The contingency of “God is creator”

BV gives an objection:

1) The existence of God is necessary for the existence of creatures: no God, no creatures.

2) The existence of God is not sufficient for the existence of creatures: the existence of God does not entail the existence of creatures.


3) God is really distinct from the act whereby he brings creatures into existence.

…Does it have any consequences for the doctrine of divine simplicity?


(A) If “God” means “creator” then (2) is false since the existence of a creator, as creator, suffices to explain the existence of creatures. Of course this immediately raises the question of whether God is necessarily or contingently a creator, and I say with Thomas that God is only contingently called a creator since “creator” isn’t said of God from eternity.

(B) The simplicity of God requires that things necessary for perfection absolutely are necessary for God. But believing God creates means believing creatures are not necessary for perfection since God will have (at least some) perfection prior to creating. Therefore the contingency of “God is creator” is compatible with absolute perfection and so also with the simplicity of God.

(C) In things with will, some acts of will are not necessary for perfection, namely those lacking a necessary relation to their proper good or ultimate end. But being a creator is not necessary for God’s proper good or ultimate end. Therefore, the contingency of the truth “God is creator” is not contrary to the perfection of God.

(D) Knowing differs from willing because knowing all possible things is an absolute perfection while willing all possible things is not. Therefore both willing and not willing is compatible with absolute perfection. If one wants to call both willing and not willing “contingency” – why quibble about words? – then some contingency is compatible with absolute perfection.

The “contingency” in question is what later Scholastics called positive indetermination as opposed to the negative indetermination of matter or potency. Positive indetermination is a part of a larger class of  potentia meaning power as opposed to meaning potential. 


The will

By knowledge the self becomes other as other; by appetite the other becomes another self.

“Becoming myself” happens either by concupiscence or benevolence; in the first the other is made into me because it befits myself, in the second the other becomes me in being loved as my self.

Benevolence to the transcendent makes that which is beyond us our true self. So in any higher nature to which we are subordinate benevolence discovers one’s true self, and we are both physical beings subordinate to immaterial reason and creatures subordinate to God.



1.) As a deadly sin, gluttony is any disordered relationship to food. “Gluttony”, in other words, is a whole sitcom of characters from overeating to eating disorders to pickiness.

2.) Dealing with gluttony starts by making one’s relationship with food a matter of prayer and meditation. This is easier to do on days of fasting and/or abstinence. Religious traditions often provide such days, though the Latin Church prefers that the majority of them be self-implemented.

3.) Disordered relations to food are easy to spot on the extremes of extreme/ continuous overindulgence and anorexia, but most of us are in the muddy middle where (in addition to our occasional overindulgence and pickiness) gluttony tends to consist in…

(a) Having no rules about when or what one eats. We eat what’s there whenever it’s there, or exercise more or less random acts of self-assertion in turning down this or that thing every now and again. Eating needs to follow a rule of when and what. Obviously, rules can be unreasonable and too rigid, but this is not an argument against their existence. Figure it out.

(b) Wanting food to do things it cannot do. Food is a definite answer to a finite number of problems: hunger, malnutrition, low blood glucose, making some gatherings special, rewarding some behaviors. It is not a cure for depression, a solution to your problems with others, an effective means to punish yourself (‘I’m so bad I deserve to be bloated and gross’.)

(c) Infinitizing food. Like all medicinal pleasures, eating feels great when it takes us out of hunger, but it hits a limit after doing this. If one serving makes you feel fine, infinite servings will not give you the beatific vision. Once food has given the several-minutes-pleasure of the taste and made you full, it’s done all it can do. This is a variant of (b).

(d) Prioritizing foods that don’t make one full. Food companies prefer foods that taste pleasant and never make one full (betcha can’t have just one!), so there are obvious reasons why we would be flooded with them. But eating them is a choice.

(e) Shame spirals. Gluttony and lust have peculiar and intense relations to shame, but gluttony seems slightly more prone to be dealt with by repeating the very disorder that caused the shame. Alcoholics deal with the pain caused by their alcoholism by drinking, gluttons push themselves with new acts of gluttony.

Notes on the seven deadly sins

1.) The seven deadly sins were discovered through monastic efforts to achieve human arete, or become happy and avoid unhappiness. If you would be perfect, etc. 

2.) We become unhappy primary because of disordered relationships with (a) food, possessions and sexual desire; (b) anger and our objects of care and concern; and (c) the perfections of others and ourselves.

