Monday, June 04, 2007

The Value of Possible Universes

I wanted to see if anybody else had any thoughts about this topic. I did my paper for Phil of Religion on this and it's something I've always wondered about ever since I was little. It's from page 237 and 263 of Quentin and Craig's book Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology. I copied this directly from my paper...

For a brief moment during the debate as to whether God’s omni-benevolence constrains It to create animate universes over inanimate universes, both Smith and Craig appeal to differing intuitions regarding the value of animate vs. inanimate universes. Thus, while Smith claims that ‘we must take into account not only that an inanimate universe is better than no universe but also that an animate universe is better than an inanimate universe,’ Craig disagrees with this claim when he states that ‘we can imagine innumerable many worlds of the former [inanimate] type which would exceed in goodness worlds of the latter [animate] type (for example, inanimate worlds of great beauty compared with animate worlds filled with unredeemed and gratuitous evil).’

I defended two theses in the paper, the first was that
the worst possible existence or universe is better than non-existence or no universe, and the second was that the worst possible animate existence or universe is better than the best possible inanimate existence or universe. So I disagreed with Craig on the value of possible universes, but I did agree with him that God is not constrained to create animate over inanimate universes, even though I think that animate universes are a better kind of universe than inanimate ones, but that is a blog post for another time. I just want to know what you guys think about my two theses, about the value of these possible universes or non-universe against each other. I am more than intrigued to hear any and all responses!


At 2:14 AM, June 04, 2007, Blogger Richard said...

I'm inclined to think that an inanimate universe has no value, but animate universes may have either positive or negative value, and hence could be even worse than nothing. I'd be curious to hear what leads you in the opposite direction?

At 4:52 AM, June 04, 2007, Blogger Matt Brown said...

I'm with richard, I think. There seem to be possible lives that are obviously not worth living. There doesn't seem anything clearly bad about an unpopulated universe, and little that might be good (even if there were tons of Dali paintings on every planet, there would be no aesthetic experiences of them).

At 4:09 PM, June 07, 2007, Blogger Kevin said...

We need to be clear about what we’re doing when we’re comparing the value of different possible universes. When we say that one universe is better than another, we are talking about moral goodness (at least in this context). It seems problematic to compare the moral value of one possible universe with the aesthetic value of another. There are some aestheticians who think that the moral content of an artwork affects its aesthetic quality, but even they would not identify aesthetic and moral value. Maybe this is possible, but I don’t remember any discussion of this in the Smith/Craig book, and it seems relevant to the question at hand.

At any rate, since we’re talking about moral value, I think we can disregard the aesthetic qualities of inanimate universes. An inanimate universe, regardless of its aesthetic qualities, contains no moral value whatsoever because there are no agents to perform good or bad actions. An animate universe containing gratuitous evil (or any amount of evil, for that matter) is morally worse than an inanimate universe.

I would also like to know your reasons for holding the opposite view.

At 1:53 AM, July 02, 2007, Blogger J.R.M. said...

My reason for thinking that the worst possible animate universe is better than the best possible inanimate universe is because I've read too much Nietzsche! LOL! But the affirmation of life and existence he writes about has definitely influenced my motivation for arguing these points.

I found the argument I used in my paper when I was at the APA in chi-town this past semester I saw a talk by Martin Henn from Auburn Univ. called 'Of Inherent Natural Value of All Life' and it was basically his argument for a form of ethical naturalism. In this talk, he argued, well, I'll just quote for you:

'natural value is found in the existence of some object of reality that either promotes the continuance of life or, by having life itself, enhances its species qua living'


'we must assert that living beings have inherent natural value because all life instinctually takes care of itself both individually…and collectively'

and finally

'only life can possess organic teleology aimed at continued existence, only life can exist for its own sake as an “intrinsic reaping of value.” All things in nature whether animate or inanimate appear to either prefer, incline, or tend toward continued existence over non-existence; and it is for this reason that I assert existence to be a primary good. Animals prefer life over death. Plants incline toward continued growth in spite of barren soil, insufficient moisture, and the extremes of climate.'

I believe that animate existence has such a high value and that this value is a better kind of value than inanimate existence that the worst of the former is still better than the best of the latter, regardless of the moral value of the animate universe. I believe that the value of animate existence is such that it overrides any kind of negative moral value of that animate existence.

That is why I think that an animate universe completely filled to the brim with the most moral evil possible is still a better universe than the best possible inanimate universe, where I guess the moral value would be neutral or non-existent.

I also argued in another way in my paper, but I think that argument not as good as this, so I decided to use this one instead. So what do you guys and girls think? I will be eagerly awaiting your critical vivisection of my argument with fervor and anticipation!


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