Analytic Theology

Divine Simplicity and Truthmaker Theory

What does it mean to say that God is simple? Usually put, for God to be simple is to say that God is identical to his properties. For example, God is identical to his property of goodness. And since every property is identical to God, every property is identical with every other property. God is good and God is love implies that God’s goodness is identical to God’s love.

Many have found this doctrine to be strange and have rejected it. If God is identical to each of his properties and each property is identical to every other property then God has only one property. But God is said to have many properties. Moreover, if God is identical to his properties then God is nothing more than his properties. But we would not want to say that a property created the world or saved a person.

Jefferey Bower argues that to say that God is simple does not require the invocation of properties. Rather, to say that God is simple is to say that he is identical to the truth maker of each predication:

“The doctrine of divine simplicity entails that God is identical with the truthmaker of each of the true intrinsic predications that can be made about him. Thus, if God is divine, he is identical with that which makes him divine; if he is good, he is identical with that which makes him good; and so on in every other such case. On this interpretation, therefore, divine simplicity just amounts to the claim that God is the truthmaker for each of his true intrinsic predications… For every true intrinsic divine predication, there is a truth maker and God is identical with that truthmaker”[1]

An intrinsic predication is a characterization of an entity in the way that entity is in itself. An extrinsic predication, in contrast, characterizes the entity as it is in relation to some other entity. Brower’s thesis amounts to the denial of the relevance of properties in formulating a divine simplicity thesis. God might, Brower suggests, not even have any properties. Truthmaker theorists focus on what ontological entity makes some sentence true. The relationship is between a fundamental metaphysical entity and sentences that are made true by that entity. In this case, Brower understands God to be identical with the truthmaker of the sentence, “God is good.”

Whereas properties are entities categorized in terms of ontological roster—what exists—truthmakers are entities categorized in terms of function. Truthmaker theorists want to turn our attention from listing existent entities to how reality is structured and how statements are made true by the fundamental structure of reality. The truth of a statement, then, is a function of how the world is. 

A truthmaker is an entity that functions in a role that necessitates the truth of predication. The truthbearer, “God is Love” is made true by the truthmaker, God. Indeed, argues Brower, the person—God—not the property can, on his view, be a candidate for truthmaker. In other words, truthmaker theory allows neutrality when it comes to one’s ontology. One might suggest that God is propertyless whereas created entities have properties. 
Brower argues that this view of simplicity is what Aquinas and Augustine were arguing for.

[1] Jefferey Brower, “Simplicity and Aseity,” The Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology eds. Flint and Rea (Oxford: OUP, 2009), 112.

For the interested reader, an objection is raised by Bill Vallicella on The Maverick Philosopher. The comments section is a back and forth by Vallicella and Bower (read it here). 

Assistant Professor of Philosophy and History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and The College at Southeastern.