Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Trinity and mystery

As I have noted in earlier posts (here and here), when Trinitarian theologians refer to the doctrine of the Trinity as a “mystery,” they do not mean that it is self-contradictory or unintelligible. Nor do they mean that there are no rational grounds for believing it. What they mean is that while it is perfectly consistent and intelligible in itself, our minds are too limited fully to comprehend it. And while, for that reason, the doctrine cannot be arrived at “from scratch” by purely philosophical arguments, we can be rationally justified in believing it on the basis of testimony, viz. the testimony of Jesus Christ, whose reliability is demonstrated by His resurrection, and where His resurrection is (so traditional theology claims) something that can be known to have occurred through purely rational arguments. (See the first post linked to above for a little more detail on how this line of reasoning goes.) Furthermore, while human reason cannot fully grasp the Trinity even after it has been revealed, it can show that no attempts to prove the doctrine self-contradictory are successful, and it can also attain an imperfect understanding of the doctrine via analogies (such as Aquinas’s exposition of the doctrine in terms of a comparison to the intellect, the intellect’s idea of itself, and the will’s being drawn to this idea).

In summary, then, orthodox Trinitarian theology claims:

A. The doctrine of the Trinity is coherent and intelligible in itself.

B. The human mind is nevertheless too limited adequately to comprehend it.

C. The doctrine could, accordingly, never have been arrived at via purely philosophical arguments.

D. We can nevertheless be rationally justified in affirming it on the basis of testimony.

E. We can show that no attempt to prove the doctrine self-contradictory succeeds.

F. We can arrive at a limited understanding of the doctrine via various analogies.

As I have also noted previously, the conception of the Trinity as a “mystery” finds a parallel in the view of some contemporary philosophers of mind (e.g. Colin McGinn) that while an adequate naturalistic explanation of consciousness exists, our minds are too limited to understand it. This view even goes by the name “mysterianism,” and it is motivated not only by a desire to sidestep the various philosophical objections to materialism, but also by the idea that natural selection is unlikely to have shaped our minds in a way that would allow us to discover everything there is to know about the world. It is far more likely, mysterians contend, that the contingent forces of evolution so molded our cognitive faculties that they are useful only for understanding a fairly narrow range of truths, and that there are barriers beyond which they cannot push. This is certainly a very reasonable view to take if there are good reasons to think naturalism is true in the first place. (There aren’t, but let that pass for the moment.)

For a very useful overview of traditional Scholastic thinking on this subject, see Joseph Pohle and Arthur Preuss, The Divine Trinity: A Dogmatic Treatise, an old theological manual that can be acquired from various reprint publishing houses (e.g. here’s one version) and is also available via Google books. Chapter IV, section 1 provides an account of the sense in which the doctrine is a mystery (and, so we Catholics maintain, must be held to be a mystery, on pain of heterodoxy). When that claim is properly understood, it is, I maintain, perfectly clear that the skeptic has no grounds for dismissing the doctrine of the Trinity simply because it is held to be a mystery. He might want to reject it on other grounds, but there is no basis for holding that affirming a “mystery” (again, in the specific sense in question) is per se contrary to reason.

In recent weeks there has been a fair bit of discussion of the Trinity in the blogosphere – specifically, at Bill Vallicella’s blog, at The Smithy, and (naturally enough) at Dale Tuggy’s Trinities blog. In a post from yesterday, Dale objects to my claim (in the first of the two earlier posts linked to above) that the doctrine of the Trinity is implied by the New Testament. Just to clarify, contrary to what Dale supposes, I did not claim that the “creedal formulas” were logically implied by the New Testament. What I was claiming is that the following statements, which form the core of the doctrine, are implied by it:

1. The Father is God.

2. The Son is God.

3. The Holy Spirit is God.

4. The Father is not the Son.

5. The Father is not the Holy Spirit.

6. The Son is not the Holy Spirit.

7. There is exactly one God.

That is different from claiming that formulas like “three Persons in one substance” are implied by the New Testament. To be sure, I’m not saying they aren’t implied by it; one could argue that they are implied indirectly, insofar as (1) – (7) are implied by the New Testament, and the creedal formulas are in turn implied by (1) – (7). But that wasn’t my point in the post in question, and the point I was making stands whether or not one wants to accept that further claim. As long as (1) – (7) alone are implied by the New Testament, that suffices to show that the doctrine of the Trinity (at least in a rudimentary form) is implied by the New Testament, or so I would claim.

