Monday, May 23, 2022

Moral Unsurpassability and Worth in Worship

In an erudite 1982 book chapter, "God, Moral Perfection, and Possible Worlds," Philip Quinn argues that if God is to be worthy of worship, then He must make a world that is morally unsurpassable. Against those who think that God could make any world, one better or worse than ours, without impugnation, Quinn posits that an agent that would make a morally inferior world would be inferior to another agent that could/would make a better one. I would like to briefly explore this idea and see what kind of traction it might have. 

The context of these arguments is the problem of evil. Leibniz and his followers would hold in some way that the world that exists is the best possible world. As I touched on in a previous post, this notion is often very misunderstood and caricatured. Quinn's argument is sympathetic to the general thrust of Leibniz. Theists should take the strong position that, if God exists, then the world He created is the best of any possible world that could have been actualized. Quinn approaches the topic not necessarily from the PSR, though he may be presupposing some version of it to a certain extent, but from the standpoint of what being would be worthy of worship. A very good or great being might be a wonder, but would we owe our allegiance and obedience to something than which a greater could be conceived (borrowing a bit from St. Anselm)? 

As I understand Quinn's argument, if there are two possible worlds, w1 and w2, and w1 is morally inferior to w2, and the agent actualizes w1, then there must be a better agent who would actualize w2. There is a deficiency in the agent actualizing w1 instead of w2. If w2 could be actualized, and the agent does not, then that agent is not one who is worthy of worship. There is, at least in principle, something higher or better than that agent. It seems to be Quinn's belief that any agent in this context would do their best in actualizing a world. An omnipotent and worship-worthy agent would not actualize something inferior. If what we have is w1 and an agent actualized that world, that agent would not be 'God' in the sense theists should understand and defend. For Quinn, theists should have a view of 'God' such that we owe the dedication of our lives to Him and owe a duty of fidelity and supreme obeisance. To say that God could have created a morally surpassable world would essentially be contrary to a proper understanding of 'God'. 

Quinn leaves an open question about what it means to speak about a morally surpassable world. We cannot quantify moral goodness or badness. Sure, we might look out the window and think the bad outweighs the good in terms of observed human conduct, or vice versa. But this is highly subjective and prone to the winds of rapid change. 

One way to think about moral unsurpassability is to think about the overall purpose of creation. If God were to create, then it seems there would be a reason for that action. There would be a goal for the creature(s) and the cosmos. All rational agents act for an end/goal. Rational creatures would therefore exist for a purpose. The purpose would be bound up in the very understanding of a rational creature (maybe a Leibnizian predicate/subject relation). That purpose might be union/harmony/relationship with the Creator. For the creature to be the most full and complete version of itself, actualizing all its potentials, it would need to be within the closest possible nexus to its source of being or existence. The closeness would pertain to the thoughts and actions of the creature, the more congruity, the better and happier the creature would be. If this is correct, it would be better for more creatures to have a relationship with the Creator than fewer. A morally unsurpassable world might therefore be one where the highest possible number of free rational creatures come into a loving relationship with the Creator. Without freedom, the creaturely potential cannot be truly and fully actualized. The intellection and volition of the creature is necessary for its achievement of happiness and harmony with the Creator.

If we follow Quinn's reasoning and the above sketch of moral unsurpassability, then theists must think God has in fact actualized such a world. For an agent to actualize a world without the highest number of creatures, or perhaps even all creatures, coming into a loving relationship with the agent, the agent would not ultimately be worthy of the totality of worship of all its rational creatures. Thus, if God exists, and if by 'God' we mean that to which we owe a duty of worship, then the world that we inhabit, actualized by God, must be morally unsurpassable. 

Of course, one might argue the world we inhabit is morally surpassable. They might offer up reasons for why this is the case. There is much more ground that could be covered on this, but for the time being, I shall leave it here. I think Quinn's argument has some traction if we accept the idea of moral unsurpassability and the principle that there is a deficiency in any agent that does not actualize (if they are able) a morally unsurpassable world. 

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