The Problem of Goodness and Hume's Hypothesis of Indifference.

David Hume offered us four choices about the moral nature of "the first causes of the universe." Either they are 1) perfectly good, 2) perfectly evil, 3) they are opposites and have both goodness and malice, or 4) they have neither goodness nor malice. Paul Draper calls the last choice the Hypothesis of Indifference, or HI.

Hume (through Philo) argues for HI in these words: "Mixed phenomena can never prove the two former unmixed principles. And the uniformity and steadiness of general laws seem to oppose the third. The fourth, therefore, seems by far more probable." [Dialogues, part XI].

When it comes to the opposite claims that "the first causes of the universe" are either, 1) perfectly good or 2) perfectly evil, it seems implausible to accept either of these extremes given the fact that we see both goodness and suffering in our world. This is what Hume calls "mixed phenomena," in that we see both goodness and malice in our world.

Those who argue that these causes are "perfectly good" have to explain why there is so much evil in this world, known as the problem of evil. Those who argue that these causes are "perfectly evil" have to explain why there is so much goodness in this world, known as the problem of goodness.

Let's consider the problem of goodness for Hume's second choice, placed in the context of a Supreme Being.

Why is there goodness, we might ask, in a world created by a malicious being? The answers provided would be the same ones that theists who believe in a perfectly good God use to explain the problem of evil, such as: 1) Goodness is the result of truly free actions. 2) Goodness is necessary for evil to exist. 3) Rather than this world being a place for “soul making,” it is designed for “soul breaking.” 4) Any good in the world will produce greater evils. 4) We may not know why this malicious Supreme Being allows goodness, but he knows what he’s doing.

But since the same arguments produce two opposite and contradictory conclusions, both conclusions are implausible…they cancel each other out.

To see this argued in greater depth, Stephen Law, the editor of Think, the Royal Institute of Philosophy Journal, has a dialogue called The God of Eth, which I recommend. He defends his argument from a further objection here, but I highly recommend you read his response to Richard Swinburne's objections here.

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