(I like the illustration Dale uses, BTW. [Slightly to alter Codgitator’s combox paraphrase of Andrew Meyer: “Don’t Feser me, bro!”] Dale and I were at Claremont Graduate School together, and have, I suppose, been arguing about the Trinity on and off for over 15 years. The funny thing is, when we started arguing I was still an atheist and attacked the doctrine – two of my earliest published articles were critical of Trinitarianism – while Dale defended it. Now I’m a reactionary Catholic who insists on upholding every jot and tittle of the creeds, while Dale has in recent years taken a more flexible approach. Funny old world.)

Meanwhile, Bill Vallicella today suggests that the Trinitarian shoots himself in the foot by adopting a “mysterian” line, precisely because he thereby legitimizes the naturalist – whose views are inconsistent with Trinitarianism since they are incompatible with theism – in taking the same approach toward the defense of his own position.

In response, I want to take issue first with Bill’s characterization of the appeal to “mystery.” He says: “The (positive) mysterian maintains that there are true propositions which appear (and presumably must appear given our 'present' cognitive make-up) contradictory.” But that is not what Trinitarian theologians mean when they affirm that the doctrine of the Trinity is a mystery. Since (as I noted above) they affirm that it can be shown that no attempt to prove the doctrine self-contradictory succeeds (again, see Pohle and Preuss), they do not hold and cannot hold that the doctrine when rightly understood “appears contradictory,” much less that it must appear contradictory. They maintain instead that we cannot fully comprehend it; and that is a very different claim.

Think of it this way: The Trinitarian theologian maintains that the Trinitarian propositions (1) – (7) listed above are perfectly consistent when rightly understood, so that if any reading of them seems self-contradictory, then that reading is mistaken, and does not accurately convey what the doctrine says. Hence if the doctrine “appears contradictory” to you, you have by that very fact misunderstood it and are not really entertaining it at all. At the same time, if you give these propositions an alternate reading on which their consistency is entirely transparent, you have no doubt fallen into some heresy or other. So, the right thing to say would seem to be this: “Mysterianism” with respect to the Trinity entails, not that (1) – (7) appear or must appear contradictory, but rather that their meaning is not entirely apparent in the first place. The Trinitarian does not say: “I clearly see what the propositions are saying, and they seem contradictory” but rather “I do not see any contradiction between them, but then I do not see clearly what they are saying in the first place.” (There is nothing inherently objectionable in affirming a proposition or set of propositions that one does not fully understand. Even many people – and surely most philosophers – who have enough of a grasp of relativity theory or quantum mechanics to be able to say that their acceptance of these theories is not based entirely on the authority of physicists would have to admit that their comprehension of them is nevertheless very sketchy at best.)

In any event, Bill’s objection seems to be that since the appeal to “mystery” could be used in defense of incompatible positions – naturalism and Trinitarian theism – there is something fishy about it. Now, I’m not entirely clear about what the problem is. Modus ponens can also be used in defending incompatible positions. Does that mean there is something fishy about modus ponens? Obviously not. But maybe what Bill has in mind is the idea that the appeal to mystery would leave naturalism and Trinitarian theism at a kind of argumentative stalemate: Anything the naturalist could say against the Trinitarian theist could be rebutted with an appeal to theological mystery, and anything the Trinitarian theist could say against the naturalist could be rebutted with a mysterian appeal to the cognitive limitations imposed by natural selection. Even if this were true, though, it is hard to see how this by itself shows that either the Trinitarian’s appeal to mystery or the naturalist’s appeal to it is false, unjustified, or in any other way rationally objectionable – as opposed to just leaving us in a very unsatisfying epistemic situation.

In any case, I don’t think it is true. In particular, I don’t think there is any parity between the Trinitarian and naturalist appeals to mystery in the first place. I think that we can show that whatever one ultimately wants to say about it, the naturalist’s appeal to mystery is at least prima facie far less plausible than the Trinitarian’s appeal to mystery.

