Intelligences and Zion: An Essay in Mormon Poltical Philosophy (part II)

February 22, 2007 | 18 comments
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To read the first section of this essay, go here.

A Liberal Ontology
The Doctrine and Covenants declares, “Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or light and truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.” (D&C 93:29) Along similar lines, Joseph Smith taught in the King Follett Discourse:

We say that God himself is a self-existent being. . . . Man . . . exist upon the same principles. . . . The mind or the intelligence which man possesses is coequal with God himself. . . . The intelligence of spirits has no being, nether will it have an end. . . . There never was a time when there were not spirits; for they are co-equal with our Father in heaven.

These statements constitute the classical rejection in Mormon theology of the ex nihilo creation of the soul. In its place is a vision of uncreated “intelligences,” existing with God from eternity to eternity.

There is no definitive consensus about the precise nature of the primal and uncreated intelligence. With Mormonism’s strong emphasis on progression, it is not surprising that many LDS thinkers have interpreted intelligence as referring to some simpler or primary order of existence from which man’s current spirit has evolved. Thus, for example, Orson Pratt elaborated the concept of intelligence into a theory of panpschyism where all matter is animated with lesser or greater degrees of intelligence. In a simplification of Pratt’s theory, Bruce R. McConkie taught that intelligence referred to an undifferentiated “spirit substance” that did not possess individuality until organized into a spirit at some point by God.

However, the most extensive elaboration of the concept of intelligence is that offered by B.H. Roberts. According to Roberts, intelligence refers to a primal, uncreated, core of individuality in each soul. “[A] proper immortality . . . means the eternal existence of the ‘ego’ . . . before birth as well as existence after death.” According to Roberts, the “ego” or intelligence is indestructible, even by God, and has existed with him without beginning. Roberts’s elaboration also comes the closest to being an official declaration of the church on this matter. In an early twentieth century article in the Improvement Era, Roberts laid out his full theory of the eternal individual. Although the church shied away from giving a formal endorsement of the theory, the article was prefaced by a sentence stating:

Elder Roberts submitted the following paper to the First Presidency and a number of the Twelve Apostles, none of whom found anything objectionable in it, or contrary to the revealed word of God, and therefore favor its publication.

Furthermore, because of the sophistication of its elaboration Roberts’s thought has provided a starting point for most of those involved in the current philosophical discussion of Mormon theology.

Sterling McMurrin maintained that “the pluralistic metaphysics [of Mormonism] . . . logically supports Mormon liberalism.” Unfortunately, McMurrin is not clear about what sense in which he is using the word “liberalism.” He seems to be using the term to refer to theological liberalism and some kind of optimistic humanism. However, despite McMurrin’s ambiguity, his statement also points to the congruence between Mormonism’s ontology of the human soul and the political philosophy of liberalism. This link is most readily apparent in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and its later life in liberal political theory.

Kant’s philosophy is played out against the background Descartes, Newton, and Hume. Like Descartes, Kant is interested in the problem of how one justifies knowledge of the world independently existing “out there.” Newton had impressed him as an example of real and certain knowledge, and Hume had convinced him of the inability of empiricism to account for this knowledge. Kant’s solution was radical and far reaching. He argued that the experience of the world is structured by human thought, in particular the concepts of space, time, and causality. These concepts are necessary elements of our experience of the world, but they are not themselves given by that experience. At the same time, it is impossible to doubt these categories of thought in the manner of Descartes. According to Kant, we can have knowledge of the world, but it is never a world “out there” or a knowledge that comes purely from experience. We know the phenomenal world, but it is a world that we participate in creating.

The question naturally arises, “What is the nature of the self or ego that is doing this knowing of the world?” First, the ego’s knowledge is structured by the categories mentioned above. Second, the ego itself is not controlled by these categories. The ego observes a world in which causation holds sway and every object is the effect of some previous cause. However, in order for this world to be intelligible the ego itself cannot be merely an effect. It is free. Furthermore, this fundamental ego is transcendent and universal. Everyone who experiences the phenomenal world does so through the categories of causation, extension, and time and every knowing ego is, of necessity, free.

