Handout 2 - Omnipotence


First Definition

D1.  x is omnipotent =df. x can bring about any state of affairs

If D1 were correct, it would seem that God would fail to be omnipotent, because for example:

1. God apparently can't bring about evil (since God's bringing about evil seems to be inconsistent with his essential perfect goodness).

2. God apparently can't commit suicide -- i.e., bring about his own destruction (since God's destroying himself seems to be incompatible with his eternality).

3. of the Paradox of the Stone (see Feldman for the argument).

4. God apparently can't change the past (see Rowe).


The Thomistic Account of Omnipotence

D2.  x is omnipotent =df. x can bring about any possible state of affairs.

D2r.  x is omnipotent =df. x can bring about any state of affairs that x can bring about.

TAO:  x is omnipotent =df. x can bring about any metaphysically possible state of affairs.


Feldman's Solution

"In each case we have to be quite clear about the identity of the task.  We must ask ourselves just what state of affairs God supposedly cannot bring about.  Then we must carefully consider whether the state of affairs is really possible.  If it's an impossible state of affairs, then it's no wonder God can't bring it about.  And it's no argument against his omnipotence, either"

 - Feldman, p. 19 in reader, left hand side

How Feldman Would Answer "Can God Commit Suicide?":

No, God cannot commit suicide, but this is compatible with his omnipotence, since for God to commit suicide would be for God to bring about a metaphysically impossible state of affairs, namely:

God's being destroyed.

This is metaphysically impossible because it entails this:

An eternal being failing to exist at some time

which entails this:

A being that exists at every time failing to exist at some time.

which is metaphysically impossible.  This state of affairs is an outright contradiction and is therefore metaphysically impossible.


Can Feldman's Solution Handle The Puzzle About God Doing Evil?

First, we have to say a bit about what God’s perfect goodness consists in. We won’t give a full definition but we will offer a necessary condition:

If a being x is perfectly good, then for any two states of affairs p and q, if p is better than q, then x prefers p to q.  (Feldman's own definition of 'perfect goodness' (or 'omnibenevolence') entails this principle.  His just makes this condition both necessary and sufficient for perfect goodness.)

But then we have this argument designed to show that God is not omnipotent (given this principle about perfect goodness and given the Thomistic Account Omnipotence):

1. If God is omnipotent, then God can bring about any metaphysically
possible state of affairs.

[This is the Thomistic Account Omnipotence]

2. If God can bring about any metaphysically possible state of affairs,
then God can create a universe that is less than the best possible universe.

[since universes that are less than best are metaphysically possible states of affairs]

3. If God can create a universe that is less than the best possible universe, God is not essentially perfectly good.

[since if he were to create a universe that is less than best, it would have to be because he preferred a less than best universe.  But if he were to prefer something that is less than the best, then he would not always prefer the better and so would fail to be perfectly good.  So while God might still be actually perfectly good (maybe our universe is the best possible universe), he is not essentially perfectly good -- i.e., there is a possible world in which he is not perfectly good.]

4. But God is essentially perfectly good.

[by definition]

5. Therefore, God is not omnipotent.

The theist, if she is to maintain God's omnipotence, must do one of the following:

- Deny P2 and say that there is only one possible universe.  While it seems for all the world to us that there are other ways the world could have been (e.g., you could have overslept this morning), in fact there is not, according to his reply.  This world is the best possible world and it is the only possible world.  The great seventeenth century philosopher G.W. Leibniz held this.

- Deny P4, that God is essentially perfectly good.  Notice that independent considerations were given in favor of this in class (by one of your classmates).  The claim was that God would actually be more worthy of worship if he were not essentially perfectly good.  We tend to admire those who could have done evil but did not more than those who didn't even have the chance to do evil.