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Wednesday, August 22, 2018


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I have never understood why some philosophers think this is a problem. Whatever creation is, it does not imply that some previously unrealized potential has been realized in God. Neither would his "decision" to refrain from creating be an unrealized potential in God. The fact that we have no phenomenological data as to how this works/what it's like, etc. is exactly what we should expect, not being God.

Anyway, I admire the philosophers who do think this is a problem, so I imagine I am just missing the force of it. In any case, this paper might be worth considering for your SEOP revisions:


"If God is simple, then he is purely actual (actus purus) and _thus_ devoid of unexercised powers and unrealized potentials." (My emphasis)

I wonder whether fine scholastics would agree. Lukáš Novák should know, I will ask him. I guess they commonly admit that the perfections of simplicity and pure actuality leave room for certain sorts of composition and potential. (These compositions and potentials involve no imperfection.) That's what I recall -- though vaguely -- about their reaction to the claim that divine simplicity leaves no room for the Trinity.


Please do ask Novak. Even if simplicity is compatible with Trinity, it is not clear to me how there could be act-potency composition in God. If God is pure act, then he is -- wait for it -- pure act! It is a bare-faced contradiction to say that God is pure act AND harbors unrealized potentialities. You may as well say that God is pure act and not pure act.

Thank you for your comment.


Thanks for the comment and the link.

I'd say you are missing the force of the problem. I presented it very clearly, I think, more clearly than Mullins. It is no adequate response to simply assert that there is no problem.

I do not see how this is a problem beyond the standard Thomas Morris objection that God must be identical with His acts of knowing or creating. Most of the scholastics are happy to allow God 'active potencies', powers to actualise X, even if He should never chose to do so. That God has such powers is a commitment of the powers theory of modality + divine Omnipotence.

A question if I may: in 'Divine Simplicity: A New Defense' you suggest that the DS champion should just accept that God has accidental properties, like willing X, and that the position only requires that God be identical with all his essential properties. Would you still be willing to accept this? To me it seems an interesting position to defend.

Thanks, Bill, for these reflections on the Mullins's article and modal collapse.

What happens if we posit, in Dionysian fashion, that God exists beyond being? Would this not mean that God also exists beyond modal distinctions and beyond our notions of libertarian and compatibilist freedom?

Perhaps, the scholastic point is that the pure act need not be so pure or unrestricted after all, yet still may stay clear from any admixture of imperfection.

I have emailed Lukáš.

In other words, "pure" should not, and need not, be understood in an unrestricted way. But I am only guessing.

The link provided by Josh (above) is worth reading.

I have some reflections on this. I think the aporia can be resolved by adopting an extrinsic model of God-creature properties.


Fr. Kimel,

If God is beyond Being and radically transcendent of all our conceptuality, then it would seem that theology would be impossible. We would then be better off spending our time in deep meditation in quest of infused contemplation.

There is also the question of what the Dionysian Absolute could have to do with the God of the Bible who speaks to man, intervenes in history, smites his enemies, etc.

Fr. Kimel,

I have reposted near the top of the queue a response to you from three years ago on the 'beyond being' business.

Bill, I think Dionysius would disagree with you that theological statement is rendered impossible by his assertion that God is beyond being. For him, theology is grounded upon God’s self-procession into finite being: the cosmos is theophany and on this basis we may properly name him: https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2018/06/17/dionysian-ponderings-the-god-who-is-theophany/. Our contemplative ascent does require, it is true, the negation of these divine names, as these names are based on perfections found in the world, but the negations must themselves be negated, for God is not a being that can be contrasted with the world, either by affirmation or negation.

Hence my continuing suspicion that the Byzantine construal of divinity (God beyond being) escapes the charge of modal collapse. And given that I cannot see a big difference between Dionysius and Aquinas on this point (Thomas’s understanding of divine transcendence seems to be just as radical as that of Dionysius’s), I also suspect that Aquinas’s construal of divinity also escapes the charge of modal collapse. But it’s only a suspicion.

When we consider God's ontological status, we say that his existence is necessary. Another way of saying this is that he exists a se. He has no external cause, for there could be no such thing. I was wondering whether we could hold similarly regarding God's will.
Suppose that the act of creation is an unactualised potential in God. It does not therefore follow that Divine Simplicity is false. Beings other than God require an actuator in order to realise their potentials. God does not: he is his own actuator in the same way that he is his own cause. This is surely part of what we mean by God's aseity.


Yes, God's existence is necessary. But being necessary and being a se are not the same. Abstract objects are necessary but not a se if they are divine thought-contents. Aquinas distinguishes between that which has its necessity from itself and that which has its necessity from another. Only the first is a se.

>>Suppose that the act of creation is an unactualised potential in God.<<

That makes no sense. An act cannot be unactualized.

Bill, my sneaking suspicions agree with Fr Aidan re "beyond being." I agree with you that divine simplicity holds, but maybe we can say that, while the modal distinctions are based in being, being does not exhaust reality?

To wit:


My apologies, Bill, for I mistated above, as you know, that reality > being.

That s/h/b being > reality > existence.

Aaron Bruce Wilson, Peirce’s Empiricism: Its Roots and Its Originality, Lexington Books, Oct 19, 2016

Below is an excerpt from the dissertation of Dr. Mariusz Tabaczek O.P., which is the best example of a theology of nature as would be consistent with what I am struggling to articulate.


"A theory of emergence based on dispositional metaphysics would show a new explanatory potential as well. It would not only reconcile Aristotelianism with emergentism, but also have a significant impact on the view of divine action developed in reference to the theory of emergence. God’s action would no longer be conceived panentheistically as an influence on the totality of the world, which metaphysically assumes that the causation of God and creatures is of the same kind (univocal predication) and so runs the risk of collapsing into pantheism. The recovery of the plural notion of causation allows for a recapturing of the classical understanding of divine action as proposed by Aquinas. God is regarded as the ultimate source of forms, and the ultimate aim of all teleology in nature. With regard to efficient causation, God’s transcendence is protected by Aquinas’ distinction between the primary and principal causation of the Creator and the secondary and instrumental character of the causation of creatures. Therefore, God’s immutability, omniscience, omnipotence, infinity, eternity, and impassibility are not challenged, while his immanent and constant presence in all worldly events is by no means undermined."

While denying a strictly metaphysical impasse between divine simplicity & freedom and while suggesting we've thus avoided any logical inconsistencies (e.g. due to parodies grounded in conceptual incompatabilities), it’s not to suggest we’ve also thereby eliminated the aporetic confrontations that inescapably attend to all theo-kataphasis. At the same time, it’s just no small victory to dismiss the facile caricatures & snarky parodies of “devastating” neo-atheological critiques?


So, in the end, I resonate w/both Bill & Fr Aidan. Thanks for stimulating my heartfelt musings & generously sharing some cyber-real-estate. I hope I haven't taken undue advantage of your kindness.

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