logic of Hell can be that it is a just retribution.  If an eternal Hell exists, retribution is its sole logical purpose.  Thus, in looking at this  issue, the question is not “Is eternal damnation just?” as such, but “In what way and to what extent is retribution, or more precisely retributive punishment just?”

Thus in trying to determine if it is just for God to damn certain people for eternity, we actually have two questions.  The first and most obvious is, “Is eternal punishment for one’s sins just?”  This is the question I’ll discuss in this post.  However, the very question brings up another, subtler question, to wit:  “Is retribution a just motivation for punishment at all?”  That question I will deal with in the next post in this series.

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Stubborn Highlanders Revisited, and Antinomies of Pure Reason

Aam still thinkin’ abit it.

We’ve been discussing free will in the context of universalism.  The notion put forth by defenders of the Traditional View of Hell (TVOH) in recent times has tried to defend God from charges of wantonly tossing people to damnation by asserting that the damned damn themselves.  That is, those who choose against God, who choose to reject Him, voluntarily remove themselves from His presence.  This removal from God’s presence is Hell.  To the objection that they would surely change their minds sooner or later, the assertion is made that it is possible to reject God permanently, that is, to make an irrevocable decision from free will.  For one to assert a universalist view–that all will ultimately be saved–one must argue that no such irrevocable decision, at least regarding Hell, is possible.  This possibility of eternally irrevocable choices is what we’ve been looking at.

Let’s briefly sum up what we’ve decided thus far.  Some argue that in the afterlife time as we know it no longer applies to saved or damned souls, and thus that their choices are not irrevocable over countless aeons, but rather made once and for all in an eternal moment.  Against this, I’ve argued here and here that this can apply only to God Himself, and not to lesser beings, even immortal ones in the afterlife.  Therefore, I’ve focused on whether or not a choice, can, in fact, be eternally irrevocable.  I began that discussion here and elaborated here.  I’ve used the whimsical idea that Connor MacCleod, eponymous hero of the Highlander movies and guest star in the series, has vowed that he will never, ever eat a broccoli fudge sundae.  I’ve further specified that he is truly immortal–he will live not just for an unimaginably long time, but literally for all eternity.  Can he keep this vow?

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The Lady Gaga Project

 

Because I live for the applause….  I do like it when I get traffic here and it’s great when my posts make people think, actually, but as to this post, some explanation:

Way back in the early part of my series on the Fall, I put a picture of Lady Gaga at the top of a post on theology and titled it by quoting “Bad Romance”, purely on a whim and the humorous notion that it might drive blog views.  I doubt it did that very much, but I got a kick out of it, and as it turned out I worked more ideas from the song into later posts.  I’m not exactly one of Lady Gaga’s “little monsters”, but I have a moderate fondness for her music (though the latest album is distressingly weak), and somehow I find “Bad Romance” compelling.

Anyway, I just finished my fifth post themed from “Bad Romance” and I decided I’d put them all here (in addition to the series to which the properly belong and under which they’re already listed).  The topics are not directly connected, but they circle around the Fall of Man and universalism, with a bit on dualism and the Bible, too.  Perhaps after reading some, visitors may be interested in looking back at previous posts in the sundry series.  In any case, enjoy!

Synthesis, Part 1:  I Want Your Ugly, I Want Your Disease

Synthesis, Part 3:  I Want Your Horror, I Want Your Design

Dualism:  I Want Your Drama, the Touch of Your Hand

I Want Your Psycho, Your Vertigo Schtick–Lady Gaga, Open Theology, and My 1500th Post!

I Want Your Love and I Want Your Revenge:  Hell

Confucius and Socrates

Confucius and Socrates

I’ve mentioned the term “Rectification of Names” before.  The term in Chinese is  正名, or in Pinyin transcription, Zhèngmíng.  This is a very important concept in Confucius’s philosophy, and in my view it is universally applicable.  The basic idea is that one has to have a clear understanding of the world as it is and to use this understanding to call things what they actually are.  In short, we are enjoined to be honest, and in order to be fully honest we must not only not lie, but we must describe things as they really are.  To this end, we must dispense with cant, jargon, obfuscation, propaganda, and so on.  We should call things what they are because only in so doing can we understand how we should behave in any given situation.  The paragraph below gives a succinct description from the Analects (courtesy of here):

A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve. If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.

