Saturday, October 28, 2006

Sketches on Divine Simplicity: I

Is God simplex omnino? Pace Scotus' formal distinction, what would Aquinas have to say in favor of divine simplicity? The doctrine has come under a good deal of fire in modern theology. Not just theological liberals, but even conservative evangelicals have taken to revising the doctrine of simplicity, and with that revision, the very doctrine of God. I am convinced these efforts at revision lack cogency, and that a better case can be made for retaining Aquinas' understanding of God's simplicity.

First, I shall examine of an exchange--about twenty years old-- in Faith and Philosophy (Nov. 85, Oct. 85, and Apr. 86) between Stump and Kretzmann (hence, "SK"), Ross, and Hasker on Aquinas' doctrine of simplicity. The aim of my work is merely to see what the most pressing difficulties around Aquinas' doctrine are taken to be.

Stump and Kretzmann '85
On absolute simplicity, it is true (1)that God cannot have spatial or temporal parts distinguishable as here or there, now rather than then, (2) God cannot have any "intrinsic accidental properties", and (3), there cannot be a real distinction between real essential properties in God (354).

SK adimt that the doctrine of absolute simplicty (hence AS) "is not much used in contemporary philosophy of religion, primarily because it seems outrageously counter-intuitive, or even incoherent" (354). They are not persuaded; indeed, they take many long-standing perceived difficulties with the doctrine to be readily dispatched: e.g. AS implies being omniscient is identical with being omnipotent, which seems absurd prima facie until one conceives of these attributes as different senses with the same reference. Invoking the sense/reference distinction, SK say (355-6), dissolves such apparent contradictions. But there is still a difficulty to be faced, "the hardest one to resolve": "the apparent incompatibility of God's simplcity and God's free choice" (357).

It seems there is "a radical diversity within divine agency itself, in that some truths about God...are not under his control, while others...are consequences of his free choice" (357). That is, (again, from 357):

SK's Problem
a) Some of God's properties he [freely] chooses to have, like being creator of the world.

b) God cannot freely choose all God's properties; he cannot freely choose whether to have being omnipotent.

c) It follows there is a distinction between two groups of God's properties [group A whose members God freely chooses, and group B whose members God cannot freely choose].

d) This distinction is intrinsic to God.

That is, hold come what may to AS, and we shall have to jettison, on pains of inconsistency, such dogmas as God's free creation of the world--indeed, we shall have to drop the notion of God's freedom altogether, and with it, any notion of contingency in the world. How do SK get around this? In developing a solution, they claim fidelity to Aquinas. Though they adapt Aquinas' solution to modern jargon, especially the jargon of possible worlds semantics, they see themselves as leaving the content or substance of Aquinas' solution intact.

SK's Solution
Aquinas claims, according to SK, "God's nature is altogether necessary, either absolutely or conditionally" and yet this necessity "is entirely comaptible with the claim that there is contingency in the created world" (367). The distinction between absolute and conditional necessity is merely a "logical distinction" in God's will, and so it is only a logical distinction in God--it being understood that logical distinctions fall short of being real distinctions that would contradict AS. Thus, God chooses to create. The choice is free because "God does not choose to create" does not entail a contradiction; it is logically consistent. The logical consistency of an alternative is apparently sufficient for freedom in God's case.

On the other hand, the choice is necessary because God is eternal, implying that God cannot change--once he chooses to create he cannot--due merely to his eternality--change and choose not to create. This necessaity is merely conditional; there is a necessity here given what God has chosen or following on his choice. Having so chosen from eternity, God fixes the choice, and it cannot be otherwise. But considered in itself, apart from whatever God chose to do, the other choice was equally available to God; no inconsistency on its part put it beyond God's power.

Be careful here; we moderns, esp. we modern metaphysicians, are apt to see SK's use of "necessary" above as contrast dependent on "possible" when in fact that is definitely not how SK use "necessary" here, as they are tryiong here to say what Aquinas says, to give Aquinas' solution in his terms. In connection with Aquinas, the relevant contrast dependent term is "contingent." SK are not as clear as they should be on their use of terminology, alas. The pair "Necessary-Contingent" (hence "N-C") that Aquinas employs is decidedly world-bound. It does not refer to other possible worlds, but is restricted to the actual world. The pair "Necessary-Possible" (hence "N-P") is explained by use of possible worlds semantics; the N-P pair is used by SK to explain what Aquinas says with the N-C pair. Got that? In other words, SK use modern terminology to make sens eof Aquinas' solution.

Thus, SK lend precision to Aquinas by bringing in possible worlds semantics. What we have said for Aqunas implies, in that semantics,

e) There is a world, Wa, such that God creates a world at Wa.
f) There is a world, W1, such that God does not create a world at W1.

Let "Wa" be the actual world, and "W1" be a merely possible world. Assuming

(g) "P" is possible just in case there is a world, W, such that P,

we may say despite the fact that God does create a world (from (e)), it is nevertheless possible that he not do so (from (f) and (g)).

We must view God with care. From the standpoint of any possible world (rather roughly Aquinas' standpoint, using the N-C pair), actual like Wa or merely possible like W1, God's nature is necessary and fixed determinately. At Wa, God's choice to create is necessary; yet Aquinas says that necessity is conditional and not absolute. We may make sense of Aquinas' sense of conditional necessity by changing standpoints. From a standpoint that takes into account other possible worlds, like W1 as well as Wa, we may see that God's choice, necessary relative to Wa, is nevertheless contingent and free in itself, as his being able to do otherwise is implied by the possibility of his not creating, which follows given W1.

