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The Essential Moral Perfection of God

  • Laura L. Garcia (a1)

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Many theists of a traditional bent have been bothered by the apparent tension between God's essential omnipotence and his essential moral goodness. Nelson Pike draws attention to the conflict between these two attributes in his article ‘Omnipotence and God's Ability to Sin’, and there have been many attempts to respond to it since that time. Most of these responses argue that the essential omnipotence and essential goodness of God are not logically incompatible, so that the traditional conception of God is not incoherent; I think the arguments have been largely successful. However, some theists have found the typical responses to Pike less than convincing, and are tempted to surrender the claim that God has moral perfection essentially in favour of the more modest claim that God is morally perfect in the actual world (and cannot gain or lose this perfection) though in some possible worlds God is morally defective. I argue in this paper that this fall-back position is incoherent. More accurately, I argue that a necessary being who is essentially omniscient and essentially omnipotent (a ‘NOO’ being) cannot be contingently morally perfect or contingently morally defective. Any such being is either essentially good or essentially evil. Since the latter alternative seems unattractive, I argue that theists should embrace the essential moral perfection of God.

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page 137 note 1 American Philosophical Quarterly, 6 (1969), 208–16.

page 137 note 2 See Gellman, Jerome, ‘Omnipotence and Impeccability’;, New Scholasticism, LI (1977), 2137;Hoffman, Joshua, ‘Can God Do Evil?Southern journal of Philosophy, XVII (1979), 213–20;Flint, Thomas P. and Freddoso, Alfred J., ‘Maximal Power’, in The Existence and Nature of God, ed. Feddoso, Alfred (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983), pp. 31113.

page 138 note 1 This could be rephrased in terms of individual essences and what their instantiations would do in various situations in order to satisfy those who object to talk of possible (but non-actual) persons.

page 138 note 2 For an explanation of strong and weak actualization see Plantinga, Alvin, The Nature of Necessity (Oxford: Clarendon, 1974), pp. 172–3.

page 139 note 1 The claim that X is able to prevent himself from acting wrongly at t includes the assumption that X knows he has this power, and that he knows his act at t is blameworthy.

page 139 note 2 Perhaps one assumption here is that God never finds himself in a position of tragic choice where he must do an evil (blameworthy) act in order to avoid an even greater evil. I think such a state is unlikely even for humans, and even less likely for a NOO being – maybe even impossible.

page 140 note 1 The term ‘moment’ here could refer either to a moment of time, if God is taken to exist at times, or to an ‘instant of nature’ (a kind of logically distinct moment in the life of God), if God is taken to be timeless.

page 140 note 2 Even if God is timeless, we can still distinguish between God's knowing all the universes he might create and his willing that a certain one should be actual, and we would want to say that the knowing precedes the willing in some sense.

page 144 note 1 See Guleserian, Theodore, ‘God and Possible Worlds: The Modal Problem of Evil’, Nous, XVII (1983), 221–38; and a reply by Garcia, Laura L., ‘A Response to the Modal Problem of Evil’;, Faith and Philosophy, I (1984), 378–88.

page 144 note 2 I wish to thank Jorge Garcia, Alvin Plantinga and Thomas Sullivan for their very helpful comments on this paper.

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Religious Studies
  • ISSN: 0034-4125
  • EISSN: 1469-901X
  • URL: /core/journals/religious-studies
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