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On God and Mann: A View of Divine Simplicity

  • Thomas V. Morris (a1)


One of the most difficult and perplexing tenets of classical theism is the doctrine of divine simplicity. Broadly put, this is generally understood to be the thesis that God is altogether without any proper parts, composition, or metaphysical complexity whatsoever. For a good deal more than a millennium, veritable armies of philosophical theologians – Jewish, Christian and Islamic – proclaimed the truth and importance of divine simplicity. Yet in our own time, the doctrine has enjoyed no such support. Among many otherwise orthodox theists, those who do not just disregard it completely explicitly deny it. However, in a couple of recent articles, William E. Mann has attempted to expound the idea of divine simplicity anew and to defend it against a number of criticisms. He even has gone so far as to hint at reaffirming its importance, suggesting that the doctrine may have a significant amount of explanatory power and other theoretical virtue as part of an overall account of the nature of God, by either entailing or in other ways providing for much else that traditional theists have wanted to say about God. In this paper, I want to take a close look at Mann's formulation of the doctrine and at a general supporting theory he adumbrates in his attempt to render more plausible, or at least more defensible, various of its elements and implications. As Mann has made what is arguably the best attempt to defend the doctrine in recent years, I think that such an examination is important and will repay our efforts.



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page 299 note 1 ‘Divine Simplicity’, Religious Studies XVIII (1982), 451–71; and ‘Simplicity and Immutability in God’, International Philosophical Quarterly XXIII3, (1983) 267–76 (a version of this paper was originally mead at the American Philosophical Association Eastern Division meeting in 1981).

page 300 note 1 The contemporary literature on simplicity consists of only a handful of articles and some short discussions in a few books devoted primarily to other topics. The articles include Bennett, Daniel, ‘The Divine Simplicity’, The Journal of Philosophy LXVI 19 (10 1966), 629–37;La Croix, Richard R., ‘Augustine on the Simplicity of God's, The New Scholasticism LI 4 (Autumn 1977), 453–69;Wainwright, William J., ‘Augustine on God's Simplicity: a Reply’, The New Scholasticism LIII 1 (Winter 1979), 118–23; and a response by La Croix entitled ‘Wainwright, Augustine, and God's Simplicity: a Final Word’, op. cit. pp. 124–7. The literature, however, threatens to soon grow significantly, as a number of papers are now being prepared by philosophers who, like Mann, seek to revive and defend the doctrine in one form or another. Especially noteworthy is a forthcoming essay by Norman Kretzmann and Eleonore Stump entitled ‘God's Simplicity and God's Free Choice’.

page 300 note 2 For the best known contemporary discussion of these problems, see Plantinga, Alvin, Does God Have a Nature?, (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press), (1980), pp. 26 ff.

page 301 note 1 Ibid.

page 302 note 1 This becomes especially clear in the later article ‘Simplicity and Immutability in God’.

page 305 note 1 I ‘Divine Simplicity’, p. 465.

page 306 note 1 This is discussed in ‘The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Anselm’, Faith and Philosophy I, 2 (April 1984), 177–187.

page 307 note 1 An instance of F need not depend for its identity on the continuing existence of a particular instance of G; rather, it requires only some instance or other of G.

page 309 note 1 Interesting discussions of the distinctions and claims are to be found in Mann's earlier piece, ‘The Divine Attributes’, The American Philosophical Quarterly XII (1975), pp. 151–9.

page 311 note 1 See pp. 272–6.

page 312 note 1 The way in which the principle of the indiscernibility of identicals governs the acceptability of identity claims is sketched out in chapter 6 of my Understanding Identity Statements, Scots Philosophical Monographs, (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1984).

page 315 note 1 Problems with this distinction were alleged by La Croix, op. cit., but can easily be circumvented.

page 316 note 1 See for example Pike's, Omnipotence and God's Ability to Sin’, The American Philosophical Quarterly VI (07 1969), 208–16.

page 317 note 1 I have discussed the modalities of stability in ‘Properties, Modalities, and God’, The Philosophical Review (January 1984), pp. 35–55.


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