Why Did God Create Anything At All? Part 2: The Problem of Non-God Objects

Last week, I looked at a question and an objection to the existence of God (read the post here). The question asked why God, a perfect Being, would “need” to create anything at all, to which we gave the answer that God does not “need” to create. We also noted the distinction between having a need to do something, and having a reason or motive for doing something. The objection then was put into the form of this argument:

  1. If God exists, God does not do anything for which he does not have sufficient reason to do
  2. God does not have sufficient reason to create anything
  3. Therefore, if God exists, God would not create anything
  4. If God does exist, and if God does not create anything, then nothing besides God would exist
  5. Something besides God exists (the physical universe)
  6. Therefore, God does not exist

The crucial point is premise 2. We noted that a lack of knowledge of God’s possible reasons for creating is not equivalent to an actual knowledge of God’s lack of possible reasons; i.e., just because we don’t know what God’s possible reasons might be, that does not mean there are no possible reasons at all. We used an analogy to illustrate this, and offered two possible answers which theologians have given to the question of why God would create.

That post then concluded with this statement:

So the argument fails unless premise 2 can be adequately defended. If premise 2 turned out to be true, however, then we would have a successful argument for the non-existence of God, and thus we would have reason to believe that positive arguments for God’s existence are unsuccessful. But until premise 2 is defended, we are justified in concluding that, whatever God’s reasons may have been, God’s existence is surely necessary and true.

As it turns out, several other philosophers have offered independent arguments which could be used in support of premise two above.

For example, in a lecture entitled “The Problem of Non-God Objects” delivered on August 22, 2o12 to the Center For Inquiry (CFI) Michigan [1], Justin Schieber presents just such an argument. Philosopher and apologist Randal Rauser summarizes Schieber’s argument and responds to it here. Here is Rauser’s summary:

“What is the basis for this argument? It starts with the assumption that a perfect God would, of the necessity of his nature, actualize only a perfect possible world (where a possible world is a maximal state of affairs). However, only God is perfect while every created thing is a derivation from perfection. Consequently, the only perfect world is one in which God exists but no other thing exists. Since God would necessarily actualize this possible world by refraining from creating anything other than God, it follows that God doesn’t exist because something other than God does exist” [2].

From this we can construct an outlined version:

  1. If God exists, God would only actualize the most perfect possible world
  2. Since God is the only fully perfect being, and all other beings are created and thus are derivations of his being and perfection, the most fully perfect possible world would be that world in which God alone exists, and no other beings exist
  3. Therefore if God exists, only God would exist, and no non-God beings would exist
  4. Non-God beings do exist
  5. Therefore, God does not exist

As you can tell, this argument is somewhat similar to the one above, with the important addition that this argument offers an actual defense of the proposition that God does not have a sufficient reason to create anything; and in fact it argues the exact opposite: not only that God does not have sufficient reason to create, but that God has forceful reasons not to create.

In another post, Schieber offers a simplified version of the argument:

“P1: If the Christian God exists, then GodWorld is the unique best possible world.

P2: If Godworld is the unique BPW, then the Christian God would maintain GodWorld.

P3: GodWorld is false because the Universe (or any non-God object) exists

Note: The term ‘GodWorld’ refers to that possible world where God never actually creates anything.  This argument takes for granted that God’s initial act of creating the universe (or any non-God object) was a free act and not born out of necessity.)”[3].

Now, what makes “God World” the “unique best possible world”, as he puts it? The answer has to do with the conception of God being used her. Schieber extrapolates:

“Because the Christian God is to be understood as a maximally great being – he must be absolutely and essentially perfect both morally and ontologically” [4].

This definition of God as a “maximally great being,” sometimes referred to as the “greatest conceivable being,” is advocated by many contemporary theists and accepted as a definition by many atheists, including Schieber here. This conception envisions God as a being who has certain types of qualities to their maximum, or greatest possible, degree. As Schieber says, on this view, if God exists God is morally and ontologically perfect, where ontological perfection is having what are called “great making properties” to the maximally greatest degrees possible. This conception of God goes back to Anselm and his infamous Ontological Argument, and it has received a contemporary reformulation by prominent philosopher Alvin Plantinga. Write philosophers William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland:

“Planting conceives of God as a being that is “maximally excellent” in every possible world, where maximally excellence entails such excellent-making properties as omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection. Such a being would have what Plantinga calls “maximal greatness” [5].

