Symposium: Eleonore Stump

The symposium on Eleonore Stump’s paper, “Saadia Gaon on The Problem of Evil” (Faith and Philosophy 1997, Vol. 14, No. 4: 523-49), is now underway.  Prof. Stump has kindly agreed to participate in the Symposium.  In what follows, I replicate the abstract of the paper, a brief summary and a series of questions to get things started.

Original Abstract: Considerable effort has been expended on constructing theodicies which try to reconcile the suffering of unwilling innocents, such as Job, with the existence and nature of God as understood in Christian theology. There is, of course, abundant reflection on the problem of evil and the story of Job in the history of Jewish thought, but this material has not been discussed much in contemporary philosophical literature. I want to take a step towards remedying this defect by examining the interpretation of the story of Job and the solution to the problem of evil given by one important and influential Jewish thinker, Saadia Gaon.
Summary: In this paper, Stump compares and contrasts the theodicies of Aquinas and Saadya Gaon. Aquinas recognises only one form of suffering that God allows or even inflicts upon his human creatures (even his innocent and unwilling creatures). Because of the doctrine of the fall of man, all human beings are, in Aquinas’ view, infected by a ‘cancer of the soul’ in the sense that we are born with a ‘proneness to evil.’ Even the pure and the innocent share in this proneness. Pain and suffering are, for Aquinas, ‘God’s medicine for this spiritual cancer.’ Without the suffering, complete union with God is impossible. And thus, the suffering constitutes a necessary condition for the warding off of a greater evil for the suffer, namely: alienation from God.
Saadya Gaon differs from Aquinas in recognising three categories of suffering that God allows or even inflicts upon his human creatures. The first category is that of character building. Stump provides us with Saadya’s example: ‘Just as it isn’t wrong for the scholar to afflict himself with late nights reading, for the sake of excellence in scholarship, so it is not wrong for God to afflict a person for the sake of excellence of that person’s character.’ Pain and suffering, to use an analogy of C. S. Lewis, are compared to the chiseling of the sculptor on a block of stone; each blow of the hammer may be painful, but they are what make us perfect.

Saadya’s second category is purgation and punishment. When someone has done something wrong, the crime can leave a stain on the sinner’s character or soul. Though this metaphor needs some cashing out, Saadya was of the opinion that pain and suffering can play their role in helping to reform the sinner. This second category of suffering keeps ‘a person who has done something bad from getting worse’ and rectifies ‘his accounts so that he is not in moral debt any more’.

Saadya’s third category of pain and suffering, is the trial. This type of suffering is reserved only for those human beings who God knows will pass. He inflicts pain and suffering on them in order to increase their merit, and therefore, their eventual reward. ‘According to Saadia, then, God permits suffering to come to an unwilling innocent, but apparently just for the sake of rewarding him in the afterlife for his having endured such suffering.’