— Confucius, Analects, Book XIII, Chapter 3, verses 4-7, translated by James Legge

Rectification of Names is a Confucian term, but the idea behind it, as I said, is universal.  One of the greatest proponents of this concept, though he didn’t use that term, was the great Greek philosopher Socrates.  The “Gadfly”, as he called himself, was so important in the history of Western philosophy that all Greek philosophers prior to him are lumped together as the “Pre-Socratics”.  Socrates himself never wrote anything–our knowledge of him comes from his portrayals in the dialogues of his greatest disciple, Plato.  In his earlier dialogues, Plato is considered to have portrayed Socrates fairly accurately, though later on he uses him more as a mouthpiece.  In any case, I want to focus here on Socrates’ discussion of what is known as the Euthyphro Dilemma, named after the dialogue in which it is discussed.

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You Pays Your Money and Takes Your Chances: Free Will (Index)

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Alas, my theological writings seem to be a series of matryoshka dolls.  In order to make certain points or establish the groundwork for certain areas relevant to the main topic, it is necessary to develop ancillary topics.  These in turn expand until in order to keep track of them I have to assign them series of their own.  This is what I find I’m having to do with my discussions on free will, which are necessary to the topic of universalism, which in turn is a big part of my series on the Fall.  Sigh.  Anyway, I decided I might as well index the posts on free will here, along with some even more ancillary posts I needed to develop the ideas there.  Thus, without further ado, my latest index!

If I Only Wanted To

Dream a Little Dream

Be All That You Can Be:  Potentiality and Actuality

Story of Our Lives

Stories Like Ours

The Divine Exception

Been a Long Time, Been a Long Time, Been an Aeviternal Time

Change My Mind (?)

Stubborn Highlanders

Sea Battles and What Will Be

The Divine Exception, Revisited

Simply Irresistible (or not?)

Stubborn Highlanders Revisited, and Antinomies of Pure Reason

Destiny, or Were You Meant to Read This Post?

Quote for the Week

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Better than a thousand hollow words
Is one word that brings peace.

Better than a thousand hollow verses
Is one verse that brings peace.

Better than a hundred hollow lines
Is one line of the law, bringing peace.

–Gautama Buddha in “The Thousands” from the Dhammapada as translated by Thomas Byrom; courtesy Wikiquote

Quote for the Week

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All true morality, inward and outward, is comprehended in love, for love is the foundation of all the commandments. All outward morality must be built upon this basis, not on self-interest. As long as man loves something else than God, or outside God, he is not free, because he has not love. Therefore there is no inner freedom which does not manifest itself in works of love. True freedom is the government of nature in and outside man through God; freedom is essential existence unaffected by creatures. But love often begins with fear; fear is the approach to love: fear is like the awl which draws the shoemaker’s thread through the leather.

–Meister Eckhart, Sermon VII : “Outward and Inward Morality”; courtesy Wikiquote

Quote for the Week

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If we should classify one by one all those who hate others and injure others, should we find them to be universal in love or partial? Of course we should say they are partial. Now, since partiality against one another is the cause of the major calamities in the empire, then partiality is wrong.

Mozi, from his eponymous book, Book 4; Universal Love III; courtesy of Wikiquote.

Quote for the Week

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If the rulers sincerely desire the empire to be wealthy and dislike to have it poor, desire to have it orderly and dislike to have it chaotic, they should bring about universal love and mutual aid. This is the way of the sage-kings and the way to order for the world, and it should not be neglected.

Mozi, from his eponymous book, Book 4; Universal Love II; courtesy of Wikiquote.