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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stimulating, If Not Ultimately Persuasive, December 8, 2000
This review is from: Does God Have a Nature? (Aquinas Lecture 44) (Paperback)
The question in the title of this 1980 contribution to Marquette University's Aquinas Lecture series has its root in a broader concern vis-a-vis the Divine omnipotence: If we posit that God has a nature, must we conclude that He has properties different from Himself (say, His own wisdom, or the truths of arithmetic) over which He has no control? Plantinga pursues five lines of inquiry.
First, he investigates the Kantian transcendental idealism of Kaufman, who concludes that God as He is in Himself entirely transcends any concept we have of Him. Plantinga deftly draws out the incoherence of this position: if God transcends all of our concepts of Him, He must also transcend the concept we have of God "God transcends all of our concepts of Him", and the position crumbles into dust.
Second, he considers the position of Aquinas that God is simple: that is, God has a nature but is identical to it, so that He is all of His properties, whence there exists no property external to Him such that He has no control over it. Plantinga is less successful here: He argues that the position leads to the conclusion that God is a property. Since a property can't be a person but is merely an abstract object, he says, it would follow that God is an abstract object. He does briefly consider the Thomist position that what is said of God, as opposed to what is said of us (e.g., goodness, wisdom, intellect, etc.), is said neither univocally nor equivocally, but analogically. After stating that this notion is a difficult one, Plantinga concludes that, rather than simply supporting the notion that "property" is applied to God and to the creation analogically, it "cuts both ways": that is, the notion can be used equally well to cast doubt on our argument for God's simplicity. It is not at all obvious, however, from the fact that the analogical predicate is not minutely spelled out, that it is susceptible to any such desired use. Thus Aquinas' notion of the Divine simplicity remains (despite a few minor difficulties) broadly coherent.
Third, Plantinga takes on nominalism, the belief that abstract objects do not actually exist, but only concrete instantiations of this. He shows masterfully that nominalism doesn't solve the problem: Even if there are no abstract objects, there are truths (if not, assertions of nominalism itself will be unsubstantive). Over some of these (say, that a foot-long hot dog exceeds six inches in length), on the showing of nominalism, God still has no control.
Fourth, he considers the Cartesian notion of universal possibilism, the idea that God has a nature but that none of His properties are necessary--they could all have been otherwise. This, he points out, has the virtues of coherence and of consistency in asserting that everything is under God's control: He could have made anything at all other than it is (three and four could have been eight instead of seven, say). Plantinga goes to great length to elucidate (quite successfully) the ambiguity inherent in this position and goes on to argue that, if is true, it compromises our knowledge of any truth at all.
Fifth, Plantinga honestly accepts what he sees to be the consequence of the failure of the above positions: God has a nature, and His omnipotence is limited by the fact that there are necessary truths over which He has no control. He ends with a line of thought which may conclude that "we can point to an important dependence of abstract truths upon God," but unfortunately he does not develop it here.
In summary, Plantinga is mostly sound and lucid as always, but I am not persuaded to abandon belief in the Divine simplicity. It is well sustained by Thomas' notions of divine eternity, of the creation's asymmetrical relation to God, and of analogical predication, and has the additional virtues (not touched upon by Plantinga) of metaphysical superiority and beauty. These qualities alone bestow upon the notion of the Divine simplicity some warrant (in Plantinga's sense), enough warrant, I say, for knowledge, provided that the notion is coherent and otherwise undefeated.
All told, the book is highly stimulating and well worth reading.
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