The next task of Stump’s paper is to outline the numerous reasons for thinking that Saadya’s third category of suffering, suffering as trial, is so troubling at best, and ridiculous at worst.
On Aquinas’ account, God only inflicts pain upon a sufferer to ward off a greater evil for that sufferer. On Saadya’s account, God will inflict pain upon a sufferer, not merely to ward off greater evils, but even to bring about greater goods for the sufferer in question. Stump goes to great lengths, with some wonderfully evocative thought-experiments, to show that our moral intuitions support Aquinas’ notion of inflicting pain upon an unwilling person x in order to ward off a greater evil for that person, but that our moral intuitions wouldn’t support Saadya’s principle of inflicting pain merely in order to increase good upon an unwilling victim. In fact, in many situations, we would look upon instantiations of Saadya’s principle as nothing short of criminal.
Saadya’s position is made to look all the worse when we realise that Aquinas is viewing pain as a necessary cure to the block between man and God, where for Saadya, presumably, God could bestow the greater rewards he has in store for those he tries without going through with the trial, so the pain isn’t even necessary for the goal.
Maimonides is cited as a Jewish thinker who goes to great lengths to demonstrate that Saadya’s third category is incompatible with Jewish thought. There is no death without sin, and no suffering without transgression, or so we are taught by the sages of the Talmud. But Saadya’s third category seems to imply otherwise.
Furthermore, the notion that God would test people only when he knows that they will pass seems to make a mockery of the notion of a test.
Having shown that Saadya’s third category of suffering, as traditionally understood, doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, Stump, evoking the principle of charity, puts forward a new interpretation of Saadya’s theodicy that integrates his commentary on Job with his great philosophical treaties Emunot VaDeot.
On the revised understanding of Saadya’s third category, we are called upon to recognise some general features of Saadya’s worldview.
Firstly, he thinks that the category of the righteous still includes people who have sinned. The person who never sins is a logical possibility, as far as Saadya is concerned, but a statistical unlikelihood, at best. Most righteous people, in fact, the vast majority of them, have sinned and have repented.
Secondly, we have to remember that as far as Saadya is concerned sins damage the character of the sinner, and repentance isn’t enough to undo the damage immediately. Stump compares repentance, in this light, to a person who has lived an unhealthy lifestyle and suddenly decides to change their ways. The decision alone is not sufficient to produce a healthy and athletic body; the decision will have to be backed up by a good dose of healthy eating and exercise. Likewise, the damage done to the soul of a sinner isn’t automatically cleansed by repentance.
Thirdly, Saadya is committed to the notion that the righteous receive everlasting reward in the world to come in proportion to their degree of righteousness.
Against the backdrop of these, and other commitments of Saadya, his three categories of suffering transform into something more complex. There are righteous people who stand in need of the second form of suffering – purgation and punishment – even though they have repented and can no longer be called sinners. And, there may now be good reason for the notion of a Divine trial. Imagine a righteous person who has repented of many sins but has forgotten to repent of one of them. This lapse will cause that righteous person to miss out on a higher level of reward in the world to come; it will cause him to miss out on a closer level of proximity to God. If God tests them in this world, and if they pass the test, remaining steadfast through the suffering, then, and only then, will they ward off the great evil of loosing the proximity that was within their grasp.
Thus, on Stump’s analysis, Saadya’s third category of suffering is transformed from the affliction of unwilling innocents merely in order to bring them a greater good that could have been achieved without suffering, to the affliction of unwilling innocents that is necessary for the warding off of a greater evil.
Besides this masterly and charitable interpretation of Saadya’s theodicy, Stump’s paper includes some compelling comparisons between the revised Saadya and Aquinas, alongside a fascinating discussion of Saadya’s ‘G. E. Moore shift’: where the atheist looks at pain and suffering as a proof of their atheism, Saadya starts from the position of knowledge that the God of Jewish theology exists, and concludes that there must be ‘a morally sufficient reason for God to allow innocent suffering.’ All of this is concluded by a tantalizing suggestion as to what makes Saadya’s theodicy strikingly Jewish in comparison to Aquinas: Saadya starts from the communal knowledge and experience of a good and just God, ‘So Saadia supposes that epistemological virtue can be vested in a community, as well as in an individual … Saadia’s continual consciousness of belonging to a people whose life over many generations has shaped a common set of religious commitments is, in my view,’ Stump concludes, ‘a salutary corrective to the individualism typically found in contemporary discussions of the problem of evil.’
Some Points for Discussion:
  1. One thing that Saadya and Aquinas share is the assumption that God can be judged according to the standards of human morality. This tradition seems to begin with Abraham, and his despairing remark, ‘Shall the judge of all the earth not act justly?!’ But, if we take seriously the inscruitablity of God’s ways, and the formidalble difficulties in the way of even describing God, can we really claim to have the tools to judge him at all? Isn’t the whole idea of a theodicy reductive of Divinity? Or, perhaps the same question can be put without appeal to the inscrutability of God, but to the primitive nature of the term ‘good’. Wittgenstein, for example, argued that Euthyphro’s approach to piety (that the pious is only pious because it is loved by the gods) was more profound than the alternative (that piety was loved by the gods because of its piety) because Euthyphro’s approach ‘cuts off the way to any explanation ‘why’ it is good, while the second interpretation is the shallower, rationalist one, which pretends ‘as if’ you could give reasons for what is good’ (pg. 115, Ludwig Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle: Conversations Recorded by Friedrich Waismann, ed. Brian McGuiness, 1979, Oxford: Blackwell – Thanks to Gabriel Citron for showing me this quote). If God’s actions are good by definition, however they may appear to us, then theodicy is transformed from reductive to unnecessary.
  2. A suggestion: perhaps the assumption underlying question 1 goes some way towards explaining Maimonides’ theodicy, which Stump raises difficulties with in the paper. Maimonides’ considered position is that we can’t really say all that much about God at all. Even the active attributes and predicating perfection of God, Maimonides seems to waiver over. Some times it seems like they pass, but at other times, it seems that even they can’t really be said meaningfully. Thus, when Maimonides says that God never allows pain or suffering to go on without a just cause in terms of the sufferer’s sin, he is saying something that by his own lights he can’t really say. I would venture, that he thinks Saadya’s position is heretical because it seems to imply imperfection on God’s part, in the guise of injustice. But that he doesn’t really believe his own theodicy, he just thinks that it’s the only kosher theodicy out there. But, the intellectually perfect, who see through the various purposeful contradictions and riddles of the Guide to the Perplexed will realise that theodicy isn’t possible.
  3. Why doesn’t Stump elaborate more, in this paper, on what seems to be a hugely significant difference between Aquinas and Saadya, in that Aquinas has a doctrine of the Fall-of-man and the cancer of the soul, whereas Saadya doesn’t? Is the difference less important than it seems?
  4. What is the nature and what are the virtues of the collectivised, or communal epistmology that Stump so tantalisingly alludes to at the end of the paper?
  5. Another suggestion: Perhaps the Midianite and Cannanite children that Saadya puts into category three really were going to have terrible lives. Their parents were to be killed, presumably because of their moral corruption, and they were going to live their lives as outcasted orphans, instead, they were given the trials and tribulations, in their short lives, which helped them to escape a whole lifetime of misery and led them to an eternity of Divine reward. Is such an account convincing for the suffering of all children? I don’t think so. But perhaps it works for the case at hand.
  6. A final question: for Aquinas, why couldn’t God create a world in which our moral cancer had a less harsh cure than the sort of ‘chemotherapy’ envisioned by Aquinas; and, similarly, for Saadya, why couldn’t God create a world in which the damage done to the soul of a repentant sinner could be removed without pain? Don’t these theodicies leave some work to be done?
PS. Perhaps I was bound to love this paper given that my wife and I named our first child Saadya!
Event Details
  1. Roman Altshuler

    Thanks for hosting this symposium, and on such a great topic and paper!

    I loved the attempt to read Saadia charitably here, but I found myself bothered by the explanation of the "stain" on the soul and just what the "backwards-looking problem" is supposed to be about.

    Stump suggests that sin leaves a stain on the soul that, in our idiom, might be understood as psychological sickness, or as leaving habits or traits of character in place that repentance cannot erase, and that this stain can only be wiped through suffering. This is an interesting suggestion, but I worry that it is too charitable–that is, while it would perhaps make Saadia's view more palatable, I see no evidence that Saadia has anything like this in mind.

    First, Saadia doesn't seem to have any developed notion of character, in the Aristotelian sense. His comments about sin leaving a stain on the soul (visible only to God) strike me as painfully literal, and dovetail with his discussion of the soul as a fine substance in Treatise VI. If he really meant the "stain" or "flaw" to involve something like the acquisition of bad character traits likely to lead to relapse and requiring purging through suffering, we should wonder why he gives no indication of this, but rather seems to sharply separate the metaphysical discussion of the stain from the practical discussion of relapse. (For comparison, Bahya recognizes this problem clearly, and therefore stresses that forming habits contrary to the particular sin in question is constitutive of genuine repentance.)

    Second, Saadia notes that for the penitent, "the iniquities he committed before his repentance are canceled" (p. 223), which to me suggests that the flaws or stains of his soul are wiped away by repentance. It is especially worrying–to me, anyway–that Saadia thinks of reward and punishment as accruing only on the basis of one's deeds, so that the state of one's soul is relevant only insofar as it bears a visual (to God) record of those deeds. I don't have a sense that Saadia himself sees any backward-looking problem, but only a forward-looking one: since the flaws indicative of guilt are wiped away by repentance, the only remaining concern is that the penitent might slip back into sin.

    Third, in discussing this problem (relapse), Saadia doesn't bring up suffering. Rather, he notes that the antidote to lapsing back into sin involves "thinking up reasons for holding this world in contempt" (p. 222).