Schieber quotes Moreland elsewhere as saying this:

“To say that God is perfect means that there is no possible world where he has his attributes to a greater degree… God is not the most loving being that happens to exist, he is the most loving being that could possibly exist so that God’s possessing the attribute of being loving is to a degree such that it is impossible for him to have it to a greater degree” [6].

So if God exists, God is morally and ontologically perfect to the highest degree. Thus a possible world in which only God exists is likewise a morally and ontologically perfect world. But a world in which God and other beings exist is supposedly a morally and ontologically imperfect world. Why? Because of the conception of God as the Maximally Great Being. God has all of the “great-making qualities” to the highest possible/conceivable degree. Taking for example the quality of morality, God is said to have this quality to the highest possible degree, making God the most morally great being imaginable. What this means is that any being which is not God therefore does not have this particular quality to its highest degree, making it in that sense imperfect, since it could be improved to the same degree at which God possesses that quality. So while God, by his very definition, cannot possibly be improved or perfected, all non-God objects, by their very definition, can possibly be improved or perfected. Thus a world wherein both God and non-God objects exist is a morally and ontologically imperfect world. A world in which only God exists is the best possible world, because in this world, all moral and ontological qualities have reached their maximal degree; whereas in a world with non-God objects, this is not the case. So a world with non-God objects is, supposedly, the best possible world. And since God would only actualize the best possible world, God would never create any non-God objects.

This seems to me to support the premise in the argument from the last post that God has no sufficient reason to create and offers a much more philosophically potent version of that argument. So what are some possible responses to this version?

First, the argument is based upon the contemporary analytical conceptions of “possible worlds” and of God as a “maximally great being.” To go into these ideas in any detail would require a much longer post. Suffice it to say that an Aristotelian-Thomist would not define God using these frameworks. For example, for Aristotelian-Thomists, something is morally good if it fulfills the ends towards which it is directed/for which it was created. A human is “good” if he/she fulfills his/her purposes for existing. But God, obviously, does not have the same ends that humans have; and so while God can be said to be morally good analogically, God cannot be said to be morally good in the same way that humans can. Thus there is not one category/quality of “moral goodness” that both God and humans could share and that can be possibly maximized by both. Furthermore, an Aristotelian-Thomist would not say that God has those attributes, but rather that God just is his attributes (this is the doctrine of divine simplicity, which will have to be discussed in a future post).

There are many other directions as well that an Aristotelian-Thomist could take in critiquing this view. In particular, I think the idea behind “great making properties” is extremely problematic, which essentially makes God different from humans only in degree. This is similar to many ancient pagan views of God; for example, I’ve been reading through the Iliad and the Odyssey the past few weeks, and the gods are depicted pretty much as just humans with more power and who don’t die. They have bodies, they have emotions, they’re often petty and even childish. What makes them gods is just the fact that they’re more powerful and immortal. This is seen in the fact that all the greatest men and heroes in these epics are often called “godlike” and “divine” because their greatness is such that in degree it stretches towards that of the gods. The God of Classical Theism, on the other hand, is altogether different in kind/quality, not just degree/quantity. The God of Classical Theism isn’t God just because he has certain qualities to a higher degree than humans do. We can say he has certain qualities by analogy, but only by analogy. In order to be able to construct comparisons of God’s qualities with the qualities of other beings such as humans, as this view at least seems to imply, then God would have to be one individual instance of a kind of being, where there are other individual instances of this kind of being, at least theoretically; and there must also be some sort of spectrum upon which the qualities of these beings can be measured. But for Classical Theists, God is not one instance of a “kind” at all. God is not even “a” being, God is just Being Itself.

This conception of God as the greatest possible being is related to the position which has come to be known as “Theistic Personalism,” which is distinct from Classical Theism. Theistic Personalism holds that God is just a person like humans are persons, with attributes similar to that which humans possess but on a much higher level. Classical Theism ardently disagrees. Philosopher Brian Davies writes:

“these philosophers take persons to be distinct individuals belonging to a kind so that one person added to another makes two things of the same sort. For classical theism, however, God is not an individual belonging to any kind…according to classical theism…there is nothing of the same kind that God is….

