Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-65dc7cd545-srjzm Total loading time: 0.222 Render date: 2021-07-26T05:01:55.536Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true, "newUsageEvents": true }

Shoring up divine simplicity against modal collapse: a powers account

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 February 2019

Department of Theology, Creighton University, Omaha, NE 68102, USA
E-mail address:


This article defends a broadly Thomist understanding of the doctrine of divine simplicity from the objection that such a position inevitably leads to a modal collapse. To do so, it draws upon Barbara Vetter's recent dispositionalist account of modality, in which irreducibly modal multi-track powers are the truthmakers of modal claims. Conceiving of God's power on the analogy of these dispositional properties enables us to hold that the divine life is itself the truthmaker of modal truths, without requiring a real distinction between what is necessary and contingent in God that would compromise divine simplicity.

Original Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below.


Adams, Marilyn McCord (1999) Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God (Ithaca: Cornell University Press).Google Scholar
Adams, Marilyn McCord (2006) Christ and Horrors: The Coherence of Christology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).10.1017/CBO9780511607585CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Baker, Lynne Rudder (2003) ‘Why Christians should not be libertarians: an Augustinian challenge’, Faith and Philosophy, 20, 460478.10.5840/faithphil20032045CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bird, Alexander (2007) Nature's Metaphysics (Oxford: Oxford University Press).10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199227013.001.0001CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brower, Jeffrey E. (2005) ‘Aquinas's metaphysics of modality: a reply to Leftow’, The Modern Schoolman, 82, 201212.10.5840/schoolman20058238CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brower, Jeffrey E. (2008) ‘Making sense of divine simplicity’, Faith and Philosophy, 25, 330.10.5840/faithphil20082511CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Burrell, David B. (1973) Analogy and Philosophical Language (New Haven: Yale University Press).Google Scholar
Burrell, David B. (1986) Knowing the Unknowable God: Ibn-Sina, Maimonides, Aquinas (Notre Dame IN: University of Notre Dame Press).Google Scholar
Burrell, David B. (2008) Aquinas: God and Action (Scranton: University of Scranton Press).Google Scholar
Cameron, Ross P. (2010) ‘The grounds of necessity’, Philosophy Compass, 5, 348358.10.1111/j.1747-9991.2010.00296.xCrossRefGoogle Scholar
Copan, Paul, & Craig, William Lane (2004) Creation out of Nothing: A Biblical, Philosophical, and Scientific Exploration (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic).Google Scholar
Couenhoven, Jesse (2012) ‘The necessities of perfect freedom’, International Journal of Systematic Theology, 14, 396419.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Denzinger, Heinrich (2012) Compendium of Creeds, Definitions, and Declarations on Matters of Faith and Morals, 43rd edn, Fastiggi, Robert & Nash, Anne Englund (eds) (San Francisco: Ignatius Press).Google Scholar
Dewan, Lawrence (1989) ‘Saint Thomas, Alvin Plantinga, and the divine simplicity’, The Modern Schoolman, 66, 141151.10.5840/schoolman198966220CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dolezal, James E. (2011) God without Parts: Divine Simplicity and the Metaphysics of God's Absoluteness (Eugene OR: Pickwick Publications).Google Scholar
Duby, Steven J. (2016) Divine Simplicity: A Dogmatic Account (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark).Google Scholar
Frost, Gloria Ruth (2009) ‘Thomas Aquinas on necessary truths about contingent beings’ (Unpublished PhD Dissertation: University of Notre Dame).Google Scholar
Frost, Gloria Ruth (2014) ‘Aquinas and Scotus on the source of contingency’, Oxford Studies in Medieval Philosophy, 2, 4666.Google Scholar
Hinlicky, Paul R. (2016) Divine Simplicity: Christ the Crisis of Metaphysics (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic).Google Scholar
Jacobs, Jonathan D. (2010) ‘A powers theory of modality: or, how I learned to stop worrying and reject possible worlds’, Philosophical Studies, 151, 227248.10.1007/s11098-009-9427-1CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jubien, Michael (2007) ‘Analyzing Modality’, Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, 3, 99139.Google Scholar
Kraay, Klaas J. (2008) ‘Creation, actualization, and God's choice among possible worlds’, Philosophy Compass, 3, 854872.10.1111/j.1747-9991.2008.00159.xCrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kraay, Klaas J. (2011) ‘Theism and modal collapse’, American Philosophical Quarterly, 48, 361372.Google Scholar
Leftow, Brian (1990) ‘Is God an abstract object?’, Noûs, 24, 581598.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Leftow, Brian (2005a) ‘Aquinas on God and modal truth’, The Modern Schoolman, 82, 171200.10.5840/schoolman20058237CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Leftow, Brian (2005b) ‘Power, possibilia, and non-contradiction’, The Modern Schoolman, 82, 231243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Leftow, Brian (2006) ‘Divine simplicity’, Faith and Philosophy, 26, 365380.10.5840/faithphil200623433CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Leftow, Brian (2009) ‘Aquinas, divine simplicity, and divine freedom’, in Timpe, Kevin (ed.) Metaphysics and God: Essays in Honor of Eleonore Stump (New York: Routledge), 2138.Google Scholar
Levering, Matthew (2011) ‘Christ, the Trinity, and predestination: McCormack and Aquinas’, in Dempsey, Michael (ed.) Trinity and Election in Contemporary Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans), 244273.Google Scholar
