Thursday, August 22, 2019

Aquinas on creation and necessity


While we’re on the subject of divine simplicity and creation, let’s consider a closely related issue.  In the Summa Contra Gentiles, Aquinas argues that God wills himself, that he does so necessarily, that what he wills he wills in a single act, and that he wills other things besides himself.  Doesn’t it follow that he also wills these other things necessarily?  Doesn’t it follow that they too must exist necessarily, just as God does?  No, neither of these things follows.

Let’s take the two questions in order.  First, as Aquinas also argues, God wills things other than himself only for his own sake.  They are willed as manifestations of his own goodness.  But they are not willed because they somehow enhance his goodness, because that goodness is already perfect.  Hence he doesn’t need to will any other thing as a means to realizing the highest good, which is himself. 

Doesn’t this make his willing of these other things arbitrary or inexplicable?  No, that doesn’t follow either.  He wills them for a reason – again, as a manifestation of his own goodness.  Suppose you’ve already got a large family, including some adopted children, but you decide to adopt yet another child.  You don’t need to do this in order to do your moral duty or to achieve supererogatory virtue.  You’ve already not only done your duty but gone above and beyond it.  But it’s not an arbitrary act either.  It’s a good thing to do, even if it’s not a good thing that must be done.  Creation is like that, neither necessary nor arbitrary.  As Aquinas puts it, God wills other things as “befitting.”

But doesn’t the fact that God wills himself and other things in a single act entail that he wills the latter as necessarily as he does the former?  No.  You might say that it is in a single act that the sun both shines and causes the moon to shine.  But even if the sun shined of absolute necessity, it wouldn’t follow that the moon shined, since of course the moon could have failed to exist even if the sun hadn’t.

But this is to appeal to something outside the sun which limits what sort of effects it will have.  So doesn’t the analogy fail, since, given God’s omnipotence, there is nothing outside him that can limit what sort of effect he will have?

No, the analogy does not fail, and this brings us to Aquinas’s reasons for saying that the fact that God is necessary does not entail that his effects are necessary.  In the Summa Theologiae, Aquinas writes:

Sometimes a necessary cause has a non-necessary relation to an effect; owing to a deficiency in the effect, and not in the cause.  Even so, the sun's power has a non-necessary relation to some contingent events on this earth, owing to a defect not in the solar power, but in the effect that proceeds not necessarily from the cause.  In the same way, that God does not necessarily will some of the things that He wills, does not result from defect in the divine will, but from a defect belonging to the nature of the thing willed, namely, that the perfect goodness of God can be without it; and such defect accompanies all created good.

Similarly, in the Summa Contra Gentiles, he writes:

From the side of its object, a certain power is found open to opposites when the perfect operation of the power depends on neither alternative, though both can be.  An example is an art which can use diverse instruments to perform the same work equally well.  This openness does not pertain to the imperfection of a power, but rather to its eminence, in so far as it dominates both alternatives, and thereby is determined to neither, being open to both.  This is how the divine will is disposed in relation to things other than itself.  For its end depends on none of the other things, though it itself is most perfectly united to its end

The relevance of these passages to our question is this.  What makes some effect E of God’s action contingent rather than necessary is not anything in God, but it is also not some third thing in addition to God and his effect E.  It’s not a matter of God needing this third thing to be either present or absent in order for E to follow.  Rather, the source of the contingency is just E itself.  As Aquinas puts it in the passage from the Summa Theologiae, it is simply that limitation that “accompanies all created good” as such that makes God’s effects contingent.  E itself, just by virtue of not being God – and thus not being pure actuality or subsistent being itself or absolute simplicity – is of its very nature going to be contingent.  God doesn’t have to do anything extra to it to make it contingent, and neither does some third thing in addition to God and to E have to do anything to make it contingent.

Similarly, as the Summa Contra Gentiles passage says, precisely because of the “eminence” of divine power, none of its effects can be necessary, because it simply doesn’t require any particular effect in order to realize the end of manifesting divine goodness.  For any particular effect E, some non-E would do just as well, since divine goodness is already perfect just as it is.

Critics of classical theist arguments for God’s existence sometimes claim that if pushed through consistently, those arguments would entail that the world is as necessary as God is.  That is the reverse of the truth.  In fact, an absolutely necessary cause producing an absolutely necessary effect is a metaphysical impossibility.  For if something is an effect, then ipso facto it is not and cannot be absolutely necessary.

Since we’re talking about unnecessary but fitting acts, it is fitting at this point to plug Gaven Kerr’s new book, Aquinas and the Metaphysics of Creation, which, as it happens, just arrived today in the mail.  Since I haven’t read it yet I can’t give you a review, but the author of the excellent Aquinas’s Way to God is sure to have produced a worthy volume.

100 comments:

  1. There is also the a posteriori argument (namely Aquinas’ Fifth Way) that is a direct observation of this matter.

    God only has three choices to make concerning creation:

    1. Create nothing.
    2. Create some things.
    3. Create absolutely every possible thing in every combination.

    We certainly do not observe option 1. We also do not observe option 3, because option 3 would be chaotic. Option 3 would entail the creation of every logically possible created state. The number of chaotic states (for example where an electron is constantly changing its fundamental properties such as mass and charge) is infinitely greater than the number of regular states (for example where an electron regularly exhibits positive charge and a constant rest mass).

    That is why I like Aquinas’ Fifth Way the best. I believe it not only gets you to an omniscient God. It gets you to a free-volitional omniscient and omnipotent God all in one fell swoop.

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    1. Scott, I'm not following. I mean, I agree, it's obvious that Option 2 is what we have rather than 1 or 3, but how does it follow that Option 2 is freely chosen by God as you seem to be saying?

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    2. Because even if you were to posit some sort of contingent necessity (of the sort that Dr. Feser describes as metaphysically impossible) it would only prima facie make sense to propose a contingent necessity for option 1 or option 3. If nothing in the created order existed except for a single yellow banana, it seems absurd to suppose that that single yellow banana is somehow absolutely necessary. With extreme options like 1 or 3 it is not so obvious, but the radical contingency of single yellow bananas are much more obvious even at a first glance.

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    3. Scott, thanks...I see what you're getting at now. Interesting.

      I'm wondering though whether that's the strongest way to present option 2. I agree it seems ridiculous to think that a banana must somehow be necessary, but what if option 2 entails God causing, say, an extremely powerful immaterial being to exist through something analogous to a Trinitarian procession (but outside of God). E.g., what if in knowing Himself God necessarily produces another being like unto Himself outside of Himself? In that case it doesn't seem so obvious that such a being is non-necessary in the way that a banana is non-necessary.

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    4. What about the Leibniz option, that there is a "best" possible selection of possible things coexisting in a world, and that's the world God creates? This would fall under 2 but it might imply that there is still a problem with saying the features of the world that God created are non-necessary in the modal sense. I think some interpretations of Molinism also assume that God created the best possible world consistent with everyone having free will (with the distinctive idea of Molinism being God's middle knowledge of what free choices every possible being would make in every possible combination of external circumstances), for example William Lane Craig speculates here that "in His omnibenevolence, He has actualised a world containing an optimal balance between saved and unsaved" (that article is a followup to some criticism of this earlier one where he explains the Molinist understanding in more detail...Molinism would complicate the issue of modal necessity vs. contingency by saying some choices by created creatures are naturally/logically possible but ruled out by God's middle knowledge)

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    5. Albinus,

      Well yes an immaterial being might be less obviously contingent, but upon further analysis, if it does not itself possess the divine attributes, it is not necessary. My argument was not that options 1 or 3 could be necessary, only that their contingency is not as obvious as with option 2.

      JesseM,

      Dr. Feser did a good treatment of this in Five Proofs. Basically, the word best is relative (the best baseball player on the team, for example). But with respect to creation, best would have to be related to God’s power to create, which is infinite. Therefore a best possible world would be an actual infinity (option 3) which we do not observe. There are also problems philosophically with actual infinities. It just seems silly to say that this is the best possible world, and I would argue that it is an argument ad absurdum against Leibniz’ Necessitarianism.

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    6. Scott,

      Yes, I understood that you were claiming that option 2 is more obviously contingent than option 1 and 3. My point (which I didn't elaborate sufficiently) was that what if option 2 involves God creating only a single being--let's call this being the "Second Cause". And what if all other obviously contingent things we observe in the world (like bananas) are directly caused not by a creative act of God but rather by the possibly random (or at least free and contingent) operation of the Second Cause? In this case option 2 doesn't seem any more obviously contingent (as far as God's creative act is concerned) than options 1 and 3. In short, with my version of option 2, bananas are still obviously contingent but their contingency doesn't prove God's creative act is contingent because their contingency stems from the Second Cause, not God's creative act.

      Maybe, like you suggest, with further argumentation you could show that this Second Cause after all cannot be necessary, but in that case option 2 is still not any more obviously contingent as far as God's creative act is concerned. Unless perhaps I'm still missing your point...

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    7. Albinus,

      A Second Cause would either have divine attributes or not. We can demonstrate that there cannot be more than one Actus Purus as there would be no potentia to differentiate the two beings. No Aquinas did argue that angels are Pure Act relative to their own natures (being immaterial forms), but they are not Pure Act absolutely (hence they can receive supernatural grace). It is this absolute Pure Act that is relevant here. If the second cause does not have divine attributes, then he is just as contingent as the banana. But I suppose you are right that your option 2 is prima facie more plausible than a yellow banana being necessary (after all, what you seem to describe is Neo-Platonism). But ultimately, it does not stand up to a posteriori philosophical scrutiny.

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  2. Quote: First, as Aquinas also argues, God wills things other than himself only for his own sake. They are willed as manifestations of his own goodness.


    I think this is incomplete.

    God as Goodness itself is transcendent. It is Good that things exist. In this sense God wills other things for His sake which is Goodness sake.

    BUT, it is also true that things exist for their own sake, that love desires the good of the other for it's own sake, and that it is Good that things exist for their own sake.

    In this sense, it is false to say things exist purely for God's sake - but it becomes true when we realise the transcendent nature of Goodness itself. Things existing for their own sake is included within Goodness, whilst Goodness also transcends it and makes them exist for Goodness sake as well.

