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Saturday, December 02, 2023

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Hi Bill.

You wrote:

>>Note that if God has a wholly good character in the actual world, then he has a wholly good character in every possible world: for he exists in every possible world and his omnibenevolence is one of his essential attributes.<<

I had the same thought when I read that section of the IEP article.

Given the current widespread endorsement of perfect being theism, I’m surprised to see a contemporary Christian theist offer the “Bite the Bullet” response. That response seems to entail the falsity of perfect being theism, assuming that omnibenevolence in every possible world is a perfection – which it clearly seems to be.

Here's a way to defend Adams' position, or something close to it.

Plausibly, there are some decisions/actions of God such that they constrain God's subsequent decisions/actions. ('Subsequent' here can be treated as logical rather than temporal for those who hold to divine timelessness.) For example, if God decides to create a world, he cannot then decide not to create (or decide to bring about a state-of-affairs in which he did not create). Similarly, if God makes a promise, he cannot then break that promise. These follow either from general metaphysical constraints or from God's essential character (e.g., as a non-promise-breaker).

So suppose that in the actual world, God makes a settled decision (a "divine vow" of sorts) not to command hate, theft, and adultery. That decision is a contingent free choice. God didn't have to make it, and there are possible worlds in which God doesn't make it. But having made it, God is committed to it, and thus it is not subsequently possible for him to command hate, theft, and adultery. The necessity here (i.e., the necessity of not so commanding) isn't an absolute necessity, but a conditional one: given that God has so committed himself, he cannot (in virtue of his character, let's say) do otherwise. It's analogous to what some call "accidental necessity" or "the necessity of the past" (analogous because one can conceive of God's decisions/actions as ordered without being chronologically ordered).

On this view, God's not commanding hate, etc., isn't entailed by his character per se, but rather by the conjunction of his character and his having freely committed himself to not so commanding.

This solution preserves Adams' distinction between "logically possible" and "not really possible" (or something like it).

For the record, I don't endorse this view. But it looks like it might give Adams' response a few more gasps of breath before it bites the dust.

James,

Thanks for the excellent comment. It is admirably clear.

In the actual world, God freely decided to forbid theft ("Thou shalt not steal"). His decision was logically contingent: he logically could have done otherwise. Hence there are possible worlds in which he does do otherwise: in those worlds he commands theft. But in the actual world, God's character is such that he sticks to any decision he makes. So in the actual world, God is no flibbertigibbet. God's actual character in conjunction with God's actual decision entails that at no time in the actual world after the decision will God repeal or alter his decision. The decision to forbid theft, then, can be said to be conditionally necessary: GIVEN the contingent decision, it cannot be otherwise at any time subsequent to the time of the decision.

And yes there is an analogy here to necessitas per accidens (accidental necessity). Given the contingent event of Socrates having drunk the hemlock, the event cannot be undone by anyone or anything. As Aquinas says somewhere, not even God can restore a virgin. There is no absolute necessity that one lose one's virginity, but given that one has lost it, its loss is henceforth conditionally necessary.

So far, so good; but not good enough to rescue the 'bite the bullet' response.

>>On this view, God's not commanding hate, etc., isn't entailed by his character per se, but rather by the conjunction of his character and his having freely committed himself to not so commanding.

This solution preserves Adams' distinction between "logically possible" and "not really possible" (or something like it).<<

So it is logically possible that God command hate, but not really possible because his character in the actual world is a loving character. (God is love.) My objection to this is that God's character is invariant across all possible worlds: he exists in every world and is loving in every world. That's just what omnibenevolence means. It's a modal notion. It means that God is good in every way and in every world. The 'omni' cannot be restricted to any proper subset of worlds to the exclusion of the rest of the worlds.

Given that God's character is world-invariant, there is no logically possible world in which God commands hate. God's commanding hate is neither logically possible nor really possible.

My claim is that for God, the logically possible and the really possible are coextensive: Necessarily, x is logically possible iff x is really possible. That necessity is grounded in the divine omnipotence: God can't do anything, but he can do anything logically possible; his ability to do it makes it really possible.

Thanks for the reply, Bill.

On the solution I suggested, the assumption is that the commands in question are not logically inconsistent with God's (essential) character, i.e., that it is at least logically possible for God to command hate, theft, etc. That seems to be one of Adams' assumptions: "even if it is logically possible that God could command cruelty, it is not something that God will do, given his character in the actual world."

