January 28, 2013

An Argument Against Divine Simplicity

Filed under: Ethics,Philosophical Theology,Philosophy of Religion — camcintosh @ 1:02 am

That in virtue of which something is valuable is organic unity, the unification—in more or less degrees of tightness—of a diversity of elements. When multiple things come together to form a coherent, structured, and harmonious whole, a necessary condition for value is met. For a defense of this view, see Genesis 1 and nearly the entire history of Western philosophy, from Plato to Robert Nozick. So, we have the following argument:

(1) If x is valuable, x is an organic unity. (P)
(2) God is valuable. (P)
(3) Therefore, God is an organic unity. (1, 2 EI)
(4) If God is omnino simplex, then God is not an organic unity. (P)
(5) Therefore, God is not omnino simplex. (3, 4 MT)

The main premise, clearly, is (1). The defender of divine simplicity could argue backwards, inferring from God’s simplicity that God is not an organic unity. But because God is valuable, we have here a counterexample to (1). In that case, it must be asked which is more reasonable to believe, (1) or

(6) God is omnino simplex. (P)

There are good arguments for both, but I’d throw in with (1). Maybe one could argue that (1) and (6) are in some way logically compatible. But I have my doubts.



  1. What kind of simplicity do you buy into? And what would be the argument for 1? Just being inquisitive.

    Comment by sorentmd — January 28, 2013 @ 12:26 pm | Reply

    • What kind of simplicity do I buy into? The kind of simplicity according to which God is not a divisible entity in the way physical composites are. God, as an immaterial being, is not composed of a bunch of separable aggregates like atoms. But immaterial things can be composites, too. So, I suppose the kind of simplicity I buy into is whatever kind of simplicity is compatible with immaterial composition.

      As for arguments for premise (1), I would simply refer you to Robert Nozick, Philosophical Explanations, pp. 413-450. Or, for a shorter read, Nozick’s The Examined Life, ch. 15.

      Comment by camcintosh — January 28, 2013 @ 1:40 pm | Reply

  2. Chad:

    Interesting argument. Just a few, quick thoughts.

    What do you think about the following premise as a counterexample to (1)?

    (1*) If x is valuable, x is an organic unity, or x is part of an organic unity.

    The intuition behind this revision is that being a part of an organic unity is value-conferring or constitutive of a value-making property. This would allow for the possibility of derivative value. Assuming that (1*) is plausible, perhaps the advocate of divine simplicity could suggest that possible worlds are organic unities, and that God is valuable by virtue of being part of every possible world — indeed, an essential part of every possible world. To my mind, this would be a rather strange view, and would potentially indicate a degree of desperation to preserve divine simplicity.

    By way of a second proposal, maybe someone like Thomas Morris (or a proponent of absolute creationism) could endorse something like this?

    (1**) If x is valuable, then God is creatively responsible for x.

    God is creatively responsible for Himself (or His own nature), so, according to (1**), God (or His nature) is valuable. This version of the value premise, since it depends on absolute creationism, probably wouldn’t be regarded as attractive by most advocates of divine simplicity.

    Lastly, a third proposal:

    (1***) If x is valuable, then x is valued by an absolutely perfect being.

    Given that it’s plausible to suppose that an absolutely perfect being values itself, (1***) would entail that such a being is valuable. The advocate of divine simplicity, of course, would claim that this being is God and, accordingly, would claim that (1***) is consistent with the hypothesis that God is omnino simplex. This last alternative may not be appealing since it appears to render God’s value derivative in a peculiar way.

    Comment by Marc Belcastro — January 28, 2013 @ 4:37 pm | Reply

    • Marc, excellent remarks! Your comment is too wholesome for it to receive due justice in a comment thread. I hope to address (1*) and related issues (e.g., whether value can be derivative) in a separate post soon. So for now, I’ll stick to saying just a few things about (1**) and (1***). But I’ll note in passing that, if you’re interested, something like the strange view you describe (where God is part of a valuable whole) is entertained by Ramon Lemos, The Nature of Value: Axiological Investigations (UPF, 1995), pp. 51-52.

      Regarding (1**): Interestingly, I think unitarians are committed to something like it. I can’t go into the full argument here (but see here for a very brief statement), but basically the argument boils down to this: if God is a single person, then the only way God can have value is if God endows himself value. I’ve always been dubious of this possibility, but it turns out to be very hard to argue against it (see here for at least one puzzle this possibility faces). Maybe one could, as you suggest, appropriate the arguments against theistic activism against it. I’m curious, how would you argue against the possibility of (1**)?

      (1***) seems to entail (1**) in that it still involves God being creatively responsible for his own value. So the former would turn on the possibility of the latter. And there may be additional reasons to think that (1***) is incompatible with divine simplicity. For example, if valuing oneself requires holding oneself in mind as an object of thought (that is not-identical to the object–i.e., God–itself), then there is at least a sense in which this object of thought is a proper part of God.

      Comment by camcintosh — January 28, 2013 @ 7:50 pm | Reply

  3. Thanks for your thoughts and kind words, Chad. I look forward to your next installment on value. Thanks also for directing me to Lemos’s book, as I’m not familiar with his work. His discussion in the pages you mentioned is intriguing, and, while I need to devote more thought to the matter, it may have helped divest the view (that God is part of the world) of some of its strangeness.

    Regarding (1**), I’m inclined to think it’s intuitively plausible for some x to be intrinsically or inherently valuable. (If I recall correctly, Lemos distinguishes between inherent value and intrinsic value, so I’m guessing he would dispute my conflating them here.) In my judgment, just as it seems intuitively plausible for some x to be (for example) intrinsically good or intrinsically beautiful, I’m inclined to think the same applies to intrinsic value. Assuming it’s plausible that some x be intrinsically good or intrinsically beautiful, it strikes me as implausible to suppose that x could possess these features and yet fail to be intrinsically valuable. If any of this happens to be in the vicinity of being right—and it may well not be!—then this commits me to saying that your Endowment Thesis provides only a sufficient condition for x’s having value. So, I guess I’m not claiming that (1**) is false, but rather that it doesn’t secure a necessary condition for having value.

    You noted that “(1***) seems to entail (1**) in that it still involves God being creatively responsible for his own value.” I’m unclear about the potential entailment here. Would you mind saying a little more about that? (1***) appears to be a more specific application of the Endowment Thesis, or at least is consistent with such an application, unless the endowment relation involves some kind of causal relation. If the “act” of endowing doesn’t entail that some causal relation obtains, then maybe (1**) and (1***) are distinct.

    Comment by Marc Belcastro — January 30, 2013 @ 1:22 am | Reply

  4. How abou this as an alterantive to 1.

    If x is valueable x is like God with respect to unity.

    The reason why organic unities are somewhat valuable is that they somewhat aproximate divine simplicity. :)

    Comment by Joshua Layton-Wood — February 21, 2013 @ 5:48 am | Reply

  5. “If x is valuable, x is an organic unity, assuming we’re talking about things within the genus of being.”

    Fixed that for ya.

    Of course, since God cannot be situated in any genus, premise 1 cannot apply to God.

    Comment by Matt Dodrill — May 22, 2013 @ 8:43 pm | Reply

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