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Free will is a common theodicy, or explanation, for why there is evil and unnecessary suffering in the world. But, as The Tale of the Twelve Officers should make manifestly obvious, there is more under the surface. Free will is not a complete explanation of why an all-powerful and perfectly loving god would stand by and watch pain go by unhelped.
After reading Vuletic’s essay, one must ask: If free will is such an important feature of being human, than what exactly do we find personally wrong with the police officers’ decisions to not uphold their duty to justice? My response to this question is that free will is a red herring. If one of the police officers would have stepped up and defended the woman from rape and murder, that officer would not have changed the will of the perpetrator. Free will was not interfered with, or directly influenced. Rather, the police officer took away the free exercise of the perpetrators’ will. The will of the perpetrator to rape and murder the woman could, in all probability, have remained the same or even intensified after the police officer stopped him from carrying out his plans.
I think most would agree with me that this would be just. If it is unjust to prevent such acts as killing and raping, then one must wonder why it is just to take any sort of moral action at all.
So then, why doesn’t God intervene to prevent evil and unnecessary suffering? Wouldn’t he have a moral duty to do so?
In most literature, the idea that morality might not be universal, absolute, and objective is viewed extremely negatively. The lack of belief in such a morality is seen as nihilistic – a worldview of meaninglessness – and a rejection of morality itself.
Most people toss around the terms right and wrong to refer to all moral assertions. This sort of language indicates we believe there is a degree of objective correctness intrinsic in morality. Where does the authority or source of morality come from, I wonder?
First things first. Let’s point out there are numerous systems of morals that we could abide by. We could work towards bettering each other’s happiness, or our own, or we could strive for causing as much pain and destruction in the world as possible. There are many more moralities that could be taken up. If morality has this ‘correctness,’ then which one of them is correct? Which are better than others, and which is the best?
In order to grade and evaluate differing systems of morals, we need some kind of standard. This standard would check off how a moral system fares at achieving certain things. These certain things must be our goals, our desires, our values in life. Values are not universal, absolute, or objective, hence morality isn’t either.
Just because a large number of human beings value the same things does not mean they all do. We don’t all want each other’s happiness. In fact, sometimes we wish to hurt each other in the worst ways. And by virtue of being the creation of thought, morality is subjective, not objective. I agree with David Hume on this matter. From Wikipedia:
He distinguished between matters of fact and matters of value, and suggested that moral judgments consist of the latter, for they do not deal with verifiable facts obtained in the world, but only with our sentiments and passions. But Hume regarded some of our sentiments as universal. He famously denied that morality has any objective standard, and suggested that the universe remains indifferent to our preferences and our troubles.
So what, then, is the basis for morality? What rational reasons have we to be “moral”? None. There is no objective reason for me to indulge in anyone’s happiness or suffering. However there are subjective rationales for behaving ethically, though it is more apt to call them subjective motivations. Morality can lead to good, and that is why I support it, but that does not mean it has a purely rational foundation.
The basis for morality, as I outlined, would be a system of morals that would reliably lead to the fulfillment of our desires and values. More thoughts on this to come.