Edward Feser wrote a response to some objections to divine simplicity. I wanted to formulate some objections to Ed, but then Vincent Torley did a better job than my initial attempts. So now I can just jump straight to responding to Torley, as opposed to giving his objections myself only to have someone else offer a refutation in my combox. Of the eight objections, I only here respond to 2,3,4 and 6, but my response to #2 speaks to 1, and the other objections weren’t totally opposed to Feser’s idea of simplicity.
…the Scholastic doctrine of parts does violence to ordinary language. In ordinary language, parts are things that can be combined with one another to make a whole. Thus Y is a part of Z if there is some X, such that X combined with Y makes Z. This makes perfect sense if we think of the constituents of water, say. But it makes no sense to speak of water (a substance) being combined with its liquidity (an essential accident), or its temperature (a non-essential accident)
The example is not true and proves the opposite. Water is seen in combination with liquidity when it’s opposed to ice and steam. True, we don’t tend to use the abstract noun to indicate this (“liquidity”) but prefer to use an adjective (liquid water) or a prepositional phrase (water in a liquid state), but this is a fact about grammar, not ontology. We also have a cache of words to indicate water along with some accident, like “brackish”, “tea”, “humidity” etc.. And so either the Scholastic idea is not against ordinary language, or it is only against it so far as we consider the peculiar and contingent grammar of everyday language, as opposed to the way in which grammar can be used as a sign of something ontological.
[O]n the Thomist conception of God, God is utterly simple. I’m not so sure. Take God’s free and contingent decision to create the world. This decision is an action (it’s a choice), but it’s a contingent action. Therefore it cannot be identical with the necessary being of God. So there is a distinction between God’s Being and His free, contingent choices. (I believe St. Thomas tries to evade the problem by denying that there’s a real relation between God and creatures, but I don’t see how he can deny the reality of God’s action of creating the world.)
First, let me defend the reply that Torley states parenthetically. When St. Thomas denies that there is a real relation from God to the world, he means that (1) God does not depend on the world to exist, and (2) all real relations depend on their correlatives to exist. Both premises, it seems to me, are evident from the terms, though Aristotle gives reasons for (2) in his account of relation in the Categories. Note, that Creation does have a real relation to God, indeed it might even be that relation (though STA denies this), but God cannot have a real relation to creatures. If relation is an accident, there is nothing odd about the relation A—>B being different than B—>A. This is not even peculiar to the God—>Creation relation: science has a real relation to the world though the world need not have any relation to science (it existed for billions of years without it) and “left/right” are real relations in animals, though not in inanimate objects.
The creation of the world does not actualize or bring to perfection some latent possibility or contingency in God, or (if we take the tack of process theology and say that it does) then there is no such thing as the being that STA calls God and pure act is impossible. If necessary existence is better or more perfect than contingent, then there is nothing odd in contingency arising from the purely necessary, and this is, I think, the heart of the matter. True, there is a sense in which contingency is relatively more perfect than necessity, namely the free action of finite creatures in comparison to physical necessity. But this does not establish that contingency is an absolute good that we have to impute to the divinity, but only that the necessity that characterizes the divinity has to transcend both physical necessity and the contingency of finite intellects and their consequent need to choose.
St. Thomas insists in S.T. I q. 15, art. 2 that God has many ideas in His Mind. He insists that this doesn’t compromise God’s simplicity: God, in knowing Himself, knows the multifarious ways in which it can be participated in by creatures according to some degree of likeness. But that doesn’t help matters. Here’s why. Suppose God knows Himself as Pure Being.Suppose [God] knows what a cat is by grasping it as Pure Being, minus certain perfections (call them A). Suppose He knows what a dog is by grasping it as Pure Being, minus certain other perfections (call them B). Even if God doesn’t need to clutter up His Mind with the concepts of “cat” and “dog”, His Mind would still need to contain the concepts of A and B – otherwise He couldn’t distinguish between a cat and a dog. Thus God has simply replaced one form of multiplicity in His Mind with another.
St. Thomas took this question very seriously earlier in his career (see the Contra Gentiles), but by the time of ST, he seems to just think it involves a confusion between the thing known and the means of knowing. When one mode of knowing transcends another, it knows more things distinctly by a single concept. We can’t learn this by experience (we only have experience with our own intellects) but makes sense in relation to the sort of transcendent things we can understand. The hand, for example, is an instrument of all instruments, the friendship of virtue contains all the goods of the lower sorts of friendship, etc. If the divine mode of knowing transcends all other modes of knowing, it makes sense that it can understand in a single concept what we can only understand using diverse, divided concepts. Just as our imagination can have a unified sensation of something both white and sweet while the lower sense powers can only attain this by diverse powers, so too the divine intellect can understand both being and non-being by a single concept that our intellect must divide in the principle of contradiction.
God is in no way potential. If that’s right, then God must know our choices by determining them, as Garrigou-Lagrange argues, and as you have argued (likening God to the author of a book, in which the characters act freely, even though they are controlled by their author). The problem with this view is that it makes God the Author of all manner of things that cannot be worthily ascribed to a Deity – e.g. every bad or corny joke, every dirty joke, the details of every evil plot, as well as every argument (good or bad) for atheism. Surely that cannot be right.
Pure act can be invoked only to explain the actualities of things. Privations, failures to exist, or deviations from norms have to be explained in relation to something else.
Note that, even if privations have real effects, we don’t tend to view them as aspects of the things they affect: a broken engine is not a sort of engine, viz. we can’t say “rotary engine”, “two-stroke engine” and “broken engine” as a homogeneous list, and the last one is not properly a product of an engineer (except ironically). There’s no aspect of the divine art that lays out the reality of a murder for the same reason that there is no engineering manual that describes how to build a broken engine.