Tag: Thomism

Three Simple Arguments for Divine Simplicity

Three Simple Arguments for Divine Simplicity

Here are just three arguments for Divine Simplicity, presented fairly simply, and not to be overly confusing. Most of these arguments are not arguments for theism per se, but arguments to the effect that a theist, particular a Christian, should prefer the doctrine of Divine Simplicity, the thesis God is not composed of parts, physical or metaphysical. Here is the first one we will look at today:

  1. When we praise God, we praise God as God, and only God can be worshiped
  2. If God was composed of parts, when we thank God for manifesting a particular grace upon us (say mercy), we would be praising the property being manifested, which is really distinct from God’s nature
  3. Under this assumption we would not be praising God as God, but the particular property, say mercy
  4. Also under this assumption, we would be praising a particular property not really God, which is not to be done, as only God is to be praised in the sense of worship
  5. Therefore, God is not composed of parts

Now this argument is taken from Pruss’s blog but seems plausible for any adherent to perfect being theology. For only one being can have the property of perfect holiness, and can require you to give up your autonomy to them. Secondly, under Christian theology, it is manifest that only the One True God is the only being to be worshiped. As Revelation 19:10 states

“I fell down before his feet to worship him. He said to me, “Look! Don’t do it! I am a fellow bondservant with you and with your brothers who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God, for the testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of Prophecy.” –Revelation 19:10

This verse is very telling. For under most denominations within Christianity, Angels are individuals of great praise, in the sense that they follow God. In most denominations, Angel’s are super natural beings of great power, with Catholicism even placing them in a magnificent position within the heavenly hierarchy. For an Angel to deny this praise from Saint John seems tantamount to the claim that only God is worthy of worship, and since all of our prayers should be for the ultimate end of realizing, glorifying, and worshiping God to His fullest, this seems to amount to God’s unique holiness.

Also it is arguable from Scripture that when we praise God we praise God as God, not a particular act that is manifested on us. In the book of Job, Job does not deny God after his family has been taken from Him, knowing that God is God above all. For if Job were to act on a particular attribute manifested, he might not think God is praise worthy. However, Job recognizes that God is God above all. For while Job’s wife states that Job should “curse God and die, Job responds as follows:

You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”-Job 2:10

In all this Job did not sin with his lips. For while the view is defensible that God does not really create evil, Job might have acted on this and thought that God had an essential attribute of evil (being philosophically unsuited for this work) that allowed this to happen. However, Job proceeds to praise God not for a attribute manifested, but because God is God. God is God above the particular act’s that He partakes in and brings about. Now this verse does not seem to be the most plausible candidate here, but one could make a plausibility argument for Divine Simplicity off this.

Second Argument:

  1. God is infinite
  2. It is an analytical truth that the whole is greater than a part, for upon conceiving of what it means to be a part in relation to a whole, one cannot help notice this
  3. If God were composed of parts either his parts would be finite or infinite in quality
  4. If they were finite in quality, how can a whole composed of finite parts amount to an infinite whole?
  5. If the parts were infinite in quality, then the part would not be greater than the whole, which is a contradiction in terms
  6. Therefore, God is not composed of parts.


Now this argument could be challenged by one arguing the defender equivocating on infinity here. For Scotus (who made this argument) was speaking of an actual infinite in its full sense, while the personalist need only accept the negative definition of it (that it is unlimited). This seems like a plausible escape route, although I do think that any parts that are not essentially a particular thing will by definition not be limited. For the property of a transcendental perfection (say goodness or beauty) mixed with some other property will amount to something akin to a strange admixture, possibly requiring something outside of God to make this particular property intelligible, as the diverse parts present will make God not essentially perfect perhaps entailing something essentially perfect outside of God to make this perfection full, which at that point will make the perfection not a full one in the proper sense, as Joyce argues in his principles of Natural Theology, which we will discuss and cite again later.