Martin, C. B. (1994) ‘Dispositions and conditionals’, The Philosophical Quarterly, 44, 18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McCall, Thomas H. (2014) ‘Trinity doctrine, plain and simple’, in Crisp, Oliver D. & Sanders, Fred (eds) Advancing Trinitarian Theology: Explorations in Constructive Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), 4259.Google Scholar
McCormack, Bruce L. (2013) ‘Processions and missions: a point of convergence between Thomas Aquinas and Karl Barth’, in McCormack, Bruce L. & White, Thomas Joseph (eds) Thomas Aquinas and Karl Barth: An Unofficial Catholic-Protestant Dialogue (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans), 99126.Google Scholar
McInerny, Ralph M. (1996) Aquinas and Analogy (Washington DC: The Catholic University of America Press).Google Scholar
McNall, Joshua (2015) A Free Corrector: Colin Gunton and the Legacy of Augustine (Minneapolis: Fortress Press).10.2307/j.ctt128788gCrossRefGoogle Scholar
Molnar, George (2003) Powers: A Study in Metaphysics, Mumford, Stephen (ed.) (Oxford: Oxford University Press).Google Scholar
Morris, Thomas V. (1985) ‘On God and Mann: a view of divine simplicity’, Religious Studies, 21, 299318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mullins, R. T. (2013) ‘Simply impossible: a case against divine simplicity’, Journal of Reformed Theology, 7, 181203.10.1163/15697312-12341294CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mullins, R. T. (2016) The End of the Timeless God (Oxford: Oxford University Press).10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198755180.001.0001CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mumford, Stephen (2005) ‘Kinds, essences, powers’, Ratio, 18, 420436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ortlund, Gavin (2014) ‘Divine simplicity in historical perspective: resourcing a contemporary discussion’, International Journal of Systematic Theology, 16, 436453.10.1111/ijst.12068CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pawl, Timothy J. (2008) ‘A Thomistic account of truthmakers for modal truths’ (Unpublished PhD Dissertation: Saint Louis University).Google Scholar
Plantinga, Alvin (1980) Does God Have a Nature? (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press).Google Scholar
Radde-Gallwitz, Andrew (2009) Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and the Transformation of Divine Simplicity (Oxford: Oxford University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rogers, Katherin A. (2000) Perfect Being Theology (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press).Google Scholar
Rosenkrantz, Gary (1985) ‘Necessity, contingency, and Mann’, Faith and Philosophy, 2, 457463.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sider, Theodore (2011) Writing the Book of the World (Oxford: Oxford University Press).10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199697908.001.0001CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Smith, Barry D. (2014) The Oneness and Simplicity of God (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers).Google Scholar
Sokolowski, Robert (1995) The God of Faith and Reason (Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press).Google Scholar
Spencer, Mark K. (2017) ‘The flexibility of divine simplicity: Aquinas, Scotus, Palamas’, International Philosophical Quarterly, 57, 123139.10.5840/ipq201731682CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stump, Eleonore (2003) Aquinas (Abingdon: Routledge).Google Scholar
Stump, Eleonore (2016) ‘Simplicity and Aquinas's quantum metaphysics’, in Krieger, Gerhard (ed.) Die Metaphysik des Aristoteles im Mittelalter: Rezeption und Transformation: Akten der 14. Tagung der Karl und Gertrud Abel-Stiftung vom 4.-6. Oktob (Berlin: De Gruyter), 191210.Google Scholar
te Velde, Rudi (2006) Aquinas on God: The ‘Divine Science’ of the Summa Theologiae (Farnham: Ashgate).Google Scholar
Thomas, Aquinas (2008) The Summa Theologiae of Saint Thomas Aquinas: Latin-English Edition I, Fathers of the English Dominican Province (trs) (Scotts Valley CA: NovAntiqua).Google Scholar
Tomaszewski, Christopher M. P. (2018) ‘Collapsing the modal collapse argument: on an invalid argument against divine simplicity’, Analysis, Scholar
Torrance, Alan (2013) ‘Reclaiming the continuing priesthood of Christ: implications and challenges’, in Crisp, Oliver D. & Sanders, Fred (eds) Christology, Ancient and Modern: Explorations in Constructive Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), 184204.Google Scholar
Vetter, Barbara (2011) ‘Recent work: modality without possible worlds’, Analysis, 71, 742754.10.1093/analys/anr077CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Vetter, Barbara (2013) ‘Multi-track dispositions’, The Philosophical Quarterly, 63, 330352.10.1111/1467-9213.12024CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Vetter, Barbara (2015) Potentiality: From Dispositions to Modality (Oxford: Oxford University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
White, Thomas Joseph (2016) ‘Nicene orthodoxy and trinitarian simplicity’, American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, 90, 727750.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Williamson, Timothy (1998) ‘Bare possibilia’, Erkenntnis, 48, 257273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wilson, Jessica (2012) ‘Fundamental determinables’, Philosopher's Imprint, 12, 117.Google Scholar

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Shoring up divine simplicity against modal collapse: a powers account
Available formats

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Shoring up divine simplicity against modal collapse: a powers account
Available formats

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Shoring up divine simplicity against modal collapse: a powers account
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *