Saturday, September 26, 2009

God, Best Possible Worlds, Individual Well-Being and the Stoic Attitude

Submitted for your perusal.

1. God is all knowing, all good, and all-powerful

2. If God is all good, he desires the best for each person, and also desires to create the best possible world.

3. If all knowing, he is fully informed as to what is best for each person, and what constitutes the best possible world.

4. If all-powerful, he is fully able to bring about the best possible world.

5. If God knows and is fully able to bring about the best possible world, yet fails to do so, he is less than all-good.

6. But, God is all-good.

7. So, God does not fail to bring about the best of all possible worlds.

8. So, God does not fail to bring about the best for each person, given his/her status as an inhabitant of the best possible world.

9. So, there is at least one actual world, one God-created world that is the best of all possible worlds, and each inhabitant of such worlds is in the best possible situation for that person, given that he lives in a best possible world.

10. So the actual world, our world, may not be the only possible world, but it is a best possible.

11. Each of us is living a life, given a position in the world, that is the best possible for us, given our status as denizens of the best possible world.

12. Each of us, by taking up that position, does a crucial part in constituting a best possible world.

[This is something like the reasoning behind the Stoic notion that we have roles to play, stations to take up in this world, and that our ‘falling into these roles’ is not just a randomly occurring event, but reflective of the deep rationality and goodness of the universe, giving us good reason to be content with our lot in life, and grounding a moral duty to play those roles conscientiously.]

Problem to ponder: Is it possible that the best of all possible worlds and the best circumstances for at least some individuals can come into conflict in such a way that God had to give those individuals a lot in life less than optimal as compared to their lot in some other less than best world, this in order to bring about the best possible world?

13. Consider: World one and world two (w1 and w2).

Assume that the best circumstance for individual (a), call it “a*” is a feature of w1 but not of w2. Yet, suppose of the two worlds, w2 is the best possible world, and that world requires that (a) exist. If God wants to bring about w2, he has to refrain from bringing about a*. He has to bring about some other suboptimal circumstance for (a), call it “a**”. A** is the best available circumstance for (a), given that God wants to bring about w2.

In this case, God is unable to bring about two things at the same time: w2 and a*.

14. However, if that were to be the case, it apparently follows that there is something God cannot do. God would not be all-powerful in that case. He would not be God.

15. So, God must be able to bring about w2 and a** simultaneously.

16. There is some disagreement here. Some people hew to the above line. Others say that there are things God cannot do, but that these sorts of things are trivial in the sense that they are things that none can do. These things do not have any impact on God’s omnipotence. For instance, God cannot make circular squares, he cannot make it true that he never existed, and he cannot make it true that both p and not p are true at the exact same time, and in the same respect. These are logical impossibilities.

17. This latter group argues that given the complexity of the actual world, the world God brought about, it is evident that the complexity itself is somehow a necessary feature of the world’s status as the best possible. Furthermore, it is conceivable that suboptimal circumstances for (a) or any set of individuals, are somehow a necessary feature of the world’s status as the best possible, even though we, from a non-divine perspective just don’t see the connection between the two, and indeed can easily imagine the world changed with respect to the circumstances of the set of individuals that appear to us to be living in suboptimal circumstances, and being better for it. From our point of view, it sure looks possible that the world could be as it is, and also house these individuals under considerably improved circumstances. But, the reality of things is that their ‘better’ positions are analogous to ‘circularity’ of the squares in the above example. Just as you cannot graft circularity onto a square, without causing the square to become a circle, so too, you cannot change the circumstances of these individuals without making the world less than the best possible.

18. Another possible response: If you were to change (a)’s status from having a** to a*, in w2, you would not only change w2 into some suboptimal world, but you would be taking away the property of being an inhabitant of w2 from (a). Perhaps this feature, and this feature alone (living in a best world) is what constitutes being in the best possible situation for any individual, and it trumps other features of circumstance that we would normally take as constitutive of being in good circumstances (wealth, health, doing ones duties, following conscience, etc.). Perhaps, but this seems unsatisfactory as a source of consolation for the truly miserable.

19. Another possible question: Isn’t it open to God to refrain from bringing into being any individuals, like (a), if he sees that creation of the best possible world will entail giving such individuals suboptimal individual circumstances? Can’t he bring about w2 sans (a)?

20. A likely response would seem to be: No, it could very well be the case that (a)’s existence is necessary to w2’s existence. If so, God could not have refrained from creating (a) without also failing to bring about the best of all possible worlds.

This rejoinder seems already contained in #17.

21. Partisans of this view have to bite a bullet. They have to admit this as a possible consequence of their view: The actual world, including all its evil, is a/the best possible world, and it cannot be deprived of even a smidgen of that evil without being changed from the best possible world to a suboptimal world. God did not have it within his power to create the best possible world sans Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, Hussein, or etc. He did not have it within his power to create the best possible world sans one less evil deed.

22. On this view, God knowingly created these dysfunctional evil people, knowing what they would do to others.

23. So, God is cast in a utilitarian role by this view. His is a world like the world of Omelas in Ursala K. Leguin’s famous parable. It puts him in a position of having to sacrifice the well-being of some for the goal of bringing about the best of all possible worlds.

24. Stoic implication of this view: You may be an individual that is stuck with an (a**) situation, and will have to content yourself with being destined to do your part, living a suboptimal life, for the greater good, despite your own prospects being bleak.

25. Do you have a right to complain that this world is unfair, or that it is unfair that you were brought into being?