The Coherence of Aquinas's Account of Divine Simplicity

Dissertation, (2018)
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Divine simplicity is central to Thomas Aquinas’s philosophy of God. Most important for Aquinas is his view that God’s existence (esse) is identical to God’s essence; for everything other than God, there is a distinction between existence and essence. However, recent developments in analytic philosophy about the nature of existence threaten to undermine what Aquinas thought regarding divine simplicity. In the first chapter of this dissertation, I trace Aquinas’s thinking on divine simplicity through the various texts he wrote regarding the matter. I establish that it is crucial for Aquinas that God is identical to his existence. But, is it even coherent to talk about “a thing’s existence?” In Chapter Two I summarize the arguments of C.J.F. Williams that existence is not a real property that individuals have and that predicating the word “exists” after the name of an individual produces linguistic gibberish. After considering, and rejecting, in Chapter Three attempts by some philosophers to refute Williams’s arguments, I turn, in Chapter Four, to a more detailed account of what Aquinas means by esse, the Latin word often rendered in English as “existence.” The conclusion that I come to is that Aquinas does not mean by esse what contemporary philosophers have usually meant by “existence.” Rather, he understands esse to be the act by which anything can be anything at all, instead of there being nothing whatsoever. In the final chapter, I turn to implications of this for Aquinas’s views of divine simplicity, showing that rather than being incoherent, Aquinas’s thinking on esse points toward the unfathomable mystery that is God.
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