From this transcendental ego, Kant draws ethical conclusions. The phenomenal world is filled with objects, but reason dictates that people cannot be treated as objects. To do so would be to deny the necessity of the transcendental ego. Thus, the individual must always be treated as an end in and of itself. In this conclusion, it is easy to see the autonomous, rights bearing individual of philosophical liberalism. Furthermore, Kant’s philosophy decisively subordinates any notion of the collective to the rights of the individual. It prioritizes the right to the good. When liberal thinkers such as John Rawls state that “the rights secured by justice are not subject to political bargaining or to the calculus of social interests” they are professing a profoundly Kantian ethic.

With this background, the link between Mormon ontology and liberalism becomes clearer. The intelligence of the human soul that is coeternal with God seems to have the characteristics of Kant’s transcendental ego, or at least those characteristics that drive Kant’s moral theory. Indeed, in specifying the characteristics of intelligence, Roberts used language that seems very much at home in a Kantian political theory:

There is in that complex thing we call man an intelligent entity, uncreated, self existent, indestructible . . . . [I]intelligence is the entity’s chief characteristic. . . . [T]here goes with this idea of intelligence a power of choosing one thing instead of another, one state rather than another.

Mormon scriptures draw the distinction between the freedom of the subjective intelligence and the necessity of the causal universe. They speak of “things to act and things to be acted upon” (2 Ne 2:14) and note that man was to “act for himself” (2 Ne 2:15). Roberts made the distinction explicit.

[T]here is a difference between the thinking essence or substance and that which has or manifests mechanical force merely . . . as also there is a difference between intelligence viewed as ‘the light of truth’ – the power by which truth is discerned – and substances capable merely of manifesting chemical force dependent upon union in certain combinations and proportions with other substances.

Intelligences thus seem to have the properties of freedom and reason ascribed to Kant’s transcendental ego, and like the transcendental ego, intelligence has necessary existence. For Kant the necessity of the transcendental ego lies in way in which it constitutes the phenomenal universe. For Mormonism, the necessity of intelligence lies in the fundamental ontological pluralism of the universe. Both of these philosophies, it seems, could equally well support philosophical liberalism.

There is a second way in which Mormonism could support a liberal political theory. While many liberals adopt a Kantian ethic, his rationalism and abstraction have not always appealed to Anglo-American philosophy. The result has been the reformulation of the Kantian ethic by John Rawls. According to Michael Sandel, Rawls seeks “to preserve Kant’s deontological teaching by replacing Germanic obscurities with a domesticated metaphysics less vulnerable to the charge of arbitrariness and more congenial to the Anglo-American temper.” Rawls does this by means of an intellectual device that he calls “the original position.” He engages in a thought experiment in which people construct a society behind a veil of ignorance that keeps them from knowing what position they would occupy in such a society. Justice is simply the choices that free and reasonable people would make in this original position.

The Mormon ontology of the soul leads to a novel explanation of the relationship of man, God, and the human condition. In a system animated by the doctrine of ex nihilo creation, the relationship is rather simple: God creates man and the world from nothing through divine fiat. Human experience and human suffering are therefore traceable back to an act of creation (or noncreation) on the part of God. Such a formulation, however, is not available to Mormonism. Since intelligence is coeternal with God, creation alone cannot operate as an adequate account of the necessity of human experience or the relationship of man and God. The answer to this conundrum in Mormon theology bears a striking resemblance to Rawls’s original position.

According to Mormon theology, prior to the creation of the world God held a grand council in heaven in which the future structure of experience was to be decided. Two plans were offered. One involved a future “whereby all would be safely conducted through the career of mortality, bereft of freedom to act and agency to choose, so circumscribed that they would be compelled to do right – that not one soul would be lost.” Another involved a world of travail and wickedness, but it also included freedom and the possibility of righteousness. According to Mormon scripture, every soul that came to earth accepted the second plan.

This theodicy, which flows from the Mormon ontology of the soul, has strong resonance with liberalism. The primacy of agreement in justifying a state of affairs is a striking parallel to the contractarian justifications for the state offered by liberal political theory. Furthermore, the mode of justification involved in this story seems to mirror that offered by Rawls. The conditions that would accept ex ante without full knowledge of one’s personal circumstances are offered as being normatively justified. In Mormonism it is the acceptance of a life of real moral possibility coupled with real moral risks. In Rawls, it is a society governed by the priority of the individual to the collective and the demands of justice to the demands of the good.

