God Without Parts

The latest issue of Themelios includes my review of James Dolezal’s God Without Parts.

5 Responses to God Without Parts

  1. Dr. Anderson,

    Interesting stuff. You offer some insightful criticisms, but do so respectfully—and this time, mix it with genuine enthusiasm for the project. And as usual, you have delivered another fine work of English, which always pleases me to read. So congrats for all that.

    But the topic perplexes me. Although I have a rough idea of some of the things divine simplicity is supposed to involve, I confess I do not really understand it. For example, you suggest that on divine simplicity, God’s goodness is identical to God himself. Or at least you cite this as a criticism of the doctrine—maybe you don’t agree that God’s goodness is identical to God. At any rate, it seems obvious to me that God’s goodness is an abstraction—a concept involved in a property of God—and not a part of God, much less identical to God. As far as I can see, suggesting that God is identical to one of his properties (e.g. the property of being good), or concepts involved in those properties, is incoherent. But properties are not “parts” as I understand the term, and so this is no threat to divine simplicity as I understand it (or perhaps as I misunderstand it).

    However my main objection-in-waiting to DDS is that minds are composed (at least to some extent) of different experiences. If God has a mind—indeed, if God is a mind—then his various experiences surely would constitute distinct, nonidentical entities. For if we deny that God has distinct, nonidentical experiences, then I fail to see how to make sense of saying that God has (or is) a mind. In turn, this seems to me required in order to make sense of the notion that God is a conscious being. So in short, my concern is this: No parts, no experiences; no experiences, no mind; no mind, no consciousness.

    But I state all this not as some kind of knock-down argument against DDS, but rather to show some of what it is about DDS which I do not sufficiently understand. I can’t make sense of the doctrine until I appreciate its relationship to these concerns.

    Maybe you feel like explaining. (Hint, hint…)


    • Ben,

      Thanks for the questions. In response to the first batch, I recommend you check out Bill Vallicella’s excellent overview of the issue.

      As for your “objection-in-waiting”: I don’t agree that minds are composed of experiences. Minds have experiences, but those experiences aren’t parts of those minds (likewise for thoughts, etc.). I think most philosophers would agree that immaterial minds, if they exist at all, would be metaphysically simple entities. They’re not the sort of entities that could be divided into parts (even in principle). If you think that minds must be complex entities in order to have diverse experiences, it may be because you’re thinking of minds too materialistically (as though a mind were a sort of non-physical brain).

      All this to say, I see nothing incoherent in the idea that metaphysically simple mind can have a diversity of experiences. Experiences aren’t parts of a mind any more than programs are parts of a computer.

  2. Pingback: Just Replied to James Anderson’s Article “God Without Parts” « Uncreated Light

  3. Dr. Anderson,

    Thanks for taking the time to respond, and for the link. I’ll try to read the whole thing eventually. In the mean time, though, I’m sort of stuck on the first and second paragraphs in section 3. Something like Plantinga’s objection is the one I had in mind above. Allow me to quote the (somewhat lengthy for a blog comment) relevant section:

    If one takes a thing’s nature to be a constituent of it, together with some individuating constituent such as signate or designated matter (materia signata) in the case of material beings, then the notion of an immaterial simple being becomes conceivable. Material beings are individuated and diversified by their signate matter. Thus Socrates and Plato, though the same in nature, differ numerically in virtue of their different portions of materia signata. Matter makes them individuals, and matter makes them numerically diverse individuals. God, however, being immaterial, is a self-individuating nature. His individuation does not require something external to his nature such as matter. In Thomist terms, in God nature and suppositum are identical. (ST I, q. 3, art. 3) The divine nature is not an abstract object related across an ontological chasm to a concrete individual; the divine nature is self-individuating. This is not entirely clear, but it is not obviously incoherent. And our question, you will recall, is concerned solely with coherence.

    One can see from this that Plantinga-type objections are not compelling.

    I don’t know how to make sense of this segment of the article. Apparently DDS advocates want to deny the distinction between abstracta and concreta, at least in certain cases. I’m not exactly wedded to that distinction, myself, but I can say this much: I don’t know what it means to say that a property is an “ontological constituent” of the individual which exemplifies (or bears, or whatever) that property. Once the DDS advocate goes there, I don’t know how to follow.

    Another problem here is that I neither understand what precisely is meant by the notion of God’s “nature.” I can understand the term in a plain-English sense, such as we might say, “it is in God’s nature to love,” or something like that. But if someone is going to say, “look, here’s this thing called ‘God’s nature,’ and it has such and such qualities and relationships and so forth,” then I don’t know what that person is talking about.

    I don’t expect you to take on the burden yourself of clarifying all this for me. However, perhaps you could offer further reading recommendations which focus on these particular issues. (Of course, if you do happen to feel like explaining, I would certainly welcome the effort!)

    Finally, regarding minds, I’m surprised and not a little confused to hear you say that most philosophers regard them as metaphysically simple entities. Do you mean to say that minds are simple in a similar sense that God is said to be simple? That is, are you suggesting that minds are identical to their properties, and so forth? (Again, if you don’t have the time and/or patience to answer this, a reading recommendation would be fine.)


    • Ben,

      Constituent ontologists hold that objects are complexes that have more fundamental metaphysical elements as constituents (e.g., properties). This tradition goes back to Aristotle (who held that objects are constituted by form and matter) if not further. If you’re looking for a good introduction to such matters, I recommend Michael Loux’s Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction (Routledge; now in its 3rd edition).

      As for minds, there are different senses of ‘simplicity’. In the basic sense, X is simple iff X is not composed of parts. In that sense, all minds are simple. But there is a stronger sense, according to which X is simple iff X has no ontological constituents that are more fundamental than X. (Note that this implies a distinction between ‘parts’ and ‘constituents’.) Some advocates of DDS (such as Aquinas) would argue that God must be simple in the stronger sense. But created minds would not be simple in that second sense.

      So I am not suggesting that (human) minds are identical to their properties, etc.