    None of this, of course, is incompatible with Stump's reading. But if the issues she raises really are so central to Saadia's theodicy, one might wonder why he says nothing about them but instead veers at every opportunity in the opposite direction.

  2. Sam Lebens

    Thank you Roman for your comment.

    I had also assumed that Saadya's talk of stains on souls was literal, even though I haven't a clue what that would actually mean. It would be interesting to hear what Prof. Stump has to say in response.

    Furthermore, your comment makes me want to refine my final point of discussion.

    Aristotle has one kind of pain — pain as cure for the spiritual cancer of our soul (which, when we cash out the metaphor, is our proneness to evil) — and it isn't clear, at least to me, why God had to create a world in which pain is the only cure for such a malady. Nor is it clear to me why he had to create a world in which innocent people suffer from that malady in the first place just because of the sins of their ancestors (this issue I allude to in point 3 of my discussion points).

    Saadya, by contrast, has three types of pain and suffering. Regarding the first type, pain as character building, I can understand why it has to be pain that does this job. To use another of C. S. Lewis' metaphors, pain is God's megaphone to rouse a sleeping world. Why couldn't he wake us with laughter and violins? Because the dream from which we must awake is the dream that all is well. The existence of pain and suffering remind us to utilise our free will to make this world a better place. Here, it seems clear that Saadya is pre-emtping John Hick, and following, I imagine unwittingly, the lead of Saint. Irenaeus.

    But the second and the third type of pain, it isn't clear to me why God had to create a world in which pain does the job.

    Regarding the second type of pain, Roman is right, that it isn't clear that Saadya really recognises a backwards-looking problem for the repentant sinner. Sure, there is a stain on the soul, but if the sins have been canceled, then why is it even worth while to suffer the pain just to get rid of a stain that has no practical ramifications in our lives, that only God can see, and God has forgiven us!

    Regarding the third type of pain, which is designed, as Stump understands it, to replace repentance for the righteous sinner who has forgotten to repent for a certain sin; it really isn't clear why it has to be pain that does this job either; why can't we just appeal to God's grace and digression to pardon a forgetful righteous person who would repent if only he knew?

    Even given Roman's comments, Saadya does seem to be an improvement on Aquinas here. On Aquinas' account, it's not clear why it has to be pain that does the job. Saadya gives pain three jobs to perform, and at least it's the case for one of those jobs, that pain really does have to be the vehicle for performing the task.

    So we have a criticism of both Aquinas and Saadya but Saadya does seem to have the upper hand, notwithstanding Roman's point.

  3. Eleonore Stump

    Suppose that Joseph Goebbels did not commit suicide but in fact survived till some time after the war. And suppose that in that period Goebbels had a genuine conversion of heart and repented all his earlier evil with passion. Now consider Goebbels in this period. If you had been a contemporary of Goebbels’s then, would you have been willing to have him at your dinner table? For very many people, the answer to these latter questions is an adamant ‘no’.
    The unshakeability of this ‘no’ can co-exist with bafflement about what could justify it. Before Goebbels was repentant, what would have rendered it objectionable to include him in family life or among friends is just that the non-repentant Goebbels was a morally evil man. But the same thing cannot be said about the repentant Goebbels. If he is genuinely repentant (and by stipulation in my thought experiment he is), then his actions, his volitions, his beliefs and desires are not those a morally evil man has. His moral condition in his repentant state is therefore, apparently, no different from that of any ordinary human being.
    The medieval notion of a stain on the soul is supposed to help us understand our intuitions here. In earlier work, I argued that this stain includes unwholesome characteristics in parts of the psyche other than intellect and will.
    For example, engaging in a serious moral wrong leaves a psyche with a certain sort of moral slackness, as it were, a sort of moral flabbiness which it would not otherwise have had. So, for example, consider the ability to simulate the mind of another human being, which is part of the cognitive capacities of all normal human adults. Most people cannot simulate the mind of a person such as Goebbels; and we give expression to that incapacity by saying things like “I can’t imagine how a person can do a thing like that!”. But perhaps someone who has engaged in violent crime or horrible wrongdoing is for that very reason more able to simulate the mind of the person who engages in other serious moral evils.
    That a person is morally the worse for being able successfully to form this sort of simulation seems to me clear, although the moral flaw here is not a matter of the agent’s having flawed desires or flawed beliefs about what is good.
    I hope that this helps with the notion of the stain on the soul, which I think is very useful for a charitable reading of Saadia.

  4. Sam Lebens

    I think this is very helpful for a charitable reading of Saadya, but I worry that it's too charitable only because he keeps talking about the soul as an actual substance. I can't claim to understand any of Saadya's soul-talk, and I very much like your reading, but I think that Roman's concern is that it takes metaphorically what Saadya meant literally. I have to say, Prof. Stump, I hope that you're right! Because by my modern sensibilities, your reading is gratefully received.

  5. Aaron Segal

    This is indeed an extremely interesting paper, and the follow-up discussion is already very thought-provoking.

    1) Prof. Stump's discussion of the "stain on the soul" raises two questions for me. First, it seems right to me – and something I hadn't really thought about before – that PART of the reason I would not want to have dinner with a "repentant moral monster" is that he has the capacity to simulate the mind of a moral monster, an ability that I don't have. But I don't think that's the WHOLE story – if one were to add to the Goebbels thought experiment that he had not only repented, but had lost his ability to simulate much of anything, let alone the mind of a moral monster, I still wouldn't want to have dinner with him. The mere fact that the man I'd be having dinner with IS Goebbels – i.e., he's identical to the man who perpetrated such moral atrocities – would be more than enough to dissuade me from sitting down to such a dinner. But this leads me to wonder: given that even in the absence of any present moral flaw, I'd still avoid having dinner with a repentant moral monster, I'm not sure we can use a "who will I sit down to dinner with intuition" to demonstrate anything about the MORAL or SPIRITUAL state of a repentant moral monster, and certainly about a repentant basically-good-person. MAYBE my aversion to sitting down to dinner with a fully repentant moral monster (whether he can or cannot simulate an evil mind) reflects the fact that he still has some stain on his soul, which might be there purely in virtue of his past, but it is far from clear to me that this is so – maybe it just reflects my disgust and revulsion at the thought of anyone identical to Goebbels (seeing as how I would feel that way even if I could not identify any of his present properties, other than his so-called "backward-looking properties", as morally or spiritually problematic).
    And second, suppose Prof. Stump is right that one can have a stain on the soul at least partly in virtue of having the capacity to simulate evil – then I don't see how suffering is supposed to help get rid of such a stain – if anything, it would seem to me that the only solution is some radical form of repentance, in which one distances oneself from one's former mindset to the extent that one can't even imagine doing what one had done. But how is suffering, all by itself (i.e., without bringing about a radical repentance), supposed to help? Or did I misunderstand and really the suffering is supposed to encourage the final stage of repentance, i.e. the radical repentance just mentioned?


