A* Essays

Full marks essays that I have written:

‘Evidence of evil and suffering in the world provides a greater challenge to the existence of God than the logical problem of evil.’ Discuss

In this essay, I will demonstrate why both the logical and evidential problems of evil are even in challenging the existence of God. The logical problem of evil is an a priori argument that questions if God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent then why do evil and suffering exist in the world? The evidential problem of evil is an a posteriori argument which claims that our experience of suffering challenges the existence of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God. 

Firstly, the logical problem of evil argues that logically, the omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient classical interpretation of the Judeo-Christian god cannot exist in a world of evil and suffering. The argument claims that a wholly loving God would want to prevent evil if he could, and an omnipotent God would have the power to be able to do so, however evil and suffering remains. Therefore, the conclusion is that such a God cannot exist. The argument originated from Epicurus and was later developed by Hume and Mackie and is often referred to as the inconsistent triad, referring to the three characteristics often assumed of God being inconsistent with the existence of evil and suffering.

Secondly, the evidential problem of evil is an a posteriori argument and therefore relies on our experience. We all have experience of evil and suffering from our own lives and from the lives of people around us. The evidential problem of evil claims that the most plausible explanation for this existence of evil is not that there is a loving and powerful God at work in the world and therefore denies the existence of such a God. John Stuart Mill argues, in his book ‘On Nature’, that the natural world is full of examples of evil, for instance the savage torture of a seal by a whale before being eaten. Mill claims that the evidence of the world around us points to a God who is neither loving nor powerful, if to any God at all. He claims that if God does exist, he is more likely to be evil than loving due to the seemingly unjustified evil and suffering that surrounds us every day. 

The evidential problem of evil is challenged by William Paley and his teleological argument. Paley argued that we only need to look at the world around us to conclude that it must have been made by the power of a God who cares about us. He claims that the clear existence of design and purpose in the universe proves that a God must exist and that that God must be powerful and loving. However, the problem still remains that there is the existence of unjustified and seemingly unnecessary suffering happening all the time in the natural world particularly, for example the famine and disease that kills thousands of babies and children. Paley’s argument fails to reason why a loving God would create a world in which disease has been designed that takes innocent lives. 

Additionally, the evidential problem of evil is challenged by the theodicies of Augustine and Irenaeus. Theodicies are arguments that aim to reconcile the existence of evil with the classical interpretation of the Judeo-Christian God. The Augustinian theodicy claims that evil is not a quality in its own right, but it is rather private boni, or the absence of good. Augustine argued that the existence of evil and suffering in the world is not the doing of God, but is a result of the Original Sin and a choice made by mankind. Augustine states that ‘free will is the cause of our doing evil’.

Both the evidential and logical problems of evil are not resolved by this argument. Firstly, the Augustinian theodicy fails to justify why a loving and powerful God would allow unjustified suffering of innocent beings. A loving God surely would not hold a grudge against people who are not directly connected with the Original Sin and it seems callous to punish people for something that they could not have prevented. Furthermore, the Augustinian theodicy does not resolve the logical problem of evil as it does not give a reason as to how it could be the case that a loving and powerful God would permit the unnecessary suffering of his people. 

The logical problem of evil claims, without the need for external evidence that it is impossible for a loving God to be compatible with the existence of evil and suffering. A priori arguments are challenging to counter as if one accepts the premises of the argument, then it is difficult to deny the conclusion. If we are to accept that a loving God would want to stop evil and a powerful God would be able to stop evil then we must accept that in the presence of evil, a loving and powerful God must not exist. 

However, the first premise of the argument demands further consideration. The first premise states that ‘an omnibenevolent God would seek to eliminate evil’. This premise suggests that it is always preferable to have no evil in the world than to have some evil. Irenaeus, John Hick and Richard Swinburne all challenge this premise by claiming that it may be the case that God permits some evil as it is more beneficial to us to have free will. They claim that free will and therefore some evil are necessary to have a full and free relationship with God, and therefore it actively permitted by God. However, the challenge to this counter made by Irenaeus, Hick and Swinburne is that there are not just small instances of evil in the world, but huge tragedies in which thousands of innocent people die from natural evil. Natural evil is not evil that has resulted from free will, but from the design of the universe by its creator. Therefore, they fail to reconcile the existence of a loving and powerful God with the existence of evil that exists in the world. 

To conclude, the logical and evidential problems of evil withstand all challenges made from the theodicies of Irenaeus and Augustine, in addition to the counter arguments from Hick and Swinburne. Whilst it can be argued that some evil is necessary and that humanity may be at fault for the existence of evil in the world, no challenges to the problem of evil in either forms are strong enough to claim that an omnipotent God can be the creator of and exist in a world saturated with evil and suffering.

