``Hell and Vagueness"

Faith and Philosophy 19 (1):58--68 (2002)
Abstract
A certain conception of Hell is inconsistent with God’s traditional attributes, or so I will argue. My argument is novel in focusing on considerations involving vagueness. The target doctrine of Hell is part of a “binary” conception of the afterlife, by which I mean one with the properties of dichotomy, badness, non-universality, and divine control. Dichotomy: there are exactly two states in the afterlife, Heaven and Hell. After death each person will come to be, determinately, in exactly one of these states. (The doctrine of Purgatory does not violate dichotomy provided everyone in Purgatory eventually ends up in Heaven.) My argument does not apply to a continuous conception of the afterlife, which to my mind is more defensible than the usual binary doctrine. Badness: Hell is very, very bad. Or at least, Hell is much worse than Heaven; for most of the argument this weaker premise will suf ce. More carefully, the premise is that everyone in Heaven is much, much better off than everyone in Hell. Non-universality: some people go to Heaven, and some people go to Hell. I have no objection to Universalists, according to whom everyone goes to Heaven. Nor does my argument apply to those who uphold universal damnation. Divine control: God is in control of the institution of divine judgment, in control of the mechanism or criterion that determines who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell. This is not to say that God is solely responsible for the fate of created beings, for the divinely mandated criterion might contain a role for free choices. Nor is it to say that God is vindictive. The requirement makes no assumptions about the nature of the criterion, beyond that it is in God’s control. The argument proceeds as follows. Given dichotomy, the only possibilities in the afterlife are determinate membership in either Heaven or Hell; given badness, the second is far worse the rst; and given non-universality, each is populated. Divine control requires that God be in control of the criterion determining these populations, and thus that God’s choice of a criterion be consistent with his attributes.
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