Robert Adams defends a form of actualism according to which everything that exists is actual, nothing x can have a property P in a world w if x does not exist in w, and neither singular propositions about x nor haecceities (unique non-qualitative properties) of x exist in worlds where x does not exist.
An important implication of Adams’ view is that, for beings that do not actually exist, there are nothing more than qualitative possibilities: no individual essences and no thisnesses (e.g., the property of being identical to Socrates). Compare Plantinga who argues that there are individual essences (properties that belong uniquely to the individual who instantiates those properties) in every world (whether or not it is instantiated). What this means for Adams is that, when God is imagining what he wishes to create–which world he wants to actualize–the most he can do is imagine kinds of individuals, not particular individuals.
During creation, God can imagine creating a being that thinks philosophical thoughts, lives in a city that fits the description of Athens, drinks a liquid that fits the description of hemlock, and so on. But he cannot imagine creating Socrates (he cannot have before his mind the individual essence of Socrates and know that, were that essence instantiated then Socrates would exist). So, he might create a being with all of the qualitative properties we associate with Socrates, and fail to create Socrates. If God manages to create Socrates anyway, it is inexplicable how he does so. All of Socrates de re properties–including what is essential to him–come into being after he is created, not before. Effectively, God has no idea who is creating, only what he is creating. Here is Adams.
But did He also have before His mind an infinite array of merely possible individuals, or thisnesses of them, or singular propositions about them, or possibilities regarding them, in such a way that He could have chosen from a number of individuals, possibly indiscernible in every purely qualitative respect, one to be created rather than another? I think not. (‘Actualism and Thisness’, Synthese, ’81)
There is an ontological parsimony in Adams’ view that actualists and others find admirable. But what he describes here is, I submit, impossible. When God creates a being that is qualitatively exactly like our Socrates (or our Aristotle, or Zeno, or Adams or Plantinga or… or), it is indeterminate who has been created. When God finishes instantiating all of the qualitative properties, it is indeterminate whether God has created Socrates or some other being. He has in fact created something whose identity is indeterminate. But, on the other hand, the being S that God created is such that, determinately, S = S, so S’s identity is not indeterminate. So, the identity of the created being is both determinate and not. And that is not possible.
Adam’s suggestion that there are only qualitative possibilities for all non-actual objects makes it impossible that God create any particular individual. And yet someone is created. There exists some determinate being when God is finished. But who?
*All of these posts are part of a larger project and I want to take a second to thank everyone who has commented on them and helped me think more clearly about them. I wish you would email me at firstname.lastname@example.org so I can properly cite you for your help. Thanks.