Divine Attributes Archives

More Generally: Philosophy (523) » Philosophical Theology (39)
More Specifically: Divine Freedom (2) Divine Infinity (1) Divine Necessity (3) Divine Simplicity (1) Omnipotence (13) Omniscience (1) Perfect Goodness (4) Perfect Wisdom (1) Providence and Sovereignty (6)

February 14, 2019

Molinism and the Logic of Subjunctive Conditionals

The following is a plausible principle of the logic of subjunctive conditionals: ◊(p□→q), ◊p ⊨ ◊q This is to say that if a subjunctive conditional is possible true, and its antecedent is possibly true, then its consequent is also possibly true. This principle is validated by most accounts of subjunctive conditionals, including those that allow for non-trivial counterpossibles. If Molinism is true, then this principle is very likely false. According to Molinism (as I use the term here), God exists necessarily and essentially possesses the attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, moral perfection, etc. God possesses two types of knowledge logically prior...
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January 11, 2019

Finkish Backtracking Abilities

A disposition or ability is said to be 'finkish' iff, were the conditions for its exercise actual, the disposition/ability would be lost. (See Martin and Lewis.) For instance, imagine a sorcerer casts a spell on a fragile glass that will make it cease to be fragile if it is ever struck or dropped. (This example is due to Vihvelin. Realistic, non-magical examples are possible but more complex.) A fragile object is one that is disposed to break if struck, dropped, etc. The intuition is supposed to be that, given that the glass is intrinsically qualitatively identical to any other fragile...
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August 8, 2018

What is 'Acausal Thomism'?

In yesterday's post I discussed a view I called 'acausal Thomism'. I think I got the name from Tom Flint's article on divine providence in the Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology, but I don't have the book with me now and the Google and Amazon previews are being uncooperative. In any event, in the comments on yesterday's post, both Mike Almeida and Brandon Watson suggested that this view was in need of clarification. I employed it in yesterday's argument, and I also said that I lean toward endorsing the view. So here I'll try to clarify exactly what I mean...
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August 7, 2018

A Theological 'Slippery Slope' Argument for Compatibilism

When I first began studying philosophy, I was a convinced libertarian about free will. My reasons included supposed direct introspection together with what I now take to be two distinct but related intuitions, which I will now call the consequence argument intuition and the buck-stopping intuition. (I wouldn't have explained them like this back then, of course: I'm trying to do some autobiographical rational reconstruction.) The consequence argument intuition is the notion that if an event is necessitated—whether logically, metaphysically, or causally/nomologically—by factors outside my control, then that event is itself outside my control, and an event outside my control...
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September 15, 2016

"Counterpossible Dependence" in Faith and Philosophy

My paper, "Counterpossible Dependence and the Efficacy of the Divine Will" has been accepted by Faith and Philosophy. This paper is a sort of companion to my Sanders prize essay: it applies the ideas about God and grounding in that essay to solve some problems about divine omnipotence. The preprint is available here.
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November 27, 2015

Deism, Anthropomorphism, and Religion

I'm just beginning to think about a reference article on deism that I'm writing for the Ian Ramsey Centre's Special Divine Action Project and it has me thinking about a rather curious phenomenon in early modern philosophy and religion: the complex interplay between deism and theological anthropomorphism. Presently, the term 'deism' is associated with the 'absent watchmaker' picture of God: a highly anthropomorphic conception of a divine engineer whose prime concern is the elegant mechanical design of the universe rather than moral qualities. This is a conception shaped by 18th century Anglophone deists. However, in his large and extremely carefully...
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May 19, 2015

Molinism and Circularity

Yesterday, I discussed Thomas Flint's response to the grounding objection in chapter 5 of Divine Providence: The Molinist Account. Today, I want to discuss his response to Robert Adams in chapter 7. Adams' objection turns on a notion of explanatory priority which, Flint complains, is not adequately defined. Flint argues that there is an equivocation in the argument, and that Adams relies on a transitivity assumption which is not plausible when applied across the different sorts of priority involved. I think, however, that Flint is mistaken on both counts: first, the notion in question is not equivocal. Rather, it is...
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May 18, 2015

Future Contingents and the Grounding Objection to Molinism

In chapter 5 of Divine Providence: The Molinist Account (1998), Thomas Flint defends a response to the grounding objection which he attributes to Alfred Freddoso. According to the Flint-Freddoso line, there are difficulties about future contingents which are exactly parallel to the difficulties about counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, and solutions to the problems about future contingents can be adapted to provide equally plausible solutions to the problems about counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. This claim is false. The exact formulation of the grounding objection is a little tricky. Some philosophers take it to be based on the (questionable) assumption of some...
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June 19, 2013

"Infinite Power and Finite Powers"