Consider first that, at least on the conception of God enshrined in classical theism (especially, I would say, as interpreted within Thomism) it is quite obviously far more plausible to suppose that God should be incomprehensible to us than that the relationship between matter and consciousness should be. If God exists, then He is Pure Actuality, ipsum esse subsistens or Subsistent Being Itself, absolutely simple, and thus beyond the classifications by means of which we understand the things we can understand. He is not one object among others within the world but that which sustains all objects in being, from outside any possible world. What we say of Him is true not univocally but analogically. Etc. Neither matter nor consciousness is anything remotely like this. Instead, they are both conceptually and epistemically far closer than God is to the things we suppose we can understand. Hence there is prima facie a much stronger case for supposing that God’s nature should be incomprehensible to us than there is for saying that the relationship between matter and consciousness should be. God is precisely the sort of thing we should expect to be unable fully to understand, while matter and consciousness are not (even if it turns out that we cannot fully understand them either).

Consider further that there is nothing in the Trinitarian’s appeal to mystery that tends to undermine the power of reason itself, while there is such a tendency in the naturalist appeal to mystery. For as we have noted, the latter sort of appeal typically rests on the idea that the contingent circumstances of human evolution are bound to have made our cognitive faculties suited only to uncover certain truths and not others. But why assume it suited them to uncover any sort of truth at all? As the “argument from reason” defended by Victor Reppert, William Hasker, Alvin Plantinga, and others suggests, there are strong grounds for thinking that regarding our cognitive faculties as the products of purely natural processes like evolution undermines their reliability. For natural selection favors fitness, and there is no guarantee that this correlates with truth. Obviously, naturalists might try to reply to the argument from reason in various ways. The point is that the specific grounds a naturalist might appeal to in order to provide independent motivation for his appeal to mystery – independent, that is, of a desire to sidestep arguments against naturalism – at least threaten to undermine reason in general. The Trinitarian says: It is primarily God’s nature that puts limits on reason’s power to comprehend the Trinity. The naturalistic mysterian says: It is primarily the way in which our minds came about that puts limits on reason’s power to comprehend consciousness in materialistic terms. The latter claim is prima facie far more likely to undermine reason as such than the former is.

Then there are the grounds we have for rejecting any materialist account of the mind, grounds which are simply not at all plausibly rebutted by an appeal to mystery. While there are many reasons for denying that the mind can be explained in materialist terms, the main reason from an Aristotelian-Thomistic point of view has to do with the nature of the intellect’s activity in grasping the forms or essences of things. In particular, forms and our thoughts about them are precise, exact, or determinate in a way no material thing can be even in principle; and forms are universal while material representations are necessarily particular. Hence to grasp a form cannot in principle be to have a material representation of any sort.

I have discussed this line of argument in earlier posts – here and here, for example – and in print in several places. Interested readers are referred to The Last Superstition, pp. 123-126; Aquinas, pp. 151-159; and the chapter on Intentionality in Philosophy of Mind. (They ought also to read James Ross’s article “Immaterial Aspects of Thought.”) The point to note for now is that it is hard to see how an appeal to mystery, specifically, could plausibly enable the naturalist to avoid the force of such arguments. To say:

Maybe consciousness really is physical and we just can’t understand, given our cognitive limitations, how something can be both conscious and physical at once.

is one thing. There is no explicit self-contradiction or absurdity in that claim. (I think there is an implicit one, but leave that aside.) But to say either:

Maybe determinate phenomena are really indeterminate and we just can’t understand, given our cognitive limitations, how something can be both determinate and indeterminate in the same respect at the same time.

or

Maybe universals are particular and we just can’t understand, given our cognitive limitations, how something can be both universal and particular.

is just to spout nonsense, for both of these statements are self-contradictory. And it will hardly do to appeal to a self-contradiction as a way of deflecting the claim that one’s position is incoherent.

Last but by no means least, the reason the Trinitarian has for affirming his doctrine is, of course, an appeal to divine authority. And if the doctrine really is divinely revealed, then (since God is infallible) it must be true. By contrast, the naturalist has by his own admission only his own extremely limited powers of observation, theorizing, etc. to justify his naturalism. Surely an appeal to Infallible divine revelation plus mystery is more plausible than an appeal to Limited human powers of observation, theorizing, etc. plus mystery. Obviously, the skeptic will deny that Trinitarianism really has been divinely revealed, but that is beside the point. The point is rather that the best-case scenario for the Trinitarian – the revelation really did occur – gives him about as good a reason as one could possibly want (infallible testimony) for believing that his position is correct, whereas even the best-case scenario for the naturalist – his faculties of observation, theorizing, etc. are functioning normally, he is reasonably well-informed, and so forth – still leaves him very far short of having an infallible source of information to appeal to. The overall Trinitarian position thus makes an appeal to mystery more credible than the overall naturalist position does, even if the latter appeal has some credibility.

