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The Sense and Nonsense of Omnipotence

  • Paul Grimley Kuntz (a1)


In that ‘Cock and Bull’ story, Tristram Shandy, Laurence Sterne satirises philosophic disputation. Since the subject is a nose, the philosophers, divided already along Catholic and Lutheran lines, become Nosarians and Anti-nosarians. The doctors belong to the two universities of Strasburg. On ‘which side of the nose [would] the two universities split’?

'Tis above reason, cried the doctors on one side.

'Tis below reason, cried the others.

'Tis faith, we cried.

'Tis a fiddle-stick, said the other.

'Tis possible, cried the one.

'Tis impossible, said the other.

God's power is infinite, cried the Nosarians, he can do anything.

He can do nothing, cried the Antinosarians, which implies contradictions.

He can make matter think, said the Nosarians.

As certainly as you can make a velvet cap out of a sow's ear, replied the Antinosarians.



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page 525 note 1 Sterne, Laurence, Tristram Shandy, Great Books of the Western World, Vol. 36, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Chicago, 1952, p. 334 (Bk. IV, Slawkenbergii Fabella).

page 527 note 1 Bulwer-Lytton, Edward, Works, Vol. 12, Merrill and Baker, New York, n.d., pp. 348349 Portions not in quotation marks are paraphrase.

page 527 note 2 Hobbes, Thomas, Leviathan, University Press, Cambridge, 1904, Part II, Chap. 31, p. 264.

page 528 note 1 Hobbes, Thomas, Leviathan, University Press, Cambridge, 1904, Part II, Chap. 31, pp. 260261.

page 528 note 2 Rado, Sandor, ‘Obsessive Behaviour: So-Called Obsessive-Compulsive Neurosis’, in American Handbook of Psychiatry, Silvano, Arieti, Ed., Basic Books, New York, 1959, Vol. I, p. 331.

page 528 note 3 Calvin, John, Institute of the Christian Religion, Allen, John, Tr., Presbyterian Board of Christian Education, Philadelphia, Pa., 1928, Bk. I, Ch. XVI, pp. 185186.

page 528 note 4 McLean, Preston G., ‘Psychiatry and Philosophy’, American Handbook of Psychiatry, op. cit. Vol. II, p. 1775.

page 529 note 1 Feuerbach, Ludwig, The Essence of Christianity, Eliot, George, Tr., Introduction by Karl Barth, Harper Torchbook, Harper and Brothers, New York, 1957, p. 125.

page 529 note 2 Wild, John D., Human Freedom and Social Order, Duke University Press, Durham, North Carolina, 1959, P. 47.

‘… Father and Almighty indicate a dialectical tension which we accept.’

page 529 note 3 The Life of Reason, Reason in Art, Ch. X, ‘The Criterion of Taste’, Constable, London, 1905, p. 192.

page 530 note 1 Santayana, George, The Life of Reason, One-Volume Edition, Daniel, Cory, Collaborator, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1953, pp. 190191.

page 530 note 2 Santayana, George, The Realm of Spirit, Realms of Being, One-Volume Edition, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1942, p. 723. The whole passage pp. 722–725, exposing the root of magic, is similar to Freud, Sigmund, ‘Animism, Magic and the Omnipotence of Thought’, Ch. III of Totem and Taboo, in Basic Writings, Modern Library, New York, 1938, pp. 865883, especially 873877.

page 530 note 3 Marrett, R. R., The Threshold of Religion, The Macmillan Co., New York, 1914, pp. 176179.

page 531 note 1 Freud, S., Civilisation and Its Discontents, Tr. Rivière, Joan, Great Books, loc. cit., Vol. 54, 1952, p. 790 (capitalisation sic).

page 531 note 2 Whitehead, Alfred North, Religion in the Making, The Macmillan Co., New York, 1926, p. 41.

page 532 note 1 McTaggart, J. M. E., Some Dogmas of Religion, Edward Arnold, London, 1906, pp. 205206.

page 533 note 1 Santayana, George, Realms of Being, loc. cit., p. 725.

page 533 note 2 Schiller, F. C. S., ‘Omnipotence’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, London, Williams and Norgate, 1918, Vol. 18, pp. 266267.

page 533 note 3 Must Philosophers Disagree?, Macmillan and Co., London, 1934, Ch. XXII, ‘Man's Limitation or God's?’, p. 303.

page 535 note 1 The Union Prayerbook for Jewish Worship, Central Conference of American Rabbis, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1921, pp. 380–382. Psalm 139: 1–12, 17–19, 23–24.

Omitted from this version, probably on grounds of the kind of barbarism denounced by Whitehead:

Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: depart from me therefore, ye bloody men…

Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee?…

I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies. (King James Version, w. 19–22)

page 536 note 1 Tillich, Paul, Systematic Theology, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois, 1951, Volume I, pp. 271272.

page 538 note 1 Schilpp, Paul A., Editor, The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell, Tudor Publishing Co., New York, 1951 (third edition), p. 688.

The Sense and Nonsense of Omnipotence

  • Paul Grimley Kuntz (a1)


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