This post is devoted to arguments establishing divine simplicity. In later posts I will outline Scotus’ views on reconciling divine simplicity with univocity and the plurality of divine attributes.
Divine simplicity is a negative doctrine, which holds that God has no parts or constituents. But it has been variously construed throughout the history of philosophy. Indeed, I would say that there is a continuum of views from strong to weak. A strong view, perhaps the strongest, is that of Plotinus, who denied that even the duality of thought and thought-about can be in God; consequently, he put the intellect outside God on a lower plane of being. Christianity in general has a very weak sense of divine simplicity, at least compared to the neo-Platonists (though beware! they live again in France). Christians have historically posited an infinity of objects for the divine mind and even place a Trinity of persons in God. The Church defined divine simplicity as a dogma at Lateran IV in 1215, though obviously this was no novelty. Defined is perhaps too strong a word; it was used in the creed of the council. All that we find is that God is said to be “omnino simplex” which is translated as “completely” or “entirely simple”. Subsequent councils have confirmed this, but as far as I know, have not specified what this means. The scholastics of the 13th and 14th centuries not surprisingly all defend divine simplicity. Yet they have somewhat different conceptions of it. For some, such as Bonaventure and Henry of Ghent, simplicity seems to indicate an activity of the divine essence (don’t tell David Bradshaw). Aquinas denies a series of possible compositions of God (quantitative parts, form and matter, nature and supposit, essence and existence, genus and difference, potency and act), as well as gives arguments: if God were composite he would be posterior to his parts, composites require an existrinsic cause, etc. This reveals, I think, that divine simplicity is a corollary of arguments for the existence of God. Certainly for Aquinas, and probably for all the scholastics, the proofs that establish the existence of God establish a being that is the explanation of all other beings, that than which explanation cannot go. To posit a complex being is only get part way to the end; for there still is a further cause, whether the parts themselves or some other extrinsic cause which joins the parts, which will terminate the explanation.
Scotus’ gives a series a proofs for divine simplicity based on particular and common middle terms. In the particular middle term he argues that God is not composed of essential parts, quantitative parts, or subject and accident. His proof from common middle terms are arguments from necessary being and infinity. I give only one argument from each section, and include the latin.
Ordinatio I d. 8 pt. 1 q. 1 (ed. Vat. IV, 153-64)
A. Probatio simplicitatis Dei per media particularia.
1. God is not composed of essential parts
1. The causality of matter and form is not absolutely first, but necessarily presupposes a prior efficient causality.
2. Therefore, if the first being were composed of matter and form, it would presuppose the causality of an efficent cause.
3. This could not be the causality of the First being, because it does not effect itself by joining matter and form.
4. Therefore it must be the causality of another, prior, efficient cause, the opposite of which was proven in d.2 q.1 [the proof for the existence of God].
Proof of 1: the causality of matter and form includes imperfection, because it includes the notion (ratio) of part; causality of the efficient and end includes no imperfection, but only perfection; every imperfect is reduced to the perfect just as to something essentially prior to itself, ergo etc.
[Primum sic: causalitas materiae et formae non est simpliciter prima, sed necessario praesupponit causalitatem efficientem priorem, - ergo si Primum esseet compositum ex materia et forma, praesupponeret causalitatem efficentis; non autem huius, quia istud non efficit se, coniugendo materiam suam cum forma, - ergo alterius efficientis, prioris; ergo Deus non esset primum efficiens, cuius oppositum probatum est distinctione 2 quaestione 1. – Probatio primae propositionis: causalitas materiae et formae includit imperfectionem, quia rationem partis, causalitas autem efficientis et finis nullam imperfectionem includit, sed perfectionem; omne imperfectum reducitur ad perfectum sicut ad prius se essentialiter; ergo etc.]
2. God is not composed of quantitative parts
[omitted, mainly a discussion of Aristotle’s arguments in Metaphysics 12 and Physics 8]
3. God is not composed of subject and accident
1. Because God is not material nor quantified (quantus), therefore he is not compatible with a material accident, of the kind which befalls material things such as a quality of a material thing.
2. Therefore he is compatible with spiritual accidents, for example, intellection and volition, and their corresponding habits.
3. But such cannot be accidents of that [divine] nature, just as was proved in distinction 2, because his understanding and willing are his substance, and habit and power, etc.
[Tertia probatur conclusio specialiter ex istis: quia enim Deus non est materialis nec quantus, ideo non est capax accidentis alicuius materialis, conventientis rei materiali sicut qualitas rei materialis; ergo tantum est capax illorum quae conveniunt spiritibus – puta intellectionis et volitionis, et habituum correspondentium – sed talia non possunt esse accidentia illi naturae, sicut probatum est distinctione 2 quia intelligere eius et velle eius sunt substantia eius, et habitus et potentia, etc.]
