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According to the abstract of this article1,

... Descartes' God acts by a single immutable will for all eternity, and there is no sense in which it is possible for Him to will or to have willed anything other than what He in fact wills. ...

The description here offered suggests that God Himself can not change His will. Isn't this account contradictory with His nature? Also, regardless of this apparent contradiction, doesn't His omnipotence allow for contradictions?

Also, doesn't an immutable will imply that one can will a change in will?

This is something that has been unclear to me. It seems a number of Philosophers, in their discussion of God, have assumed, hitherto, that His nature must be describable in a manner which does not invoke contradictions. Isn't this requirement extraneous? Or, even detrimental to such an endeavor?

I may have put Descartes in the spotlight here, but this concern is not at all specific with him.

Finally, though the topic at hand discusses God, I have primarily intended for this to be viewed from a cognitive (or logical) viewpoint, rather than one religious or theological. However, I do welcome discussions making use of either of the latter.

All contributions are appreciated, thank you.


1 DAVID CUNNING (2003). Descartes on the immutability of the divine will. Religious Studies, 39 , pp 79-92 doi:10.1017/S0034412502006261

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The description here offered suggests that God Himself can not change His will. Isn't this account contradictory with His nature?

Not really. What could cause an omniscient, omnipotent being to change its mind? Surely there can be no new information or surprises to respond to; the passage of time would be irrelevant.

Also, regardless of this apparent contradiction, doesn't His omnipotence allow for contradictions?

There are some, myself included, who argue that the notion of omnipotence is necessarily contradictory, and therefore not a useful concept. Others believe that a non-contradictory notion of omnipotence is possible, and offer arguments to dismiss said contradictions. In other words, it's contested.

It seems a number of Philosophers, in their discussion of God, have assumed, hitherto, that His nature must be describable in a manner which does not invoke contradictions. Isn't this requirement extraneous? Or, even detrimental to such an endeavor?

This is not limited to the discussion of God, but is global across philosophical discourse. A concept that is contradictory is not compatible with classical logic; if one wants to proceed with philosophical discourse beyond this point, one must either proffer a non-classical logic (such as dialetheism) or limit oneself to apophatic statements. In either case, one has reached the limits of rationality.

  • Thanks for the neat response! I have to mention, though, I have some difficulty with the response to the first part. The excerpt that I had quoted claims that it is not possible for Him to have willed differently. Indeed, there can be no new information for an omniscient being; that doesn't (or shouldn't at least), however, place restriction on what He is capable of. And certainly, this very observation is the cause of my original question. His perfect knowledge and intelligence aside, shouldn't it be possible for Him to change His will if He so desired? Rest everything addresses my... – ThisIsNotAnId May 28 '12 at 1:16
  • ... other concerns rather well. – ThisIsNotAnId May 28 '12 at 1:16
  • The question is: what would cause such a being to desire to change his will? Any desire to change one's will would imply a lack of perfection in the initial will, which would be impossible due to the stipulated properties of the being. – Michael Dorfman May 28 '12 at 10:04
  • I believe the quote in the OP claims differently. It states, "... there is no sense in which it is possible for Him to will or to have willed anything other than what He in fact wills..." Doesn't this bring into question His abilities? – ThisIsNotAnId May 30 '12 at 6:11

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