Tuesday, August 20, 2019

A further reply to Mullins on divine simplicity (Updated)


UPDATE 8/25: David Mahfood replies to Mullins at Eclectic Orthodoxy.  I've got a couple of followup posts, here and here.

UPDATE 8/24: Brandon Watson and John DeRosa also respond to Mulllins.

UPDATE 8/21: Look out!  The Scotist Meme Squad has entered the fray.

At Theopolis, Ryan Mullins has now replied to those of us who had commented on his essay criticizing the doctrine of divine simplicity.  (The other commenters were Peter Leithart and Joe Lenow.)  What follows is a response to what he has to say in reply to my comments on the essay, specifically.

Mullins’ main argument

In his original essay, Mullins had in a discursive way explained what he takes the doctrine of divine simplicity to be and how it relates to the notions of divine freedom, grace, and God’s necessary existence.  Along the way he set out a sixteen step argument intended to show that divine simplicity cannot be reconciled with divine freedom.  In his latest essay, Mullins complains that “it is not clear that my dialogue partners have adequately attempted to engage with the argument,” so he repeats the argument again – this time by setting the sixteen steps off by themselves without the surrounding material, for clarity’s sake.  As he did in his original essay, Mullins challenges his critics to identify which premise, specifically, they reject.

Now, Mullins writes:

My dialogue partners have not been entirely forthcoming about which premises they reject.

For example, consider Edward Feser’s reply.  Feser comments on my argument from divine simplicity to the necessary existence of the world.  This is curious because none of the premises in my argument even mention the necessary existence of the world.  This leaves me to wonder if Feser read my original essay closely

End quote.  But in fact, as anyone can easily verify by going back and reading my original reply to Mullins, I did explicitly identify the premise I reject – namely premise (9), which says “All of God’s actions are identical to each other such that there is only one divine act.” 

I also fail to see why it is “curious” that I “comment[ed] on [Mullins’] argument from divine simplicity to the necessary existence of the world.”  Was I supposed to ignore what Mullins said about that topic in his original essay simply because the phrase “necessary existence of the world” doesn’t appear in any of the sixteen steps of his more formal argument?

I did, in any event, make it clear in my original essay why I presented my objection to Mullins in the way that I did.  In his sixteen-step argument, Mullins emphasizes God’s freedom to refrain from giving grace, specifically, but in fact there is nothing special about that example vis-à-vis the controversy over divine simplicity.  God’s freedom with respect to giving grace is just a special case of his freedom with respect to any of his acts, such as creating the world, causing miracles, sending prophets, etc.  What all these effects of divine action have in common is that they are contingent.  Hence if the doctrine of divine simplicity implies that these effects are necessary, then it seems the doctrine also implies that divine action is not really free after all.

The way to block this outcome is, again, to reject Mullins’ premise (9).  Now, what is wrong with that premise, as I explained in my original reply to Mullins, is that it ignores what Barry Miller calls the distinction between real properties and Cambridge properties (where, as I there hinted in a footnote, this echoes Aquinas’s distinction between real relations and logical relations).  Mullins writes:

To be fair to Feser, he does at least attempt to identify which premise in the argument that he rejects. Feser says,

Now, what the doctrine of divine simplicity claims—contrary to what Mullins supposes (in what he labels premise (9) of his argument)—is not that all of God’s properties are identical and thus are necessary as he is, but rather that all of his real properties are.

Feser then goes on to say that he rejects premise (9) because of a distinction between real properties and Cambridge properties.  According to Feser, God is identical to His real properties, but God is not identical to His Cambridge properties.

I find this reply from Feser curious for several reasons. 

End quote.  Mullins sure finds a lot of things “curious.”  Well, here’s something I find curious: that Mullins at first accuses me of having “not been entirely forthcoming” about which of his premises I reject, and then in the next breath conceding that in fact I identified premise (9) as the problem.  Go figure.

Anyway, Curious Ryan’s first complaint is that:

[I]t is curious because my premise (9) does not even mention the word property.  What my premise (9) actually says is, “All of God’s actions are identical to each other such that there is only one divine act.”  My actual premise (9) is something that proponents of divine simplicity explicitly endorse.  By this one act, God is said to will Himself and everything else that He has made.  Moreover, I intentionally avoided any mention of properties in the premises of my argument.  I avoided this because, as I explained in my original essay, proponents of divine simplicity explicitly deny that God has any properties, forms, immanent universals, or tropes.  As the proponent of divine simplicity, Katherin Rogers, makes clear, the simple God does not have any properties.  Instead, God is simply act.

End quote.  There are several things wrong with this.  The first is that it simply isn’t true that all proponents of divine simplicity would say that God does not have properties.  That way of talking makes it sound as if God is some sort of bare particular, and that is certainly not what the doctrine of divine simplicity claims.  What proponents of divine simplicity would all say is that God does not have any real properties that are distinct from the divine substance.

In any event, the word “property” is used by different philosophers in different ways, so before one makes sweeping claims about what “proponents of divine simplicity explicitly deny” one had better get clear on exactly how this or that proponent uses the term.  Now, as Mullins surely knows, the word “property” is commonly used in a very loose way by contemporary analytic philosophers, to mean just any old thing you might predicate of something.  To be sure, this is definitely not my own preferred usage, since the term has a much narrower technical sense in Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics.  But it is, again, a common usage among analytic philosophers.  Since analytic philosophers of religion are Mullins’ own main audience, since Miller (who I was citing) uses the term in this way, and since I had a word limit and didn’t have space in my essay to get into an explanation of the various uses of the term “property,” I decided for expository purposes to acquiesce to the common analytic philosopher’s usage. 

Now, Mullins surely realizes that that is how I intended to use the word “property” in my essay.  But given that broad sense of the term, it is quite obviously false to say that defenders of divine simplicity deny that God has “properties.”  On the contrary, defenders of divine simplicity typically hold that God has lots of “properties” in that broad sense of the term – omniscience, omnipotence, perfect goodness, and so forth.  To be sure, defenders of the doctrine also say that God’s omnipotence is his omniscience, which is his perfect goodness, and so on.  So they would say that God’s “properties,” in this broad sense of the term, are identical.  But to say that is very different from saying that he doesn’t have “properties” in the broad sense.

Now, in this broad sense of the term “properties,” God’s actions would also be “properties” of God.  Hence the distinction between real properties and Cambridge properties is obviously relevant to evaluating Mullins’ premise (9), because we need to know whether the divine actions Mullins focuses on (such as giving grace and creating the world) are real properties or Cambridge properties – again, in the broad sense of “properties” used by analytic philosophers.  And again, Mullins surely has to realize that this is what I meant.  Mullins’ book on the divine nature is in a series devoted to analytic theology, and it cites Miller in its bibliography, so the usage cannot be unfamiliar to him.  So, Mullins’ heavy going about my reference to “properties” seems to me to amount to mere quibbling and kicking up dust.  All very curious, as Mullins would say.

Anyway, here’s the payoff.  When we get clear on the terminological issues, it is manifestly false to claim, as Mullins does, that his premise (9) “is something that proponents of divine simplicity explicitly endorse.”  For, to use Miller’s language, defenders of divine simplicity claim only that God’s real properties are identical to each other, not that his Cambridge properties are.  Hence any divine action that amounts to a Cambridge property is not one that the defender of divine simplicity will identify with the divine nature.  And that is exactly what is going on with properties like “being creator of the world” and “being the source of grace.”  They are Cambridge properties.  So, the problem with Mullins’ premise (9) is that it is too sweeping.  Once one restricts the premise to God’s real properties, the revised premise will be true, but then the rest of Mullins’ argument will no longer go through.  In particular, it will no longer follow that God’s act of giving grace is identical to God and thus as necessary as he is.  And thus it will not follow that that act is not free.

Mullins tells us that a second reason he finds my reply “curious” is that I seem, in his view, to be confusing his position with that of Thomas Morris, against whom I deployed Miller’s distinction between real properties and Cambridge properties in my book Five Proofs of the Existence of God.  (More precisely, Miller himself deploys this distinction against Morris – I was just citing Miller’s response to Morris in my book, rather than presenting it as my own.)  Mullins says his argument is very different from Morris’s, since Morris’s focus is on the claim that divine simplicity would make God’s creation of the world necessary.  But I have already explained why this is not a difference that makes a difference.  What is doing the work in Mullins’ argument is the claim that divine simplicity makes God’s actions, in general, necessary – the same thing that is doing the work in Morris’s argument.  The fact that Mullins focuses on the specific example of God acting to impart grace, whereas Morris focuses on the example of God acting to create the world, is irrelevant.  Hence my objection applies to Mullins’ argument no less than to Morris’s.

But Mullins’ third reason for finding my reply “curious,” he tells us, is that he does not think it really applies even to Morris’s position.  The reason, he says, is that “divine actions are intrinsic to God,” and thus cannot be Cambridge properties.  Hence my appeal to the distinction between real properties and Cambridge properties is a “category mistake” and amounts to “nothing but hand-waving.”

Well, if Mullins isn’t here waving his own hands, that’s only because he’s too busy missing the point.  To see what is wrong with his response, go back to the examples I used in my original essay to introduce the distinction between real properties and Cambridge properties.  When Socrates grows a beard, that involves the acquisition by him of a real property.  But when he becomes shorter than Plato, not because of any change he undergoes, but rather because Plato has grown taller, that involves the acquisition by Socrates of a Cambridge property.  It is, in this case, Plato rather than Socrates who acquires a real property.

Now, it is possible for something to have a Cambridge property by virtue of also having a certain real property.  To modify my example, suppose that Socrates had been Plato’s father, so that it is by virtue of his having been begotten by Socrates and inheriting Socrates’ genes that Plato eventually grew to be taller than Socrates.  Then there is a sense in which you could say that Socrates’ action, the action of begetting Plato, caused Socrates (later on) to become shorter than Plato.  Now, there is obviously a sense in which Socrates’ action of begetting is intrinsic to Socrates.  Something has to happen in him in order for the begetting to occur.  And so, something had to happen in him in order for Plato later on to grow taller, which resulted in Socrates being shorter than Plato.  But does it follow that Socrates’ becoming shorter than Plato is not a Cambridge property after all but a real one?  Of course not. 

Now in the same way, it is certainly true to say that there is something intrinsic to God himself that makes it the case that the world is created.  No defender of divine simplicity denies that.  But it simply doesn’t follow that God’s acting to create the world is not after all a Cambridge property, any more than it follows that Socrates’ growing shorter than Plato is not after all a Cambridge property.

You might characterize the situation in my revised example as Socrates acting in a way that (eventually) resulted in his becoming shorter than Plato.  But though the acting is something intrinsic to Socrates, that the acting resulted in his becoming shorter than Plato is not intrinsic to him.  Similarly, you might characterize creation as God acting in a way that resulted in the world’s existing.  But though the acting is something intrinsic to God, that the acting resulted in the world’s existing is not intrinsic to him.

You may or may not find this plausible.  But here’s the thing.  The unwary reader of Mullins’ response is likely to get the impression that my reply to him was some eccentric concoction of my own, cobbled together to rebut his novel and clever objection.  But my response is neither my own concoction nor eccentric, and Mullins’ objection is neither novel nor particularly clever.  In fact it is pretty old hat.  As I have already said, I am simply making a point made by Barry Miller, but Miller was in turn only putting a contemporary gloss on a line of argument that goes back at least to Aquinas, and that has been repeated by many Thomists since.  And all of them were responding to variations on the sort of objection Mullins gives.

The way Aquinas puts the point is, again, in terms of the distinction between a real relation and a logical relation (sometimes called a relation of reason).  A stock example is the relationship between perceiver and perceived.  If I perceive you, I bear a real relation to you.  But if you are perceived by me, you bear a logical rather than real relation to me.  Miller’s way of putting this is to say that by virtue of perceiving you, I have a real property, whereas by virtue of being perceived by me, you have a merely Cambridge property. 

Now, Aquinas’s view is that by virtue of being created by God, the world bears a real relation to him, whereas by virtue of creating the world, God bears a merely logical rather than real relation to it.  Miller’s way of putting this is to say that the world’s being created by God is a real property of the world, whereas God’s creating the world is a Cambridge property of God.  (When replying to Mullins, I decided to use Miller’s formulation because I supposed it would be less likely to be misunderstood by readers more familiar with analytic than with Thomistic jargon.  Silly me.)  One wonders whether Mullins is even familiar with this traditional Thomistic position.  If he isn’t, that would explain the, er, curious circumstance that Mullins at one point actually tries to employ Aquinas against my objection – an objection I borrow, by way of Miller, from Aquinas.

Anyway, the point is this.  The Aquinas-Miller position is not some obscure or incidental aspect of the debate over divine simplicity.  It is a standard part of it, certainly among Thomists, and has been for centuries.  Mullins does nothing to refute this position.  All he does is make assertions of precisely the kind the Aquinas-Miller position claims already to have answered.  So, while Mullins seems to think he has made some devastating new objection against divine simplicity, in fact he hasn’t advanced the discussion one inch beyond where Aquinas left it in the thirteenth century.  Maybe the Aquinas-Miller position is wrong (though obviously I don’t think it is), but if so, Mullins certainly has done nothing to show that it is.

Analogy and dire consequences

Mullins has some equally anticlimactic things to say in response to my remarks about analogy.  He writes:

I am not entirely sure what the doctrine of analogy does for divine simplicity with regards to my argument.  Can analogical predication somehow remove a contradiction like “God is free and God is not free.”  No.  Classical theists are quite clear that God cannot be free if His actions are performed of absolute necessity.  No amount of analogical predication can make God’s free actions consistent with those actions being performed of absolute necessity.  Can analogical predication somehow make God’s contingent and necessary actions identical?  Of course not.  No amount of analogical predication can make necessity and contingency mean something completely different so as to remove the contradictions that I have pointed out.  I think what Feser is really working with is equivocation.

End quote.  Well, this is – one more time, everyone, all together – all very curious.  First, there can be no mystery about why I brought up analogy in my earlier essay, because I explicitly said why.  The reason was that in his own earlier essay, Mullins had made some glib and sweeping remarks to the effect that proponents of divine simplicity resort to “cheap” appeals to mystery, and in particular to “mysterious language.”  I was pointing out that this is an unjust characterization, because what they actually appeal to is the notion of the analogical use of terms.  This notion is neither particularly mysterious nor cheap.  It is a familiar part of both ordinary and scientific discourse, is motivated independently of any concerns about divine simplicity, and has been worked out in theoretical detail.

Second, and as should go without saying, Mullins is attacking some pretty crude straw men in this paragraph.  No defender of divine simplicity holds that God is both free and unfree, or that something can be both contingent and necessary in the same respect.  So, naturally, no defender of divine simplicity appeals to analogy in order to defend such absurd claims.

Mullins, once again, has nothing new or of interest to say here, and the other remarks he makes about analogy are just bare assertions that defenders of divine simplicity have heard and answered many times.

