Best of All Possible Persons

Now this supreme wisdom, united to a goodness that is no less infinite, cannot but have chosen the best… If there were not the best among all possible worlds, God would not have produced any. (Gottfried Leibniz, Theodicy, translated by E.M. Huggard, 1951, p.128)

According to Anselm, God is the being than which none greater can be conceived. In other words, God is the best of all possible persons. According to Leibniz, the best of all possible persons would have to create the best of all possible worlds (or else create nothing at all).

The problem with Leibniz’ view of God is that if God is a logically necessary being, and if God must necessarily create the best of all possible worlds, then the world is itself a logically necessary being, not a logically contingent being. This would mean that Leibniz’ cosmological argument for God is based on a false premise.

Richard Swinburne rejects both of these claims about logical necessity. God is not a logically necessary being, but is a logically contingent being, according to Swinburne. And the creation of this world is not a logically necessary inference from the existence of God, but is only probable to some degree or other, given the assumption that God exists.

Part of how Swinburne defends his view that the creation of the universe is not a necessary inference from the existence of God is by denying that there is such a thing as the best of all possible worlds. In other words, he thinks that the idea of the best of all possible worlds is incoherent, it contains a self-contradition, so there is no logical possibility that there is a best of all possible worlds.

Swinburne assumes, quite plausibly, that if God existed and if there were a best of all possible worlds w, it would contain at least one created person P (in addition to God who is not a created person). But then we can conceive of another possible world w‘ which was exactly like w, except that we substitute another person Q for P, who has all the characteristics of P but is a different person. Such a world would clearly be of no less value than w, so w would NOT be a better world than w‘. Therefore, w would NOT be the best of all possible worlds. (See The Existence of God, 2nd edition, p.114-115.)

Furthermore, Swinburne argues that for any possible world that contains one or more persons or sentient creatures, we can always imagine a world which is exactly like that world except that it contains one more person or sentient creature who has a happy and good life. The latter world would clearly be a better world than the former. But the same reasoning applies to the better world, so for any logically possible world, we can always conceive of a world which is slightly better. Therefore, there is no logical possibility that there is a best of all possible worlds, just as there is no logical possibility of there being a largest positive integer.(See EOG, p.114-115.)

It strikes, me, however, that if Swinburne is correct that there is no possibility of there being a best of all possible worlds, then doesn’t it follow that there is also no possibility of there being a best of all possible persons?

The logic to prove this in a rigorous way might be a bit involved, but I can lay out at least an outline of my reasoning for now:

1. If a person creates a world which is NOT the best of all possible worlds, then that person is NOT the best of all possible persons (because, as Leibniz argued, the best of all possible persons must create the best of all possible worlds if that person creates any world).

2. Any person who creates a world would create a world which is NOT the best of all possible worlds (because, as Swinburne argues, it is logically impossible for there to be a best of all possible worlds).

3. If God exists, then God created a world (given a definition of ‘God’ which implies that God is the creator of the universe).

Thus:
4. If God exists, then God created a world which is NOT the best of all possible worlds. (from 2 and 3).

Therefore:
5. If God exists, then God is NOT the best of all possible persons. (from 1 and 4)

To be continued…

  • Marcin

    Based on your first paragraph, I don’t think you understand the ontological argument (viz. “In other words, God is the best of all possible persons.”) or Leibniz’s theodicy (viz. “would have to create the best of all possible worlds”), or Christianity’s understanding of Creation in general. Because of this, I think is why your second paragraph ignores any purpose in Creation that God may have. Maybe you could enlighten us on how you reached this conclusion: “…if God must necessarily create the best of all
    possible worlds, then the world is itself a logically necessary being” in light of God creating the world for His own purpose and glory.

    It’s an error say that God has to do anything, but that when He does something, such as create the world, that this act of creation is consistent with His nature and therefore perfect for the purpose. God did not just create something with no purpose. God created the world for the purpose of bringing Himself glory by demonstrating His attributes through the redemption of Man. So in light of this, Leibniz explains that evil exists with the purpose of demonstrating God’s goodness by contrast. This is something your Swineburne paraphrase [I'm relying on your paraphrase because I don't have his book] ignores and is therefore incoherent (and as a result so is your #2).

    • Bradley Bowen

      Marcin said:

      Maybe you could enlighten us on how you reached this conclusion: “…if God must necessarily create the best of all possible worlds, then the world is itself a logically necessary being” in light of God creating the world for His own purpose and glory.

