Sunday, February 11, 2007

It could be our choice

Norm has a problem with a refinement on one of the arguments traditionally advanced to explain the existence of evil. The argument is that free will requires a genuine choice: a creature incapable of acting evilly cannot choose good in any meaningful sense. The question is why, if in the World to Come, when we will be free of pain, suffering etc, can we be in such a state then but not now: it seems possible that G-d can reconcile free will with goodness then, so why not now?

The refinement goes as follows: G-d follows a rule which says that no creature can have that state imposed on her without first going through a probationary period where some level of personal choice is allowed; that probationary period is life in this world.

Norm rightly asks why the rule only applies to moral state, and not to physical characteristics which are clearly imposed without consent. It seems an arbitrary distinction to make.

There are two things which immediately spring to mind. The first is, the physical characteristics can be completely arbitrary, because the physical world is an illusion, like the Matrix: our true self is the soul. Imposing arbitrary physical characteristics is simply one of the many clues that G-d leaves to enable us to see through the illusion.

The second thought is that, on the view that our souls are eternal and exist in the World to Come both before and after our journeys on Earth, our physical characteristics are chosen by ourselves, before we come down from the eternal world to the physical world. So that our lives in the physical world are journeys voluntarily undertaken, in order to achieve growth (which is not possible in the eternal, unchanging world) and so we choose our physical characteristics and circumstances in order to work on some particular aspect of growth in character.

The second thought obviates the need for the refinement of the argument. On this view, life in the World to Come is free of pain and evil because it is free of any change whatsoever, it is frozen and static. To achieve any movement or growth, one needs to descend to the physical world. Unfortunately, growth is not automatic: one may fail in the challenge one has set oneself. One may end up doing evil instead of transcending one's self-imposed physical constraints.


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