Finally, Mullins comments on the classical theist view, which I endorsed in my earlier essay, that to deny divine simplicity entails denying the ultimacy and uniqueness of God, and thus entails atheism.  He characterizes this as a “slippery slope” argument that “assume[s] an elaborate set of metaphysical theories that a Christian does not have to affirm in order to articulate a biblical doctrine of God.”  He then goes on to mention several of the relevant metaphysical claims, and to tell us that he finds each of them “implausible.”  He suggests that classical theism and atheism are not the only options, and he is dismissive of the classical theist’s claim that the further options reduce God to something merely superhuman but still creaturely.

Of course, these are all just more bare assertions, and question-begging ones at that.  For example, the classical theist would not agree that the relevant metaphysical considerations need not be affirmed in order to defend the biblical conception of God.  But what is really curious (whoops, said it again) is that Mullins ignores the main reasons I brought up the dire consequences in question in the first place.  In his initial essay, Mullins had given the impression that the doctrine of divine simplicity is merely the bizarre obsession of theologians too enamored of some obscure philosophical ideas, and irrelevant to anything of specifically Christian or biblical concern.  This is a common rhetorical ploy among critics of the doctrine.  And I was pointing out that in fact, what motivates defenders of the doctrine is a concern to uphold the uniqueness and ultimacy of God – both of which are, needless to say, pretty central to the Christian and biblical conception of God.  I was pointing out that in fact, defenders of divine simplicity would appeal to the ultimacy and uniqueness of God precisely as the basis of positive arguments for divine simplicity.

So, my complaint was that Mullins’ original essay failed to convey what is actually at stake in the debate over divine simplicity, and thus failed to grapple with the main arguments for the doctrine.  And that failure is recapitulated in his latest essay, insofar as all he has to tell us is that he personally finds the arguments in question “implausible” and prefers other views to classical theism.  Well, we already knew that.  What we need is an actual response to the arguments.  Once again, Mullins has failed to advance the debate over divine simplicity even an inch.

163 comments:

  1. "Now in the same way, it is certainly true to say that there is something intrinsic to God himself that makes it the case that the world is created. No defender of divine simplicity denies that."

    Forgive me, but would this not imply that the created world exists necessarily?

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    1. Yeah, that passage stuck out to me as well. I'm tempted to take the approach Jeffrey Brower does and deny that God has any intrinsic volitions, so when we say that God creates/causes X, all we are saying is:
      - X exists
      - There is a causal dependency between X and God.
      - God has reason(s) for creating/causing X.

      The first two conditions are not intrinsic to God, and the third one is arguably intrinsic but not a problem if it exists in all possible worlds (assuming the reason(s) would not be necessitating). Maybe we could say that it is God's power + reasons that could be identified as the "something intrinsic" that makes it the case the world is created, and I think we'd be okay with that.

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    2. Are you suggesting that "there is something extrinsic to God himself that makes it the case that the world is created"?

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    3. What's the problem? Proponents of divine simplicity all agree that God's omnipotence, for example, is intrinsic to him, and that God creates the world by virtue of his omnipotence. That suffices to make it true that "there is something intrinsic to God himself that makes it the case that the world is created." So I don't see why that remark of mine is particularly noteworthy.

      But perhaps you are reading "makes it the case" as entailing "necessitates." But that's not what I said and not what I meant. (Again, in my example, there is something intrinsic to Socrates, namely his power to beget, that eventually results in Plato growing taller than him and thus in Socrates ending up shorter than Plato. But that doesn't entail that Socrates' begetting necessitated that outcome.)

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    4. Ryan,

      Re: "Forgive me, but would this not imply that the created world exists necessarily?"

      No, since God's action can have contingent effects that are brought into being outside of God. I explain the distinction here: www.classicaltheism.com/mullins


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    5. Are you suggesting that "there is something extrinsic to God himself that makes it the case that the world is created"?

      I see Ed already replied, so take my posts for whatever they are worth. That being, said, I would say that there is nothing extrinsic to God that in any way whatever makes or causes Him to create the world, but that His creating the world consists in God (and His reasons), the world, and the world's dependence upon Him. Thus, these things provide the necessary and sufficient conditions for the world being created, but those things extrinsic to God only make it be the case that something it created by God inasmuch as this creation consists, at least in part, in these things.

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    6. @Ed,


      When do you plan on responding to OA Police's blog posts on the Five Proofs (IIRC) you mentioned a while back?

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    7. Thank you for the reply. The relevant disanalogy I had in mind is that Socrates' power to beget Plato would be contingent, whereas God's power to create the world would be, if such is intrinsic to God, necessary.

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    8. > Now in the same way, it is certainly true to say that there is something intrinsic to God himself that makes it the case that the world is created. No defender of divine simplicity denies that."

      I think this makes sense in the broader context of the argument. There is something in God by virtue of which things exist (rather than not existing) -- the Divine actio. That is different from saying there is something in God that is different on account of the creation of the world that would not be there had God chosen not to create. St. Thomas denies that the Divine act is identical with the act of creation.

      Put differently, the actio with which God is identical is not the actio of creation. On St. Thomas' theory of operation, the actuality of a motion is in the patient, not the agent. Thus it is the operatio of X in Y if Y is actualized in some way on account of X. X must be actual in some way to bring about this change, but the actuality of the change, X's operatio, is in Y. Thus, the actuality in X is distinct from the actuality that comes to be by X's operation in Y. The latter actuality is the actuality of the operation; the former actuality imminent in X is actual whether or not the operation occurs.

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    9. "St. Thomas denies that the Divine act is identical with the act of creation." Where? He seems to say precisely that in I-45-3-1...

      What holds for normal agency and passion does not necessarily hold for creation. There is no "change" in the act of creation (see the same Article's respondeo).

      It turns out that not only does the Divine Wisdom Itself freely determine a particular relation to Its own infinite Goodness through creating this world, but that same Wisdom is three Persons. Mystery abounds in the infinite Godhead. What is clear is that God is simple act, this world is contingent and therefore not necessary absolutely, but the Divine Wisdom really orders it to God's Goodness nonetheless, making it suppositionally/relatively necessary. God's act itself is the starting point. I like Dodds' careful respect of the mystery more and more.

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    10. Well, it's not something that can be easily mistaken, give that the act of creation is not necessary and the divine act is, and there is only one act in God. Arithmetic and a familiarity with the most general lines of St. Thomas' discussion of the nature of God gets you that far.

      Anyway, De Potentia Q. 3, art. 15 comes to mind, since I was just discussing it on another post:

      > According to the Philosopher (Metaph. ix, text 16) action is twofold: one that remains in the agent, of which it is the perfection and act; such as to understand, to will and the like: the other issues from the agent into an extrinsic patient which it perfects and actuates, such as to heat, to move [motus] and the like. Now God’s action cannot be taken as belonging to this latter kind of action, because his action is his very essence, and consequently does not issue outside him. Hence it must be taken as belonging to the former kind of action which is only to be found in one possessed of intelligence and will, or also of the faculty of sense, which latter again does not apply to God, because sensation, though it does not issue into an external object, is caused by the action of an external object.

      And its pretty clear from the examples Aristotle makes at the text cited so helpfully in the interpolation: some actions create new things (building a house or weaving a basket) or modify existing things. But God's act is neither an act of making (facare) nor a change. It is more like contemplation, for it has no external term.

      Now St. Thomas doesn't deny that we can call God "creator" or attribute to him an act of creation. But when we do so, the attribution signifies nothing distinctive in God that corresponds to the attribution. If you like, God's actio, his essence, is not what makes the difference between the truth or falsity of the statement "God is the creator of the world." St. Thomas affirms just this in the article you cite.

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    11. Thomas Cothran,

      ...the former actuality imminent in X is actual whether or not the operation occurs.

      But how to explain, then, why the operation occurs if the actuality in x is exactly the same whether or not the operation occurs? It seems the operation has no sufficient cause.

      Why isn't it better just to say that God determines Himself in such a way that the operation occurs. I.e., God is a self-mover. He lacks passive potency, but not active potency. He cannot be determined by other things (i.e., has no passive potency). But he can determine Himself. He freely determines Himself from all eternity to create or not, and having done so, he cannot change. Thoughts?

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    12. Because properly self-moved movers are impossible. If God needs to be moved, he cannot be the prime mover. Not only that, but it would make God a substance-accident composite (and therefore caused, limited, etc.).

      In other words, what you are talking about could not be the creator of the universe.

      As to sufficient cause, free choice (if there is such a thing) is a sufficient reason.

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    13. T. Cothran,

      But surely you agree that there's a sense in which the will is a self-mover? So too God, then. In fact, it seems impossible to coherently think of God as freely creating without also thinking of Him as a self-mover.

      Aquinas (as you know I assume) uses language which involves God determining himself. E.g., "voluntas divina...determinat seipsam ad volitum"(Ia q19 a3 ad5) so it seems there's something to this.

      Also, it isn't clear to me how "free choice" can be the sufficient reason if the actuality in x is exactly the same regardless of whether the choice is to create or not to create. "Free choice to create" is obviously different than "free choice to not create". The difference is either on the part of God or creatures. If only on the part of creatures, then the cause of creation is creation, no?

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    14. Albinus:

      St. Thomas is unambiguous that God is unmoved, not self-moved. An unmoved mover is necessary to account for motion in the world, and St. Thomas argues self-movers don't suffice. There is no ambiguity on this point.

      As to the passage you quote, St. Thomas frequently speaks imprecisely. I've come across places where he even speaks of existence as a form! He often trusts that his readers read him in context. Even where he is not speaking imprecisely, he is often making logical distinctions, as we he speaks of God as the object of his own will or intellect, when in reality there is no distinction between willing and object willed.

      Now of course, God cannot be determined. God is infinite. But to be determined (determinat) is to be bounded. Therefore, God cannot really be determined, though we may, of course, attribute limitations through merely logical relations.

      Again, God is simple. If creating the world involved a determination in God and God could have been determined differently then God is composite and self-moving. But St. Thomas denies that there is potency in God, and he denies that movers can be properly self-moving.

      You could take almost every part of the Prima Pars to rule out that God is self-determining. He is unmoved (and therefore there is no reduction of act to potency in him), he is infinite (and therefore there is nothing he can be in addition to his nature by virtue of creating the world), he has no accidents, he is immutable, etc.

      But on top of all that, if God were self-determining, then he would have a real relation to the world. And St. Thomas denies this as we would expect him to. So there really is no interpretative issue here. There are hard issues in Thomist hermeneutics (try to disentangle the issue of operative grace, for instance). This isn't one of them.

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    15. T. Cothran,

      I don't deny that for Aquinas (and for me, for that matter) God is the Unmoved Mover. However, nothing prevents God from being the Unmoved Mover in one sense of motion (i.e., the reduction of potency to act) and of being a Self-Mover in another sense of motion (in the sense in which willing is a motion).

      As far as passive potency is concerned, God is the Unmoved Mover. But as far as active potency is concerned, there is a sense in which God is a Self-Mover, and Aquinas says as much in several places. It seems that you aren't making this distinction which explains why you are uncomfortable calling God a Self-Mover since it seems to contradict God's status as Unmoved Mover (it doesn't).

      A passive potency must be reduced to act by another. But an active potency is actual rather than passively potential. [I know you know all this, I'm just trying to articulate my point.] God's will, being Pure Active Potency (i.e., Pure Act), obviously cannot be moved by another since it has no passive potency. But, it is disposed indifferently towards creatures (i.e., It does not have to will creatures into existence). In this sense, one can talk of God moving himself to will creatures or not to will creatures. Not that God has a (passive) potency in himself that needs to be moved by another, but that His Will, by virtue of its eminence, is indifferently disposed toward creation. How else to explain how God's will chooses to create or not?

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    16. Albinus:

      You're misreading what St. Thomas says about active power. It's not actually a real potency in the agent. "... potentia activa est principium operationis in aliud ..." "... active potency is a principle of operation on another..." Sentences, d. 42, q. 1, a. 1. It is power, not potentiality as opposed to actuality. "In God there is no admixture of potentiality."


      But the details obscure the larger issue: Are you really attributing to St. Thomas the view that there is in God potentiality? That God, as he is, could have been otherwise? That God, as he is, is not what he could have been? That God, having created the world, is something in addition to what he would have been had he not done so?

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    17. "on" should be "in" there in that translation of the Sentences. If there's a way to edit comments, I apologize for the extra comment.

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    18. T. Cothran,

      As I understand it, "potentiality" = "passive potency". And, "potency" itself usually is shorthand for "potentiality" but could also in context mean "active potency" or "power", not "potentiality" as opposed to "actuality". I think we're agreed on this. (I said in previous comment that God is Pure Active Potency, i.e., Pure Act).

      No, I don't attribute to St. Thomas the view that there is potentiality in God. In that case, He wouldn't be the Unmoved Mover.

      However, there does seem to be a sense in which God is otherwise than he could have been. I.e., in the sense in which he could have willed to not create. I doubt St. Thomas himself ever uses language like "God is otherwise than He could have been" but I don't personally see any way to avoid that conclusion if God's act to create is free. The alternative it seems is to say that creation is the cause of itself.

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    19. If God could have been otherwise, that is potentiality by definition. That's what potentiality means. For any thing A that is x, but could have been y, A is in potency to x, and x is an accident. By definition.

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    20. Thomas M. Cothran - I don't find that convincing - what is the cause of creation except God's own immutable and eternal will? In fact, the next few sentences in the 4th argument (which you quote) describe this precisely: "Therefore whatsoever God does outside himself he does it as understanding and willing it . . . We must therefore hold that all creatures proceeded from God by his will and not of natural necessity."

      Here is the central problem I see pointed to by opponents on this thread: God's act of loving/knowing/being Himself is necessary absolutely, and so since creation is an effect of that act creation would also be necessary if it is identical with it. And that's wrong, and it's important to note it. It seems the solution is that God's will is in fact NOT essentially determined to some particular end/desire/object other than Himself... It is freely contemplating Himself, an infinite Good, able to create and move (by Will) any kind of lesser thing toward Him if He so wills in His Wisdom specifically on account of the infinitude of His Goodness and in virtue of His infinite Power and Goodness. We know that He does in fact will particular finite things to be ordered toward Himself, and we know that He can exist without them because He pre-exists them. Why the Divine Wisdom wants this over that (or something other than Himself at all) is not for us to peer into - I agree with Dodds on that... seems to be channeling the soliloquy at the end of Job.

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    21. CRS:

      The debate is over whether God is different in virtue of creating the world than he would be had he not created the world. Translating it into St. Thomas' terms, the question is whether the free creation of the world entails mutability, contingency, and composition in God.

      Now St. Thomas' answer is no: for naming God as the free creator of the world is a form of extrinsic denomination. That is, the difference between that predication being true or false hangs on no difference in God. God is, there is no possibility of his being otherwise. The difference hangs on whether the world exists and is caused by God. This difference is in the world, and mentally projected onto God.

      Complicating your analysis is the notion that the divine will involves some kind of wanting: "Why the Divine Wisdom wants this over that ..." St. Thomas rejects the notion of want when it comes to God. The divine will is said (intrinsically) to will himself because he possesses the Good by identity, and (extrinsically) to will other things by ordering them to himself as the ultimate final cause. Perhaps the anthropomorphic notion of will is the root cause of the confusion.

      A further problem comes up in your earlier reply: "not only does the Divine Wisdom Itself freely determine a particular relation to Its own infinite Goodness through creating this world ...". But the only real relations in God St. Thomas affirms are those of the Trinity.

