Discussing Free Will, Evil, and Moral Responsibility

Photo Cred: Jack Horvath, with my iPhone

Photo Cred: Jack Horvath, with my iPhone

Discussed free will today in class (& evil). Basically broke up a version of the Free Will Defense into premises and had discussion after each one. Looked something like this on the handout

A Version of the Free Will Defense:

  1. God could have created any possible world God wanted to
    1. Why think this? Because of the definition of God we’re working with.
    2. Why should we work with this definition? Because then our arguments will have real world implications for actual religions and theistic traditions.
  2. But any possible world in which there are creatures with free will is better than any possible world in which there are no such creatures
    1. This is a really controversial premise, but let’s try to motivate it. Imagine a world full of puppies, bunnies, and kitties, but without any human beings. No hatred, but no love either. No murder, but no self-sacrifice. Is such a world better than one in which we have suffering? I’m tempted to say no. Better to have the evil if it brings with it such beautiful possibilities.
  3. So God was justified in creating a world in which there are creatures with free will
    1. Seems like this is true: if God couldn’t have done better than to create this world, then -- given that the only other option (not creating at all) seems clearly worse than creating something -- seems like God’s justified in creating a world with evil.
  4. But, for all we know, there are no possible worlds in which there are creatures with free will that are also evil-free
    1. This is a mega-controversial premise. This is where the question of transworld depravity comes up. Is it really the case that any possible world in which creatures have free will is a possible world in which there’s also evil?
    2. Note: this doesn’t require all evil (moral and natural) to be causally linked to the use of free will. Perhaps in order for agents to exercise genuine free will there needs to be real risks (like death), or perhaps we need to be able to see how our actions can affect others (cause them great suffering). This makes the premise a bit more plausible, but it’s still tough!
  5. Thus, for all we know, the actual world is the best possible world (that is: the world in which higher-order goods like free will are ideally balanced with lower-order goods, like pleasure, and evils, like suffering and death)

We discussed the premises of this argument pretty much the entire time. I took a moment to explain possible worlds (see the picture at the beginning of this post), and gave them the conceptual resources to compare these world to one another. I then ended by handing out a set of cases having to do with the connection between free will and moral responsibility (the other major topic we talked about in class this week). Here's the last such case (taken from real life), that I'll end with. Discuss as you like in the comments below:

Moral Responsibility and “Affluenza”:

On June 15, 2013, according to authorities and trial testimony, Couch was witnessed on surveillance video stealing two cases of beer from a Walmart store, driving with seven passengers in his father's Ford F-350 pickup truck, and speeding (70 MPH in a designated 40 MPH zone). Three hours after the incident, he had a blood-alcohol content of 0.24, three times the legal limit for adult drivers in Texas. Couch also tested positive for Valium. Approximately an hour after the beer theft, Couch was driving his father's truck at 70 MPH on a dark, rural road where motorist Breanna Mitchell's sport utility vehicle had stalled. Hollie Boyles and her daughter Shelby, who lived nearby, had come out to help her, as had passing youth minister Brian Jennings. Couch's truck swerved off the road and into Mitchell's car, then plowed into Jennings' parked car, which in turn hit an oncoming Volkswagen Beetle. The truck then flipped over and hit a tree. Mitchell, Jennings, and both Hollie and Shelby Boyles were killed, while Couch and his seven teen passengers (none wearing seat belts) survived, as did the two children in Jennings' car and the two people in the Volkswagen.

Investigators said Couch was driving a pickup truck between 68 and 70 miles-per-hour in a 40 mph zone. The four who died were standing on the side of the road outside their vehicle. Nine others were hurt.

Miller said Couch's parents gave him 'freedoms no young person should have.' He called Couch a product of 'affluenza,' where his family felt that wealth bought privilege and there was no rational link between behavior and consequences. He said Couch got whatever he wanted. As an example, Miller said Couch's parents gave no punishment after police ticketed the then-15-year-old when he was found in a parked pickup with a passed out, undressed, 14-year-old girl.

Miller also pointed out that Couch was allowed to drive at age 13. He said the teen was emotionally flat and needed years of therapy.

Lawyers for Couch, 16, had argued that the teen's parents should share part of the blame for the crash because they never set limits for the boy and gave him everything he wanted. According to CNN affiliate WFAA, a psychologist called by the defense described Couch as a product of "affluenza."