Transworld Saints

I have been thinking about Plantinga’s free will defense lately for my philosophy of religion course. As is well known central to Plantinga’s argument is teh concept of transworld depravity. A creaturly essence (a person) suffers from transworld depravity just in case there is no possible world in which this creature exists, has morally significant free will and fails to go wrong with respect to at least on morally significant action. Plantinga then suggests that it is possible that we are all transworld depraved. In that case there is no possible world in which there is no evil since any world that God creates will be one where we all go wrong with respect to at least one morally significant action.

But is it really possible for there to be a world where every creature is tranbsworld depraved? Plantinga doean’t really argue for this, he just says that it is possible. But isn’t it just as possible for there to be transworld saints? A transworld saint is a creaturly essence that never goes wrong with respect to a morally significant action in any possible world. For any possible world w the transworld saint always freely chooses to do what is right for all morally significant choices. It is possible that we are all transworld saints. This, I believe, is a nice way to capture Mackie’s claim that God could have made us so that we are free and yet never choose to do evil. There is a possible world where every creature is a transworld saint.

Clearly both worlds can’t really be possible since that would mean that in every world at least one person goes wrong with respect to a morally significant action and no creatures go wrong with respect to any morally significant actions. Is there any reason to think that the Mackie world (one where all creatures are transworld saints) is any less conceivable than the Plantinga world (where all are transworld depraved)?

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11 thoughts on “Transworld Saints

  1. Clearly both worlds can’t really be possible since that would mean that in every world at least one person goes wrong with respect to a morally significant action and no creatures go wrong with respect to any morally significant actions.

    Hi Richard,

    No, both worlds are possible. You might be confusing every possible world relative to a world w and every feasible world relative to w. In each world w there is a counterfactual of creaturely freedom (CCF) for each instantiated essence E (each person) such that, for any maximal state of affairs T that God might strongly actualize and in which God creates E, E would do something (or other) wrong. That limits the feasible (or weakly actualizable worlds) relative to w. It does not limit the possible worlds relative to w. But the CCF’s vary from world to world. In some worlds there are instantiated essences that never go wrong. More exactly, there are worlds w such that the feasible worlds relative to w include some in which at least some instantiated essences never go wrong. Plantinga agrees entirely with that. What Plantinga is offering is a counterexample to Mackie’s very strong claim that there are no possible worlds w in which the CCF’s ensure that every instantiated agent goes wrong with respect some action in each feasible world relative to w. In other words, Mackie’s claim is that there are no worlds w such that in every feasible world w’ relative to w every instantiated essence goes wrong with respect to some action.

  2. I agree with Mike. It’s certainly possible to have contradictory sets of possible worlds. They don’t actually contradict until actualized. It would be impossible to make a claim about transworld depravity and have any worlds with your saints and vice versa, but that’s within the scope of Plantinga’s argument, not mere possibility.

    In the back of the mind of most Christians is probably a worldview that everyone sins, and therefore, transworld-saints seem inherently less possible than transworld-sinners. Additionally, I feel that this argument can sometimes slip some serious concepts in as innocent, particularly the concept of “morally significant actions.”

    The strength of Plantinga’s argument (if I’m remembering it right this morning) is that he’s only arguing that God and Human freedom are co-conceivable. That is, he’s trying to prove that the problem of evil may or may not actually present a dilemma. I’d say in that regard he’s pretty successful, since his PW’s seem to be coherently built, that could be the case. That feeling on my part, however, is certainly built on some preconceived notion of moral significance. For me, that notion draws on my predisposition for deontological ethical thought, my recent reading of Sartre’s first ethics and my background as a Lutheran. So if Plantinga’s running aground, I think it’s probably in assuming we all have a shared concept of “moral significance.” Then again, I haven’t read his argument in about 4 years, and I can’t recall if he actually defines that or not.

  3. Hi Mike and Dru, thanks for the comments,

    I am not really seeing how both worlds are supposed to be possible. In the Mackie world we have creatures who never go wrong with respect to any action in any possible worlds. Every being is a transworld saint in Mackie’s world. There are no morally signifcantly free person who abuse their free will in any possible situations. If every person who could have existed was possibly a transworld saint then how could any person who possibly existed be a trandworld deviant?

    Mike, is a feasible world one in which there are no logical inconsitancies? So, is the idea supposed to be that in the world where we all are causally determiend to do right and are free there is a contradiction in it and so this world, though possible, isn’t feasible? If so then I s=don’t think I was confusing the two, but I may be wrong…

    “In other words, Mackie’s claim is that there are no worlds w such that in every feasible world w’ relative to w every instantiated essence goes wrong with respect to some action.”

