Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Yet another account of omnipotence

The following account of omnipotence runs into the McEar objection:

  1. x is omnipotent iff x can do anything whose doing is consistent with the nature of x.
For suppose McEar has the essential property of doing nothing other than scratching his ear, and suppose he can scratch his ear. Then (1) counts McEar as omnipotent. That's no good.

The Pearce-Pruss account of omnipotence escapes this. But so does this minor twist on (1):

  1. x is omnipotent iff x can do anything whose doing is consistent with the nature of a perfect being.
There are things consistent with the nature of a perfect being that McEar can't do, say create a pebble.

Perhaps, though, there is a circularity problem. For a perfect being has all perfections. And one of the perfections is omnipotence. However, I do not know that this is fatal. Compare:

  1. a fully self-knowledgeable person is one who knows all her mental attributes.
This seems a perfectly reasonable definition, even if one of the mental attributes of such a person is being fully self-knowledgeable.


Brian Cutter said...

It seems that there will only be a problematic circularity if the notion of a perfect being is *defined* in terms of the notion of omnipotence. It's at least clear that the mere fact that being a perfect being *entails* having omnipotence can't create a problematic circularity. Otherwise, entirely unobjectionable definitions like "x is grue =: x is blue or x is green" would turn out to be circular.

Kenny said...

La Croix and Plantinga both conclude that we can define 'God is omnipotent' as 'God can do anything consistent with God's nature,' and then deny that (given the McEar problem) we can give a general characterization of omnipotence. This is, I think, unsatisfactory insofar as the sentence 'Kenny is omnipotent' is merely (necessarily, egregiously) false, not unintelligible.

Your proposal would say, more generally, 'x is omnipotent' means 'x can do anything consistent with God's nature.' So this at least has the advantage over La Croix and Plantinga of explaining what it means to claim that I am omnipotent.

I am more concerned about the circularity problem, and more generally about the work that would be necessary to make the account genuinely informative. (A nice feature of our earlier account is that you can say something informative about omnipotence while remaining agnostic on most other questions about the nature of God.) You might think that there was no circularity problem because omnipotence doesn't restrict a being's abilities in any way, so we just need to say that an omnipotent being can do whatever is consistent with the other divine attributes. However, as you are aware, things are not this simple because omnipotence does restrict what a being can do. It is in virtue of his omnipotence that God cannot come to know that he has never been omnipotent, and that he cannot fail. But (except insofar as the attributes might be mutually entailing) these do not seem to be rule out by the other attributes.

For that reason, I think the circularity problem may ultimately be fatal.

goliah said...

An example of omnipotence better explains the nature of this idea.

The first wholly new interpretation for two thousand years of the moral teachings of Christ has been published. Radically different from anything else we know of from theology or history, this new teaching is predicated upon the 'promise' of a precise, predefined, and predictable experience of transcendent omnipotence and called 'the first Resurrection' in the sense that the Resurrection of Jesus was intended to demonstrate Gods' willingness to reveal Himself and intervene directly into the natural world for those obedient to His will, paving the way for access, by faith, to the power of divine Will and ultimate proof!

Thus 'faith' becomes an act of trust in action, the search to discover His 'Word' of a direct individual intervention into the natural world by omnipotent power that confirms divine will, law, command and covenant, which at the same time, realigns our mortal moral compass with the Divine, "correcting human nature by a change in natural law, altering biology, consciousness and human ethical perception beyond all natural evolutionary boundaries." So like it or no, a new religious teaching, testable by faith, meeting all Enlightenment criteria of evidence based causation and definitive proof now exists. Nothing short of an intellectual, moral and religious revolution is getting under way. To test or not to test, that is the question? More info at,