  6. Aaron Segal

    2) I, like Sam, found Stump's concluding remarks about the collective character of Jewish belief tantalizing. In addition to exploring that issue in general, which I think really needs to be done, Stump introduces it in a very specific context, i.e. the context of the national/communal suffering of the Jewish people (pp. 541-543). Maybe I'm over-reading (or maybe this is obviously so), but it seems to me that Stump thinks there is a special role for communal beliefs (however that's to be understood) when it comes to addressing the shared suffering of such a community. Whether that was Stump's intention, I think this leads to a very interesting suggestion, or maybe set of closely related suggestions. Here are two very different ways of developing this link: one way is to say that any theodicy that doesn't wish to take national/communal suffering as a mere byproduct of intended individual suffering – and I don't see how a Jewish theodicy, if such there be, could take such a byproduct approach, at least when it comes to the suffering of the Jewish people – will have to see the suffering of the Jewish people as intended national suffering; but then one might think it's reasonable to assume that the suffering of the Jewish people is for the good of that very entity, i.e. the Jewish people (analogous to what Saadya and Aquinas assume regarding an individual, as Stump points out). But on some suggestions of the goods that would accrue to the Jewish people, such as national repentance, there would have to be some national self-understanding and/or national religious commitments in place in order for those goods to obtain. On this way of developing the link, the THEODICY need not be appreciated by the community, but SOME beliefs, or at least commitments, need to be in place in order for the theodicy to be CORRECT.
    [I am aware that one has to tread lightly here – in some instances of communal suffering, it is difficult at best, and bordering on morally reprehensible, to suggest a greater good for the community that emerges from their suffering, a la the Satmer or R. Teichtal "explanation" of the Holocaust. I do not mean to suggest that if there is a theodicy for communal suffering, it holds for all cases, or that we can always presume to know it.]
    Another way to develop the suggested link is that there are certain truths that, perhaps, can't be apprehended as an individual, or at least it's much easier to see their truth as a member of a believing community. And maybe theodicies – and in particular, theodicies for the suffering of one's community – are examples of such truths. Or even if not theodicies, at least the FACT that God is just, is something that can be seen only when one is a member of a believing community (this seems to be the closest to Stump's suggestion about the G.E. Moore shift). On this way of developing the suggestion, the crucial role for communal beliefs and commitments is in allowing for one to SEE a reason for communal suffering, or at least to see that there is such a reason.

    These suggestions need to be developed further, and I assume there are yet other ways to cash out the link between communal suffering and communal religious epistemology.


  7. Roman Altshuler

    It seems like there are several distinct questions regarding Goebbels. The first is whether his flaw makes it more likely that he will relapse. (The ability to simulate the mind of a monster certainly seems like something that could contribute to a relapse, in that someone who cannot even simulate the mind of someone who commits genocide would be disabled from doing such a thing.) The second is whether we–as a community of, shall we say, somewhat more moral beings–would accept Goebbels into our midst.

    Now, if we interpret the flaw entirely in terms of leaving a potential for relapse, then this seems to not be what Saadia is getting at and, in any case, this would not really be a backward-looking problem (someone who has not committed genocide might still be able to simulate the mind of a moral monster, and might be similarly disposed–or at least enabled–toward such actions, but the moral status of such a potential monster seems to be different from the status of an actual, if repentant, monster). If we interpret the flaw in terms of how the community might react to such a monster, this is what the forgiveness component of repentance is supposed to accomplish–repentance in the Jewish tradition is not simply a matter of a change of heart before God, but a commitment to seeking and earning forgiveness from others (thus, confession is publicly undertaken). There are some crimes for which repentance is impossible (though I think we might disagree with Saadia's list of such crimes), I think in part for this reason–because not everything is forgiveable. But in any case, if my sin is one of which it is possible to repent, even if my community refuses to forgive, nevertheless God, who sees my soul, might still wipe clean my accounts and the flaw would be gone, the lack of acceptance from my community notwithstanding.

    This leaves a further possibility, which is what Aaron may be getting at: That when people's past sins are grave enough, we take them to be flawed not by virtue of anything about their present actions or tendencies or mental states, but literally only by virtue of something they have done in the past–because Goebbels now, whatever he is like, is in some sense identical with the person who was Goebbels during the holocaust, he is flawed as such: the flaw is not a flaw in his soul now, but a flaw in his soul as a temporally extended entity. There are certainly serious questions about how we can make sense of this view–but I think it does match some of our intuitions, and I think it is what the notion of a flaw in the soul is supposed to capture. And what is important to note here–again, following Aaron's point that even if Goebbels loses his capacity for simulation, our attitudes may not change–is that *this* intuition is not explicable in psychological terms.

    But it is also precisely *this* sort of flaw that repentance seems intended to wipe clean; if it did not do that, it would be unclear what repentance involves other than simply a mix of remorse and seeking forgiveness. Repentance, however, seems to have a further, metaphysical element, as it can literally clean the negative columns in the book of accounts God keeps for us all. (Despite puzzles about how Saadia's metaphor of accounts and his apparent non-metaphor of a flaw in the substance of the soul fit together.)

  8. Sam Lebens

    I'm very intrigued by Aaron's second suggestion as to how to cash out the link between the problem of communal suffering and communal epistemology. I'm facinated by the idea that there are certain truths that cannot be recognised outside of a communal context. I need to think about that some more.

    But in this comment, I'd like to take what I thought was a potential criticism of Stump's reading of Saadya, and turn it into a support for her reading, using something that Roman said.

    Aaron suggested, as I understand him, that the 'who would I sit down to dinner test' isn't all that relevant to assessing who is still in need of moral refinement. My subjective reasons for finding a certain person repulsive may have nothing to do with their actual, current, moral standing. I simply don't want to sit down with somebody who is identical to a geoncidal murderer, even if that person is now morally praiseworthy. But my aesthetic repulsion may be totally irrelevant.

