Category Archives: Simplicity

The Contingent and the Necessary As Not Mutually Exclusive

There is a worry that if God is both necessary and contingent (in certain respects) he cannot be simple, since this would entail he is either composed (of a necessary “part” and contingent “part”) or that there are accidents in him (something can “accrue” to him that need not be there, such as his knowledge of the contingent creation.) This has led some thinkers to deny that any contingent properties exist in God. Hence they are driven to say things like God’s knowledge with respect to creation is something that exists outside of or “extrinsic” to God (Matthews Grant is one such thinker.)

But I’m not convinced we have to say this. Anyone who has ever held the doctrine of simplicity has also held the doctrine of analogy: i.e. that what we predicate of God, even if the predicates are different from our perspective, nevertheless point to some single reality in God too big for our single predicate to comprehend. This is how we can say that all the divine attributes point to a single being or substance. Now, this normally poses no problems because although all such attributes are different (wisdom, power, love, etc.) they are nevertheless not contradictory. For if that were the case either one or the other would not be able to be predicated, but both couldn’t be (e.g. God cannot be all knowing and not all knowing.) Thus the problem with reconciling contingency and necessity in God is that these properties are mutually exclusive, and therefore they cannot both be said of God, even in his singular, simple being.

But ARE they mutually exclusive?

The more I think about it the less sure I am. One example sticks out quite shockingly. Our free choices themselves are both necessary and contingent, insofar as we necessarily will our own happiness (it is impossible not to will it) and insofar as we will it either this way or that way (eating this dessert or that dessert).

Now, if we can possess both contingent and necessary aspects of being/will/choice, why can’t God? In fact if God just is the supreme instance of purely personal act, then would he not essentially just be an instance of necessarily willing his own good AND ALSO freely willing it in whatever way he chose?

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