Monday, September 15, 2014

Texting Treatise: Pragmatism is Impossible in an Infinite Universe

"Just came across a tidbit on the traveling atheist that has interesting implications. It's a conditional that applies to anyone who'll say that the universe is infinite in either time or space or both, and for whom morality is defined as doing the greatest good for the greatest number of people. And diminishing suffering. That's actually logically incoherent.
In an infinite universe, there'll be an infinite amount of happiness and an infinite amount of suffering, so nothing you do will have an impact on the total number of either. Consequently, a morality based on the greatest benefit for the greatest number CANNOT BE TRUE if the universe is infinite in any aspect. It is logically contradictory. Therefore, the moral imperative for doing good rather than evil CANNOT just be a pragmatic decision. It must be justified some other way.
'Love logic."

If the universe is infinitely large, then there are an infinite number of moral agents out there who are doing moral acts. Therefore, the total amount of good and evil will both be infinite.

If the universe goes on for ever, then even if there is a finite amount of moral agents out there, the total amount of good that is done will still be infinite. Even if the vast majority of the infinite time of the universe does not contain these moral agents' presence (such as in a 'Heat Death' scenario), then their actions will ripple out across time and produce an infinitely great effect, a la the Butterfly Effect.

If the universe has an end but extends into infinity backwards through time (a la the Multiverse Model and Oscillating Big Bang, Big Crunch Theory), then provided that there were moral agents (and if you accept evolutionary theories of life, then you would have to accept the certainty of life arising at different epochs in history in this and other universes) in the deep past, then the consequences of their good deeds have been infinite,

so as to make yours insignificant. The consequence of all of these views of the universe is that a morality based on pragmatism fails because its central goal (maximizing good, minimizing evil) is logically impossible to achieve.

The neat thing is that this affects naturalistic atheist views (Cyclic Universe Theory, Heat Death), pantheistic views (a universe with a past of infinite duration), and theistic views (heaven or an eternal state, going on for eternity), with some overlap (since a universe of infinite size is neither forced on nor denied by any of these views, inherently).

The result is that unless you believe that the universe had BOTH a definite beginning, AND  will have a definite end, AND is of finite size, you cannot believe that your good deeds have any intrinsic value whatsoever on the basis of the effect they produce on the universe.

Logic forbids it. And to take the view that allows for pragmatic morality would be very fatalistic. You'd be allowing for your deeds to matter, but only temporally, because since the universe has a finite duration, when it ends, all your work is destroyed and in that sense none of it mattered anyway, because it was brought to nothing. All the good you did was only temporary, it didn't last.

In other words, no matter what view finds purchase in your mind, pragmatism is futile.

That means that the reason for doing good rather than evil must be something other, it cannot have anything to do with the impact it has on the world. It can't be about results.

I notice that the above argument against pragmatism relies on the imperative to have one's individual actions be significant in some sense. The irony is that if this is rejected, you'd be saying that maximizing good and diminishing evil IS a legitimate thing, BUT that none of the things you do as an individual have any significance.

So how could that be? It's a funny thing to consider, but the conclusion seems to be that whether Good turns out to be countably infinite or uncountably infinite, it must coincide with the relative unimportance of the individual.

What a strange sort of thought. But it seems to lend itself very well to an eternal state where the highest goal is to give God the greatest glory, while the focus is completely on Him and not on the individual.
"I am merely striving to think God's thoughts after Him."
(Johann Kepler, German Lutheran scientist, 1541-1630)

~ Rak Chazak

So, basically you need a morality that says "don't do good because it matters. Do good because I say you should do good. I'll take care of the reasons." ~ For a start.

This is why it's so hard to be a consistent atheist. Without an Ultimate Law-Giver, where does our authority to determine what is moral, and why we should do it, (because it gets good results or because it pleases God) come from?


I didn’t consider until just now that if the universe is infinitely large, then any finite good you do will be infinitely small in the extent of its effect on the whole universe. In other words, no matter how much good you do, it is mathematically equivalent to doing nothing. That’s because any finite sum is as good as zero when compared to infinity. You would have to do an infinite amount of good in order to have an effect on an infinite universe, and of course, no one who is finite can do that. This is another way of thinking about the first line I placed under the subtitle “Afterthoughts.”

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