      Given the clarity and frequency of St. Thomas' assertion that there is neither a real relation in God to the world nor accidents, it seems like you should just come out and say you think St. Thomas' notion of God is wrong. Trying to manipulate St. Thomas' views to a position which which they are so opposed is rather like trying to make an analytic philosopher out of Deleuze.

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    22. T. Cothran,

      I'm not sure that's quite right. Potentiality is the capacity to be changed by another. God cannot be changed by another. Therefore, there is no potentiality in Him. Further, that God is in some way different in possible world 1 (PW-1) vs possible world 2 (PW-2) doesn't imply potentiality in Him since potentiality implies the ability to be changed. God does not change in PW-1 (nor can He), nor does he change in PW-2 (nor can He). Nor is there ever a transition from PW-1 to PW-2 (nor could there be). Therefore, nothing I have said implies potentiality in God.

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    23. So on your interpretation, St. Thomas says that change does not imply potentiality? I.e., there can be change without motion?

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    24. No. Change implies potentiality in the thing that is changed. Change = motion.

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    25. So then potentiality cannot merely be "the capacity to be changed by another." If it is possible for something to change itself, that entails potentiality.

      (St. Thomas has an argument as to why there are no self-moved movers, but we can leave that aside for the moment.)

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    26. But I'm not saying that God changes Himself in the sense that he is one thing and then becomes something else. You're right, that would imply potentiality. But I'm not saying that. (I expressly denied that in previous comment.)

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    27. Albinus:

      You've invented a highly restricted definition for potentiality in order to avoid the charge of composition in God. You are trying to maintain the position that to say that it is possible for God to be otherwise than as he is is not to attribute potentiality to him.

      Now possibility is potentiality. But you said the possibility that God could have been otherwise is not a possibility because "potentiality is the capacity to be changed by another." Now you admit that being changed by another is only one form of possibility among others.

      So we're back to attributing possibility to God, and therefore composition.

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    28. Possibility and potentiality are not the same. Potentiality (again, by that term I mean passive potency, potentia passiva) is a real capacity in a real subject to be changed (or more generally I should say to receive some act not just to be changed). On the other hand, to say that X is possible is just to say that X is not a contradiction. Potentia passiva implies something in the real order. Possibility does not.

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    29. So when we say that it is possible for God to create or not create, we are not signifying anything in the real order (at least in God). And therefore there is no real difference in God between God having created and having not created. That's more or less what I've been arguing.

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    30. T. Cothran,

      Dang, now we're back to where we started...LOL.

      I'll leave it at that for now...thanks for the dialog.

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  2. Ed what do you think of Stump's defence of DS? She doesn't go the traditional Thomist route but her 'quantum metaphysics' isn't completely different

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  3. This is a good post that helps re-explain the issues in an understandable way.

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  4. If God's act of creating is intrinsic to Him, then this means the act of creating is necessary. So God necessary creates - even if the effects are contingent. Or am I missing something?

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    1. You're still missing the crucial distinction. God's action is intrinsic to him, but whether his action is *creative action* depends on contingent effects brought about outside of him. I spell this out here: www.classicaltheism.com/mullins

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    2. God's action can't "depend" on some "thing" outside of Him unless that "thing" has already been created, no?

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    3. @John DeRosa,

      But the action that is intrinsic to God IS the act of creating, as Feser says. This would seem to entail that God is necessarily creating, even if what he creates is extrinsic to Him and contingent.


      @Ryan,

      I wasn't saying that God's act of creation depended on contingent things outside Him, but that His act of creating is necessary to Him if it is intrinsic to Him, even if the extrinsic denominations of it are not.

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    4. @John DeRosa,


      To clarify my statement that God is necessarily creating; I mean that the act of creation is necessary to God, and so the act of creation is thus necessary and always was.

      It implies that God is necessarily a creator, even if not necessarily of anything contingent at all.

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    5. JoeD, I was responding to John DeRosa, not you.

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    6. @Ryan,

      Re: "God's action can't "depend" on some "thing" outside of Him unless that "thing" has already been created, no?"

      Here's what I mean: God's action should not be labeled "creative action" unless creation actually takes place outside of God. When creation by God takes place outside of God, God's action is properly called "creative action."

      @JoeD,

      Re: "But the action that is intrinsic to God IS the act of creating, as Feser says. This would seem to entail that God is necessarily creating, even if what he creates is extrinsic to Him and contingent."

      It is only properly called "the act of creating" because creation has taken place. Had creation not taken place outside of God, then God's action would not properly be called "the act of creating."



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    7. @John DeRosa,


      But this seems to make something which is intrinsic to God relatively dependent on what is outside of Him. If the act of creation that is intrinsic to God is properly so only insofar as contingent external effects are concerned, it ends up being a real relation between God and creation.

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    8. @JoeD,

      Re: "If the act of creation that is intrinsic to God is properly so only insofar as contingent external effects are concerned, it ends up being a real relation between God and creation."

      Why is that? Can you explain how it ends up being a real relation?

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    9. @John DeRosa,


      Well, if the act of creating is intrinsic to God, and if it is only properly so because creation has taken place, this would mean it is intrinsic to God yet is as such only because there is an actual extrinsic effect.

      In other words, that which is intrinsic to God is properly so only because actual contingent extrinsic effects are there, and that would imply something intrinsic to God is only properly so due to something outside Him - a thing is not merely perceived by God (logical relation), but God perceives that thing (real relation).

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    10. "God's action should not be labeled "creative action" unless creation actually takes place outside of God."

      Obviously, but the point is that creation takes place by God's action. God's action is intrinsic to Him, and, thus, God's action is necessary. Therefore, creation is necessary. Neither you nor Feser seem to touch upon this point.

      1) Anything intrinsic to God is necessary.
      2) God's action is intrinsic to God.
      3) Therefore, God's action is necessary.
      4) Creation takes place by God's action.
      5) Therefore, creation is necessary.

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    11. @JoeD,

      Re: "and that would imply something intrinsic to God is only properly so due to something outside Him"

      By properly so, I meant 'could be referred to linguistically' as such, but not in any way that results in any real changes. So, the way I see it, no real relation is implied. Sorry if I was unclear.

      @Ryan,

      Your argument commits a non-sequitur, which is similar to what Alexander Pruss points out below. (5) does not follow from (3) and (4) unless you change (4) to the following:

      (4*) Necessarily, Creation takes place by God's action.

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    12. But, I should add, the divine simplicity proponent is not committed to (4*). This is a main point of Christopher Tomaszewski's paper here: https://academic.oup.com/analysis/article-abstract/79/2/275/5062919

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    13. 1) Anything A is B.
      2) C is A.
      3) Therefore, C is B.
      4) D takes place by C.
      5) Therefore, D is B.

      Do you deny that creation is an action of God?

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    14. In both your 11:35am comment and in the ABC schema you provide, (5) doesn't follow from (4).

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    15. @Ryan,

      No, I don't deny that. But in both of your arguments, the conclusion doesn't follow.

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    16. It seems dubious to me to claim that God's creative action is intrinsic to God. Our own creative actions are not intrinsic to us, after all.

      Consider my action of making a toy car. A necessary condition for the action of making a toy car to exist is that the toy car exist (otherwise, I didn't make a toy car, but just tried to). This suggests that the action is not entirely in me: it is at least partly in the toy car.

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  5. A question I have relating to divine simplicity:

    It is typically said that creatures and created goods participate in God's goodness, and that God's simplicity accounts for the very possibility of participation. How is this participation to be viewed?

    For example, James Chastek recently posted about this, and said that Goodness is said of God per se and first, which is to say simply. Just like "reflecting all wavelengths of light" is whiteness per se and first. The problem with this is that it ends up making the goodness of created things the goodness of God, just like the whiteness of snow and a white carpet just is their reflection of all wavelengths of light.

    This would then lead to pantheism or pan-en-theism, and Aquinas himself says there is a distance between our goodness and God's Goodness, since we are good not by God's goodness. So if our goodness doesn't participate in God in this way, how does it participate?

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    1. But I responded to exactly that problem!

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    2. @James Chastek,


      I've read your response, but was a bit confused by your concession in the end that the goodness of creatures, when filtered appropriately, still ends up being the goodness of Goodness.

      And the fact the comments are closed didn't help it.

      Anyways, I take it you DO deny the idea that the goodness of creatures is just a reflection of Goodness right?

      In other words, the goodness of creatures is NOT like the light of moonlight - being in reality identical to sunlight, that is, just a reflection of it?

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  6. "If I perceive you, I bear a real relation to you."

    "...by virtue of creating the world, God bears a merely logical rather than real relation to it."

    Are those statements not contradictory? Isn't it possible to say, by virtue of perceiving the world, God bears a merely logical rather than real relation to it? Or vice-versa, if I create you, I bear a real relation to you.

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    1. When you perceive something, new information is added to you. When something is perceived by you, no "new information" is added to it. Similarly, when God "perceive" something, no "new information" is add to Him. Because there's no perfection in the thing that already doesn't exist in God. Better: That doesn't be in some grade analogous to God himself.

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    2. Thanks, B.R. And when God creates the world, no new information is added to Him.

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  7. Hi Ed,

    I'm sorry, but I think your attempt to evade the force of Mullins' objection fails badly.

    Here's the meat of what you wrote (emphases mine):

    > ... it is certainly true to say that there is something intrinsic to God himself that makes it the case that the world is created. No defender of divine simplicity denies that.

    > ... But though the acting is something intrinsic to God, that the acting resulted in the world's existing is not intrinsic to him.

    > ... Aquinas's view is that by virtue of being created by God, the world bears a real relation to him, whereas by virtue of creating the world, God bears a merely logical rather than real relation to it.

    Later, in your comments, you clarify:

    > Proponents of divine simplicity all agree that God's omnipotence, for example, is intrinsic to him, and that God creates the world by virtue of his omnipotence.

    > But perhaps you are reading "makes it the case" as entailing "necessitates." But that's not what I said and not what I meant.

    Now here's the problem I have with your position. John DeRosa, in his admirably lucid essay over at http://www.classicaltheism.com/mullins/ , writes that defenders of divine simplicity are typically committed to the following premise (which I take it you accept):

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

    DeRosa quotes Fr. Michael Dodds O.P. as declaring: "In that one act (in a way we don’t understand), God wills both his goodness and the participation of his goodness by creatures."

    And here's where the Doctrine of Divine Simplicity collapses into absurdity. A necessary act cannot have contingent effects. Simple as that.

    Think of it this way. God would have performed the same necessary act even if He hadn't decided to create the world. So to say that by one and the same necessary act, God also freely wills the production of creatures, is simply absurd.

    To appeal to mystery, as Dodds does ("in a way we don't understand") is an evasion.

    Finally, you write:

    > No defender of divine simplicity holds that God is both free and unfree, or that something can be both contingent and necessary in the same respect.

    Sorry. Something can't be both contingent and necessary, full stop.

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    1. Since contingent acts exist, necessary acts *must can have* contingent effects. The very distinction between "contingent" and "necessary" (supposing that both refers to actual realities) suppose that.
      The only problem is try to think about it in mechanistic ways.
      God creates contingent beings qua contingents, by contingent deterministic reasons, virtually existing in his Will (in other words: In Himself).
      But you can aways prefer to believe that is more "rational" beleve that contingency is only a "illusion" emerged in a "all necessary" reality, or that "necessity" is a metaphysical dream of a "all contigent" reality, where pure possibilities become real by no reason at all.

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    2. Hi Vincent,

      First, I wouldn't assume Ed would endorse any of my particular formulations. I find his essay is very clear in getting the points across. So, if you want to critique him, you should deal with the points in the terms that he uses. But I thank you for reading my blog post.

      Second, you say, "A necessary act cannot have contingent effects." Here's where I think you're missing the force of the distinction. A necessary act *can* have contingent effects if the effects are Cambridge properties.

      An imperfect illustration: Suppose it's necessary that the sun is shining on the Earth. Whether the sun shines on a plant or does not shine on a plant will depend on whether the plan is put in the sun. In other words, it involves no intrinsic alternation in the sun itself. Also, whether the plant is sunned is contingent.

      This helps motivate how a necessary act can have contingent effects.

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    3. I think you are really going after Divine freedom, not simplicity, with this objection. You say that "a necessary act cannot have contingent effects" - I think that you mean "unnecessary effects," no? Any effect is contingent... by being an effect. I think you will find that addressed adequately in the STh I-19-3 and I-25-5. The fact is that there must be a simple principle of all existing finitude, God, and those creatures are not God, thus God can exist without creatures. So any necessity is by supposition - it's necessary because God actually does will such and such, because evidently He thinks it best, but it is imaginable that things could be different.

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    4. A necessary act cannot have contingent effects. Simple as that.

      As a general matter, the effects of an act need not inherit its modal status, if you thinking that acts are specified by their objects/ends (as Aquinas does). This is why it is not at all absurd to suggest that one and the same human action might have had different effects than it did. The idea is the same in the case of creation. Its identity conditions come from its object (God).

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    5. If a necessary act cannot have a contingent effect, how are there any contingent effects at all? For then a contingent effect could only come from a contingent act, which leads to an infinite regress unless your first cause is contingent. But then on what is it contingent if it is the first cause?

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    6. Hi David,

      > If a necessary act cannot have a contingent effect, how are there any contingent effects at all?

      Short answer: the ultimate explanation for any effect (whether contingent or necessary) is not some act, but some personal Agent.

      > For then a contingent effect could only come from a contingent act, which leads to an infinite regress unless your first cause is contingent.

      An agent's acts of will don't require any further act to cause them. All they need is a reason. For more on this, see Professor Paul Herrick's excellent article, "Job Opening: Creator of the Universe—A Reply to Keith Parsons (2009)" at https://infidels.org/library/modern/paul_herrick/parsons.html (especially sections 16 and 17). Cheers.

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    7. Vincent Torley,

      You say:
      Think of it this way. God would have performed the same necessary act even if He hadn't decided to create the world. So to say that by one and the same necessary act, God also freely wills the production of creatures, is simply absurd.

      For Thomists, indeed, the act by which God wills his own goodness is identical with the act by which God wills the goodness of creatures. However, God's will is related necessarily to Himself while it is related non-necessarily to creatures (i.e., God must will his own goodness, but since he can have his own goodness without creatures, he doesn't have to will creatures). This difference in relation is what avoids the contradiction.

      You say:
      Sorry. Something can't be both contingent and necessary, full stop.

      Not in the same respect, no, but His one act wills his own goodness necessarily and the goodness of creatures contingently. This truth is simply something that follows from the nature of willing as applied to God. I.e., since God is the proper object of His will, he wills himself necessarily, but since creatures aren't necessary for God's goodness, he can freely will them or not. It's one act because it's one end (Himself). God is willing in one act both Himself and creatures insofar as they are related to Himself as to an end. Since the relation between God and Himself and between God and creatures is different, there is no contradiction.

