Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Scotistic Argument

The original version of this argument had a pretty long section where I defined all my terms, but this doesn't seem too necessary and I'm omitting it here. I do want to repeat that Scotus does not explicitly make this very argument in just this way. When I wrote this I hadn't studied Scotus on this subject in nearly as much detail as I have by now, but I still think it expresses the mens Scoti pretty well. But the argument is from my own head, not out of Scotus' texts.

A Scotistic Argument that Divine Simplicity is Consistent With a Contingent Creation

1. God exists. (Proof omitted. Good arguments are ready to hand and in any case God’s existence is not controversial among orthodox Christians. Also worth noting with attempting to prove it here is that, given the notion of God as infinite being, etc., there can be only one such being. God is utterly unique.)

2. God’s existence is necessary. (Nothing can be prior to what is first, but God is the first cause; therefore nothing can cause God. God is the only possible infinite being, but infinite being cannot depend on finite being to obtain in any way. Therefore God is not contingent in any way.)

3. God is simple. (This means that God is not composed of any parts or elements, i.e. material parts, matter and form, substance and accidents, essence and existence, or any other compositional factors. Every composite being is posterior to its parts or elements, but God is posterior to nothing; therefore God is not composite. Every composite has a cause by which its disparate parts or elements have unity, but God’s existence and unity is necessary and uncaused; therefore God is not composite.)

4. There are no real distinctions in God. (This is a direct implication of #3. If there were real distinctions in God, then by definition one part or element would be really separable from another part or element. The conclusion is also implied in the understanding of God as infinite being, for if God had really distinct parts or elements, then one part or element would be limited and bounded by its distinction from the others; each part or element would be finite, and the aggregate could never constitute an infinite whole. If God is infinite, then he is unlimited, but real distinctions are real delimiting elements; therefore etc.)

5. God has knowledge and will. (Proof omitted. Again, this is not controversial among Christians.)
(a) God knows himself and all possibles. (Proof omitted. By a possible I mean anything that does not contain a contradiction within itself. God knows the divine nature, human nature, the men that exist and the men that might exist but don’t, and unicorns and dragons. He doesn’t know square circles or how to make a rock so big that he couldn’t pick it up.)
(b) God wills himself and his own goodness but not all possibles. (Given that being and the good are convertible [proof omitted], the infinite being is infinitely good. Given the nature of the will as defined, God wills unrestricted or infinite good, which is his own existence. God however cannot will the existence of every possible existent, since this would entail an infinite number of contradictions. God can will that I be smart or stupid but not both at once, that I exist or that I don’t exist, but not both at once, that something besides him exists or that nothing does, but not both at once. That would be contradictory.)

6. There are formal distinctions between God’s essence, knowledge and will. (God’s essence, knowledge, and will are not really distinct, since God is simple. But they are not merely conceptually distinct; therefore they are formally distinct. They are not merely conceptually distinct because they are different in ratio and not merely in our consideration: knowing is not convertible with being (while goodness and unity, on the other hand, are), and so forth. This applies within God’s knowledge and will as well. God knows in a single act all that he knows, so the divine ideas are not really distinct; but the ratio of one divine idea [say that of a cat] is not identical with the ratio of another [say that of a dog], since the difference between cats and dogs is not merely conceptual; therefore the divine ideas are more than merely conceptually distinct; therefore they are formally distinct. Again, God’s knowledge of the possible Socrates is not identical in ratio to God’s will that Socrates exist or not exist, but God’s act of knowledge and God’s act of will are not really distinct; therefore they are formally distinct.)

7. God necessarily wills his own goodness. (Given the necessity of God’s existence, the convertibility of God’s existence and his goodness, the real identity of—together with the formal distinction between—God’s nature and his will, and the definition of the will, God’s necessarily existing will cannot fail to will his own necessary existence and goodness.)

8. One act can have multiple distinct objects or termini. (This is an obvious principle. I can eat a meal in order both to nourish my body and to participate in a social function, even though these are distinct. A gunshot can produce both a wound and a loud noise, but these are distinct both in reality and in intention.)