In conclusion, the ontology of the Mormon soul and the mode of moral justification occasioned by that ontology seem to point toward a liberal political theory. Both Mormonism and liberalism view the individual as being necessary, free, and reasonable. Both employ the moral discourse of agreement and original positions. Mormon ontology seems to provide all of the ingredients necessary to construct a Kantian justification for individualism, justice, and rights. In short, the ontology of Mormonism seems to point towards a commitment to liberalism.

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18 Responses to Intelligences and Zion: An Essay in Mormon Poltical Philosophy (part II)

  1. Russell Arben Fox on February 22, 2007 at 9:04 am

    If I recall correctly, Nate, my original response to your paper included a rejection of both of the claims you advance here. Very roughly stated, and leaving aside a lot of smaller issues, they were as follows:

    1) The analogy between the Mormon doctrine of eternal intelligences and the Kantian transcendental ego does not hold, because of a fundamental category difference between them. The transcendental ego emerges as a necessarily principle in Kant’s philosophy because Kant, following Hume, rejected the possibility of “real” knowledge of the world, yet could not believe there could be either ethics or freedom without such knowledge. Hence, it was necessarily to postulate two distinct ways of knowing, both of which were grounded in the subject: knowledge of the phenomenal world is a knowledge of subjective experience, and knowledge of the noumenal world–such as it is–is a critical intuition about the conditions of thr previous form of knowledge. Both are functions of an epistemological concern, which is why Heidegger (echoing others) described Kant’s transcendental philosophy as nothing less than a “metaphysics of knowledge.” The metaphysics of intelligences–so far as we can speculate about such–has no apparent grounding in an epistemological imperative; rather they are, or were, actual stuff in a really existent world. And that stuff can be, and was, acted upon–specifically, God took it and “organized” it; our Heavenly Parents gave “birth” to it in some manner or another. Thus, there is no logical continuity between between the claim that we were once a kind of self-existing, possibly individuated ego, as Roberts suggested, and our present existence as human individuals. Unlike Kant’s egos, which were necessary for his whole philosophy, we can demonstrate no ethical “necessity” to our own human individuality; after all, from what little we know about the pre-existence (or the pre-pre-existence), it seems apparent that trees and otters and clams–all beings that were once “spirit substance”–may also have been “co-eternal” with God. That might suggest a logically pantheistic moral imperative to Mormon political philosophy, but pantheism isn’t exactly Kantian liberalism.

    2) The analogy between the Mormon doctrine of a council in heaven and Rawls’s doctrine of the original position fails for a much simpler reason (though metaphysically much of that rejection piggy-backs on the above): there is no evidence of real debate taking place at the council of heaven. Rawls’s thought experiment postulates the existence of self-interested, rational, free individuals engaged in a discourse about possible futures, and agreeing to certain conditions through reasoned debate; that is why the conclusion–the particular version of the social contract they come up with–is held to have normative force: it is the sort of thing which reasonable people would agree to. The bare accounts we have of the council in heaven merely suggest the existence of a statement by a premortal Lucifer, and a statement by a premortal Christ, and the pronouncement in favor of the latter by God the Father, followed by the rejection of the former and those who embraced it. Nothing in there about acts of reasoned debate; for all we know, it was all about obedience to–or rebellion against–the Father…which are acts of willing, to be sure, but willing alone does not grant provide a normative justification for the whole liberal individualist package. (“Willing” was also present in the consensus which emerged from Puritan town meetings, but that certainly didn’t result in a whole bunch of individualists running off to talk about their personal liberty from restrictions X or Y or Z.)

    I might be willing to hedge on either of these, depending on what new counter-arguments you’ve come up with, but I think both of them still stand.

  2. Chris H. on February 22, 2007 at 12:20 pm

    While I may be out of my league here, I disagree with Russell on both points, though I have to prepare a lecture and do not have the time to refute everything.

