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« Language as a way to convey cognitions | Main | First Steps Toward a Nonideal Theory of Justice »



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Rob Gressis

First, I like the response.

Second, I don't know what you mean by leaving out some important "passage". Passage from what?

Third, I have a question about 4: if person P literally cannot stop doing X, then why think P has free will with regard to X? Are you operating on a source-view of free will, in which case P has free will with regard to X because P is the source of her doing X? Or are you operating with a leeway view of free will, according to which P has free will with regard to X only if P could have done otherwise than X? If the latter, then how does P have free will with regard to X?

Is the thought, "P could have done other than X in this sense: P could have chosen not to do X in the first place, and if P had chosen that, then P wouldn't have done X. But, given that P has chosen X, then P can't stop doing X."

If that's your tack, then I would say that P once did have free will in heaven, but gave it up. (But I believe a source-view of free will, so this is not my own considered view.)

Moti Mizrahi

Hi Elisa,

Thank you very much for discussing my blog post. My students and I had a very interesting discussion about this question.

I like the way you summed up the crux of the dilemma. Assuming that there is no evil in heaven, if there is free will in heaven, then God could have created a world with free will and no evil, but he chose not to. Why?

Your proposal, I take it, is that there is free will in heaven, but no evil, because once one chooses to love God, one cannot stop loving God, and hence one will do (or choose) no evil.

Your (4), however, strikes me as a denial of free will in the sense of freedom to choose between good and evil. Perhaps the decision to love God is free. To say that one “_cannot_ stop loving God,” however, suggests that one cannot freely choose to do evil any more. Perhaps it’s better to say that one wouldn’t want to stop loving God, and hence wouldn’t want to do evil. But then the same problem arises again: God could have created a world with free agents that wouldn't want to do evil, but he chose not to. Why?

By the way, as you know, a somewhat similar question arises with respect to the idea that God is free to choose evil but he simply doesn’t. For if God is supposed to be all-good, it is not entirely clear how he can do (or choose) evil in the first place.

Elisa Freschi

Moti, my pleasure. I find many of the suggestions in your blog stimulating.

You are right, I should have phrased 4 as follows: "At that point, one does never want to stop loving God".

As for your question, the reason for not revealing Himself/Herself fully from the beginning to human beings is ---in my hypothesis--- that God does not want to force love into them. You surely know The grand inquisitor from Dostoevskij's The Brothers Karamazov. The idea there is the same: Jesus does not reveal Himself through miracles because He wants to be chosen, whereas no one would not choose Him if one had seen Him in full. It works, I think, but only if one gives priority to love over perfect design as God's primary nature.

Elisa Freschi

Rob, thanks for the first point and sorry for my poor English. What I meant was "Am I overseeing some important turning point?"

As for your third point, thanks a lot for your elaborate explanation. I was thinking at a more basic model, namely that in "heaven" one is constantly exposed to God's magnificent presence/to His-Her love for us, etc. Thus, the person constantly chooses to answer to His/Her love.

Justin Capes

I'd be curious to know why theists should be committed to the first two premises of the first syllogism. No doubt many theists do accept those two claims, but it's not clear they must or even that they should.

Elisa Freschi

Justin, this is an interesting comment. In fact,several readers commented denying 1. (there is no free will in heaven) but you are the first one I read denying the absence of evil in heaven. How do you make sense of heaven then?
In my post, I considered it as a synonym of "being in God's presence", without specifying whether this implies a dualist or non dualist attitude, but in all cases it is difficult to imagine that this can still leave space for evil. Or am I missing something?

Marcus Arvan

Elisa: if I may respond to your question to Justin, I've always been a bit puzzled by the idea that there is no evil in heaven. If that is what heaven is, it is no place I want to be. I love *this* world precisely because of its imperfections (though of course there are many I could do without as well). For example, my wife wouldn't be my *wife* if she were perfect -- if she never did wrong; nor would I be *me* if I never did wrong. My love for her is what it is *because* of her imperfections (and because of mine). I think they make our love that much deeper. It is what makes love *worthwhile*.

Or so say I. Anyway, I'm very much drawn to the idea that there is "perfection in imperfection." For these reasons, I have a *very* idiosyncratic (but I believe) plausible of what it is to love God (if one does Believe), and of what God's love is (if God exists) in return. Roughly speaking, love *itself* is imperfect -- but, for all that, that is its perfection. If one Believes in God, it *hard* to love God, precisely because the world is so messed up. But how is this any different than loving our fellow human beings? We all do messed up things, but that's what makes *loving* each other so important. Although I could do without all the murder, hatred, etc., a world with *no* evil -- i.e. Heaven in its traditional conception -- seems to me a world not worth living in.

