Modal Quandaries
April 23, 2015 — 13:28

Author: Michael Almeida  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: , ,   Comments: 15

Here’s a modal quandary. Both modal arguments seem correct. Both arguments seem valid.

(I)

1. Necessarily, God actualizes the best world.

2. There is no best possible world.

3. :. God does not exist.

(II)

1. There is no best possible world.

2. It is impossible that God actualizes the best possible world.

3. :. It is not necessary that God actualizes the best world.

The problem arises because we are (implicitly) reasoning counterfactually (strictly, counterpossibly), and there’s room for different ways to resolve the vagueness involved.

When we ask what would be the case were God to exist, we might not be keeping constant the possible worlds we know to exist. This is what is happening in (I). In that case, we would expect the possible worlds in the pluriverse to have a different shape, were God to exist. For instance, there would be the best possible world. Reasoning this way, we are indifferent to the fact that there is no best possible world. Our reasoning is unconstrained by that fact, or even by the fact that there is necessarily no best possible world. Reasoning counterpossibly we say, there would be the best possible world, were God to exist. There is no best world, therefore no God.

But when we ask what would be the case were God to exist, we might be keeping constant the possible worlds we know to exist. This is what is happening in (II). In that case, we would not expect the possible worlds in the pluriverse to have a different shape, were God to exist. That is, we would not expect that there is the best possible world. Instead, we would expect the demands on God to be limited by what possible worlds exist. Reasoning this way, we are not indifferent to the fact that there is no best possible world. Indeed, we take the demands on God to be limited by the fact that there is no best possible world. Reasoning in this case, we say that there would not be a best world, were God to exist.

It cannot be the case that both resolutions are correct. It might be that it all depends on context, but no theist or atheist will easily settle for that.

Comments:
  • Frank Chalmers

    Confused by “possible worlds we know to exist”. If a world exists, it is no longer merely possible but actual?

    April 23, 2015 — 18:37
  • Michael Almeida

    Possible worlds (and impossible worlds, for that matter) all exist necessarily. They all exist in every possible world (for Plantinga, anyway), and they all exist (unrestrictedly) at each world (for Lewis). You’re running together possible worlds existing with possible worlds obtaining. Worlds can exist without being actual but they cannot obtain without being actual.

    April 24, 2015 — 7:12
  • AP Taylor

    Suppose one accepts the conjunction of modal realism and theism. On such a view suppose that one takes the plurality of variously propertied euclidean 3-dimensional “worlds” to compose a single infinitely complex world, or supraworld. Wold a theist of this sort be entitled to say that there is a best possible world or supraworld and that God does actualize that world? I suppose one drawback would be that there could be many such supraworlds with none being the best. But then they woold all be identical, each containing iterations of the worlds contained in the other supraworlds.

    April 24, 2015 — 7:57
  • Michael Almeida

    Hi AP,

    Yes, but, unlike modal realism, we cannot take the universes to be worlds. They are parts of a single possible world w, and w is no doubt the best possible world (since it is the uniquely existing possible world). This multiverse move is taken by lots of folks, Don Turner, Klaas Kraay, among others. But it is not a form of genuine modal realism on which we have a plenitudinous pluriverse. And it is not the scientific hypothesis that we might be in a multiverse. The scientific hypothesis is consistent with a plenitudinous pluriverse. Rather this sort of multiverse entails necessitarianism, just to get its theoretical work done. One, among several counterintuitive consequences, is that our simple modal intuitions concerning what we might have done are all false. It is false, for instance, that I might have awakened one instant earlier than I did this morning. Crazy. For what it’s worth, I hold a view in the vicinity (I think Ross Cameron has defended a weaker relative) that genuine modal realism is the only view consistent with God existing.

    April 24, 2015 — 8:16
    • AP Taylor

      Mike,

      Thanks for the reply. I’m afraid I may have couched that response in terms that, on second thought, seem contradictory even to me. I am inclined to agree with your view. I am comfortable with the conjunction of theism and genuine modal realism (though it takes some effort to deal with the problem of evil that arises on the view: my own response is a sort of axiologically constrained modal realism wherein all the worlds exist whose existence is–on balance–good). Couldn’t a theist take the plenitudinous pluriverse to compose a single super-reality (a plenitudinous pluriversal state of affairs), and thus treat it as, in a loose sense perhaps, ” the world,” and if God actualizes that state of affairs, doesn’t that get out of (i)? Or is the worry that a move like that necessarily vitiates the meaning to “actualizes” and therefore it would be false that God actualizes the plenitudinous pluriverse, therefore making (i)1 false (which would be a bitter pill for theists)?

