God Is Maximally Existent; Existence is Good; Therefore God Is Maximally Good?

A bait-and-switch I notice among Thomist theologians and philosophers: they’ll say that existence is good; and God is the most existent Being; therefore God is maximally good. He has the greatest degree of “ontological Goodness.” (Imagine the sweetest and largest baked cookie ever.)

The more existence, the more goodness. In other words, for Thomists, goodness picks up the lint of everyday moral associations, but that’s not really what goodness means in this context.

What’s the difference, after all, between “ontological Goodness” and simply saying that existing maximally is good?

Why not take the loaded term good out of God altogether and just say that the Tao (or the Kubrick Monolith, or Ginsberg’s Old Nobodaddy, or whatever you want to call it) is the “ontological Maximum”?

What would it mean to say that God is not maximally moral, but only maximally existent? What are the consequences? I see three:

  • The Holocaust. It takes us off the hook for explaining the Holocaust–and by extension, the problem of evil generally. God didn’t save the Jews from Hitler because God isn’t moral.
  • The end of mystical holism. It wouldn’t necessarily be pleasant to be at one with God. If God is maximally existent, but not maximally loving, personal, or moral, perhaps we wouldn’t want to exist in the way that “God” or the Tao exists. Who really wants to participate in that form of existence–making it a goal? There’s no evidence it feels good, has moral impulses, thinks–or does much of anything. It’s just maximally existent; the uncaused first cause, unmoved, just sitting there. Kind of boring.
  • We could do unnatural things (not follow natural law). We wouldn’t have to conform to the created order. Our created form, after all, would be given to us by the impersonal and amoral ontological Maximum. Why would an amoral Being care if we don’t play to type? If God isn’t morally good in the conventional sense, but just maximally existent (and that’s “good”), that upends the whole point of following natural law, as in, say, using the penis solely in accord with what can be inferred that God made it for–reproduction. God’s cool with anything you do with a penis–or anything else. Experiment. Read Nietzsche.

So if God doesn’t answer, for example, the Jews’ cries at the Holocaust, why not be existentially open and experimental, not looking to conform to anything given? God (the Tao) obviously doesn’t care about what humans do. We are bereft. Auschwitz tells us that.

So a maximally existent Being doesn’t necessarily mean a maximally moral or maximally attentive Being; therefore, unless one can plausibly explain the Holocaust as metaphysically coherent with a moral God, God is not good–just maximally existent.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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5 Responses to God Is Maximally Existent; Existence is Good; Therefore God Is Maximally Good?

  1. Mikels Skele says:

    However, maximally existent implies maximally good AND maximally evil, and maximally anything else we can conceive if and much that we can’t. Unless existence is limited to concreteness, in which case God, not partaking in the abstract, is incomplete.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Which Thomist philosopher ever said that God is “maximally good”?

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      Aquinas himself in the Summa: “To be good belongs pre-eminently to God. For a thing is good according to its desirableness. Now everything seeks after its own perfection; and the perfection and form of an effect consist in a certain likeness to the agent, since every agent makes its like; and hence the agent itself is desirable and has the nature of good. For the very thing which is desirable in it is the participation of its likeness. Therefore, since God is the first effective cause of all things, it is manifest that the aspect of good and of desirableness belong to Him; and hence Dionysius (Div. Nom. iv) attributes good to God as to the first efficient cause, saying that, God is called good ‘as by Whom all things subsist.'”

      Source: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1006.htm

  3. Anonymous says:

    OK, I see what the problem is. You don’t understand what Thomists are saying.
    The Thomist would say that God is existence not that he has more or less of it. So it is wrong to say that God has more existence or good than something else since he is existence and is good.

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