Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Is the Possible Necessarily General?

I'm not going to try to settle this question right now, but merely to point out some of the consequences of answering it with either a 'yes' or a 'no'.

Charles Peirce once said "The possible is necessarily general; and no amount of general specification can reduce a general class of possibilities to an individual case." (Collected Papers 4.172). If this is right, then it seems to me that certain consequences follow:

(1) Merely possible worlds contain no individuals. Hence, no individual (not even God) exists in all possible worlds or in any world but the actual one.
(2) The coming into being of the actual world is not simply the instantiation of a possible world but its individuation.
(3) Divine providence of necessity must be general, not meticulous. That rules out Molinism and Augustinianism, but leaves room for either process theism or versions of open theism that limit omniscience.

In contrast to Peirce, I am inclined to hold that possible worlds are just as individuated as the actual world. If this is right, then,

(1') Merely possible worlds do contain individuals. Hence, it is possible that some individuals exist in multiple worlds.
(2') The coming into being of the actual world just is the instantiation of a possible world.
(3') Divine providence need not be general, but may (though I think need not) be meticulous. All of the competing providential options are still on the table (at least as far as this issue goes).

I should note that, in contrast to possibilists like David Lewis, I do not think that all possible worlds are ontologically on par with each other. There is one, the actual world, that uniquely obtains. All others "exist" in some abstract sense, perhaps in the mind of God.


At 4/23/2009 11:30 AM, Blogger M Robson said...

I've just come across your thoughts, Alan. In Ontology and Providence in Creation I argue for precisely the thesis Peirce (and Hartshorne) defend. It seems to me that there are no possible things. God, in creating from literally no-thing, could draw only upon his power. There were no determinate divine exemplars. Only in actuality are things determinate. Possibility is to be understood as a continuum without discrete individuals.
In respect of this I am sure you have come across James Ross' latest book, 'Thought and World'where he argues for something very like Peirce's idea. We must jettison that popular presumption of philosophy that reckons possible things can be named - on this Ruth Barcan Marcus, Gilbert Ryle. Of course, if you have time, my book is well worth a read as well!
You say you reject Lewis' possibilism, and say possible worlds must be God's mind. Let us agree, for the sake of argument, that this is the case. If so, then, God contains within himself all the ideas of evil. The holocaust was actual, therefore, it was possible. Possibility is contained in God's mind. Therefore, the holocaust has been and will be haunting actuality for all time. Of course, if more awful things are possible then these reside in God's mind as well. God's ideas of evil always and will forever exist. Is this the Deity of Absolute Goodness?

At 6/30/2009 2:34 PM, Blogger Alan Rhoda said...

Hello Mark,

Thanks for the comment. And thanks for bringing your book to my attention. It looks like something I could profit from reading.

Regarding your point about evil in God's mind, I don't quite see the force of it. God, on my proposal, would remember all instances of moral evil, and that might be thought to unduly sully God's perfection, but why exactly? It doesn't compromise God's moral goodness because he doesn't endorse of approve of such evils. You must, I presume, have a different sort of goodness in mind.

At 7/28/2009 3:19 AM, Blogger M Robson said...

My thoughts on God and possible evil are still pretty inchoate. But the general direction is something like this:
According to a largely neglected tradition within theology, God is beautiful; indeed he is beauty itself. But according to most possible worlds accounts, God contemplates a whole host of possible worlds, some of these possible worlds represent the evil ways things could be. Now, again according to most accounts, these worlds are determinate, individual, maximal, nameable. So God has within himself representations of rapes, child murders, the galactic triumph of sadism! Presumably God contains within himself all kinds of other 'evil' possible worlds - possible evils beyond human conception are perhaps lodged there. The ancients doubted whether there could be form of mud since it was considered unworthy of admission into the wonderful world of Forms; to have a God who is considered beauty itself stuffed full of possible evil states of affairs seems be tantamount to filling the divine mind with sewage let alone mud!
To say he disapproves of these becoming actual does not seem to be enough; surely if possibilia are as determinate, maximal, nameable as modern accounts assure us these states of affairs compromise God's beauty.
What makes all this worse is the notion that God is also meant to be the ground of the possible - it seems to me that evil will haunt reality forever and will at least in its possible form remain undefeatable.


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