Thursday, February 16, 2012

Kant and hell part two

In my post Immanuel Kant on the concept of hell I wrote about how one could use Kant's moral argument to argue for hell in the afterlife, though I didn't fully develop the thought, I only briefly wrote about it. After thinking about it some more and talking about it with some friends I think I can develop the idea further in this post, though I may finish up in a part three post. Ready? Let's go! 

Hell traditionally (at least from what I know) has been though of as eternal punishment for one's sins here on earth, whether it's eternal fire, torture, or separation from God, still it's an eternal existence of punishment. In opposition to that (or maybe it's the accurate view - there is debate about it) there is also the view that hell is not eternal punishment, but instead it's annihilation, or put another way it's non-existence. Which would make more sense philosophically? Well, let's look at Kant's moral argument again: 

From his Critique of Practical Reason:
1. Happiness is what all human beings desire. 
2. Morality is the duty of all human beings. 
3. The unity of happiness and duty is the greatest good.
4. The greatest good ought to be sought.  
5. But the unity of desire and duty (which is the greatest good) is not possible by finite human beings in limited time.
6. And the moral necessity of doing something implies the possibility of doing it (ought implies can).
7. Therefore, it is morally (practically) necessary to postulate: (a) a Deity to make this unity possible (i.e., a power to bring them together), and (b) immortality to make this unity achievable.

According to Kant, human beings will exist after our death here in the phenomenal world and exist eternally in the noumenal world. Now Kant doesn't make clear what the noumenal world is, but instead argues for the practical necessity of God to make the unity possible and immortality to make the unity achievable. So those persons who sought the greatest good will have the privilege of enjoying the greatest good after death. What about those persons who didn't seek after the greatest good? There are immoral human beings in this world who are inexplicably malevolent; what happens to them? What kind of hell would be such persons' punishment? Annihilation or eternal punishment?
Kant's argument is vague (at least to me) on what happens to the persons who do not seek the greatest good. I would think since human beings are contingent upon the Deity who created them, then wouldn't they exist after their material death? If that is true, then an eternal punishment would be due to such persons. Of course, if the cosmic judge is all-powerful as he needs to be, does it not follow that he could cause someone or something to not exist? Therefore, hell would be non-existence if my logic is followed correctly. It's difficult to think of not existing, but it doesn't make it impossible.
Some might argue that the punishment should fit the crime. If that is true, then an infinite time of punishment would not be what is due to a person who committed immoral actions in a finite amount of time would it? Maybe an infinite amount of punishment can be reached? Is such a thing possible? Philosopher Greg Koukl answers the question.
"Lewis says this, "Since the time is infinite, the amount of punishment is infinite." This is the key error. Time in the afterlife is not an infinite for any of us. It is merely everlasting and there is a difference. The future goes on and on without end, but like our expanding balloon, it never will become infinitely long. So forever and ever means that it never comes to an end, but a thing that continues to get older and older still has an age. It never gets infinitely old. Even though one lives forever and ever, one never lives for an actual eternity, which is an infinite amount of time, because no matter how old you get, you always have an age. 
The confusion is understandable because time, like numbers, is potentially infinite, but the actual expansion into this limitless arena of possibility has an edge to it. It has a size. There are no limits to the possible size of numbers, but any particular number has a quantity. My point was, in Hell some people suffer more than others. The duration of this difference is everlasting, but it never attains to an infinite. 

Suppose you and I count together. I count every number and you count every tenth number. For the entire time that we count, your number will always be ten times larger than mine even though we count forever and ever. Though the numbers may be potentially infinite, you and I are always working with finite numbers, not infinite ones. Our amounts are never equal because, no matter how much time we have, neither of us can count to infinity. Every time we add one, we are still dealing with a finite number. We will never be able to get an actual infinite by adding one number after another. 

The duration of our future is much like counting, with the numbers representing successive moments of our existence. There may be no limits to the possible age of a being who lives forever, like you and me, but any particular created being always has an age. It gets larger and larger with every moment, but it still has an age. If it has an age, then the duration of its existence is finite and not infinite. Every created being had a beginning so it can never live for an actual eternity. It is temporal, not eternal. 

The simple truth is, even though punishment in Hell is forever and ever, it can never become eternal because no matter how far one lives into the future, he always has a quantifiable age. No one will ever endure an infinity of suffering because no one lives that long. Even though they live forever and ever and ever and never die, no one suffers in Hell for an infinite amount of time, and no one enjoys Heaven for an infinite amount of time."

Understanding an infinite existence in that sense changes the outlook on hell and punishment. The Judge or Deity (whatever you want to call him) can sentence a person to an infinite punishment, while retaining the model: "the punishment fits the crime."

If we use Kant's model, I think we can say that persons who sought after the greatest good will be united after death with the greatest good and enjoy it forever while those who did not seek after the greatest good will be punished based on the severity of their immorality forever and not being able to be united with the greatest good.

Are there holes in this philosophy? Perhaps. I think it could be defended better and maybe I will return to it someday, but I think we can say that hell is a punishment without end for those who didn't seek the greatest good.

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