    But, Roman helps us to see why Aaron's repulsion really may be based on more substantive moral intuitions. Our intuition is based on the idea that even though there is no flaw in his soul now, there is a flaw in his soul, when thought of as a temporally extended entity.

    Now we can understand why the 'who would I sit down to dinner test' is actually relevant. But the questions haven't all evaporated. For example: Why would suffering help to iron out the flaw in question?

    I'm also interested to hear whether Prof Stump feels that Saadya's description of the soul as a substance really threatens her reading, as Roman seems to think.

  9. Roman Altshuler

    Just to add quickly to Sam's point: the issue for me isn't just Saadia's view of the soul as a substance (although I do think this calls into question the attempt to interpret the flaw–as Saadia sees it–in psychological or character terms), but that Saadia does seem to think, at least on my reading, that the point of repentance just is to clear away such flaws left over from past misdeeds–to "cancel" them. If that's right (and if it isn't, what is the point of repentance?), then it isn't clear what further need there is for therapy (especially given that Saadia thinks that therapy–contempt for this world–is needed precisely to avoid relapse, and not for any other reason). Nor–again, agreeing with Sam and Aaron–is it clear why suffering would be appropriate or necessary therapy (especially if the person is righteous enough that s/he would repent if only s/he were aware of the sin!).

    I do, however, find Prof. Stump's reading especially interesting in making sense of Saadia's talk of assaying the soul, despite my suspicion that for him this means the literal purification of a substance.

  10. drstu

    I would like to add some perspective to Prof. Stump's ideas about Rav Sadiah Gaon (my references will be to the Hebrew edition of the Commentary to Iyov(=Job) published by Rav Yosef Kaffach). It is true that in both his Emunot veDei'ot as well as in the commentary to Iyov, Rav Sadiah Gaon's "fallback" position as regards theodicy is that some righteous people are caused to suffer so that their reward in the World-to-Come will be greater. But in the case of Iyov, this suffering was not solely for that purpose.
    One of the most interesting ideas in the commentary to Iyov is how Rav Sadiah Gaon explains the identity of "Satan." Rav Sadiah Gaon writes (page 28) that it is absurd (for reasons that I do not have the space here to enumerate) to hold that Satan is an "angel" of sorts. Rather Satan (which is not really a proper noun according to Rav Sadiah Gaon, but I capitalize it out of habit) means "an enemy" and a human enemy at that. According to Rav Sadiah Gaon, Iyov had enemies, and these enemies besmirched Iyov's good name, saying that he was not truly pious, and should God strip Iyov of his good fortune, then Iyov's true character would be shown to all. Rav Sadiah Gaon writes (page 31)that one of the tasks (perhaps burden would be a better description) of the righteous person in this world is to show how to serve God even under the greatest duress. So in the case of Iyov, his suffering was not an atonement for any sin, but also it was not purely not meant to be a source for reward. rather the suffering that he had to bear was part of the "job-description" of the righteous person for which he would be rewarded. This idea that the righteous person is called upon to be an exemplar of piety under conditions of extreme anguish is repeated in the "Drashot haRan" (the 6th drasha, pages 100-101 in Prof. Feldman's edition). Stuart Fischman

  11. Sam Lebens

    I think that Dr. Fischman's concern is partially fair. A full account of Saadya Gaon's theodicy might require investigation of the 'job-description' of a righteous person.

    On the other hand, it seems that Prof. Stump's main concern is with Saadya Gaon's general theodicy, which Dr. Fischman refers to as the fallback position, rather than with his commentary on the story of Job per se. Although the job-description might be partially relevant to a full picture of Saadya Gaon's theodicy, it's probably not as central a feature as it is in his account of the events that surround Job's particular set of misfortunes. Does that make sense?

  12. Anonymous

    Sam writes, 3. Why doesn't Stump elaborate more, in this paper, on what seems to be a hugely significant difference between Aquinas and Saadya, in that Aquinas has a doctrine of the Fall-of-man and the cancer of the soul, whereas Saadya doesn't? Is the difference less important than it seems?

    Several somewhat related questions also arise. What, if any, differences do Aquinas and Saadya indicate as to the neurological aspects of reality? How do the thoughts, we know now make actual change in the brain, of a person compare to the actual carrying out of a deed. In other words, what is the difference between Goebbels and someone that only wished to do what he did?

    Dallas Bell

  13. Eleonore Stump

    Someone suggested that the ability to simulate the mind of a moral monster can't be the whole story of the stain on the soul, and this point is quite right in my view. My calling attention to the ability to engage in such simulation was my attempt to help illumine the idea of the stain by giving one example. But there are certainly other things that are part of such a stain as well. Some of these other things are relational.

    So, for example, consider the relations between Martin Heidegger and Hermann Staudinger, a Nobel-prize winning chemist at the University of Freiburg during the time when Heidegger was rector. Documentary evidence recently come to light shows that Heidegger secretly betrayed Staudinger to the Gestapo and campaigned for his dismissal from the University because of the pacifist sentiments which Staudinger had expressed at an earlier period in his life. Staudinger was interrogated by the Nazis on more than one occasion and, in the end, narrowly escaped the punishment Heidegger had covertly tried to bring about.

    Suppose, what does not seem to have been the case, both that Staudinger knew about Heidegger’s proceedings against him and that later Heidegger was entirely repentant for his actions. If(contrary to fact) Heidegger had been genuinely repentant, then, like the repentant Goebbels of my thought experiment, Heidegger’s intellect and will,and the dispositions of his intellect and will, would (in his repentant state and with regard to Staudinger) have been those of a morally good person. Nonetheless, there would have been a problem for Staudinger as regards Heidegger. After Heidegger’s initiation of the Nazi investigation of Staudinger, Heidegger stood in a different relation to Staudinger from that which he had had before. Afterwards, Heidegger was a person who had betrayed Staudinger’s trust. Even if Heidegger were sorry for it, even if his repentancewas so deep and evident that Staudinger had no concern about Heidegger’s future trustworthiness, Heidegger’s history then included his betrayal of Staudinger,as it did not before. Heidegger then had a relational property which he lacked before, namely, the relational property of having betrayed his colleague. And this relational property will clearly make a huge difference to Staudinger.