      April 24, 2015 — 8:34
  • I think I am confused about what premise (1) of argument (I) means. I can think of two distinct interpretations, neither of which seems to not generate a problem:

    (A) In every possible world, God actualizes the best possible world.

    (B) If there is a best possible world, then in every possible world, God actualizes it.

    I seems that, on (B), argument (I) is straightforwardly invalid. But even on (A) I’m not sure that it’s valid. If (2) is true, it follows that (A) is false since there are possible worlds in which God does not actualize the best possible world. But I don’t see that this shows that God does not exist. What am I missing?

    So, perhaps premise (1) is supposed to be this:

    (C) If God exists, then in every possible world, if God actualizes a world, then God actualizes the best possible world.

    First, (C) seems very different from premise (1). But, in any event, it still does not, in combination with (2), generate a valid argument. The temptation might be to say, “Well the actual world is a possible world, it obtains. But it is not the best possible world, so, on (C) God cannot actualize it. So God does not exist.” But this doesn’t work because the fact that the actual world obtains does not imply that God actualizes it (even on the assumption that God exists).

    April 24, 2015 — 8:45
  • Michael Almeida

    Hi Jason,

    Premise (1) says nothing about God actualizing a world in a world. There is a vast difference between actualizing w in w and actualizing w. Trivially, God actualizes each world w in w. But it is not trivial to claim that God actualizes every world, simpliciter. That’s what premise (1) says: God actualizes every world simpliciter. But we can put premise (1) in your terms, if you like. It says that in every world, God actualizes the best possible world. That’s just a long way of saying that necessarily God actualizes the best possible world. And frankly, even that is too long. The shortest way to put it is that necessarily, God actualizes every world. Since only one world can be actual, this entails that there is exactly one possible world, and that world (of course) is the best.

    . . .the fact that the actual world obtains does not imply that God actualizes it (even on the assumption that God exists).

    I don’t follow that, unless we are not talking about the same sort of being. God actualizes every possible world in that world (including the actual world), since (as Ted Guleserian convincingly argues) it is true in each world that he might have prevented that world from being actual. He might have altered some contingent state of affairs, for instance.

    April 24, 2015 — 8:54
    • Okay. I think that makes sense. If I am reading you right, you are saying that the existence of God straightforwardly entails modal collapse.

      If you are correct, then perhaps another way of stating argument (I) is:

      (1) God actualizes every world (i.e, God actualizes the world).
      (2) There is more than one possible world.
      (3) God does not exist.

      April 24, 2015 — 9:04
  • Michael Almeida

    AP, I’m not sure I see what the worry is here.

    I am comfortable with the conjunction of theism and genuine modal realism (though it takes some effort to deal with the problem of evil that arises on the view:

    Which problem of evil? If God necessarily creates the pluriverse, then there is no instance of evil that is not necessary to the greatest good (i.e. to the pluriverse).

    April 24, 2015 — 9:03
  • Michael Almeida

    Jason,

    Right. But I’m not claiming that the argument is sound. I’m just presenting it as a modal argument that lot’s of people advance on the assumption that God is maximally great and therefore necessarily does his best. Others reply with the second modal argument that God need not actualize the best world (or the solely existing world) because that’s impossible.My worry is about adjudicating among these arguments.

    April 24, 2015 — 9:12
    • So, I find argument (I) more compelling than argument (II) (I won’t go into why now). So I am interested in figuring out whether there is any way to save theism (or something close to it) while accepting that (I) is sound. I think that there possibly is:

      (I) presents a problem for theists because premise (1), as I now understand it, implies that God actualizes. But suppose he does not. Suppose, that is, that it is true that any world that God actualizes is the best possible world, but that he does not actualize any world because there is no best possible world. I think this gets us out of the problem. And it has the added benefit of not implying modal collapse.

