Guleserian (1983) presents a version of the Problem of Evil that attacks the conjunction of theism and modal realism. Like the traditional Problem of Evil, Guleserian’s argument begins with a set of initially plausible, but mutually inconsistent, propositions, which Kraay (2011) reconstructs as follows:
1. Necessarily, there exists a being (God) who is essentially unsurpassable in power, knowledge, and goodness.
2. Every possible world is actual at itself.
3. Necessarily, if w is a possible world, then it is true in w that God permits w to be actual.
4. Necessarily, if it is true in w that God permits w to be actual, then it is morally acceptable for God to do so.
5. There is at least one on-balance-bad world, w.
6. It is not morally acceptable that, in w, God permits the overall bad world w to be actual when it is within God’s power to prevent this.
(1) and (2) state the primary ontological commitments of theism and modal realism respectively. (3), (4), and (6) state plausible consequences of the conjunction of theism and modal realism. (5) reflects a common modal intuition had by many philosophers, namely that we can conceive of at least some some possible world that is full of misery and altogether lacking in redeeming value.
One strategy for resolving the inconsistency is to reject (5). This the move endorsed by Morris (1987). Thomas argues that nature of an Anselmian God (one that is unsurpassable in greatness) would rule out the possibility any on-balance-bad worlds existing. The Anselmian God is, thus, “a delimiter of possibilities.” Another strategy, favored by Almeida (2011) is to reject (6). On Almeida’s view, the necessity of the on-balance-bad worlds exculpates God from moral responsibility for their existence. Finally Kraay (2011) also rejects (5). He argues for a Theistic Multiverse account of possibility on which (i) there is only one possible world (the actual world), (ii) it is the best possible world, and (iii) it is a multiverse.
What all of these positions have in common is a commitment to (2), the claim that all possible worlds are actual at themselves. This is a core principle of Lewisian modal realism. On Lewis’ account the term ‘actual’ works like the term ‘here’. Just because some things are real here it does not follow that other things cannot be real elsewhere. Likewise, for the denizens of other possible worlds, on Lewis’ theory, their worlds are just as concretely real for them as our world is for us.
Here’s another strategy for resolving the inconsistency. This one allows us to keep (1), (3), (4), (5), and (6) by modifying (2). On the view in mind, we accept an axiological restriction on actuality. We thus replace (2) with
(2′) All and only on-balance-good worlds are actual at themselves.
If this substitution is made, then the inconsistency in the proposition-set is resolved. Why accept such a restriction? The Anslemian theist will argue that such a restriction is merited by the nature of God. While a Lesliean axiarchist might argue that such a restriction is an abstract ethical constraint upon the space of possibilities.
Traditional modal realism holds that there is nothing special about actuality. Ersatz views take actuality to be a special property that only applies to one world, the one that obtains. The view in mind here takes a middle position. Many worlds (perhaps infinitely many) have the property of being actual at themselves. In this way the proposed view is akin to the modal realists position. But not every world, on this view is actual. Some worlds fail to obtain. But the failure is not entirely ad hoc. They either fail because they are inconsistent with the nature of an Anselmian God, or because of an abstract ethical requirement that only on-balance-good worlds exist.
(cross posted from Persons and Value)
An Argument for the View that God has a Sense of Humor
Does God have a sense of humor? Here is one argument to think that he does. Let us start with the following uncontroversial premise:
(1) Having a sense of humor is a good-making property for human beings.
This does not seem to need much by way of defense: surely, ceteris paribus, we prefer someone with a sense of humor over someone without a sense of humor. In fact, when asked what we deem most important in relationships with other persons, the attribute of humor is usually in the top five. The second premise is as follows:
(2) For any property P, if P is a good-making property for entity X and P is intrinsically good, then for any entity Y that can have P, P will be a good-making property for Y.
Let me point out two important features of this premise. First, it says that if something is a good-making property for X, then it is a good-making property for Y if Y can have that property. The following example illustrates the relevance of this restriction. It is good for a building to be hurricane-resistant. However, since God is an immaterial being, it would be ridiculous to think that God is hurricane-resistant. God does not even have all good-making properties that humans have. Being a fast swimmer is a good-making property, but, of course, God is not a fast swimmer—nor is he a slow or an average one; he is simply not a swimmer at all, given that he does not have a body. That some property P (say, being hurricane-resistant or being a good swimmer) is a good property for one thing X (say, a building or a human being) does not mean that it is also a good-making property for some other thing Y (say, God). Only if Y can have that property is it good-making for Y.