To call something an individual is usually to imply that there could be another such thing distinct from it though just like it. In this sense, different people are individuals. But in this sense, says the classical theist, God is not an individual. He belongs to no kind or sort. According to the teaching that God is simple, God also lacks attributes or properties distinguishable from himself. You can differentiate between me and, say, my weight, height, or coloring at some particular time….According to the teaching that God is simple, however, attributes or properties of God are, in fact, the same as God himself. On this account, God does not, strictly speaking, have attributes or properties. He is identical with them” [7].

These are some extremely significant points, and to adequately unpack them would require much more space. The important point is that Classical Theists do not think of God in terms of “maximal greatness” or “great making properties,” and Schieber’s argument seems to require this view of God, at least in this present formulation. Aristotelian-Thomists would also, as I said, reject the notion of “possible worlds” to which the argument refers, making the “best possible world” obsolete. Still, an Aristotelian-Thomist would probably not disagree that non-God objects are indeed derivations of God (in the sense that they depend upon God’s continued sustaining power for their very existence) and as such are less perfect than God. Indeed, although it has different connotations, Aristotelian-Thomists think of God as Pure Act, where everything else has potencies as a part of its existence.

So, to be maximally fair, even though the argument pretty much collapses when viewed from the Aristotelian-Thomistic framework, for the rest of this post I’ll examine the argument on its own, not from this framework. Let’s look at a little bit more of what Schieber has to say about it:

“If God exists, he is the best possible being – meaning he has those great-making properties to their maximal compossible degrees and no such properties to any lessor degree. A world composed entirely of the single best possible being existing alone for eternity would be a world composed entirely of all those great-making properties to their maximal compossible degrees and no such properties to any lessor degree – Now, unless there is some source of unique Goodness – Goodness that exists outside of and fully independent of God then GodWorld must be the unique best possible world.  It is the richest and, quite literally, the godliest of all possible worlds and since no other world can compare, it is the unique best possible world – one that God, if he is maximally great, would certainly maintain.  The empirical fact that there are things that exists that are not identical to God show us that the possible world of GodWorld was not maintained and so the Christian God does not exist” [8].

What is a possible critique of this argument from a non-Aristotelian-Thomistic position?

First, a few less potent objections. It is possible that “God World” as defined by Schieber, or that world in which only God exists and no other beings, does not allow for God to maximize all of his “great making properties.” If this is the case, then it is obvious that God World is not in fact the best possible world, because all of the great making properties are not fulfilled to their maximal degree. For example, what if “having the ability to create” is a great making property? If it is, then in God World, God’s ability to create is never maximized or even actualized. Even if having the ability to create is not itself specifically a great making property (I’m not actually sure on this–I don’t know what criteria are used for determining what is a great making property or not), “omnipotence” or having power is. And if God exists completely alone, on what or in what way is there for God to maximize his power? Or how about the great making quality of moral perfection? Does moral perfection not at least imply the need for other beings with whom to interact? These points actually serve not just as a critique to this argument, but again to the entire conception of God as a maximally great being with maximized great making properties.

Second, since the argument utilizes “degrees,” let’s think of it somewhat mathematically. In God world, all of the great making properties are fully maximized to the highest possible degree. Any non-God object, by definition (or, at least, by the definitions used here) would not have the great making properties to their maximal degree. For if any non-God object did have great making properties to their maximal degree, then this object would be indistinguishable from, and thus identical to, God himself. As such, non-God objects cannot, even in principle, maximize to the highest possible degree their great making properties.

Since Schieber has labelled that possible world in which only God exists as “God World,” let’s call the possible world in which both God and non-God objects exist “God+Universe World” (if anyone can think of a more creative name, I’m all ears). Now, just for the sake of illustration, let’s assign numerical values to the degrees of great making properties. Let’s say that the highest degree to which the great making properties can attain is 100. Thus God World, obviously, has a great making property value of 100. But notice that in God+Universe World, it seems that 100 is the lowest possible value that would exist. For God, as the Greatest Conceivable Being, automatically, in every possible world, possesses the 100 value grade. Since God exists in God+Universe World, the lowest possible value would just be 100 plus whatever value the universe possesses. Even if the universe is assigned only a 1, meaning that it possesses great making properties only to a hundredth fraction of that which God possesses, the overall value is still 101, which is higher than God World.

