Adams on Creating the Best
January 27, 2015 — 23:21

Author: Michael Almeida  Category: Christian Theology Existence of God General  Tags: ,   Comments: 25

Robert Adams famously argued that an unsurpassable being need not actualize the best possible world. Adams urges that he does not believe that there is a best world, but assumes there’s one for the sake of argument.

I think it is fairly plausible to suppose that God could have created a world that would have the following characteristics: (1) None of the individual creatures in it would exist in the best of all possible worlds. (2) None of the creatures in it has a life which is so miserable on the whole that it would be better for that creature if it had never existed. (3) Every individual creature in the world is at least as happy on the whole as it would have been in any other possible world in which it could have existed. (‘Must God Create the Best’, PR, 1972)

Adam’s principle concerning world actualization is in (A).

A. God actualizes a world w only if w satisfies (1), (2), and (3).

But does Adams show that God could not actualize a world that failed to meet (1), (2), and (3)? No, he in fact shows (quite) a bit too much. Take any possible world w’ that fails to satisfy (1), (2), and (3). No matter what the moral properties of w’, God can actualize w’. The reason God can actualize w’ is because Adams’ principle (A) is false in all such worlds. So what Adams shows is not only that God can actualize any world satisfying (1) – (3), but God can actualize any possible world whatsoever, no matter how bad or good that world.

Comments:
  • Remark

    Adams would doubtless concede that if w were actual, then A would be true in w; and that if w’ were actual, then A would be false in w’. God would doubtless concede this, too. If so, and God appeals to A prior to any world being actualised, then He would simply not choose to actualise w’ but only a world in which the principle He appeals to will be true in that world. This means that w’ is not a possible world (or a world actualisable by God) – doesn’t it?

    January 28, 2015 — 4:52
  • EJS

    Do you know the reference where Adams claims there is no best possible world? (I don’t doubt that he makes the claim)

    January 28, 2015 — 7:26
  • Michael Almeida

    EJS,

    Adams does not claim that there is no best world. He is willing to assume that there is no best world, for the sake of argument. He does that in ‘Must God Create the Best?’.

    January 28, 2015 — 7:31
  • Michael Almeida

    If so, and God appeals to A prior to any world being actualised, then He would simply not choose to actualise w’ but only a world in which the principle He appeals to will be true in that world.

    I’m not sure I follow that. (A), it turns out, is a continent truth. If God actualizes a world that satisfies (A), then (A) is true in that world and he conforms to (A). If God does not actualize a world that satisfies (A), the God does not violate (A), since it is false. So (A) plays no role in his selection of a world to actualize.

    January 28, 2015 — 7:37
  • Hi Michael,

    Where do you think Adams endorses A? In the passage you quote, he says it’s plausible that, possibly, God actualizes a world that has features 1-3. A is the claim that God actualizes a world only if it has 1-3. Those two claims are obviously different. The main idea that Adams needs is the very common idea that one’s special connections to certain (possible) individuals can justify rejecting the better for the suboptimal. On this way of thinking about things, I can justifiably choose option O1 over O2 when O2 is overall better if O1 is better for my family. Adams is suggesting that God’s special connection to certain possible people can justify his rejection of the best world for one that is suboptimal if those the relevant people exist the suboptimal world but not the best one. There will be limits to how much sacrifice can be justified by God’s special connections, so Adams is not committed to the claim that God can create any world no matter how bad it is.

    January 28, 2015 — 18:04
    • Remark

      “There will be limits to how much sacrifice can be justified by God’s special connections, so Adams is not committed to the claim that God can create any world no matter how bad it is.”

      I think this assertion needs an argument to defend it from the claim made in the OP.

      January 29, 2015 — 7:21
      • Hi Remark,
        Lots of people in the mainstream literature hold that special connections can justify some sacrifice of the good, and this is taken to be a powerful objection to very simple versions of consequentialism. I don’t know of anyone who thinks that special connections can justify favoring those people no matter what. Although I’m not fully read up on the relevant literature, I think the “argument” is just reflection on cases. To pick an overly crude case: if I have to choose between letting my wife die or letting two strangers die, then I’m arguably justified in choosing my wife; however, I’m not justified in choosing my wife if it would result in letting 10 million people die. Even those who reject the idea that special connections can justify sacrificing the good of the many, such as Kagan, concede that the idea composes “ordinary, commonsense morality.”