I was proposing a way to understand "no real possibility" and "not something that God will do" that's consistent with the assumption that it is (broadly) logically possible for God to issue such commands. So, when you say...

"Given that God's character is world-invariant, there is no logically possible world in which God commands hate. God's commanding hate is neither logically possible nor really possible."

...it looks like you're begging the question by assuming that God's character is such as to render those divine commands logically impossible.

Of course, if God's character is essentially (i.e., world-invariantly) such as to rule out those commands, then Adams' solution can't get off the ground. And I agree with you that if God is essentially omnibenevolent, as classical theism holds, then such divine commands are logically impossible. (That's why I don't endorse the view I described!) But to repeat the point: the view I sketched rejects the assumption that God's essential character entails his not issuing those commands. It assumes only that, necessarily, if God decides not to issue a command (to hate, steal, etc.) then that decision is irrevocable.

I hope that clarifies what I had in mind.

It seems to me that there is a sense in which God's character constrains what is possible for him and a sense in which it does not. I'd say something similar with regard to human character. Suppose I am currently not suicidal, meaning that there is nothing at all within me that would make suicide desirable. It is then impossible for me now (given that state of myself) to commit suicide. Nevertheless, even given that state, suicide is still within my power. It is something I could do. There's a knife right there. My arms have all their strength, and are fully subject to my direction. So even if my non-suicidal state were a necessary truth, there is still a sense in which suicide would be possible for me: it would be up to me whether to kill myself or not. They would still be genuine options for me, just as they in fact are genuine options in this world where my character guarantees which option I'm going to take.

Similarly (for those who buy the divine command theory), given the necessary truths about the divine nature, it is still logically possible that God command theft, say, meaning that it is up to God whether theft is obligatory or permissible or forbidden, just as it is up to me whether I commit suicide now.

I don't know if it's the best use of language, but I can see someone labelling one of these senses of possible "real" possibility, and the other "logical" possibility. Using this language, it is not "really" possible for me to commit suicide, because there is something about me which if you know it you can be certain that I won't do that. Nevertheless, I can. It is logically possible for me to do that. I don't mean that I could have had different desires, but that even with the desires I have, it's still up to me. In the moment (in which the desires already subsist) I do not lack the ability either to do or not to do.

I can imagine you pressing me by asking, "Is there, or is there not a possible world in which God commands theft?"

My answer would be that if "possible" has different meanings then questions about possible worlds have different answers depending on which sense of "possible" is in view. If a possible world means a "really" possible state of affairs, then there is no possible world in which God commands theft, since he hates theft necessarily. I can still say that theft is wrong because God commands it, since it is still up to God whether theft is wrong. He could have commanded differently (it was in his power to have done so) in which case theft would not have been wrong, even though we can be certain (knowing his character) that under no possible conditions would God do such a thing.

On the other hand if possible world means "logically" possible state of affairs, then there is a possible world in which God commands theft. But in this case a possible world is not a way things might have been. I would regard a merely "logically" possible world as a mere abstract placeholder, so to speak, useful for keeping track of the logic of our talk about what would be the case if God had done certain things that are within his power, but which he certainly will not do.

I think, however, it is a clearer use of language to restrict the us of "possible" to real possibility, and distinguish between what is simply "possible" for God, and what is "within his power". On this use of language, it is not possible for God to command theft. But theft is wrong because God commands it. Theft would be good if God commanded it, which was within his power.

This preserves divine omnipotence: God can do (it is within his power to do) anything not contradictory in itself, even things that contradict his character. Nevertheless, it is not possible for him to do such things. This preserves divine omnibenevolence.

I also don't really agree with divine command theory, but am just working through the argument. But I really do believe in the distinction between what is possible for God and what is within his power. For context, it might be worthwhile to explain that I'm a Calvinist. Like Jonathan Edwards, I don't see it as incompatible with human free will (meaning genuine agency entailing moral responsibility) that we necessarily do what we want. If someone is so evil that he has no desire to do good, and necessarily does evil (not because of compulsion by some external agent, but such that the only thing necessitating his evil choice is his evil inclinations) then it seems to me perfectly consonant with reason to say that such a man is a genuine agent, morally responsible for his evil choice, a choice rendered certain by his evil character. And the fact that this is a sensible thing to say should lead us to make the distinction between what is possible for an agent, and what is within his power.