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  3. Quote: Doesn’t this make his willing of these other things arbitrary or inexplicable? No, that doesn’t follow either. He wills them for a reason – again, as a manifestation of his own goodness. Suppose you’ve already got a large family, including some adopted children, but you decide to adopt yet another child. You don’t need to do this in order to do your moral duty or to achieve supererogatory virtue. You’ve already not only done your duty but gone above and beyond it. But it’s not an arbitrary act either. It’s a good thing to do, even if it’s not a good thing that must be done. Creation is like that, neither necessary nor arbitrary. As Aquinas puts it, God wills other things as “befitting.”


    A bigger objection would be to say that, since God is Goodness itself subsisting, there would be NO REASON to create ANY finite good, since there is literally nothing desirable in them that God doesn't already have in Himself.

    The solution to that is to see that the goodness of creatures is unique since it is in a finite mode. As Chastek said in one of his articles:

    One place to discover the value, uniqueness, and justification of creatures is their mode of operation. We don’t need creatures to have knowledge or power or goodness or whatever. But to know objects by hearing them or move them by interacting or be good by arriving at the right time are all ways of existing that would not be with divinity alone.


    Furthermore, God as Goodness isn't doesn't make the goodness of creation otiose or pointless - seeing the Beatific Vision won't make us stop enjoying everything else, or make us see finite goods as worthless by comparison, or flood us with Goodness itself such that we literally stop desiring anything else.

    The same principle applies to God.


    Also, I think a much better analogy would be a married couple who are sterile, and THEN decide to adopt a child. The couple is completely happy on their own, and don't necessarily need any children to be completely happy.

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  4. If God is identical to His will, then insofar as God is necessary, so is His will.

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    1. It is indeed true that it is necessary for there to be a divine will.

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    2. Do you believe God is also identical to His willing?

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    3. Since you're asking the question, I need to have your definition of identity in the question. I assume that you are not talking a particular kind of intersubstitutability of expression, and presumably you are not assuming relative identity or vague identity.

      I'm guessing, though, that your implicit argument is something like

      (1) 'God exists' is necessary
      (2) In God, existence and will are identical.
      (3) Therefore 'God wills' is necessary (from (1) and (2))
      (4) Therefore 'God wills X' is necessary for any X you might choose. (from (2))

      Which, if so, fails regardless of the account of identity; 'God wills' and 'God wills X' are not generally intersubstitutable descriptions -- the former is a description of God, and the latter is a description of God and X. From 'It is necessary that God wills' to 'It is necessary that God wills such-and-such' is an equivocation; intransitive and transitive 'wills' are not synonymous. To get from (3) to (4) you would have to assume that if it is necessary that God wills, what God wills is necessarily willed by Him. But this is the very point in dispute.

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    4. I don't mind playing this game: is God identical to His will to create?

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    5. @Ryan

      Brandon isn't playing a game, and the fact that you call it one implies you're not serious. Did he misstate your argument? If so, then please clarify. If not, then your conclusion doesn't follow. If you disagree, then by all means identify his inferential mistakes.

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    6. I don't mind playing this game: is God identical to His will to create?

      Notably this doesn't clarify the point: what is your definition of identity? Is it based on intersubstitution of expression? Are you counting relative identity? Are you counting vague identity? Are you counting contingent identity?

      In any case, the non-identity part of the comment remains the same: 'God wills' and 'God wills to create' are also not generally intersubstitutable, for the same reasons (the former is about God, the latter is about God and creation, since 'God wills to create' is normally taken to be equivalent to 'God wills that there be a creation'; the former is intransitive, the latter is transitive), so under any conception of identity you can't move from the necessity of 'God wills' to the necessity of 'God wills to create' without assuming the point at issue.

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    7. @Ryan

      The phrase "God's will" can refer to two things: it can refer to that by which God wills, and it can refer to the things that God wills. Since God is not divided into parts, God is identical to the first sense of "His will". Since God wills things other than Himself, God is not identical to the second sense of "His will".

      So which sense of "God's will" are you using?

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  5. Quote: But they are not willed because they somehow enhance his goodness, because that goodness is already perfect. Hence he doesn’t need to will any other thing as a means to realizing the highest good, which is himself.


    It's true created goods don't enhance God's goodness in the sense God's nature is intrinsically fulfilled in a way that God needs in order to be happy.

    But it is a fact of theology that God delights and enjoys His creation immensely, and the creation's role is even somewhat analogous to the Persons of the Trinity deciding to show their love by giving themselves the gift of creation.

    In this sense, creation truly does make God happy and joyful, and is truly a participation in the life of the Trinityy, though not a necessary one.

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  6. Dr. Feser,

    ...For if something is an effect, then ipso facto it is not and cannot be absolutely necessary.

    Sure, but if we're trying to steel man the argument wouldn't we need to address the possibility of an effect (creation) that is necessary insofar as it is possible for an effect to be necessary? It's not as if a necessary creation is A-OK on Thomistic principles as long as the necessity isn't absolute. I think everyone can agree that creation is non-necessary in the sense that it depends on the First Cause for its being. But the more difficult and interesting issue is whether creation is necessary in the sense that God must create, not in the sense that creation is just as necessary as God is (i.e., as if creation would depend on nothing outside of itself for its existence).

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    1. One issue I see is that if creation is necessary in some modal way, but still dependent on God, then its existence is caused by God. So its essence is distinct from existence. But then it could fail to exist, since is essence is consistent with a lack of existence. Or, since essence is to potency as existence is to act, we could say it is just a potential; but if it is modally necessary, then it must be actual, it has to be actualized. But there is little to no sense to be made of a potential that cannot fail to be actual - in what sense is it really potential then? And how would its essence really be distinct from existence?

      I think everyone would agree that at the very least it would be a very weird position, and it is more plausibly false than true, so we should avoid it.

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    2. Atno,

      Good point. Is it true though that a distinction between essence and existence in a thing implies that the thing can lack existence? I don't think that follows. A distinction between essence and existence in a thing immediately implies nothing other than that this thing must receive existence from another in order to exist. (I.e., whatever has a distinction between essence and existence cannot be the First Cause.) But in my thinking this says nothing about whether this reception of existence is non-necessary.

      Similarly with potency and act. That a thing has potency and act implies simply that the actualization of the potency is from another. It says nothing about whether the potency must be actualized by another.

      I do agree that it seems odd, and perhaps it should be avoided if there was no reason to accept it. But in my mind, if we're denying that God can be in any way different between possible world 1 and possible world 2, and if we're also denying that creation comes from God randomly, and if we're also denying that creation is the cause of itself, then it seems a necessary creation is, well, ...necessary.

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  7. Hello,

    I asked this on the open thread, but I think it got lost. Hoping this to be more active, I'll try it here.

    I've taken time to try to grasp the first way, but I got stuck at one part. I know that this shouldn't be a problem for Aquinas nor Aristotle, especially since the last one thought motion to be eternal.

    I'm confused as to *where* the first mover fits. I know that motion means change. But still. Let's take a toy universe example.

    In this toy universe, there are compounds that can be whatever we want. Let's take the simplest one, small billards balls.

    Now, I understand that, for some ball to move, it needs to have been set into motion by another one. Similarly, for some ball to stop, it needs to hit another one.

    I picked these two things especially because I want to understand what I'm thinking wrong. Assume ball X is moving : where is the first mover, in this universe? If I try to "see backwards", then, maybe ball Y hit ball X. And then perhaps ball Z hit ball Y. Etc.

    But why can't we "simply say" that there is "motion of ball X towards something" at time t, and then all the balls?

    Please help me to see what I'm doing wrong.

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    1. Hi. I think you're mixing per se and per accidens. According to Feser, neither Aristotle nor Aquinas held that "no object can continue its local motion unless some mover is continuously conjoined to it." Feser continues:

      On the contrary, their view was that a body will of itself tend to move toward its natural place by virtue of its form. That which generates the object and thus imparts its form to it can be said thereby to impart motion to it, but neither this generator nor anything else need remain conjoined to the object as a mover after this generation occurs.

      Feser goes on to cite Aquinas' commentary on Aristotle with respect to local motion and a per se causal series that one is not the other.

      You can read the full presentation HERE.

      To understand the First Way, you must understand the difference between a per se causal series and a per accidens one. A ball's motion is a potential actualized by something in act, but if the cause is accidental, the effect may continue without the conservation of the cause. If the cause is per se, every instrument in the series lacks causal efficacy and is thus dependent on a first efficient cause. THAT is the argument of the First Way.

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  8. We can't simply say that because then we won't be explaining how X is moving if there is no unmoved First Mover, because it would form an essentially orered series and those cannot be infinite. All the balls can only move the others if they first exist, i.e. are actual, so in order for their conditions to be actualized there needs to be something beyond the whole chain to actualize them.

    (Or, as how one can put it in a Leibnizian style argument, the whole series would remain with a need for its actualization. Why do these balls exist instead of nothing? One obviously cannot appeal to the balls themselves, or the whole collection.)

    If you want to "visualize" it, maybe think of God as the floor or foundation holding the infinite series of balls so they don't fall and can actually move.
    Most importantly, we do not have to visualize anything or even know how it works to draw the conclusion *that* there must be a First Cause. Because we know an infinite regress such as "ball Z hit ball Y" etc cannot be the whole story. The sequence would remain unexplained and groundless.

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    1. Hi Atno, and thanks for your answer.

      I read what you said, but still, I don't understand why we can say that "well, motion at time t is already there, and if we look a bit back, motion is still there, but on a different moving object, and if we look forward, motion will be there. So, motion is eternal, and has no need for a beginning or an end, nor an explanation."

      Correct me please, but this does seem to me to be the reasonning of atomists like Demokritos, and I fail to see why it is wrong.

      Thank you for your thoughts.

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    2. Have you read Five Proofs or Aquinas? Feser (following Aquinas) would argue that the chain of movers would form an essentially/hierarchically ordered series. That kind of series requires a first cause because each of the subsequent members motion is derivative; if there is nothing from which their motion ultimately comes from, it is like it's coming from nothing. I recommend you read the books I mentioned, Feser spends a lot of time on that.

      My favorite kind of argument however is the rationalist/leibnizian one. In this kind of argument, we would simply ask for the sufficient reason for the series of movers. Even if there were an infinite series of contingent causes, this would not explain why this series exists. The series cannot bring itself into existence anymore than a substance can't bring itself into existence. If I ask "how come there are all these causes, instead of nothing?" it is no good to answer "because they have all been causing each other ad infinitum". I am asking precisely how come there can be all these causes. They could have all failed to exist, or there could have been a different infinite series of causes. So the whole series, in a way, is a potential that must be actualized. What we need is a Necessary Being that is uncaused, that is purely actual and exists all by itself and can therefore ground the existence of an infinite series of contingent things, or a finite series, or whatever.