      Of course there is the little nagging problem that there is an actual world. But that is easily dealt with: God does not actualize the actual world.

      Now, is this theism? Well, it definitely is a view according to which God is not the creator of the universe. But still, God is an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent being who takes an interest in humanity, has a plan for humanity, etc. That sounds pretty close to theism.

      April 24, 2015 — 10:39
  • Michael Almeida

    Oh, right, I don’t want to suggest that there’s no way out. But, there are ways out and there are ways out. The sort of problem I’m raising is a serious problem for those who (i) hold that God is absolutely perfect and (ii) hold that the pluriverse is plenitudinous. God is an Anselmian God, and there are no gaps in metaphysical space. I take the ideal solution to the problem to hold (i) and (ii) to be true. Is there a solution that does not abandon either (i) or (ii)? That’s the hard problem.

    April 24, 2015 — 10:46
  • There is also:
    1. Necessarily, God actualizes a best world.
    2. God exists.
    3. So, there is a best world.

    May 6, 2015 — 9:38
  • Alan White

    With respect to Alexander’s (if I may) last post:

    Mike, I replied as follows to your excellent post on Critique, but it applies here too. What constitutes a “best world” is relative to what the role of such a world serves in the assessment of an omnipotent/omniscient being who realizes that “best” coordinates with what is logically possible given certain maximal goals of purpose–to produce beings with maximal libertarian choice in a minimal world of evil compatible with such choice. So here is my reply in full:

    “A comment:

    “But the Free Will Defense simply assumes that there are
    morally imperfect worlds and aims to show that, possibly, God is unable to
    actualize a morally perfect world.”

    As with Hick’s “soul-making argument” I’d argue that
    this assumes that this actual world is the best
    of all possible “imperfect worlds” for free beings to exist as a
    result of God’s morally perfect creation, even given the modal constraints you’ve
    imposed on that creation pace
    Mackie. What this means to me is that
    there is no other possible-world that (i) contains the kind of free beings
    posited in this actual imperfect world and (ii) contains at least one less kind
    of evil attributable to such free beings in virtue of at least one factor of
    agency that is absent in that possible world that is present in our actual
    world. What I mean by (ii) is for
    example one less part of the self in that possible world that is present in our
    actual world that results in actual-world evil.
    It may be as minor as a form of psychological fetish–a fixation on toes
    that allows one to choose (by freedom hypothesis) to pursue prurient behavior
    and (say) stomp on others’ toes (there are real cases here)–that may be
    avoided by creating free-choosing creatures without toes. On the one hand this raises the question of
    what a minimally-endowed creature
    must be to be physically and psychologically free in the relevant way necessary
    for being a morally free creature. But
    more relevantly for this post it raises the question why we must believe that this world maximally instantiates the kind of creature thus free–for only if
    God created such a maximal world of choice with the minimum amount of possible
    evil that might result from such choices may God be said to have created the
    best of all imperfect possible worlds of choice. And given God’s posited omnipotence and
    omniscience he should have created such as the actual world.

    But at least to me, this is not obviously the best such imperfect
    possible world. And I can think of no
    way to prove that it combines the maximum of moral choices leveraged against
    the minimum of possible evil consequences of such choices.”

    Thanks, Alan

    May 8, 2015 — 21:18
  • Michael Almeida

    Hi Alan,

    I’ve responded on the Critique. I repost here. I’ll be alert to comments there; I appreciate the thoughts.
    =================================================

    Thanks for this comment! You say,

    “. . .there is no other possible-world that (i) contains the kind of free beings
    posited in this actual imperfect world and (ii) contains at least one less kind
    of evil attributable to such free beings in virtue of at least one factor of
    agency that is absent in that possible world that is present in our actual
    world.”

    But both Plantinga and Mackie agree that there are such worlds. There are worlds that include all of the actual world agents and that do not include any moral evil. There are mildly morally evil worlds that include all of the actual world agents and include much less moral evil. If I’m reading you right, you are denying that there are such worlds. That’s an important claim that neither Plantinga nor Mackie make. On the supposition that agents are libertarian free, then you can get close to proving that there are morally perfect and mildly morally imperfect worlds.

    May 9, 2015 — 7:57
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