Haiti and the problem of evil

If there is an all-good, all-powerful God, why is there so much wrong with the world? This ancient problem — the problem of evil — receives unfortunate freshness every time something terrible happens.  Philosopher David Bain discusses the problem of evil, and its connection with the Haiti earthquake, in this short and accessible essay.

I usually think that the best hope for a solution to this problem lies in the idea that there is no best of all possible worlds. This view says that, for any possible world God could have created, there is an even better world that God could have created instead. If this were true, then God would have to make a less-than-perfect world — or else nothing at all. And presumably an imperfect something is better than absolutely nothing. Thus we might be able to explain how an all-good all-powerful God could have created an imperfect world. However, it’s another question whether this line of thinking can offer a complete solution to the problem of evil.  For that you’d need to explain how an all-good all-powerful God could allow, not just imperfections, but also hugely catastrophic events — like what has happened in Haiti.

Philosophy of Action and Philosophy of Religion By Stewart Goetz, Ursinus College (Vol. 1, 2006) Philosophy Compass

Morality and Religion By Tim Mawson, St Peter’s College (December 2009) Philosophy Compass

The Haiti earthquake and the justification of political authority

The problem of political authority, as traditionally understood, asks the following questions: What justifies a state in governing its people? And what reason do citizens have for doing what their government tells them to do? The devastating earthquake in Haiti has given rise to conditions that bear on the answers we might give to these questions. For a graphic description of these conditions, please see “Looting Flares Where Authority Breaks Down,” in today’s New York Times.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, there has been a breakdown in both the supply of basic rations — food, water, etc. — and the presence of political order. The resulting despair and impunity has led to increasing incidents of looting and, in response, increasing incidents of vigilante lynching.

What, if anything, can the Haiti earthquake and its aftermath teach us about what justifies a state in governing its people? For instance, does it lend credence to the political theory long ago advanced by Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan, which holds that state power is justified by the fact that only it can prevent people from warring amongst themselves? I do not think that it does, but anyone interested in the problem of political authority would do well to consider why it does not.

For information on how to help Haiti recover, please visit www.clintonbushhaitifund.org.

Related Articles:

The Duty to Obey the Law
By David Lefkowitz, University of North Carolina, Greensboro
(Vol. 1, October 2006)
Philosophy Compass

Citizenship and The State
By M. Victoria Costa , Florida State University
(Vol. 4, December 2009)
Philosophy Compass