Brief account of “God is beyond being”

Start with this claim about causality:

Whenever there is something really common to many things, neither the multitude nor any member of that multitude suffice to explain it. 

So if being human is common to Socrates and Joe, you can’t appeal to either Socrates or Joe to explain why there are humans. This is true even if one of them were the first human you happened to have, or if one was the father of the other. One needs an account like special creation or evolution or an alien plot, etc. If one decides on the alien plot, you might get an account of the human species, but not of embodied intelligences. The axiom in play is that the explanans has to differ in some way from the explanandum; this even will work as a replacement of the claim given above.

But then if all the objects we can experience have existence really in common, we’re committed to saying that any explanation of them has to be beyond existence. Interestingly, this gives us two things beyond existence: on the one hand the God of the philosophers who explains the totality of all that could be experienced or known by us, on the other hand the human mind that, in its own way, explains the totality as an object known to us.

Objection: Every explanandum requires some real thing that is different from it; but existence cannot admit of something real that is different from it.

Response: Being a whole or a totality is not repugnant to having a relation to another – in the cognitive order, for example, to understand the whole still requires some relation to a subject understanding, to desire to possess the whole requires some relation to the will, and to signify the whole still requires relation to its sign. If we deny that a whole can have relation to another, we can neither understand this whole or speak of it, which makes our very claim impossible to make. In the same way, being as a whole can still relate to another; and God himself can completely exhaust all the possibilities of being and existence in his pure actuality without ruling out the possibility of creation. Within the divinity itself, persons can be entirely whole and exhaustive of divinity while still existing in relation to other persons distinct from them.




  1. November 1, 2014 at 3:02 am

    Let me suggest a simpler resolution, that of assuming, with the metaphysics of Aquinas, that the the first cause is, ultimately, the existent which is identical with its very act of existence. We have therein, then, an explanans which differs appropriately from the explananda, the existents which are not identical with their very acts of existence. And this without resort to a thesis according to which God or the first cause is “beyond existence.”

    • November 1, 2014 at 8:26 am

      the existent which is identical with its very act of existence.

      This is fine, but if you are suggesting it as an alternative to God being beyond being, as opposed to just another way of considering the question, then you are stuck saying that God completes the universe in the sense of being the highest part of it.

      • November 2, 2014 at 5:50 pm

        I think I’d be happy being stuck saying that God is the highest part of reality (assuming, of course, that God exists); the word “universe” suggests to me physical reality, while “reality” doesn’t. But I’m not sure that God completes the universe (or reality), because I’m not sure that the universe (or reality) is complete; perhaps there could be more to or in it. On the other hand, it would seem that, by definition, God him-her-or itself is perfect or complete (again assuming that God exists). Finally, though having run out of hands, I will say that God is or would be the highest “part” of reality.

        Back to “perhaps there could be more to or in it”: I recall having read somewhere (was it at Ite ad Thomam?) a while ago an argument to the effect that there is no creature no great that God could not create a greater one.

      • November 3, 2014 at 10:18 am

        Back to “perhaps there could be more to or in it”: I recall having read somewhere (was it at Ite ad Thomam?) a while ago an argument to the effect that there is no creature no great that God could not create a greater one.

        It certainly seems that finite reality cannot be “that than which nothing greater can be thought” and so in this sense Liebniz’s claim that our universe is the best possible one in contradictory – it would describe the universe in a way that is only appropriate to God.

        To your first paragraph: I want to avoid saying that God and the Universe form a single whole, which leaves me either saying that the Universe is essentially a non-whole or that some things are whole and yet have causal relations to others. I don’t think I can say the first, since “universe” in a philosophical sense has to be a totality, even if in the experimental sense we might divide Universe from Multiverse. I think I have good reasons to say the second because of independent findings about the nature of causality, which is always formally transcendent, even if the first causes we know are within the same genera as their effects.

        There is still a sense in which existence is said of both the divine and the created, but in light of the argument given in the post this makes existence unexplained and inexplicable. There are ways to address this: we could say that existence in God is a sort of measure and all measures are at once separate and identified with the things they measure. This is what the Fourth Way argues.

  2. November 5, 2014 at 6:42 am

    With respect to your second paragraph, it seems to me that the universe is not a whole in the way that a single substance (being or existent) is, but rather as, say, a basketball team is. From this it would follow that God and the universe do not form a whole in the way that a single substance (being or existent) does. Rather, God and the universe would form a whole in the way its coach (an omniscient, omnibenevolent, and omnipotent coach) and a basketball team would.

    With respect to your third paragraph, wouldn’t it be the case that, at least for Aquinas, the existence of God is indeed inexplicable and so unexplained? That is, for him, as the existent that is God is identical with his, her, or its existence, the existence of God is self-evident in itself, albeit not to us.

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