Nagasawa, Yujin. Maximal God: A New Defence of Perfect Being Theism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017, pp. 256, $60.
Yujin Nagasawa is a professor of philosophy at the University of Birmingham, and the co-director of the John Hick Centre for the Philosophy of Religion. He has published books on phenomenal consciousness, miracles, and the existence of God. In Maximal God, Nagasawa examines the claim that God is a perfect being, and the role this plays in developing the ontological argument for the existence of God. Maximal God is comprised of 7 chapters.
Chapter 1 considers the conceptual, historical, and cognitive roots of perfect being theism. According to Nagasawa, perfect being theism affirms that God is the greatest metaphysically possible being. This entails that God is value commensurate with all other possible beings. In other words, the greatness of God can be compared with the greatness of all other possible beings such as humans, aardvarks, and escalators.
As Nagasawa notes, most philosophers and theologians assume that perfect being theism entails The Omni God Thesis. The Omni God Thesis says that God is an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent being. Throughout Maximal God, it is Nagasawa’s contention that perfect being theism does not need The Omni God Thesis. Instead, perfect being theism only needs a more minimal claim called The Maximal God Thesis. The Maximal God Thesis says that God has the maximal consistent set of knowledge, power, and benevolence. The Maximal God Thesis is consistent with, but does not entail, The Omni God Thesis. So, a perfect being theologian can affirm both theses; but she need not, if there are problems with The Omni God Thesis.
Nagasawa identifies three kinds of problems that face perfect being theism. Each of these three kinds of problems seeks to show that the existence of a perfect being is metaphysically impossible. According to Nagasawa, these three problems are really aimed at The Omni God Thesis, and not perfect being theism. What Nagasawa calls Type-A arguments focus on the internal coherence of one divine attribute. For example, someone might argue that omnipotence is incoherent because God cannot create a stone that is so heavy that He cannot lift it. If the property of omnipotence is incoherent, then the existence of an omnipotent being is metaphysically impossible. What Nagasawa calls Type-B arguments focus on the internal coherence of two or more of God’s attributes. A classic example is the apparent conflict between omnipotence and omnibenevolence. As omnipotent, God should be able to perform sinful actions. Yet, as omnibenevolent, God cannot perform sinful actions. This purportedly raises a question: is an omnibenevolent God really omnipotent? What Nagasawa calls Type-C arguments focus on the mutual consistency of God’s properties with certain facts about the world. The classic example here is the logical problem of evil, which seeks to show that there is a contradiction between the existence of evil and the existence of a God who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. To be sure, there are replies to Type-A, Type-B, and Type-C arguments, but those must be considered on a case by case basis.
Chapter 2 of Maximal God examines the claim that God is the metaphysically greatest being. I found this chapter to be an incredibly important contribution to contemporary discussions on God’s perfection. In contemporary theology, it is often asserted that God is the greatest, has eternal glory, and so on. Theologians will often assert that their doctrine of God is greater than their opponent’s doctrine of God. However, there is rarely any explication of what this “greatness” means. Nagasawa offers a detailed discussion of what this means, and the theological world should take note.
According to Nagasawa, God is the greatest metaphysically possible being in that God is extensively and intensively superior to all other beings with regards to great-making properties. A great-making property is a property that, all things being equal, contributes to the intrinsic greatness of its possessor. A being is extensively superior to other beings if it has more great-making properties than other beings. A being is intensively superior to other beings if it has the great-making properties to a higher degree of intensity than other beings. Nagasawa considers different ways to understand this superiority, and how each can be used to develop the great chain of being—the hierarchical ordering of all possible beings according to their greatness.
In Chapter 3 Nagasawa examines the structure of Type-A, Type-B, and Type-C arguments in detail. As noted before, it is often assumed that perfect being theism entails The Omni God Thesis. Nagasawa explains that The Omni God Thesis has to consider Type-A, Type-B, and Type-C arguments on a case by case basis. He notes that there are good theistic replies to these arguments, but that it is inefficient to consider these arguments one by one. Instead, one can undermine all of these arguments in one fell swoop by adopting The Maximal God Thesis. Thus, The Maximal God Thesis offers a more efficient way to defend perfect being theism.
In Chapter 4 Nagasawa considers various objections to The Maximal God Thesis. For example, one might say that The Maximal God Thesis prevents God from being worthy of worship. Another might complain that The Maximal God Thesis undermines the uniqueness of God that is captured in The Omni God Thesis. Nagasawa assesses these objections, and finds them wanting.
Chapters 5 and 6 offer a rigorous examination and defence of the classical ontological argument developed by Anselm. Nagasawa does an excellent job at pinpointing the structure of the ontological argument. This allows Nagasawa to specify where objections to the ontological argument fail. One common type of objection to the ontological argument is to develop a parody argument. The parody arguments are intended to have the same structure as the ontological argument, but they have premises that entail absurd conclusions. A successful parody indicates that there is something wrong with the structure of the classical ontological argument. Nagasawa contends, however, that most parody arguments fail to parody the structure of the classical ontological argument.
In Chapter 7 Nagasawa turns his attention to the modal ontological argument. The success of the modal ontological argument rests on establishing the premise that it is possible that God exists. What is needed is to show that ‘God is the metaphysically greatest possible being’ is consistent, and thus it is possible that God exists. After surveying various attempts to establish the possibility that God exists, Nagasawa concludes that each attempt is unsuccessful. However, Nagasawa assures us that all is not lost for the modal ontological argument. In order to establish the possibility that God exists, one should adopt The Maximal God Thesis. The Maximal God Thesis has the needed consistency already built into its concept of God. So, adopting The Maximal God Thesis is a huge advantage for the modal ontological argument.
Advanced students of theology and philosophy will find Maximal God rewarding because it contains clear arguments and rigorous analysis of important issues in the doctrine of God. For those interested in apologetics, Nagasawa’s approach to the ontological argument should not be missed. For those who are brand new to theology and philosophy of religion, I recommend starting with Nagasawa’s earlier book The Existence of God: A Philosophical Introduction.
R. T. Mullins
University of St Andrews