Looks at the problem of selfhood in Emerson's essay and relates that to relevance today, especially in religious belief in our increasingly-secular age.
A short essay, some selections from the essay, and some excellent questions for thinking about Emerson's ideas.
A short introduction to American culture about 1841, looking at Emerson's essay and its relationship to ideas of democracy, culture and the masses.
A Unitarian Universalist minister muses about the position of Emerson in that faith today, where he's often considered a "prophet of religious liberalism." - about the book and its author
- by Bryan Caplan - Kristen Rosenfeld - Piper S.
This discussion is divided into eight sections. The first isconcerned with some preliminary distinctions; the second, with thechoice between deductive versions of the argument from evil, andevidential versions; the third, with alternative evidentialformulations of the argument from evil; the fourth, with thedistinction between three very different types of responses to theargument from evil: attempted total refutations, defenses, andtheodicies. The fifth section then focuses upon attempted totalrefutations, while the sixth is concerned with defenses, and theseventh with some traditional theodicies. The possibility of moremodest variants on defenses and theodicies, based on the idea ofglobal properties, is then considered in section eight.
Starting out from this line of thought, a number of philosophers havegone on to claim that in order to be justified in asserting thatthere are evils in the world that establish that it is unlikely thatGod exists, one would first have to examine all of thetraditional arguments for the existence of God, and show that none ofthem is sound. Alvin Plantinga, for example, says that in order forthe atheologian to show that the existence of God is improbablerelative to one’s total evidence, “he would be obliged toconsider all the sorts of reasons natural theologians have invokedin favor of theistic belief—the traditionalcosmological, teleological and ontological arguments, forexample.” (1979, 3) And in a similar vein, Bruce Reichenbachremarks:
If a given, concrete formulation of the argument from evil appeals tocases of intrinsically undesirable states of affairs that give riseonly to evidential considerations, rather than to an incompatibilityconclusion, then, although the existence of God may be improbablerelative to that evidence, it may not be improbable relative to one’stotal evidence. Theists, however, have often contended that thereare a variety of arguments that, even if they do not prove that Godexists, provide positive evidence. May not this positive evidenceoutweigh, then, the negative evidence of apparently unjustifiedevils?
If the ontological argument were sound, it would provide a ratherdecisive refutation of the argument from evil. For in showing notmerely that there is an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfectbeing, but also that it is necessary that such a being exists, it wouldentail that the proposition that God does not exist must haveprobability zero on any body of evidence whatever.
But, of course, when one says 'solved' one means 'philosophically resolved.' All these mental machinations may be of little comfort to someone who is intensely suffering from some undeserved evil in life. This leads us to the second aspect of the problem mentioned earlier: the emotional problem of evil.
However, the existence of Evil leads to the questioning of the existence of an all loving and all good and powerful deity. The large amount of EVIL is particularly difficult to explain.
Premise (13) was the key premise of the axiological argument, which is accepted by many theists and non-theists alike. Premise (14) is furnished by the problem of evil itself. (15) follows by definition from (14), for if one grants that some things are truly evil, then one has admitted the objectivity of moral truths. Since objective values cannot exist without God and objective values do exist (as shown by the evil in the world), it follows that God exists. Therefore, evil in the world actually proves that God exists. This argument demonstrates the co-existence of God and evil without attempting to give any explanation at all for why evil exists-‑we, like Job, may be totally ignorant of that‑-but it nonetheless shows that the existence of evil in the world does not call into question, but on the contrary, implies God's existence.
It should also be noted that premise (8) itself is not obviously true. Some theists have suggested that while God could eliminate this or that specific evil without decreasing the goodness of the world, nevertheless there must exist a certain amount of gratuitous evil in the world if the goodness of the world is not to be impaired. Thus the probability that a certain specified evil is gratuitous would not aversely affect theism. Considerations pertinent to divine middle knowledge of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom also arise at this point. It is epistemically possible that only in a world in which gratuitous natural and moral evils exist that the relevant counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are true to enable God to bring the optimal number of persons freely to salvation and the knowledge of Himself. The atheist might say that in that case the evils are not really gratuitous after all: they serve the greater good of securing people’s eternal salvation. But if one allows a greater good of that sort to count against the gratuity of some evil, then that makes it all the more difficult for the atheist to prove that truly gratuitous evil exists, for how could he possibly surmise what in God’s providential plan for history does or does not contribute to the ultimate salvation of the greatest number of people?
For many people, the problem of evil is not really an intellectual problem: it is an emotional problem. They are hurting inside and perhaps bitter against a God who would permit them or others to suffer so. Never mind that there are philosophical solutions to the problem of evil-‑they do not care and simply reject a God who allows such suffering as we find in the world. It is interesting that in Dostoyevsky's Brothers Karamazov, in which the problem of evil is presented so powerfully,this is what the problem really comes down to. Ivan Karamazov never refutes the Christian solution to the problem of evil. Instead, he just refuses to have anything to do with the Christian God. 'I would rather remain with my unavenged suffering and unsatisfied indignation, even if I am wrong,' he declares. His is simply an atheism of rejection.
These same sorts of consideration will doubtlessly be relevant to the various permutations assumed by the external problem of evil as the discussion continues among philosophers. For example, Paul Draper has argued that naturalism is more probable than theism relative to the evolution of biological organisms and the distribution of pain/pleasure in the world. But Draper's argument hinges on three probability estimates which seem dubious in light of our discussion. First, he assumes that naturalism and theism are equally probable with respect to our general background knowledge (Pr (N) = Pr (T)), which we have seen reason to dispute. Second, he believes that the probability of the distribution of pain/pleasure in the world is greater on naturalism and evolution than it is on theism and evolution (Pr (P/E&N) > Pr(P/E&T)). But we have seen reason to question whether we are in an epistemic position to make justifiably this sort of probability judgement. Finally, he argues that the probability of evolution on naturalism is greater than the probability of evolution on theism (Pr(E/N) > Pr(E/T)). For if naturalism is true, evoution is the only game in town; but if theism is true, God had more alternatives. But this assessment is confused. What Draper's argument supports is the assessment that evolution is more probable relative to naturalism and the existence of biological organisms than to theism and the existence of biological organisms (Pr(E/N&B) > Pr(E/T&B)). But we have seen from our discussion of the teleological argument (chapter 23) that the existence of biological organisms (and, hence, their evolution) is virtually impossible relative to naturalism alone and that we should therefore expect a lifeless world given naturalism, which cannot be said of theism. Without his three crucial probability estimates Draper's evidential argument from evil founders.