Omnibenevolence

Omnibenevolence (from Latin omni- meaning "all", and benevolent, meaning "good")[1] is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "unlimited or infinite benevolence". It is often held to be impossible, or at least improbable, for a deity to exhibit such property along side omniscience and omnipotence as a result of the problem of evil. However, some philosophers, such as Alvin Plantinga, argue the plausibility of co-existence. The word is primarily used as a technical term within academic literature on the philosophy of religion, mainly in context of the problem of evil and theodical responses to such. Although even in said contexts the phrases "perfect goodness" or "moral perfection" are often preferred because of the difficulties in defining what exactly constitutes 'infinite benevolence'.

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Etymology

"Omnibenevolence" appears to have a very casual usage among some Protestant Christian commentators. The earliest record for its use in English, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is in 1679. The Catholic Church does not appear to use the term "omnibenevolent" in the liturgy or Catechism.

Modern users of the term include George H. Smith in his book Atheism: The Case Against God (1980),[2] where he argued that divine qualities are inconsistent. However, the term is also used by authors who defend the coherence of divine attributes, including but not limited to, Jonathan Kvanvig in The Problem of Hell (1993),[3] and Joshua Hoffman and Gary Rosenkrantz in The Divine Attributes (2002).[4]

Philosophical perspectives

The term is patterned on, and often accompanied by, the terms "omniscience" and "omnipotence", typically to refer to conceptions of an "all-good, all-knowing, all-powerful" deity. Philosophers and theologians more commonly use phrases like "perfectly good",[5] or simply the term "benevolence". The word "omnibenevolence" may be interpreted to mean perfectly just, all-loving, fully merciful, or any number of other qualities, depending on precisely how "good" is understood. As such, there is little agreement over how an "omnibenevolent" being would behave.

The notion of an omnibenevolent, infinitely compassionate deity, has raised certain atheistic objections, such as the problem of evil and the problem of hell. Responses to such problems are called theodicies and can be general, arguing for the coherence of the divine, such as Swinburne's Providence and the Problem of Evil, or they can address a specific problem, such as Charles Seymour's A Theodicy of Hell.

Religious perspectives