        January 29, 2015 — 9:38
        • Michael Almeida

          I’ll let Remark answer for himself, but (for what it’s worth) Adam’s is not arguing fro commonsense morality to any particular conclusion. He is offering the Judeo-Christian notion of perfection. For Adam’s, this includes a few conditions on world-actualization, for instance, such a God would not do so if it violated anyone’s rights or treated someone unkindly or displayed a defect of character. There are lots of worlds that meet those conditions. But more importantly here, such a being does not have to worry about, for instance, a conflict between constraining his behavior deontologically and producing good consequences. He can do both.

          January 29, 2015 — 9:47
          • Adams does not think that God can create all possible people or that God can create any random combination of possible people (see pg 328). He must choose which collection of people to create and love. Adams says that God’s selection of creatures will not be based solely on their excellence or contribution to worldly goodness. He’s allowing that God’s love for specific people can justify God in creating those people even if God has to sacrifice some goodness to do so. Thus, he rejects pure consequentialism (as he’s upfront about at the beginning of the paper). He’s relying on the very common idea that one can choose less than than the best provided that one has a sufficiently strong countervailing consideration. And he’s supposing, as is also common, that one such countervailing consideration is love for specific (possible) people.

            January 29, 2015 — 10:53
  • Michael Almeida

    Where do you think Adams endorses A? In the passage you quote, he says it’s plausible that, possibly, God actualizes a world that has features 1-3. A is the claim that God actualizes a world only if it has 1-3. Those two claims are obviously different.

    Adams is describing the conditions under which a Judeo-Christian God actualizes a world. Such a God would not do so if it violated anyone’s rights or treated someone unkindly or displayed a defect of character. These are posed as necessary conditions. Worlds that meet those conditions satisfy, according to Adams, (1) – (3). That’s the reason for (A).

    There will be limits to how much sacrifice can be justified by God’s special connections, so Adams is not committed to the claim that God can create any world no matter how bad it is.

    I’m pretty sure I didn’t make the mistake of simply asserting that there are no such limits. What I say in the argument is that (A)—which specifies the necessary conditions on actualization–does not operate in the way that Adams and many other believe it does. It does not preclude the actualization of any possible world whatsoever. It does not do so because it is not a necessary truth. It is not a necessary truth because, by hypothesis, there exist possible worlds (perhaps, possible, non-actual worlds) that falsify it. Which worlds? The ones whose actualization it allegedly precludes. Since there exist such worlds, the principle in (A) does not preclude their actualization (whether or not they are in fact actualized).

    January 29, 2015 — 7:42
    • I agree with you that you didn’t make the mistake that you are “pretty sure” you didn’t make. I’m not challenging the larger point you are making about A. The mistake I was worried that you were making is an exegetical one. You say “Adams is describing the conditions under which…God actualizes a world.” But there’s no textual evidence in that paper that Adams thinks of himself as making (1)-(3) *necessary* conditions under which God creates a world. The passage you quote clearly does not provided evidence of that.

      After raising the textual worry, I was giving you my take on what Adams needs in order to justify his claim that God need not actualize the best world. He doesn’t need anything like A for that purpose. He doesn’t need a principle that restricts which worlds God creates. He needs a principle giving God freedom to create worlds that aren’t the best, one that allows God to sacrifice some goodness in order to create specific individuals. This claim need not have the consequences you attribute to A, even if A really does have those consequences.

      January 29, 2015 — 10:02
  • Michael Almeida

    But there’s no textual evidence in that paper that Adams thinks of himself as making (1)-(3) *necessary* conditions under which God creates a world.

    As I said, Adams is attempting to give an account of Judeo-Christian perfection. He says that a Judeo-Christian God would display features such as not violating anyone’s rights, not acting unkindly, not displaying a defect in character. That is nearly verbatim. Now, maybe he means to say, that a Judeo-Christian God might have some of these perfections, but He need not have them. My view is that he does not mean that at all. He then argues that God could actualize certain sub-optimal worlds on the assumption that his perfection is so characterized. Which worlds? The ones satisfying (1) – (3). My point is that, if a Judeo-Christian God is as Adams describes, then he also could not actualize certain worlds. He could not actualize any world that was inconsistent with those Judeo-Christian perfections. Maybe you think that a Judeo-Christian God could act contrary to the perfections that Adams listed. That’s fine with me, but I don’t see how it is my business. I’m trying to follow Adams’ proposal. Maybe your quarrel is with the claim that a Judeo-Christian God would act contrary to the Judeo-Christian perfections if he actualized a world that violated (1) – (3). I’d be surprised if a violation of (1) – (3) would not entail a violation of the JC perfections, but I guess I’d listen to argument about it. It would not in any case affect my overall argument, since I’d simply replace (1) – (3) with a list of the JC perfections, and argue that God cannot actualize a possible world that is not consistent with those perfections. I’d then show again that this claim was false.