So, again, the two views are not on a par. However prima facie plausible a naturalist appeal to mystery might be, in the nature of the case it cannot be as plausible as the Trinitarian’s appeal to mystery. Hence Bill is mistaken in thinking (if this really is what he thinks) that their respective appeals to mystery put the naturalist and the Trinitarian at an epistemic stalemate. (Of course, by itself that does not show that of the two views, Trinitarianism is the correct one – that is a different question.)

UPDATE 2/13: I've posted a follow-up here.

63 comments:

Dan said...

Philosophy has pondered Trinitarianism for 2,000 years, while scientific consciousness studies are in a relative infancy with the last few decades giving way to monumental increments of discovery.

If we insert [as of 2010] as in:

“Maybe consciousness really is physical and we just can’t understand, given our cognitive limitations [as of 2010], how something can be both conscious and physical at once.”

Maybe some philosophers of mind say:

“Maybe determinate phenomena are really indeterminate and we just can’t understand, given our cognitive limitations, how something can be both determinate and indeterminate in the same respect at the same time.”

But a dedicated naturalistic scientist devoted to consciousness research would certainly not assert at the outset that their subject matter is ‘indeterminate phenomena.’ Indeterminacy, here, is a matter of belief (faith, if you like).

So for an A-T Trinitarian, “If God exists…beyond the classifications by means of which we understand the things we can understand.” Mysterian philosophers might agree to such limits of reason w/r human consciousness.

But science does not accept such a verdict on reason.

Anonymous said...

Dan, having read several of your posts I now have a simple question. Do you know what the word 'indeterminate' means?

Dan said...

Which definition are you selecting?

Dan said...

A corrected version of my lead comment which addresses Anonymous's concern (I think)...

Philosophy has pondered Trinitarianism for 2,000 years, while scientific consciousness studies are in a relative infancy, with the last few decades giving way to monumental increments of discovery.

In your post, if we insert [as of 2010] as in, “Maybe consciousness really is physical and we just can’t understand, given our cognitive limitations [as of 2010], how something can be both conscious and physical at once,” – then we have a good working statement of what most neuroscience researchers believe.

Of course, simply adding the word ‘assumed’ makes a huge difference in the illogical thought of what a mysterian philosopher of mind might say, “Maybe [assumed to be] determinate phenomena are really indeterminate and we just can’t understand, given our cognitive limitations, how something can be both determinate and indeterminate in the same respect at the same time.”

But a dedicated naturalistic scientist devoted to consciousness research would certainly not assert at the outset that their subject matter is ‘indeterminate phenomena.’ Indeterminacy, here, is a matter of belief (faith, if you like).

For an A-T, “If God exists, then He is …beyond the classifications by means of which we understand the things we can understand,” This is similar thinking (only now w/r the human mind) to that of mysterian philosophers stating their ‘faith’ in limits of reason.

By its very nature, science does not accept such a verdict on reason. In this regard, mysterian philosophers of mind and A-T thinkers hold far more in common with one another than either holds w/ science.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser

I have often wondered if the scientist's trust in rationality to lead us to answers is actually the more righteous human attitude since St. Thomas held human intellect to be our distinguishing ability?

Edward Feser said...

I have often wondered if the scientist's trust in rationality to lead us to answers is actually the more righteous human attitude since St. Thomas held human intellect to be our distinguishing ability?

Of course we need to trust in rationality. Aquinas did, and so do I. But as Dirty Harry says, "a man's got to know his limitations." And sometimes what reason finds is that there are things it cannot have discovered on its own. That's what happens when reason discovers that such-and-such is a divinely revealed mystery. Note that even here, it is reason that discovers this: It isn't "blind faith" in the sense of deciding to believe something for no reason. (That's just an atheistic straw man.) Properly understood, faith is believing something on the basis of testimony, but where the reliability of the testimony is known through reason.

monk68 said...

