Pseudo-Dionysius’ Divine Names: Ch.4, 1-2; A Consequentialist Account Divine Goodness?

In chapter 4, Pseudo-Dionysius finally gets to considering specific divine attributes.  All of Chapter 4 is devoted to making sense of the various ways in which God is called “good.” The first reason to think God is good is given in the first section of this chapter.  Pseudo-Dionysius compares the divine to the sun again:

<blockquote>Think of how it is with our sun.  It exercises no rational process, no act of choice, and by the very fact of its eistence it gives light to whatever is able to partake of its light, in its own way.  So it is with God.  Existing far above the sun, an archetype far superior to its dull  image, it sends the rays of its undivided goodness to everything with the capacity, such as this may be, to receive it.–Pseudo-Dionysius,DN4,1</blockquote>

Today I will point out two different ways to interpret Pseudo-Dinonysius’, both of which will have issues to address.  The first, and most strikingly problematic, is the suggestion that this passage gives a Consequentialist argument  for Gods goodness.  God is the cause of all the goodness in the world, and thus, by definition, God is good.  That is, on this interpretation, God is good, simply in virtue of being the cause of all of the good in the world.  That is, what is meant by goodness when it applies to God is just that he causes all of the goodness in the world.

This is deeply dissatisfying, and seems at least somewhat inconsistent with the general attitude toward our knowledge of the attributes of God expressed earlier in the divine names.  If all that goodness, on the part of the deity, amounts to is his causing good things, then we can have full and unproblematic knowledge of what P-D calls one of the most important divine attributes.  This doesn’t seem to be what Pseudo-Dionysius wants to be getting at in his text.  Further, if we are taking a consequentialist approach to justifying belief in divine goodness, P-D will have to take head-on the issue of God’s involvement with evil.  Evil exists, and presumably (on most theistic views), God has some kind of indirect causal responsibility for this evil (or at the very least allows it).  If divine goodness is going to amount to some consequentialist calculation, then we need to factor this in such a calculation.

This issue may come up eventually anyway, but it will be quite a bit worse on this view of divine goodness.  Luckily, if we take a look at the passage, we will see that the beginning of section 2 of chapter 4 we will be able see a strategy taking shape.  Pseudo-Dionysius immediately starts talking about the goodness of the angels.  I think the strategy here is to take a look at the highest goods that God is responsible for, and use these as part of an argumentative strategy to show just how good God is.  But tune in next time for further discussion of the Divine Names.

Peace be with you.


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