Still, there are a couple of possible responses to the “mathematical” objection I just offered. One is that we should assign a negative overall value to the degree at which the universe possesses great making properties. If we assign the value “-1” to the great making properties of the universe, then God+Universe World has an overall value of 99, which is obviously less than God World. But how does that make sense? For in God+Universe world, God still exists just as he did in God World. And the very essence of God, on this view, is to have all the great making properties to their highest degree. Does the addition of non-God objects somehow decrease or take away God’s attainment of maximal great making properties? How could the additional existence of objects somehow take something away from God’s very being and essence? It seems to me that in God+Universe world, even with the addition of imperfect objects, all the great making properties are still maximized in the being of God. We still have a world in which all the great making properties have been fulfilled to the highest degree. It might even be that instead of a definitive number value which acts as a limit, we should assign “infinity” as God’s attainment of great making properties, in which case the existence of the universe has no effect.

Even if we could say that the existence of the universe could be assigned a negative value such that the overall value of God+Universe world is less than 100, and thus a worse possible world than God World, how could we actually determine this? How could we possibly know what the value of the universe is, or to what degree it fulfills great making properties? Even if it’s just merely possible that the universe has a positive value, then the existence of God and non-God objects is not logically incompatible. We are, of course, not in any position to be able to say whether or not our universe has a positive or negative value, and so we are not able to deny the possibility of a positive value.

But perhaps the argument should be thought of in a different mathematical sense. Perhaps we should think of it in percentage/fractional terms, rather than overall value terms. In this case, we would assign potentials to each world. So we would say that the highest potential “percentage of greatness” in any given world is one hundred percent (where percentage of greatness is just the percent of fulfillment of the great making properties). As a fraction, the denominator would be the highest possible potential of great making property fulfillment as a numerical value, and the numerator would be the actual numerical value of great making fulfillment in that possible world. So in God World, the highest potential percentage of greatness is 100% and since God actually attains the maximum of great making properties, God World has a 100% percentage of greatness. As a fraction it would be 100/100. But the universe, by its very definition, does not have the same potential for greatness as God does. So the numerical value of potential greatness would be less; let’s say just 10. So the question then becomes, not does our universe add or subtract value to God, but does it fulfill its own potential for possible great making property actualization? In other words, is our universe as great as it could possibly be, in terms of those great making properties? If our answer is no, then the fraction would be less than 10/10, and the percentage less than 100%. In this scenario, God+Universe world is not the best possible world, because it does not fulfill its great making properties to the degree to which it is possibly able. God World is 100% great, God+Universe World would not be. On this scenario, the overall value of the worlds doesn’t matter; the best possible world is judged solely by its percentage of greatness. God World is “greater” because its percentage of fulfilled great making properties is greater.

So which model is correct? Schieber’s argument may indeed use the latter model, but I’m not convinced this model would be correct. Why should we think that God prefers a higher percentage of fulfilled great making properties rather than a higher overall numerical value thereof? And how exactly would we know whether or not our universe has fulfilled its potential for great making property attainment? For this reason, I think it likely that Schieber’s argument actually uses the first model. Because we can conceive of a possible world in which all potential for great making properties actually is fulfilled. For example, imagine a world which consists entirely of one human being, and imagine that somehow, this human being has attained moral perfection to the highest degree which he is able. He still hasn’t attained great making properties to the same degree as God, because he still isn’t omnipotent, omniscient, etc. But he has fulfilled to the highest degree his own potential for these properties. In that world, the percentage would still be 100. Again, the mere possibility of such a world demonstrates that the existence of God and non-God objects is not necessarily logically incompatible; and since Schieber’s argument depends upon the logical incompatibility of these things, the mere possibility is enough to defeat the argument, because it is not necessarily true that God World is the unique, best possible world.