    This doesn’t seem like Mackie’s claim to me. It seems that he is claiming that there is a world w such that every feasible world w’ relative to w every instantiated creaturly essence goes right with respect to all actions. If that is the case then there is the question as to why He didn’t create w. Plantinga seems to assume that the puzzle is simply to show that it is possible that an all-powerful God could create a world such that there is some evil in it but Mackie’s challenege was to show that it is possible that an all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing God coud consitently do that. This hasn’t been shown. If the transworld saint world is possible then it is inconsitent for an all-loving God to choose to create any other world.

    Here’s another way to put the point, It certainly seems possible that I, or you, always freely do the right thing. If so the it is impossible for every creature to be transworld depraved, as Plantinga’s argument crucially needs it to be, since there will be at least one feasible world where I do not go wrong with respect to any actions.

    Dru, You raise an interesting point I think that the morally significant stuff is just suposed to be Libertarian free will with respect to action that are morally significant. That does beg some questions (against compatibilism for instance) but I am happy to grant him that premise…

  4. Here’s another way to put the point, It certainly seems possible that I, or you, always freely do the right thing. If so the it is impossible for every creature to be transworld depraved,

    There’s a lot going on here. I’m trying to keep it brief. Plantinga rejects compatiblism, so God cannot cause agents to act rightly. That’t perhaps the first dispute between Mackie and Plantinga: Plantinga is a libertarian about free will. In favor of Plantinga, Mackie has some really old reasons (thr randomness objection) against libertarianism that are, by every measure, pretty poor. Random action is not what results (not even close) from denying determined behavior. So this is a bad reason to be a compatiblist. There’s also not much reason to believe that determinism is true, but that’s another story.

    But to get to what you say here. It is true, and Plantinga affirms it, that there are worlds in which no one goes wrong. That is consistent with there being a world in which everyone is transworld depraved. That every creaturely essence has the property of being transworld depraved is a contingent property of those essences. It means that, relative to some world W, every world W’ that God might actualize that includes the instantiation of some essence is such that that essence does something wrong. It does not mean that every possible world simpliciter is such that, for any essence that God might instantiate, that essence goes wrong. From the point of view of some worlds, the set of worlds that God might instantiate is a subset of the set of all possible worlds. Is that any clearer?

  5. Hi Mike, thanks for the response.

    I agree withyou about the randomness objection and that there isn’t much reason to be a determinist.

    And thanks for the clarification it does help. I guess I had been assuming that it was all creaturly essences that would be transworld depraved in Plantinga’s counter-example but now I see that the point is that there is a possible world where every creaturly essence is transworld depraved but these essences are just a subset of the possible creaturley essences. So there wil be possible worlds where those transworld depraved essences do not exist, right?

    But if so then my previous objection becomes more pressing. Once you factor in the all-loving bit you get the logical inconsitency back. Mackie’s original charge was that if any three of the claims were true then the other must be false and that hasn’t changed as far as I can see. Again, the counter-example seems to solely focus on getting a model where God is all-powerful and yet can’t get rid of evil and Plantinga suceeds in this. However, once we realize that the model allows that God has a choice between actualizing the Plantinga worlds or the Mackie worlds we see that it is not possible that God choose to actualize the Plantinga worlds since that would mean that God is malevolent. The only way the Plantinga counter-example will work is if God has no control over which world He starts from, so if He starts from the Plantinga world then He can’t help but have some evil around but why think this?

  6. The way I see it, Plantinga’s argument is a response to the traditional position where the problem of evil places the burden of proof on the believer. Plantinga is merely trying to that it’s possible that this world (which clearly has at least some depravity) is in the set of worlds possibly created by an omniscient/omnibenevolent god. Since Plantinga is merely posing possibilty (or logical consistency of the actual case perhaps), his argument is pretty strong, however the problem of evil then shifts its point from “God can’t do this” to “Why would He?” which I think is the facet of the POE that Mackie is getting at. I don’t think Plantinga’s argument addressses that question though.

    In regards to moral significance, I’m less concerned about the capability for moral actions to be significant (as in the free will question) than about the scope of what “morally significant” means. My point about moral significance isn’t of huge import to Plantinga, but I think it is to Mackie. Let me elaborate a bit. Is taking out the carbage morally significant? Is owning a pet? Is dropping an atom bomb? The threshold of what make the “significant” cut can potentially cause problems. This is because the premise of both possible worlds assume that people are capable of “choosing the right choice” in morally significant situations. However, in situations that I’ve thought about morally, I’m frequently hard pressed to find a clear-cut “right choice,” and additionally, I find that the difference between a morally significant choice and a morally insignificant choice is not its status, but how much time I’ve spent thinking about its ramifications. The longer I consider a choice the more likely I will find moral arguments swaying one or more sides of the choice. This complexity is sort of off topic, but I feel potentially causes issues for transworld saintliness.

