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04/29/2013

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Michael: I may be missing something, but I'm not sure that I see the worry. Suppose God exists and that God blames me for something I did. You seem to suggest that God's doing so couldn't (wouldn't?) be part of a conversation in which I'm entitled to reply. But why not? Perhaps an appropriate reply on my part is an apology, an expression of repentance, and so on. After all, Jewish and Christian scriptures often portray human/divine relationships in a deeply interpersonal way.

Interesting. I've been thinking of your view in a similar--though somewhat different--context. Absent God's relation to created agents, what of God's moral responsibility sans creation? Shall we still maintain the God is a morally responsible agent? The objections to Robinson Crusoe scenarios would seem to apply here with equal force. So I see two options:

(i) Deny God is essentially morally responsible. This is not ideal, because it would entail God is not essentially praiseworthy, which seems problematic. Plus, although it's not entirely clear what it means to say that God is a morally responsible agent, it seems odd--also in a not entirely clear way--to say God is not a morally responsible agent. I guess it depends on how much other metaphysics you think is built into moral responsibility.

(ii) Affirm that God is essentially morally responsible sans creation, but affirm that God is, in some sense, more than one person. This has the potential for a slick argument for a Trinitarian conception of God.

Hi Michael,

Interesting question. Its been long enough since I've read your book, so I may be misremembering some of the technical apparatus. But at first glance I see no incompatibility. First, the Hebrew scriptures are replete with God making covenants (binding agreements, with promises for each party to uphold their side of the bargain). God made covenants with Abraham, Noah, Moses, David, Solomon, etc. One way of understanding this is God placing himself under obligation to those engaged. Thus, Abraham, for example, can call God to account. Second, there *are* famous stories of humans calling God to account: namely Job and Habakkuk (both of whom question God's justice (Job questions the justice of God's treatment of him and Habakkuk questions the justice of God's treatment of Israel). And interestingly God responds to both charges. Now how to understand these passages is hotly debated, but one might understand them along your conversational model: God answers the charge and defends his justice, showing that he has not violated any obligations. Finally, many take St Paul's Letter to the Romans (i) to be his most important work and (ii) to be a sustained defense of God's justice, specifically his fidelity to the covenants he made with Israel (Wolterstorff has some interesting work on this issue).

If one buys these interpretations, then it seems that God can be called to account: otherwise why would God and Paul take such pains to defend him?

Hi Michael

Cool post. I've been having similar thoughts today. I think the interpersonal model is ill-suited to a capture a person's relationship to God. Like you say, the moral community is made up of moral equals. We could also think the moral community is made of up agents of similar abilities. And it seems that God's abilities are over and beyond any abilities that persons might have. So, God isn't part of our moral community. But I don't think that should be a problem for the interpersonal model. Rather, it should be emphasised as a virtue of it. The ledger view only really goes well with the idea that God's going to pass judgement on us in the afterlife. However, I think there's good reason to reject judgement and that applies whether your a libertarian or a compatibilist. So I don't think the ledger view's got much going for it.

Ben makes a good point. The disanalogy shouldn't be seen as a problem, but a virtue of the interpersonal model.

E.g., if the Judeo-Christian God exists, it does seem right that we are in no position to blame God. We are not God's moral equal. But God is at least as good as the best of us, and far better. So the "holding responsible" relationship between us and God might only be possible top-down, not bottom-up, so to speak.

Interestingly, in the Bible men swear oaths by God because God is greater than man, but God swears oaths by himself because there is none greater (Gen 22:16; Heb 6:13). Only God can hold himself accountable. And as I mentioned above, the interpersonal model can still hold true of God if God is a community of three persons, as Trinitarians think.

I don't see why 'S is morally better than me' entails 'I cannot hold S accountable.' What is about 'better than' or even 'moral perfection' that renders someone who is better than me or morally perfect out of bounds for me holding him accountable ?

It would be odd to think we should exclude those from our moral community just because they perfectly abide by our ideals.

I suppose I am with Justin (as I usually am): I don't see the worry.

