Rutherford and Possibilia

“Samuel Rutherford and the Divine Origin of Possibility and Impossibility” in Reformed Orthodoxy in Scotland.

  1. P1: God’s being is the first principle of all things (142-143).
    1. Which means, pace Aristotle, that the Law of Noncontradiction is not the first principle.
    2. The law of NC is complex, not simple:  it involves both being and non-being.
  2. Possibilia: grounded in God’s omnipotence
    1. Rutherford’s specific claim is things are possible because God is omnipotent.
    2. Aristotle’s dictum: act precedes potency (144).
      1. Therefore, “the infinite active potency of God is prior to the passive and receptive potency of creatures” (Rutherford).
      2. Rutherford rejects the Jesuit argument that “the intrinsic possibility of things makes it possible for God’s omnipotence to create them” (144).
      3. This allows the Jesuits to claim middle knowledge: the possibility of things exist prior to God’s decreeing them.
    3. The impossible: when God creates the possible or actual essences of things, he in the same act creates the impossibilities between the nature of things.
      1. Impossibility in the created realm is always complex
    4. Future contingents
      1. Middle knowledge says that future contingents have a determinate truth prior to the decree of God (144).
      2. This is similar to the claim that possibilia are possible independently of God.
    5. Are possibilia real?
      1. As their name suggests, they are merely in potency, not actually existing.
      2. Christian faith incompatible with the idea of eternal essences that exist independently of God.
  3. God’s knowledge
    1. Scientia simplex intelligentiae: God knows which creature he could make in this or that order.
    2. Scientia libera: knowledge of ends and means.
    3. Practica scientia: knowledge by which God forms ideas of the possibilia and future things.
    4. Scientia speculativa:
    5. God’s will: by loving His omnipotence, God necessarily also loves the infinite possibilia within.
  4. Jesuit position, restated
    1. Jesuits locate the root of possibility and impossibility outside of God, in the things themselves (154).
    2. This means a future contingent is not grounded in God.
  5. Reformed response:
    1. A thing is possible because God is able to produce it., not God is able to produce it because it is possible.
    2. Since God’s being is prior, all possibilia must originate in God, not outside of God.

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