    Transworld depravity seem pretty plausible still, since the moral complications above seem to multiply the opportunities for depravity, however the ambiguity I find in actual morality makes me more suspect of the possibility of transworld saintliness — especially if the moral significance of a choice could be said to be derivative of my free choice to examine an issue. Again, I think Plantinga somewhat successfully circumvents this by having and argument which is pretty narrow in scope.

  7. And thanks for the clarification it does help. I guess I had been assuming that it was all creaturly essences that would be transworld depraved in Plantinga’s counter-example but now I see that the point is that there is a possible world where every creaturly essence is transworld depraved but these essences are just a subset of the possible creaturley essences. So there wil be possible worlds where those transworld depraved essences do not exist, right?

    Richard,

    This is really hard to make clear in blog comments, and I think this is the problem. You are right that ALL creaturely essences E are such that in some world E every E suffers from transworld depravity TWD in W. Plantinga makes that assertion. What lots of people miss, and incidentally what Mackie got wrong initially, is that the the property of being TWD is a CONTINGENT property of all E’s in W. So there are other worlds in which these E’s do not have the property of being TWD. And in some of those worlds–i.e. the worlds in which they do not suffer from TWD–these E’s never go wrong.

    Ok, but you add,

    Mackie’s original charge was that if any three of the claims were true then the other must be false and that hasn’t changed as far as I can see.

    Plantinga spends a lot of time clarifying Mackie’s argument. One thing he makes clearer is that the sort of evil that cannot exist is evil that is, in Plantinga’s terms, ‘properly eliminiable’. To be properly eliminable an instance of evil has to be such that it can be eliminated/prevented without he loss of a greater good or the addition of an evil as bad or worse. So, the third premise in Mackie’s argument must be interpreted to mean that there exists evil that God cannot properly eliminate. In short, this is evil that God can eliminate without bringing about a worse world. Plantinga’s FWD is designed to show that, possibly, there is moral evil that God cannot properly eliminate. Possibly, God cannot prevent some moral evil without actualizing a worse world.

  8. Richard, I say above,

    So, the third premise in Mackie’s argument must be interpreted to mean that there exists evil that God cannot properly eliminate.

    The ‘cannot’ in this sentence should be ‘can’. Sorry, I re-read that before posting and still missed it. Anyway, this is the correction.

  9. Hi Mike,

    This is really hard to make clear in blog comments, and I think this is the problem.

    Granted, but thanks for the effort, I appreciate it.

    What lots of people miss, and incidentally what Mackie got wrong initially, is that the the property of being TWD is a CONTINGENT property of all E’s in W. So there are other worlds in which these E’s do not have the property of being TWD. And in some of those worlds–i.e. the worlds in which they do not suffer from TWD–these E’s never go wrong.

    I have at echnical question about this. Plantinga defines TWD as follows:

    A person suffers from transworld depravity if and only if the following holds: for every world W such that P is significantly free in W and P does only what is right in W there is an action A and a maximal world segment S’……

    You say that at W (where P only does what is right) P wouldn’t suffer from TWD, but doesn’t the definition above rulw that out? Everyworld where P only does what is right is a world where P suffers from TWD, no?

    Possibly, God cannot prevent some moral evil without actualizing a worse world.

    Right, I get that this is what Plantinga is after but what I am arguing is that this is only possible if possibly, everyone suffers from TWD and that this isn’t obviously possible. I tried to illustrate this with the transworld saint. Transworld sainthood can be defined in an exactly analogous way as transworld depravity as follows:

    A person is a transworld saint if and only if for every world W such that P is significantly free in W and P suffers from tanswrodl depravity in W there is an action A and a maximal world segment T’ such that

    1. T’ includes A’s being morally significant for P
    2. T’ includes P’s being free with respect to A
    3. T’ is included in W and includes neither P’s perfoming A nor P’s refraining from performing A

    and

    4. If T’ were actual, P would go right with respect to A

    From this we get an analogous conclusion, namely that though it is possible that everyone have TWD God could not actualize that world since it is possible that everyone be a transworld saint.

  10. Dru,

    I tend to agree with your point about the fuzziness of whether or not an action is morally significant, but I don’t see how that really affects the argument I am trying to give. The point is that it is possible that you get it right not that you know that you do. Your point seems to be an epistemic one, I am making a metaphysical one…

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