Conee on Omnipotence

One topic we have been thinking about a decent amount is omnipotence. There are many different analyses of omnipotence and we plan on going over different analyses in different posts. We will focus just on one in this post. One analysis that is often given less time than it deserves in an analysis of omnipotence is the view that God is able to make any proposition true and any proposition false, this even includes the ability to make propositions true that are not possibly true and propositions false that are not possibly false. In more layman’s terms it is the view that God is able to perform any action where the quantifier ‘any’ extends beyond the realm of possibility to all impossibilities. Let’s call this analysis of omnipotence Unrestricted Omnipotence (or UO for short). A good paper that gives some motivations for the UO and does a decent job in dealing with the problems that arise from UO is a paper called “The Possibility of Power Beyond Possibility” by Earl Conee. In this post we will briefly present Conee’s argument for UO and assess its plausibility.

Conee’s argument for the claim that an omnipotent being has the power to make any proposition true or false including impossible propositions  has two premises. The first is:

a)     If a being is omnipotent, then the being is able to will any proposition to be true and able to will any proposition to be false.

Conee argues that the inability for a being to will a proposition to be true would imply that the being has a lack of will power. If I cannot will that I am a rabbit then I am lacking in an ability of willing, namely the ability to will that I am a rabbit. This would extend to any proposition even necessary and impossible propositions, such as: ‘2+2=4’ or ‘there is a colorless blue car’. Because intuitively we do not want an omnipotent being to be lacking in something as mundane as the ability to will things, we ought to think that the first premise is true.

b)     If an omnipotent being is able to will a given proposition to be true, and able to will the proposition to be false, then the being is able to have the proposition be true and able to have the proposition be false.

This premise just states that an omnipotent being would be able to always carry out its will. That is there is nothing that could prevent it from achieving what it wills. Conee thinks that if it were the case that something that is willed by a being is not achieved then there would be a lack of power or ability in a thing to carry out its intentions. And the inability to carry out one’s intentions is not something that we should want to ascribe to an omnipotent being.

From these two premises [(a) and (b)] we get the conclusion Conee wants:

c)     If a being is omnipotent, then the being is able to have any proposition be true and able to have any proposition be false.

Because (a) allows for the omnipotent being’s will to extend to any proposition, which includes impossible ones. And an omnipotent being can always carry out its will, an omnipotent being can make any proposition, including impossible propositions, true.

I feel some of the pull of this argument. If one can have the ability to will impossible things, then it seems that an omnipotent being should have this ability (as is claimed in the first premise). And if an omnipotent being can will these propositions to be true or false, then it seems like it would be strange to think that it could in some sense be stopped from carrying out its will, or that it would be incapable of carrying its will out (as is claimed by the second premise).

One worry I have about this view is that I am not sure that one can will impossible things to be true. I think maybe one can desire for impossible propositions to be true but I do not see how one could in any sense will them to be true. It seems that willing involves deciding to take some course of action to make the world match a desire that one has. But I don’t see how any one could decide to take a course of action to make 2+2 not be equal to 4 because there is no course of action that could be taken.

So far Conee has only given us that an omnipotent being can make any proposition true, and can make any proposition false. But Conee does not yet tell us whether or not an omnipotent being can give any proposition both truth-values. One question for Conee is whether or not an omnipotent being has the power to make it the case that a proposition is both true and false. Here’s an argument in favor of the claim that He can:

c) If a being is omnipotent, then the being is able to have any proposition be true and able to have any proposition be false.

d) There is a proposition ‘all propositions are both true and false’.

e) If the proposition ‘all propositions are true and false’ is true, then all propositions are both true and false.

f) Therefore an omnipotent being can make it the case that the proposition ‘all propositions are both true and false’ is true. (From (c) and (d)).

g) Therefore an omnipotent being can make it the case that all propositions are both true and false. (From (e) and (f))

Notice though that if (g) is true then so is:

h) The proposition ‘an omnipotent being makes every proposition both true and false’ is both true and false.

There just seems to be something funny going on here. We’re not sure that this is a problem that is separate from willing two contradictory propositions to be true, i.e. the newspaper is red and only red all over and the newspaper is black and only black all over. But, it seems that this problem might be more worrisome than contradictions of those kind. Propositions that are propositions about what an omnipotent being can make true seems problematic. One angle to take despite not having made a knockdown argument is that this result seems counterintuitive to our consideration for allowing UO (notice that if UO is true and an omnipotent being makes all propositions true and false then UO is also false). I don’t think we wanted him to have the power to will reflexive wills.

A final worry for Conee is the intelligibility of the claim that an omnipotent being can make any proposition true and any proposition false. This seems to entail the logical possibility of the logically impossible. This statement does not seem to just be contradictory but nonsensical. Which seems to be a big problem facing UO.

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