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The Glory Principle and the Humanity Principle

According to some versions of what I’ll call Augustinianism, God wills all things for his own glory. Call this principle, the Glory Principle (GP, hereafter). On a first read, the GP sounds perfectly pious; but, when we add that it includes God’s willing some proper subset of humans to hell, a non-insignificant subset of contemporary Christians strenuously object. I’ll call these objectors, Arminians. Now, Augustinians will say something like, “God’s willing some people to hell allows for his justice to be glorified.” There are of course many objections an Arminian could, and does, raise to the GP. One objection finds its root in Kant’s principle that we should never treat our fellow humans as a mere means to an end, rather than as an end in themselves. Call this principle, the Humanity Principle (HP, hereafter). It’s important to note that, for Kant, ‘human’ in the HP doesn’t mean only human persons like you and I, i.e., persons identical to or constituted by or associated with a human animal. It basically refers to beings that can engage in rational behavior and direct themselves toward ends of their choosing.

Now here’s the problem (or one way of putting it, at any rate). If God wills that some person S ends up in hell, and the end (purpose) of God’s so willing is his own glory, as the GP would have it, then, the objection goes, God has used S as a mere means to an end, and this is contrary to the HP. In what follows I want to push back against this objection. It will be my contention that this objection ultimately begs the questions against Augustinianism.

Allow me to first address two preliminary matters. First, I should say something about the GP. Some people, upon hearing the GP, are perplexed. They say, “I thought God was all-glorious, so how can he do something for his own glory?” Or, “God is in need of nothing, so why would he need to create people for his glory?” Such questions have been discussed in various dogmatic theologies, and it’d be beyond the scope of this post to look at these issues in any detail. However, to at least whet the appetite, I’d like to quote the Dutch Reformed theologian Wilhelm à Brakel’s response to these worries:

“The creature can neither add glory nor felicity to [God]; however, it has pleased the Lord to create creatures in order to communicate his goodness to them and consequently render them happy,” The Christian’s Reasonable Service 1:193-94.

“The objective which God had in view with predestination is the magnification of himself in his grace, mercy, and justice. This should not be understood to mean that anything can be added to the glory of God, but rather that angels and men, in perceiving and acknowledging this glory, would enjoy felicity,” ibid. 214.

“The purpose of election is the glorification of God. This is not to add glory to him, for he is perfect, but to reveal all his glorious perfections which manifest themselves in the work of redemption to angels and men, in order that in reflecting upon them felicity many be experienced,” ibid. 219.

Second, note that the HP is not saying that we cannot treat other humans as means. If this were what HP asserted, it’d be absurd. It would rule out that I couldn’t ask you for a ride to the store, for example. The principle states that we are not to use people as mere means to an end. Next, I wonder if the Arminians who press this objection would say that God runs afoul of the HP if he saves all people for his own glory? Here, we’d be saying that even an Augustinian Universalism raises questions about God’s character. If the objection has this consequence, it seems false—and so it looks like the mere fact that God acts for his own glory isn’t sufficient to generate our worry. But I’ll table this worry. Finally, some Augustinians might be tempted to object, right out of the gate, to the HP. It might be thought that God has no obligations, and so no obligation to honor the HP. Perhaps that’s the way to go, but before we play that card, I wonder if we can meet the objection on its own terms. To that I’ll now turn.

So the idea is that the Humanity Principle conflicts with the Glory Principle. Above I gave a rough characterization of the HP. But just what, exactly, Kant meant by the HP is notoriously difficult to divine. It seems to me that the flat-footed expression of the principle stated above needs to be Chisholmed, and many philosophers have done just that. We’ll forgo looking at the various proposed “Chisholmed” iterations of the principle. We can just work with some intuitive examples. I clearly don’t use you as a mere means if I use your arm to deflect a bullet into my head, thus giving up my life to save yours, even though I hurt you in the process. So, using a person in a way that causes them to be harmed need not violate the HP. If we apply this to the GP, Arminians will no doubt point out that I have harmed you in order to bring about a great good for you. This, however, is disanalogous to the situation with the damned, whom God “uses” to magnify his own glory, and they seem to reap no benefit from his action.

Another intuitive example of acting in compliance with the HP—and one that a majority of those who endorse the HP in some form or other accept—is that, in endeavoring to abide by the HP, we must constrain ourselves to only treat people in ways to which they could rationally consent (the reader may Google this criteria and see that it receives top billing). This is a principle that Kantians, Arminians—especially the Universalist wing of Arminianism—and, as I shall go on to suggest, Augustinians can accept. Let me explain.

First, the Arminian will take this above intuitive principle, like the previous one, to be inconsistent with Augustinianism. “How could anyone,” the Arminian will ask, “rationally consent to God’s willing them to choose hell?” I grant that there is an air of plausibility to this. However, as I reflect on this principle it occurs to me that one could rationally consent to enduring some great harm for the benefit of another, or for the great outweighing good that it brings about, even if they do not personally benefit from it. The plausibility of the above Arminian objection seems to find its home in the idea that we always favor our own interests. But while this may be a (sad) fact of the matter, and while we may, in some cases, be morally justified in favoring our own interests, we are not morally obligated (or necessitated) to favor our own interests (in the sense described above). So, it is conceivable that someone could rationally consent to their being used to bring about some great good, even if they do not personally benefit from it.