Elisa Freschi

Marcus, thanks a lot for this very interesting answer. Your position seems to me to be implicitly neoplatonic, in the sense that you equate evil with imperfection. I am not sure that this needs to be the case. For instance, I am ready to admit that God is not perfect (this is the only way I can make sense of His/Her need to be loved, not to speak about Auschwitz) but I would not say that lack of perfection (a negative thing) is tantamount to the presence of evil (a positive thing). The equation would work, again, only if one were to share Plotino's idea that evil *is* lack of good/perfection.


What do people do in heaven? The link between free will and evil seems to imply that people might purposefully do things in heaven that they should not do. So what are the day-to-day activities that people might engage in in heaven?

Justin Capes


A common doctrine in Christianity is that once the believer dies and "goes to heaven," she will be perfected. However, I see no reason to think that's true. I know of no biblical passage that would support it (though I'm not biblical scholar, so I'll be happy to be corrected), nor am I aware of any official teaching by, say, the Catholic Church endorsing the doctrine (though, again, I'm not Catholic nor a student of Catholic teaching, I'd be happy to be proven wrong). A Christian could easily make sense of evil in heaven, for example, if they believe in continual moral improvement of the redeemed in heaven (C.S. Lewis seemed to believe this.) Perhaps the beatific comes in stages or degrees, depending on one's moral progress.

Marcus Arvan

Elisa: Thanks for your reply. I don't think there's anything neo-Plantonic about my view. I also didn't mean to equate evil with privation of good. I was just working with intuitive conceptions of perfection, imperfection, good, and evil.

The kinds of things I'm talking about -- wronging our friends, spouses, etc. -- seem to me pretty clear cases of evil. It's *wrong* to harm a friend, spouse, etc. Not only that, it *hurts* them, and if anything is evil, pain and suffering are. But, I say, I wouldn't want to live in a world without pain and suffering. It's what makes life *real*. It's what makes love worth it -- something worth *fighting* for. So, I say, any world worth living in doesn't merely contain privations of good. Any world worth living in has real *evils*!

Elisa Freschi

that's a great question, but much depends on how to understand "heaven". In my post, I adopted a minimal definition of it as "being in the presence of God", which would imply that "heaven" is theoretically possible also while alive. In which case I would answer your question with all sorts of normal activities one does every day.

Elisa Freschi

thanks for your question. I think your suggestion is quite interesting and it fits nicely with the introduction of a progressive expiation in the Christian theology (the Purgatorium/Purgatory). By the way, a similar question regards the status of the Bodhisattva in Buddhism (does s/he keep on perfecting herself? Or is "perfection" definitively accomplished at a certain point?).
Personally speaking, I tend to think that perfection is never completely accomplished and that in this sense it is always a progress towards something (as I said above, I do not even think that God is "perfect").

Elisa Freschi

@ Marcus, when you first wrote that you your "love for [your wife] is what it is *because* of her imperfections" I do not think you had in view her harming other people. I may love a friend (also) because she cannot cook (and this makes me feel her closer to me), or another because he is stubborn, but I doubt I would love one because she or he deliberately harms others. Thus, I would say that what you were saying in your first comment was that we love people because of their individuality and that you think that perfection might be tantamount to levelling all individual characters, so that there would be nothing left to love in a specific way.

I agree with this fear, but I think that it does not amount to admitting evil in heaven, precisely because lack of perfection does not immediately amount to evil. Think at my previous examples: not being able to cook well is not the same as poisoning others and being stubborn is not like firing bullets against your neighbours. Unless you think that evil is not a separate thing and is only lack of good, in which case you would end up saying that good=perfection and lack of perfection=evil. But this does not need to be.

As for your second comment, I see your point concerning the risk of evil which alone make our life worth living. This is a good point and I think that this is why we need the possibility of evil in the first place and why, thus, a benevolent God would not have created a world with no evil at all from the very beginning.

Jason Waller

Thank you for the discussion! For a bit more on this topic, please see the discussion at catholicphilosophyblog.com: Does free will require the ability to do evil?


Elisa Freschi

Thank you, Jason. I am inclined to think that in order for free will to be significant, we need to admit that there is really something at stake (not just the choice between various types of good). I would leave this possibility open even in the case of Jesus (who *has* been tempted, and actually resisted the temptation, the 40 days in the desert and the Getsemani moments are not just a fictional game ---unless we want to adhere to monophysitism).

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