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I'm not sure why you chose to give up omnipotence at the end. Did I miss something? I see no problem with an omnipotent God in a universe with libertarian free will. God could override freedom but he chooses not to. I thought your worry was simply that some form of compatibilism about free will is not compatible with reprobation. In other words, don't see the link between compatibilism and omnipotence.


Can someone post a gif of Lucille saying that she doesn't care much for Gob? I feel like that would be fitting.

Also, if the name of the game is to keep God the kind of thing that deserves worship, we should prefer love to power.

Elisa Freschi

Matt, the problem is within omnipotence and the presence of Hell/punishment.
If God is omnipotent and loves us, why does not S/He saves us all? It seems that either omnipotence is not complete (for instance, because de Molina is right and it cannot override free will) or love is less total than one might think.


I wonder if the problem could be tackled from an examination of what hell is. There are theologians, for instance, who think that hell is the absence of God. If we do have free will, then we can choose to separate ourselves from God. God could save us all in this case, but only by overriding our free will. This seems to preserve both omnipotence and love, although perhaps it preserves omnipotence only in de Molina's sense (I am not familiar with how he parses it). At any rate, this sort of omnipotence, which allows for free choices, seems perfectly acceptable to me.

Elisa Freschi

Thanks, Carrie. I basically agree with you (hell can be read as God's absence) and with the fact that this does not change much our perspective on the problem: God's absence is horribly bad and God can decide not to enforce Her/His proximity on us only if S/He wants to be *freely* loved. Moreover, even if we accept predestination, I really cannot make sense of reprobation *and* the idea of a loving God.

Rob Gressis

Elisa, is your claim that hell as eternal punishment is incompatible with the existence of an all-loving and omnipotent God (and if so, is it *logically* incompatible)? Or is your claim that any kind of postmortem punishment, even one of finite duration, is incompatible with the existence, etc.?


"Is not free love the only type of true love?"

To me it seems that "free love" is an oxymoron, if by that we mean something like "love that the lover freely chooses to give". Love seems involuntary (so free neither in the libertarian sense nor the compatibilist sense). At least I'd say that's true of the most important, deepest kinds of love. A good parent does not freely choose to love her children. She just _does_ and her love is less good than it could be to the extent that it _is_ freely chosen. (That's my intuition, at least.)

So maybe in the same way, holy people who love God have no choice in the matter (in any sense of "choice"). Just as philosophers qua philosophers have no choice in valuing truth over falsity, reason over insanity, etc.

Clayton writes: "Also, if the name of the game is to keep God the kind of thing that deserves worship, we should prefer love to power."

This too seems very questionable. Most of us seem to think that a worshipful attitude is appropriate in response to great power. (What else is the appropriate attitude toward great artistic talent or great philosophical insight or just sheer physical strength?) Obviously, great power alone might not be a sufficient condition for justly worshiping God in the _way_ that is supposed to be appropriate to God. But it might be necessary, so that worshiping divine love alone would be just as inappropriate.

Elisa Freschi

no, I think that only eternal punishment is a real obstacle, since it seems contradictory that finite faults may lead to an endless punishment.

Temporary punishments are a way God might think of to make us improve in our spiritual path (if we are free).
What would you say?

Elisa Freschi

thanks for the interesting comment. However, this time I do not agree with it. First because I am inclined to think of love in this context more in the sense of Eric Fromm and less in that of Sigmund Freud. It seems to me that love for God, like faith, are things which on the one hand one finds in oneself and on the other one needs to cultivate. Secondly, because the kind of love you describe is perhaps the one which bonds a baby with her parents (I completely disagree with the idea that parents do not choose to love their children). But would God really be satisfied with anything less than a fully conscious love? Would S/He want us to love Him/Her just because we are dependent on Him/Her?
Perhaps… but then this looks like a whimsical God…


Hi Elisa,
"fully conscious" is not equivalent to "freely chosen", and not incompatible with "involuntary". I think love (true love) is involuntary, but I also think it's probably better when made conscious than not. Cultivating it might also be good. But maybe cultivating it just means things like: being aware of it, choosing to focus on it or protect it, etc. Where we disagree is that I think a love we have to "cultivate" in the sense of freely choosing _whether_ to love, or _how much_ to love, is inferior to the unchosen kind. (Not real love at all, or just a weak intimation of the real thing.)

