Friday, November 19, 2021

An omnipotence principle from Aquinas

Aquinas believes that it follows from omnipotence that:

  1. Any being that depends on creatures can be created by God without its depending on creatures.

But, plausibly:

  1. If x and y are a couple z, then z depends on x and y.

  2. If x and y are a couple z, then necessarily if z exists, z depends on x and y.

  3. Jill and Joe Biden are a couple.

  4. Jill and Joe Biden are creatures.

But this leads to a contradiction. By (4), we have a couple, call it “the Bidens”, consisting by Jill and Joe Biden, and by (2) that couple depends on Jill and Joe Biden. By (1) and (5), God can create the Bidens without either Jill or Joe Biden. But that contradicts (3).

So, Aquinas’ principle (1) implies that there are no couples. More generally, it implies that there are no beings that necessarily depend on other creatures. All our artifacts would be like that: they would depend on parts. Thus, Aquinas’ principle implies there are no artifacts.

Thomists are sometimes tempted to say that artifacts, heaps and the like are accidental beings. But the above argument shows that that won’t do. God’s power extends to all being, and whatever being creatures can bestow, God can bestow absent the creatures. If the accidental beings are beings, God can create them without their parts. But a universe with a heap and yet nothing heaped is absurd. So, I think, we need to deny the existence of accidental beings.

If we lean on (1) further, we get an argument for survivalism. Either Socrates depends on his body or not. If Socrates does not depend on his body, he can surely survive without his body after death. But if Socrates does depend on his body, then by (1) God can create Socrates disembodied, since Socrates’ body is a creature. But if God can create Socrates disembodied, surely God can sustain Socrates disembodied, and so Socrates can survive without his body. In fact, the argument does not apply merely to humans but to every embodied being: bacteria, trees and wolves can all survive death if God so pleases.

Things get even stranger once we get to the compositional structure of substances. Socrates presumably depends on his act of being. But Socrates’ act of being is itself a creature. Thus, by (1), God could create Socrates without creating Socrates’ act of being. Then Socrates would exist without having any existence.

I like the sound of (1), but the last conclusion seems disastrous. Perhaps, though, the lesson we get from this is that the esse of Socrates isn’t an entity? Or perhaps we need to reject (1)?


Wesley C. said...

Or I guess you could say that not all things are properly beings - among them being sets or accidental unions of things.

William said...

Can God create a pair of shoes without creating a single shoe? I think not.

Alexander R Pruss said...


Indeed, nice example, and one conclusion to draw is that there is no such thing as a pair of shoes.