      So I have no problem with that. What gets me is the idea that God is really the same in every respect whether or not He creates (or whether he creates one way or another). It seems to me that God must be different (really) in some way in order to explain creation vs non-creation (if we're committed to creation being non-necessary). How on earth can God cause creatures to come into being or not cause creatures to come into being, without Himself being different in at least some way? Seems impossible. And, I suspect the solution is to simply admit that yes He is different in some way if he creates or doesn't create but that somehow this difference doesn't affect his immutability. Perhaps something along the lines of distinguishing between passive potency and active potency, and showing how an active potency's freely determining itself to bring about effects doesn't imply the mutability incompatible with the First Cause.

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    8. Albinus: "And, I suspect the solution is to simply admit that yes He is different in some way if he creates or doesn't create but that somehow this difference doesn't affect his immutability."

      Well certainly he would be different in his Cambridge properties (which indeed wouldn't affect his immutability). But to address the intuitive worry more directly perhaps think of it in terms of a reductio/sorites-type argument: what if God had caused one less speck of dust to come into being; would it still be cause for great wonderment how he could be unchanged/no different in his own nature in this case? Probably no. So what about two less? Still no. What about one less ant, one less planet, one less star, one less person? What about two less? Three? .... 1000? ... 1 000 000? .... 7 000 000 000? etc. It's hard to see at what point the answer would cease to be no, at every decrement until you're down to no creation.

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    9. David McPike,

      Right, he would at least be different in terms of Cambridge properties. But it seems silly to say that a logical relation (Cambridge property) can be the reason why we have possible world 1 (PW-1) vs possible world 2 (PW-2) since this particular logical relation is itself dependent on whether PW-1 or PW-2 prevails.

      Interesting asymptotic approach but I don't think it works here simply because, yes, even if he cause "one less speck of dust" that still has to be explained.

      You might say the speck of dust is contingently caused by some secondary cause. I have no problem (or if I do it's a different problem) with random events in the sense that perhaps there are things whose nature it is to produce effects randomly. If PW-1 and PW-2 differ by one speck of dust and if this speck of dust is randomly caused by some secondary cause, then I also have no problem saying that God in PW-1 is exactly the same as He is in PW-2. In this sense, your asymptote works provided there is always some secondary cause which can expalin the difference found between possible worlds.

      But Thomists certainly aren't going to characterize God's creation ultimately as a random event (even if certain secondary causes behave randomly across possible worlds). Creation itself cannot randomly issue from God if God is freely creating. So ultimately the question comes down to creation vs non-creation, not simply whether two particular possible worlds differ by a speck of dust.

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  8. Hi John,

    Thank you for your reply. I take your point that we shouldn't make assumptions about Ed's position, so I'd like to invite him to openly declare whether or not he endorses your premise 3. Ed? What say you? Yea or nay?

    You suggest that a necessary act can have contingent effects, but the example you put forward assumes the prior existence of a particular plant, as well as an unnamed agent who freely decides whether to put the plant out in the sun. The sun is not responsible for the existence of either of these entities: it is only the partial cause (not the complete cause) of the plant's receiving sunlight. In other words, all your example shows is that a necessary act can have contingent effects, in a pre-existing, contingent world.

    But God's relation to this world is not like the sun's. God timelessly creates the world in toto, and apart from Himself, nothing exists that was not created by Him. He is the total cause of the world.

    So to re-formulate my point more clearly: "a necessary act cannot be the total cause of a contingent effect," or in more natural English: "a necessary act cannot be entirely responsible for a contingent effect."

    CRS,

    By no means do I wish to deny Divine freedom, as you appear to think. Rather, what I suggest is that God generates the world by a free, contingent act of will which is additional to His necessary act of knowing and loving Himself. This act of will is not part of God's essence; it is, in Palamite terminology, a Divine operation, extrinsic to God's essence. The position I am defending here is perfectly compatible with the Church's official declarations on Divine simplicity, which refer only to the Divine essence.

    I had a look at S.T. I.19.3, where Aquinas writes: "The divine will, which by its nature is necessary, determines itself to will things to which it has no necessary relation." But this won't work, in the case where the will is entirely responsible for the existence of the things willed. Aquinas' analogy between God's power and the sun's power fails for precisely this reason.

    B.R.,

    To be clear: I do not believe that contingency is only a "illusion." See my rely to CRS.

    Incidentally, your suggestion that God creates thing for "contingent deterministic reasons" is self-contradictory.

    Cheers.


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    1. Hi Vincent,

      Re: So to re-formulate my point more clearly: "a necessary act cannot be the total cause of a contingent effect," or in more natural English: "a necessary act cannot be entirely responsible for a contingent effect."

      Or, as Dodds says, we can distinguish in that one necessary act of will a relation, which toward itself (intrinsic) is natural and necessary, but toward other things (extrinsic) is free and voluntary.

      So, you would need to give an argument for your updated principle and show why Dodds' suggestion is not possible.

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    2. Hi John,

      > So, you would need to give an argument for your updated principle and show why Dodds' suggestion is not possible.

      First, I'd like you to concede that there are no cases that we know of, either in nature or in the human world, where a necessary act is the total cause of a contingent effect. If you disagree, then it is incumbent on you to supply an example.

      But if you want to know why a necessary act cannot be the total cause of a contingent effect, think of it this way. Suppose you observe a contingent effect occurring - say, the birth of a child, someone's winning the lottery, or the popping into existence of a short-lived virtual particle. Naturally, you look for an explanation. Someone suggests to you that the ultimate explanation for all of these contingent events might be some necessary, law-governed process. "That won't do," you reply. "Why not?" your interlocutor asks. "Because you've given me no explanation at all as to why this necessary law-governed process sometimes fails to generate its effects. A necessary process cannot legitimately be invoked to explain both X and not-X. An explanation like that could explain anything - which means that it really explains nothing."

      Now think of God. We are told that His necessary act of knowing and loving Himself also generates this contingent cosmos. But then we are told that God could have chosen not to create a cosmos at all, or alternatively, a very different cosmos. One and the same necessary act is being invoked to explain both
      X (our cosmos), Y (some other cosmos) and not-(X-or-Y) (no cosmos). And I put it to you that an explanation as elastic as that explains precisely nothing.

      Putting it more plainly: Thomists hold that God can will either the existence of light or its non-existence of light, without there being any difference in His intentions or other mental acts, in the two cases. Thus God can make light without even having to think, "Let there be light." This I find monstrously absurd.

      Dodds' suggestion won't work either. By definition, a necessary act can only have a necessary orientation, for the orientation is what defines the act. So to say that one and the same act can point necessarily at God and contingently at creatures, is philosophically incoherent. Cheers.


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    3. So something changed God's mind - made Him decide to create something...? His Essence is simple, but His Will is mutable and so partly potential...? There seem to be some issues.

      There's no problem with saying the "event" of creation is extrinsic to God's Essence, or that the "causation" of creation is necessarily related to God, but it seems you are conflating these with creation's relation to God "in se." To be God does not mean to be related to anything but God. To be creation means essentially to be related to God.

      Perhaps the most prescient text comes in Q. 25 Article 5's respondeo: "But since the power of God, which is His essence, is nothing else but His wisdom, it can indeed be fittingly said that there is nothing in the divine power which is not in the order of the divine wisdom; for the divine wisdom includes the whole potency of the divine power. Yet the order placed in creation by divine wisdom, in which order the notion of His justice consists, as said above (I:21:2), is not so adequate to the divine wisdom that the divine wisdom should be restricted to this present order of things. Now it is clear that the whole idea of order which a wise man puts into things made by him is taken from their end. So, when the end is proportionate to the things made for that end, the wisdom of the maker is restricted to some definite order. But the divine goodness is an end exceeding beyond all proportion things created. Whence the divine wisdom is not so restricted to any particular order that no other course of events could happen."

      So, infinite power ("something from nothing") is identical with infinite wisdom, leading to infinite goodness as an end - thus leaving an infinitude of possible orders of things created. This leaves us, once again, with "relative necessity" in creation (or "suppositional necessity"). For what it's worth (a lot), this doctrine is explicitly applied to the order of salvation history.

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    4. Hi Vincent,

      Thanks for those thoughtful points.

      Re: “First, I'd like you to concede that there are no cases that we know of, either in nature or in the human world, where a necessary act is the total cause of a contingent effect.”

      Conceded.

      Re: “A necessary process cannot legitimately be invoked to explain both X and not-X.”

      Thinking along the lines of natural processes, I agree. But God is not like any natural processes of which we are aware.

      Re: “And I put it to you that an explanation as elastic as that explains precisely nothing.”

      I disagree with this assertion. An explanation that elastic could explain an unlimited amount of things.

      Re: “Putting it more plainly: Thomists hold that God can will either the existence of light or its non-existence of light, without there being any difference in His intentions or other mental acts, in the two cases. Thus God can make light without even having to think, "Let there be light." This I find monstrously absurd.” (emphasis mine)

      If one is thinking at all anthropomorphically about those things, then yes it will sound absurd.

      Re: “Dodds' suggestion won't work either. By definition, a necessary act can only have a necessary orientation, for the orientation is what defines the act. So to say that one and the same act can point necessarily at God and contingently at creatures, is philosophically incoherent. Cheers.”

      I disagree, though I do not claim any grand insight into God’s action. You say we can’t distinguish a relation within God’s necessary action along the lines of Dodds’ suggestion. I hold that we can.

      I’ll add this: If one holds to divine immutability (which divine simplicity proponents typically do), then one holds that God can create things without Himself changing. Do we understand precisely how God can do that? No. But if we affirm that he can do that (i.e. bring things into being where all the change takes place on the side of creatures). But if we don’t have any grand insight into how he does that, then we can plausibly hold that he does it freely, especially if we accept that creation is free/voluntary on other grounds.

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    5. Hi John,

      Thank you for your reply. I was deeply impressed with your intellectual humility, although I remain puzzled as to why you feel impelled to defend Aquinas' very radical version of Divine simplicity, when a more modest version (e.g. that of the Palamites, who held that God's essence is simple but God's operations are multiple) is perfectly compatible with the Catholic Church's dogmatic declarations - a point acknowledged by Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong:

      https://www.patheos.com/blogs/davearmstrong/2012/09/reflections-on-the-doctrine-of-divine-simplicity-and-church-authority-to-determine-the-parameters-of-orthodoxy.html

      Re Divine immutability: I see no mystery here. If God is the Creator or Author of space, time and everything they contain, then of necessity, God Himself will be outside time. While it is true that God interacts with His creatures (e.g. when answering prayers or working miracles), He does not need to be in time, in order to do this. All He needs is to have the past, present and future before Him all at once, as the Boethian model of God's foreknowledge posits. (I follow this model, and reject Bannezianism, Congruism and Molinism.) Cheers.

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  9. Greg,

    If acts are specified by their ends, as you suggest, then that only proves my point all the more. God's necessary act of knowing and loving Himself cannot be the same as the contingent act whereby He creates the world, precisely because it has a different end or purpose: in the former case, the end is God's act of Be-ing, pure and simple; in the latter, the end is the manifestation of God's glory to creatures who can know, love and serve Him. To say that in the latter case the end is God, full stop, is simply wrong.

    I'd also like to ask the Thomists on this thread a question: WHY are you all so tenaciously insisting that God's necessary act of Being must be the same as His contingent act of creating the world? What's wrong with positing an additional act of will in God? Where is the absurdity in that?

    To be sure, it would be absurd to claim that God is composed of A+B, where A and B are logically (and ontologically) prior to God, but in this case, God's act of creating the world is logically posterior to His existence, so where's the problem?



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    1. I now see the problem more clearly. God's necessary act of self-love is the same act of creation but without the same kind of necessity, precisely because the end IS the same in both cases but only one is intrinsically sufficiently proportionate to the end. See my response to you above - Aquinas addresses this, albeit somewhat indirectly.

      Creation has the same end as God's interior life: the Divine Goodness. However, while God's act of loving Himself is in itself fully proportionate to the end (God Himself, the Divine Goodness), creation is not and can have any sort of order assigned by the Divine Wisdom. It turns out that God made this world - so it is necessary insofar as this is what Divine Wisdom actually set in order.

      The stakes are these: if it is not God's eternal will to create such and such, then His Will changed, and this ruins simplicity altogether, thus meaning it is not God. But if there is necessity bearing upon Him, He must be finite and lacking freedom, and not be God. So maybe there is more wisdom in Dodds' explanation than you might think... God's freedom is indeed mysterious.

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    2. Hi CRS,

      Thank you for your reply.

      > The stakes are these: if it is not God's eternal will to create such and such, then His Will changed, and this ruins simplicity altogether, thus meaning it is not God.

      I have never suggested that God changed His mind in deciding to create this world. I'm quite happy to affirm that He willed it timelessly. All I maintain is that God's timeless necessary act of loving Himself is not the same as His timeless contingent act of willing this world to exist.

      > But if there is necessity bearing upon Him, He must be finite and lacking freedom, and not be God.

      Who spoke of God being necessitated to create anything? Certainly not I.

      > It turns out that God made this world - so it is necessary insofar as this is what Divine Wisdom actually set in order.

      The world is not necessary. What is necessary is that if God wills X to happen, then it will.

      > God's freedom is indeed mysterious.

      On that, I think we are agreed.

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    3. God's necessary act of knowing and loving Himself cannot be the same as the contingent act whereby He creates the world, precisely because it has a different end or purpose: in the former case, the end is God's act of Be-ing, pure and simple; in the latter, the end is the manifestation of God's glory to creatures who can know, love and serve Him. To say that in the latter case the end is God, full stop, is simply wrong.

      God does manifest his own goodness by creating. But that is consistent with creation itself being ordained by God to his own goodness. Which is indeed what Aquinas thinks (cf. I q. 44 a. 4).

      Could someone try to develop a view where God on the one hand loves his own goodness, and on the other--as an entirely separate act not at all ordained to the former--wills that there be a world which is a manifestation of his goodness? Sure. That would, however, destroy the parallel between the order of what God intends and the participation of finite goods in the infinite.

      But the fact that someone could attempt to develop such a view does not mean that they have to (nor does it mean that the view is in the end a defensible one). You said Aquinas's view is "simply absurd." But it's simply not. Aquinas does not see the manifestation of God's goodness in creation as lacking an order to God's own goodness. And if we see things Aquinas's way, and apprecate that acts are specified by ends or principal objects, then there is no absurdity.

      I'd also like to ask the Thomists on this thread a question: WHY are you all so tenaciously insisting that God's necessary act of Being must be the same as His contingent act of creating the world?

      Come on, Vincent. How long have you studied Thomas and conversed with Thomists? They think it is required by divine simplicity, which they hold on independent grounds, and, as I said, your alternative disrupts the parallel between God's willing of finite goods and their participation in his own goodness.

      I wouldn't describe my original comment as tenacious insistence on anything, though. I was just pointing out that your objections proceeds in apparent ignorance of the metaphysical principle which answers the question 'Where does Aquinas get off thinking that a necessary act could have anything but necessary effects?'

      What's wrong with positing an additional act of will in God? Where is the absurdity in that?

      I am not entirely sure whether you are trying to insist that proponents of divine simplicity should accept that God could have an additional act of will distinct from his loving of himself or that divine simplicity should obviously be rejected because this is the counterexample. Your claim above that "the Doctrine of Divine Simplicity collapses into absurdity" suggests the latter, though your exasperation here suggests the former.

