Intellectual Probation

In this world, God appears to be in the business primarily of developing the characters of moral beings. His central purpose does not appear to be our maximum, nor even our net, pleasurable satisfaction in this life, nor is it to satisfy our intellectual curiosity. It appears God, if he exists, is completely happy to forgoe the fulfillment of any of these in this life. He appears to have more important matters in view, matters of moral development.

But saying God is not concerned with our maximum or net pleasurable satisfaction in this life is not the same as saying God is not interested in our long term well-being, or that God cannot be perfectly loving because he acts in this manner. What could be more perfectly loving than to have a goal to develop the characters of each of his creatures into morally good characters, with a view to their eternal existence and pleasurable satisfaction? And if metaphysical ambiguity has been deemed by God as something that will be instrumental to this end, then there is nothing inconsistent with his being perfectly loving and his having chosen to utilize this means to the end of our ultimate well-being.

So the question becomes, how are moral characters developed? Moral character appears to consist of two elements for finite beings like ourselves:

(1) One’s honesty to perceived moral truth.

(2) One’s honesty in the ongoing pursuit of correct views of what moral truth is.

One is tested and developed in area (1) through experiences that tempt one to go against one’s actual moral perceptions. Such temptations can stem from experiences such as encounters with other individuals, where one’s interests come into conflict with the interests of these other individuals. They can also come from encounters with suffering, that tempt one toward attitudes of bitterness or cowardess. One’s awareness of the suffering of others also comes into view, as one can take on attitudes of apathy, rather than empathy and compassion.

One is tested and developed in area (2) when one is subject to ambiguity concerning what is objectively true, and therefore regarding what one’s actual moral obligations should be. One’s awareness of one’s own intellectual finitude creates the obligation that one seek out correct views, in light of the importance of such views, to the fulfillment of one’s objective obligations. It requires a constant readiness both to learn, and to apply what one learns, as quickly as one learns it.

Questions regarding what is morally obligatory in different situations require effort and concern, to ensure one is seeking to take the perceived moral values in a given situation adequately into account. Questions of who are the rightful recipients of one’s moral actions also come into play. Do animals have rights? Is one free to ignore ecological considerations? Is there a creator who is one’s benefactor, and one’s rightful moral ruler?

Intellectual probation, brought about by metaphysical ambiguity and intellectual finitude, creates many opportunities to test one’s moral commitment and to develop within oneself the various moral virtues. Many opportunities to intellectual laziness or premature conclusion forming, offer opportunities for moral fibre and longevity to be honed. Because of the effort required to maintain an honest search for truth when absolute certainty is not available, one is tried and confirmed in one’s perseverance in the love of the truth. The fact of intellectual probation creates the requirement of greater moral effort and consistency, than would simply the basic moral probation of temptation to violate one’s present moral perceptions. Through intellectual probation, God has ‘added weights to the bench press’, as it were.

So what develops moral character are experiences that test and strain one’s honesty to what one perceives, and one’s honesty in seeking to discover and live by truth. The latter comes as a consequence of intellectual probation, through metaphysical ambiguity.

The world has all the appearance of being a place of both moral and intellectual probation. We have many opportunities in our ongoing existence to be tempted to violate our perception of our moral obligations. We also have multiple opportunities in our lives to be intellectually lazy, and fail to seek as earnestly as we can, to have correct views of what our true obligations are. Since God appears to be in the business of developing moral beings, there is reason to believe he would choose a course that would include intellectual probation.

Copyright 2019 Kel Good. This publication may be copied freely as long as no alteration is made to the text. For more information write: Kel Good via What I Believe This Week (

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