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    3. Thanks for your reply, Atno.

      I was expecting essential and accidental series to pop up, and I figure this is where my problem lies.

      I haven't seen a proper example of an essential series. Take the hand moving the stick, for example.
      Sure, I can see why, if the hand is moving the stick which is moving whatever, then, removing the hand makes the stick stop moving.
      Problem is, well, the hand is "not moving by itself either". If I see the hand moving, that's because the neurons are activated. And the neurons are activated because of the brain. Which has been triggered by the environment. Etc.
      So, while I can understand what an essential series is, I fail to see why the hand or such is essential, and not accidental. To be honest, I can't see an essential series example that is not "an accidental series" in disguise.

      Now, concerning the rationalist argument, it's an argument I used to love. And then, a friend of mine told me "well, why do you want the whole series to have a cause?". I said that something must have a cause. He told me that I couldn't prove it (and I never saw what I could reply to that), and that the series could very well have its own cause in itself (a la God).

      Thanks for your help unknotting these problems. :)

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    4. On the contrary, every accidental series is really dependent on an essential series, at the end of the day. Take the example of a father begetting a son who begets another son. This is an accidental series. Yet it was only ever operative because at each instant in which it occurred, every cause (such as the father) was being actualized and kept in being by a myriad of other causes (his cells, molecules, the oxygen in the air, the particles, and so on and so forth). The hand moving the stick is meant to be an *illustration* of the general fact that causation is simultaneous, and (obviously) each cause can only cause another if it is first actual. If however there is an infinite series of conditions that must be actualized behind a single cause, with no First Unconditioned Cause, but just an "X can cause Y if X is caused by Z if Z is caused by W if W is caused by E..." that never ends, then the series would always remain "iffy", and no condition would in fact be actualized.

      W.r.t. The rationalist argument: of course the whole series must have a cause. The whole series is contingent, so it could have failed to exist and, logically speaking, is just a mere potency that is actualized. So there must be a cause behind the whole contingent series of causes. If he replies that this is a composition fallacy, it is easy to point out that parts-to-whole reasoning isn't always fallacious (e.g. if every brick is red then the brick wall will be red), in particular with respect to contingency. If every part is contingent - could have failed to exist - and the whole series is composed of contingent parts, then of course the series as a whole will also be contingent, and thus require an explanation.

      But there is also another reply available that does not require any kind of parts-to-whole reasoning. We can use plural logic and ask for the explanation of the existence of this plurality of contingent things that exist. So, "why do these contingent things exist, rather than nothing, or some other things?". How many contingent things exist is irrelevant; the existence of two contingent things needs an explanation just as much as the existence of one contingent thing. Same for an infinity of contingent things.
      And of course, a totality/plurality of contingent things requires an explanation. It would be crazy to suggest that while a contingent substance can't exist without a cause, a plurality of a 1000 of them, or an infinity of them, can.
      Neither can it be suggested that the totality is explained by itself. That would be circular. All contingent things could have failed to exist and have therefore failed to cause each other. The explanation for the totality of contingent things can only be found in a necessary being.

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  9. Hi Ed,

    I'd like a straight answer to a straight question - or actually, two straight questions.

    First, do you agree or disagree with classical theist John DeRosa's third premise (which appears in an article defending Divine simplicity at http://www.classicaltheism.com/mullins/ ):

    3. God's one, simple, unchanging, absolutely necessary act can freely produce a myriad of contingent effects outside of God.

    Here, DeRosa is stating that God's necessary act of Being can produce contingent effects. Do you agree, or do you maintain that God's production of creatures is a contingent act?

    The reason why I'm asking is that in your OP, you maintain that a created effect is contingent by its very nature, and without God needing to do anything extra to make it contingent. Does that mean you think God can produce a contingent effect by performing a necessary act?

    Second, do you agree that it is analytically true that a necessary act cannot be one and the same act as a contingent act? In other words, do you acknowledge that it would be absurd to maintain that an act can be necessary in one way and contingent in another?

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    1. Vincent, why is it absurd to maintain that an act can be necessary in one way and contingent in another way? It is not obvious to me that it is absurd. Are you making the general claim that X cannot be Y in one way and Z in another way if Y and Z are mutually exclusive? I am not convinced that that general claim is true. If you are not making that general claim, and allow that X may be Y in one way and Z in another way (where Y and Z are mutually exclusive), on what other grounds do you think it is absurd to maintain that an act can be necessary in one way and contingent in another?

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    2. Thomism is logically inconsistent and hence self-refuting. No wonder so many Thomists constantly wrestle with doubt and unbelief.

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    3. Hi Tim,

      I really wish they'd take "in the same way" out of the Principle of Non-Contradiction (PNC). It renders it totally elastic and therefore meaningless. Consider the following:

      (a) would you believe me if I told you there was an object that was round in one way and square in another way?

      (b) would you believe me if I told you there was an object that was black in one way and white in another way?

      (c) would you believe me if I told you there was a living thing that was six-legged in one way and two-legged in another way?

      (d) would you believe me if I told you there was a living thing that was a vertebrate in one way and an invertebrate in another way?

      (e) would you believe me if I told you there was an animal that was capable of logical reasoning in one way and incapable of logical reasoning in another way?

      The point I'm making here is that when the terms are well-defined, we can dispense with "in the same way," when formulating PNC. We all know what the terms "round," "square," "black," "white," "six-legged," "two-legged," "vertebrate," "invertebrate" and "capable of logical reasoning" mean. For these terms, we can simply say: it is impossible for something to be both X and not-X.

      Other terms are not so well-defined. You might, for instance, believe me if I told you there was something that's alive in one way and not alive in another way. And you'd be right: viruses are all too real. The problem here, however, is the vague predicate "alive."

      Back to the topic at issue: "necessary" and "contingent" are well-defined terms. Consequently, there is no need for the qualifying phrase "in the same way," and we can simply say that an act cannot be both necessary and contingent. Cheers.


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    4. Vincent,
      The "in the same way" is important to distinguish surface contradictions from substantial contradictions. There are surface contradictions between biblical statements that are not substantial contradictions because they involve different senses of the word "world." There are surface contradictions between propositions held in standard theology (i.e. held by most Protestants, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox) regarding God's will that are resolved when one distinguishes between God's decretive will and God's desiderative will. The "in the same way" phrase is important to the PNC.

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    5. Vincent,
      Would you believe me if I told you that there was an electron that was a wave in one way and a particle in another way?

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    6. Vincent,
      Would you believe me if I told you that there was a cube that was eightfold according to its vertices, sixfold according to its faces, and twelvefold according to its edges?

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    7. "(a) would you believe me if I told you there was an object that was round in one way and square in another way?"

      Actually this is a bad example because there is such an object.

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    8. @grodrigues

      Actually, we can answer "yes" to every one of Vincent's questions. "In the same respect" is the key to understanding the law of contradiction.

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    9. Hi Tim,

      > The "in the same way" is important to distinguish surface contradictions from substantial contradictions.

      What bothers me about "in the same way" is that it could be used to smooth over any contradiction. Someone might maintain that God is tri-personal in one way, and uni-personal in another way, for instance, or that homicide is morally licit in one way, and illicit in another way. The phrase "in the same way" entails metaphysical and moral chaos.

      > Would you believe me if I told you that there was an electron that was a wave in one way and a particle in another way?

      In my opinion, quantum physics has had a pernicious effect on people's thinking in the last 100 years, as it has led people to embrace contradictions. The short answer to your query is that an electron is neither a wave nor a particle (both of these characterizations being inadequate to convey its complete reality) but a field. See this query on Quora, and scroll down to the answer given by Rodney Brooks, who has a Harvard Ph.D.:

      https://www.quora.com/When-they-say-an-electron-has-both-a-particle-and-a-wave-nature-what-do-they-actually-mean-How-do-you-explain-this-phenomenon-to-a-lay-person

      Hi Bill,

      > Actually, we can answer "yes" to every one of Vincent's questions.

      I'd very much like to hear your explanations.

      Hi grodrigues,

      > Actually this is a bad example because there is such an object.

      The terms "square" and "round" [not "spherical"] refer to two-dimensional geometry. If you can make a round square, I'd like to see it.

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    10. @Vincent Torley:

      "The terms "square" and "round" [not "spherical"] refer to two-dimensional geometry. If you can make a round square, I'd like to see it."

      The typical example of a round object is the unit circle. The square is the unit circle for the \ell_\infty metric.

      Now, to be completely fair, the implicit definition of round I am using is not a good one -- but mathematically precise definitions of "roundness" (here is one example; every point is an extreme point, this would rule out the square or every convex polyhedron, but it would bring in all other sorts of unlikely exemples) are not easy to come by, and at any rate it just makes my point, or Bill's point.

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    11. Homicide is illicit in that it is not the sort of activity that humans should typically engage in but is licit in the case of warranted executions, examples of which occur in the Bible.
      Of course the "in the same way" principle might be abused; but the correct approach is to demonstrate its abuse, not to throw out the principle. Ed specifically argues against the recent notion that God is one person in three persons, by the way.

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    12. Hi Tim and grodrigues,

      I can't really comment on the mathematics of L-infinity, having never studied it. Re the definition of roundness: you are right to point out that it's not a simple thing to define: constant diameter, for instance, won't do the trick, as the example of the British 50p coin shows, although there's no four-sided 2-D figure that meets that condition. Apparently, roundness is defined in ISO 1101 as
      "the separation of two concentric circles that just enclose the circular section of interest." Make of that what you will.

      Re the liceity of homicide: one should indeed ask, "Relative to whom?" But having specified your relevant authority (e.g. God or the State), it remains that an act such as homicide cannot be both licit and illicit. There's no longer any need to add "in the same way."

      Anyway, I just wanted to let you both know that I've just come across a paper by Mark K. Spencer titled, "The Flexibility of Divine Simplicity: Aquinas, Scotus, Palamas" at https://www.academia.edu/26922293/The_Flexibility_of_Divine_Simplicity_Aquinas_Scotus_Palamas_International_Philosophical_Quarterly_57_2_July_2017_123-139

      It puts forward what I feel is a very sensible compromise proposal and its tone is irenic. I'd be very interested to know what you both think of it. Cheers.