Still, although it might not matter either way, I personally tend to think that God would prefer a world with numerically more good, than just a world with a higher percentage of good. Would God not prefer having ten good people to having one good person? But the more people God creates, the more possibility there is for people to exist who don’t fulfill their great making properties. Which brings me to one last possible objections: That it is possible that creating a universe of non-God objects achieves some real good which God World would lack; namely, the existence of free, moral creatures who are capable of coming to know, love, and praise God. Which is not to say that God existing alone has need of these things, or that God himself without these things would be in some way imperfect or lacking. It is just to say that the existence of these beings consists of real good of an altogether different kind than what would exist in God World. This, again, would mean that the overall numerical value of the world increases with the creation of these beings. Of course, we might point to moral evil in our universe as evidence of something that could lower the overall value. God+Universe World might be said to have a lower overall value than just God world because God+Universe World contains moral evil and God World does not. But it is also possible that God can create such a world wherein moral beings are morally imperfect; but that God works so as to ultimately redeem/perfect those imperfect beings so that, ultimately, there is more overall good than what would otherwise exist.

Now, obviously, I don’t think this is a very good way to think about things, at all, which is why I don’t subscribe to the view of God as a maximally great being. How could we even begin to think about assigning numerical values in a comparative way to God and the universe? Furthermore, such assigning of values, even just to the universe, would be almost completely arbitrary. In short, I just don’t think we’re in a position to be able to possibly discern which world is in fact the best possible world. On the one hand, God World contains, perhaps, the highest percentage of greatness; but on the other hand, some other world with non-God objects, God+Universe world, might contain a higher amount of overall numerical good/greatness. It seems to me that the only way to possibly know what the best possible world actually is, is to be God, who would have a knowledge of all possible worlds. So, in that case, we could actually turn the argument around:

  1. If God exists, God would actualize the best possible world
  2. God exists (which would have to be shown via separate, independent arguments)
  3. Therefore, this is the best possible world

In conclusion, just as premise 2 of the last argument was shown to be indefensible, so too it seems that premise 1 of Schieber’s argument, that God World is the best possible world, is also unfounded.




[1]. A recording of the lecture is presented as an “RD Extra” on the Reasonable Doubts podcast, found here: http://freethoughtblogs.com/reasonabledoubts/2012/08/29/rd-extra-the-problem-of-non-god-objects/

[2]. Rauser, Randal. “God and non-God objects. Like, what’s the problem? A response to Justin Schieber.” Randal Rauser. SteadySites, 28 Dec. 2012. Web. 28 Jul. 2016. <http://randalrauser.com/2012/12/god-and-non-god-objects-like-whats-the-problem-a-response-to-justin-schieber/>.

[3]. Schieber, Justin. “A response to Randal Rauser’s criticisms of the Problem of Non-God Objects.” Reasonable Doubts. FreethoughtBlogs.com, 4 Jul. 2013. Web. 4 Aug. 2016. <http://freethoughtblogs.com/reasonabledoubts/2013/07/04/a-response-to-randal-rausers-criticisms-of-the-problem-of-non-god-objects/>.

[4]. Ibid.

[5]. Moreland, J. P. and William Lane Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003. Print, 496.

[6]. J. P. Moreland quoted in: Schieber, Justin. “A response to Randal Rauser’s criticisms of the Problem of Non-God Objects.” Reasonable Doubts. FreethoughtBlogs.com, 4 Jul. 2013. Web. 4 Aug. 2016. <http://freethoughtblogs.com/reasonabledoubts/2013/07/04/a-response-to-randal-rausers-criticisms-of-the-problem-of-non-god-objects/>.

[7]. Davies, Brian. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Print, 8-9.

[8]. Schieber, Justin. “A response to Randal Rauser’s criticisms of the Problem of Non-God Objects.” Reasonable Doubts. FreethoughtBlogs.com, 4 Jul. 2013. Web. 4 Aug. 2016. <http://freethoughtblogs.com/reasonabledoubts/2013/07/04/a-response-to-randal-rausers-criticisms-of-the-problem-of-non-god-objects/>.


16 thoughts on “Why Did God Create Anything At All? Part 2: The Problem of Non-God Objects

      • Em. There’s no proof of the nonexistence of any of the deities, but that’s how mythology is designed.

        On the other hand, there’s plenty of proof that people regularly self-deceive for the sake of comforting themselves.


        • If there’s no evidence for the nonexistence of any deity, then how could one be justified in holding atheism, as opposed to mere agnosticism? Some very good atheist philosophers would disagree, and they offer some potent “evidences” against theism.
          As for the second point, yes you are correct, many people are self-deluded in their beliefs. But that can apply to people of any worldview.