    As for the connection between the original position and the council in heaven, it has been the basis of my liberalism and political philosophy since my junior year at the Univ. of Utah and the reason that I am a Rawls scholar today. The main commonality that I see is that in both, the participants are decide between principles of justice. There is also present in both the idea that a deliberation (or meeting if there was no deliberation in the council) which either we do not remember (in the case of the council) or which never really took place (in the case of the OP) could have moral import. Both support a conception of autonomy (I personally defend the idea that our idea of free agency is very similar to Kantian autonomy).

    I discussed this briefly over at FPR over a year ago. See: http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com/2006/01/14/the-original-position-and-the-council-of-heaven-i/

    Nate, are presenting this at the Mormon Philosophy Conference in March at BYU? Please let me know. I am a bit disappointed that you have beat me to some of this.

  3. Russell Arben Fox on February 22, 2007 at 2:41 pm

    Chris,

    “The main commonality that I see is that in both, the participants…decide between principles of justice.”

    I don’t see any evidence that the Council in Heaven included an act of decision regarding “principles of justice.” And actually, I’m not even sure in a pre-existent condition where embodiment and scarcity were presumably completely unknown to all of us as spirits it even makes sense to talk about “justice.” Love and obedience and equality, yes. But justice, in the liberal sense? I don’t see it.

    “There is also present in both the idea that a deliberation (or meeting if there was no deliberation in the council) which either we do not remember (in the case of the council) or which never really took place (in the case of the OP) could have moral import.”

    But the moral important of the original position to Rawls’s thought only follows the prior presumption that we are rational, individuated persons capable of entering into binding (because reasonable and thus self-evidently worthwhile) arrangements with one another. The OP is a hypothetical which defends arrangements of justice within a presumptive social contract. Nate, by contrast, needs to read the Council in Heaven (if we even have a clear understanding of what that might possibly have been) as a literal contractarian moment, since outside of that one story about our pre-existence I am unaware of any support in Mormon doctrine for believing that any “deliberation” betwixt us individuals–I’m excluding the Godhead here–was entailed in our creation at all. (If I’m wrong about that, please correct me; for all I know there might be scads of stuff out there from Brigham Young talking about how all sat down and hashed out the creation of the world.)

  4. Clark on February 22, 2007 at 2:49 pm

    the pluralistic metaphysics [of Mormonism] . . . logically supports Mormon liberalism

    One of the things that always bothered me about McMurrin’s book was that it seemed to me he put his politics first and tried to interpret Mormonism in light of it rather than starting with the metaphysics. (As if there was a single metaphysics for Mormonism)

  5. Clark on February 22, 2007 at 2:54 pm

    I’d note that I agree completely with Russell’s first point. (Even if Heidegger’s reading of Kant is perhaps as creative misreading as it is a real critique) I also think that there are more differences between the three main theories of intelligence (Young, Pratt, Roberts) than you suggest. It’s true that at least two of them still are dominated by being individual and self-sufficient. (i.e. Pratt’s windowed monad-like view and Roberts Cartesianism) Young’s seems a bit more problematic – probably why so few address his views. Of late a lot point to Smith as suggest we were always conscious intelligent individuals however I just see Smith’s views as intrinsically vague and difficult to draw too many conclusions from even if I acknowledge he doesn’t draw the later distinctions people bring up.

    In any case I’d be pretty hesitant drawing much by way of political import from them.

    I also agree that our theology of the council in heaven is so vague as to be unhelpful to establish much. At best we can say we all agreed to come here, which does have implications. But not as many as I think we sometimes assume.

  6. Nate Oman on February 22, 2007 at 4:45 pm

    I disagree about both the vagueness of the council in heaven story, and its implications. IIt seems to me that the basic notion behind the OP is that a set of institutional arrangments is justified if it is consented to under fair conditions. It seems to me that a central part of the council in heaven story is that the suffering of mortality is justified because we consented to it in the premortal council. Certainly, I think that this is an entirely reasonable and respectable reading that one can find in Mormon sources such as Talmage and Madsen if I am remembering correctly. I think that RAF is overly hung up on the notion of deliberation and negotiation. It seems to me that consent under proper conditions is what matters. Hence, the absence of negotiation in the council of heaven seems rather beside the point to me. Furthermore, I do think that justice is implicated in part because the reason that we tell the story of the council in heaven is at least in part as a theodicy. We are trying to show the justice of god in allowing human suffering and punishing human sin. The logic of the theodicy strikes me as deeply liberal.