SK admit "God is not the same in all possible worlds" (369); this entails God is possibly otherwise, yes, but not that any aspect of God is contingent. Contingency, part of the N-C pair, is world-bound, and has to do with what God does within a world, given that he has chosen from eternity to take some course of action. Possibility, part of the N-P pair, has to do with what God is doing in various possible worlds. Thomas' use of "necessary" is a use within the N-C pair--above all, Aquinas wants to deny any necessary-contingent distinction in God. He would, SK think, be willing to accept that God has unrealized possibilities, because that fact--if fact it be--would not imply contingency with God.

For SK contingency is wrapped up in unrealized potentiality. That is, to say God is contingent in some way would mean that he has some unrealized power. But relative to any given world, such as the actual one, God has no unrealized potentiality or power. What he does is chosen from eternity and cannot be changed; God has no power within a world to do otherwise than what he does. And this is how it should be--to have such unrealized power would imply a distinction in God's nature between potency and act of the sort that Aquinas goes to lengths to deny.

But for SK possibility is not wrapped up in unrealized potentiality. God may leave certain possibilities unrealized without that implying he has an unrealized power. That is, God could have done otherwise taken from an N-P standpoint is true, and does not imply composition in God, as it does not imply he has a power or potentiality to do otherwise. Taken from within an N-C standpoint, it would be false to say he could do otherwise inasmuch as God has no power to do otherwise. Aquinas' reference to "conditional necessity" is an attempt, within his N-C framework, to reach outside, to refer to a logical distiction. That logical distinction is what SK clarify from their N-P framework, a move perhaps insinuated but not articulated by Aquinas.

What seems like a real distinction in God is merely logical; no essence-existence or potency-act distinction is implied by saying God chose freely to create the world. That family of properties God chooses is only logically distinct from that family God cannot choose.

Well, at least SK are enormously clever. Their caveat "we are weakening the claims basic to the doctrine of simplicity" does not refer to abandoning Aquinas' notion of AS, but rather to an attempt to render it intelligible by folding it into an account that makes use of a modern notion of necessity explicated in possible worlds semantics. For in doing so, they introduce the notion of God's unrealized possibilities--a harmless introduction, they would say, as it does not imply God has unrealized potentialities.

Neither Ross '85 nor Hasker '86 are taken in by SK's maneuvers. Ross objects especially to their use of possible worlds semantics; if taken robustly, it implies a metaphysics departing from Thomas, while if taken modestly, it amounts to a manner of talking without objectionable ontological commitment.

That God could have chosen not to create the world follows on God's determinate choice to create the world; Ross would have no other "truthmaker". The fact that alternatives to the actual are logically consistent is explicable without recourse to possible worlds semantics, i.e. without "leaving" the actual world to refer to other merely possible worlds.

From the fact a box is red, it follows the box is colored. But not otherwise--the fact it is colored does not imply the box is red; between the facts there is an asymmetry, such that the more generic, the determinable, fact is parasitic on the determinate fact. Indeed, it is really nothing other than the box's being red; there is not in additon to the feature of its redness a really distinct feature about it, its being colored. Just so, from the fact God chose to create, it follows he could have chosen not to create as well as to create. But the same asymmetry persists here--the more generic truth is here too parasitic on the determinate truth. It is not a feature of its own really distinct in any way from what is actual. The absence of a real distinction between determinate and determinable implies the absence of any act-potency distinction. Indeed, the actual--in this case God's actual choice to create, on its own and without there being in any sense of "be" other merely possible worlds, suffices to imply the determinable (God's being able to do otherwise) without introducing any real distinction in God.

Ross' determinate-determinable model at least tells us something about God's actual power, for the model refers only to his actual power, not to his merely possible power. Ross would say SK dodge the issue by bringing in possible worlds semantics. What would mere possibilities have to do with God's actual power? So we can talk about God in other merely possible worlds; why take that talk to track truth about the actual God? Why take it to model anything more than our idle chatter?

Hasker concentrates instead on the choice to create. "What is it that determines that the universe and God are in one initial world state rather than another?" In effect, is not there at least one more instance of real power on God's part to consider, given SK's way of rendering Aquinas? Namely, we shall have to consider the choice God makes among possible worlds: which to actualize, given the generic choice to create? In that choice, God seems to exercise power in a way not merely world bound, i.e. something more robust than semantic possibility is called for; God's creation is a real exercise of divine power.

But then, is this exercise of power free or not? SK will want to say it is indeed free--but they will have to say as well that this basic cretive exercise is conditionally necessary. Ah--here SK seem to have missed the point to be explained: "To say that God's actions are I-necessary [roughly, world-bound] is to say that they are necessitated by the initial state of the universe [the given possible world in question]--but how can this have any bearing on the modal status of the choice of the initail state itself?" (Hasker '86, 197). Hasker goes on to try to dispatch a possible SK reply, that eternality would suffice for the required necessity. But such a move will not do, being an instance of special pleading inasmuch as up to Hasker's objection, SK would have explained necessity from the N-C model in terms of necessity from the N-P model, Hasker's objection would reappear once we parsed the SK "reply" in possible worlds semantics, though at a different level of analysis.


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