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DESCARTES, DUNS SCOTUS AND OCKHAM ON OMNIPOTENCE AND POSSIBILITY* One of the most perplexing, and to my mind, interesting tenets ofDescartes's philosophy is his doctrine ofthe creation ofthe so-called eternal truths. In this paper, I will examine this doctrine against the background of the Scholastic theory (or theories) Descartes is opposing . It is a well established fact that Descartes's theory is formulated in opposition to the one defended by Suarez. But why Descartes opposes this theory and what his alternative is are matters of dispute. In a recent paper Edwin M. Curley has construed Descartes's theory as the outcome of a reflection on the conflict opposing Suarez against Aquinas concerning the status and foundation of the necessary truths.1 While I agree with Curley on many points, I wish to push the *A shorter version of this paper was read at the international Colloquium on The Thoughts and Writings ofWilliam of Ockham, October 10-12, 1985, at the Franciscan Institute, St. Bonaventure University, St. Bonaventure , New York. I am greatly indebted to Simo Knuuttila, Peter King and Neil Lewis for their valuable suggestions and comments on an earlier draft, and to Fred Stoutland who kindly helped to render the text more readable by pointing out many obscurities and repetitions. 1 Edwin M. Curley, "Descartes on the Creation of the Eternal Truths," TL· Philosophical Review, XCIII, (1984): 569-597. That Descartes's theory is opposed to that of Suarez was first indicated by Etienne Gilson, in his La liberté chez Descartes et la théologie (Paris, 1912) and then "rediscovered," by Timothy J. Cronin, "Eternal Truth in the Thought of Descartes and of his Adversary," Journal of me History of Ideas, 1960: 553-559. See Geneviève RodisLewis , "Quelques compléments sur la création des vérités éternelles," M. Couratier, (ed.) Etienne Gihon et nous: la philosophie et son histoire (Paris: J. Vrin, 1980): 72-77. Cf. also T. J. Cronin, Objective Being in Descartes and Suarez (Roma: Gregorian University Press, 1966) and Marion, Sur ?a méologie bhncL· de Descartes (Paris: PUF 1981) 27 ff. 158LILLI ALANEN inquiry further and take into consideration also the views of Suarez's predecessors. The same views and commitments, I will argue, on which Suarez's claim that the eternal truths are independent of God is based, can be found also in Duns Scotus and Ockham.2 Given the importance ofthe notion ofGod's omnipotence in their philosophical thinking comparing them with Descartes is particularly interesting, for much of the controversy turns around how this notion should be understood and analyzed, if it can be understood and analyzed at all. Ockham and Descartes have both, on more or less superficial grounds, been labelled voluntarists, and Ockham has also, mistakenly, been represented as anticipating views attributed to Descartes. Their positions , with regard to the questions here discussed, seem however radically opposed. This study aims to shed some light on the differences in their views, focusing, in particular, on the notion of omnipotence. What limits, if any, can be assigned to God's omnipotence? What are the relations between truth and omnipotence, between the divine intellect and the divine will? Is the origin of possibility to be sought in the divine intellect or will, or is it prior to both? What, finally, are the consequences of the different answers given to these questions with regard to common assumptions of intelligibility and rationality? I will begin by stating, briefly, the problem of the eternity and foundation of the necessary truths as discussed by Thomas Aquinas and Suarez, before considering Descartes's doctrine and some recent interpretations of it. Thereafter I shall turn to the question of God's omnipotence and the origin of possibility as it was discussed by Ockham and his near contemporaries, and sketch out the answers given by Duns Scotus and Ockham, trying to show what I take to be the fundamental agreement in their position and the respects in which it differs from the one advocated by Descartes. I. Aquinas, Suarez and the Eternity of Necessary Truths Let me start with the problem of the eternity of truth as stated by Thomas Aquinas: 2 The similarities of...


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