The idea that we might love God "just because we are dependent on Him/Her" may sound disturbing or inadequate somehow, but that might be because such notions are unclear. I doubt that anyone _could_ love someone else _because_ of her dependence on the other, if by that we mean something like this: recognizing that she is dependent, and then finding that the dependence relation somehow _warrants_ love. This doesn't really sound like love at all, more like fear or gratitude or subservience under the name "love".

But if the relation is causal or explanatory, it's not clear to me why this kind of love would be inferior. Suppose that the _fact_ of our dependence on God is what _explains_ why we naturally love God without any such (bizarre) reasoning process -- why we just find ourselves feeling love. My children do in fact depend on me, and that dependence generates a deep bond that we both feel. Neither party _reasons_ that love is appropriate given the dependency. Rather, the love is a natural consequence of the special relationship; it's not experienced as having any kind of rational basis. (Unless the "reason" I love them is just "They're my children".)

I'm curious: why do you so strongly disagree with the idea that a (good) parent's love for her children is unchosen?

Rob Gressis

Hi Elisa,

I would say that eternal punishment seems like it could be logically compatible with an Anselmian God. Here's one possibility:

(1) God punishes us because it's the best way to reform us.
(2) God wants to reform us because God wants us to freely live up to our natures.
(3) Some people are freely such that they choose to be unreformable.
(4) God can reform such people only by overriding their free will in deep way.
(5) Overriding a person's free will in a deep way amounts to changing that person into a different person.
(6) Changing person 1 into person 2 isn't the same as allowing person 1 to live up to her nature.
(7) Therefore, if someone is such that she freely chooses to be unreformable, then God can't satisfy God's goal of having that person live up to her nature.

The thought behind this is that (a) it's very bad to change person 1 into person 2 against person 1's will; and (b) it's very bad for a person to suffer God's absence eternally; but it's not clear that (a) is worse than (b). So, eternal punishment could be consistent with an Anselmian God.

Obviously, this is very underdeveloped, but it's my somewhat untutored reaction.

Elisa Freschi

Ambrose, then it seems that our disagreement is less broad than I initially thought. Basically:
—we agree that "love", if understood as a virtuous way to approach another living being or God cannot be just "fondness", i.e., a momentary emotion. By contrast, it entails one's choice to cultivate it.
—I may agree (although I am not fully convinced) that the initial seed of love is hardly imaginable as something which one can implant in onself.

As for children and good parents: I have met some parents who loved their children in an irrational way, just because they were "flesh of their flesh". But those parents completely *ignored* who they children really were (and vice versa). Their way of loving them was intense, but not satisfying for the children as soon as they became old enough to need a friend and not just a breast-feeder/protector.

I am inclined to think that God (if S/he exists at all) should want people to love Her/Him not just because of fear/fondness/awe and the like. I am inclined to think that S/He wants people to want to come closer to Her/Him and try to know Her/Him.

Elisa Freschi

thanks for the depiction of the Anselmian God (by the way, which text by Anselm do you have in mind? I have to admit that I only read the Proslogion).

However, I do not think it solves the problem, due to the contrast between 1) and 3). If God punishes us (with temporary punishments) in order to make us change our minds, why would S/He stop doing it after, say, 10 years with person X and not keep on forever, until X ends up changing her mind? If X would not have ever changed her mind, why did not God make her die while still an innocent child?

(I am here loosely paraphrasing Alessandro Bausani's arguments while discussing Islamic predestination.)

Rob Gressis

Hi Elisa,

By "Anselmian God" I didn't mean I was taking my above defense from a specific text of Anselm's; instead, I meant simply that I was operating on an understanding of God as the greatest conceivable being. I just made up my defense.