    It is clear that this relational property is relevant to a moral evaluation of Heidegger, even if we stipulate that Heidegger’s repentance was deep enough so that no one, including even Staudinger, felt any inclination to afflict him further through any sort of penalty or punishment. Nonetheless, even if Heidegger had been forgiven in this way, it does seem right to think, as Aquinas does, that something which was good in his relationship to his colleague Staudinger, some innocence in their relationship, lost some of its brightness and was shadowed or stained by Heidegger’s acts of betrayal.

  14. Eleonore Stump

    Someone asked what could restore a person who was morally monstrous and has repented if repentance is not enough. The old notion of satisfaction is the answer. Satisfaction is a matter of a person’s doing voluntarily what would be punishment, simply considered, if it were imposed on him against his will. But the point of satisfaction is to restore relationships, not to effect punishment for the wrongdoing.

    Consider, for example, the case of John Henry Newton.

    When he was a young man, Newton was involved in the slave trade. A large percentage of the Africans transported on his ships died during the voyage; their suffering was heartbreaking, and the suffering of those who survived was worse.

    A protracted religious conversion changed Newton’s life dramatically. Somewhere in the course of his conversion, he became horrified at what he had done in the slave trade; he became stricken at the suffering he had helped to bring about.

    In consequence of his whole-hearted repentance, Newton worked hard, in formal and informal ways, to help bring about the abolition of the slave trade in England. His efforts at ending the slave trade were his satisfaction.

    In this spirit, Newton joined forces with the English abolitionist William Wilberforce and others to alter public opinion about the slave trade. His pamphlet Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade was influential and made a great difference to the debate in Parliament. There Newton recounted the suffering experienced by the Africans in the slave boats; and he said, “I hope it will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders." He lived long enough to see his efforts victorious. The Slave Trade Act, which abolished the slave trade in England, was passed in 1807, shortly before he died.

  15. Eleonore Stump

    No doubt, Newton did well to shudder at what he had done on the sea in the slave ships. But what about others, to whom the slave trade was an abomination and to whom it had always been an abomination? What about the transported slaves themselves? When Newton was first deeply,whole-heartedly repentant for his participation in the slave trade, but before Newton had done what he could to make amends, how would others have reacted to him? At that point in his life, he was a repentant slave trader. Still — who would have wanted to be him? Who would have wanted to be friends with him. One might pity him or have compassion on him, but who would have wanted to invite him to dinner? Even if they had been persuaded of the depth of his repentance,would any of the Africans who had been on his boats have been happy at the prospect of reconciliation with him? Aquinas does seem right to think that such great moral evil leaves a stain on the soul, and it can leave the wrongdoer alienated from others, even if he is repentant.

    By the time Newton died, however, he was not only friends with abolitionists such as Wilberforce and others who hated the slavetrade, he was in fact held in honor by them. And it is not hard to see why. His passionate efforts on behalf of the abolition of the slave trade were his satisfaction. And that satisfaction was successful in making him a different man from the man he had been, even from the man he was when he first repented. For this reason, his satisfaction altered his relationships with others as well. When Wilberforce was friends with Newton, Wilberforce was friends not just with a repentant slave trader; he was friends with a powerful enemy of the slave trade. It is not hard to see in this case, then, that the disruption of relationships caused by serious moral wrongdoing is removed when the wrongdoer finds a way to make satisfaction.

    Satisfaction cannot undo the harm done in the original wrongdoing. Newton could not take away the sufferings of the Africans who had been transported on his ships or restore to life those who had died. But in giving himself to the cause of the abolition of the slave trade, a repentant Newton did what he could. The etymology of the Latin ‘satisfacere’ – ‘satis’(enough) plus ‘facere’ (to do) — captures this idea of doing what one can and by this means doing enough.

    Not only does satisfaction restore relationships and thus finally remove the stain of sin, but in fact satisfaction can leave a person in a more admirable moral state than he would have had if he had not engaged in the moral wrongdoing. While satisfaction will not restore the innocence of a person such as Newton, whose moral wrongdoing left him shuddering at the memory of it, it can make him more admirable than he would have been in his innocent state.

  16. Roman Altshuler

    Thank you, Prof. Stump. That is very helpful, and interesting. But now I am wondering: I took it that your argument was that suffering is needed to remove the stain. But it isn't clear why satisfaction must include suffering–and even if it does, it isn't the sort of seemingly inexplicable suffering that theodicy needs to make sense of.

    But this account of satisfaction is great, and I wonder if it shouldn't actually be built into repentance. Later commentators do seem to make something like this constitutive of repentance (Bahya and Maimonides insist, at least, on compensation for the victims), but Saadia only suggests "increased charity" as a further aid to repentance, rather than insisting that one try to set right the sort of thing they did wrong, or that the charity is part and parcel of repentance.

  17. Dani Rabinowitz

    The following statement from the Talmud just came to mind when thinking about the issue of the status of the repentant once she has successfully completed the process of repentance: "In the place where baalei teshuva [repentant] stand, even the perfectly righteous cannot stand" (Berakhot 34b)." Now I haven't thought about the meaning of this statement, but on the surface it sure seems to cast doubt on the idea that there is something troubling about the repentant post-repentance; if anything, it seems to indicate something "lofty" about such a person. Of the very few things I remember from the Gush, I remember that Benjamin Tabory once explained this statement by way of the following analogy. Consider all individuals as connected to God by way of a piece of string. When one sins, one breaks the string. By repenting one mends the break by tying a knot to join the broken string. The resultant piece of string is now shorter, which is to say that the repentant is now "closer" to God, closer than even the righteous.

  18. Sam Lebens

    Dani's Talmudic quote reminds me of a somewhat distasteful story told in the name of the Kotzke Rebbe. He apparently explained Dani's quote as follows: the perfectly righteous can't stand in the place of the repentant in heaven, because the place of the repentant stinks too much.

    The serious point I'd like to make is that these sorts of Talmudic statements are so open to interpretation, despite their beauty and power, that they're very rarely going to pose an insurmountable threat to a systematic Jewish philosophy.

    Another somewhat anecdotal threat to Saadya Gaon's account is this: the yom kippur repentance liturgy seems to include repentance for the sins that we're not aware of (such as the ones that we've forgotten). Does this threaten the category of a righteous person who hasn't repented for all of his sins because of memory lapse? The truly penitent even repent for the sins that they don't know about. All they have to do is read from the yom kippur prayer book!

