Tag Archives: eloquent

John McTaggart

If it is suggested that there is no evidence that the universe is working towards a good end, the doubter is reminded of the limitations of his intellect, and on account of this is exhorted to banish his doubts from his mind, and to believe firmly that the universe is directed towards a good end. And stronger instances can be found. An apologist may admit, for example, that for our intellects the three facts of the omnipotence of a personal God, the benevolence of a personal God, and the existence of evil, are not to be reconciled. But we are once more reminded of the feebleness of our intellects. And we are invited to assert, not only that our conclusions may be wrong, not only that the three elements may possibly be reconciled, but that they are reconciled. There is evil, and there is an omnipotent and benevolent God.

This line of argument has two weaknesses. The first is that it will prove everything—including mutually incompatible propositions—equally well. It will prove as easily that the universe is tending towards a bad end as that it is tending towards a good one. There may be as little evidence for the pessimistic view as for the optimistic. But if our intellects are so feeble that the absence of sufficient evidence in our minds is no objection to a conclusion in the one case, then a similar absence can be no objection to a conclusion in the other. Nor can we fall back on the assertion that there is less evidence for the pessimistic view than for the optimistic, and that, therefore, we should adopt the latter. For if our intellects are too feeble for their conclusions to be trusted, our distrust must apply equally to their conclusion on the relative weight of the evidence in the two cases.

John McTaggart, Some Dogmas of Religion, London, 1906, pp. 67-68

David Lewis

If you think it would serve utility to ‘withdraw tolerance’ from such-and-such dangerous opinions, you’d better think through all the consequences. Your effort might be an ineffective gesture; in which case, whatever you might accomplish, you will not do away with the danger. Or it might be not so ineffective. To the extent that you succeed in withdrawing toleration from your enemy, to that extent you deprive him of his incentive to tolerate you. If toleration is withdrawn in all directions, are you sure the opinions that enhance utility will be better off? When we no longer renounce the argumentum ad baculum, are you sure it will be you that carries the biggest stick?

David Lewis, ‘Mill and Milquetoast’, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, vol. 67, no. 2 (June, 1989), p. 171