PHIL/RS 335. Divine Omnipotence. The Nature of the Divine. Why would people be concerned to specify the nature of the divine? What are they relating it to? What does it have to do with belief or w orthiness ?
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Why would people be concerned to specify the nature of the divine?
What are they relating it to?
What does it have to do with beliefor worthiness?
Traditional theism has tended to take up the issue of Divine nature through an analysis of God’s capacities and/or qualities and the relationship between these and the various dimensions of our experience.
Aquinas was born in 1225 in Roccasecca, Italy. At the age of five, he was entered in the Benedictine abbey at Montecassino. It was there that he was introduced to the recently rediscovered works of Aristotle, and to the new mendicant order of the Dominicans, which he eventually joined.
He spent most of his adult life working on behalf of the order and the Church as one of its predominant theologians, defending his increasingly influential Aristotelian-oriented theology from critics and the church from heresies of various sorts.
He died in 1274.
Aquinas’s major work was a collection of questions on the major philosophical and theological issue of his time.
Each of the articles of the Summa Theologicais focused on answering a specific question.
Aquinas insists that clear questions can be answered in two ways - in the affirmative or in the negative.
An answer to a question is not complete until it considers both sides.
Step 1: Ask the question (the issue to be considered).
Step 2: State the objection(s) and give the best arguments for it. The objection is the position on the question opposite to the one that Aquinas is out to prove.
Step 3: State the position to be argued for and give the best arguments for it.
Step 4: Refute each of the arguments objection(s) by a strong counter argument. These are called replies to the objections.
Aquinas on Divine Omnipotence
The question that Aquinas is addressing in the article in front of us concerns God’s omnipotence.
As is typical of the procedure of the Summa, Aquinas first reviews some common objections to the claim that God is omnipotent.
There are powers and acts that God seems not to possess (movement).
God lacks the power to sin.
God’s powers characteristically manifest in ‘unimpressive’ ways (mercy).
If God is omnipotent, then nothing is impossible, but since necessity makes necessary reference to impossibility, God’s omnipotence would effectively deny necessity.
A Conceptual Ambiguity
Aquinas recognizes that these objections seem to stem from an ambiguity. What does it mean to say that “All things are possible in God?” (6c1).
To resolve this ambiguity, Aquinas looks (as he typically does) to “The Philosopher,” which is what he calls Aristotle.
For Aristotle a thing can be said to be possible in one of two ways.
In act (what a thing is capable of).
In (a non-self-contradictory) conception.
What is possible for God?
As Aquinas makes clear, it is in the second of these senses that it is reasonable to say that all things are possible in God (6C1).
The first sense merely authorizes us to say that God can do what God can do.
So, God can do anything that is not conceptually impossible to do, for those things cannot be done (6c2).
Using this account, Aquinas then goes on to demonstrate why the various objections considered above don’t hold against the claim of God’s omnipotence.
Mavrodes, “Some Puzzles”
Mavrodes, taking up Aquinas’s account of divine omnipotence, demonstrates that certain types of arguments against the assertion of divine omnipotence don’t work.
The sorts of arguments in question are like “The Paradox of the Stone” (8).
Mavrodes doesn’t seem to think that this type of paradox can be dissolved as easily as Frankfurt suggests because to deny it’s force seems at the same time to deny God’s omnipotence (8c1).
He also doesn’t think that it is obviously resolved by Aquinas’s insistence on conceptual possibility (not the same as a square circle).
With regard to this latter point, however, Mavrodes insists that we shouldn’t let appearances deceive us.
The idea that the paradox of the stone is not a conceptual impossibility akin to the square circle is false.
Though in posing the dilemma, no conceptual contradiction is apparent, there is a hidden contradiction operating in the conception of the divine on which the paradox rests (9c1).
What’s the Upshot?
Mavrodes’s discussion is interesting primarily because of what it highlights.
Both Aquinas and Mavrodes are examining arguments against a claim, not providing arguments in favor of a claim.
This can be a subtle difference but it’s an important one. At the very least it suggests that there is a strong presumption operating here that we should interrogate.
Why might we think that God is omnipotent? What are the stakes in the assertion and what are the costs in maintaining it?