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.


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