3.) Sins in cluster (a) are disorders of the concupiscible appetite, sc. gluttony, avarice and lust (b) are disorders of the irascible appetite, sc. wrath and acedia, and (c) are distortions of our relations to others, sc. envy and pride. The remedies for (a) are called temperance, of (b) are called fortitude, of (c) are called justice, though the humilty that is the opposite of pride is not a part of justice but fortitude.

4.) These seven areas were discovered though prayer and meditation and can only be addressed, appraised, and dealt with through the same. Even if an atheist wanted to get his relationship with food under control he would have to make it a project of something like prayer. Prayer is the scuba gear we need to put on to go down to where the vices lie. Trying to just tough it out and hold one’s breath by, say, making the path to perfection a matter of sheer willpower is setting out on a short road to failure and self-destruction that might well make one worse off than if he never tried to get out of sin at all.

5.) The seven deadly sins pick out seven objects with which we have a long and checkered past. We’ve enjoyed food years before knowing we were selves or speaking a language, and before we added judgment or choice to want or desire. We’ve been getting angry for just as long. We’ve fought over possessions for as long as we’ve held anything in our hands.

6.) The objects of the sins are also not things we can completely renounce or condemn as evil. Food, possessions and sexual desire are not just goods but necessary goods of life; denying any place to anger and concern is itself one of the deadly sins; and our own perfections and those of others deserve to be loved.

7.) There is a general agreement that disordered relationships with food need to be dealt with first. One has to get food under control before he can get anything else in life under control.




Notes on Mullins on divine freedom

Vallicella sympathetically quotes Ryan Mullins from 2013:

Could God have refrained from creating the universe? If God is free then it seems that the answer is obviously ‘yes.’ He could have existed alone. Yet, God did create the universe. If there is a possible world in which God exists alone, God is not simple. He eternally has unactualized potential for He cannot undo His act of creation.

There are two issues here (1) How free choice can be a perfection of purus actus and (2) The adequacy of possible worlds in this application.

(1) Here’s the objection

Whatever acts freely has unactualized potentials.

God acts freely, therefore…

Thomas deals with this objection most clearly in 1 Contra Gent. c. 82, noting that unactualized potentials happen either on the side of agents or effects. Consider the difference between.

I can’t make a pie because there’s no butter

I can’t make a pie because I don’t know how.

There is an unactualized potential in both cases, but the second one is an unactualized potential in the agent while the first one needn’t be. It’s not enough to note that an agent acts or doesn’t if the limitation of the action comes entirely from the side of the effect. So while we can admit that acting freely involves unactualized potentials we can’t impute these to the agent except to the extent that the agent is not purus actus. 

(2) It’s not clear how necessary being of classical theology maps onto PW logic. Classical theology from Aristotle through the Medievals divided

(a) The possible opposed to the necessary from

(b) The possible opposed to the impossible.

God is a possible being in sense (b) and not in (a), but this arises precisely because the sense of “possible” is not univocal in both – there is no uniform being called “possibility” such that God is present in all of it (as an ‘a’) because he is present in some of it (as a ‘b’).

Again, (b) prescinds from existence while (a) cannot, and (b) is an absolute and absolutely universal consideration that allows from allows for the possibility of pure act while not demanding it.


Proper to Intellect

0.) Wise men order. The reason for this is that wisdom is the loftiest perfection of reason, to which it peculiarly belongs to know order. For even though sense powers know some thing absolutely, still, to know the order of one thing to another belongs to intellect or reason alone.

[S]apientis est ordinare. Cuius ratio est, quia sapientia est potissima perfectio rationis, cuius proprium est cognoscere ordinem. Nam etsi vires sensitivae cognoscant res aliquas absolute, ordinem tamen unius rei ad aliam cognoscere est solius intellectus aut rationis.

Commentary on Nicomachean Ethics. c. 1. l. 1

1.) Whenever knowing something requires judging that one thing is another, knowing it requires intellect.

2.) Substances are known as grounds of accidents and so are non-complex but require judging one thing is another, e.g. this unity of colors, movements, smells, bark-sounds is a dog, and it is known as dog only as this.

3.) Though they are not substances secundum se, accidental wholes also require an act of intellect: e.g. this positioning of cloth and boards is a couch.

4.) Relation exists only by co-existence, and so requires a judgment that this co-exists with that, which also requires an act of an intellect.