      Anyway, my reason for accepting Aquinas's view and rejecting yours is not because I considered yours and found it absurd. As you know, the Thomist method in natural theology is not to enumerate imaginable positions and then compare their plausibility. I just think Aquinas's view of creation is what you get when you take his conception of God and try to think through its consequences for creation. We know that God must love his own infinite goodness; we know that he could not be necessitated to love any finite participation in his own goodness, for that would imply a lack in him; we know that whatever finite goodness he created would itself be ordained to his own goodness. If there's to be an additional act of will of God, its object would simply have to be the goodness of creation--it could not be ordained to God's own goodness. But I don't see that that can be the ultimate thing to say about a divine volition. I think the Thomist view arises with some naturalness.

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    4. Hi CRS,

      > I am not entirely sure whether you are trying to insist that proponents of divine simplicity should accept that God could have an additional act of will distinct from his loving of himself or that divine simplicity should obviously be rejected because this is the counterexample. Your claim above that "the Doctrine of Divine Simplicity collapses into absurdity" suggests the latter, though your exasperation here suggests the former.

      I meant the former. I was merely criticizing the extreme Thomist version of the doctrine of Divine simplicity. I should have expressed myself more precisely.

      > How long have you studied Thomas and conversed with Thomists? They think it is required by divine simplicity, which they hold on independent grounds...

      The only independent ground which I've seen put forward is the argument that anything composed of logically pre-existing parts would require an external explanation (i.e. a cause) for its holding together, and hence it could not be self-explanatory. That's the argument Aquinas uses in S.T. I, q. 3, art. 7 at http://newadvent.org/summa/1003.htm#article7 .

      The other argument he uses is that any extra part would be a further actualization of God. But making a world, while it actualizes God's will in some way, does not add one drop to His already infinite perfection. So the additional act of creation arising from God's Will does not imply any incompleteness in God. Cheers.

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  10. ...God necessarily wills Gods own goodness...therefore Gods act of creation is ordered to God as a final cause...hence there is no motion or change in God in willing creation since creation is merely God apprehending and willing his own being...God by necessity has the act of creation yet does not create of necessity...

    ..."... Also, as we have demonstrated, whatever does not imply a contradiction is subject to the divine power. Now, there are many entities which do not exist in the realm of created things, but which, if they did so exist, would imply no contradiction; particularly obvious examples are the number, quantities, and distances of the stars and of other bodies, wherein, if the order of things were different, no contradiction would be implied. Thus, numerous entities, non-existent in the order of reality, are subject to the divine power. Now, whoever does some of the things that he can do, leaving others undone, acts by choice of his will, not by necessity of his nature. Therefore, God acts by His will, not by necessity of His nature...."

    aquinas summa contra gentiles book 2 chapter 23 3,

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  11. If God's relation to the world is not real, then HIS causing of the world is not real, hence creation is not real.

    Furthermore: How is it then possible to have real communion with GOD?

    Cf. Craig on this problem:
    https://www.erudit.org/fr/revues/ltp/2000-v56-n1-ltp2166/401276ar.pdf

    And as an alternative view Knauer:
    http://peter-knauer.de/TheologyandSp3.pdf

    Knauer conceives of creation in relational terms: The world is a subsistent and unilateral relation towards GOD (reason). Communion with GOD is but possible that the world is taken up into the eternal relation between the FATHER and the SON, i.e. the HOLY SPIRIT (faith). This means: GOD'S relation to the world is identical with GOD and can only be known by faith in GOD'S supernatural revelation.

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    1. The world is a subsistent and unilateral relation towards God, but God is not a subsistent and unilateral relation toward the world. To be God does not mean to be Creator, except suppositionally (or by a "Cambridge property" as discussed above).

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    2. God is not really related to the world. Is, then, God's causing the world also not real but merely "logical"?

      Knauer's point is that the relation between the world and God cannot be unterstood causally (God the cause; world the effect). Rather, it has to be understood in the sense that the reality of the world is constituted as a unilateral relation, and God is the terminus ad quem of this unique relation (that does not fall under concepts). We can only comprehend what is not God and how it is related to him.

      Only revelation tells us how it is possible to think that this God loves the world: The world is taken up into the eternal love between the Father and the Son, i.e. the Holy Spirit.

      For natural theology God is the deus absconditus.

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    3. 1 - No. God really causes the world. But He is not really related to it, in the proper sense - it is not a proper quality of God (only a Cambridge property) that He is the Creator of this world. Think of the animal which moves from one side of a pillar to the other - the pillar is to the left and then to the right because of the animal's motion. So the change exists in the pillar logically, but not really. (I take that example from the I-13-7; cf. I-45-2-2 and I-45-3.)

      2 - Not sure if that is Knauer's point. I don't see it, maybe you can help me. If that is his point, I don't agree that it demonstrates that God has a real relation to the world in the proper sense, which I'm not sure you're even attacking.

      3 - I think there could be a good argument made for love of creation from natural theology (deriving from Divine Goodness, Wisdom, and Freedom, but it would not be possible to demonstrate tripersonal love, granted.

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    4. As a clarification: I think that it is very important to uphold the doctrine that there is no real relation from God to the world. I also think, however, that this becomes quite difficult within substance metaphysics (world and God as two substances) or within a causal scheme.

      1. "Causal activity" seen as a Cambridge property is very hard to understand (the pillar-example is quite different). Normally, a cause has a real relation to its effect. So divine causation must be something utter mysterious. In your example the pillar and the animal are parts of an overlapping system, hence, there are mutual relations. God is in no way part of an overlapping system.

      2. Knauer says that the world ist not a substance that is related to God, but that the "substance" of the world is constituted as a unilateral relation towards God so that the world and God are not parts of an overall system. There world cannot be the determining terminus of a divine relation. God is in no way dependent of the world.

      3. Real love presupposes real and mutual relations. The only way to say that there is a real relation from God to the world is to say that this relation exists from all eternity in God (the love between the Father and the Son) and that the world is the contingent terminus of this love: The world is taken up in the relation between the First Person and the Second Person, which we call the Holy Spirit (the Third Person of God understood as a divine self-possession; therefore no problem with divine simplicity). This can be known, however, only by supernatural revelation.

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    5. ... P.S.: Henry of Ghent seems to have a somewhat similar view:

      http://ojs.letras.up.pt/index.php/mediaevalia/article/download/848/812

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    6. @Anonymous

      You write:

      Real love presupposes real and mutual relations.

      Why? Since it is possible to love yourself, and since the Bible endorses self-love, why does "real love" presuppose another?

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    7. Let me clarify: Real love BETWEEN PERSONS presupposes real and mutual relations, i.e. there must be some sort of community.

      (Btw.: Regarding self-love in the Bible cf. e.g. Lk 14:26)

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    8. @Anonymous

      And that includes "hating" your mother and your father. Please. What are you trying to prove?

      We are commanded to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. If self-love is defective, then we're commanded to love our neighbors with a defective love.

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    9. That would be another topic ...

      What do you say to my clarification: Real love BETWEEN PERSONS presupposes real and mutual relations, i.e. there must be some sort of community.

      That seems to me rather obvious.

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    10. Although it is technically another topic, it is a component of your overall argument. You didn't have to introduce this "hating your mother" tangent if you didn't want to go off-topic.

      As to your clarification: Yes, I agree.

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    11. Ok. But then it becomes, from a philosophical point of view, impossible to say that God loves the world or human persons (given that there is no real relation from God to the world).

      Only within a trinitarian understanding one can say that God loves the world: God's love for the world is identical with the love between the Father and the Son, i.e. the world is created within this eternal love. Only by faith in Christ and His message we come to know this by faith.

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    12. If I can love another as I love myself without my having multiple personalities, it does not follow that God must have multiple personalities in order to love the world. Your conclusion doesn't follow.

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    13. Between "you" and the "other" there can be real and mutual relations because you both belong to the same order. This is not the case between God and the world since there is no real relation from God to the world (philosophically seen).

      Trinity does not mean that God has "multiple personalities". It means that the one divine nature is releated to itself in three different ways, i.e. as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

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    14. I understand trinitarian claims. I used the term "multiple personalities" because that's the closest a human being can come to the trinitarian model.

      And I also understand that the term "love" can only be used analogously, but if you acknowledge that, then an appeal to love and necessity between persons still doesn't follow. However God loves the world, it does not follow that in order to do so, He must exist as three persons.

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    15. God bless you, Bill!

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  12. I think some confusion has arisen because Ed Feser said that God's "act" is intrinsic to God (i.e. something real in God). That is potentially misleading because the act of creation, taken as a whole with all of its necessary conditions, is not, for the Thomist, intrinsic to God. There is no efficacy in the act of creation--and therefore no act of creation, strictly speaking--until the creature actually exists qua created. However, the essential act of God is intrinsic to God and necessary. Let's not confuse the two.

    Once we have clarity on this, we should not be saying that the act of creation is eternal. Only the principle out of which that act proceeds (contingently( is eternal. Such, at least, would be a clearer presentation of Aquinas.
    If I'm not mistaken.

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    1. This is 100% correct.

      Some Thomists have misinterpreted this (Garrigou-Lagrange comes to mind here), but St. Thomas is super clear on this point.

      The distinction between the act in the agent which is the principle of the action and the act of the agent in the patient (and therefore attributed to God extrinsically) is exactly the right one to draw.

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  13. Mullins' (14) is ambiguous between a _de re_ and a _de dicto_ reading:

    De re: The entity, x, which is in fact God's act of giving grace, exists necessarily.

    De dicto: The following statement holds necessarily: God's act of giving grace exists.

    On the _de re_ reading, (15) does not follow from (14). On the _de dicto_ reading, (13) and (14) do not follow from (10).

    Parody argument:

    B1. God exists absolutely necessarily.

    B2. The being that created the moon is identical with God.

    B3. So, the being that created the moon exists necessarily.

    B4. So, it is necessary that there exists a being that created the moon.

    B5. Necessarily, if there exists a being that created the moon, then the moon came into existence.

    B6. So, necessarily, the moon came into existence.

    But B6 is absurd. Again, the problem lies in the ambiguity in B3:

    De re: The being, x, that created the moon is a being that exists necessarily.

    De dicto: The following is a necessary truth: The being that created the moon exists necessarily.

    B4 follows from B3 only on the de dicto reading, but B3 follows from B1 and B2 only on the de re reading.

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    1. Alex

      I think the way to read (14) is "The entity, x, which is necessarily God's act of giving grace, exists necessarily."
      I know you think this is question-begging, but I think it is up to the proponent DS to show how it does not follow from his radical version of DS according which God is necessarily identical to all of his properties.

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    2. But He is NOT identical to ALL of his properties LOL.

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    3. Walter: That would require an additional premise that was never stated in the argument:
      (*) There is an entity x such that in every world where x exists, x is identical to God's act of giving grace (i.e., there is an entity x that has the essential property of being God's act of giving grace).

      That premise would indeed beg the question.

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    4. Alex

      Everything is necessarily identical to God prior to creation.

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    5. But we aren't talking about entities that exist prior to creation.

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  14. Have advocates of divine simplicity addressed God's relation to mathematical forms? Unlike the contingent universe, most theist philosophers seem to believe that mathematics was not created as an act of will, nor does God have the power to change mathematical truths, which are understood to be necessary truths. But the theists I've read who talk about questions relating to mathematical platonism also tend not to want to say that mathematical forms are necessary, eternal objects that exist independently of God (see this piece by William Lane Craig for example, especially the section 'Theological Objection to Platonism'), so they instead often take the position that they are something like "divine Ideas", a necessary part of God's own nature (Craig has a book which presents a number of arguments for this type of 'divine conceptualism', though he also discusses some difficulties with the view). This answer would seem to pose a special sort of problem for advocates of divine simplicity though--"God's Idea of the number three" and "God's Idea of the number four" wouldn't be Cambridge properties if numbers are not seen as existing independently of God, and yet if one wants to deny that God has multiple distinct properties, these properties can't be distinct either. Does it make sense to say that three and four are distinct numbers while denying that "God's Idea of the number three" and "God's Idea of the number four" are distinct properties?

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    1. For St. Thomas position start here.

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    2. Thanks, that section seems very relevant. But I'm having trouble seeing how his answer would address the problem in the way I was thinking of it, in terms of the (modern) notion of a distinction between internal properties and Cambridge properties, and how we can understand numbers as truly distinct if God's idea of each number is not a distinct internal property of God, nor a Cambridge property dealing with God's relation to something external. Do you (or anyone else) know of any commentary on Aquinas' approach to mathematics and divine simplicity that might help with unpacking his assumptions and argument?

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    3. @JesseM:

      "But I'm having trouble seeing how his answer would address the problem in the way I was thinking of it, in terms of the (modern) notion of a distinction between internal properties and Cambridge properties, and how we can understand numbers as truly distinct if God's idea of each number is not a distinct internal property of God, nor a Cambridge property dealing with God's relation to something external."

      That is a bizarre way of trying to understand St. Thomas; he must be understood on its own terms, which often do not map that well to a modern analytic understanding.

      Besides, in #51-52, St. Thomas poses the problem, in #53 he offers his solution (to quote: "Now, the divine intellect understands by no species other than the divine essence, as was shown above. Nevertheless, the divine essence is the likeness of all things. Thereby it follows that the conception of the divine intellect as understanding itself, which is its Word, is the likeness not only of God Himself understood, but also of all those things of which the divine essence is the likeness. In this way, therefore, through one intelligible species, which is the divine essence, and through one understood intention, which is the divine Word, God can understand many things."), and in #54 he deals with how the divine essence can be the "likeness of all things" -- he even quotes Aristotle that specifically mentions numbers.

      "Do you (or anyone else) know of any commentary on Aquinas' approach to mathematics and divine simplicity that might help with unpacking his assumptions and argument?"

      Not really. There are not many studies in (specifically) Thomistic philosophy of mathematics that I know of, and the ones that I do know will probably not be of much help. I will add though that B. Mullahy's thesis "Thomism and Mathematical Physics" is probably the best Thomistic treatment. The last chapter, "The Nature of Mathematics", *may* be of some help but I have not read yet with the attention it deserves to know that with certainty. The thesis is available online, just google it (or give me your email and I will send you a copy if you cannot find it).

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  15. I knew Feser types two spaces after a period, but now I notice he actually goes through the trouble of inserting extra spaces into the authors he is merely quoting. Now that is not just habit, but dedication.

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    1. That's a tremendous catch. Never noticed that until you pointed that out.

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  16. The curiosity of Mullins is getting out of hand.

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  17. I'm writing about it in more detail, but the Cliff's Notes version goes like this:

    1) If God is not simple, a metaphysically ultimate being doesn't exist, but only such a being deserves the name "God". So all religion (monotheistic, anyway) is idolatry.

    2) If God is simple, and God's willing X is (intrinsically) different than God's willing Y, modal collapse follows, for God cannot possibly be different than He is, even across possible worlds, and He is His willing of X.