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    13. @Vincent

      Really? I feel almost troll-like answering this.

      (a) Any carved figure that's round on one end and square on the other. Imagine a trophy with a square stand and a globe on top of the stand. You can say that it's round one way and square in another.

      (b) Any object black on one side and white on the other.

      (c) Yes. A roach has six legs, but under certain circumstances, it runs on two legs. So, in one sense it has six legs, but in another sense (running) it has two.

      (d) Vertebrate: Having a backbone. In one sense (biology) you have a backbone, in another sense (courage), you don't.

      (e) Of course. Never heard of idiot savants? They're extremely gifted in a particular field but they don't have a sweet clue how to reason otherwise.

      That's why the sense must be univocal for a logical inversion to occur. Man alive. You couldn't figure that out?

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    14. Hi Bill,

      I'll keep my reply brief.

      (a) The example you cite of an objects that's both round and square is three-dimensional. I was very careful to stipulate that I was talking about two-dimensional figures.

      (b) An object may indeed be black on one side and white on the other, but it cannot be black all over in one way and white all over in another.

      (c) When discussing animals, the correct definition of "leg" is the one used by biologists, who tell us that while legs may be used for running, they do not have to be. That is not their defining feature: if it were, tortoises would be legless!

      (d) The same comment applies to "backbone." Of course, the term may be used equivocally, but the same could be said of any English term.

      (e) Idiot savants are incapable of reasoning about certain topics (as are most of us), but they are capable of reasoning, nonetheless.

      Re univocal sense: that was my whole point. As I wrote above: "The point I'm making here is that when the terms are well-defined, we can dispense with 'in the same way,' when formulating PNC." Did you read what I wrote?

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    15. Vincent, you're missing the point entirely. In order to make the points you make, you have to restrict them to certain senses. And that's the whole point of the LNC. Something cannot be white and black in the same respect or sense.

      And like I said, I feel almost troll-like engaging in this stupid dialog. So long as senses are distinct, one can answer every question you offer affirmatively. You only get an inversion if the terms are used univocally.

      Consider this part of our dialog closed. I don't have time for stupid.

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    16. > I don't have time for stupid.

      Neither do I.

      > So long as senses are distinct, one can answer every question you offer affirmatively.

      And my point is that: (i) you cannot simply invent new senses of existing terms willy-nilly, to avoid landing yourself in contradictions; (ii) while different senses can be invented for vague terms, they cannot be invented for well-defined ones. Putting it another way: in an "ideal" philosophical language, all terms would have only one sense. Poets wouldn't like that language, mind you, and I can certainly see why. But theologians should strive for precision, not vagueness, in their discourse.

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    17. Since nobody said that theologians shouldn't strive for precision, your comment hangs irrelevantly in midair. And I'm NOT inventing "new senses of existing terms willy-nilly." Every example I provided is legitimate unless the terms are restricted to one and only one meaning. AND THAT'S THE POINT!! Quit yapping about the LNC and "sense" since that's all it's ever been.

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  10. It's still amounts to modal collapse to equate a necessary cause with a contingent effect.

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    1. God the Creator (who is the agent cause) is necessary, but that He wills to create X is contingent. At least this has been the contention throughout.
      Now if a certain causal act is necessary, and such acts necessitate their effects, then you are right, nothing contingent would follow. But whether God Himself is to be identified with a necessary causal, effect-necessitating act on DS is what is at issue.

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  11. So does God "have" to will everything in a single act of the will? Or is that just how he happens to do so? (Because it is most "fitting" etc). Could God will separate individual things at different times if he wanted to? And if he can't, then why not? Does it have to do with willing things from eternity?

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  12. Feser writes the following: "God wills things other than himself only for his own sake. They are willed as manifestations of his own goodness."

    So let's apply this to the birth of Adolf Hitler. God's goodness underlies the birth of a son to a German woman in 1889. All that was good about this birth was grounded in the ultimate source of all goodness--God. But because of the natural defects that might contingently accompany the development of any created being, this particular baby grows up unusually deficient in empathy toward outsiders, and indeed turns out to be a psychopath, etc.

    Now here's what Feser says next: "[T]hey [created things] are not willed because they somehow enhance [God's] goodness, because that goodness is already perfect. Hence he doesn’t need to will any other thing as a means to realizing the highest good, which is himself."

    This really trips me up because Feser and Aquinas seem to be implying that after an act of creation, God goes on remaining perfectly good forever after, and "doesn't need to will any other thing" even when that creation's unfolding starts going south in its careening of bad effects.

    Thus God's nature remains perfectly good even if he does nothing to save Jews at Auschwitz from Hitler. He "doesn't need to will any other thing" beyond his initial act of goodness toward Hitler's mother in giving her a son, and he's still tops in the good department for all time. He is like the sun. His rays of goodness go out, but nothing of their effects can ever careen back upon him in an evaluation of his ultimate character. He's above it all.

    That doesn't sound correct, that God's goodness is not impacted at all by his response to Auschwitz; that he is completely untouched in his goodness, whether he responds or fails to respond to an already created--and perhaps profoundly defective--being wrecking havoc (Hitler).

    Another quick example: every species created is arguably "good," but paleontology has also discovered (to borrow a phrase from Martin Luther King) that for each species that emerges, "the arc is long, but it bends toward" extinction. In other words, shouldn't part of God's goodness imply interventions that result in the preservation or restoration of goodness?

    What's "befitting" about Auschwitz and species extinction that fails to impact our appraisal of whether we should deploy the word "good" to God?

    And doesn't the logic of the Second Coming imply that God would indeed be ultimately wicked if he failed to return to set things right?

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    1. Hello Santi.
      I would note that it doesn't seem to me that any of these problems follow uniquely from commitments of divine simplicity. Instead they are general problems for any view of good God and God which grounds all goodness and values within himself.So I guess any standard responses to argument from evil would also apply here.

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    2. Don't feed troll.

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    3. Hi Red:

      Thanks for your kindness in continuing to communicate with me a bit. The perplexities I raise are sincere. I'm trying to think Thomism through for myself. I would ask other fair minded individuals to recall that I, and other atheists like me, found Feser's blog in the first place because he had written a book directed at us as atheists.

      So in this instance, Feser's post is about necessity. My arguments/questions above are not brought up for the purpose of grappling with the problem of evil in the broadest sense, but to suggest that Feser's innocuous adoption analogy is wholly inadequate to thinking clearly about God and necessity.

      To see the difficulty of positing God's freedom as being compatible with his perfect goodness entails a clearer focus on much harder moral/historical dilemmas than family adoption: problems like genocide and extinction.

      My thought is that God, to go on being perfectly good in any meaningful sense, is in a historical relation of moral compulsion with regard to his ongoing, still evolving creation.

      He is not ultimately free to do whatever he wants in response to it. He can't not act. At some point he must make right the death and suffering of sentient species and the victims of the Holocaust--or he is simply not a supremely good deity.

      Perhaps the realm retained by his freedom is in the timing alone, but it is unthinkable that God--if God is good--should not at some point right the gravest wrongs.

      An eternal torture realm (hell), for example, is surely out of the question. Jewish holocaust victims going to hell after experiencing Auschwitz is surely out of the question. A good deity is simply not free to set up a creation that goes nightmarish, and then allows it to run its nightmarish, contingent course forever--and God still retain the predication of being good.

      I think the very concept of the Second Coming implies that early Christians would agree with me. They would not have imagined God as "good" absent their faith that he would make a new heaven and earth at some point.

      So in this sense God surely cannot be free to abandon this creation to its own course.

      At the end of Revelation is a beautiful passage claiming that there will be no more death, and claiming that God shall wipe every tear from human eyes. A supremely good and merciful deity could surely not culminate his creation otherwise.

      I myself, at age five, lost my mom to leukemia. For Feser's notion of God as good to win the day, can the worst traumas of time really go unaddressed?

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    4. Santi,
      I don't think you are trolling but I think what you write can be somewhat provocative for many, intentionally or otherwise.My advice in this regard is that you should try to discuss one thing at a time.
      I think what Dr. Feser is trying to argue for is that God necessarily willing his own goodness doesn't entail a modal collapse or total loss of contingency.The issue discussed here doesn't involve what sort of obligations God has towards his creation or How God's goodness could be reconciled with events you discuss.Again for that all the standard responses to Argument from evil are on table I think.

      And its really sad to read about your loss.

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    5. Santi,

      I think you should focus on on issue at a time. Feser is discussing the issue of modal collapse, arguing that his thomistic view of Divine Simplicity does not entail that creation is necessary.

      The problem of evil doesn't really fit in here, I think. And I'm sorry about your loss. But you might know that many theists, Christians and so on actually agree that the problem of evil is a grave one. In particular, I am prepared to concede that the problem of evil lowers the probability of God existing. But it just so happens that I (and many other theists) am also convinced that, however pressing and/or mysterious the problem of suffering might be, nevertheless we have much stronger reasons for believing in a good God. As the explanation for the existence of a contingent universe; for the order and regularity of natural laws which allow for life and civilization; for the fine-tuning of constants and quantities; for the existence of finite consciousness and reason; for the existence of a mathematical reality; for the human mind's capacity to understand the workings nature in so many extraordinary details; for the widespread phenomenon of religious experience throughout the world and the ages; for everything morality involves - from objective values and duties to moral knowledge, hope, moral transformation, etc. So I am prepared to recognize the problem of evil as a mystery, and even as something that can lower the probability of theism. But it is not enough to overturn the conclusion that a good God exists. One must always keep in mind the total evidence available.

      Incidentally, I also think suffering and evil might, paradoxically, point to the existence of God - both as a need of existential hope, and as an indication that evil really is something objectively wrong that is, in a sense, attacking the fabric of being and a plan of creation. It is not supposed to be there. Importantly, I think theodicy greatly benefits from Christianity's insight into horrendous suffering as something that was willingly experienced by God Himself for our sake. If the Christian story is right, God chose to become man and share in our suffering and plight, and took on our sins, fears, anxieties, horrors, pain, and ultimately died for us. Only to then triumph over all evil in the Resurrection.

      But we are going off topic here, so it is best to leave discussions of the PoE for another open thread or a thread abou it.

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    6. Hi Red:

      I thought I was addressing the relevant distinction that Feser is addressing.