As for why God wouldn't have killed such a person while still an innocent child, it's a good question! I don't know the answer. But perhaps having the child die would have permanently turned the child's parents away from God? It's also possible that God doesn't have foreknowledge (perhaps it's logically impossible to know what a free creature will do in the future), but then of course predestination concerns fall out, and we're just talking about hell.

Elisa Freschi


thanks for the explanation. If God cannot foresee what a free creature will do (meaning that a free creature can any time "convert" and start doing evil, or good), then, how could S/He eternally punish one for what he did in a relatively short amount of time?


"I have met some parents who loved their children in an irrational way, just because they were "flesh of their flesh". But those parents completely *ignored* who they children really were (and vice versa). Their way of loving them was intense, but not satisfying for the children"

I didn't say that love, as I think of it, is irrational (contrary to reason). I said that it is not voluntary. We moderns seem to have trouble with the idea that anything involuntary or unchosen could be rational or good. This reflects some important prejudices that need to be examined. Parents who love their children simply as "flesh of their flesh" without any understanding of who those children are as people are not, of course, loving their children in the best way. But it doesn't follow from this that the best, or better, way is to _choose_ to love your children. There is another possibility: that someone who truly loves her children in my sense, involuntarily, will for that reason alone recognize the personality and uniqueness of her children. (Or, at least, it might be that this is _more likely_ to happen or be possible for involuntary love than otherwise.)

Remember I didn't say that involuntariness is a sufficient condition for real love, but that it is (probably) necessary -- or, at any rate, that voluntariness is (probably) not necessary.

I'd add that, unless the notion of "flesh of my flesh" is understood in some very reductive way, it is hard to understand how anyone could _truly_ love a child as "flesh of my flesh" without recognizing and loving the unique and personal traits of the child. That's normally an important part of human "flesh". To love someone simply _as_ an extension of your genome, or whatever, seems perverse. Maybe it's impossible to love a _person_ in that way. The _rational_ attitude towards human "flesh" (biology, embodiment, family, etc.) is fundamentally personal, it seems to me. So what makes the parents you mention irrational is not that they love their children as "flesh of their flesh" but actually that they fail to properly love them that way. But I claim that properly loving your children that way _is_ involuntary for normal or good parents. And for whatever reason it strikes me as _good_ that it is involuntary, and better that it be involuntary than voluntary.

In the background there's a deeper issue: if love is better when it's chosen, what could possibly make the choice reasonable? We need to value things first, before we have reasons of any kind. So the fundamental values have to be unchosen if there is reasonable choice. I say that love for our children is one of those fundamental values (valuations) and that love for God might be one also.

Thanks for another fascinating discussion, by the way!

Elisa Freschi

as I was suggesting in a previous message, we probably disagree less than we initially thought.

---To me, the beginning of "love" is a mystery. But I am sure that love needs cultivation, too. Else, one would stop loving one's spouse at the first problem (not to speak about loving one's children, who will surely *cause* many problems, and not to speak about loving God ---whom one might accuse of all one's problems).

---To you, cultivation only creates an artificial attitude and not love; and the beginning must be involuntary. But, if I understood you correctly, you would also agree about cultivation (you wrote " being aware of it, choosing to focus on it or protect it, etc." on the 20th, 10.43 am), isn't it?

---as for the "flesh of my flesh" kind of love, whenever I have encountered it, this left no space for the child's "personality and uniqueness". One loved them just as extension of oneself or as dolls (especially in the case of babies or young girls) and/or tranfers of oneself.

---your last point (what would motivate our choice?) is fascinating, (so much that I think I will write a post about it). I do not know whether you have children, but would not you prefer them to tell you that they are so happy that *you* are their father/mother? We know that we love our children also because they are *our* children, but I hope that this just means that we know them better and have more chances to appreciate them and have a moral obligation to be more open towards them.

By the way, "ich sag' danke" (I say thanks for this other interesting discussion)!

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