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…

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