    3) If God is simple, and God's willing X is only extrinsically different (whether that goes by the name of "Cambridge property", "logical relation", or something else) than God's willing Y, than there is no contrastive explanation whatsoever for X vs. Y to be had in God, even via a supposed free choice of will. What distinguishes God's willing X vs. God's willing Y is the effects: e.g. whether X or Y exists, exactly what it is allegedly supposed to explain in the first place. (IOW, the truth of "God willing X" isn't prior to X.) Sometimes the term "object of the will" is used equivocally here (since for a human indeed willing X is distinct from willing Y) but it amounts to the same thing. So creation is radically ontologically random.


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    1. Succinct, but I, for one, would view 1) as false. Metaphysical ultimacy does not require an absolutely simple God.

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  18. I am not convinct you lot in general understand HOW God has free will.

    God is identical with His own will given the divine simplicity. So if God wills X then He must do X by necessity but we can only say X is necessity as far as God has willed it to be so. Of course if a will any will, wills X it cannot will not X at the same time and in the same sense. Just because God makes one infinite choice from all eternity doesn't mean that metaphysically prior to that he didn't have another choice.

    From all eterntiy for example God willed to create the world and the world's creation is only necessary because God willed it.

    But metaphysically prior to his chosing to create rather than not create or do something else bizzarly inexplicable no passive potency within his nature moved His choice and nothing external to Him moved it.

    Thus God has free will and that is HOW God has free will.

    Any other theistic personalist deity you imagine who wills in another fashion can suck it as far as I am concerned.

    The God of Abraham and Aquinas is the only God.

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    1. I'm not sure that you understand. If God is identical with His own will, there is no "if," because what God is, God is necessarily. So what God wills is also necessary. There is no "if God is," so there is no "if God wills." Do you see?

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    2. @Ryan:

      "I'm not sure that you understand. If God is identical with His own will, there is no "if," because what God is, God is necessarily. So what God wills is also necessary. There is no "if God is," so there is no "if God wills."

      Actually it is you that does not understand. Will is a power and under Divine Simplicity, God's Will is God's Power is God's Intellect, etc. the distinction being only a logical one. But the Will is not to be confused with what is willed, the power is not to be confused with the effect. There is no logical inference, from necessarily, God exists and divine simplicity to necessarily, God wills X. This is you simply not being able to keep your boxes straight. Even to affirm that necessarily, God wills Himself, which is true, needs an extra premise. The argument is just as a non-sequitur as God is, God wills X, God's will is God, therefore X is God.

      "Do you see?"

      There is a Jesus' saying about planks and specks that applies perfectly well here.

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    3. Grodrigues

      The will is not to be confused with what is willed. How does "the power to do x, y or nothing at all" lead to the effect x? IOW how does God have control over what the effect of his will is?

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    4. Son of Ya'Kov,

      God is identical both to His power of willing and His act of willing. You are making His power of willing metaphysically prior to His act of willing, which is a violation of Divine simplicity.

      Ryan:

      If God is identical to His willing X, then X exists necessarily. But opponents will simply argue that God is identical to His will simpliciter. However, in that case there is no contrastive explanation for X to be found in God.

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    5. @Walter Van den Acker:

      "IOW how does God have control over what the effect of his will is?"

      This a very confusedly worded question. I presume what you are asking is why God actualized world X instead of Y. The answer is: Free Will. It can only be that answer because Will's God is free, nothing determining it. There is nothing more that can be said because to do it, we would have to know God as God knows Himself. Maybe on the other side of life, when History has run its course, we will know the full answer.

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    6. I don't want to speak for him, but I don't think that's what Walter meant. And anyway, the relevant question how (or does) God determine X instead of Y. And this not a question of whether God's will is "free" or "determined". The following dilemma presents.

      If one says God's Will simpliciter, that would be a fine explanation if God's Will were distinct from His existence. But God's Will is identical to His existence, and that existence doesn't entail either X or Y (assuming there is not modal collapse).

      If one says God's willing X or Y, there can't be anything different in the willing itself, so the only thing which distinguishes God's willing X or Y is whether X or Y actually exists. Therefore this is not a contrastive explanation, for the explained cannot be any part of a contrastive explanation.

      Not that any of this is likely to convince committed Thomists. They'll simply insist modal logic itself is wrong and that the same thing both can and cannot entail something else.

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    7. @Vince S.

      "And anyway, the relevant question how (or does) God determine X instead of Y. And this not a question of whether God's will is "free" or "determined". The following dilemma presents."

      Of course it is relevant. Thomists understand Free Will as freedom from necessitation or determination

      "If one says God's Will simpliciter, that would be a fine explanation if God's Will were distinct from His existence. But God's Will is identical to His existence, and that existence doesn't entail either X or Y (assuming there is not modal collapse)."

      God's will, as act, is not distinct from His existence, but God willing X *just is* God bringing X to existence which is distinct from His existence, since X is freely willed. As far as the lack of contrastive explanations, there are a couple of moves one could make -- but I have already said my piece about it.

      "Not that any of this is likely to convince committed Thomists. They'll simply insist modal logic itself is wrong and that the same thing both can and cannot entail something else."

      What a dumbass comment; I certainly do not expected to convince a committed dumbass.

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    8. "Of course it is relevant. Thomists understand Free Will as freedom from necessitation or determination."

      No it isn't relevant to the point at issue. No one is disputing this. It is a red herring.

      "God's will, as act, is not distinct from His existence, but God willing X *just is* God bringing X to existence which is distinct from His existence, since X is freely willed. As far as the lack of contrastive explanations, there are a couple of moves one could make -- but I have already said my piece about it."

      You're just using different terminology of "God's bringing X into existence" instead of "God willing X" but not really answering the question. I'll grant they both refer to the same thing. The question is what exactly they are referring TO. Specifically, the question is not WHETHER God's existence is distinct from God's willing X but WHAT distinguishes them (and I am granting they are distinct, otherwise X would exist necessarily). If it's an internal distinction in God, God is not simple, but composite between existence and His "bringing". If it's an external distinction (e.g. X), then there is no contrastive explanation.

      You can call me all the nasty names you like, but you have not answered the question of WHAT distinguishes God's existence from God's willing X without either denying Divine simplicity or denying a contrastive explanation. Quote all the passages you like about how God wills His own goodness necessarily, but all other creatures contingently only insofar as He wills His own goodness, or about God's will is free, and so on. It doesn't answer the question posed.

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    10. @Vince S.

      "You can call me all the nasty names you like"

      Feigning offense? Really?

      Anyway, Since Prof. Feser has posted a new post, I direct you to here where St. Thomas responds to your objection, among others. Not much hope it will convince a committed -- fill in the blanks.

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    11. I should add that one should go on reading at least until #87.

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    12. You were asked a simple question. What distinguishes God's will from God willing X?

      You can't answer, so you resort to the typical dishonest tactic of Thomists defeated in argument with a quote from the Angelic Doctor, regardless of whether it actually responds to what is being said, and then triumphantly declare the argument "answered". In the hope that crowd will be overawed by the fact you are quoting the Angelic Doctor, and I'm a mere nobody.

      But in fact, St. Thomas does not respond to the objection. Not in the SCG, not in the ST.

      The question is NOT about:

      82) Whether there is potency in the will of God, or whether it is "unnatural" for Him to will something besides Himself, or whether God's willing those things is necessary.

      83) The necessity of supposition.

      84) Whether God can will the impossible.

      85) Whether what God wills is necessary, because He willed it.

      86) Whether there is a reason in the Divine will.

      87) Whether anything causes the Divine will.

      None of these things has ANYTHING whatsoever to do with the topic at hand.

      I know this won't convince an intellectually dishonest person like yourself.

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    13. @Vince S.

      "You were asked a simple question. What distinguishes God's will from God willing X?"

      I did answer the question. To repeat myself: God's will is identical to God but God's willing X is not identical to God, because as I said, God's willing X is just X coming to existence or X existing, so if God's willing X were identical to God, then X existing would be identical to God. You implicitly agree with this when you say to Ryan "If God is identical to His willing X, then X exists necessarily. But opponents will simply argue that God is identical to His will simpliciter. However, in that case there is no contrastive explanation for X to be found in God."

      So try to keep your questions straight.

      So your objection is then that since God's willing X is distinct from God there is no contrastive explanation. Contrastive explanations, as it says on the tin, require a contrast and the way I interpreted it was: "Why God willed world X instead of Y", your objection then being that given divine simplicity, there is nothing in God that explains why God willed X instead of Y. What I said to Walter Van den Acker was: "The answer is: Free Will. It can only be that answer because Will's God is free, nothing determining it. There is nothing more that can be said because to do it, we would have to know God as God knows Himself."

      "You can't answer, so you resort to the typical dishonest tactic of Thomists defeated in argument with a quote from the Angelic Doctor, regardless of whether it actually responds to what is being said, and then triumphantly declare the argument "answered". In the hope that crowd will be overawed by the fact you are quoting the Angelic Doctor, and I'm a mere nobody."

      Did I really declare victory "triumphantly"? And the "typical dishonest tactic of Thomists defeated in argument with a quote from the Angelic Doctor"? I am not, and never claimed to be, a representative of the Thomist community. Any "intellectual dishonesty", or the underhanded practice you describe, is to be charged to me and me alone, not on the wide Thomist community, of you which you know nothing. There is a name for such a thing. As far as the charge itself, your opinion is duly noted. And readily thrown into the trash bin.

      And since, as you said, Thomists "will insist that modal logic is wrong" or resort to "dishonest tactics" and I am a Thomist, I will assume that you will *not* answer me, since it is indeed hopeless to convince such nefarious persons. And given that you will not answer me, I will have had the last word so I have actually won the argument, not you -- not that it matters anyway, as philosophy is not a matter of winning arguments.

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    14. grodrigues

      IOW how does God have control over what the effect of his will is?"

      "This a very confusedly worded question. I presume what you are asking is why God actualized world X instead of Y."

      No it is not a confusedly worded question. Well, if you think it amounts to why God actualized world X instead of Y, you do seem confused, but I honestly can't see how you can misintertpret my question this way.

      But let me rephrase it, to avoid confusion.
      You say that the will is not to be confused with what is willed. My question now is not why God actualizes X instead of Y, but how God, by his will, which is identical to His existence, manages to get X instead of Y.
      It seems to mpe lots of people are confused baout what libertarian free will actually means. It doesn't mean that we can have one will that can result in various actions, it means that nothing determines what will be included in our will.
      Your suggestion that God's will is not to be confused with what is willed seems to amount to a denial that God has libertarian free will.

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    15. @Walter van der Acker:

      "You say that the will is not to be confused with what is willed. My question now is not why God actualizes X instead of Y, but how God, by his will, which is identical to His existence, manages to get X instead of Y."

      Ok, so you did me the courtesy of saying "you do seem confused, but I honestly can't see how you can misinterpret my question this way" so I will try to respond in kind: I honestly do not understand what you are asking. "How"? How the hell should I know, I am not God? But I suspect that you are not asking for a mechanism that accounts for God's willing X (or Y or whatever else). Maybe you are asking how, if God's will is identical to his existence what makes it the case that God willed X instead of Y. But this cannot be either since you explicitly rejected my reinterpretation and God willing X (for contingent X) *just is* God actualizing X.

      So I concede, I am confused. My best shot is pointing to St. Thomas treatment of such questions in the Summa Contra Gentiles, Book I. Maybe somewhere in questions #75, #77-#79, #81, #83, #85-#88 you can find something that will enlighten the discussion. I will admit though, that as Vince S. so masterfully explained, this does open me to the charge of the "typical dishonest tactic of Thomists defeated in argument with a quote from the Angelic Doctor, regardless of whether it actually responds to what is being said, and then triumphantly declare the argument "answered". In the hope that crowd will be overawed by the fact you are quoting the Angelic Doctor, and I'm a mere nobody.". So be it.

      "Your suggestion that God's will is not to be confused with what is willed seems to amount to a denial that God has libertarian free will. "

      "Seems" does not count as an argument in my book. Furthermore, the modern distinctions between libertarian free will, compatibilist or determinist, do not map very well to St. Thomas position in the first place (although, if pressed on a classification, I would say he is in the libertarian free will camp).

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    16. grodrigues
      The question is simple

      How does God get X without specifically willing X?
      I don't think most Thomists "display a dishonest tactic answering with a quote from the Angelic Doctor", it's simply that I can simply find no answer to my question in the writings of Aquinas, so I hoenstly start to wonder whether there is an answer. if there is one, I am very curious to hear it.

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    17. @Walter van der Acker.

      "How does God get X without specifically willing X?"

      God does specifically will X -- I am not sure the adverb is doing any work. If world X exists (let us speak about worlds, as it sidesteps some potential complications), then it is because God created X which just means God (specifically) willed X. Whatever gave you the impression otherwise?

      Not to beat a dead horse, but in trying to imagine what a non-Thomist would object to, two immediate questions come to mind: (1) since God necessarily wills himself, and God's willing is a single undivided act, how can God will something other than himself? (2) Since, as Thomists contend, there is no such thing as a best world, whatever reasons He as for willing X are non-necessitating or non-determining (e.g. the choice is free), what is it that explains that God willed X instead of Y? St. Thomas answers (1) directly and I have answered (2) -- Prof. Feser's new post on Scotus take on divine simplicity also gives an answer, albeit one that makes a neophyte Thomist like me a little nervous.

      "I don't think most Thomists "display a dishonest tactic answering with a quote from the Angelic Doctor""

      I know, I was just venting.

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    18. grodrigues

      "...which just means God (specifically) willed X. Whatever gave you the impression otherwise?"

      The fact that it is claimed that "God wills X" is merely a Cambridge property of God. Now you seem to disagree with that. But if it's not a Cambridge property, it is a real property. But that contradicts Divine Simplicity.

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    19. @Walter van der Acker:

      ""...which just means God (specifically) willed X. Whatever gave you the impression otherwise?"

      The fact that it is claimed that "God wills X" is merely a Cambridge property of God. Now you seem to disagree with that."

      This is a recurrent problem: trying to map St. Thomas' metaphysics into modern analytical terms, and when finding that it does not really map that well, concluding that St. Thomas is wrong. As Gyula Klima once put it, in criticizing a similar move by Kenny, it's like playing poker and declaring victory by crying "Check Mate!"

      Let us list (some of the things) that St. Thomas is committed to:

      (1) God necessarily wills Himself.

      (2) In the single, undivided act of willing himself, God can also will things other than Himself, necessarily contingent, which as a useful and accurate shorthand can be translated as "God wills world X", as ordered to Himself.

      (3) There is no such thing as a best possible world.

      (4) So whatever reasons one could adduce for God choosing world X are not necessitating or determining, e.g. the willing is free, but with the necessity of supposition. In particular, God is free to not create and world X is contingent.

      (5) God willed this world into being, which just means He created this world.

      (6) By divine simplicity, the creation of this world does not entail any change in God, neither God bears any real relation to it. Or for once reverting to modern analytical terminology, the property "God is the creator of this world" is a Cambridge property.

      Now, you and others claim that there is some contradiction somewhere in this sextad (??), possibly extended with some other commitments I have forgotten to add. I have yet to see a cogent argument. You for example, seem (seem because as the exchange has shown I am not very good at understanding what you are saying) to think that there is some contradiction between God willing X and the fact that the property "the creator of X" is a Cambridge property. I don't see why. The proposition "God is the creator of X" is true by extrinsic denomination (which is more or less equivalent to saying that the property "creator of X" is a Cambridge property), not by something intrinsic in God. In particular, it is illegitimate to move from God's act of will simpliciter, or God willing Himself, which is indeed His act of existence, to conclude that God willing contingent X is also His act of existence.

