It is understandable that many people with theistic
convictions maintain that the present world and all its contents
is the best or only possible world. Since we believe as a
general principle that a person who does not choose the best
choice available to himself when he is able is not as good as he
could be. Applying this principle to God, it would be reasonable
to suppose that God, being perfectly good, will choose the best
option open to him. And since he is omnipotent, he has all
options open to him. Therefore it seems reasonable to conclude
that if God has created the world, and for those with theistic
convictions it is readily granted that he has, then he must have
chosen the best of all the options available to him. God,
because he is both all good and all powerful, must have chosen to
create the best of all possible worlds. This seemingly
reasonable conclusion likewise gives rise to another seemingly
reasonable conclusion, that whatever evils are present in this
world of our experience must be necessary, since it previously
believed that this world is the best possible. God could not
have created this world without its present evils, given that he
willed to create at all.
Many theists seem to have been led through this line of
reasoning. For in reconciling divine goodness with the presence
of evil in the world, such theists claim that it is a necessary
feature of the world that acts of love often require pain.
Insofar as pain is at least a physical evil, some evil is
necessarily a part of creation which is a manifestation of the
divine goodness. One explanation of this necessity appeals an
analogy between the deliberation that accompanies prudence and
God's wisdom exercised in his act of creation. The greater that
one has the virtue of prudence, the less one has need to hesitate
in deliberation as to which is the best choice to follow. It is
argued that, just as the prudent man, by the very fact of his
prudence, would see most clearly which of the various choices
before him was the best, so God who is perfectly wise and good,
would know the best world to create and want to and be able to.
As the prudent man is constrained to act in just one way, i.e.
the best, so much more is God. And as the prudent man does not
forfeit his freedom in being prudent, so neither does God.
In the analogy between a prudent man and God, what applies
to the prudent man does not apply to God. For, the reason a
prudent man acts with less deliberation is that he sees the right
thing to do. The object of choice in each case is different.
For God, creation is good because he has willed to create it,
while for the prudent man, the choice is good before he chooses,
and it is his prudence that allows him to see this fact. That
is, the object of each agent's choice is so different that there
is no analogy between human prudence reducing deliberation and
divine wisdom allowing none. Specifically, the analogy fails
because in the case of the prudent man, there is some one best
choice for him to see clearly. This feature of the analogy does
not apply to God. "...That God does not will necessarily some of
the things that he wills does not result from defect in the
divine will, but from a defect belonging to the nature of the
thing willed... and such defect accompanies all created
good."(Summa Theologiae Ia, 19, 3 ad 4)
Aquinas, in dealing with the issue God's freedom in the
Summa, grounds his assertion that this is not the best of
all possible worlds in divine freedom, and indeed he explains
divine freedom with a reference to this principle. "Since then
God necessarily wills His own goodness, but other things not
necessarily, as was shown above, He has free choice with respect
to what he does not necessarily will."
((S.T. Ia, 19, 10)
The only thing that God must will is his own nature. However, no possible world is so good that God must choose it.
For the divine will has a necessary relation to the
divine goodness, since that is its proper object.
Hence God wills His own goodness, necessarily....
Hence, since the goodness of God is perfect, and can
exist without other things since no perfection can
accrue to Him from them, it follows that His willing
things apart from Himself is not absolutely necessary.
(S.T. Ia 19, 4)
This claim constitutes a defence of divine freedom that in no
way implies God's imperfection, but rather places the
imperfection on the side of the object, i.e. the world.
In what remains of this paper, I want to attempt a defence
of the conclusion that this is not the best of all possible
worlds on the basis of divine omnipotence, or the limits thereof.
In doing so, I will have to make a claim similar to one that
Aquinas made about the nature of the divine will, namely that its
freedom in creation is grounded in the imperfection of creation.
That is, the reason that Aquinas, and any who claim to follow
his teaching, cannot claim that this is the best of all possible
worlds is grounded in the fact that any act of creation is
insufficient to move the divine will with necessity.
For the sake of argument, let us suppose that this is the
best of all possible worlds, and that the evil in it is
necessary; that is, the evil could not have been avoided unless
God had not created at all. Let us also suppose that God always
acts for the best, i.e. he always chooses the best of the
possibilities available to him. If this is the best possible
world, then any other world would be worse. And if it is true
that God always acts for the best, God could not make another,
i.e. a worse, world than this one, for then he would make
something worse than the best. Thus, I am claiming that, given
our initial assumptions (namely, if this is the best of all
possible worlds and God always produces the best possible) then
it would follow that any other world would not be sufficiently
good to be created by an all good God.
I hope to show the antecedent of the conditional is false by
showing on thomistic grounds that its consequent is false and
invoking the logical rule of modus tollens. I hope to
show that this is not the best of all possible worlds by showing
that it is false that any other world is insufficiently good to
be created by God. Additionally, I hope to show that, while this
argument is not Aquinas', it is thomistic in being drawn from
For Aquinas, the only restriction on God's omnipotence is
what cannot be because it involves a contradiction. "...God is
called omnipotent because he can do all things that are possible
absolutely." What is possible absolutely is what involves no
contradiction, the absolutely impossible does involve a
contradiction, and so what "implies being and non-being at the
same time ... cannot come under the divine omnipotence, not
because of any defect in the power of God, but because it has not
the nature of a feasible or possible thing." Aquinas gives as an
example of the absolutely impossible that man is an donkey. For
man is rational and an donkey is non-rational, and the same thing
cannot be both. However, in saying that there is a class of
things that God cannot bring about, vis. the absolutely
impossible, is not a limit on His omnipotence, for such things
are not things at all but descriptions of what cannot be. "Hence
it is better to say that such things cannot be done, than that
God cannot do them."
(S.T. Ia, 25, 3)
To make apply his teaching about the limits of divine
omnipotence to our case, the one who claims that a world so bad
that God could not choose to create it, ought to say that such a
world cannot be made. According to Aquinas, things other than
God are willed to be in order to participate in the divine
(S.T. Ia 19, 2).But since we are inquiring as to whether a
possible world may be created, we are in a sense speaking of it
prior to its creation. As an effect preexisting in its cause, a
world possible world is willed according as it is a possible
participation in the divine goodness. That is, so long as all
its elements are compossible, i.e. do not entail a contradiction,
the possible world is a possible participation in divine goodness
from the mere fact that it is conceived by the divine intellect.
So the only possible world that is so bad that it cannot be
willed by the divine will is one that cannot be conceived by the
divine intellect. Thus, it is false that any possible world
could be so bad that God could not choose it.
Divine freedom is such that no possible world needs to be
chosen to exist, and none are so bad that they are not a
participation of the divine goodness. The answer to the question
of whether this is the best of all possible worlds is that there
is no best, even though some are better than others.