Voluntarist Essentialism and Maximal Beings*
April 19, 2009 — 8:55

Author: Michael Almeida  Category: Concept of God Existence of God  Comments: 9

An individual essence is a property (or set of properties) that an individual has uniquely and in every world in which he exists.
IE. E is an individual essence of S iff. E is essential to S and everything distinct from S has ~E (the complement of E) essentially.
So take the property that some possible individual has of having some very high and interesting degree of power, knowledge and goodness. Now consider the additional property of being identical to that individual. We have stipulated that there’s some being in some world with these properties, and that seems uncontroversial. It says only that, possibly, someone has such properties. Under what conditions do those properties constitute an individual essence? Those properties constitute an individual essence just in case the individual has them uniquely and in every world in which he exists. Let’s be a bit more exact. Let S be the possible individual and W the relevant world. The properties are Gx, Px, Kx, and Hx, where these are goodness, power, knowledge (all in some interesting compossible degree) and being identical to S, who has those properties in W. Let Cx be the following conjunctive property.
P. Cx = Gx & Px & Kx & Hx
No doubt Cx is satisfiable by one and only one individual, viz., S. But does S have that property in every world in which S exists? Obviously, it depends on the number and kinds of worlds in which S exists. Two possibilities.
*My thanks to Felipe, Yujin, Alex and Ted for pressing questions on this issue.


Case 1: God exists. If God exists, your individual essence is largely up to God. God is delimiting the possibilities. He is free to actualize you in none, one, two, thousands, or infinitely many worlds. So, the number of worlds in which you exist depends on God’s voluntary action. Suppose God actualizes S in just one world, W. If so, then Cx would be an individual essence of S: S would have that property uniquely and in every world in which he exists. We would then conclude that S is essentially powerful, knowledgeable, and good.
Case 2: God does not exist. If God does not exist, your individual essence is largely up to chance. No one is delimiting the possibilities. There is no interesting reason why you would exist in one rather than two rather than a thousand rather than an infinite number of worlds. There is no interesting reason why you’d have one individual essence rather than another.
Conclusion 1: If Case (2) were true and you were offered an opportunity to bet on whether exactly none of infinitely many possible things has an individual essence that includes the properties Px, Kx and Gx, you should bet against it.
So, the chances are good that something has those properties essentially and uniquely. The open question is the number of worlds in which that individual has those properties.
Conclusion 2: If Case (2) were true and you were offered an opportunity to bet on whether exactly none of infinitely many possible things has an essence (but perhaps not an individual essence) that includes the properties Px, Kx, Gx and necessary existence, you should bet against it.
The chances are good that some one of infinitely many possible individuals has those properties essentially and in every world, but (perhaps) not uniquely.
Conclusion 3: If Case (2) were true and you were offered an opportunity to bet on whether exactly none of infinitely many possible things has an individual essence that includes the properties Px, Kx, Gx and necessary existence, you should bet against it.
The chances are good that some one of infinitely many possible individuals has those properties essentially, uniquely, and in every world. Ask yourself what the chances are that not one of infinitely many possible individuals has those properties essentially, uniquely, and in every world. The chances are extremely low that any single individual has those properties in that way. But even if the chances were infinitessimally low that any particular individual had those properties in that way, the chances that some individual or other (of infinitely many possible individuals) had those properties that way would be good.

Comments:
  • Jacob

    Essentialism, it seems to me, is a starting presupposition. From that presupposition, you can then derive your argument. Essentialism, my point is, is not empirical.

    April 19, 2009 — 12:18
  • Mike Almeida

    The questions on the table are whether anything has the relevant properties essentially or as an individual essence or essentially and in every world, and so on. I’m not assuming that empirical observation can settle the matter. I do think there is an inductive argument in favor of some conclusions over others.

    April 19, 2009 — 12:56
  • A.P. Taylor

    Mike…
    I am having a bit of difficulty sussing out the upshot here. Is it that it is either the case that God exists or God doesn’t, but even if God does not exist, you nevertheless should not be quick to bet against the existence of a being of maximal Goodness, Power, Knowledge? If I am way off the mark, could you maybe say something more about what you take the upshot to be?