A second important feature of (2) is that it is restricted to properties that are intrinsically good. It is a matter of philosophical debate precisely how we are to spell out what it is for goodness to be intrinsic rather than instrumental, but it seems the following will do for our purposes: something is intrinsically good if it is good in itself or for its own sake rather than as a means to something else. It is good that the water in my cup is fluid, but merely because I want to drink it. It is, therefore, merely instrumentally good. However, the beauty of Rembrandt’s The Jewish Bride or the courage of a fireman who attempts to save someone’s life by risking his own life are intrinsically good, because they are good in themselves and for their own sake.
The third premise is:
(3) Having a sense of humor is a property that is intrinsically good.
To have a sense of humor seems to be a property that is intrinsically rather than (merely) instrumentally good. To have a sense of humor is good in itself or for its own sake, not merely because it is a means to something else. Among the things that are usually considered to be intrinsically good are happiness, beatitude, contentment, and pleasures and satisfactions of certain kinds. To be amused seems to be one of the pleasures and satisfactions that are intrinsically good, for it seems that if someone is amused at something and there is nothing morally wrong about that, then that is a good thing in itself: it need not serve any further purpose in order to be good.
From (1) through (3) it follows that:
(4) If God can have a sense of humor, then having a sense of humor is a good-making property for God.
The next premise is:
(5) God can have a sense of humor.
I return to this premise below. (4) and (5) together allow us to infer that:
(6) Having a sense of humor is a good-making property for God.
The next premise says that:
(7) If having a sense of humor is a good-making property for God, he has that property.
And from (6) and (7) we conclude that:
(8) God has the property of having a sense of humor.
Let me now defend the two premises not yet discussed. The reason to embrace (7) is that God is perfect in all regards. This is not to say that God will have any good-making property that he could have. It is, presumably, a good-making property of God that he has actualized the actual world. Assuming that God was free in actualizing this possible world, he could have actualized another possible world, and if he had done so, he would have exemplified the good-making property of having actualized that possible world. But God cannot actualize this possible world and another possible world. Hence, God will not have all good-making properties that he could have. With the property of having a sense of humor, things are different, though. There seems no property or set of properties that God contingently exemplifies, such as having actualized this possible world or having raised Jesus Christ from the dead, that rules out his having a sense of humor.
This leaves us with (5), which says that God can have a sense of humor. Is this true? Well, I see no reason to think that it conflicts with God’s omniscience. And I cannot think of a good reason to think that it would be ruled about by God’s omnipotence, omnipresence, omnibenevolence, or any other properties that are traditionally ascribed to God as essential properties that he has. There seems to be nothing in the nature of being amused or having the disposition to be amused that is ruled out by God’s nature. Thus, for all we know, God can have a sense of humor.
It follows from the argument that God has a sense of humor.
Stephen Grover offers an interesting version of the Mere Addition Paradox (‘Mere Addition and the Best of all Possible Worlds’, Religious Studies, 1999) against Swinburne’s brief argument (The Existence of God, Oxford, 1979, 114 ff.) that there is no best world. Swinburne’s argument goes this way.
… take any world W . Presumably the goodness of such a world.will consist in part in it containing a finite or infinite number of conscious beings who will enjoy it. But if the enjoyment of the world by each is a valuable thing, surely a world with a few more conscious beings in it would be a yet more valuable world W’ . . . I conclude that it is not, for conceptual reasons, plausible to suppose that there could be a best of all possible worlds, and in consequence God could not have overriding reason to create one.
There are good reasons to deny that Swinburne’s argument shows anything like there is no best world. Still, the argument does not suffer from the Mere Addition Paradox (MAP).
The University of California at Riverside, with the help of a very generous grant from The John Templeton Foundation and under the direction of John Martin Fischer, welcomes proposals to investigate, through philosophical and theological research, questions that concern personal immortality. Such questions are central existential concerns that know no geographical or cultural bounds.
We anticipate proposals that fall under one of the following six categories:
- Investigation into whether persons survive, or could survive, bodily death. Such investigation could take the form of philosophical or theological treatments of the relevant empirical evidence, philosophical challenges to post-mortem survival (e.g., challenges to the possibility of continuous pre-mortem and post-mortem personal identity) and responses to such challenges, and more besides.
- Exploration of some topic related to the issue of immortality, e.g., puzzles about the goodness of post-mortem survival, the rationality of desiring to survive, the implications of believing/not believing in post-mortem survival, “quantum immortality,” longevity and the postponement of bodily death, etc.
- . Exploration of the relationship between immortality and views about the meaningfulness of life, even finite life. (E.g., does reflection on the possibility of meaningfulness in an immortal life shed light on what makes even our finite lives meaningful?)