    January 29, 2015 — 10:17
  • Mark Rogers

    In ‘Must God Create The Best’ Adams is suggesting that God’s special connection to certain possible people can justify his rejection of the best world for one that is suboptimal if those the relevant people exist (in) the suboptimal world but not the best one. However in ‘Actualism and Thisness’ Adams claims no individual can possibly exist in any world prior to that individual’s heap of qualitative properties being instantiated. Therefore God does not have any relationship with any possible individuals before they are created…they simply do not exist. Any individual can only exist in that world in which the person in question actually obtains.

    (3) Every individual creature in the world is at least as happy on the whole as it would have been in any other possible world in which it could have existed. (‘Must God Create the Best’, PR, 1972)

    Note Adams number (5):

    (5) No being who came into existence in better or happier circumstances would have been the same individual as the creature in question. (‘Must God Create the Best’, pg. 327)

    So if God has any possible person in mind that He wants to create it does not matter how good or bad the world he actualizes is, that individual can only obtain in one particular world.

    January 29, 2015 — 10:40
    • Before God creates them, people are merely possible. But just as your special connection to merely possible people (your potential future children) might justify you in selecting A rather than B when B is best for global happiness, God’s special connection to certain possible people my justify him in selecting world A when B is overall best.

      Also, you are misreading condition (5). Adams does not assert (5); he’s not saying that it’s impossible for any person to have been happier than they actually were. He’s saying that “a creature has not been wronged IF (4) and (5) are true of it.

      January 29, 2015 — 11:03
    • Michael Almeida

      That’s a nice point Mark, since there clearly are no non-actual people for Adams. There are, as you describe, qualitative possibilities, but these are not possible individuals. How God might have a special relationship with a set of properties that do not constitute a human being (or any other kind of being) is an interesting question. Could God have a relationship with something that isn’t any individual, but that would be some individual or other were it actual? I don’t see how.

      January 29, 2015 — 11:13
  • Michael Almeida

    Chris, you write,

    He’s relying on the very common idea that one can choose less than than the best provided that one has a sufficiently strong countervailing consideration.

    I don’t think this can be quite right (assuming I understand you). Keep in mind that the entire point of the paper is to show that a specific kind of perfect being can actualize a sub-optimal world of a certain sort. The JC perfect being (whose salient properties Adams elaborates on) can, consistent with his sort of perfection, actualize a sub-optimal world of a certain sort. So, this is not an argument from commonsense morality at all that I can tell, or from commonsense intuitions about morality. It is an argument from a particular conception of perfection to the moral permissibility of sub-optimizing. I just don’t see where commonsense morality plays a dialectical role here.

    January 29, 2015 — 11:01
    • You are right that Adams is working with a particular conception of perfection. This notion of perfection is not utilitarian. But he’s relying on a notion of perfection that is quite friendly to much of what’s going on in mainstream moral theory, whether it should be called a part of “commonsense morality” or not.

      Your criticisms of A might be correct, but I haven’t challenged those. I’m not sure I understand them well enough to see whether they will generalize or not.

      January 29, 2015 — 11:15
  • Mark Rogers

    Hi Chris!
    Thank you for the clarification. So let me try again please. You explain Adam’s position as:

    “God’s special connection to certain possible people my justify him in selecting world A when B is overall best.”

    But I think Adams is proposing:
    God does not chose or select world A over B. God necessarily actualizes a world no matter how good or bad it is in order that certain possible people will obtain. A possible person (you would not be you Chris had you been born In the Middle Ages) can only obtain in one possible world. If God determines that a certain individual will obtain then necessarily a particular world will obtain. No one should complain about this state of affairs because of 4 and 5.
    The parameters set forth in 1, 2, and 3 might plausibly apply.

    January 30, 2015 — 8:32
    • Hi Mark,

      I’m not sure I understand what you are attributing to Adams. Are you saying that I necessarily have all the properties that I actually have? I don’t know much about Adams metaphysics, but I’d be surprised if he held such a stringent view. It’s one thing to insist that certain facts about one’s causal history individuate a person (a la necessity of origins); it’s quite another to say that there is only one possible way a person’s life can go.

      In any event, if you want to know more about how I understand the ethical views of Adams in that paper, see my “Satisficing and Motivated Submaximzation (in the Philosophy of Religion)” available here: http://philpapers.org/rec/TUCSAM. Eventually, I’ll probably write an entire paper just on that one paper of Adams, but this paper tries to clarify some features of Adams’ position.