So, how would the above scenario play out in the problem that motivated us at the start? Well, take the debate between Jerry Walls and Thomas Talbott (I recently read a nice (unpublished) treatment of these two thinkers by my friend, and dogmatic Universalist, Steven Nemeș, who presents a particularly powerful statement of this objection). Talbott argues that in hell God will be able to convince those that populate it that they are making the wrong choice, and that turning toward God is what is good for them. Standing in this “intellectualist” tradition, Steven Nemeș argues “that persuasion is possible where two parties are disagreed so long as the disagreement is grounded in intellect. If Walls and I disagree about something, and intellect alone is the source of our disagreement, then we can convince each other, assuming that sufficient evidence is available.” Now, Walls disagrees with this assessment, but only because Walls thinks such persuasion would conflict with the libertarian freedom the damned possess. Walls would agree that, given compatibilism, God could rationally persuade people to freely consent to God’s treatment of them.

And with this lead up, I am ready to tie together the strands in this post: If Augustinianism is the case, and so the GP is the case, and if God can rationally persuade those in hell (which he can) that their suffering is for a great, outweighing good (which given Augustinianism and GP, it is), then those in hell can “rationally consent” to enduring some great harm (hell, in this case). At any rate, I don’t see why they cannot. It doesn’t seem impossible, especially given Augustinianism. I conclude, therefore, that the Augustinian can accept the conjunction of GP and HP.

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3 Comments

  1. Resequitur says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed the read! Very good insight!

  2. “I wonder if the Arminians who press this objection would say that God runs afoul of the HP if he saves all people for his own glory?”

    I would say there’s still something wrong with the motivation here, if he saves all people merely as a monument to his own greatness and not because he loves the people who he saves. You might be grateful in a utilitarian sense to such a God (“thanks, man, you did me a solid”), but I don’t think you could say “We loved him because he first loved us.”

    “If Augustinianism is the case, and so the GP is the case, and if God can rationally persuade those in hell (which he can) that their suffering is for a great, outweighing good (which given Augustinianism and GP, it is), then those in hell can “rationally consent” to enduring some great harm (hell, in this case). At any rate, I don’t see why they cannot.”

    This might be possible (although it does not even remotely hook up to any standard Scriptural or philosophical account of the damned’s perception of their state), but I think any plausible version of the HP requires that any decision about a person’s eternal fate be in accordance with his or her own ultimate good. Your proposal is not GP plus HP, but still only GP, with the addition of God not only damning some people for the greater good, but convincing them to accept ultimate personal ruin for the greater good!

  3. Paul says:

    I would say there’s still something wrong with the motivation here, if he saves all people merely as a monument to his own greatness and not because he loves the people who he saves.

    First, part of the problem discussing the GP is that people often describe it using rhetorically loaded terms, and then the debate devolves into one between emotionally polarized sides, e.g., like how some abortion debates are cast in terms of “pro-death” and “anti-choice.” When I read e.g., a Brakel’s description of the glory terms, it doesn’t seem to be described as “a monument to his own greatness.” I think part of the rhetorical strategy of those arguing against the GP is to make God look like a narcissist or a megalomaniac (though I’m not saying you’re intentionally doing this). Second, that aside, it does not seem to me that (1) God saves all people because it most glorifies him and (2) God saves all people because he loves them are inconsistent. Perhaps (1) & (2) are if one may only do an action for *one* reason, but I think that’s false. One may do an action for a set of reasons, one of which is the greatest or most weighty reason in the set.

    This might be possible (although it does not even remotely hook up to any standard Scriptural or philosophical account of the damned’s perception of their state)

    First, possibility is all I need to defeat the charge of inconsistency. Second, this problem affects me only if it affects the view of the interplay between God and the damned as portrayed in the discussion between Talbott and Walls (and Nemes). Third, I don’t see the problem you’re alluding to here. You’d need to show that this or that verse entails that the damned can’t or don’t consent to their treatment. Perhaps you think “gnashing teeth” is one such verse. But I don’t see how you’d mount the argument. Seems possible to me for someone to consent that something is the overall right thing to do *and* not like it for what it means for you personally. Here we’d distinguish between *objective* and *subjective* reasons. More generally, however, is that such metaphorical or allegorical or illustrative passages are going to be metaphysically underdetermining for the purposes you need them for. Third, I have no idea what “philosophical” account of the damned you could be referring to such that what I say isn’t plausible given it.

    but I think any plausible version of the HP requires that any decision about a person’s eternal fate be in accordance with his or her own ultimate good.

    That’s fine, but I gave a reason to deny this (it does not seem inconsistent with the HP for the person to rationally consent to treatment that is not in the person’s ultimate best interest, i.e., being good *for them*. It seems pretty easy to give examples here, so I’ll refrain unless you say you can’t think of any).

    Your proposal is not GP plus HP, but still only GP, with the addition of God not only damning some people for the greater good, but convincing them to accept ultimate personal ruin for the greater good!

    My proposal is that GP is not *inconsistent* with HP, so (GP&HP), thus an Augustinian can consistently affirm both.

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