  1. Indeed, agnosticism is the only choice.

    You’ll note that I did not specifically exclude the majority of humanity from the second point. Infact, I should have included it. Religious or academic, most people are crazy.


    • Fair enough, although I’m personally not a fan of such extreme cynicism. I’m also of the opinion that people can be justified in holding particular worldviews. Theist and atheist philosophers a like have offered really good reasons for thinking their positions are true, and while I obviously agree with the former, I expect the serious thought that many atheist philosophers put into their beliefs.


      • Cynicism? I suspect you’ve lived a sheltered life, if you interpret facing reality as cynicism. How else do you solve a problem, but identifying it?

        And yes, humanity is primarily comprised of lunatics. Consider current global affairs. Consider that estimates suggest 100 billion homosapiens have existed.

        That many people, and the world is still as bad as it is now. If you think that’s the result of 100 billion sane people, then you sir, are a lunatic.


        • Did not intend to use cynicism as a necessarily derogatory term there or a personal attack at all, my apologies. Of course I believe a healthy skepticism of other people and their claims/beliefs is sane. But I would not, personally, be comfortable in saying that most people who exist are “crazy” or “lunatics.” It may or may not be true, I just don’t find myself in a fit position to be the judge of that.


  2. Em, we’re all in it for ourselves, simple as that. And I say that as a man who has volunteered, helping the poor, over 2000 hours – and most of that was labor. If I ever get enough money to retire, I’ll go back into volunteering.

    But I still see it as a selfish act. I enjoy volunteering. I enjoy helping people, and interacting with those people, because they become appreciative. Because of that appreciation, they look deeper at me, they seek to understand me. And when they do understand me, they respect me – not because I am helping them, but because they’ve discovered I’m a good man.

    I also volunteer because I see helping others as improving society. Through helping them, their burden in life is lessened, so they have more opportunity to be good people. I volunteer, I help others, for selfish reasons. So, even people who help others, are doing it for themselves.

    But yes, people are crazy. Again, 100 billion people. The world as it stands, is the result of their actions. It’s the denial of this simple piece of information that prevents people from fixing the damn problem.


    • Sorry for the delayed response. As for the first point about volunteering and human motives, I don’t think it follows from “I do good things for selfish motives” to “everyone does good things for selfish motives.” Just from your description, it sounds as though you have some very unselfish motives, such as the real desire for the good of society and the world.
      As for the second point, I don’t entirely disagree with you. After all, I am a Christian theist who believes in the doctrine of Original Sin. But when I say I’m not comfortable labelling most people “crazy” or “lunatics,” I’m referring not to their moral nature, but to their ability to form views/opinions/beliefs. A lot of people are unjustified in the beliefs they hold, but I’m in no position to make assumptions/have knowledge about that. As for their moral nature, I’m in complete agreement with you. Although I’m sure we’d have different thoughts about what exactly is wrong, and what the best way to fix it, I very much agree that there is something wrong about human nature, that we are selfish, immoral, etc. But that does not prevent me from also believing that humans can achieve real good, that we can, at times, act unselfishly and out of love, that there is hope for the salvation and redemption of our race. That is the whole Christian vision.


  3. Don’t sweat the delay; I’ve got nothing going on right now.

    I think you may be missing the point of the selfishness. Even if I am genuinely humanitarian, which I am, those actions are still, ultimately, selfishly-motivated. I just so happen to be mature enough to see that helping others also helps myself. Do a quick search of “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs”.

    What I’m saying is that – there is no such thing as a purely selfless act – it’s not a possibility. I would die for certain people, but I would do that so they live on – because they made me happy. So, in saving them, I am saving that happiness.

    And I’m not saying people are –incapable– of forming correct perceptions by calling them insane. I’m saying that, at this moment, they are insane. Life is hard, we’re born ignorant and helpless, we turn bad. So what? We can change.

    As for your religious beliefs, I disagree with them, but that is a massive, time-consuming discussion which neither of probably want. If you want, you can view some of my views in the following link. You will find them to be fair – often promoting religion. Otherwise, I say we stick to the topic at hand.