      I thought I was on point by arguing that an infinitely good God must necessarily--as necessarily as 2+2=4--make universes that come out, in the end, maximally good--and this means that God is not free in any possible world to fail to act to set things up so that God's creation is ultimately redeemed.

      God is metaphysically free (nothing makes God do anything save God himself), but being in his nature good, it follows that God is not free in any modal sense to abandon a world or a person he has created to evil.

      His goodness necessarily means he has to act at some point; to make right what happened to the Jews at Auschwitz; to not let hell realms go on forever, etc.

      Love has to win. Maximally.

      Feser's family adoption analogy thus obscures what's at stake by his choosing too mild an example--and the way to break the epidural spell of that is to bring the problem of evil vividly into the argument.

      It's the hardest cases, not the easy ones, that narrow God's range of freedom in relation to whatever worlds God creates.

      God is modally constrained by his very nature of being good to not sit freely on the sidelines at the darkest moments of history.

      Is that your position as well?

      The earliest Christians had a similar sensibility with regard to the Second Coming. Likewise, the good, simple, highest God of the Feser/Aquinas sort seems logically constrained--as constrained as God creating worlds where 2+2=4 always holds--to save the people.

      So why isn't God doing it? Well, he will. He has to.

      A whimsical demiurge, by contrast, is not so constrained to make the creation end good. A God not posited as good in any human sense--such as Aristotle's or Spinoza's simple substance (God)--is not so constrained. But a good God is so constrained.

      He can't just go on being good, untouched, off in a corner, hanging out with his "Cambridge properties," acting in whatever way he decides is "befitting" (Feser's word).

      History as it has played out appears too botched for that.

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    7. Atno:

      Thank you for your kindness about my mom.

      As to the problem of evil, I think the only solution to it for the Christian is to place faith in God that all evil will be corrected somehow in the future.

      If it is, that would entail modal necessity. God--as surely as 2+2=4; as surely as it must be true in all possible worlds--is necessarily constrained by his very nature to never abandon a universe he has made to evil.

      An infinitely good God has to redeem it in the end. He is not free to decline as "befits" him (Feser's word). To my mind, that means every created person is ultimately saved. Nobody is left behind.

      So when you write, "The problem of evil doesn't really fit in here, I think. And I'm sorry about your loss," I retort that we cannot even begin to get clear on what must necessarily constrain the freedom of a good deity, modally, if we're not dealing with the hardest cases of natural and human initiated evil.

      My supports for this point of view are rehearsed immediately above to Red, and so I address those supports to you as well. : )

      As to your reasons for thinking God exists, I agree with you that those you put forward are indeed good reasons. I'm in these threads as an atheist/agnostic precisely because I'm giving fresh consideration to traditional and modern rationalist starting points (those of Aquinas, Spinoza, Descartes, Liebnitz, etc.).

      In the past, I've dismissed such "simple God" metaphysical starting points as historical curiosities, but on a fresh pass with them I think such arguments are in fact more interesting than atheists/agnostics generally assume.

      How I fit in with these thinkers is hard for me to say at this point. I'm trying to sort it out for myself. I continue to think that Rorty's abandonment of rationalist projects altogether is also a sensible response and completely understandable, so I'm torn.

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    8. You could argue that, but at most your position would yield only be a "conditioned necessity". That is, God was free to not create anything at all, or to create a different world. But given that He has created this world, you say that He has to save the people who have fallen. Technically, this event would still be contingent in the sense that it could fail to occur, if God had chosen to not create the world, etc. But since he did, you claim it would then necessarily follow that He must save the people in it. This doesn't entail modal collapse as traditionally understood, however (that there is only one possible world and everything is somehow necessarh). Which is a good thing for you, since modal collapse is typically seen as very implausible, so you wouldn't want your view to entail it.

      That being said, I don't think God has to redeem everyone in the end. Although I can see why many could find that attractive, I really feel like God should still be able to refrain from saving people from their sins. And in a way, this makes salvation more of a free gift of love; it is not something we deserve, even if it might be fitting for us in some way, but it is a free gift from God. At the same time, while I think God could possibly refrain from saving people from their sins, I think that nevertheless it would be *very probable* that God would freely choose to save people, for it better fits with His mercy and goodness. I don't see necessity, but I see a tendency, a very probable and befitting prediction of God.

      As far as God saving everyone, I think God can in principle save every human being. But that it is also possible for people to get lost. If everyone ends up getting saved, this will be a contingent fact. One reason why I think this, is because I really do feel like we need to give some space for human freedom here. People can reject God. In fact, part of why evil is so shocking is that a lot of times it is freely done; people freely choose to rebel against God and engage in evil acts. Naturally, God wants to save and restore everyone, but I do think that He would ultimately respect everyone's choice, and that we do have the power to make such a terrible choice as to reject God... How many people actually end up doing that? I don't know. But I am sure that God is always seeking to bring to Him all sinners; He gives every opportunity for everyone to accept Him, even in the very last moment of death, and even to those who might be unconscious, for God's ways go way beyond our powers. And as - if I remember well - it was said to St. Faustina Kowalska, the Divine Mercy is ready to present itself to anyone, provided they at least open even a small bit of their hearts to it.

      Freedom and contingency seem to me to be important parts in this whole story. So I don't think we can say this or that will *have* to be the case in a necessary way. But - like freedom - the story will be moved by motivations, and we can still safely say God will do everything to reconcile everyone to Him. Yet people can still reject love and mercy; such is the power of our freedom.

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    9. I must admit that, besides the reasons I gave for believing in God, I also think that evil can quite paradoxically provide evidence of God, and perhaps even Christianity. There is something deeper in evil, something that screams, something that really shows itself to be an objective destruction of a good plan - something that really shouldn't be the case. And the depths of human suffering can be horrifying, scary - Lord only knows what can pass through the mind of someone who is under really, really terrible suffering. Though the earth is but a speck of dust in space, the whole physical universe could not contain what goes on in the mind and heart of a person who is in deep, serious suffering. And Christianity teaches that God willingly chose to become one of us and go through this haunting experience Himself. I don't know how to precisely make the point, but I see some kind of link between suffering and the divine. It's not all just chemical imbalances and physical reactions.

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    10. But we might be going off topic by talking about the problem of evil now, beyond the issue of modal collapse. If you want to keep discussing the problem of evil, go to the last open thread and post a comment there. Since there are already many comments there, you will need to click "Load more" to show your comment once posted, and the replies.

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    11. I thought I was addressing the relevant distinction that Feser is addressing.

      Unless I am misunderstanding you I do not think that is correct. And unless you think that God being good would entail just one particular world I don't think your claims would we correct.Maybe you are right that if God exists then some particular state of affairs can't be actualized but again this has nothing to with whether any real contingency is compatible with commitments of divine simplicity or not.

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  13. If God (or His action) is motivated by a reason, that reason can only be Himself. Otherwise, the reason is metaphysically prior to His action (whether the reason is necessitating or not), which means He is not metaphysically ultimate and a se. So either "manifestation of the Divine goodness" is in reality identical to God Himself, or God is a Divine Narcissist. If instead, "manifestation of the Divine goodness" is held as the effect of God's act instead of its explanation, we are back to square one, because the very question at hand involves the effects of God's act.

    The rest of the post confuses modal contingency with metaphysical contingency, and to argue the former (which is what is at issue) from the latter is a non-sequitur. When St. Thomas uses the term "non-necessary", he means metaphysical contingency (modal logic not having been invented yet). But when people claim the "world is necessary", they mean modal, and not metaphysical, necessity. So granted E is metaphysically contingent, nevertheless saying the end of Divine Goodness doesn't "need" E because it is metaphysically subsequent is just begging the question against the counterargument that Divine Goodness simply is, simpliciter, the willing of E. By analogy, 2 + 2 = 4 (ignoring arguments about the exact metaphysical status of abstracta for now) is metaphysically subsequent to God, and God doesn't "need" 2 + 2 = 4 to be true, which would make it metaphysically prior. Yet 2 + 2 = 4 is modally necessary, and is willed in all possible worlds.


    I don't claim to have the answer to the above question, but the modal dilemma still remains.

    If a necessary cause can only possibly have one effect, the effect is necessary.
    If a necessary cause can possibly have more than one effect, it is not a contrastive explanation for the actual effect.

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    1. Must contrastive explanations be logically necessitating?
      Say God chooses between world X and world Y, with X and Y being incommensurable with respect to their goods or values. If God creates X and not Y, we can explain that in virtue of the goods X had which Y lacked, and vice-versa. This would explain why God created that world, and the incommensurability between them would ensure God's freedom given that neither would necessitate God create one over the other.

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    3. ccmnxc:

      "Must contrastive explanations be logically necessitating? "

      No, not in general, but it isn't relevant here. What is meant by the term "contrastive explanation of X vs. Y" is something which, by its nature, results in X and not Y, unless impeded by something else. Clearly this can't apply to God (since He can't be impeded) unless His nature results in X and not Y, in which case X is modally necessary and Y is modally impossible.

      And evidently by the term "contrastive explanation" colloquially we mean something different, which produced a different result (even if that result doesn't obtain in all possible worlds). Thus the contingent cannot be explained by the necessary, for the necessary is absolutely, and in every way, the same across possible worlds, and therefore, if it is not different, it cannot be the explanation of any difference.


      "Say God chooses between world X and world Y, with X and Y being incommensurable with respect to their goods or values. If God creates X and not Y, we can explain that in virtue of the goods X had which Y lacked, and vice-versa. This would explain why God created that world, and the incommensurability between them would ensure God's freedom given that neither would necessitate God create one over the other."

      And this would be a fine explanation if God were a rational being like any other, where the will is distinct from the nature and the existence and the intellect. But God is simple, where all these things are absolutely identical. In a human, his existence is metaphysically prior to his valuation of the goods in X over the goods in Y, which is metaphysically prior to willing X vs. Y. (Or, if you're a voluntarist, you'll put will before intellect.) But this can't be in God, where existence, intellect, and will are identical. If His valuation is metaphysically prior to His choice, He is not simple. Moreover, even in this scenario, the "goods X has which Y lacks" is metaphysically prior to God's choice, which makes Him not metaphysically ultimate.