I have posted a new draft, "Infinite Power and Finite Powers," to my writings page. This is the paper I plan to present at the divine infinity conference in Bochum, Germany in August. In it, I argue that the ordinary notion of power or ability should be understood as a notion of approximation to an ideal, where that ideal is provided by the analysis of omnipotence which Alexander Pruss and I have previously defended.
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May 20, 2013

Omnipotence and the 'Delimiter of Possibilities' View

Aquinas notes that some analyses of omnipotence have a serious problem: they reduce the apparently substantive claim "God is omnipotent" to the trivial claim that God "can do all that He is able to do." Now, perhaps it is true that to be omnipotent is to be able to do everything God is able to do (or at least that omnipotence entails this), but this is hardly an illuminating analysis. In several places in his Anselmian Explorations, Thomas Morris defends the view that the Anselmian God is the 'delimiter of possibilities.' This view has been endorsed by other Anselmians, and...
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March 12, 2013

Being Greater and Doing Better

Consider the following attempted reductio of Anselmian theism (based on Rowe, Can God be Free?):
  1. God exists and actualized the actual world and no being could possibly be greater than God actually is (assumption for reductio)
  2. There is a possible world, w, which is better than the actual world (premise)
  3. Possibly, God actualizes w (premise)
  4. Therefore, possibly, God does better than God in fact did (from 1-3)
  5. Therefore, possibly, God is greater than God in fact is (from 4)

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February 23, 2013

Berkeley, Analogy, Matter, and God

On May 15, 1709 William King, archbishop of Dublin, preached a famous sermon (it was really more of a lecture in philosophical theology with a Scripture quotation at the beginning, but this was not too unusual in the Anglican Communion at the time) entitled "Divine Predestination and Fore-knowledg, consistent with the Freedom of Man's Will." The sermon was published shortly thereafter in both Dublin and London and is therefore now available on Google books. (I have written about King before.) King considers three atheistic arguments: the argument from the inconsistency of divine foreknowledge with human freedom, the argument from the...
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January 29, 2013

A Theistic Argument for Compatibilism

One often hears it asserted that most theists are metaphysical libertarians. This seems to be supported, at least in the case of theistic philosophers, by the PhilPapers survey where target faculty specializing in philosophy of religion, who were overwhelmingly more likely to be theists than their peers in other specializations (72.3% for religion specialists vs. 14.6% overall), were also overwhelmingly more likely to be libertarians (57.4% vs. 13.7%). (Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a way to compare theists to non-theists across the board, so we just have this correlation among religion specialists.) Now, I suppose there are some reasons...
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November 30, 2012

Divine Power, Alternate Possibilities, and Necessary Frankfurt Cases

Much of the difficulty in analyzing the notion of power comes from the various limitations of creaturely power: our powers come and go, and they are not infallible (sometimes we have the power or ability to do something, and nevertheless fail to do it when we try). These are the sorts of cases which derailed conditional analyses of power. However, an omnipotent being would have none of these limitations. In our paper, Alexander Pruss and I exploited this fact to develop an analysis of omnipotence, or unlimited power, without the need for a prior analysis of power. This approach has...
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January 26, 2012

Ross's Theory of Omnipotence Entails Double Predestination

Let E (for 'election') be the proposition which says de re of each person who will in fact be saved that he or she will be saved. That is, E is the longest conjunction of the form 'John will be saved, and Mary will be saved, and Lois will be saved...' which is true. Let R (for 'reprobation') be the proposition which says de re of each person who will in fact be damned that he or she will be damned. The doctrine of predestination is the doctrine that God, from eternity, has issued an efficacious decree of election -...
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December 15, 2011

"Understanding Omnipotence"

"Understanding Omnipotence," co-authored by myself and Alexander Pruss, has been accepted for publication by Religious Studies! Cambridge University Press's latest copyright agreement permits authors to post preprints on their personal web-sites, so I have made the complete text available here. Also, here is the abstract:
An omnipotent being would be a being whose power was unlimited. The power of human beings is limited in two distinct ways: we are limited with respect to our freedom of will, and we are limited in our ability to execute what we have willed. These two distinct sources of limitation suggest a simple definition of omnipotence: an omnipotent being is one that has both perfect freedom of will and perfect efficacy of will. In this paper we further explicate this definition and show that it escapes the standard objections to divine omnipotence.

