Monday, January 12, 2015

One Can't Use the Ontological Argument to Prove an All-Evil Being Exists

One of my philosophy of religion students asked if one could use the Ontological Argument for God's existence to prove that a perfectly (maximally) evil being existed. If one could do that, it would seem that the OA fails as a proof for God.

Some philosophers have objected to the Ontological Argument for just this reason (Michael Martin, e.g.). I doubt this will work to defeat the OA. Here's what I'm now thinking.

The OA attempts to prove that a "greatest possible being" exists ("a being a greater than which cannot be conceived"). The OA does not attempt to prove that a "maximally good being" exists. What's the difference?

The difference is: It is not necessary that a maximally good being exist in order for it to be good. “Existence” won’t make the being any more good. But isn’t it better for a maximally good being to exist in reality than merely in the understanding? I would think so, just as it is - to me - better that a maximally good pizza exists in reality rather than just in my understanding. But – and here’s the point – it doesn’t make such a being any better in terms of its being good.

But actual existence does make “greatest possible being” greater than if it only existed in the understanding. So in the same way actual existence does not make a “maximally evil being” more evil. An actually existing "maximally (perfectly) evil being" would be more dangerous, but not more evil. A "being a greater than which cannot be conceived" would not be such a being if it did not actually exist.

I am wondering if Plantinga's criticism of Gaunilon's objection (it fails because "perfect island" has no intrinsic maximum) applies to "maximally evil being" (this term has no intrinsic maximum). "Maximally evil being" would then be incoherent, as would "Maximally red apple."

Another response might be that "evil" is ontologically posterior to "good." This is the idea of evil as the lack or privation of goodness. evil, therefore, has no real ontological status or being. If this is true than a perfectly evil being would have no being at all.