B. Probatio simplicitatis Dei ex mediis communibus
1. From necessary being
if the First being is composed, let the components be called A and B. Let’s take A; is A of itself formally necessary being, or not, but is possible being. if it is of itself possible being, therefore the necessary being (the First) will be composed from the possible being, and so it will not be necessary being. If A is of itself necessary being, then it is of itself in the highest degree of actuality (ultima actualitate), and so it will not make a per se being with any other being. Likewise, if of itself it is a composed necessary being, it will be a necessary being through A, and for the same reason it will be a necessary being through B, and so it will be twice necessary being; necessary being will also be composed through something, which when it is removed, it will still be necessary being, which is impossible.
[Primo ex ratione necesse-esse, quia si Primum sit compositum, sint componentia a et b; quaero de a, si sit ex se formaliter necesse-esse, aut non, sed possibile-esse (alterum istorum oportet dare in quacumque re, sive in omni natura ex qua aliquid componitur). Si est ex se possibile-esse, ergo necesse-esse ex se componitur ex possibili, et ita non erit necesse-esse; si a est ex se necesse-esse, ergo est ex se ultima actualitate, et ita cum nullo facit per se unum. Similiter, si ex se est necesse-esse compositum, erit necesse-esse per a, et pari ratione erit necesse-esse per b, et ita erit bis necesse-esse; erit etiam compositum necesse-esse per aliquid, quo sublato nihil minus erit necesse-esse, quod est impossibile.]
2. From infinity
1. every component can be part of some total composite which is from it and another component.
2. Every part can be exceeded
3. it is against the notion of the infinite that it is able to be exceeded
4. ergo, etc.
[...et primo quod Deus non sit componibilis: per hoc, quod omne componibile potest esse pars alicuius totius compositi quod est ex ipso et alio componibili; omnis autem pars potest excedi; contra rationem vero infiniti est posse excedi, ergo etc.]
Confirmation of the argument:
1. every component lacks the perfection of that with which it is composed, so that that component does not have in itself every kind of identity with that [other component], because then it would not be able to enter into composition with it.
2. No infinite lacks that with which it can be in some way the same, indeed it has every such in itself according to perfect identity, because otherwise it could be understood to be more perfect, (for example, it would have that in itself as ‘composed’ and would not have the ‘infinite’).
3. It is against the notion of the infinite that it can be understood to be more perfect or that there is something more perfect than it.
[Et confirmatur ratio, et quasi idem est, - quia omne componibile caret perfectione illius cum quo componitur, ita quod illud componibile non habet in se omnem et omnimodam identitatem cum illo, quia tunc non posset cum illo componi; nullum infinitum caret eo cum quo potest esse aliquo modo idem, immo omne tale habet in se secundum perfectam identitatem, quia alias posset intelligi perfectius, puta si haberet illud in se sicut ‘compositum’ habet et illud ‘infinitum’ non habet; contra rationem autem infiniti simipliciter est quod ipsum posset intelligi perfectius vel aliquid perfectius eo.]
Furthermore: because if [the First being] is composed, therefore either from finite or infinite [parts]. If from infinite, no such being is composable, from the previous arguments from infinity. If from finite, it will not be infinite, because finite parts cannot render something infinite in perfection.
[ex hoc sequitur ulterius quod sit omnino incompositus, - quia si sit compositus, aut ergo ex finitis, aut ex infinitis: si ex infinitis, nullum tale est componibile, ex probatis; si ex finitis, ipsum non erit infinitum, quia finita non reddunt aliquid infinitum in perfectione sicut modo loquimur.]
Perhaps a review of David Bradshaw's book with you main points of criticism are in order?
No need. It's already been reviewed several times. My remark was directed at his view that simplicity in the cappadocians is an activity, something he claims is missing in the west, because he takes Aquinas as the paradigm case of the west.
I really appreciate you posting these, and translating them to be so clear and concise. It's a real help.
With that said, in set A, syllogism 1, premise 1 seems to be begging the question to me. It seems possible to have a "brute fact", that is, an uncaused contingent fact; and I'm not too sure I have a proper understanding of his proof for 1. Think you can help me out here?
That argument is also found in various forms in Aquinas. It presupposes that substances are composed of matter and form, sure, and so a broadly Aristotelian outlook. It could be reduced to a prior principle of 'nothing causes itself'. Postulating a "brute fact" certainly is begging the question; I don't see how something that is contingent could also be uncaused; if it could have been otherwise, why wasn't it?
The Proof is more of the same: substances are composed of matter and form, but these are parts, and so there must be some prior entity that will compose them. Causality of Matter and form introduce imperfection, while final and efficient causality do not. Again, he is presupposing broadly ARistotelian notions; if you don't accept them, you probably won't accept the general proof.
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