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Can God be Both Perfect and Free?1

  • David R. Mason (a1)


The difficulty of ascribing metaphysical predicates such as absoluteness, necessity and perfection to God while simultaneously ascribing personal predicates such as compassion, freedom and agency has often been noted. Most efforts to resolve this dilemma have tended to fall into one of three categories: (I) a merely verbal solution such as that God is ‘compassionate in terms of our experience but…not so in terms of [God's] own’; (2) the univocal and unqualified ascription of the metaphysical predicates to God coupled with equivocation with respect to the personal predicates which results in the final elimination of the latter; (3) the fideistic denial that intelligible language is applicable to God. Unfortunately, none of these is satisfactory. The first solution is seen to be but a version of the second, and it is arguable that the second is, as Feuerbach contends, tantamount to a ‘subtle, disguised atheism’, since ‘to deny all the qualities of a being is equivalent to denying the being himself’ or, alternatively, ‘an existence in general, an existence without qualities, is an insipidity, an absurdity’. The third ‘solution’ is no better and is hardly more than an evasive tactic.



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page 191 note 2 Anselm, St, Proslogium, translated by Sidney Norton, Deane B. A. (LaSalle, Illinois: Open Court, 1958), p. 13.

page 191 note 3 Feuerbach, Ludwig, The Essence of Christianity, translated by Eliot, George, introduced by Barth, Karl with a foreword by Niebuhr, H. Richard (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1957), pp. 15 and 14.

page 191 note 4 Ogden, Schubert M.., The Reality of God and Other Essays (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), p. 26. For a good example of the atheistic attack on the fideist position see Nielsen, Kai, ‘Can faith validate God-talk?’, New Theology No. 1, edited by Marty, Martin E. and Peerman, Dean G..(New York: The Macmillan Company, 1964), pp. 131–49.

page 192 note 1 See, among others, Man's Vision of God and the Logic of Theism (New York: Harper and Row, 1941); The Divine Relativity: A Social Conception of God (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1948); The Logic of Perfection: And Other Essays in Neoclassical Metaphysics (LaSalle, Illinois: Open Court, 1962); Anselm's Discovery: A Re-Examination of the Ontological Argument for God's Existence (LaSalle, Illinois: Open Court, 1965).

page 192 note 2 Hartshorne, Charles, Anselm's Discovery, p. 43.

page 192 note 3 Anselm, , op. cit. p. 7.

page 193 note 1 Hartshorne, Charles, The Divine Relativity, p. 20.

page 193 note 2 Hartshorne, Charles, The Logic of Perfection, pp. 34, 40–1.

page 194 note 1 Pailin, , op. cit. p. 150.

page 194 note 2 Smart, Ninian, ‘Omnipotence, Evil and Supermen’, in God and Evil: Readings on the Theological Problem of Evil, edited by Pike, Nelson (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1964), p. 104.

page 194 note 3 ibid. pp. 110–111.

page 195 note 1 Pailin, , op. cit. p. 152.

page 195 note 2 ibid. p. 152.

page 196 note 1 ibid. p. 152.

page 197 note 1 Hartshorne, Charles, Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method (LaSalle, Illinois: Open Court, 1970), especially chapter xvi, ‘The Aesthetic Matrix of Value’, pp. 303–21.

page 197 note 2 Whitehead, Alfred North, Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1929), p. 28.

page 197 note 3 Hartshorne, , Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method, p. 308.

page 197 note 4 The phrase is taken from song, Tom Lehrer's, ‘The Old Dope Peddler’ from his recording, Songs By Tom Lehrer (Cambridge, Mass.: 1953).

page 198 note 1 Hartshorne, , Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method, p. 310.

page 199 note 1 ibid. p. 309.

page 200 note 1 ibid. pp. 309–10.

1 This eassay was first suggested to me by Dr David Pailin and then by a perusal of his essay, ‘The humanity of the theologian and the personal nature of God’, Religious Studies, XII, 141–58. I am grateful to members of my seminar on ‘Problems in Philosophical Theology’ at John Carroll University for considerable help in working out some of the problems. An earlier draft of this essay was read at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in New York on 16 November 1979.


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