The Christian theist will want to accept some definition of divine infinity. For God’s infinite presence and knowledge are things predicated to God all over the Holy Scriptures. In 1 Kings 8:27 Solomon cries “But will God in very deed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens can’t contain you; how much less this house that I have built!“. This shows God’s radical transcendence, that none can contain His excellence, not even a temple of a King actively praised for His wisdom (at least at this point). His perfections are of such a sort that they. For we are bound spatially, bound by what we are but God is not. In Psalm 147:5 the Psalmist states “Great is our Lord, and mighty in power. His understanding is infinite.”. Here we can see that God’s wisdom is of such a Supreme sort that it is not the least bit weak like the corrupted faculties possessed by us, but full and complete. For these attributes alone make obvious the infinite perfections permeating our Lord, ones that should be praised at all costs, and not limited like the creation He is distinct from.

Argument 3:

  1. God is perfect
  2. Some parts are real
  3. If God is perfect He would have the property of Aseity and Ultimate Explanation, as Aseity is not the sort of thing that has any intrinsic principle of limit, or sign of imperfection, hence implying a radical independence
  4. One can only have Aseity if one is not composed of parts, for parts are prior to the whole and the whole is dependent on the parts
  5. Therefore God is not composed of parts

Now premise 2 is obviously up for debate, but we can alleviate this perhaps by a concern that GH Joyce raised in his Principles of Natural Theology. For anyone who thinks that annihilation is an objective power of God, and that God can bring out of existence spiritual creatures like Angels and Subsistent Souls should admit the real distinction of essence and existence. For destruction in relatively simple creatures like Angels is of a entirely different variety than the events of decay and procession in the physical world. While physical changes amount to a mere shift in substance, like say the dispursing of paper when it is shredded (whether this is a substantial change is not really relevant), the removal of being from an intellectual agent has to be of an entirely different sort. Anyone who admits this power is truly available to God, that it is a real conceivable state of affairs, and that anything possible is befitting of God’s Power, ought to consider at least these two parts (essence and existence) as viable considerations. The annihilationist who thinks all the more that God actually will remove the lost souls from reality at judgement day should especially think it plausible that some real parts exist. 

It is also very befitting to predicate of God the status as Ultimate Explanation for all things and the title of Ase, since A. it has no signs of being imperfect B. It passes all the criterion of Perfect Being theology. God is the Greatest Conceivable Being, and being a Necessary being, can not in principle be contingent on any things that are prior to Him. Since parts are prior to their instantiation to the whole in which they inhere it is very clear why God, being the First Principle, is a reality repugnant to composition. Therefore, God isn’t composed of parts.

Now I think it is more than obvious through the scriptures that God is presented as perfect, but here are a few obvious examples. When Jesus preaches the Sermon on the mount He ends it with the monumental lines “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”- Matthew 5:48. While our Lord was not saying this in the full metaphysical sense, it does mean that our God is beyond reproach, and not the sort of thing you could place any imperfection on without first looking at its cost. As the Psalmist states in Psalm 18:30 “As for God, his way is perfect. The word of Yahweh is tried. He is a shield to all those who take refuge in him”. Again, while presented in a poetical psalm about God’s justice, scripture presents God as being of an entirely different order, separate from all the imperfections of our world. God’s ways are not limited, nor ill formed, but the fullness of all goodness. From just these two passages, one should assume that God’s perfection is manifest from the scriptures, for one cannot come to an opposite conclusion looking at His revealed word and testimony. He alone is perfect, and we experience this elegance every day, being in the Son. 

So those are three arguments of are unarguable varied in gradation. Some of these might have been weaker than others, but is seems at least plausible to think that one ought to accept Divine Simplicity as at least not being contradictory to the God’s who manifested Himself to men varying from the prophet Zechariah to Saint Paul. To follow up, it  actually seems like a good explanation for certain features of God presented in His word as well. So we should all praise God in His wonderful simplicity, His supreme excellence for allowing us to come to perform such a meditation. For God is so much greater than us, but allows us to work on such big issues, and enjoy the fullness of His being, the same being present to Moses on Mount Sinai, and in our hearts constantly, through His Spirit. Amen


