Descartes And Aquinas On Divine Simplicity -- By: Jason L. Reed

Journal: Christian Apologetics Journal
Volume: CAJ 03:2 (Fall 2004)
Article: Descartes And Aquinas On Divine Simplicity
Author: Jason L. Reed


Descartes And Aquinas On Divine Simplicity

Jason L. Reed

Introduction

Dan Kaufman’s new article concerns Descartes’ doctrine of eternal truths and divine simplicity.1 One of the stronger statements he makes is, “I believe that Descartes takes [the doctrine of divine simplicity] seriously enough to deduce what honestly ought to be deduced from it.”2 This strong claim is made in the context of Kaufman stating the reasons for Descartes to hold to the creation doctrine. That is, Kaufman takes the doctrine to be something that logically follows from divine simplicity.

In this article, there are three contentions: [1] that divine simplicity as understood by Descartes is susceptible to certain criticisms, [2] that Aquinas’ account of simplicity is not susceptible to these criticisms, and [3] that Aquinas’ solution provides a counterexample to Kaufman’s claim regarding the logical connection between divine simplicity and the creation doctrine.

Descartes’ Creation Doctrine

What Is The Creation Doctrine?

The locus classicus for understanding Descartes’ creation doctrine comes from his letter to Mersense. He writes,

The mathematical truths which you call eternal have been laid down by God and depend on him entirely no less than the rest of his creatures. Indeed to say that these truths are independent of God is to talk of him as if [God] was Jupiter or Saturn and to subject him to the Styx and the Fates. Please do not hesitate to assert and proclaim everywhere that it is God who has laid down these laws in nature just as a king lays down laws in his kingdom. There is no single one that we cannot grasp if our mind turns to consider it. They are all inborn in our minds just as a king would imprint his laws on the hearts of all his subjects if he had enough power to do so. The greatness of God, on the other hand, is something which we cannot grasp even though we know it. But the very fact that we judge it beyond our grasp makes us esteem it the more greatly; just as a king has more majesty when he is less familiarly known by his subjects, provided of course that they do not get the idea that they have no king — they must know him enough to be in no doubt about that.3

First, we need to get an understanding of what exactly this creation doctrine amounts to. But as Frankfurt says,

The doctrine presents a variety of difficulties, some of which it may well be impossible to resolve. It is problematic just what the doctrine is, what Descartes thought it implies,...

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