March 12, 2013

Being Greater and Doing Better

Consider the following attempted reductio of Anselmian theism (based on Rowe, Can God be Free?):

  1. God exists and actualized the actual world and no being could possibly be greater than God actually is (assumption for reductio)

  2. There is a possible world, w, which is better than the actual world (premise)

  3. Possibly, God actualizes w (premise)

  4. Therefore, possibly, God does better than God in fact did (from 1-3)

  5. 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!

Rowe's view seems to be that, at least in cases where two agents face the same array of options, if the first does better than the second then the first is greater than the second. Thus restricted, the view has some intuitive plausibility. However, it is not clear that we should extend it to the kinds of cases where Rowe applies it, such as cases where, for every option, there is a better one. In that case, it seems quite plausible that an agent might do better without being better. For instance, compare an agent who chooses option 685 because, due to having the wrong set of values, he takes it to be the best option, with an agent who correctly realizes that there is no best option and arbitrarily selects option 500 because it is better to do something than to do nothing. The second agent seems clearly better than the first.

The moral of the story is, I think, that God's perfect goodness should not be understood as his acting unsurpassably well. It should instead be understood as some feature of his character. Perhaps (I'm not sure) it can be cashed out in terms of God valuing every possible entity or state of affairs exactly as much as he ought. (I'm assuming that God's perfect goodness means more than just his fulfilling any moral duties he might have.) This is a property which, when combined with the thesis that there is a BPW, would entail that God creates it, but would not have problematic consequences if there were no BPW, so I think it might line up pretty well with intuitions about the matter.

(cross-posted at The Prosblogion)

Posted by Kenny at March 12, 2013 2:06 PM
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