Dr. Feser or Others,

Besides the arguments of modernity, against Trinitarianism, there also exists a more general criticism concerning the manner in which the Trinity is understood philosophically within the Western Christian tradition. This criticism normally arises among Eastern Orthodox theologians / philosophers who stridently claim that the Thomistic understanding of Divine Simplicity rooted in Being (ousia) and flowing from an Augustinian - Thomistic appropriation of Aristotelian categories; leads to an over-rationalistic understanding of God as well as insurmountable logical difficulties. They offer as a corrective, an understanding of Divine Simplicity (as well as Trinitarianism) within what they call the Essence/Energies distinction: a distinction derived from an appropriation of neo-platonism (especially Plotinus) by the Cappadocian fathers and crystalized in the theology/philosphy of St. Gregory Palamis. Some EO theologians/philosophers pit Palamism against Thomism in a very strong way. Some maintain that the Aristotelian-Thomistic approach to theology was (and is) so misguided that it has been a primary (if not THE primary) reason for heterodox novelties within Catholicism. You can get a sample of the arguments in play in this article which is a synopsis of a larger work by University of Kentucky professor of Philosophy David Bradshaw titled "Aristotle East and West: Metaphysics and the Division of Christendom".

Given the relevance of this EO criticism to the issue of Trinitarianism, as well as the recent "Plotinus" posts; I would be very interested in knowing if anyone has explored the Essence/Energey debates and/or has any insights concerning the strength / weakness of such criticisms?

Thanks

Anonymous said...

Thank you

Do you know if there have been attempts to discover divinely revealed explanations for quantum particle behavior in the Bible or from Church tradition since physics says it is irrational but true like a mystery?

(Sorry, I see this is off topic.)

Thanks

Dan said...

Monk68

I am simply overwhelmed by the article you linked (had to share my joy with it, though I am only 1/4 thru).

A friend just put me on to this very related audio that supports similar views from John Cobb.

http://www.ctr4process.org/media/

It is the 1st titled 'The Practical Importance of Metaphysics'

O.C. said...

This may be slightly OT, but I had a brief question re/ the indeterminancy of physical states.

Am I correct in assuming that for a physical state to be considered indeterminate one must adhere to the Cartesian res cogitans/res extensia split? For the Aristotleian, for whom any physical state must be a composite of form and matter (matter in this instance being prime-matter/pure potentiality and thus, an abstraction) doesn't every such state have at its core a mark of determinancy? Or am I abusing/confusing the term "indeterminate" (Oh irony of ironies!).

In short, in A/T terms, is there such a thing as a truly indeterminate physical state?

Thanks.

Daniel Smith said...

I don't understand how the argument for absolute simplicity and the doctrine of the trinity jibe with each other. The relative complexity of the trinity seems to contradict absolute simplicity. Of course it could just be that I don't understand the argument for absolute simplicity.

Anonymous said...

Slightly off topic, but I'm really curious to know:

Would someone please explain or link me to a substantive article detailing the philosophical benefits of believing in a triune God? That is to say, what are some speculative reasons for why it might be necessary for the Father, the Son, and the Spirit to be united in an eternal, loving dance as God, in contrast with the monotheistic conception of God as put forward by Judaism and Islam? I've heard that the Trinity has something to do with coherently expressing the primary nature of God as "Love" and finding an answer to the ancient problem of "The One and the Many," but I don't know anything beyond that. My understanding of Christian theology is currently only superficial.

Anonymous said...

Dan-

Because of the way modern naturalists define matter (as completely mechanistic and devoid of final causes) it is impossible to "explain" key aspects of consciousness in any meaningful, coherent way. The same way that science is not going to "discover" the rational square root of two or a right triangle that nevertheless cannot be solved by the Pythagorean Theorem, it is not going to "discover" a solution to this philosophical problem.

Michael said...

Monk68 and Daniel Smith,

I have argued online many times over the years that all of the objections on the part of the EO and others to the western conception of divine simplicity as regards the persons in the Trinity, the contingency of the divine will, the essence/energies distinction, and so forth, are more than adequately answered by the theology of Bl John Duns Scotus, who uses his conception of the formal distinction to show how there can be certain kinds of complexity in God without entailing the sorts of composition which the western account of divine simplicity is designed to reject.

It's all too easy to look at what St Thomas says in the Summa theologiae, see that it fails to address these kinds of concerns in any detail, and then write off the western tradition, since St Thomas is supposed to be both normative and representative. But the Summa is, as Thomas says himself, a beginner's work, not supposed to address all possible concerns, and Thomas is not in general trying to argue to an EO perspective. There are other legitimate Catholic theologians who address these kinds of concerns at enormous length, however, including Scotus.

