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Thursday, May 09, 2024

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Hi Bill,

Could you clarify, as a favor to this perplexed layman, why "a maximally perfect being cannot be modally contingent, but must be modally noncontingent"? (That is: why is noncontingency more "perfect" than contingency?) I've never understood why this can't reasonably be disputed.

Thanks for the question, Malcolm.

Well, if God exists contingently, then his nonexistence is possible. If his nonexistence is possible, and he exists, then we have three options:

1) God is the ground of his existence;
2) Something distinct from God is the ground of his existence;
3) God exists groundlessly. (The ex. of God is a brute fact.)

By 'ground' I mean metaphysical cause.

(1) may be excluded for the reason that nothing can cause its own existence. Why not? Because a thing must exist to do any causing: existence is a logically prior condition of the exercise of causality. No existential bootstrapping, to put it metaphorically.

(2) may be excluded for the reason that God is the Absolute and no Absolute can depend for its existence of something distinct from it.

(3) may be excluded for the reason that God is the ultimate explanatory principle, the final terminus of all explanatory regresses. If God just happens to exist, then one could reasonably ask why God exists; this question cannot be asked if God is the ultimate explanation.

Therefore, God's modal status cannot be contingent. Since it cannot be contingent, God is either a necessary being or an impossible being.

Note that I am merely explicating the concept GOD. This concept, which is obviously distinct from God, is the concept of a being with a certain modal status, that of metaphysical (broadly logical) necessity. It is a further question whether anything in reality answers to the concept.

Malcolm,

Feel free to raise further questions.

Hi Bill,

Yes, I'm familiar with the Thomistic argument that insists that contingent things must rest, at bottom, on something that exists non-contingently. What I'm asking about, rather, is the assertion that "maximally perfect" is the same as "non-contingent". Why is necessity more "perfect" than contingency?

As I recall, questioning this assumption is one of the angles that have been used to undermine Anselm's argument.

(I know all this is just Metaphysics 101, so I thank you for your patience.)

>>Why is necessity more "perfect" than contingency?<<

Is it good to exist? If it is, then it is better for a thing to exist in such a way that it cannot not exist than to exist in such a way that it can not exist. Is that not self-evident?

>>As I recall, questioning this assumption is one of the angles that have been used to undermine Anselm's argument.<< I need a reference here. Who took this line?

As far as I know, no one ever questioned Anselm's definition of 'God' as "that than which no greater can be conceived."

Bill,

"Is it good to exist? If it is, then it is better for a thing to exist in such a way that it cannot not exist than to exist in such a way that it can not exist. Is that not self-evident?"

I'm thinking, for example, of what's described in section D of this article at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

d. Kant’s Criticism: Is Existence a Perfection?

Malcolm,

It seems to me you are confusing two different questions. Why must a divine being be a necessary being? Can one prove the existence of a divine being (God) by sheer analysis of the concept of God?

The answer to the second is No. The reason is that nothing is such that existence is includable in its concept. But that is consistent with saying that if anything is God, then that thing necessarily exists.

Right, I understand that. My point was a rather narrow one about the use of the word "perfect" to entail existence; it seems Kant raised the same objection.

It seems to me that "nothing is such that existence is includable in its concept" is at odds with Anselm's argument that for God to be maximally perfect, God must also exist.

Thanks for the typology, Bill. I hope that the vernal vibes are good in AZ!

You asked:

>>Is it good to exist?<<

This, I think, is an important question.

Suppose it’s not good to exist. Either it’s neither good nor bad (i.e., axiologically counterbalanced or neutral) to exist or it’s bad (axiologically negative) to exist.

Say it’s bad to exist. One might argue that being modally contingent is better (with respect to escaping the badness of existence) than being necessary. As you noted, if something exists contingently, its nonexistence is possible. Assuming that death entails nonexistence (the so-called “termination thesis”), the contingent being can flee existence via suicide and thus escape the badness. A necessary being cannot exit existence by death or any other means and hence could not vamoose the disvalue. (There are reasons to doubt the termination thesis, but I’ll ignore those for now.)

The situation is different for God, however. We might modify your question as follows: For a divine being, is it good to exist? Here, it seems, given the divine properties, the answer is affirmative. It is better for a divine being to exist in such a way that it cannot not exist than to exist in such a way that it can not exist. That point seems self-evident.

What do you think? Have I missed anything?

Here is a link to Feldman's (2000) paper on the termination thesis. He articulates the TT and gives reasons for and against it.

https://people.umass.edu/ffeldman/TT.pdf

Tough questions, Elliot!

If it is bad to exist, then the possible nonexistence of a contingent being is no threat to it, but the opposite, and so it would seem that it would be better to be contingent rather than necessary. Temporal analog: if it is bad to exist, then the sooner a thing ceases to exist the better. Best of all would be for a thing never to have come into existence in the first place.

That part of what you say seems correct.

>> A necessary being cannot exit existence by death or any other means and hence could not vamoose the disvalue.<<

That's true, but could there be more than one necessary being that had its necessity from itself as opposed to from another? There could only be one Absolute, God is the Absolute and possesses all great-making properties, and so the impossibility of his committing deicide would not be a problem for him.

I like your "vamoose the disvalue."

>>God is the Absolute and possesses all great-making properties, and so the impossibility of his committing deicide would not be a problem for him.<<

I agree. Great-making properties are those properties intrinsically better to have than not to have. Since God has them all, the impossibility of his committing deicide is no problem for him.

There is no reason to escape being perfect or maximally great. Since God is perfectly reasonable, he would see no reason to escape his perfect existence, even if doing so were possible.

Also, Norman Malcolm argued that necessary existence is a perfection, a great-making property. Nec. existence entails the impossibility of self-annihilation. If Malcolm is right that necessary existence is a perfection, then -- assuming what is entailed by a perfection is itself good -- the impossibility of deicide is a benefit.

https://iep.utm.edu/malcolm/#H4

Elliot,

How would you respond to Malcolm Pollack?

Malcolm,

>>It seems to me that "nothing is such that existence is includable in its concept" is at odds with Anselm's argument that for God to be maximally perfect, God must also exist.<<

The OA that Kant rightly criticizes is not one that Anselm gives. To explain this properly, however, will take a separate post.

Thanks, all. Forgive me for any blundersome misunderstandings.

Bill,

I’d start by noting that whether or not Anselm intended the OA that Kant and others have criticized, Anselm also offered a modal ontological argument. The MOA avoids the problems associated with non-modal versions of the OA. But the MOA rests on the possibility premise. Although there are adequate but defeasible reasons that support the PP, the MOA isn’t a definitive proof because there aren’t any conclusive arguments for the PP – or so one might contend. You made this point in your Substack article.

Malcolm, thanks for your questions!

Elliot,

I believe that I can show that in Proslogion II, Anselm did not intend the OA that Kant criticized, and this for the reason that his Platonic presuppositions are not shared by Kant. What the saint had in mind comes out much better in the modal OA of Proslogion III.

Stay tuned. The entire problematic is much deeper and richer than most moderns and post-moderns appreciate.

Thanks, Bill. I'll stay tuned. I'm interested to read what you have in mind on this topic!

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