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November 12, 2011

July 6, 2011

An Annotated Bibliography of Omnipotence

I'm currently working on an article on omnipotence for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I found it a useful first step to compile an annotated bibliography on the subject, and since I had the thing already prepared (and it's more comprehensive than what will go into the final article), I thought I'd share. If there is any important literature I'm missing, or any pieces which my annotations mischaracterize, I'd like to hear about it.
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June 13, 2011

Omnipotence and Failure

The famous Stone Paradox asks, 'can an omnipotent being make a stone so heavy he can't lift it?' A simpler question, and one which I think makes the issues clearer, is, 'can an omnipotent being fail?' If a being can fail, then there is something that being doesn't have the power to do, namely, whatever it is it can fail to do. If a being can't fail, then there is something it doesn't have the power to do, namely, to fail. Now, we sometimes have chancy powers/abilities, as, for instance, in J. L. Austin's famous example, the power to sink...
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March 10, 2011

Two Bad Footnotes

I found two rather bad footnotes in student editions of early modern texts this week. Both texts are from the Oxford Philosophical Texts (OPT) series. The first makes a rather contentious historical/interpretive claim, and doesn't seem to recognize that it is doing so; the second is an outright error. The first footnote is in the OPT edition of Hume's first Enquiry. In the course of a critique of occasionalism, Hume writes, It argues more wisdom to contrive at first the fabric of the world with such perfect foresight that, of itself, and by its proper operation, it may serve all...
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February 4, 2011

Malebranche and Robert Adams on Creating the Best

Leibniz famously argued that the actual world must be the best of all possible worlds (BPW). His argument, which he repeated in several places, went something like this: The actual world was created by an omnipotent and perfectly good being. An omnipotent being can actualize any possible world. A perfectly good being always chooses the best outcome from among its choices. Therefore, The actual world is the BPW. Most people have found the conclusion of this argument incredible, and sought ways to escape it. The logical problem of evil is essentially an argument to the effect that the only premise...
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December 21, 2010

Leibniz's Short Proof of Classical Theism

In a single paragraph near the beginning of the Theodicy, Leibniz gives a very compressed version of an argument a contingentia mundi (from the contingency of the world) from which he purports to derive not just the existence of God, but several of the most important traditional divine attributes (from which, Leibniz seems to think, the other divine attributes follow). In this post, I'll try to unpack Leibniz's reasoning. I'm not going to do too much evaluation of the arguments, since this post will be long enough without that; I'll just lay out the arguments as I see them and...
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December 19, 2010

Quote of the Day: Leibniz on True Religion

One cannot love God without knowing his perfections, and this knowledge contains the principles of true piety. The purpose of religion should be to imprint these principles upon our souls: but in some strange way it has happened all too often that men, that teachers of religion[,] have strayed far from this purpose. Contrary to the intention of our divine Master, devotion has been reduced to ceremonies and doctrine has been cumbered with formulae. All too often the ceremonies have not been well fitted to maintain the exercise of virtue, and the formulae sometimes have not been lucid. Can one...
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November 9, 2010

Omniscience and Simplicity

The end of the semester is fast approaching, which means an even more hectic academic schedule, followed by a vacation. This post will be a brief remark on Sobel's treatment of omniscience, which completes his interlude on divine attributes. Following this, I will leave off until after the holidays, at which point I will deal with the remainder of the book, which treats arguments against the existence of God, and also 'Pascalian' practical arguments for belief in God. The main puzzle Sobel finds with omniscience is one pushed by Patrick Grim. The thrust of the argument is this: (1) a...
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October 26, 2010

On Omnipotence

In my last Sobel post, I discussed Sobel's proposal that, since the Stone Paradox shows essential omnipotence to be incoherent, the traditional God, since he would have his properties essentially, would have essential ONSLIP, or only necessarily self-limited power, but that this would not amount to omnipotence. Here I want to propose an alternative account of omnipotence, an attribute worthy of that name and which would be had essentially. First, however, we must distinguish power from freedom. To be omnipotent is to be all powerful. God is also supposed to be free in his exercise of power, and this creates...
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October 17, 2010

Only Necessarily Self-Limited Power

After considering arguments for the existence of God, Sobel has a brief interlude on the divine attributes, before going on to arguments against the existence of God. Chapter 9 concerns omnipotence and the famous Stone Paradox. Sobel defines omnipotence (roughly) as the ability to do anything that can be done. (He improves this basic definition in a few ways, but these need not concern us.) The Stone Paradox, Sobel rightly recognizes, is no real problem for omnipotence as such, for if a being can do anything that can be done, then that being can take away some of the powers...
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August 18, 2010

Divine Freedom and Worship

This is the first substantive post in my discussion of Sobel's Logic and Theism. The first chapter of Sobel's book focuses on the question of what people disagree about when they disagree about whether God exists. There are a lot of interesting metaphysical and linguistic issues here, like the meaningfulness of negative singular existentials, but this is all really preliminary to the real purpose of evaluating beliefs in God and the reasons for them, so, although these issues are interesting, I'm going to keep discussion of them to a minimum, and focus on what I take to be the first
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