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  14. Have you guys read the Gaven Kerr book

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  15. Re: "The relevance of these passages to our question is this. What makes some effect E of God’s action contingent rather than necessary is not anything in God, but it is also not some third thing in addition to God and his effect E. It’s not a matter of God needing this third thing to be either present or absent in order for E to follow. Rather, the source of the contingency is just E itself. As Aquinas puts it in the passage from the Summa Theologiae, it is simply that limitation that “accompanies all created good” as such that makes God’s effects contingent. E itself, just by virtue of not being God – and thus not being pure actuality or subsistent being itself or absolute simplicity – is of its very nature going to be contingent. God doesn’t have to do anything extra to it to make it contingent, and neither does some third thing in addition to God and to E have to do anything to make it contingent."

    I found this passage very helpful. Thanks for another great post.

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  16. A couple of years ago, I came across the flipside of this argument against Divine Simplicity. An atheist was arguing that, since the Divine Essence is identical with the Divine Will, different choices would entail different essences. The choice of creating this universe would be identical with God A; the choice of creating a different universe would be identical with God B; and so forth.
    Since english is not my native language, and it usually takes me a couple of hours to write in english, I am going to transcribe the answer I gave to this atheist, which is also the answer to modal collapse argument. I hope you all can understand my core arguments, despite my bad english:


    "I am late for this debate concerning the PSR, brute facts and the nature of God. Nonetheless, I shall make some comments about The Thinker's arguments, although I have no intention of starting a new debate: English is not my native language and I don't know whether I can write about such complex issues the way I would (write) in Portuguese. Hopefully, it will be useful for the readers of this thread[...]
    First of all, I must emphasize this point: I am not going to defend the existence of God or the Thomist metaphysics. This is important, because the Thinker starts challenging the coherence of Thomism but, eventually, he raises new challenges concerning the veracity of its metaphysics. For example, when Dr. Bonnette said that God is His own sufficient reason, and His essence is to exist, someone replied by saying he should demonstrate, not only assert, this thesis. For sure, the simplicity of God's essence can be demonstrated with absolute certainty - but my only point here concerns the antinomy regarding Divine Simplicity and Divine Will.
    The Thinker does not set forth an argument for the existence of Brute Facts. Actually, his argument intends to demonstrate the (logical) contradiction between the Necessary Being and His free will. Since God's Will is His own essence, different desires would entail different essences. But this we don´t concede, because there is but one God. How is that possible? There is but one Divine Essence and, nonetheless, God may freely choose different things. Of course, whatever He wants, He wants from all eternity. However, He might have chosen differently from all eternity. God didn't have to create this universe. In fact, He didn't have to create anything whatsoever. Hence, says The Thinker, there should be many Divine Essences, because there are many objects (lesser goods) that God could freely choose. Desire A gives you God A, Desire B gives you God B and so forth. Ultimately, God would not be necessary: if His choices were not necessary, neither would be His Essence.
    The Thinker is wrong when he identifies God's essence with the acts of God. That's why his argument fails: he assumes a multiplicity of Divine Acts. But, because God is utterly simple, He knows everything in a single and necessary act, namely, the act of knowing Himself. The multiplicity of ideas does not entail a multiplicity of thoughts, because God grasps all reality in a single thought. And, because God is utterly simple, He wants everything He wants in a single and necessary act, namely, the act of willing Himself. Even if God had chosen, from all eternity, other lesser goods, He would have chosen them in the same act - the single and necessary act of willing Himself. The Thinker is wrong because he assumes that God is composed of both necessary and non-necessary acts of will. In God, the Act of Will is necessary, because it is His Essence. But He can choose different things in the same necessary act.

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    1. Strange as it may sound, this idea is coherent, because it applies to us, humans beings, and our own will. A man may want a baby in the free act of having sex - or he may only want an orgasm. A young boy could want to get married to spend all his life with the woman he loves - or he could want her father's money. It's the same free act of marriage. God, in His Omnipotence, could want different things in the same Act of Will.
      Finally, there is a sufficient reason for God's Will: bonum est diffusivum sui. Garrigou-Lagrange remembers us that, as far as the free will is concerned, a sufficient reason is a reason that, by itself, could determine the will - que de suyo la puede determinar, pero no una que de suyo la determine efectivamente, in my Spanish translation.
      The solution to the antinomy can be found in Summa Theologiae, Prima Pars, Q. 19, article 2: Whether God wills things apart from Himself.
      Objection 4: "Further, acts of will are multiplied in proportion to the number of their objects. If, therefore, God wills Himself and things apart from Himself, it follows that the act of His will is manifold, and consequently His existence, which is His will. But this is impossible. Therefore God does not will things apart from Himself."
      That's Aquinas' answer: "As the divine intellect is one, as seeing the many only in the one, in the same way the divine will is one and simple, as willing the many only through the one, that is, through its own goodness."
      That's what I have to say. I hope my bad english doesn't compromise the content of this text."

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  17. I would only add this explanation to the text I wrote a couple of years ago: there are different goods encompassed by a single act of will. In the free act of having sex, the good of physical pleasure and the good of parenthood are encompassed. That's why you can choose a baby and/or an orgasm in this very same act.
    God can will all the lesser goods in the act of willing Himself, because everything is encompassed by His Goodness.

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  18. Can't we do something about the Santi infestation? It threatens to make comboxes a lot less readable of we always have to wade through barely coherent, self-indulgent, off-topic bilge all the time. Apparently some other contributors don't value this blog enough not to feed trolls.

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    1. Feser has already addressed the issue, so your continued harping about it is a waste of time. If you don't like Santi's posts, THEN DON'T READ THEM. There, I just saved you a lot of time.

      Moreover, why don't you get a handle to set yourself apart from the host of other "Anonymous" posters? You find Santi irritating? I find your non-stop harping about Santi equally irritating. And I find your hiding behind "Anonymous" almost as irritating.

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    2. When did he address it? He asked us to stop feeding trolls, I recall. Santi is the most notorious troll ever to blight this blog. Personally I find the compulsive troll feeders, of which you are one of the worst, almost as irritating as the trolls. It is extremely selfish behavior. Logorrheic trolls, by their nature spread their nonsense far and wide. Thanks for helping them out.

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    3. Thank you Bill. I appreciate you.

      As to Anonymous, I am a person, not an infestation.

      And Feser has addressed books to atheists, so I think this is why he lets me visit and engage on occasion. He also appears to believe on principle in free speech, and I appreciate him for that.

      I wouldn't even have tried to learn about Thomism but for Feser and his engagements with atheists--so he has done good for me.

      And until today, I haven't dipped into a thread here for a week. I bypassed the last one, and I'm completely on point in this thread (not off topic).

      My present perspective on this thread topic is simply this: God is metaphysically free (nothing makes God do anything save God himself; his necessity is determined from within, not from without; he has his own inner logic). But because God in his nature is good, it follows that God is not free in any modal sense to ever abandon a world or a person he has created to evil. Not ultimately.

      God could no more create a world that ends unredeemed than God could create a world where 2+2=4 doesn't work. In all possible worlds, a supremely good God always necessarily redeems that world maximally at some point. He is not free to sideline himself with "Cambridge properties" forever, his nature remaining in tact. Not if he's good.

      This restriction on God's freedom, grounded in his inner nature as good, is thus best illustrated by thinking about hard cases (Auschwitz, eternal hell, etc.), not easy ones.

      Family adoption (Feser's example) is an easy case, where discretion and taking to the sidelines can be considered morally neutral and grounded in local circumstances; in what's "befitting" (Feser's word).

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    4. Well dons Bill, for giving such succor to a troll.

      You are a troll, Santi. If you want to be addressed disrespectfully then don't treat the blog and everyone on it, first and foremost Feser, disrespectfully by trolling us. If you don't want to be a troll, start by posting on topic and not such awful sophistry. The topic of this blog post is not the problem of evil, which itself is not to be argued over only by emotional appeals knit together by sophistic nonsense.

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    5. Begging the question won't do.

      If you want to help atheists/agnostics like me understand why Auschwitz is not pertinent to the question of God's freedom of action--why God is not compelled at some point to make right to Jews what happened to them at Auschwitz--then simply correct my premises.

      A supremely good God is never metaphysically compelled to make a cosmos, but once God does make one, it seems clear that he is modally compelled in all possible worlds to have to set it right perfectly at some point--or else we should absent the concept of "supreme good" from God. What am I missing?

      Please recall that this whole debate started with philosopher Ryan Mullins posing the question about God's freedom to confer grace (or not). The answer is a huge deal in relation to the problem of evil because withholding grace traditionally implies that God is willing to abandon a person to torture for eternity. So surely Feser's word "befitting" is the wrong way to approach so grave a question. There is nothing befitting--appropriate to the occasion--about Auschwitz or the torture of people for eternity. And if that's the case, then God's good, merciful nature implies that he must of necessity, in all possible worlds, ultimately make right every creation event that goes wildly awry--including me.

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    6. Hi Santi,

      You are right that the problem of evil is connected to the question of simplicity, but so too is every question relating to the study of God, so those who are annoyed have some sense. On the other hand, it seems you aren't a troll.

      I think you are well-advised to consult the standard arguments about theodicy. Principally, you must realize that there is no "moral analysis" of God, as there is for creatures. So your attempts at measuring the actions of God by your own specific idea of what "should" be done by God are, while understandable, wrongheaded. Rather, you must see that goodness is the appetitive perception of BEING, and since God is the Supreme Being, the One Whose very nature it is TO BE, He is the source of Goodness. So your methodology is backwards... What God does is good, necessarily, simply because God does it. This does NOT mean that creatures have license to allow whatever God allows - our ontological state urges us to act in particular ways which accord with our nature as vegetal, animal, and social beings with finite teleological ends, in addition to a supernatural and "infinite" end of Beatitude... This is how WE, as creatures created by God, reach back toward Him, the ultimate Good. As for the experience of evil, the fundamental principle is that God draws good out of it in some way, even if that is not evident to us - and even if that is simply the opportunity to abandon sinful attachments, or even merely inordinate attachments, to the finite and temporal world and cling to Him instead. The Christian message is singularly helpful in the matter, as we say that God Himself entered into the same sufferings that all men endure, and in their extreme at that.

      I hope that helps. But others are right, this is probably not the right place for this discussion. In the meantime, you might try familiarizing yourself with Aquinas on Divine Goodness for a primer on these issues. The second through sixth Questions in the First Part of the Summa Theologica would be the place to go.

