Which Worlds are Possible?
February 18, 2015 — 9:58

Author: Michael Almeida  Category: Problem of Evil Uncategorized  Tags: , , , , ,   Comments: 5

Are there possible worlds that include unimaginable suffering? On behalf of the Anselmian theist, Tom Morris denies that there are such worlds.

Such an [Anselmian] God is a delimiter of possibilities. If there is a being who exists necessarily, and is necessarily omnipotent, omniscient, and good, then many states of affairs which otherwise would represent genuine possibilities, and which by all non-theistic tests of logic and semantics do represent genuine possibilities, are strictly impossible in the strongest sense. In particular, worlds containing certain sorts or amounts of disvalue or evil are metaphysically ruled out by the nature of God, divinely precluded from the realm of real possibility. (‘The Necessity of God’s Goodness’ in his Anselmian Explorations 48 ff.)

But I think there’s an interesting argument that there are such worlds. I call it the Property Argument.

The property argument claims first that, for every coherent property P, there is some possible world in which P is instantiated.[1] But a weaker claim will do: for every (non-world indexed and non-essential) property P instantiated by some sentient being in the actual world, there are worlds in which two or more sentient beings instantiate P. Consider the property of suffering intensely. The property is coherent. Lots of actual things instantiate that property. The property argument then goes this way.

1. w0 includes an instantiation of the property of suffering intensely. Assumption

2. If wn includes n instantiations the property of suffering intensely, then wn+1 includes n+1 instantiations of that property. Hypothesis

3. ∴ For any number n, there is some world that includes n sentient beings suffering intensely.

We haven’t quite reached the conclusion in (4), but we’re close.

4. ∴ There are worlds that are on balance extremely bad.

How can we avoid (4)? Here are some metaphysical hypotheses inconsistent with (4).

H1. For some finite number n, it is not possible that n beings suffer intensely.

H2. For some finite number n, no world with n+1 beings suffering intensely is overall worse than a world with n beings suffering intensely.

According to H1, for some n, it is metaphysically impossible that n+1 beings suffer intensely. But can it be true that the logic of suffering intensely includes this theorem?

P1.  ☐(Pa1 & Pa2 & . . . & Pan ⟶ ~Pan+1 & ~Pan+2 & . . . & ~Pan+j)

(P1) states that necessarily, if a1 – an+1 all have the property of suffering intensely, then it is false that anyone else has that property.

H2 is true only if (a) H1 is true or (b) for every additional suffering being in a world, God causes someone else to cease suffering or (c) for every additional suffering being in a world, God creates another being that enjoys a pleasurable life. That yields another odd theorem in the logic of suffering intensely. I let x and y quantify over sentient beings distinct from a1 – an.

P2.  ☐((Pa1 & Pa2 & Pa3 &. . .& Pan) ⟶ (∀x)(∃y)(Px ⟶ Hy))

(P2) states that necessarily, if a1 – an all have the property of suffering intensely, then if any distinct being x has the property of suffering intensely, then yet another distinct being has the property of being happy.

I can’t see any reason to believe that the logic of suffering intensely includes the theorems in (P1) or (P2). I conclude that Morris is mistaken, There are worlds that are on balance very bad.

Notes

[1] It is natural to think immediately of the property of being the set of all sets that are not -self-membered. That seems like a coherent property, but no set could instantiate the property. But the antinomy simply moves us to realize that we were thinking of the class of all sets that are not self-membered, and there is such a class. Similarly, it is a perfectly coherent have the property of not being a property. I have that property; so what if no property has it.

Comments:
  • The notion of “coherence” here must be pretty strong. Consider properties like being an uncreated horse or being unknown to God. If God is a necessary being, and coherent properties are possibly instantiated, these properties will be incoherent.

    Now, given the necessary existence of God, the property P of being in intense pain is equivalent to the conjunctive property P-and-C of being in intense pain and created by God. (Modulo some worries about the Incarnation, but I think we can handle those.) But while it’s surprising if the logic of pain is such that goods must be added when pains are added, it’s not surprising if the logic of pain-and-creation is such that goods must be added when pains-in-a-creature are added.

    February 18, 2015 — 10:50
  • Michael Almeida

    I actually don’t find the notion especially strong. If nothing in any world could instantiate a property P, then P is incoherent.

    Now, given the necessary existence of God, the property P of being in intense pain is equivalent to the conjunctive property P-and-C of being in intense pain and created by God

    Let’s say that the properties are necessarily extensionally equivalent. They can’t be substituted in hyperintensional (say, belief) contexts, so I’m not sure they’re equivalent in any stronger sense.

    it’s not surprising if the logic of pain-and-creation is such that goods must be added when pains-in-a-creature are added.

    You’ve got the relationship backwards. God is the creator of whatever we antecedently know is possible. Here’s an example. I am possibly right handed. Therefore, necessarily, no matter whether he likes it or not, God creates me in some possible world and makes me right handed. He has no choice in the matter. Similarly, we know that those principles are false. So, like it or not, there are worlds that are very bad. The project for theists is to make that fact consistent with the necessary existence of a perfect being.

    For what it’s worth, I think it is possible for there to be a perfect being and for there to be such worlds. We don’t need to blinker our modal knowledge (or any other knowledge we have) to accommodate God. But that’s another story.

    February 18, 2015 — 11:14
  • Michael Almeida

    Alex,

    The approach to (even strong) modal intuitions that are inconsistent with theism is not atypically (among theists) to reject the intuitions flatly. But that’s just an unimaginative approach to the problem that, worse still, leads to skepticism. If the only way to accommodate belief in God is to endorse convenient skepticisms–as so many theists seem to believe–then we’ve got very good evidence that theism is false. I take modal intuition to be pretty accurate, and not just accurate when its convenient. The intuition that neither P nor P2 is true is strong, and that’s good evidence that they are false. God’s existence has to be consistent with that fact. Trying to show that God’s existence is consistent with that fact is the way to make progress on the issue. The typical approach consists in avoidance behavior.

    February 19, 2015 — 7:47
  • Michael Almeida

    what makes a non-actual fact be possible is, ultimately, that God can bring it about.

    I’m not entirely unsympathetic to conflating possibility with actualizability. But that should not be confused with the position that we have good evidence that y is possible only if we have good evidence that God could actualize y. That’s false. We have good evidence that P1 and P2are false, and so good evidence that there are terrible worlds. But we don’t have good evidence that God could actualize a terrible world. Indeed, we have good evidence that he couldn’t. So, it would take a pretty imaginative reply to show that, indeed, God could actualize such a world.

    February 19, 2015 — 7:59
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