  19. Sam Lebens

    Also, the penitent can be more holy, in some sense, than the regular righteous, in line with Dani's quote, and yet still be scarred in some way or other. There isn't necessarily any inconsistency here. But it's certainly an interesting and relevant piece of Talmudic data.

  20. Anonymous

    Sam writes, "Talmudic statements are so open to interpretation, despite their beauty and power, that they're very rarely going to pose an insurmountable threat to a systematic Jewish philosophy."

    Would the data of Dani's quote be clarified or not by f(x) = y, where x input is repentance and function of the ha-Bara standard and y is the righteous outcome? (This would seem to indicate that y = y or righteousness state equals righteousness state as per the Creator's standards despite the beginning point. Righteousness would be due to the Creator's omnipotence and not the degree of unrighteousness of the repentant.)

    Dallas Bell

  21. Sam Lebens

    Hey. I'm not sure that I can understand Dallas' formula without further clarification. I'm sorry.

    But I can say this. Righteousness and holiness are both terms in need of a lot of definition. What exactly are they? Dani's use of the Talmudic quote assumes that there is a tension between having some sort of scar upon one's soul (whatever that means exactly) and being more holy/righteous than everyone else. I'm not sure that there really is such a tension. We'd have to define our terms much more clearly before we could evaluate whether or not there really is a tension. Perhaps it is possible to be both very righteous and yet have some sort of stain upon the soul.

  22. Anonymous

    Sam writes, "…formula…define our terms… Perhaps it is possible to be both very righteous and yet have some sort of stain upon the soul."

    I think the formula points out the requirement for a definition of terms, as you observe Sam. Definitions should be stated as to whether they are from the Creator's infinite eternal point of view or the view of mankind. If righteousness and redemption is to be from the infinite standard, it must be defined from the Creator's perfect view. If righteousness is to be from man's finite view, it will not be from omniscience and subject to incompleteness and thus result in comments such as "the perfectly righteous can't stand in the place of the repentant in heaven, because the place of the repentant stinks too much." If righteousness from redemption is based on the Creator's forgiveness of not meeting His standard, then all of the set that contains the forgiven are clean in respect to being righteous before the Holy One. To indicate otherwise would seem to challenge the Holy One's view and authority. So then if we have one that repents (x) who is forgiven by the Creator (f) the soul of that repentant person has the same righteous state (y) as everyone else forgiven by His holy grace (y = y though x may not equal x) which could be stated as f(x)=y.

    Dallas Bell

  23. Sam Lebens

    Dallas: you say that only righteousness as understood from a human perspective could be incomplete enough to allow for the sort of statement that the Kotzke Rebe made about stinking penitants.

    If righteousness were complete, there could be no stain left upon the soul.

    I disagree.

    You assume that complete righteousness (as judged from God's perspective) and some sort of stain upon the soul are mutually exclusive. I'm not sure that that has to be the case.

    It depends upon what righteousness is, independent of from whose perspective it's judged.

    Stump's analysis has it that a sinner can be damaged in all sorts of ways and yet be entirely righteous. That seems eminently possible, and even plauisble, to me irrespective of Dallas' formula.

    But I may have missed something, in which case, I apologise for being so forthright.

  24. Anonymous

    I will try to address each idea concerning f(x) = y.

    –"Dallas: you say that only righteousness as understood from a human perspective could be incomplete enough to allow for the sort of statement that the Kotzke Rebe made about stinking penitants."

    Yes y = y. To not agree is to say that the Creator's omnipotence (f) is not able to make one (x) righteous (y not equal to y)? If so what other limitations would He have?

    –"If righteousness were complete, there could be no stain left upon the soul."

    –"I disagree."

    I not sure, but are you saying that you have omniscience to know complete righteousness (y)?

    –"You assume that complete righteousness (as judged from God's perspective) and some sort of stain upon the soul are mutually exclusive. I'm not sure that that has to be the case."

    If by stain upon the soul you mean that the Creator's decision to make someone righteous is not perfect (again y not equal to y), that would not seem to be an attribute consistent with the first cause of all effects (f).

    –"It depends upon what righteousness is, independent of from whose perspective it's judged."

    Not really. With basic decision theory, there is a Divine perfect view (y = y) or there are imperfect views from finite perspectives (y not equal to y).

    –"Stump's analysis has it that a sinner can be damaged in all sorts of ways and yet be entirely righteous. That seems eminently possible, and even plauisble, to me irrespective of Dallas' formula."

    I agree that missing the Divine standard for our behavior leaves the scar of disobedience e.g the King David affair, but this does not effect the Creator's authority to gracefully forgive sin against His holy state–to make righteous or f(x) = y.

    –"But I may have missed something, in which case, I apologise for being so forthright."

    I appreciate your forthrightness and the scholarship you always bring to bear on issues.

    Dallas Bell

  25. Sam Lebens

    Thank you Dallas, I'm going to have to give your comment some more thought.

  26. Eleonore Stump

    I think the idea that the repentant person who has engaged in satisfaction can be more righteous than the innocent is a good one. John Henry Newton's lifelong work against the slave trade made him more admirable, even with his wretched past history, than he would have been if he had simply never engaged in the slave trade. I also think that suffering comes into satisfaction because satisfaction is a struggle to help make the world better in some respect related to the way in which previous wrongdoing made it worse; and that struggle will inevitably carry suffering with it. Eleonore Stump

  27. Dani Rabinowitz

    So the following quote from Maimonides makes me have second thoughts about not wanting to have dinner with a repentant Goebbels, where Maimonides takes up the pithy quote from the Talmud that I mentioned last week:

    A Baal-Teshuvah should not consider himself distant from the level of the righteous because of the sins and transgressions that he committed. This is not true. He is beloved and desirable before the Creator as if he never sinned.

    Furthermore, he has a great reward for he has tasted sin and yet, separated himself from it, conquering his [evil] inclination. Our Sages declared: "In the place where Baalei Teshuvah stand, even the completely righteous are not able to stand." The level of Baalei Teshuvah transcends the level of those who never sinned at all, for they overcome their [evil] inclination more.(Laws of Repentance 7: 4)

    The following quote from Maimonides demonstrates that he was keenly aware of something akin to stains on the soul, namely bad moral habit:

    When a person's sins are being weighed against his merits, [God] does not count a sin that was committed only once or twice. [A sin] is only [counted] if it was committed three times or more (ibid. 3:5)

    And then we might also consider the opinion of Reish Lakish in Yoma 86b: one who repents out of love (instead of fear of punishment) has his past sins turned into merits. This dovetails quite nicely with the quote from Berakhot 34b that I quoted last week.

