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The Argument from Tragic Moral Dilemmas

Here's another argument I'm toying with. It's a variation on the problem of evil. The basic line of thought is that there are tragic moral dilemmas in our world, i.e., contexts in which a moral agent must make a choice, but all available choices will ruin a good person -- they must choose something that is a moral abomination. The paradigm case of this sort of tragic moral dilemma is the central case in the movie, Sophie's Choice. Recall that in this case, the mother must choose which of her two children to hand over to be killed by the Nazis. If she refuses to choose, both children will die. (We can add that if she offers herself in their place, the Nazi soldier will kill all of them).  The argument can be stated simply as follows:

1. If theism is true, then there are no tragic moral dilemmas.
2. It's not the case that there are no tragic moral dilemmas.
3. Therefore, theism is false.

Premise 2 seems true. What about premise 1? Perhaps the theist could construct a theodicy or defense to undercut the premise, but what could it be? It seems that free will defenses and soul-making theodicies fall flat in such cases. What, then?

In any case, that's the basic argument. Thoughts?


Kirk said…
Hi EA,

My initial reaction is that the theist could try to resist (1) with an appeal to sceptical theism. The standard line would be roughly that we're not in a good epistemic position to identify possible reasons or goods which might justify God's allowing such tragic moral dilemmas. I think most of the standard moves in the sceptical theism literature would apply here (if we're taking tragic moral dilemmas as a certain type of evil), though I'd have to think about it more. And of course this reply won't satisfy those who (including theists!) reject sceptical theism.


-- Kirk
exapologist said…
Thanks, Kirk. Good thoughts. Although I'm not persuaded by skeptical theist responses, I'm inclined to agree with you that this is probably the theist's best bet here.

It seems to me that tragic moral dilemma cases are more troubling than many other cases of evil. Thanks very much for pushing me to start thinking about how to flesh out that "something more". :)

Tina said…
"It seems that free will defenses and soul-making theodicies fall flat in such cases. What, then?"

Could you elaborate on what you mean here?

Dr. Rizz said…
Hi EA,

I am not sure that the free-will defense wouldn't touch on the Sophie case since the Nazis would have had the freedom to not put Sophie in that situation. I think fw defenses suck for heinous evils, but fw considerations would be relevant to the case.

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