Many of my philosophical interests intersect at a theistic theory of the possibles (the possibles are things that could possibly be, whether they actually are or not). I’m interested generally in modality, but also in theories of abstracta, the nature of possibilia, and a traditional understanding of the nature and attributes of God. This post isn’t about these things in particular, but these interests did lead me to an article by John Doyle entitled, “Suarez on the Reality of the Possibles” (The Modern Schoolman, Nov, 1967).
Let me start by saying that I don’t know much about Suarez past what I learned in this article. So, in the sequel, any time I talk about Suarez, I really mean Doyle’s understanding of Suarez.
Suarez has some interesting things to say about the relation between God and the possibles. Often Christians say that the possibles somehow rely on God for their existence. Aquinas, for instance, says that it is necessary for every being that exists to be created by God (ST I q44, a1). Other Christians believe that if the possibles are independent of God’s creative work, they infringe on his aseity. Suarez doesn’t agree.
Suarez says that even if God did not exist, the possibles would still exist. The possibles aren’t dependent on God, then, since they can exist even if God doesn’t exist (given that the possibles don’t contingently depend on God).
However, Suarez goes even further and claims that if the possibles didn’t exist, God couldn’t exist. Doyle writes, concerning Suarez’s view of the possibles:
“Of themselves they are eternally true and apt to be known, even if there were no God. Far beyond this, their reality is such that if they were not what they are, there would be no God and, a fortiori, none of the actual creatures that depend on him.”
Suarez has the order of dependence the other direction from Aquinas. The existence of the possibles doesn’t depend on the existence of God, since they can exist without him; but, if there were no possibles, there would be no God.
Suarez has other interesting things to say about the relationships between God and the possibles. He says (here I quote Doyle) that the possibles “are ‘not positively but in a certain negative way’ equal to God.” I suppose they are equal to God in a negative way insofar as Suarez says the possibles have their existence insofar as they are non-contradictory, but I’m not sure. Suarez also says (again, quoting Doyle) “the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, proceeds from the Father’s knowledge of Himself and of creatures inasmuch as they are possible.” As Doyle rightly sees, this makes the Son “somehow subsequent” to the possibles. I’ve never seen any Christian, let alone a philosophical powerhouse like Suarez, affirm something like this. Does anyone know anything about this, or about other Christian philosophers who have held similar views?