- Investigation into the nature of infinity, and our conceptual grasp of infinity, as these relate to immortality. (Sample questions here might include the following: Can we grasp the nature of infinity in a way that is adequate to envisaging an infinitely long life? Insofar as the mathematical nature of infinite magnitudes are different from finite magnitudes, does this make it difficult to grasp infinitely long life? How do the mathematical puzzles of infinity relate to the possibility of immortality?)
- Investigation of the relationship between the badness of death and the desirability of immortality. (E.g., if death is a bad thing for an individual, does it thereby follow that immortality is (or could be) desirable?)
- Investigation of one or more explicitly theological issues related to the topic of immortality, e.g., investigation into the nature of “the intermediate state” or purgatorial or post-resurrection existence carried out within a Christian theological framework, the nature of karma carried out within a Buddhist or Hindu framework, post-mortem survival and its place in theodicy, etc.
Full application information can be found on the project web site: http://www.sptimmortalityproject.com/rfps/
Consider the following attempted reductio of Anselmian theism (based on Rowe, Can God be Free?):
- God exists and actualized the actual world and no being could possibly be greater than God actually is (assumption for reductio)
- There is a possible world, w, which is better than the actual world (premise)
- Possibly, God actualizes w (premise)
- Therefore, possibly, God does better than God in fact did (from 1-3)
- Therefore, possibly, God is greater than God in fact is (from 4)
The conclusion 5 of course contradicts the assumption 1. What I want to point out here is just that 5 does not follow validly from 4. That is, doing better does not logically entail being greater. This is easy to see in cases where the agents face different choices: a devil may make a better choice than a saint if the devil’s worst option is better than the saint’s best option!
The first and third arguments use S5. I will leave filling in the steps in the arguments as an exercise (maybe not so easy in the case of A) for the reader, though I can help out as needed.
Argument A (in a paper I have in Szatkowski’s forthcoming anthology on ontological arguments):
- Necessarily, if a property B is limiting, so is any property A that entails B.
- Necessarily, if a property B is limiting, its negation is not limiting.
- Possibly lacking existence is limiting.
- Possibly lacking omniscience is limiting.
- Possibly lacking omnipotence is limiting.
- Possibly lacking perfect goodness is limiting.
- Possibly not being creator of everything else is limiting.
- It is not possible that x is a creator of y while y is a creator of x.
- So, there exists a necessary being that is essentially omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly good and creator of everything else. This being has every property that it would be limiting to possibly-lack.
- Every first-order truth is knowable.
- The conjunction of all basic first-order truths exists and is a first-order truth.
- If all the basic first-order truths of a world w1 hold at a world w2, then w2=w1.
- Necessarily, if someone knows p, then p is true.
- So, there actually is a being that knows the conjunction of all basic first-order truths.
I don’t have an account of “basic”. Perhaps fundamental will do. I am thinking of “basic” here as a placeholder for a notion that makes (11) and (12) true.
- Possibly, an unlimited being exists.
- Necessarily, for every proposition q that is possibly true, there is a state of affairs p(q) such that p(q) grounds the possibility of q.
- Necessarily, if s grounds the possibility of x not existing or the possibility of x being limited, then s limits x.
- Necessarily, nothing limits an unlimited being.
- So, there is an unlimited being.
I’ve just finished a literature survey in preparation for my SEP entry on Skeptical Theism, and I’ve noticed a bit of a loose end. Consider two kinds of possible worlds including God and evil (from Russell and Wykstra’s 1988 dialogue). One kind of world is the “morally transparent” world where the reasons God allows suffering are “near the surface” and so fairly easily discernible by us. Another kind is a “morally inscrutable” world where the reasons why God allows evil are either buried “beneath the surface” or in the distant future.
Wykstra’s original 1984 debut of CORNEA (man there is a lot of philosophy in that paper!) advanced the thesis that it is more likely that God would create a morally inscrutable world. Russel and Rowe give reasons for the opposite claim. Below the fold I’ll briefly summarize their arguments and suggest why it seems to me the atheist has the upper hand in this argument, and issue a call for attention to the research project of defending the goodness of a morally inscrutable universe.
I have been making the circuit presenting a paper which in part defends an argument for atheism from “irreligious experience.” It is similar to work done by Draper in 1991 and Gellman in 1992. I’m sure others have versions of the idea.
This past week, I had a religious experience. I’m not sure what to make of it, and I’ll be thinking about it for some time. It was very vivid and strangely specific. In thinking about it this far, I think there may be an interesting research project worth pursuing (it will be a very long time before I can pursue it, so I put it out here in the hopes that someone else will).
