Soul-making and social progress

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I argue that John Hick’s soul-making theodicy is committed to opposing social progress. By focusing on justifying the current amount and distribution of suffering and evil, Hick’s theodicy ends up having to condemn even positive change as undesirable. First, I give a brief outline of Hick’s theodicy, with a particular emphasis on the role of earned virtue in justifying the existence of evil. Then I consider two understandings of social progress: progress as the elimination of suffering and evil; and progress as the promotion of earned virtue. I further distinguish the earned virtue understanding of social progress into two kinds, in which the relationship between social structures and moral growth either: allows members of a more advanced society to start closer to perfection; or allows members of a more advanced society to progress more quickly. I argue that no matter which approach we take, Hick’s theodicy struggles with the idea of social progress. Hick is either straightforwardly committed to opposing social progress, or he can support it only at the expense of being unable to justify status quo of suffering and evil.
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Archival date: 2021-01-13
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