      January 30, 2015 — 11:00
      • Mark Rogers

        “Hi Chris, thanks for the link.

        “Are you saying that I necessarily have all the properties that I actually have?”

        “it’s quite another to say that there is only one possible way a person’s life can go.”

        Adams does not believe God gives special consideration to possible individuals nor does God create specific individuals. If God did they would have no freedom.

        January 31, 2015 — 8:22
  • Hi Michael. Two points. The first is fairly trivial, the second maybe not, although it may rest on a misunderstanding of your argument.

    (i) You claim that Adams subscribes to principle (A): God actualizes a world w only if w satisfies (1), (2), and (3). (1) None of the individual creatures in it would exist in the best of all possible worlds. (2) None of the creatures in it has a life which is so miserable on the whole that it would be better for that creature if it had never existed. (3) Every individual creature in the world is at least as happy on the whole as it would have been in any other possible world in which it could have existed.

    It should be just (2) and (3), right, not (1), (2), and (3)? I don’t think that Adams thinks God by his nature is precluded from actualizing the best possible world (if there is one), just that he may actualize other worlds also, as long they satisfy (2) and (3).

    (ii) You write that “Take any possible world w’ that fails to satisfy (1), (2), and (3). No matter what the moral properties of w’, God can actualize w’. The reason God can actualize w’ is because Adams’ principle (A) is false in all such worlds.”

    Why think that (A) is false in such worlds? I take it that the reason (A) is true is that actualizing a world that fails to satisfy the conditions spelled out in (A) would evince a lack of beneficence in the being actualizing (A), or some other sort of moral defect, and so God (as a perfectly good being) necessarily wouldn’t do such a thing. If that’s right, then (A) would be a necessary truth, not a contingent one, true in w’ too. Am I missing something here? Why think (A) is false in w’?

    January 31, 2015 — 12:29
  • Michael Almeida

    Hi Tim,

    Right, (1) should be that none of the being exist in a better world. That’s how the argument in Adams goes after that point. But you’re right, and it’s not unimportant, since God cannot actualize a world that includes individuals who would have been better off had he actualized another.

    Why think that (A) is false in such worlds? I take it that the reason (A) is true is that actualizing a world that fails to satisfy the conditions spelled out in (A) would evince a lack of beneficence in the being actualizing (A), or some other sort of moral defect, and so God (as a perfectly good being) necessarily wouldn’t do such a thing. If that’s right, then (A) would be a necessary truth, not a contingent one, true in w’ too

    Let w be a world that fails to satisfy (1), (2) or (3). In that world it is true that God exists (God exists in every world) and God actualized this world (God actualizes every world in which he exists). So, it is true in w that God actualized a world that fails to satisfy (1), (2) or (3). But then it is not necessary that God actualizes a world only if it satisfies (1), (2) and (3). Right? There is at least one world (namely w) in which God actualizes the world but it doesn’t meet the conditions in (A). So (A) is a contingent truth.

    January 31, 2015 — 12:54
    • Oh, OK, I think I see it now. Could Adams, or somebody friendly to Adams, then say that (strictly speaking) w’ isn’t a possible world, but an impossible world, since it’s impossible for God to actualize it, given that God is necessarily good? And then we could still have the following counterpossible turn out true:

      (1) If God were to create w’, God would not be morally perfect.

      In fact, it’s the truth of (1) that explains why w’ isn’t a possible world.

      January 31, 2015 — 15:08
      • Michael Almeida

        That’s exactly right. The principle serves to rule out the existence of allegedly possible worlds; it does not serve to rule out their actualization. But this has the implication I’m after. That is, when God chooses to actualize a possible world, it has nothing to do with the moral quality of that world. So, the suggestion that God surveys the possible worlds and chooses the best to actualize is just false. He can actualize any one he wants, no matter what it’s moral or other qualities.

        January 31, 2015 — 15:12
  • Michael Almeida

    Tim,

    i should add that the relation between (A) and the worlds that exist is epistemological. If (A) is true, then we learn that metaphysical possibility has a certain shape. It is not true that (A) limits possibility in any way, since whatever is metaphysically possible is necessarily so. And it is not true that (A) explains why there do not exist certain worlds. The non-existence of those worlds is self-explanatory, since those worlds necessarily do not exist. I leave out of consideration here possible worlds that exist contingently.

    January 31, 2015 — 16:45
  • Leave a Reply to Mark Rogers Cancel reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *