The SEP entry on perfect moral goodness states this argument against the possibility of a perfect moral goodness.

Necessarily, God actualizes some world

Necessarily, for each actualizable world w1, there is an actualizable world w2 such that from the moral point of view one would prefer w2 to w1

Necessarily, for whatever world that God actualizes, there is a morally better world that God does not actualize yet could have (from (2))

Necessarily, for whatever world that God actualizes, God's act of actualizing that world is not as morally good as some other act that God does not perform but could have (from (3))

Necessarily, for whatever world that God actualizes, God's agency is not as morally good as it could have been (from (4))

Necessarily, God's agency is not perfectly good (from (1), (5))

They seem to state the main discussion point is between (3) and (4), but I don't see why one must accept (2). What makes them think a best world isn't possible?

1 Answer 1


Obviously, it is taken from the SEP entry about perfect goodness.

In the fourth part, which I directly linked to, the big question is wether there actually is the Leibnizian "best of all possible worlds" as actual (and therefore a morally perfect God) possible.

The very challenge that is made in the first paragraphs is that moral goodness may very well only be comparative. That does exactly mean that there is no such thing as an absolute standard of moral goodness. And without this absolute standard, the very idea of a "best of all possible worlds" loses its meaning. God could always perform an comparatively better act, i.e. create a better world, because otherwise, the goodness would be absolute, which it per definitionem is not.

The next paragraph that contains the argumentation you presented now consequently does not try to argue that it in fact is the case. It is just that:

It follows that in a ‘no best world’ scenario, there is no agency that God could exhibit that is unsurpassable.

So given that moral goodness is comparative and there because of that is no such thing as a "best" world, God obviously could not be morally perfect. That is what the argumentation, working with lots of premises, expresses. Therefore, the only question is about the validity of the reasoning itself, which is obviously shaky as well:

Some have found the reasoning from no-best-world to no-perfect-goodness persuasive,...

Meaning others didn't. And the "from" - "to" formulation supports the point made that it is just about a logical inference that may very well suffer under false premises.

Remark: One may realise at this point that labelling moral goodness as comparative begs the question of wether there is perfection - there obviously isn't! Because perfection is a term that only works in absolutistic frames!

  • Thanks! Couldn't one also argue that it may not be objectively morally better, but simply God says it's morally better, and that is what matters?
    – APCoding
    Dec 3, 2016 at 4:22
  • @APCoding For a faithful person, this may very well be. The problem is that there still would be a difference between the world that God decided to be better and "the best of all possible worlds", i.e. it would still not say anything about His moral perfection.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Dec 3, 2016 at 13:45
  • I guess I still don't quite understand why comparative moral goodness (I take it to mean given two options, God takes the better one) means no best world. After all, couldn't, when matched up against every other world, one particular world always be better than the one it's matched up against?
    – APCoding
    Dec 3, 2016 at 14:50
  • @APCoding: The argument basically goes as follows: As we speak about all possible worlds, having a world that is comparatively better than any other world (given there is such a thing as a transitive, ordinal scale), we would end up with what in fact is the absolute best world (as it is the absolute end of the scale of all possible worlds), which is by definition exactly what we excluded when speaking of merely comparative moral goodness, therefore would produce a contradiction. You already presuppose that the premise of (merely) comparative moral goodness is wrong, therefore rejecting it.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Dec 3, 2016 at 18:40
  • So comparative moral goodness is essentially saying there is no objective moral laws? Also, one could create a "best world" in one's own moral laws, given if they are not objective, correct? So even if God's morals are not objective morals, he could still create a best world according to his own morals, right?
    – APCoding
    Dec 3, 2016 at 20:48

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