Cotter on Epistemology and Skepticism: Part 1

Cotter on Epistemology and Skepticism: Part 1

In this post I will be doing a study on the Epistemological section of the book “The ABC of Scholastic Philosophy”. The preliminary remarks are full of  definitions of certitude (which he defines as “unhesitating, firm assent (or dissent), without fear of error”), and the particular end one should aim at while doing epistemology. Cotter thinks this end will be, “Formal Certitude or Objective Certitude”, the attaining of which is the most perfect of the hierarchy of certainty. Cotter defines Formal Certitude as that  “firm assent (or dissent) which is necessarily true and known to be true”. He strengthens this definition by giving an obvious example of the equation 2+2+4. This is something know to be true, which also has a corresponding object in reality.  He contrasts this with a weaker form of certitude, one in which the first definition can possibly be in direct opposition to, “Subjective Certitude”. Cotter defines subjective Certitude as that “assent (or dissent) which is indeed firm, but really should not be firm”. Cotter, again uses obvious examples, mentioning the absurd belief of our ancestors, who once held that the earth was flat. Obviously this was held firmly, and yet there was too limited data available and it certainty did not correspond to reality. Cotter also briefly mentions respective and practical certitude, but only practical certitude will need mention in this essay. Practical Certitude is that which “is an assent (or dissent) which is firm merely for practical reasons, viz. because otherwise life would be impossible.”. An example of this would be the belief that the world will not be subject to a black hole, something practical but ultimately out of our control.

To begin, Cotter defines the views of several types of skeptics, a group of people who would obviously disagree with the philosophical enterprise he is seeking to establish. He starts by defining the views of an individual who would identify as a universal skeptic, a person who believes in no such object as a truth known with formal certitude. For the purpose of this article, we will leave his defense against the universal skeptic as the only one mentioned, but there will surely be other posts on the topic (he does mention the partial skeptic as well, but that is not entirely relevant to this work). Cotter then divides the universal skeptics into two sub groups, those of the objective and subjective skeptics. The objective skeptic believes that we do hold truths with a certain firmness, and yet we should never do so. The subjective skeptic in contrast holds that we both should not hold to any position with firmness, as indubitable, and that we, absurdly, never do hold to such a belief with a complete assent. That is to say, that we literally are never sure of anything, and we never should think or hold any position with such commitment. This will do with the definitions for now as we continue into the juice of his analysis.

Cotter after defining his terms seeks to give a lesson in the history of this skepticism, noting the Sophists held no belief in the Law of Contradiction, thinking they could prove every proposition to be a truth and a falsehood. Now, Cotter being a Thomist, thinks Aristotle solved this, but for now we will withhold judgement (plus it is outside the current area of study). After this, Cotter presents a number of arguments against Skepticism we will mention below. Here is the first argument:

  1. That statement is absurd which denies implicitly what
    it affirms explicitly.
  2. Now universal skepticism may be expressed in such a
    statement. (namely that skepticism holds to the proposition ‘skepticism is true’ implicitly while denying such a proposition can in principle hold such a value).
  3. Therefore universal skepticism is absurd.

Now this first argument looks very promising. Cotter pins the skeptic using a powerful (and quite common modernly) retorsion argument to the effect that the skeptic is committed to formal certainty even if outwardly denying it, which is obviously fallacious. Now Cotter does anticipate the charge of question begging (because you have to admit the certainty of the premises to accept the conclusion) and answers with the following: “This is not a proof in the strict sense of the word.  This is not directly addressed to the skeptics, but to such as are not yet infected with this extreme form of intellectual despair. To the ordinary sane individual the absurdity of skepticism is manifest enough.”

Perhaps this could be charged as ad hom in nature, but I do not think it needs to be. Cotter shows the absurdity of skepticism on the basis of a first principle he thinks is immediately apprehended and there is no reason to doubt. Not directly addressed to Skeptics, perhaps he could treat this as a Moorean fact, one that shows, at least the one not “infected by skepticism” , the reasonableness of accepting every day truths (like the truism that some things are held with certainty and are known factual), thus shifting the burden off the Dogmatist. It is true to the one simply looking at this argument without any prior commitments to US, any claim of skepticism has been issued a powerful defeater in the form of an argument such as Cotter’s. Thus, this would at least show the unappealingness of it. Given that this was the goal, it can be supposed Cotter is successful in achieving it.