    I agree with that Kant’s ego is different than even a Roberts intelligence. However, it seems to me that we end up reaching similar conclusions. The Kantian argument, based on his epistemological framework, would be that we cannot treat a person as a thing without falling into incoherence. The Roberts argument would be that we cannot treat a person as a thing because as a matter of (admittedly logically contingent) metaphysics, people never were, are, or can be things. In other words, we get to the same ethical conclusion by different routes, one gets their via epistemology while the other gets their via metaphysics. It is the inescapability of the moral properties of the subject, rather than the source of that inescapability, however, that drives the conclusion.

    I got my plane ticket to SMPT today, although I’ll be presenting a paper on a different topic…

  7. Russell Arben Fox on February 22, 2007 at 5:08 pm

    “I think that RAF is overly hung up on the notion of deliberation and negotiation. It seems to me that consent under proper conditions is what matters.”

    Given the nature of the subjects which Rawls assumes, do you really think he would have agreed that the “proper conditions” for consent–fairness, etc.–could exist without any kind of “deliberation and negotiation”? Could they exist if, say, only three people out of billions spoke in the meeting–Lucifer, Christ, and the Father–and the latter exercised total power over the procedings? I’m doubtful. Of course, you can run with Rawls’s original position any direction you want, and maybe it can still be made to work, but I personally don’t see how one could wring the same sort of (liberal) moral force for notions of “consent” out of a Council in Heaven/OP-type arrangement if you allow that the subjects and processes involved in said arrangement might well have been radically different from those which Rawls assumes when he talks about forming contracts in the first place.

    “Furthermore, I do think that justice is implicated in part because the reason that we tell the story of the council in heaven is at least in part as a theodicy. We are trying to show the justice of god in allowing human suffering and punishing human sin. The logic of the theodicy strikes me as deeply liberal.”

    It’s true that we do tell ourselves stories about how our suffering is justified by the presumed fact that we consented to it. But we also–and I think much more commonly–tell ourselves stories about how our suffering is for our own good, or at least serves God’s eternal purposes, because He knows best, and thus as loving children of our Father in Heaven we should trust and submit to Him. Do the two theodicies conflict? Do they complement each other?

    “It is the inescapability of the moral properties of the subject, rather than the source of that inescapability, however, that drives the conclusion.”

    Maybe. But still, to do the kind of work that Kant’s argument did, don’t you need to show what the content of those inescapable properties is? So far as I can tell, the only metaphysical content which can, perhaps, be determined to be inescapable to ourselves according to the ontology presumed on the basis of the KFD as you present it, is also inescapable to every other created being. And if liberalism so derived pertains to all of creation (trees have individuality and liberty, clams have individuality and liberty, etc.), then politically you’re not going to get nearly as far as Kant did.

  8. Chris H. on February 22, 2007 at 5:54 pm

    Russell,

    “Love and obedience and equality” are all consistent with liberal justice. In many ways. your critique or interpretation of Rawls is very similar to that of Sandel. However, when I read Rawls, I am not sure if Sandel and I are reading the same book (or books).

    I said that we chose principles of justice in the council in heaven because those who came to earth all accepted that we would come to earth and live under the conditions of agency. Agency is essentially the religous version the political principle found in the Rawlsian first principle of justice. The term are obviously different, hence the attempt are interpretation.

    Thanks, this is fun.

  9. Nate Oman on February 22, 2007 at 6:07 pm

    RAF: Roberts’ vision of Mormon ontology may be mistaken, and certainly there are other versions of it. It is, however, an important strain of Mormon thinking. My argument is that it is one with political implications. For what it is worth, I think that there is a real tension between the section 88 discussion of intelligence, and the discussion that one finds in section 93, the BofA, and KFD. If you push your metaphysics one way or the other based on your interpretation of the texts, you are obviously going to get different political implications.

    I actually don’t think that negotiation are as central as you assume to the OP. For what it is worth, I always have taken Rawls’ discussion of the “negotiation” in the original position to be an informal description of a solution to a rational choice problem rather than some sort of a legitimating narrative of hypothetical events. If folks in the OP can simply do the calculations in their head without talking, it seems to me that we reach the same position. I don’t see that imaginging a conversation in the OP rather than silent consent does any work at all. Furthermore, given the hypothetical nature of the agreement in the OP, it seems rather odd to say that the argument works if we say there was an imaginary conversation, but doesn’t work if we say that there wasn’t an imaginary conversation.