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    7. Yes, he is a troll. Just asked anyone who remembers the first time he came here. I note most of those who compulsively feed him and even defend him weren't around then. He was worse even than SP, if you can believe it. Yes, he has improved, but the signs are still there that he is the old Santi, and if he is encouraged, we will likely all regret it. He still posts too much. And he still doesn't bother, or is unable to, argue properly. He thinks he discerns some vague similarity between the topic at hand and his own self-indulgent, emotivist ramblings, when anyone who thought for a second would notice that the links being asserted were sophistic. Perhaps he will continue to improve, but we should all be very cautious in feeding him before then, as it is likely he will relapse if we indulge him too much. I recall even at his worst he would sometimes begin with almost lucid, rather concise posts, but it wouldn't take much of an exchange for him to get to his logorrheic, silly standard.

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    8. CRS:

      Thank you for your very clear explanation. It's exactly the kind of explanation that helps clarify for me the Thomistic position. I wish we could go to coffee! You sound very thoughtful and patient. And I don't think you could have said it better.

      I will do the homework you recommend. I am not incorrigible. I'm genuinely interested, as I assume you are interested in how an atheist/agnostic processes what you are saying.

      My first response (if you'll permit me one before doing the homework) is that your definition of "good" sounds problematic--and even--forgive me--Orwellian.

      What I hear you saying is that being is good, so God, being maximally existent, is maximally good.

      I mean no offense, but this sounds like a rationalization or bait-and-switch on the word "good" so that one can attach it to God, making "good" part of God's simple and necessary being.

      Such a definition could amount to a weakly screwed in baggage hook. If it fails, a lot fails.

      Or, as you put it: "goodness is the appetitive perception of BEING, and since God is the Supreme Being, the One Whose very nature it is TO BE, He is the source of Goodness."

      I'm not saying you are wrong to define "goodness" in this manner, but it strikes me as a controversial premise, to say the least.

      At minimum, it seems to me that the predicates of being (whether something is pleasant or unpleasant) condition whether we actually desire the appearance of being. Appearance, all by its lonesome, would not be desired.

      It's hard to imagine longing for a supreme being that isn't good for reasons other than just maximally existing.

      What thus comes to mind for me in such a definition is Mel Brooks: "It's good to be the king!"--but with the trope, "It's good to be (maximally)!" By such logic, Mel Brooks, so long as he is king, cannot help but be "good" as a metaphysical prior. There would be nothing he could do that wouldn't make him "not good" because being (king) itself is defined as good--and being "maximus" is maximally good.

      But this--again, forgive me--abuses the word "good" if it's narrowed to that.

      So I really think it's very problematic for you to write, "you must realize that there is no 'moral analysis' of God, as there is for creatures."

      Then why deploy the (morally loaded) word "good" to God at all?

      I wonder if you believe that God's goodness as you've defined it actually tracks well with the place Spinoza arrived at. Spinoza strikes me as someone who gave up on trying to square God's existence with (as Einstein put it) "the fate and the doings of mankind."

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    9. Santi,

      I think one problem is that you are assuming God's being Goodness itself because of being Existence Itself is an impersonal idea of "goodness" that seems equivocal when compared to what us humans typically understand as being good, loving, and so on. But that is not so. The thomist gives an account of how our common understanding of the good - and all its relations to love, to pleasure, to bliss, beauty, and so on - actually can be found in, and derive from, the transcendental idea of Goodness as Being. There are arguments for that, and if it nevertheless seems weird to you, you are at least invited to think of it as a mystery of some sort, albeit one about which we can understand to a certain level. Truth is also ultimately Being itself, as Truth is correspondence with what is Real, and what is Real is Being, Existence. But Truth is also inherently Good, and hence always desirable qua truth for us rational beings, so even there we can see a glimpse of the identification between Good and Being.

      The gooness of God as Being Itself is not some impersonal concept that is completely removed from standard notions of value, goodness, love, etc. It *is* loving, and in fact our own goodness ultimately derives from it. And it is its loving character that is even established in cosmological arguments when followed to their logical terminus - why does contingent reality exist? Because a necessary being creates it. But why does the necessary being create? Here Leibniz, Aquinas, et al saw that we needed an answer that involved a concept of value, of goodness. And Aquinas answers, following Pseudo-Dyonisius, that God/the necessary being creates because the Good is naturally diffusing, and so creation is a work of love, of gift. It wasn't necessary, but it was fitting enough with the nature of the Supreme Being, because that which is Good is inclined to be diffusive in some way, to share its love, to share its being.

      So the thomistic view of goodness qua being is not orwellian. You could nevertheless think it mysterious or strange, but do realize that it has explanations and it does ultimately relate to standard concepts of love, beauty, goodness, etc. This becomes especially clear in Christianity, also.

      Theodicy is a whole subject in itself, and as CRS pointed out the idea is that God is somehow able to bring good out of evil He may allow. And here there are soul-building hypotheses available, Collins's connection-building theodicy, there are theological theodicies which are based on God Himself suffering alongside us and for us, etc. And there is also mystery - a theist could in principle claim to not really know how to answer the problem of evil, granting there can be an answer beyond his ken, and even that in this case evil might lower the probability of a good God. But nevertheless he can persist in rational belief, for he has even stronger reasons for believing in a good God, reasons which can overpower the problem of evil.

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    10. Atno:

      What you're saying is fascinating and thoughtful. It tells me how your system builds out if you can indeed make plausible connections between being qua being and love, the good, the true, and the beautiful.

      I am open minded to the possibility that these might have meaningful analogies to God in the usual senses of these words, but I do think that your thesis has to run through the gates of Auschwitz as a particularly hard case, and I think the only way to do that is to posit a future reparation by God, somehow, to the Jews who were victimized--meaning some sort of hope for a universal redemption (ultimately wiping every tear from every eye, etc.). I don't think it can be had by positing that God makes a greater good come into being out of the sacrifice of these people; that the Holocaust happened of necessity to arrive at some greater future good. To the contrary, I think God's goodness is on the line if he doesn't right grave wrongs in the future.

      The cosmos strikes me as ultimately botched, monstrous, and amoral absent a Second Coming (redemptive hope), and absent that hope, the furthest I could ever get, theism-wise, is Spinoza (who abandoned theodicy altogether, but not belief in God).

      If you have a book you think is particularly good at linking love, etc. to ultimate being in a plausible way, feel free to share.

      One thing that has long tripped me up about becoming a theist is that I wouldn't want to fool myself, projecting love onto God out of desire that God be loving. Spinoza had the saintly constitution to love God without the expectation of love in return. I'm not sure I'm capable of that. That's a very difficult path. : )

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    11. Hi Santi,

      The fact that you keep pointing to the 1940’s is problematic by itself. The “level” of badness should be totally irrelevant to the question. Also realize that subjective desire does not suffice for a definition of goodness... Many people want incompatible things, some trivial and some not. Who has the correct desires? Our answer involves an order coming from and going toward God. And not Spinoza’s soup-god.

      You should simply engage with the material already suggested. I think some of Feser’s work which introduces thomistic metaphysics could be helpful as well.

      I don’t think it’s appropriate to continue about this here - it really is thread jacking - so I will duck out. Happy reading.

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    12. Santi, the main problem with your posts, apart from the number of them, is that when you say things like this, " I do think that your thesis has to run through the gates of Auschwitz as a particularly hard case", you don't mean that you see a well-developed, rational link. What you have is vague intimations and leaps, not close reasoning connecting just about all of your points.

      It is almost as if someone writing about epistemology were to reason, knowledge is the light of the mind, general relativity has helped teach us a lot about light, the scientist who discovered the theory of relativity was Jewish, and Jews are famous for overbearing mother-in-laws. So overbearing mother-in-laws are essential to epistemology. You reason through emotivist free association, not through any means likely to contribute to meaningful discussion.

      It is just wasting everyone's time, including your own. It wouldn't matter so much if you kept this to one or two posts every half dozen threads, but can you do that? Or you could, for your sake and ours, take the time to at least try to reason in a proper way. Perhaps study some critical thinking and formal logic introductions before reading anything else on philosophy.

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    13. I do believe that God will offer salvation and perfect happiness and love - the very idea of heaven - to all, especially those who suffered the most. That is also part of my own accepted theodicy. I don't think it has to be universal in the sense that every single person *must* be saved, however, because I think there is an element of freedom involved - people are still free to reject God's offers, in the end. And it could be that some people really are so wicked as to reject that - if some people were so wicked as to plan and carry out the Holocaust, then it could be that some people are so wicked as to insist on rejecting all prospects of goodness, love and redemption. I don't think the victims of the holocaust would reject heaven, though. In any case, God will persistently try to save everyone. And it is only logical if, following the Christian story, He was willing to go to the extremes of suffering to live intimately with us and give us hope of love and victory over evil and death. I think Heaven and God's plan of salvation is part of most theists' theodicy, in fact. Certainly it is true of most Christian theodicies.

      I can understand not wanting to project love onto God out of a mere desire that God be loving, but I really think that we have strong reasons for believing God is loving. Besides the Thomistic views and arguments to the effect that Being is Truth and Goodness, it seems to me that the traditional arguments really do point not only to an ultimate ground of existence, but one which is loving and good. It is, as I said, the best explanation for why the Necessary Being would create anything at all in the first place - love; the fact that, as Pseudo-Dyonisius says, it is in the nature of the Good to be diffusive and giving. The great Bernard Lonergan puts it like this, when seeking for an explanation of being: that while the creation of the contingent universe cannot be necessitated, it also cannot be arbitrary, for what resulted arbitrarily from the Necessary Foundation would be a mere matter of fact with no explanation. "But what is neither necessary nor arbitrary yet intelligible and a *value*, is what proceeds freely from the nature of a rational consciousness". To truly answer Aristotle's, Aquinas's, Leibniz's, Clarke's, and Spinoza's question of why there is something rather than nothing, we will ultimately need not only a being of Pure Necessary Existence, but also a proposition of value, of meaning behind act so that it is not arbitrary. This is to be found in love, value, goodness. The Good which, again, has a natural tendency to be diffusive and giving.
      Other traditional arguments from Natural Theology also support God being good and loving. Such as teleological arguments: that the universe is orderly and harmonious in such a way as to allow for life and civilization, for example, points to an Intelligence which values and prefers life and civilization, which have obvious moral significance. The (many different) moral arguments also directly support the idea that the ultimate reality is moral and good.
      The well-attested phenomenon of religious experience (and specifically theistic experiences) around the world also consistently point to God being good and loving, even unconditionally so. I could mention more arguments.
      And frankly, I would find it very weird if God turned out to be devoid of love while at the same time being the ultimate origins of creature such as us, who have Love and the desire for unconditional love at the center of our being. So even intellectually speaking, I was never really attracted to Spinozism. Again, however grave the problem of evil might be, I really do think that we have stronger reasons for believing in a good and loving God, at the end of the day. Thankfully.