CC,

Suicide is within a man's power. But so is running a four-minute mile. But although I am a man, it is not within BV's power to run a four-minute mile, not now and not at any time. So it is not obvious that it is within CC's power to commit suicide now given that he is now non-suicidal, and, a fortiori, to commit suicide at any time if he is necessarily non-suicidal, i.e., non-suicidal in every metaphysically possible world in which he exists.

Now consider the divine case. Doing anything non-contradictory is within an omnipotent being's power. God is an omnipotent being. But it doesn't follow that it is within God's power to command theft. God is a fully-propertied unique individual and not a mere instance of deity. In addition to being omnipotent, God is omnibenevolent which means that he is not only good in every way there is to be good, but also good in every way there is to be good in every possible world. So I don't agree that >>God can do (it is within his power to do) anything not contradictory in itself, even things that contradict his character.<< This is because his good character is world-invariant. It is therefore not within God's power to command theft even though it is within an omnipotent being's power to command theft.

The point here is that God is not a mere instance of omnipotence, but a concrete individual with a complete set of attributes, one of which, omnibenevolence, rules out his commanding theft.

I say that suicide is _immediately_ within my power: there is in me no lack of strength, power, capability to perform the act, only a lack of will, wish, inclination. This is not paralleled by the case of running a 4min mile, in which (for those of us not possessed of the required athletic prowess) there most certainly is a lack of strength, power, capability.

I am not beginning from a premise about what is within the power of a man in general, and inferring that it must be within the power of this man. I am talking about this man already in my premise. And I think it is pretty nearly obvious that the powers and capabilities of this man are sufficient to give him the capacity to do the act, so that the fact that he didn't do it cannot be blamed on any lack of power or capability in him. Rather, what we have is a case of someone who chose not to do something that he was fully capable of doing. Do you agree that this is a plausible way of describing this man's situation? If so, I think you must grant that it is at least plausible (if not obvious) that it is within the power of non-suicidal me to commit suicide. The expression "within the power of" refers explicitly to my power, which is distinct from my wishes, inclinations, desires.

You say, "Doing anything non-contradictory is within an omnipotent being's power." But it's not clear to me why you think so. I know why _I_ think that: for me what omnipotence means is the capacity to do whatever is not contradictory, so that any being not capable of doing whatever is not contradictory would not be omnipotent. From this it certainly does follow that it is within God's power to do anything non-contradictory. Otherwise he would not be omnipotent. The sentence, as I would interpret it, does imply what you say it does not imply.

So I'm trying to find an interpretation of the statement that does not have that implication. And I'm having difficulty. Your way of contrasting the general ("man"/"omnipotent being") with the concrete particular ("this man"/"God") does not seem to me to help. The sense in which it is within a man's power to run a 4min mile is that some men do have (or there could be men who would have) that capacity. If you and I were the only (possible) men, it would not be true to say that it is within the power of a man to run a 4 min mile: our limitations would be the limitations of every (possible) man. Now, are there other omnipotent beings besides God? No. Could there have been an omnipotent being other than God? I don't think so. Any other possible being, in any possible world, would be limited in power at least relative to God, who exists in that world too. God is the only possible omnipotent being. If it is not within God's power to command theft it follows that it is not within the power of an omnipotent being to command theft.

Maybe you mean something in the vicinity of the statement "there is nothing in the mere idea of omnipotence that restricts an omnipotent being from doing anything non-contradictory." That makes sense. But that statement is negative. The other statement makes a positive assertion about what _is_ within the power of a type of being. Such an assertion cannot be equated to the merely negative claim that there is one thing X that does not give rise to an incapacity in that type of being. Something else might give rise to the incapacity. An omnipotent being's omnipotence does not prevent him from commanding theft. Okay. But, given your view, something else might prevent such a being from commanding theft. Such a being's character might do so. "Merely knowing that a being is omnipotent, if we know nothing else, we just can't tell whether commanding theft is or isn't within the power of such a being" is what I think you should say. Which is very different from positively saying that commanding theft is within the power of such a being.

In sum, I don't think you can say that it is within the power of an omnipotent being to do whatever is not contradictory. I think you need a different account of what it is to be an omnipotent being, so that what is within the power of an omnipotent being includes whatever he might wish to do, or whatever is consistent with his character, but not everything non-contradictory.

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