    I think that you are on stronger ground when you suggest that the notion of consent in the pre-existence does no real work. I am just not persuaded. I think that a central part of the theodicy is that we agreed to mortality. Furthermore, it is a theodicy that really only works within the context of a Mormon metaphysics of co-eternal agents. In other words, the consent argument is not some nastly liberal bias I am imposing on the text, but rather is supported by the theological concepts in which the narrative is situated. Ex nihilo creation of spirits followed by consent followed by suffering would not work as a theodicy in the same way.

  10. Russell Arben Fox on February 22, 2007 at 6:39 pm

    “I actually don’t think that negotiation are as central as you assume to the OP. For what it is worth, I always have taken Rawls’ discussion of the ‘negotiation’ in the original position to be an informal description of a solution to a rational choice problem rather than some sort of a legitimating narrative of hypothetical events….[G]iven the hypothetical nature of the agreement in the OP, it seems rather odd to say that the argument works if we say there was an imaginary conversation, but doesn’t work if we say that there wasn’t an imaginary conversation.”

    Hmm. I think what is being revealed here is a difference in how we conceive of and thus grant moral force to contracts (surprise, surprise). You apparently see them as having some force because of a consent which we grant them as part of our response to a “rational choice problem”; I’d say that I see them as having force (when they do) because of a consent which we grant them as part of our mutual participation and deliberation upon their terms. Thus do the liberal and the Rousseauian part ways.

  11. Nate Oman on February 22, 2007 at 6:58 pm

    RAF: You are about right, although I’m not sure I would completely agree until I knew what you were saying about “rational choice problem.” I do think that it can be a mistake to focus on “participation” and “deliberation” per se.

  12. MLU on February 22, 2007 at 11:38 pm

    I’d always taken Rawls’ resolution to the Original Position to be unsatisfying, leading to (or more likely growing from ) a conception of justice that was also unsatisfying. Though at a high enough level of abstraction his OP and the Council seem similar, what was most striking to me was that his view of what a rational being would choose seemed nearer to the deal Satan offered than to the one Christ offered: avoidance of the worst outcome through rejection of the possibility of the best outcome. It did seem of a piece with the liberal understanding of justice as something egalitarian. It seemed to appeal to a fear of failure much more than to a desire for freedom.

    My sense of justice doesn’t really require consent or negotiation. It does require goodness and law and equality in the Madisonian sense.

    The world we do live in, presumably the one we were offered at the Council, seems not to have been built to the specs Rawls suggests.

  13. Russell Arben Fox on February 23, 2007 at 9:17 am

    “The world we do live in, presumably the one we were offered at the Council, seems not to have been built to the specs Rawls suggests.”

    Exactly, MLU. And that’s why (or at least part of why) I don’t think the analogy between the Council in Heaven and the original position goes nearly as far towards liberalism as Nate suggests. The whole point of the original position was to explain why individuals–rational individuals already attuned to a contractarian focus on securing their own interests–would adopt certain understandings of justice. Outside of that decisionmaking process, Rawls would not have attributed any normative force to the OP at all. I mean, hypothetically, we could have all been mini-Hitlers in the original position, and have decided that we wanted to live in a world in which all were treated justly, except of course for the Jews. Rawls would have rejected any such determination as binding, for it simply wouldn’t have been fair, and therefore not reasonable. I have no reason to believe–and I don’t think anybody has any reason to believe–that what took place at and what was decided at (and presumably consented to at) the Council in Heaven was “reasonable” in that sense. And if the reasonableness standard isn’t met, then the OP doesn’t do what Rawls imagined it would: explain why should support a liberal regime. Thus: a nonreasonable, nonRawlsian Council in Heaven = no (or at best only minimal) support for liberal priorities.

    (Though, in writing all this, I have to admit Nate probably has a point about my overemphasis on deliberation while reading Rawls. But honestly, even if Rawls himself doesn’t see that as quite so necessary to his thought experiment, I’m still not sure how it could be otherwise anyway.)