I wouldn't put the difference in terms of God being morally better than persons, but rather in terms of God having much greater abilities than persons. I have trouble seeing how God and persons can interact given this difference. And my worry is less about persons holding God responsible and more about God holding persons responsible. That seems unfair to me, given that God's got all these powers that persons don't have.

Ben,

I don't see your last point. Are God's powers different than a person's or are they just the same as a person's but to a greater degree? If the latter (which I think is plausible), then I don't see how it can be unfair. I have greater powers in this sense than my son, but I hold him responsible when he hits his sister.

I think the issue Ben and Chad are getting at is that our relation to God would be asymmetrical with respect to the authority to *punish* (or reward, it seems). But that's not what interpersonal blaming, or holding accountable, necessarily involves. So while, as Chris says, I could hold God accountable (even though he's my moral better), in virtue of my communicated resentment at him being fitting (or more generally appropriate), I lack the authority to punish God (just as children lack the authority to punish their parents but still might appropriately be angry at them for ill treatment). So I think the conversational model could still obtain with respect to holding accountable, but this also reveals that punishment and blame/holding accountable are just two very different beasts.

(A very interesting related note: in the book of Job, Job keeps trying to have an accountability conversation with God -- "Why are you visiting all these plagues upon me, I, who am your most faithful servant?!" -- and God does finally respond, but he does so in a conversation-stopping way: "Where were you when I made the universe?" In other words, shut up and don't ask questions. Perhaps that's insufficient to count as a responsibility conversation, though, Michael?)

Following up on David's Job comment:

"At the end of the day, if there was indeed some Body or presence standing there to judge me, I hoped I would be judged on whether I had lived a true life, not on whether I believed in a certain book, or whether I'd been baptized. If there was indeed a God at the end of my days, I hoped he didn't say, But you were never a Christian, so you're going the other way from heaven. If so, I was going to reply, You know what? You're right. Fine." Lance Armstrong

Yeah right, tough guy. At that point your self-woven veil of ignorance will have been lifted and you will be begging for mercy just like everyone else. It would be insane to dispute God's judgment; the only fit response would be humble acceptance. This theist definitely favors the Ledger account.

Hi All,

Hey thank you for humoring me with this post. I'm not in familiar waters in discussing these theological issues, and I'd be happy to be convinced that maybe my interpersonal theory is able to take on belief in God (a god who holds responsible). I'd count that as a win for my project, since I want it to be as liberally applicable as possible.

So maybe Justin, Chris, and Dave are correct about all of this. I suppose I see now how one might contend that there is the right sort of "conversing" relations that could be regarded as apt.

That said, at least some philosophers executing an interpersonal theory seem to have a view in mind in which the moral community constituting the stance of holding responsible is settled not by a far more perfect member, but by the collective likes of us imperfect sorts. Surely this is Strawson's own view, and it seems to accord with remarks in the earlier parts of Watson's "Limits of Evil" paper. But truth is, nothing in my own developed view commits to anything like this. So maybe as an interpersonal theory, my view is consistent with theism even if other versions of interpersonal theories are not.

I admit, I am unsure about all of this, but your comments (Justin, Chris, and Dave) have helped a lot.

On the other hand, I do still wonder, as Ben, Chad, and Robert have remarked, if a relevant difference here, one that would make an interpersonal theory inapplicable to God, has to do with the extreme asymmetry of powers and of goodness (not sure it matters if it has to do with difference in degree rather than kind). And I must say, I regard much of the Bible as just really good story telling. Hence, I am not moved much by stories about Job and the like. I mean, it could be that these stories, wherein Job or others "hold God to account" and God answers, as if owing them, are just not true to what would be genuinely fitting as a proper relation to God (as between one who is blameworthy and one who is held to account and blamed by God).

Well, truth be told, I think responsibility is a distinctly human value, like the funny or the fearsome, and to the extent it is a function of human sentiments, God would get to play along only insofar as he/she/it/they shared those sentiments. Indeed, that's why Old Testament God could be eligible, as he gets angry and jealous a lot (and makes bets with Satan regarding outcomes he seems genuinely to be unsure about). But you're right, Michael, a genuine all Omni-s God would likely be an entity to whom we lowly humans couldn't genuinely relate in the way rendering various responsibility responses fitting.

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