Cotter gives a second argument appealing to pragmatic considerations. This will be displayed in the following:

  1. A doctrine is practically impossible, which cannot be carried out in practice.
  2. Now universal skepticism cannot be carried out in practice.
  3.  Therefore universal skepticism is practically impossible.

At first glance this would not appear obvious. Why ought the universal skeptic have any harder of a time living than the every man? Cotter again ahead of the critic, anticipating this objection, issues out a clear and convincing example, once again illustrating his masterful rhetorical skills. Cotter gives out a powerful set of criterion, which the universal skeptic does not follow. To quote:

“To carry out practically the doctrine of universal skepticism, one should (a) really doubt everything and (b) live accordingly. But this is impossible, nor has any skeptic ever attempted it. For (a) no one can honestly doubt in his mind about his own existence, about the existence of the world around us, about the principle of contradiction etc., though one may, of course, deny them externally. (b) Imagine the life of a consistent skeptic: Why does he get up in the morning ? Why does he eat ? Why does he breathe ?
Why does he dodge autos? If nothing is certain or if he is not sure of anything, he should do none of these things.”

This argument, which by his own earlier admission, is not a proof, but an appeal to pragmatic considerations that should speak to the lay person and the epistemic pragmatist. Cotter makes the case that, why ought a huge part of our daily experience be thrown out, when even the Skeptic doesn’t follow suit? The warrant for skepticism considerably weakens if you understand common place considerations. Hence, the epistemological skeptic is shown to be sure of at least the pragmatic value of formal certainty, and hence should see his error, follow suit in abandoning his position.

Cotter, showing the absurdity of this level of skepticism to the lay man, then seeks to wield off objections (these objections are the best part of the book). He fends off the charge of ad hominem, that he is calling the skeptics liars, by noting that the skeptic is simply inconsistent, not necessarily to be participating in purposeful deception. This appears defensible in the face of this charge, considerably softening the blow. The second objection is a bit better in gradation, which is to state that the basis on which the skeptic holds her position is found in practical certainty of the calamities that would ensue if one is not cautious of  “dodging an auto”, noting that an error merely probably will happen. Yet as Cotter notes, we cannot simply say that our belief is merely probabilistic in all of these cases. For example, the reason for dodging an automobile is because we have certainty of the disposition of our bodies in relation to the causal powers of an automobile. To say this is merely probabilistic is patently absurd. The third objection raised against Cotter is similar to the former, saying that the “rule of life” is probability, not formal certainty. While Cotter agrees that there are many cases in which we have to rely on probabilities, our certitude is only based on this. The belief that we will not get food poisoning is a practical consideration, while the fear we have in relation to a car is obviously more than this. It then follows from both these arguments that Universal Skepticism is false.

Now Cotter thinks two corollaries follow out of the defeat of universal skepticism. The first one is that we can have formal certitude of at least something. He notes in relation to the first point that while the failure of US does not entail universal assent, formal certainty is more certain that one would think, which he seeks to prove later. Secondly, he argues that it follows not everything is a two sided debate, the skeptics are simply wrong here.

We will not look with any tedious study upon Cotter’s closing objections and answers, because they are largely similar in nature and flow from eachother. Cotter simply states that things like 2+2=4 are formally certain even in the midst of errors. He also notes that the variety of errors in the world do not lead to a universal doubt, but rational skepticism, simply forcing us to make our judgments with a bit more apprehension. Most forcefully, he argues that contradictions obviously do occur among men, and yet this does not lead to any universal doubt. He also notes that it simply isn’t true that all men contradict their fellow man in every event, although in what manner we don’t he does not clarify. The first point is key because he notes later the reason for this doubt is not in the general unreliability of our faculties (which he defines later) but a missed judgment, that we simply did not fully apprehend the object of our mind.

Overall, Cotter has some powerful considerations contra skepticism, which I think have bearing still today. Cotter’s style and precision help convey this argument even clearer than the vast majority of thinkers in his tradition who have thought about this question, hammering home the absurdity of his opponents position quite artfully. Yet he does this with considerable charity, presenting understandable and well thought out arguments against his position, for the purpose of enlightening the reader.