- It is fortunate for my purposes that English has the two words 'almighty' and 'omnipotent', and that apart from any stipulation by me the words have rather different associations and suggestions. 'Almighty' is the familiar word that comes in the creeds of the Church; 'omnipotent' is at home rather in formal theological discussions and controversies, e.g. about miracles and about the problem of evil. 'Almighty' derives by way of Latin 'omnipotens' from the Greek word 'pantokrator'; and both this Greek word, like the more classical 'pankratis', and 'almighty' itself suggest God's having power over all things. On the other hand the English word 'omnipotent' would ordinarily be taken to imply ability to do everything; the Latin word 'omnipotens' also predominantly has this meaning in Scholastic writers, even though in origin it is a Latinization of 'pantocrator'. So there already is a tendency to distinguish the two words; and in this paper I shall make the distinction a strict one. I shall use the word 'almighty' to express God's power over all things, and I shall take 'omnipotence' to mean ability to do everything.
- I shall consider four main theories of omnipotence.
- The first holds that God can do everything absolutely; everything that can be expressed in a string of words that makes sense; even if that sense can be shown to be self-contradictory, God is not bound in action, as we are in thought, by the laws of logic. I shall speak of this as the doctrine that God is absolutely omnipotent.
- The second doctrine is that a proposition 'God can do so-and-so' is true when and only when 'so-and-so' represents a logically consistent description.
- The third doctrine is that 'God can do so-and-so' is true just if 'God does so-and-so' is logically consistent. This is a weaker doctrine than the second; for 'God is doing so-and-so' is logically consistent only when 'so-and-so' represents a logically consistent description, but on the other hand there may be consistently describable feats which it would involve contradiction to suppose done by God.
- The last and weakest view is that the realm of what can be done or brought about includes all future possibilities, and that whenever 'God will bring so-and-so about' is logically possible, 'God can bring so-and-so about' is true.
Originally in Philosophy , Jan., 1973, Vol. 48, No. 183 (Jan., 1973), pp. 7-20
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