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    14. CRS, Atno, and Anonymous:

      I'm trying to make fewer and shorter posts, but I wanted to let you know that I did read your most recent observations. I didn't just disappear.

      In response to Anonymous, I understand your concern about running riot with association and metaphor. I'm not sure it applies to Auschwitz in this case because Auschwitz really does render problematic the degree of evil that the universe can possess if we are going to say that God is good in any meaningful sense. It's a reality check. A good God could have arguably made some evil, but an uncorrected evil of such magnitude as Auschwitz really can't be separated from the question of God's goodness in relation to his creation.

      I do get the impression--correct me if you think I'm wrong--that Feser thinks the cosmos can be very, very bad in human terms (unredeemed evils of all sorts, an eternal hell that really exists, etc.), and the movie can even finish out that way, uncorrected, and God still be good as a metaphysical necessity, untouched by the final circumstances and deprivations of this materially existent cosmos.

      But I would argue that Auschwitz threatens to absent the cosmos of all meaning. So when Alto writes the following, it seems to me necessary that he says survives an encounter with Auschwitz:

      "To truly answer Aristotle's, Aquinas's, Leibniz's, Clarke's, and Spinoza's question of why there is something rather than nothing, we will ultimately need not only a being of Pure Necessary Existence, but also a proposition of value, of meaning behind act so that it is not arbitrary. This is to be found in love, value, goodness. The Good which, again, has a natural tendency to be diffusive and giving."

      It's not just that we have to move toward God in these ways, but God has to move toward us.

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    15. What you are talking about, as you have been told many times, is the problem of evil. It isn't directly relevant to this blog post, again as you have been told. Nor would banging on again and again in an emotivist fashion about encountering Auschwitz be a good way of arguing about the problem of evil itself. We all know there are grave evils in the world. The question is whether or not a good, all-powerful God can allow this. There are actual arguments put forward by theists to answer in the affirmative. What does the work in your claims is entirely emotivist appeals, not reasoned argument. So, here's an idea. Firstly, wait for a blog post about the problem of evil, or at least an open-thread. Secondly, actual put forward an argument, and respond properly to theistic arguments, instead of just making emotivist assertions.

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    16. Santi,

      But as I said, I do believe God will move toward us. It is definitely open for the theist - and not just open, but very likely, given the very idea of God's goodness and compassion. Hence why many philosophers also recognize that if God exists, then life after death is also real, for God to reward and redeem the good and those who suffer unjustly, etc.

      And in particular, it is part of Christianity. In fact Christianity goes even further, as it posits not only that God offers us all salvation and wants to right all wrongs, but that He willingly chose to share in our suffering - to go through all our pains alongside us, experience what we do - in the process. Definitely something to keep in mind.

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    17. Atno and Anonymous:

      I of course agree with you, Atno, that if God exists he must necessarily "move toward us" in various important ways, correcting--if not now, then in an afterlife--the wrongs (such as Auschwitz) that at present seem incoherent with the claim that this cosmos is the product of a good deity.

      By contrast with your view and mine, Feser seems to suggest that God is always already, a priori, perfectly good--and perfectly realized as good--and thus has no formal necessity at work in himself that compels him to right wrongs in this cosmos. Not now. Not at any time.

      Because I cannot bracket Auschwitz from such a claim concerning God's freedom and goodness, it appears that Anonymous takes me to be an "emotivist" as opposed to a reasonable person.

      But actually, I'm just arguing for God's necessity: God is not free to fail to correct Auschwitz at some point--or to confer grace upon all. They don't fit the inner logic of a supremely good being.

      Spinoza was a reasonable person--and in the rationalist tradition of philosophers from Aquinas to Leibniz--and I'm quite sure that he would agree with my reasoning here. But instead of an expectation of wrongs righted in the future, Spinoza would conclude that teleology and theodicy should be dropped from the rationalist quest.

      This is why, if one is going to insist on maintaining God is good and has purposes for history, I coined the term "Auschwitz properties." What are God's "Auschwitz properties" (his relational properties to Auschwitz)?

      I would guess that a theist like yourself would say that among God's Auschwitz properties is a willingness and power to correct the wrong. Absent this correction, it could be evidence of God's lack of "goodness." God would seem in need of paying reparations at some point for Auschwitz. Eternal hell poses the same problem as Auschwitz. The logic of God as "supremely good" would seem to compel him ultimately to enact universal salvation.

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  19. Can we get back on topic? I really feel that the Problem of Evil, in whatever form it is cast, needs a thread of its own.

    The topic is whether Divine Simplicity entails a modal collapse. Feser claims to have proved that it does not, but his arguments fail. But just because his arguments fail does not, in turn, prove the modal collapse. Arguments of the form Mullins makes either involve a premise which is not entailed (as least as far as we know) by Divine Simplicity or else a modal fallacy.

    The problem is not solved merely by saying that every created being is "contingent" (not the modal meaning of the term, but in the sense of not metaphysically ultimate), or that multiple things can be willed in a single act of will. A metaphysically contingent being doesn't derive its principle of existence from itself but from something else, true; that doesn't prove anything about its modal status (that "something else" might, for all we know, exist in all possible worlds). Sure, multiple things can be willed in a single act of will but that says nothing whatsoever about the relevant question of whether an act of will is intrinsically different from another one if a different set of objects is willed.


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    1. Vince: You wrote that "the relevant question" is "whether an act of will is intrinsically different from another one if a different set of objects is willed."

      I'm a Quentin Tarantino fan, and he has just made a film in which Sharon Tate lives instead of dies.

      Tarantino willed to make this film. It came out of the inner logic of what it means to be Tarantino to make this film and not another one. It was consequential enough to him to make it.

      So if I made a search of all possible worlds, this film would have to be among Tarantino's films in each and every one of them--or the one in which it was missing wouldn't be a Tarantino world. It might be a world belonging to some other god (director), but not this god of film making (Tarantino).

      But Tarantino's Sharon Tate film is essential. Its very existence tells us that it was important to Tarantino--to the inner logic of his being--that it exist.

      Tarantino is his filmography. If the Sharon Tate film was absent in a possible world I visited, I could wait around to see if the film finally got made in that world, but if it never got made, that would tell me that Tarantino was absent from that world.

      How could this film not be essential to Tarantino's being?

      By way of analogy to God, to me this manner of looking at Tarantino's relation to his Sharon Tate film suggests that Spinoza, not Aquinas, is probably correct: The world that actually exists is necessary and inextricable from the inner logic of God. (At minimum its most important components, if perhaps not every fine detail, as Spinoza posits.)

      What say you?

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    2. @ Vince S.

      A metaphysically contingent being doesn't derive its principle of existence from itself but from something else, true; that doesn't prove anything about its modal status (that "something else" might, for all we know, exist in all possible worlds).

      The more I learn about the "possible worlds" idea, the more certain I am that it is not at all a well-defined term (using "well-defined" as the math world uses it), and furthermore it cannot be well defined. The whole universe of "possible worlds" terminology and logic rests on a foundation no better than rumors about quicksand.

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    3. A metaphysically contingent being doesn't derive its principle of existence from itself but from something else, true; that doesn't prove anything about its modal status (that "something else" might, for all we know, exist in all possible worlds)

      I am wondering how would this work within a Thomistic account of modality?

      It seems it is impossible for something that is contingent, so an act/potency
      and essence/existence composite, to exist in every possible world. I can't think of a way you would account for Pure Act being compelled to cause or give rise to a composite of this kind.

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  20. Tony,

    A "possible world" is simply a logically and metaphysically compossible hypothetical set of things including objects, facts, and so on. It's how the world might have been.

    Coconuts,

    The answer is that it would be simply the nature of Pure Act to give rise to a composite of that kind, and that God must act in accordance with His own nature does not mean He is being "compelled".

    To claim that that is not the nature of Pure Act would be to claim that we can understand such nature, and we can't.

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    1. Yeah. There is nothing problematic with possible worlds semantics, it is in fact very useful for thinking about modal logic and such. It is a completely different question from what possible worlds REALLY are - that is, if they could be treated as platonic states of affairs or properties, or if (following Aristotelian intuitions) they are grounded in real things. In the later case, possible worlds being what they are, I think they'd have to be grounded in a divine mind.

      Pruss has a whole book about this. Actuality, Possibility and Worlds.

      People here should always remember that, no matter how much you've studied already, you can always benefit from reading more Pruss. Pruss is never enough.
      Jokes aside, seriously, Pruss's writing explicitly deals with a lot of issues that keep popping up in comments here: how to avoid modal collapse while simultaneously maintaining contrastive explanations; how to make sense of possible worlds; PSR and free will; etc.

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    2. The answer is that it would be simply the nature of Pure Act to give rise to a composite of that kind, and that God must act in accordance with His own nature does not mean He is being "compelled".

      I don’t think this can apply to Pure Act. We know enough about it to know that it doesn’t have a nature such that it needs to act to fulfil its nature by creating imperfect beings. But this seems to be the claim being made when saying that it must produce composites in every possible world.

      Also, being Pure Act would involve manifesting a perfect will and a collection of imperfect composite beings could not be the object of a perfect will when infinite perfect being exists. The perfect being will necessarily be the object of the will.

      To claim that that is not the nature of Pure Act would be to claim that we can understand such nature, and we can't.

      To claim that it is the nature of Pure Act to produce a particular collection of composites seems like a claim to understand the nature of Pure Act.

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    3. "We know enough about it to know that it doesn’t have a nature such that it needs to act to fulfil its nature by creating imperfect beings. "

      But that's exactly what we don't know.

      "To claim that it is the nature of Pure Act to produce a particular collection of composites seems like a claim to understand the nature of Pure Act. "

      Which is why I am not claiming it.

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    4. We do know that Pure Act has no potency, its essence isn't definable and that its activity is not ordered towards the actualisation of final causes.

      Something like that is a creature.

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    5. Coconuts:

      "[I]ts activity is not ordered towards the actualisation of final causes." Are you thinking of Spinoza when you speak this way?

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