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    20. @Walter Van den Acker:

      Let me put things in a slightly different perspective. We have *independent* grounds to hold the following:

      (1) God is the creator of this world.

      (2) God is divinely simple.

      (3) This world is contingent.

      So whatever contradictions may emerge from (1)-(3) cannot be real but merely apparent. How exactly they are resolved is a matter of internecine dispute between classical theists, but that they can be resolved is more or less agreed (*), even if the moves are ad hoc -- which, while in general is a telltale mark of bad philosophy, is pretty much unavoidable since God is not just unique but uniquely unique so some distinctions will arise precisely because of the perceived tension between commitments and will apply only to Him.

      (*) I suppose one could go full blown mysterian, but I am a Thomist and such a move while understandable is not in the end very tenable.

      Now I well understand that someone who is not already sympathetic to (1)-(3) will have different priors and will weigh the arguments differently -- but then this is their problem, since (1)-(3) are obviously true. Poker (or whatever the best hand -- 4 aces? -- in Poker is called).

      edit: I have just noticed I have been misspelling your name, putting a "der" where a "den" should be. My apologies.

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    21. I hope you don't mind me adding something here here. Thomists like yourself keep insisting that the contingent act of ordaining/willing creation is transitive, just as the full act of creation is--in that way you can insist it is denominated extrinsically. Sorry, but this is not going to work as a way of solving the problem and I even doubt that Aquinas would allow it. If you care to hear me out, my reasoning behind this is down the bottom of this page. God ordains, and he ordains contingently, from all eternity. It is false to say that all of God's ordaining with respect to creation is denominated extrinsically. The extrinsic denomination / logical relation / Cambridge differences solution doesn't get to the heart of the problem.

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    22. @Brendan Triffett:

      "Sorry, but this is not going to work as a way of solving the problem and I even doubt that Aquinas would allow it."

      Brandon has already responded and honestly, I don't feel like adding anything.

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    23. grodrigues

      I guess it's time to agree to disagree, because I really don't see how we ccan make any progress here. Just one thing. The property "God is the creator of the world" may be a Cambrigde property (although I fail to see how it can be, but I'll concede that for the sake of the argument), but the property "God specifically wills X" cannot possibly be a Cambridge property, because (logically) prior to creation everything is identical to God.

      That's it. Thank you for the interesting discussion.

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    24. @Walter Van den Acker:

      "I'll concede that for the sake of the argument), but the property "God specifically wills X" cannot possibly be a Cambridge property, because (logically) prior to creation everything is identical to God."

      This begs the question against St. Thomas spectacularly, not even engaging in what St. Thomas says about how X is in God's mind.

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  19. I really appreciate this post. I have two concerns that bother me about this whole set of approaches. They're different from Vincent's, and I'd welcome the thoughts of others.

    1) (The bigger one.) Ed writes,

    "But though the acting is something intrinsic to God, that the acting resulted in the world’s existing is not intrinsic to him."

    Or as I had it put to me once in possible-world terms, God's act is the same in all possible worlds, but different worlds result in different possible worlds.

    The problem here seems to me to be that there is nothing left to explain WHY this *particular* world happens to exist. It can't be explained by intrinsic to God, and it can't be explained by anything extrinsic to Him either; it's just a brute fact.

    But why doesn't this mean that theism suddenly faces the same problems with irrationalism that atheism does? If the existence of the world comes down to brute facts, what have we gained by positing God?

    And (call this question 1b) what is the relationship with the principle of sufficient reason?

    2) There are parallel problems here with God's will and God's knowledge (which I think e.g. Aquinas was well aware of). How can God be truly said to know things about *this particular world* if it's just a contingent fact that his one creative act created *this* world, and not some other one? Can I really say that God knows me? Certainly not with his one fundamental act of knowing, it would seem, which would have been just the same if a world existed in which I did not.

    I understand Aquinas wrote about this problem, but I only find his writing on it helpful on Mondays and Thursdays....

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    1. It can't be explained by intrinsic to God, and it can't be explained by anything extrinsic to Him either; it's just a brute fact.

      This, I think, is a way of setting up the problem that inevitably leads to problems. What you are describing as "intrinsic to God" is just God; the whole point is that what is intrinsic to God is not a part or component or independent factor in God Himself, but God. So the claim boils down to saying that the world can't be explained with reference to God or with reference to anything else. But this particular world's existing *is* explained by God in the sense that He is its origin, and thus is not a brute fact.

      Likewise, when one says that "God's act is the same in all possible worlds", all this is really saying is that God is the same in all possible worlds. And of course it has to be such: any possible world's being possible in the first place depends on God as a presupposition.

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    2. It seems you're confusing "explanation" in the sense of contrastive explanation with "explanation" in the sense of metaphysical ground.

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    3. Thank you both for the comments. I hope you'll help me work through this, as you'd be doing me a great service. (But if you're busy, I understand.)

      Brandon, it seems to me that you're saying that the world's existing is not a brute fact because it is caused by God. Fair enough. But it still seems to me that *the fact that this particular world and not some other* was created *is* a brute fact. What could possibly be an explanation?

      And how is that different from the brute fact that the naturalist (implicitly or explicitly) proposes?

      This question is not purely rhetorical. I'm very open to the possibility that it *is* different, but I just don't fully see how.

      Which brings me to Vince. Would you be open to saying more, or pointing me to a relevant passage on the blog or one of Ed's books (or elsewhere)?

      This seems very relevant to me. But would we accept it elsewhere? (E.g.: there is simply no contrastive explanation at all for why the wave function collapsed in the way it did, but there is a metaphysical ground?) Also, is it sufficient to avoid the irrationalism that naturalism always leads to?

      We say -- don't we? -- that the naturalist's problem is that he has no way to explain this *particular* combination of form and matter. But do we? We have a more ultimate metaphysical ground, but still no explanation (arguably).

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    4. SMack,

      If all contingent facts have a contrastive explanation, modal collapse follows, for the only way that can be is a necessary fact which explains them all (the modal collapse objection to the strong PSR). So unless this world is the only possible one, there must at least be one "brute fact" without contrastive explanation.

      But the naturalist means something different by "brute fact" than this. He means that something (usually the universe, but maybe a quantum field, etc.) can exist without a metaphysical ground of existence. As Russell said, "the universe is just there, that's all". IOW, it can be more aptly termed "brute existence".

      If you are desperately determined to do so, you can attempt to find a contrastive explanation for quantum mechanics (e.g. the Bohm interpretation of the Schrodinger equation). But most people don't find it worth the trouble.

      As for "irrationality", it depends on what you mean by the term. I don't think that not having a contrastive explanation for everything is irrationality. Whereas positing brute existence is an irrational starting premise and thus can lead to nothing but more irrationality down the line.

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    5. 1- It could be argued that a brute fact of *existence* is worse than a brute fact about contrastive explanations. Many people could accept a PSR or PC for substances, or for the existence of objects, but not for propositions. So the naturalist is in a worse position anyway, because he has to suppose not just the lack of a contrastive explanation (why this world instead of another), but the sheer brute existence of contingent objects from nothing. It is harder to accept that something can exist inexplicably, than that some facts about it might not have an explanation.

      2- In any case, I accept a full PSR and I think others should, too. So I think there should be an explanation for why this world instead of another one. The explanation, however, can be found in the fact that God had reasons R for creating this world instead of another one. The reasons themselves do not necessitate, but they do motivate creation. And while reasons R are necessary, since they do not determine action (like it is with free will, generally) the world remains contingent. It is easy to fall for de re de dicto fallacies here. I recommend you to read Alexander Pruss's work on this. Google his article "Leibnizian cosmological arguments" and check out what he writes in response to the Van Inwagen objection, but also in response to the "Causing the causing" objection.

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    6. Atno,

      It very much depends on how you interpret the PSR, and perhaps we don't mean the same thing by "strong". The traditional version (which is what I mean by "strong") reads "every contingent fact has a sufficient explanation for why it is that way and not otherwise" (e.g. a contrastive explanation) and the only kind of explanation "sufficient" for this is a sufficient condition. And this leads to modal collapse.

      I know Pruss claims a less stringent "Good-Enough Explanation" doesn't lead to modal collapse, but I'm not convinced, and it doesn't deliver contrastive explanations either, since things COULD have turned out otherwise then they did. And I'm certainly not convinced the PSR is compatible with libertarian free will as he seems to think. Sure, you can point to people's motivations, but that raises the question of why their motivations were what they were, or why they did or did not act in accordance with them. At the end of the day it seems to me a libertarian choice is simply an unexplained brute fact, period.

      And again your scenario still raises some unexplained contingent facts. Let's assume God had reasons R for creating this world instead of another one. So why did He have those reasons instead of other ones, is the first question that comes to mind. Then, assuming all possible worlds are ranked on a scale of how well they correlate with those reasons, the best possible world problem looms. Or, if there is a tie at the top, a sort of Divine Buridan's Ass problem.


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    7. I am not sure why a contrastive explanation is being insisted upon.

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    8. "I know Pruss claims a less stringent "Good-Enough Explanation" doesn't lead to modal collapse, but I'm not convinced, and it doesn't deliver contrastive explanations either, since things COULD have turned out otherwise then they did. And I'm certainly not convinced the PSR is compatible with libertarian free will as he seems to think. Sure, you can point to people's motivations, but that raises the question of why their motivations were what they were, or why they did or did not act in accordance with them. At the end of the day it seems to me a libertarian choice is simply an unexplained brute fact, period."

      But then you are just begging the question against Pruss's PSR formulation and his claim that we DO have an explanation for why it is X rather than Y. The issue is you are insisting that the only possible contrastive explanation would be one which entails X rather than Y, but this is what Pruss is challenging. To me, the intuitions (and other arguments) behind PSR are about having a grounding or cause that makes it the case that something is true, and this "making" need not be deterministic; we just need something that actualizes a potential so it doesn't come from nothing, so to speak.

      So by insisting contrastive explanations require an entailing explanans, you are just begging the question against my and Pruss's position. Which could be okay (for you) if you really have a strong intuition in favor of that view, but I don't. Again, to me what is intuitive and important in PSR is having something that makes it the case that something is the case, and the same would be fine for contrastive explanations since those do not - to my mind - require entailing conditions, just a ground or maker of the kind I mentioned. In this case, I'll ask you to rethink your position and intuitions.

      In any case, one could always argue, as I said, that no matter what the issue really is with contingent propositions, contingent *things* (their existence) surely needs an explanation. That a contingent universe would just exist inexplicably would be absurd, and something one should try to avoid even if one is willing to grant some brute facts.
      Or, to put it differently, one could argue that even if PSR were false we should seek to minimize brute facts. It is very hard to deny the reasonableness of such a view, or of defeasible principles of causation or explanation. Naturalism would fare worse than theism in either case, since in addition to any brute facts about why this universe exists instead of another (if there would be such brute facts under theism, of course) it would have the brute fact of the universe existing without any efficient cause or explanation.

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    9. Thank you all for the replies.

      I lack time to get into every detail of every reply at this moment, but hope to do better later. Right now I wanted to acknowledge them, and ask a single follow-up question at large.

      To me, part of what makes the "brute fact" approach of naturalism so problematic is that it seems to destroy reason all the way around. For example, I'm not sure if Ed would agree, but to me, Hume's problem of induction is alive, well, and irrefutable if you're a naturalist. Who knows which universe would brute-fact occur? Could be any, no doubt, including any of the infinitely many that are regular up to now and then stop.

      So my question: If Christian theism is going to leave us with a certain kind of brute fact (contrastive, say), is it at least strong enough to eliminate this? Can we say that God's properties are such, whatever kind of world He constrastive-brute-fact chose to create, He would choose one where natures were real and respected and things didn't go all zany for no reason? If so, what properties would provide that? If this is doable, then it seems to me that the decisive difference between theism and naturalism may be preserved even with contrastive brute facts.

      (I'm not currently turning to whether we do or don't need contrastive brute facts, which was interestingly argued in this subthread.)

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    10. If theism left us with some brute facts about contrastive explanations (I don't think it does; I think we can have contrastive explanations that do not entail the explananda in any way, but nevermind), surely God would not create a universe in which all our inductive predictions broke down in the next second. A good God would have reason to favor orderly worlds over chaotic ones, 1) because order appears intrinsically better and more beautiful than chaos, and 2) because chaos would make life unlivable and pointless for us, and we would expect God to want a bare minimum condition for living creatures to be able to grow, develop, engage in moral actions, and so on.

      So of course, under theism there would be a selection that favors orderly worlds against chaotic ones, because orderly worlds would have a value that chaotic ones don't. Under naturalism, however, there would be no reason whatsoever to think an orderly world would be more likely than a chaotic one - quite the contrary, it seems that for every orderly world there are infinitely many that are chaotic or turn chaotic after a certain time.

      Theism does give us a way out of the problem of induction and skepticism.

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    11. "The issue is you are insisting that the only possible contrastive explanation would be one which entails X rather than Y, but this is what Pruss is challenging."

      In the case of contrastive explanation in general, admitted; when it has to do with God, denied. I'm using a common-sense notion of "contrastive explanation" of something which results in X and not Y unless it is impeded (which happens not to be the case in the actual world but isn't necessarily the case). However, obviously if this contrastive explanation has to do with God in any way, God can't be impeded.

      So my claim is that "God's creation of X" cannot be an explanation of X (even though it entails X), since the explained must be part of the explainer (unless one admits modal collapse). "God's creation of X" really means God's act of creation in a world which contains X.




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  20. But it still seems to me that *the fact that this particular world and not some other* was created *is* a brute fact. What could possibly be an explanation?

    Contrastive explanations are not a trivial matter because the nature of the contrast affects what counts as explanatory to begin with, so we need to know exactly how we are building the contrast. In terms of the bare existence of this rather than that world, the existence of this world is necessarily the existence of this world and not another, so if the existence of this world is explained, the existence of this world rather than another is explained, and therefore cannot be a brute fact. Compositionally, the existence of this particular world rather than another is simply those particular things that make it up; so by this kind of contrast as well, the world is not a brute fact, since the explanandum (that the world that exists is this world) is explained in terms of something more fundamental (its parts being what they are).

    So it seems very much like the only question here is: "What are the final causes of this world being exactly the way it is?" Final causes are those explanatory factors that select this effect rather than that, so the question seems to be asking for a complete and exhaustive account of the final causes for the world, an account that selects this world out of infinite possibles. This question runs into three obvious problems:

    (1) It seems like an infinite explanation of this sort could only possibly be available to omniscience, which we don't have. We can say some very general things about final causes of things, but a complete and exhaustive account of final causes for the whole world is certainly out of our abilities to achieve.

    (2) We know that some things do not have final causes. Chance coincidences, while made up of things that may have final causes, do not themselves have final causes. So without an argument for determinism, we have no reason to think that there is an exhaustive final-cause account that identifies this particular universe -- the differences between some possible universes are just chance differences.