In other words, it's not playing fair to "pit Palamism against Thomism in a very strong way" and then write off Catholicism, when there are legitimate ways of formulating Catholic doctrine (not, in my opinion, strictly contrary to St Thomas' thought, but going beyond it in certain respects) other than in the very words of St Thomas, and which address at least many of the Orthodox concerns.

One final point:

Some maintain that the Aristotelian-Thomistic approach to theology was (and is) so misguided that it has been a primary (if not THE primary) reason for heterodox novelties within Catholicism.

This claim cannot be true, since all or nearly all of the "novelties" which the Orthodox reject were common Catholic doctrine long before St Thomas or the reception of Aristotle into the West.

Ilíon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ilíon said...

Daniel Smith: "I don't understand how the argument for absolute simplicity and the doctrine of the trinity jibe with each other. The relative complexity of the trinity seems to contradict absolute simplicity."

Analogically:

A cube (*) has six faces; but a cube is not a complex entity -- a cube has no parts (**) -- rather, it is a simplex entity.

We may distinguish each of the six faces individually ('Face-A' through 'Face-F'), and we may distinguish each of them individually from all of the others, echoing Mr Feser's graphic and his statement of the core propositions of the doctrine of the Trinity: "Face-X is not Face-Y," etc.

AND, again echoing the graphic and the statement of the core propositions of the doctrine of the Trinity, we may also say: "Face-X *is* the cube," etc. It is not that 'Face-X' is a part of the cube (for a cube has no parts), but rather that 'Face-X' is not the fullness of the cube.

[The above is meant only as a response to the specific question Mr Smith raised; it is not meant as a proof that the Trinitarian doctrine is true: it is an analogy, meant only to show that the doctrins is not incoherent.]


(*) The formulation 'a cube' is a misleading artifact of language: there do not exist multiple cubes; and the various physical/material entities we may call 'cubes' are not actually cubes, rather, they are cube-like (physical) objects.

(**) I fully expect someone to post some objection to that statement, thereby showing simply that he hasn't understood (and possibly hasn't tried) the statement and/or the concepts with which it deals.

Crude said...

Anonymous @ 7:07 PM,

What you're saying here highlights a key point that struck me in TLS.

On the one extreme we see men like Alex Rosenberg, who are living demonstrations of where science must end up given commitments against final causes or intentionality in nature. There we have the committed and consistent naturalist, explaining what - if naturalism is true - must be the case with regards to minds and nature. Ed (and others) have had a lot of fun highlighting what that position entails, and just what it does to "science".

Less appreciated is the other end of the claim. If it turns out that the naturalist insists that 'intentionality' really does exist in nature, etc... then naturalism (as understood here) is utterly gone anyway, and we're back to the world of formal and final causes, and a broadly Aristotilean conception of the world.

So all this talk of "well, science can and probably will eventually solve these problems!" really seem to largely be hot air. The former "solution" listed would be to deny there ever was a problem to begin with. The latter "solution" would be a return to Aristotle and company.

Also, in response to some earlier talk, it's utter nonsense to believe that scientific progress has been made on the consciousness question insofar as the Mysterians speak of it. They're not asserting that scientific research won't be able to find correlations between behavior/reports and brain descriptions, etc. Their focus is primarily on the hard problem of consciousness. Those that recognize such a problem exist don't pretend so much as a foot of progress has been made towards the miles required for resolution. That's precisely why Chalmers was able to have the impact he did, and why panpsychists and neutral monists are getting more discussion as of late.

Dan said...

Monk68

Still reading your fascinating article, and am reminded of this link I read long ago in which William Carlo's novel theory of essence is presented.

http://www.innerexplorations.com/philtext/the3.htm

In one sense, essence is the capacity (or mode) of exercise of esse. One form of energia?

monk68 said...

Michael

Thanks for your comment.

you said:

"In other words, it's not playing fair to "pit Palamism against Thomism in a very strong way" and then write off Catholicism, when there are legitimate ways of formulating Catholic doctrine (not, in my opinion, strictly contrary to St Thomas' thought, but going beyond it in certain respects) other than in the very words of St Thomas, and which address at least many of the Orthodox concerns."