9. God’s existence in itself does not necessarily entail the existence of creatures. (God’s existence is the existence of infinite being or pure act. But nothing in the nature of infinite being requires there to be finite being, or in the nature of unlimited act that there be a limited act. By nature God’s existence cannot be in any way caused or determined by anything outside himself; therefore the existence or non-existence of creatures leaves God exactly the same in himself either way. Since God’s existence is the existence of infinite being and infinite goodness, the existence of finite being and finite good adds nothing to God’s being and goodness, nor do their non-existence in any way detract from God’s being and goodness. Therefore God’s nature is in itself compatible both with the existence and with the non-existence of any other nature.)

10. The existence of creatures is contingent. (Nothing can be the cause of itself [self-evident principle], but every creature is caused; therefore every creature depends on something else to exist.)

11. Only God can produce creatures. (Within the creaturely order one creature produces another, i.e. my father produces me and I produce my children. But the creaturely order itself, i.e. that there are creatures at all, cannot be produced by creatures but only by God. A thorough proof of this would be the inverse of a proof for God’s existence.)

12. God produces some creatures and fails to produce others through his will. (If there are creatures, then they are produced by God. But there are creatures, therefore etc. God’s production of creatures is either natural or voluntary. But God’s nature is indifferent to the production or non-production of creatures, therefore the production or non-production of creatures is not natural, therefore it is voluntary.)

13. An act having multiple distinct objects may be necessarily determined towards one object and not necessarily determined towards another object. (This can be shown by examples. If I am to eat a meal, it is [conditionally] necessary that I chew my food, but the necessity of chewing my food does not affect the contingency of the meal also serving a social end. If I am to live it is [conditionally] necessary that I eat, but given this necessity it is not therefore necessary that I eat bread instead of meat; some further determination of the act is still required. One more example: if an archer fires an arrow from his bow, it is [conditionally] necessary that the arrow pass through the air, but not thereby necessary that the arrow hit target A, target B, or no target at all. Some further determination of the act is required. Furthermore, if per impossibile it were absolutely rather than conditionally necessary that the arrow be fired, whether the arrow hits or fails to hit a target is still completely contingent on some further determining factor. The act of firing an arrow in itself, in its nature considered as such, is indifferent to hitting or not hitting a target—it is just as possible that every shot hit the ground as it is that some shot hit a target.)

14. God wills himself and creatures by one identical act. (From God’s simplicity. See #3 and #4.)

15. God’s willing his own goodness and his willing the production of creatures are really identical but formally distinct. (From the formal distinction in the divine understanding between the ratio of God’s own [necessary] nature and the rationes of any other [contingent] natures. See #5 and #6.)

16. God’s act of will towards himself is necessarily determined. (It is necessary that God’s being and goodness exist; therefore given the nature of the will to will the good, if God wills anything about himself he wills his being and goodness. See #1, #2, #5, and #7.)

17. God’s willing his own existence and goodness does not in itself determine his will to create or refrain from creating creatures. (See #8-12 and especially #13. God is a voluntary agent like a man is an archer. If a man is to be an archer he must fire at least one arrow; if God is to be a voluntary agent he must perform at least one [and in this case, due to divine simplicity, only one] volitional act. If an arrow is fired it is necessarily entailed that the arrow at least pass through the air; if God wills he must at least will his own infinite goodness. The necessity to pass through the air entailed in firing an arrow does not in itself determine whether the arrow will perform the additional operation of hitting a target; similarly the necessity of willing his own infinite being and goodness does not in itself determine whether God’s act of will performs the additional operation of willing some finite being and goodness.)

18. Nothing besides God’s will can determine God’s will to create or to refrain from creating. (The created world, i.e. finite being, does not determine its own existence; the divine nature in itself qua infinite being is indeterminate with regard to the existence or non-existence of finite being. In other words the simple existence of infinite being in itself is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the existence of finite being: finite being cannot exist without infinite being, but infinite being can exist without finite being. Since the divine nature does not determine the divine will towards creatures, but only determines the divine will towards itself, and since nothing outside God can determine anything inside God in any way, therefore nothing whatsoever can determine the divine will as regards creatures precisely insofar as it is formally distinct from the divine nature and from the divine will as regards the divine nature, other than this will itself in its own ratio.)

Therefore I conclude:

19. God’s will to create or to refrain from creating is self-determined, i.e. free.

20. The existence of creatures is radically contingent on the divine will. The divine will itself is necessary with regard to the divine nature and neither necessary nor contingent with regard to creatures, but free. There is contingency in creatures but none in God. The one, simple divine act is in one sense absolutely necessary and in another sense absolutely free.

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