To what extent is Plato’s belief in a separate body and soul convincing?

In this essay I will demonstrate why Plato’s belief in dualism is convincing. Dualism is a philosophical concept that refers to a separate body and soul which are not co-dependant for their existence. I will use the argument from Descartes to support my argument and explain why Gilbert Ryle’s response of dualism being a category error is weak. 

Plato was an ancient Greek philosopher and argued for an immortal soul. His understanding of a soul comes from his belief in the world of the forms, or the Platonic world. Plato argued that there are two realms of existence, the physical world which is the one that we exist in and the platonic world, which is a potentially nonphysical world. We experience the physical world which is inhabited by physical things, including trees, chairs and human bodies. However, Plato argued that there is a second realm of experience which is only accessible through rational thought and contemplation, which is associated with the nonphysical and immortal soul. Plato argued that the soul inhabits a body whilst in the physical world, and then returns to the platonic world when the physical body has died. Our souls are immortal, have and always will exist and do not depend on having a physical body. Therefore, Plato is a dualist as he believes in a soul and body that are not co-dependant. 

A strength of Plato’s argument comes from his demonstration of innate knowledge in ‘The Meno’, which is a section of the book ‘Republic’. In ‘The Meno’ a slave boy is able to demonstrate his innate knowledge of mathematics when he hasn’t been taught the skills. Plato claims that this shows that we have knowledge that needs to be unlocked, and he argues that this knowledge is evidence of our immortal souls existing in the world of the forms prior to inhabiting a physical body. The Meno is a strong argument for dualism as there are many examples of innate knowledge, such as a moral compass and understanding of right and wrong, that are not necessarily taught but rather unlocked. It could be suggested that there are differences in the moral compasses and understandings of right and wrong in different societies, however I believe that the basic belief of human rights transcends all cultures. This demonstrates that the soul is a source of knowledge and that knowledge must have come from somewhere before entering the body, hence the need for dualism. 

Gilbert Ryle claims that dualism is a category error. Ryle is a modern materialist who does not agree with substance dualism. He claims that the belief of substance dualism is incorrect because it claims the existence of another type of substance other than physical matter. As a proponent of empiricism, Ryle claims that we can only be sure that physical things exist and therefore it is unfounded to claim that something nonphysical such as a soul can possibly exist. Ryle demonstrates this by referring to the concept of ‘team spirit’. If a person pointed to a cricket match and asked where the team spirit is, the correct answer would be that it is not something that is separate to the cricket team, but it is the cricket team. Therefore Ryle argues an error has been made when a dualist argues for a soul which is separate and distinct from the body. 

Ryle’s argument for monism does not however destroy the successes of that for dualism. Rene Descartes was a substance dualist who wrote the book ‘Meditations on First Philosophy’. Descartes spent time searching for proof of what undoubtedly exists, and concluded that the only thing that we can undoubtedly conclude exists is the mind. Descartes stated that ‘I think therefore I am’. He could be sure of the existence of his mind because he was able to think, however he could not be undoubtedly sure of the existence of his body because he could exist as merely a brain in a vat. Therefore, Descartes argued for dualism as his mind could potentially exist without the need for a physical body. This argument from Descartes demonstrates why it is that the soul and body cannot be inseparable. 

Ryle would respond to the Plato and Descartes’ claim that the body and the soul are separate by claiming that the nonphysical substance cannot interact and have a causal relationship with a physical substance. He uses the example of a ‘ghost in a machine’ to explain how a nonphysical soul cannot have any true relationship with the external world. This is a poor response to dualism, as Descartes responds by claiming that the relationship between body and soul is similar to that of a captain and his ship. Whilst they work together, each can exist independently of one another. Descartes’ response is successful because it shows that two different types of thing can interact and work together, demonstrating that it is possible for a body and soul to work together and therefore show that the dualist argument is convincing. 

Finally, Plato’s argument that the body and the soul are not co-dependent is supported by the argument from perception. If one imagines a colour, that colour is not visible somewhere in the brain to show why we are having that thought. Therefore a physical colour and the thought of a colour are not the same thing. This shows that thoughts and potentially feelings and emotions are created by something distinct from the physical body. If thoughts and feelings are created by something distinct from the body then it must be the case that the body and soul are not connected and are made of different types of things, hence why dualism is convincing.

In conclusion, I have shown that the body and soul are not co-dependant by supporting Plato’s theory of substance dualism. I have responded to Ryle’s critique of substance dualism by demonstrating why it is necessary that the soul and the body are not linked and can exist independent of each other. 

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