Are worlds comparably better or worse?

“The terms ‘more’ or ‘less’ only make sense if something is the maximum in a genus.”
~St. Thomas Aquinas

Consider the argument I developed here to demonstrate the inconceivability and incoherence of there being a ‘best of all possible worlds’. Now, consider that without a standard against which we can speak, gradations of value seem to make no sense. In order to speak as though some things are good and some things evil one needs a standard of goodness which grounds all such language. Therefore, without any best of all possible worlds, is it logically possible to make the claim meaningful that there are some worlds which are better than others (I am presuming the incoherence of the worst of all possible worlds as well, tacitly)?

If there is no best of all possible worlds, then it seems there is no standard against which God could have sufficient reason to prefer some world to another, especially given that gratuitous evil is not logically possible on the supposition of Theism, as I argued here and here. The problem is, of course, that we still feel strongly that a world in which Sally does not intentionally cause a Nuclear holocaust, is better than a world in which she does. What sense can we make of this?

Let me use an analogy from a thought experiment I thought up on the measure of size. Is it logically possible that all objects in the world to whom the concept of size is applicable simultaneously and instantaneously become thrice their original size? It seems as though this is not logically possible, since as far as all appearances are concerned, nothing has changed. I am still twice the size of somebody who was half my size before the supposed change. In fact, there is no way to point to anything in the world which has changed. The only interpretation of this thought experiment which would make it possible that all objects in some world could become thrice their original size would be an interpretation on which size is an objective feature of the world, for which one would need material atoms. Now, not only do material atoms (not to be confused with what physicists call atoms, since they thought it was a real atom when it was first found) not exist apparently, but Leibniz long ago demonstrated that the idea of a material atom may be completely incoherent. To come back to our thought experiment, then, we might say that all objects in the world becoming thrice their previous size, with the exception of one, would be logically possible, since that to which we have given expression is conceivable on the view that size is relative (and I believe without material atoms it must be, regardless of whatever else it might be). However, in that case, we should rather prefer to speak about the one object as having changed size, since our explanation will be simpler or tidier.

In this same way we can speak about one world being preferable to another, and maybe even preferable to God. However, there is no way to speak about one world being better in the sense of being a closer approximation to the best of all possible worlds, or worse in just the opposite sense; namely of approximating more entirely to the worst of all possible worlds.

Thus, from the arguments establishing the incoherence of the notions of best or worst possible worlds, it seems to follow that no world is actually better than another instead of merely preferable. Thus, all logically possible worlds actualize the glory of God satisfactorily. The implications for Theodicy here are, I think, worth exploring.

About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
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5 Responses to Are worlds comparably better or worse?

  1. philosopher145 says:

    Hi tylerjourneaux, interesting series of posts.

    I disagree with your conclusion in this post (although I may be misunderstanding your argument) for the following reason: if it’s true that “there is no such thing as the best of all possible worlds because one can always conceive of a better world,” then it’s false that “one can never conceive of a better world because there is no such thing as the best of all possible worlds.”

    • Thanks for the comments. I sympathize with your objection, and I think it’s kind of clever. It seems I should rather say “there is no such thing as the best of all possible worlds because any better-making property could always exist in greater abundance, and it would seem that (if the notion of comparably better or worse worlds is coherent) existing in greater abundance would make a world better”. However, since we can show that, on the supposition that the notion of worlds being comparably better or worse is coherent, the best of all possible worlds doesn’t exist, we can then show that the supposition itself may not even be coherent. Here, we say that if there is nothing in virtue of which ‘better-than’ language makes sense, we are reduced to speaking about worlds in terms of preference. Some worlds are preferable, but no world is objectively more ‘better’ than any other, since more ‘better’ implies both a genus and a maximum in that genus. In other words, I am just obviating that the word ‘better’ designates not proximity to perfection, but simply subjective preference. I also cushioned myself against any charge concerning worlds with gratuitous evil. So, in the first stage of the argument, I presumed that language about better or worse worlds was coherent to demonstrate that there seems to be no best of all possible worlds. In the second stage of the argument, I argued that we ought not even accept the presumption that language about better or worse worlds is coherent.

      I am not sure myself if I like the conclusion of such a line of thinking, but as it came to me I couldn’t help but pursue it. I’d be glad to hear any more of your thoughts about it, as I will continue to think about it as well. I have sometimes wanted to say that even if there is not a best of all possible worlds, perhaps there could be a set of best possible worlds and this might be sufficient to ground language about better worlds (in the sense that they more closely approximate to the best of all possible worlds), so that one member of that set might only be trivially better compared to another member in the set. However, I’m not sure that solution is even coherent either, especially if no degree of gratuitous evil can exist in any possible world (on Theism). It seems to me that ‘better-than’ and ‘worse-than’ relations between worlds might be merely statements about subjective preferences.

      • philosopher145 says:

        Thanks for the reply. Consider the following counterexample: on my desk, I have a potentially infinite number of rulers of different lengths. In other words, I have one potentially infinite ruler. I also have two rulers of different finite lengths. I compare the length of these two rulers using the potentially infinite ruler, and determine that one of the finite rulers is 1 cm longer than the other. Now imagine that the rulers are in fact possible words and the length of the rulers correspond to the objective value of these possible worlds. We can see that it does make sense to speak of one possible world being objectively better than another.

  2. philosopher145 says:

    Please disregard the email that I sent you. The comment function seems to be working fine now.

    • Sorry for a late response (I also never got your email, it seems, but in any case you fortunately ask me to disregard it). Your last comment presumes that there is some objective measure, but this ‘objective measure’ is precisely what my argument was bringing into question. I am prepared to agree that we can measure worlds for comparable preferable-ness, but I’m not so sure (anymore) that we can say that one world is ‘better’ than another in any objective sense (non-subjective). But perhaps I’m not quite understanding your point. You’re more than welcome to elaborate and elucidate (I’d like to hear it fleshed out a little more).

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