5.) Voluntary action does not require judgment. An action is voluntary so far as an agent is doing something he wants, and we wanted all sorts of things as two-week-old children without deliberating or making any judgments of choice. Parents can wonder what their child wants when it’s screaming at two in the morning but they can’t wonder about the kid’s choices. Though all of us lived for years in this state of voluntariness-without-deliberation-or-choice, and though all non-human animals live in it permanently, such non-reflective consciousness is unrecoverable to us now. To speak of it is already to have overcome it.

6.) Speech is not simply communication but a judgment relating noun and verb and so is a relation (cf. #4.) Communication or signaling does not require judgment: a monkey doesn’t need to know what a roar means to run from a lion, and little Albert didn’t need to know what a loud bang meant to cry when he heard it. In fact, neither the roar nor the bang meant anything at all.


The God who loves and saves

The contemporary church and Christian community has successfully taught that God loves everybody. This is true, but it has two senses:

a.) God’s love for what humans are by nature. So taken, he loves us more than anything else in the physical cosmos, which suffices to explain why we exist.

b.) God’s love for humans by grace: So taken, he loves us in a way that surpasses how he loves us by nature, loving us not just as the crown of creation, but his own self.

(a) is a sufficient good to justify our existence but does not merit eternal life. More problematically, by nature we also know lower goods before higher ones and so find it practically impossible to avoid sin, and absent the sort of life given in (b) we are stuck with this sin for as long as our soul continues to exist. So God loves all humans in group (a) in a way that suffices to justify their existence, but the overwhelming majority of them will end up with permanent sins and the punishment due them. Hell.

God really does love us no matter what, but we don’t want the God who loves but the God who saves.

Linguistic turn

If the linguistic turn means making the mode of signification normative or a cognitive limitation, then large parts of Medieval philosophy become proofs for agnosticism and naturalism, insisting as they do on everything beyond sensation (God, souls, human reason, knowledge, desire, principles of nature) requires a modus significandi differing from the modus essendi.

The totality of knowledge

The locus classicus of the Thomistic account of knowledge is De veritate 2.2. where Thomas argues that knowledge in finite creatures overcomes deficiency in their existence.

In one way [a thing is found perfect] according to the perfection of its existence which belongs to it according to its own species. But because the specific existence of one thing is distinct from the specific existence of another, therefore in any created thing that much of perfection simply as is found in other species is lacking to such perfection of any thing, so that in this way the perfection of any thing when considered in itself would be imperfect as part of the perfection ofthe whole universe, which arises from the perfections of the singular things gathered together.

Note that the individuals formally lack the perfections of singular things gathered together in their order to one another (quae singularum rerum perfectionibus invicem congregatis.)

Knowledge in finite beings, taken formally, is therefore not the possession of some finite object but of a totality. Qua knowledge we don’t hear, say, a fire truck or a silent room but of the totality of the audible as such.

This totality is either absolute or limited to some genus. The latter defines sensation and the former intellection.

Intellection extends to all being in such a way as to be presupposed to our knowledge of even the first concrete thing from which we might have abstracted an idea of being. Our intellection understands natural object falling into its cognition not in its finite existence but as one of the ways in which something is other than the purely impossible, i.e. the way in which something exists in reality and not purely in thought. Being is and cannot not be. 

Both the domain of reality and the domain of pure thought are absolute and absolutely universal. Given the transcendence of being beyond any genus and its absolute exclusion of the impossible, the impossible is both object of thought and co-transcendent with being.



Art vs. advertising

On the one hand, most art around us is advertising. Logos are elemental ads, and you’re overwhelmingly likely to be within reach of five different corporate logos (your clothes alone would get you halfway there, and the computer and screen contents would finish it off.) Again, the odds of avoiding an ad in the next hour are scant and fall to practically zero if extended over the whole day.

On the other hand, advertising is the opposite of beauty and so the opposite of art since advertising excites desire and beauty satisfies it. Advertising seeks to grab attention and leave it incomplete or unfinished, like a song stuck in one’s head or a desire excited for a consumable good. Beauty is satisfaction in mere perception, with no subsequent desire to chase down some desirable good, but the advertiser defines himself in opposition to this. Advertising suppresses beauty, not out of an irrational love of ugliness or deliberate rejection of the beautiful but out of a need to excite desire through perception and cause us to move and act, as opposed to beauty, which satisfies perception and gives it rest in the vision of things as they are.

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