    All is all, I remain confused about the status of a repentant sinner. Surely, if Goebbels such a person "is more beloved to God than a righteous person," then who am I to forego a meal with him? Yet I experience the moral repulsion of sitting at merely the thought of sharing a table with him.

  28. Sam Lebens

    I still don't see any reason to be too confused, even though I love all of the quotes you gather here, just as I love the 'pithy' quote from the Talmud that you started with.

    The thing is this: I can imagine being beloved by God for being a repentant sinner; I can imagine that He loves me more, so to speak, than someone who was always righteous; that He appreciates the fact that I have chosen to walk in His ways even after tasting sin. This can all be true whilst still being the case that I have some sort of stain on my soul.

    A stupid example: imagine a kid has a balloon, and she got into a fight with her brother who burst the balloon. Feeling bad about what he did, the brother wrote a beautiful letter of apology in which he told her for the first time ever how much he loved her. The burst balloon might now be very dear to the young girl. She might keep it. Even though the balloon was burst in anger, it now symbolises a beautiful apology to her. She keeps it in a box of momentos. Even though the balloon is burst – or because it is the burst balloon that inspired the apology – it is dear to her.

    I think that this analogy could be instructive to us for a few reasons:

    1) A sinner can sometimes be more beloved because he was once a sinner and has now turned back. Reish Lakish's statement is so true. I know a reformed drug addict who spent many years in prison; he now spends his time educating children about the ills of drug abuse. He could not be the righteous person that he is now without having done the sins that he once did. It is as if his sins are turned into merits. Likewise, the fact that the balloon was burst in a fight might have made it a sorry momento for the young girl, but the associated apology makes the balloon itself treasured.

    2)Even though something is broken it can still be particular beloved by its owner. The balloon in the analogy was burst, but it meant more to its owner than any normal balloon. Goebbels knows what it is to be a genocidal maniac. That very knowledge is a scar in his soul. I might not want to know him and become contaminated by what he knows. But the fact that he has this scar doesn't mean that God won't love him more than me. He may be burst, but if he was a true penitant, the fact that he is burst may make him even more beloved to God; but his being burst might make it sensible for *me* to stay away. Am I making any sense?

  29. Aaron Segal

    I think you're right (Sam) that there doesn't seem to be anything conceptually confused about attributing a greater stain/scar to someone while at the same time attributing to him a greater degree of "belovedness to God".

    I don't know about you though, but I don't think my aversion to sitting down to dinner with a repentant Goebbels is due (solely) to my not wanting to get contaminated by his stain; I think it's because I am repulsed by him, and I don't think I SHOULD love him. Moreover – and I think these points are related – I don't think even God should love him more than a tzadik gamur. What then about Reish Lakish? I think this just shows that Goebbels is an extreme, and ungeneralizable, case. The Rambam (6:3) concedes that there are some people – such as Pharoah – who had committed such grave offenses that God withheld from them the opportunity to do tshuva. One might say – and this is admittedly an extension of the Rambam – that some people are given the opportunity to repent, but where they "stand" afterwards is not with the regular Baal Tshuva of Reish Lakish. His past, and perhaps the degree to which he is stained, prevents him from attaining the belovedness that Reish Lakish promises to the Baal Tshuva.

    None of this takes away from the distinction between the presence of a scar and one's being beloved – it just means that if I'm right, the distinction would be more apparent if we focused on a more pedestrian example (like your friend, or like the analogy with the baloon).

  30. Aharon Haber

    I think it may be important to try to conceptualize what a repentant Goebbels would mean. In my mind for Goebbels to be truly repentant he would have to reach a full understanding of the sin he committed against man (and God). He would reach a state where HE wouldnt want to sit down with himself to dinner. He would be suicidal and I am not sure what would keep him from killing himself. I could imagine a truly repentant Goebbels begging forgiveness on his hands and knees in tears from an endless line of Holocaust survivors – and still not feeling the slightest bit of comfort.

    A Goebbels that reached that ultimate level of pain – I imagine physically weak, bloodshot eyed, tattered clothing, etc. (And again we are assuming complete repentance – no tricks or flaws in repentance allowed). To me this would not be the sinner anymore but a shell of a human that I think I could possibly share a table with (although I dont think i could feel it appropriate to eat)

    I prefer to think of the Rabbinic statement that one has the ability to repent on his/her last day after a life of sin is not just a parlor trick but involves the deepest shame and regret – pain so deep that i cant even imagine it. In my mind, anything less would not grant absolution. I remember as a child thinking this statemnet was unfair to those that lived a righteous life – but in my understanding repenting on your last day would be extremely difficult if not impossible. There are no free lunches with repentance.


  31. Sam Lebens

    Both of the Aarons(!), I think you're making great points here.

    I want to put this back into the context of Stump's paper.

    Taking Aaron Segal's point seriously, it would seem as if Stump would have done better to use a different sinner as her example.

    The idea of a sinner being scarred in some way and yet still righteous, and even more beloved than those who never sinned in the first place, makes sense, but only for sins of a somewhat limited degree of severity. Some sinners, even if repentant, seem to have erred so far that they can’t reasonably be thought to fall under Reish Lakish’s category of the penitent person that stands closer to God than the person who never sinned.

    On the other hand, as the other Aaron points out, perhaps Segal’s exception has an exception. It might be possible even for the extreme sinners, like Goebbels, to enter Reish Lakish’s category, but the sort of repentance needed in such an exception case is likely to kill the sinner in the process, so exhausting and all-consuming would the necessary repentance be. The notion of sitting with such a person over dinner just doesn’t come up. They’ll be too busy repenting until the day that they die.

    This reminds me of the famous Talmudic (Avoda Zara 17a) story of Eleazar ben Dordia, who's sins were so severe that his repentance literally exhausted him to death. But his repentance was accepted, and he presumably entered into Reish Lakish's category of the penitent sinner who is more beloved than the non-sinner. Indeed, the story has is that God dubbed him Rabbi Eleazar ben Dordia, granting an honorific title because of his successful penitence (Perhaps you had this story in mind, Aaron Haber).

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