Conee on Omnipotence Part II: Intelligibility

So we left our last post on Conee off with a promissory note that we would try to make his position intelligible. Conee defends unrestricted omnipotence:

  • UO: An agent A is omnipotent iff A can make any proposition true or any proposition false.

The problem with UO arises when we interpret the ‘can’ in UO as ‘possibly’ as the following definition does:

  • UO*: An agent A is omnipotent iff that for any proposition P, it is possible that A makes P true and it is possible that A makes P fasle.

When we interpret ‘can’ as ‘possibly’ and hold (like Conee does) that there are propositions that are not possibly true and propositions that are not possibly false then it seems that UO* entails that the logically impossible is possible, which seems to be nonsense and completely unintelligible. One could avoid this problem by denying that there are propositions that are not possibly true and propositions that are not possibly false. Plantinga calls this view ‘Universal Possibilism’. But this is not what Conee seems to want. Conee wants to deny Universal Posibilism but make sense out of UO. An omnipotent being can make true propositions that are not possibly true. The way that he goes about this is to interpret the ‘can’ in UO should be interpreted as ‘has the ability to …’ or has the power to …’ as so:

  • UO**: An agent A is omnipotent iff for any proposition P, A has the ability to make P true and the ability to make P false.

Now in order for this to work we need to somehow divorce the notions of ability and power from the notion of possibility. Having the power or ability to make something the case must not be equivalent to or entail that possibly that thing is the case.

There is a question about whether or not we can motivate this distinction. We believe that we can make this distinction but let us leave motivating this distinction for a later post.



  1. Does the UA have the ability to not exist?

    • excuse me, UO

      • Sean,

        I am slightly confused by your question. Let’s call a being that is omnipotent in the unrestricted sense (one that satisfies UO) G. Is the question can it be the case that it is possible that G not exist or does have the ability to make it the case the G does not exist?

        If the first is the case I don’t think that question is settled by anything in the discussion. The second has to be the case. G has to be able to make it the case the G does not exist. ‘G does not exist’ is a proposition and because G can make true any proposition then G can make the proposition ‘G does not exist’ true.

        But one further question. Do you think this causes any problems for the view?

  2. Hey Cruz,

    Sorry to start a new comment, but it looks like the blog restricts us to only 2 responses per comment (which I wasted with my mislabeling of UA instead of UO), I guess we know this blog is not omnipotent for sure! 😛

    To respond to the confusion raised by my comment: you are correct that it is the second case, namely, that G has the ability to make it that case that G does not exist.

    I think this points out (what I feel is) an absurdity that arises from unrestricted definition of omnipotence, where UO can do the illogical.

    To make it perhaps more absurd in my view, can G make it the case that G never existed.

    Maybe I am missing some understanding of the meaning of “proposition”, you’ll have to forgive my lack of knowledge of any esoteric verbiage specific to philosophy

    • Sean,

      A proposition is the content of a declarative statement. They are often considered to be the primary bearers of truth values. ‘Snow is white’, ‘Obama is president’, ‘The chair is entirely blue and entirely red’, and ‘Santa Claus exists’ are all examples of propositions.

      So I am not sure how G having the ability to make it the case that G does not exist is an absurdity. What exactly do you mean by absurdity? Do you mean a logical impossibility? Then your objection is just to deny UO which is question begging. Do you mean to say that it is a contradiction? UO says that G can make propositions of the form ‘A and not A’ true. Maybe it is that the position is unintelligible if it allows for contradictions? I think that this may be right. But I still do not see where you are deriving the contradiction from.

      I am not sure exactly how one argues against someone who allows for their view to include true contradictions other than by showing that either their position is unintelligible or methodologically unsound. Conee seems to have some interesting replies though to both types of objections to UO.

      Remember though that Conee is not claiming that absurd propositions or logically false propositions are possibly true but instead that G is able to make them true. And there is a distinction to be made here.

      • Hey Cruz,

        Thanks for clarifying the definition of a proposition for me.

        To test my understanding of a declaritive statement, I believe this would be a declaritive statement:
        Given G, “G never existed and never will exist”

        Assuming the above is the correct usage of a declaritive statement, then granting G, if the proposition of the above statement is true, then I feel our concept of G is absurd.

        So what do I mean by absurd? I suppose it means unintelligible? In my own words: although I agree it does not conflict with the definition we’ve given G, it does however conflict with every observable experience I have ever had.

        Obviously this same absurdity is applied to the definition of G in the first place, and the declaritive statement I provided simply highlights the issue I had in the first place.

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