The Logical Problem of Evil: On What Perfection Means

Previously on this blog, I offered a logical argument from evil against the existence of God, split over two posts. Some helpful comments on that argument confirmed for me that the weakest link in the argumentive chain was a certain premise..

(C) If God exists, then he instantiates all good-making properties, and no evil-making properties.

.. which I had taken to be an unproblematic consequence of perfect-being theology. Here I’d like to provide some motivation for the connection. For ease of exposition, I assume that God exists, and as in the previous posts, ‘good-making property’ refers to types rather than tokens. 

The phrase “There is no such thing as a perfect X” may amount to two different kinds of denial. First, the denial may be purely existential: it just so happens, as a matter of contingent fact, that no perfect X exists. Second, the denial may be also conceptual: there is no such thing as a perfect X because there can be no such thing as a perfect X.

This latter option further breaks down. Perhaps there can be no such thing as the perfect X because there can be no such thing as an X. Or perhaps there can be no such thing as a perfect X because there are no evaluative standards for an X which a perfect X would meet. It might be because there are multiple evaluative standards, and so whilst there is such a thing as being a perfect W-X, there is no such thing as being a perfect X simpliciter. Finally, it may be because, although some single standard is operative over an X, maximal fulfillment of every evaluative dimension of that standard is impossible to meet.
Given that these options cover the various ways in which the denial of a perfect X can be true, we can parlay these observations into a set of claims that the oppposite position, perfect-being theology, makes:

(i) A perfect-being exists (i.e. God).
(ii) The concept of a perfect-being is logically possible.
(iii) There is an evaluative standard by which a being is to be judged.
(iv) There is only one such standard.
(v) The maximal fulfillment of every evaluative dimension of that standard by some individual is possible.

At this point one wonders just where the evaluative standards come from. Obviously, they come from us humans in some way or another (it’s our language after all), but by the same token, we can’t cheat and use any old standard – that would render a claim of perfection meaningless. So I think a reasonable suggestion here is that the evaluative standards are those found in the X specifying the kind of perfection in question: a perfect knife is to be evaluated by the standards of knives, and so on.

Again, there are two ways this might go, according to how X determines the evaluative standard. X might provide content that is otherwise absent: nothing is really perfect simpliciter1, but perfect in this or that way, and so, e.g. the ‘knife’ in “a perfect knife” tells us in what way it is perfect, according to the evaluative standards for knives. But this approach doesn’t bode well for perfect-being theology: the concept ‘being’ is inspecific, providing little or no content, and so it is hard to see how an evaluative standard can be extracted from it. The second way of thinking about this is to suppose that there is such a thing as perfection simpliciter, and that the X determines content by providing a restriction on this perfection. So, ‘knife’ restricts the concept of perfection in “a perfect knife” to certain dimensions of evaluation particular to knives.

Of the two, this latter seems most promising for perfect-being theology: since ‘being’ is the widest category which can be drawn, that ‘perfect-being’ applies to some individual allows us to draw the sort of substantial conclusions which the theologians are wont to draw. Further, it appears to make ‘perfect-being’ synonymous with ‘perfection’ itself, as no restriction is made to differentiate the terms. As this second option is salutary to the perfect-being theologian, and there appear no workable alternatives, I shall assume it as correct. Therefore, I take perfect-being theology to endorse the further claim:

(vi) A perfect-being maximally fulfils every evaluative dimension.

(No need to relativize this to a standard: on the present account the standard is as wide as it can be). From here, it’s a short argument to (C), which I targeted at the beginning of this post:

(vi) A perfect-being maximally fulfils every evaluative dimension.
(*) God is a perfect-being.
(#) To fulfil every evaluative dimension is to instantiate every good-making property.
So, (C’) God instantiates all good-making properties.

Perhaps (#) might need an extra word. Suppose the contrary: that an individual which fulfils every evaluative dimension does not instantiate some good-making property. Since, being a good-making property, this property is evaluative, there is some evaluative dimension which requires it for fulfilment, namely the binary dimension which concerns this property solely. So an individual which lacked this property would not fulfil every evaluative dimension after all, and therefore (#) is true.

(C’) is the comparatively controversial fragment of (C) – I take it there are no objections to the conjunct which states that God instantiates no evil-making properties. And so, I think that (C) is a commitment of perfect-being theology.

1 This is not to say that we never use the concept of perfection unqualified, just that wherever we do, the qualification would be implicit.


3 thoughts on “The Logical Problem of Evil: On What Perfection Means

  1. Richard Leitner says:

    Great information 🙂

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