      ================
      Response:

      I don’t accept your assumption that God created the world “for His own purpose and glory”. Philosophy of religion is not conducted on the basis of Bible verses or theological doctrines that are accepted on the basis of faith. Philosophy of religion is conducted on the basis of logic and argumentation, and the premises of the arguments must be acceptable to reasonable people of all sorts of different theolological views.

      So, there are two main ways of trying to get at God’s purposes and intentions. First, we can observe facts about people, plants, animals, planets, etc, and we can develop scientific and scholarly theories about people, plants, animals, planets, etc. that are based on the observable facts, and then we can try to infer God’s purposes and intentions based on those observed facts and those carefully constructed scientific or scholarly theories. Second, we can start from some particular definition or analysis of the concept ‘God’ and then attempt to draw inferences by means of logic and conceptual analysis about the what sorts of purposes and intentions God must have, or that God would be likely to have, given a carefully worked-out analysis of the concept of ‘God’.

      Swinburne carefully analyzes the concept of ‘God’ and the meaning of the claim ‘God exists’, and his analysis is that in order for something to be God, at least in terms of traditional western theism, it must be, among other things, a perfectly good person. Swinburne further analyzes this concept of a ‘perfectly good person’ and concludes that a perfectly good person will always do the best thing possible to do in a given circumstance, if there is a best thing possible to do. And when there is NOT a best thing to do, God will do any equal best action (if several possibilities are tied for being the best), and if there are no equal best actions, then God will do something that is a good action, but never will do a bad action.

      Swinburne and Leibniz disagree on whether there is such a thing as ‘the best of all possible worlds’. Leibniz thinks there is such a thing, and Swinburne thinks there cannot be such a thing. But Swinburne agrees with Leibniz at least hypothetically; he agrees that IF there were a best of all possible worlds, then God MUST create the best of all possible worlds. God is perfectly good, so God MUST do what is best, whenever there is an opption that is the best to do.

      • Marcin

        A major component of Leibniz’s theodicy is purpose vis a vis creation.
        You can’t interact with Anselm or Leibniz without taking
        into account what they believed and why they believed it. Christianity is a religion
        based on a revelatory epistemology. If all you want to do is interact
        with is Deism or generic Theism, make that clear in your original
        statements. You used two key Christian philosophers; you were
        interacting with Christianity, or at the very least Leibniz.

        • Bradley Bowen

          Marcin,

          You appear to have some familiarity with Leibniz’s book Theodicy. Perhaps you can enlighten me and help me to have a better understanding of Leibniz’s views in Theodicy.

          You have made a number of points, but I would like to focus on just one objection, for now:

          “Based on your first paragraph, I don’t think you understand … Leibniz’s theodicy (viz. “would have to create the best of all possible worlds”).”

          Can you expand on this objection? I cannot either agree or disagree with this objection until I understand it better. What statement or inference in the first paragraph bothers you? Why exactly does that statement or inference bother you?

          Do you think that Leibniz would DISAGREE with the claim that God “would have to create the best of all possible worlds”? If so, why do you think Leibniz would disagree with this claim? If so, what do you think would be a more accurate description of what Leibniz believed about God and the creation of the best of all possible worlds?

        • Bradley Bowen

          Marcin,

          There is an excellent article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy that specifically addresses Leibniz’s views on the problem of evil:

          http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/leibniz-evil/

          Among other things, I learned from the article that Swinburne’s view that there is no such thing as ‘the best of all possible worlds’ goes back at least to the 17th century, and that Leibniz was aware of this view:

          “Leibniz’s reasoning to this conclusion does not, however, follow this straightforward path: among other things, this reasoning is not cogent as it stands. A number of seventeenth-century figures recognized that God would not be obliged to create the best world if there were no such thing as the best world. There would be no best world if the series of possible worlds formed a continuum of increasingly good worlds ad infinitum. And if there is no best world, God cannot be faulted for failing to create the best one since to do so would be as impossible as, say, naming the highest number. There is no such number of course, and likewise no such world. So while God may be obliged to create a world that has at least some measure of goodness, he cannot be obliged, on this view, to create the best. And therefore it might be the case that God simply chose arbitrarily to create one of infinitely many morally acceptable worlds. [This line of argument was common among certain Jesuit scholastics of the period. For discussions of this issue, see, for example, Ruiz de Montoya, Commentaria ac Disputationes in primam partem Summae Thologicae S. Thomae. De voluntate Dei et propiis actibus eius, Lyon 1630, disp. 9 and 10, and Diego Granado, Comentarii in primam partem Summae Theologicae S. Thomae, Pont-a-Mousson, 1624, pp.420–433.]”