  14. Nate Oman on February 23, 2007 at 10:10 am

    Look, even within the framework that Rawls sets up, you get very different results if you do a bit of minor jiggering with the way people discount risk. The Rawlsian actors in the OP are extremely and unreasonably risk adverse. If you assume a more sensible level of risk aversion you get a very different concept of distributive justice. My point is not to argue here or there on the matter, but only to point out that I don’t see that showing substantive differences from the details of Rawls’ theory of justice get you much.

    It seems to me that the OP is simply an attempt to get at the basic intuition behind social contract theories, namely that regimes consented to under fair conditions are justified. This is the basis of the analogy to the council in heaven. It seems to me that RAF must argue either that (1) the conditions in the council in heaven were unfair; (2) there was no consent; or, (3) the story does not operate as a theodicy. I don’t see that he has offered arguments for any of these propositions. If I am correct, however, the council in heaven is a theodicy that “justifies the ways of God to man” to borrow Milton’s phrase by showing that we consented to them under fair conditions. This strikes me as an essentially liberal approach to the issue of justification that flows from a Mormon ontology of the soul.

  15. Russell Arben Fox on February 23, 2007 at 11:14 am

    “It seems to me that RAF must argue either that (1) the conditions in the council in heaven were unfair; (2) there was no consent; or, (3) the story does not operate as a theodicy.”

    Regarding 1), we need a mutually agreed upon definition of “fairness,” on that can accommodate the obviously extreme (and arguably radical, depending on how one understands our ontological condition vis-a-vis God the Father in our pre-existent state) differences in power and authority present in the council in heaven. (Did everyone who–rationally? freely?–chose Lucifer’s plan fully understand the eternal consequences of challenging the Father’s sovereignty? Would the availability of such knowledge have been a requirement of “fairness”?) Regarding 2), I’ve already suggested that willing does not alone introduce “consent” in a liberal sense into the equation. (Again, there was “consent” at Puritan town meetings, but not serious political philosopher I know of considers those arrangements to amount to examples of liberal social contract regimes.) Regarding 3), you’re correct taht the story does operate as a theodicy. But we also have others which operate as (possibly contradictory) theodicies. Are both correct?

  16. mlu on February 23, 2007 at 2:12 pm

    I’m neither a lawyer nor a philosopher, which may be related to the fact that concern with rationality doesn’t resonate much here. I haven’t made any of the big decisions in my life relying primarily on calculations or full understanding. I’ve just chosen what I loved and leaped into the unknown. I’m not saying this is wise, but it seems pretty human, and sometimes the serendipity–if that’s what it is–stuns me (and at other times my foolishness appals me).

    I don’t imagine at the Council I would have give the matter much thought or been bothered by the power differential between me and the Father.

    It seems choice rather than consent was the fundamental issue at the Council–which means that it was desire rather than understanding that was being tested. I can’t see how anyone who made either choice “fully understood” the consquences of the choice. Full understanding, I would think, was not one of the options.

    When understanding is the important issue, we get repeated chances to revise our choices–i.e., repentance. What is more constant, I think, is desire. It was our love for the Father and childlike trust in His plan that was being tested, not our philosophical acumen or negotiating skill. . .

    My understanding is that the rational decision with a more full understanding comes at the end of the story, at the final judgment, rather than at the beginning, in the Council.

    The sorting that goes on seems to me to be mostly about desire. I think we understand little but nevertheless we get what we want, which seems fair enough. As we learn more, some of us revise our desires.

  17. Nate Oman on February 23, 2007 at 2:17 pm

    “But we also have others which operate as (possibly contradictory) theodicies. Are both correct?”

    Too allusive for me. Which theodicies? Why are they contradictory? Without more, I am left guessing at what your counter argument is.

  18. Matt Evans on February 24, 2007 at 11:07 pm

    Nate, I’m interested in your view of our consenting in the Council, given that our options were (a) this mortal experience or (b) eternal torment. Less than being a theodicy, it seems that focusing on consent in the Council shows only that the case of Mortality vs Eternal Torment resulted in a hung jury. Even if we go with the 2/3 majority, our consent between the two choices can still only prove that we thought mortality is better than the worst of all possible worlds.