    (3) Related to this, we have good reason to think that final causes often do not select down to the individual, but only in a generic way. That's how our goals and purposes and work; you don't precisely identify literally every possible thing that goes into reaching some goal you have, you just set a general goal and make sure that your actions hit within that general region. Again, if we had reason to think determinism true, we would have reason to think that nonetheless there is some exhaustive account that specifies exactly these results all the way down, and barring that we have no reason to think that God micromanages the details of things that depend on His causal action down to individual features and characteristics, with no room for different possibilities.

    But even if the only final causes all together fail to specify every individual feature of this world, this wouldn't make the fact that this world rather than another a brute fact even in final cause terms, because they would specify something, and therefore restrict the possibilities in some way.

    In any case, a brute fact, simply speaking, is one that simply is; it is not explained by anything at all. This is necessarily not true in the case we are considering, for the reasons noted above.

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    1. Thank you much for the interesting reply, which I'm mulling over. Please do see my overall reply on the subthread above. I'll try to reply in detail later.

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  21. Some questions, if I may.
    Q1 When a Thomist says that God's contingent willing of creation is transitive -- in the precise sense that its completion occurs in something other to God (just as the being-at-work of an agent only occurs in the patient) -- does he thereby concede that the notion that God's contingent act of willing is wholly transitive (even if transitive effects follow and are intended to follow) cannot be squared with divine simplicity, or would represent a threat to that doctrine?

    Q2. Surely God's act of willing creation is eternal--God willed from all eternity that he would create and redeem etc, and in the particular way that he has and will. This ordaining is both contingent and eternal. But if eternal, it must be wholly intransitive in God. If its reality as an act of will (an ordaining) depended on the existence of that which is ordained, then God has not yet ordained what is yet to come. Which is false.

    Note that it won't do to say that the act of ordaining is eternal "in a certain respect" i.e. when we prescind from the contingent aspect and focus solely on the essential will of God in which the contingent ordination is grounded. No, the divine ordaining QUA CONTINGENT must be eternal. Otherwise for every x where x is realised in some point in time before which x was not, either (1) God ordained x necessarily or (2) God ordained x contingently but only began to ordain x once x began to exist or (3) God did not ordain x. But there are infallible promises of God which do not fall into any of those 3 categories.

    Thanks for your thoughts in advance.

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    1. I meant to say wholly INtransitive up top.

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    2. I don't understand your first question at all, and in the second I'm not really sure what you have in mind when you talk about the divine ordaining 'qua contingent'; ordinarily we would say the contingency is in what is ordained, and what is ordained is in the case you suggest not eternal but temporal. The divine power to ordain is itself eternal and necessary; and among the things that the divine power to ordain can ordain are things that are temporal and contingent.

      You seem to think there is some problem with transitivity, but if God is willing things other than himself, that is transitive by definition; and transitive causal claims about anything are never about just the cause but also about the caused. For instance, if I say, "John taught Mary to read", that's a transitive act, completed only in Mary in reading; and it is an error to think that John has an intrinsic property just in himself that is the having-taught-Mary-to-read property. The claim does describe John, but only insofar as something is true of Mary, who is a different person. 'God ordains that John will be a prophet' is a true statement about God, but only insofar as something is true of John, who is very much not God; thus one can't conclude from it that this is something 'in' God, because it is quite explicitly a mixed statement about both God and John, who is not God.

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    3. You are conflating two senses of "transitive". The sense that I was interested in has to do with being-in-a-patient, or more generally, being-in-something-other. That is how Aquinas understands the operation of creating/sustaining. The sense of "transitive" you have in mind is just intentional reference. You'd be hard pressed to defend the view that for God, all intentional reference to creatures is divine causal efficacy in respect to creatures. For some things which arise in time are ordained contingently by God from all eternity. God's ordaining them is clearly NOT something which is transitive in the FIRST sense.
      Try again.

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    4. Again, I have no idea what your question is, so you should take the trouble to explain yourself before you expect an answer; this is not a guessing game. 'Being-in-a-patient' is not a standard meaning of 'transitive' at all, so there was no way to guess what you meant from your very cryptic comments. I have no idea what you mean by 'intentional reference'; the standard meaning of 'transitive' is that which is completed in a distinct object. It is the standard Thomistic view that in transeunt or transitive causation the action of the cause qua cause is in the effect; from which it follows that God's ordaining something contingent, insofar as it is a cause of the contingent thing, which God's ordaining always is, is always transitive, and the contingency applies to the contingent thing. God eternally ordains things that are contingent; the ordaining of contingent things is by definition contingent because of the contingent things so ordained.

      I notice that in your response you fail actually to clarify any of the points which I had explicitly noted were obscure in your original comment. I still don't know what you mean by "divine ordaining 'qua contingent'", since you apparently don't mean God's ordaining of contingent things; I still don't know what your first question was. Try again.

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  22. I deliberately passed over my first question to focus on the second one which is more important.

    Yes, by "divine ordaining 'qua contingent'" I mean God's act A of ordaining something S where it is absolutely possible that God might not have ordained S. A is contingent, and so is S.
    I gave you a reason why God's contingent act A of ordaining something S, is totally complete AS AN ACT OF ORDAINING in God himself--that it does NOT come to exist by occurring "in the patient" (which is how transitive action is understood on the Thomistic account). Here's my argument again. The created something S which God ordains comes to exist in time. Therefore, by our understanding of transitive operation/action, the "full actuality" of God's causing-S-to-be begins to occur in time. God is not efficaciously causing S to be until S actually exists. Now if God's ordaining the existence of S were "transitive" in THAT sense, that of course would mean that God doesn't ordain the existence of S until S actually exists. But that is clearly false. God has ordained infallibly that certain things will happen, but they haven't happened yet. It's pretty clear, then, that God's ordaining of created effects is NOT "transitive" in the sense that you use (and which I use too) when speaking about transitive action/operation.

    However, God's eternal ordaining of things DOES have something on the side of creation as its intended object--it refers to something non-divine. Something non-divine is that which God ordains. God wills (infallibly) from all eternity that something S will be realised in creation, and he knows from all eternity that S will be realised. That's what "intention" means: knowing and/or willing an object (there are other modes of intentionality too but they don't apply here). Intention has a reference to an object. So yes, God's ordaining S has an intentional reference to something non-divine. But from that it does NOT follow that God's ordaining S is "transitive" in the precise sense explained above.
    You attempted to answer my objection by conflating intentional reference (willing/knowing X) with transitive action. But that's a false assumption. And that's why I said you needed to try again.

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    1. Necessarily, all of God's acts with regard to anything not Himself are contingent in the sense you give here; the historical term for that is not contingent but free -- God is free with respect to anything other than himself. This is indeed something said of God Himself; God is necessarily free, even if nothing else exists, and He does not stop being free if contingent things do exist because of Him.

      If S is not God, and we are talking about God's act of ordaining S, then that act is (as I said above) transitive literally by definition.

      God is not efficaciously causing S to be until S actually exists. Now if God's ordaining the existence of S were "transitive" in THAT sense, that of course would mean that God doesn't ordain the existence of S until S actually exists.

      No, this is a confusion that arises from your switching which modal operators go where. Since God is eternal, God's ordaining something in time is only in time in the exact sense that what he ordains is in time. God doesn't have to wait for His ordinance to go into effect; He's eternal, and thus not measured by time, and it's only the thing He is ordaining that is in time. To say that God has ordained infallibly that (say) something will happen tomorrow just means that it will happen tomorrow because of God, who does not, however, have to wait for it like we do because He is eternal.

      Your talk about intentionality, again, is a strange introduction; intentionality is part of the causal structure whenever we are talking about any kind of intelligent agent, so in a productive act, the intentional reference is part of the production even for us. Since God is omnipotent, He requires nothing else than willing, so attempting to introduce a distinction in this particular context is obviously wrong. It was not, however, anything remotely like what I was talking about in the previous comment, which was about completion of a causal action in an object; you were the one who introduced the notion.

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  23. My point doesn't turn on whether we agree to use "transitive" in the way that you define it! It's a bit irritating, my friend, when I'm honestly trying to discuss something with you and I explain very clearly and repetitively my use of terms and then you just say no, that's not what the terms means.

    I am trying (for crying out loud!) to say that God's infallible ordinances are eternal, and that at least some of these infallible ordinances are "free" (I'll use your word, since you don't like "contingent" here) in the libertarian sense--it is absolutely possible that God never ordained S. Ok. So far so good.

    Now I'm not sure, but it seems that you want to agree to that first proposition -- (1) that there are divine, infallible, eternal, libertarian-free ordinances (acts of ordaining that something will be or occur). [You of course would not say that these "acts" are something plural in God or something superadded in God to the essential act of God. But this proposition doesn't demand that]. Let these be called "free ordinances."

    And it seems to me you also want to say that
    (2) Just as the transitive action of an agent occurs IN the patient, and just as the effective production of something only occurs IN that which is produced, and not naturally prior to or independently of the latter [the patient or produced term] (for there is not first the act of production, and then, as a distinct result of that, the produced term)--likewise all free ordinances of God occur IN the creatures which are ordained to exist, and not independently of those creatures (or created effects).

    Now if (2) is true--if God's free ordinances are transitive in THIS sense--then by definition they only occur IN creatures. What that amounts to is in (4) below :

    On my view
    (3) God freely ordains that X will occur, and as a DEPENDENT RESULT of that ordaining, X occurs. X is an effect that is posterior to the ordinance itself (posterior in nature and in time).

    But as we saw, transitive action/production does not RESULT in some effected/produced term. It is not as if there is transitive efficacy, and then, as a result of that, the effect. The action occurs in the patient; to move another is materially identical to being-moved-by-another, etc etc (I trust you know all this).

    It seems as if you want to defend the following:

    4) God freely ordains X--but the occurrence of X is NOT a DEPENDENT RESULT of that ordaining. Just as (for Aristotle) the being-moved of the patient is the same thing as the action/efficacy of the transitive agent, the creature's being-caused is the same thing as God's ordaining the creature to be.

    I object to (4) because well, it's obviously false. If God ordains X, then the occurrence of X FOLLOWS from God's ordaining X as a DEPENDENT RESULT and EFFECT of God's ordaining X.

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    1. The notion that you are in any way explaining yourself clearly is absurd; you can't simultaneously use terms in nonstandard senses for the context without adequate explanation and pretend that you are being clear.

      all free ordinances of God occur IN the creatures which are ordained to exist, and not independently of those creatures (or created effects).

      No, this is equivocal between whether one is talking about God's power to ordain, which is active, or about what is ordained; my point is explicitly that one cannot equivocate between the two. 'God ordains X' is explicitly about God and X both; but it is about God with respect to X, and if X is contingent, temporal etc., it is entirely X's contingency, temporality, etc., that is the ground of this.

      God freely ordains that X will occur, and as a DEPENDENT RESULT of that ordaining, X occurs. X is an effect that is posterior to the ordinance itself (posterior in nature and in time).

      And, as I previously noted, this is obviously wrong; the effect is posterior by nature, but it is logically impossible to be temporally posterior to eternity.

      God freely ordains X--but the occurrence of X is NOT a DEPENDENT RESULT of that ordaining.

      No, this is again one of those things that you have invented in your head and attributed to me; the number of them is starting to mount up quite a bit. This claim has literally nothing to do with anything I have said, and is in fact inconsistent with several things I have said.

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  24. I think I'm being pretty clear, actually. But anyway, no more animosity. I just want to get clear on what you are saying. I am finding it difficult.

    I think that might be because you are equivocating between two uses of "ordaining". You say just now that the occurrence of X IS a dependent result of God ordaining X. Okay. In that case you would presumably mean something like this: "the occurrence of X is a dependent result of the necessary divine being/power/essence/act BY WHICH and OUT OF WHICH contingent effects are created." Or in short, (T1) the created effect X arises (contingently, through divine freedom) out of the necessary being of God.
    I'm going to assume that when you affirm that the occurrence of X is a dependent result of God's ordaining of X, you mean (T1).

    So let's, for now, go along consistently with THAT understanding of "God's ordaining X." I can't see how "God's ordaining X" in THAT sense could be transitive (in the Aristotelian sense of an action that only occurs qua action in the patient). For the divine being is not a transitive action with reference to any created effect. It is wholly intransitive. So if you are going to defend the view that the occurrence of X is indeed a dependent result of God's ordaining, you cannot, in the same breath, also say that "God's ordaining" is transitive. Not without equivocating.

    I (tentatively) attributed to yourself the view that "God freely ordains X--but the occurrence of X is NOT a DEPENDENT RESULT of that ordaining" because that's EXACTLY what is implied if you insist that God's ordaining X is transitive--and you did insist on the latter quite explicitly. I may have misunderstood you, but to say that it has "literally nothing to do with anything I have said" is a bit odd. And yes it may be inconsistent what what you have said, but that could be because you are equivocating with respect to God's "ordaining".

    It seems to me that you want to agree that X is a dependent result of God's ordaining--but only by implying that "God's eternal ordaining" is intransitive.

    And then you want to say that God's ordaining is transitive--but only by understanding "God's ordaining" in such a way that the effect of God's ordaining is NOT a dependent result of that ordaining.

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    1. In that case you would presumably mean something like this: "the occurrence of X is a dependent result of the necessary divine being/power/essence/act BY WHICH and OUT OF WHICH contingent effects are created." Or in short, (T1) the created effect X arises (contingently, through divine freedom) out of the necessary being of God.
      I'm going to assume that when you affirm that the occurrence of X is a dependent result of God's ordaining of X, you mean (T1).


      I have no idea whatsoever what you mean by "arising out of the necessary being of God", which means that I have no idea what you are talking about in most of the rest of your criticism.

      "God freely ordains X--but the occurrence of X is NOT a DEPENDENT RESULT of that ordaining" because that's EXACTLY what is implied if you insist that God's ordaining X is transitive

      No, this is not only false, it is literally not logically possible for it to be true; the effects of transitive causal actions are necessarily dependent on the causes to which the transitive acts are attributed. Again, the only way you can mean this is if you are using 'transitive' in a way that not only is nonstandard, and not only is directly inconsistent with what I have explicitly said 'transitive' means, but is actually inconsistent with the particular brief comments you have made about what 'transitive' means (in the precise sense that its completion occurs in something other to God (just as the being-at-work of an agent only occurs in the patient); occurring "in the patient" (which is how transitive action is understood on the Thomistic account); etc.), all of which directly require that the object of the transitive action be dependent on that which acts.

      It is very noticeable that you have yet again failed to explain in any way specific points in your own position that I had noted were problematic, such as your claim that what is ordained is temporally posterior to an ordaining that is eternal. Again, it's utterly absurd to suggest that you are in any way being clear when you prefer to try to make up opinions to attribute to me rather than actually explain yourself.

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  25. ...the problem is that most commit a category mistake and treat God and creation as a mechanistic cause effect situation...wherein God is willing something external...yet this is impossible as all creation is ordered to God as a final cause...since as we have already demonstrated we would have to posit an infinite regress of creators...hence creation is merely the divine essence willing intrinsically its own goodness...God could have willed his own goodness without creation as God is ontologically imperfectible...creation adds nothing to Gods infinite goodness as a pure perfection...we cannot add or subtract from an infinite being in itself...

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