          “Leibniz was aware of this argument denying God’s obligation to create the best, but he was firmly committed to rejecting it, in virtue of a central principle of his philosophical system, the Principle of Sufficient Reason. According to the Principle of Sufficient Reason, for any state of affairs, there must be a sufficient reason that explains why that state of affairs and not some other state of affairs obtains. When it comes to our world, then, there must be some reason that explains why it, and not some other world, obtains. But there can be no such reason if it is the case that the goodness of worlds increasesad infinitum. Leibniz therefore concluded that there can be no infinite continuum of worlds.”

    • Bradley Bowen

      Marcin said…

      Maybe you could enlighten us on how you reached this conclusion: “…if God must necessarily create the best of all possible worlds, then the world is itself a logically necessary being” in light of God creating the world for His own purpose and glory.

      It’s an error say that God has to do anything, but that when He does something, such as create the world, that this act of creation is consistent with His nature and therefore perfect for the purpose.

      =========================

      Response:

      Leibniz insisted that God was perfectly free in chosing to actualize the best of all possible worlds. But Leibniz has an odd and implausible notion of freedom. God’s choice is free simply because there were other possibilities, other possible worlds. The best of all possible worlds was not the only choice or possibility, so God was not prevented from making an alternative choice, in Leibniz’ view. God cannot actualize a four-sided triangle, because such a thing contains a logical contradiction and thus is not a logically possible being.

      God is not compelled by beings outside of himself, but his actions are constrained by his nature. God is a perfectly good person, and thus God MUST actualize the best of all possible worlds, if he believes that such a world is possible and that he can actualize that best of all possible worlds. God has perfect knowledge, so God is aware that there is a best of all possible worlds, and in fact, God knows every minute detail of the best of all possible worlds, as well as every minute detail of every other possible world. So, God makes a deliberate choice based on full knowledge of the relevant alternatives. But God’s choice is constrained by his own nature, by his perfect goodness. God cannot do anything other than actualize the best of all possible worlds.

      If God had wanted to create something beautiful, creating a world that was extremely beautiful would satisfy that purpose. But satisfying such a purpose might well require actualizing a world that was less than the best of all possible worlds. God, for example, might have to sacrifice the comfort of sentient creatures in order to acheive the highest level of beauty. But a world of suffering or that was devoid of pleasure and combort would probably fall short of being the best of all possible worlds, even if it was the most beautiful of possible worlds. God cannot sacrifice the overall goodness of his creation for the sake of some limited and specific purpose. God, being perfectly good, must actualize the only the best of all possible worlds, which may require sacrificing some beautity in order to achieve a greater degree of some higher good.

      Leibniz wants to have his cake and eat it too. He wants God to be perfectly free, but he also wants God to be perfectly good, and God’s perfect goodness cannot be subject to whims and fluctuations. God is compelled to do what is best, to chose to actualize the best of all possible worlds, which would include the best possible mixture of various sorts of goods: beauty, pleasure, freedom, power, creativity, knowledge, etc. For Leibniz, God is free only in the sense that there were other less than best possible worlds to choose from, but NOT in the sense that God could have chosen otherwise. God’s goodness compells God to make the choices that he makes.

  • L.Long

    Its so nice to know that Marcin knows gawd’s mind and purposes so well. I always find it amazing how so many people know gawd’s mind when their own holey book states it aint possible. And at the same time none of these people can give any proof of gawd’s existence except that they claim it exists, or use some odd ball philosophical BS.
    Well I know that gawd made us for only one purpose & that is to become VERY intelligent so that after death only very intelligent people go to S/He/IT’s heaven so that they can think up ways to successfully end S/He/IT’s existence cuz it’s BORED!
    Making BS up is easy, even Asimov can do it, and I like his answer better than theirs.
    I have no evidence of S/He/IT’s existence & the universe runs as though S/He/IT does not exist, so S/He/IT is irrelevant. Live long, be happy, it will soon end and then you will know.

  • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

    Isn’t heaven the best of all possible worlds? Or can heaven be improved?


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