    April 19, 2009 — 20:47
  • Mike Almeida

    Sure A.P. The idea is that, if you are rational and believe that God does not exist (or do not believe that God does exist), you should bet on there existing something that instantiates the properties of goodness, knowledge and power to an important degree in every world. That’s the idea. You should also bet on there existing something that has an individual essence that includes those properties (though perhaps not in every world), and all the more so on something having essentially those properties (though perhaps not uniquely and not in every world).

    April 20, 2009 — 7:09
  • Case 1: God exists. If God exists, your individual essence is largely up to God. God is delimiting the possibilities. He is free to actualize you in none, one, two, thousands, or infinitely many worlds.
    Wait a second. Let’s presume that it possible that I develop pancreatic cancer (there is a possible world in which that is the case) and it is possible that I do not (there is a possible world in which I am killed by a car when I am five years old and never get the cancer). But it’s not possible that I both do and do not develop pancreatic cancer; that I both get pancreatic cancer when I am 45 and get killed by a car when I am five. But that’s what would be the case if God actualized both those worlds.
    What am I missing here?

    April 20, 2009 — 9:50
  • Mike Almeida

    But it’s not possible that I both do and do not develop pancreatic cancer; that I both get pancreatic cancer when I am 45 and get killed by a car when I am five. But that’s what would be the case if God actualized both those worlds.
    What am I missing here?

    Of course, you’re right. What I’m saying is that in each world w in which you exist it is true in w that God actualized you there. So, to put it generally,
    V. You exist in world w iff. God creates you in world w (i.e., iif. it is true in w that God created you).
    Now (V) is still controversial, since it says that God determines whether, for instance, you exist in any world in which you get cancer. According to (V), the very possibilities that are open to you are determined by God, since he must freely create you in a world w in order for w to describe a possiblity for you. I don’t think that theists in general have noticed/appreciated this voluntaristic aspect to what is possible for each of us, given God’s freedom to create or not create us in various worlds. On any reasonable conception of God, I think, he would have this freedom. (In any case, I’m preparing something n which this thesis generates modal problems for theists).

    April 20, 2009 — 10:10
  • Oh, OK, thanks. I was (as I suspected) misreading the claim.

    April 20, 2009 — 14:11
  • Hi, Mike. Can you help me understand something? What does it mean to say that ‘God is delimiting the possibilities’? Is there some “larger” realm of possibilities (the realm of the “possible possibilities”) from which God has chosen the “real” possibilities?
    There is a more general confusion I’m having here. Theistic philosophers sometimes talk, on the one hand, as if God exists *in* every possible world. But these same philosophers also sometimes talk as if God is someone “outside” each possible world, “looking down”, so to speak, at modal space. Is there not a contradiction here? And can we accept the latter sort of view without being some sort of super modal realists: that is, realists about not only possible worlds but about some level of being “beyond” the individual possible worlds?

    May 14, 2009 — 14:33
  • Mike Almeida

    Hi DT,
    When Morris says that God is a delimiter of possibilities, he actually takes the counterpossible in (1) as non-trivially true,
    1. Were God not to exist, then there would be a different set of possible worlds.
    I’m not sure what he means other than that there are worlds whose impossibility is owed exclusively to God having a certain set of essential properties.
    Is there some “larger” realm of possibilities (the realm of the “possible possibilities”) from which God has chosen the “real” possibilities?
    It might not be expressible in Plantinga’s metaphysics, but I think I’d like to say that God created me in N worlds, but he could have created me in fewer. That comes out as gibberish in Plantinga (Lewsi too) but that might say more about the limits of the metaphysics than about the coherence of the claim. I guess you could make something like it come out (trivially) true as “if God had actualized me in fewer than N worlds, I would have fewer possibilities”. On the other hand, there is clearly some number N of worlds in which God instantiates me. I find it incredible that the number could not have been N-1.
    Theistic philosophers sometimes talk, on the one hand, as if God exists *in* every possible world. But these same philosophers also sometimes talk as if God is someone “outside” each possible world, “looking down”, so to speak, at modal space. Is there ot a contradiction here?
    God existing outside of all worlds thesis sounds like a thesis of Leibniz. He’s the only person I know of who talked this way. But I guess you could make sense of God as a transworld object. But that could hold on either a Lewsian metaphysics or Plantingan metaphysics. You can be a Plantingan and a counterpart theorist, for instance (though Plantinga obviously isn’t).

    May 14, 2009 — 16:17