Many people believe that there is: 1) no greatest number, 2) no greatest possible world, and 3) a greatest being (person, agent). The reason many people believe 1 and 2 is that there seems to be procedures to take a number (or world) and return a larger (or better) one. For any number (cardinal), take the powerset to get a larger number. For any world, stick some happy people in a far off corner to get a better world. (Of course, there is far from universal agreement on this second point.) The question arises: Is there any way to take a being, and return a better one?
One way is to try and link beings with the worlds they create. The idea would be that a being who creates a surpassable world is a surpassable being. This line of thought gives rise to a whole body of literature, some quite recent. Going in a different direction, here is another way that any being might be surpassable. Let us imagine that some virtues, e.g. courage, are traits wherein one wants to be at the mean that lies between extremes. We might imagine that ‘courage-level’ runs along a continuum from 0 (totally cowardly) to 1 (totally rash). Then, speaking loosely, somewhere in the middle is best. But, is it clear that any specific point is best? That is, what if the function, F, from courage-level (which runs from 0 to 1) to the value or goodness of the being goes as follows: F(x) = x for x in [0, 0.5] and F(x) = 1.01 – x for x in (0.5, 1]. Then there is no greatest being, as for any being, there is a better one. There is no greatest being, as beings get better as they approach 0.5 from the right on courage-level.
If there is an optimal point on a trait, call that trait ‘closed’. If there is not an optimal point on a trait (for any level a being takes on the trait, there is a better level), as in the courage example above, call that trait ‘open’. The question is, are all traits are closed? Or, what is the best argument to the conclusion that all traits are closed? In the absence of an argument regarding open and closed traits, the principle of indifference might suggest that courage is open with 50% probability and closed with 50% probability.
(One way to respond is to argue along these lines: certain traits/properties are fundamental (e.g., power, knowledge, freedom, goodness), these traits take maximal levels (individually and together), all other traits follow logically from these, and thus all traits take optimal levels and so are closed. Is there a relatively simple and convincing argument along these lines? Also, are there other ways to argue that all traits are closed? In particular, and thinking of approaching the question from a non-theistic angle, am I missing some sort of simple argument or reason as to why all traits are closed?)
In a single paragraph near the beginning of the Theodicy, Leibniz gives a very compressed version of an argument a contingentia mundi (from the contingency of the world) from which he purports to derive not just the existence of God, but several of the most important traditional divine attributes (from which, Leibniz seems to think, the other divine attributes follow). In this post, I’ll try to unpack Leibniz’s reasoning. I’m not going to do too much evaluation of the arguments, since this post will be long enough without that; I’ll just lay out the arguments as I see them and we can discuss their soundness in the comments.
First, here’s the paragraph:
God is the first reason of things: for such things as are bounded, as all that which we see and experience, are contingent and have nothing in them to render their existence necessary, it being plain that time, space and matter, united and uniform in themselves and indifferent to everything, might have received entirely other motions and shapes, and in another order. Therefore one must seek the reason for the existence of the world, which is the whole assemblage of contingent things, and seek it in the substance which carries with it the reason for its existence, and which in consequence is necessary and eternal. Moreover, this cause must be intelligent: for this existence being contingent and an infinity of other worlds being equally possible, and holding, so to say, equal claim to existence with it, the cause of the world must needs have had regard or reference to all these possible worlds in order to fix upon one of them. This regard or relation of an existent substance to simple possibilities can be nothing other than the understanding which has ideas of them, while to fix upon one of them can be nothing other than the act of the will which chooses. It is the power of this substance that renders its will efficacious. Power relates to being, wisdom or understanding to truth, and will to good. And this intelligent cause ought to be infinite in all ways, and absolutely perfect in power, in wisdom and in goodness, since it relates to all that which is possible. Furthermore, since all is connected together, there is no ground for admitting more than one. Its understanding is the source of essences, its will is the origin of existences. There in a few words is the proof of one only God with his perfections, and through him of the origin of things (Theodicy, tr. Huggard, sect. 7)
Alright, let’s see what we can make out of this. It will help to divide the argument into several stages. In the first stage, we show that a necessary being exists. In the second stage, we show that some necessary being has understanding, will, and power. In the third stage we prove that some necessary being is “absolutely perfect in power, in wisdom and in goodness.” In the fourth stage, we show that the necessary being is unique. In the fifth and final stage we show that the unique necessary being (God) is the ground of both possibility (essences) and actuality (existences). The last two stages are so elliptical and opaque that I am not going to try to reconstruct them, for now. Besides, the first three stages are enough to count as a proof of the traditional God: if sound, they would show that, necessarily, there exists a being who is perfectly powerful, perfectly wise, and perfectly good.