Defining the Divine

  • Thomas V. Morris
Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 216)


There is no more central concept in the philosophy of religion than the concept of God. The theist proposes and the atheist denies that this focal concept is instantiated in the actual world. And of course, as in every major philosophical dispute, an understanding and assessment of the best arguments offered by both sides requires a good grasp of precisely what is the subject of argument. Yet it is a rather remarkable feature of the extensive contemporary literature in the philosophy of religion that little attention has been given to the question of a proper definition of the divine. What exactly is meant in traditional religious discourse by those terms standardly translated as ‘God’? What is the proper source or method for articulating a philosophically adequate conception of the divine? In this essay, I want to begin to explore such issues as these. As we shall see, the definition of such a metaphysically important term as ‘God’ is no trivial matter and can itself yield philosophical insight.


Conceptual Definition Human Concept Definitional Truth Conceptual Elaboration Philosophical Theology 
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    See, for example, Richard B. Miller, ‘The Reference of “God”,’ Faith and Philosophy 3 (1986), pp. 3-15Google Scholar
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    From ‘The Second Theological Oration — On God,’ reprinted in Christology of the Later Fathers, edited by Edward R. Hardy (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1954), p. 138.Google Scholar
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    Much is made of this claim by some recent writers influenced by St. Thomas. See, for instance, Brian Davies, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982).Google Scholar
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    See, for example, Michael Durrant, The Logical Status of ‘God’ (London: MacMillan, 1973).Google Scholar
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    For more on this, see the Introduction to The Concept of God, edited by Thomas V. Morris (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).Google Scholar
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    For more details, see Thomas V. Morris, ‘Perfect Being Theology,’ Nous 21 (1987), pp. 19-30.Google Scholar
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    For more on this, see Thomas V. Morris, Anselmian Explorations (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1987), Chapter 1, and George N. Schlesinger, New Perspectives on Old Time Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), Chapter 1.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas V. Morris
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of Notre DameUSA

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