    I nevertheless disapprove of religion. Many of the reasons for that are found below



    • That’s an interesting point, I’m not sure exactly how I’d respond. I’m actually not sure I entirely disagree with you, to an extent. I’ll look first at your statement that you would die for certain people, but even this is ultimately out of selfishness, because they would live on, which makes you happy. But if you died for them, you would no longer be able to feel that happiness anyways. It’s hard for me to think about such truly altruistic acts as ENTIRELY selfish in motive. But even on a more basic level, I think we probably need to look at what we mean by “selfless” in the first place. Humans in general tend to apply positive connotations to the term “selfless,” but it’s not entirely obvious that this is a necessary connotation. A selfless act is just an act done without concern for one’s self, but it’s not certain that a selfless act is always a morally right act. Kant famously thought that a moral action cannot be an action which is done for pleasure, but only one which is done for duty. So if a man gives money to the poor because it makes him feel good to do so, Kant argued that this man has not committed a “moral” action, even if what he did was a good thing. On the other hand, if another man loves money and hates giving to the poor, but does it anyways because he has a sense of duty that he OUGHT to do so, then, Kant says, he has committed a moral action, even if he is miserable in doing it. As an Aristotelian-Thomist, I don’t agree with Kant’s moral theory, but I think he’s right that at times people do act not for their own happiness but out of a sense of duty. Whether or not they do so entirely selflessly is, to me, almost irrelevant. On the Aristotelian-Thomistic natural law theory of ethics, all of our actions ought to be directed towards fulfilling the “end/purpose/goal” of our lives, which is to attain true happiness and joy (as opposed to just mere pleasure). So whether or not we can act “rightly” in a truly, totally unselfish way seems almost irrelevant to me, in a sense. Because in sacrificing yourself so that others might live, even if you’re doing it because it makes their happiness makes you happy, you’re still doing the right thing, and still seeking their good even above your own.


  4. You’re assuming people are rational, that the thoughts which motivate their actions are simple and clear, rather than a massive and chaotic lump of impulse. And I have to admit that I could never read Kant, or Descartes, perhaps due to their detail orientated writing style. I get lost in the details, you see. Much prefer finding overarching rules that the details fall into – I recognize the prime importance of precision, however.

    Driven to a choice between myself and the theoretic love of my life, I would choose their living. This, because they make me happy, and because I don’t especially value my life. Because my life without them would be empty. I would do this out of appreciation, as thanks, for what they’ve given me – I want them to know the depth of my appreciation. That to me, is more important than living.

    Apply this rule to philanthropy. Would you rather live in a world full of warmongering sociopaths, or that of decent people? Assuming a person has the maturity to overcome their impulses to survive under any condition, the choice of death for the sake of a solidaritous society would be correct.

    Looking at it this way, sure, you could say it’s” selfless”. But, again, you seem to be missing the point that all those perceptions, and the actions they result in, are driven by a desire for an ideal life – for ourselves. We cannot separate our selfish desires from our actions. It’s not possible. So, again, we can act to primarily benefit others, but the bedrock motivation is for creating an ideal environment for ourselves.


    • I understand what you’re saying. Linguistically, there is a sort of ingrained negative connotation in the word “selfish.” I view a selfish act mainly as an act wherein a person chooses to do what is best for oneself, as opposed to what is best for others. I wouldn’t call just any action that is done for the sake of one’s self “selfish.” For example, I eat food to sustain, nourish, and keep my body alive. I do that for the sake of my own self. But I don’t think of eating as “selfish” in the negative sense, unless there were some situation in which I and another person were trapped somewhere with only a limited amount of food and I chose to eat it myself without giving to the other person. That would, of course, be selfish and abominable. But just eating food on a regular, daily basis to keep myself alive is not selfish, in the morally negative sense. Because, based on my Christian worldview, I hold that each and every human life is good, valuable, and has worth; and that includes my own life. Furthermore I hold that the flourishing and true joy of all humans is to be sought, including for myself. Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself” is a command to actively will and seek the good of others, as much as you do for yourself. It is certainly a nearly impossible ideal for any human, that I freely and completely admit. The vast majority of all human actions are indeed motivated by an underlying morally selfish nature, which desires one’s own good *at the expense of* the good of others. I have no problem admitting with these things


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