This is my sense as well. It seems that much of the criticism is based on a rather wooden (and sometimes even uncharitable) reading of St. Thomas and legitimate Thomistic developments. IMO Thomism has quite effective explanations for relationality and disctintion within the Divine Simplicity by way of "logical relationship" (eternal - always active relation) rather than an ontological relationship: that is, without the need for supposing any sort of "passive" potency within the God-head. It is this implicit or explicit accusation of passive potency within the Divine Simplicity that seems to generate most of the EO concerns.

Also, do you, like me have difficulty undestanding the ontological "connection" being supposed between the "Energies" and the "Essence" in the Palamist view? I mean, the EO do not seem to advocate any sort of polytheism; thus, I can only assume they intend to profer the Essence/Energy disctinction as some alternate way to understand God's "oneness". Yet, I have not encountered a single coherent explanation as to how the Eenergies relate ontologically to the Essence. It seems to me that it is only by "fudging" on this point that they are able to assert that their position somehow overcomes difficulties found within Thomism. If, after all, the Eneregies and Essence distinction is just another way of DESCRIBING the Divine Simplicity; then no amount of purely terminological sophistication will enable them to escape the very criticisms they bring against Thomistic Divine Simplicity, grounded in Ousia. What think you?

monk68 said...

Anon @ 5:52pm

You asked about speculative benefits/implications of Trinitarianism.

Some of the most profound philosophical implications of the revealed doctrine of the Trinity have been fleshed out by "personalist" Thomists such as W. Norris Clarke and David L. Schindler, not to mention Pope John Paul II. While some Thomists have made objections to some of the "creative completions" put forth by Norris and other personalists; I "personally" find Norris' and Schindler's response to these criticisms to be entirely sound.

Here is a very excellent exchange in which profound philosophical implications arising from Trinitarian doctrines are put forth. The exchange includes objections from more traditional Thomists (or neo-Thomists), and finally a reply to objections from the "personalists" - great stuff!

After you click the link scroll to section II "In conversation with Norris Clarke" where there are 8 articles constituting the exchange.

monk68 said...

Dan

you said:

"In one sense, essence is the capacity (or mode) of exercise of esse. One form of energia?"

I do not think the "Palamist" philosophers/theologians would equate "essence" (at least not in the Thomistic sense) with "energia" because in Thomism God IS Esse and all finite beings are limited participations in Esse by virtue of their essence.

The Palamists, as I understand them, have a problem with conceptualizing God simply as Esse or (Ousia); or understanding the created order as limited (essential) participations in Esse; because, they say, such participation postulates too close a proximity/knowledge of God Himself. They do not like the claim that we "know" in any strong sense God's Essence. Their background fear is that God's otherness/mystery/etc is somehow threatened by the Thomistic understanding.

Thus, they postulate "energia" as that, in God, with which the created order actually interacts.
God's Essence is utterly "other". I suppose they might be more comfortable with the idea that our limited "essences" participation in "Energia" - but never our participation in God's "Essence".
And YET, they explicitly affrim that there ARE analogous terms predicated of our ontological experience of God's Energies, which can and must (albiet on a higher level) be predicated of God's Essence. I fail to see how this analogous method of making positive truth claims about God (even His Essence) differs substantially from "analogy" as utilized by Thomas. Moreover, Thomas himself very explicitly states that the vast majority of our knowledge about God is by way of negation (apophatic), rather than by analogy. Thus, Thomism seems to protect our sense of God's transcendence and mystery WITHIN the larger/elastic concept of Ousia, every bit as much as the Essence/Energy distinction does.

In fact, if something known (by us) to be true about God's Energies is necessarily true of God's Essence; this would seem to necessitate SOME ontological link between the two. To brush off that necessity by claiming that God's Essence is so far above our concepts of ontology/being/ousia that no ontological requirements can be made of His Essence, seems a detour in fideism.

On the other hand, if there IS an ontological link between God's Essence and His Eenergies, then it would seem we have arrived back at Divine Simplicity a la Thomism (other than altered terminologically).

These are highly abstract issues; so I find myself somewhat vexed when such arguments are used as a basis for generalized criticisms against an entire communion of religionists (in this case Catholics).

Dan said...

Monk

Thanks for the great link to Norris essays and the journal. I will look at some articles for sure/.

I finished Bradshaw and even found a vid of him reading the paper at his homepage. It was very interesting.

Thanks for your comments on ousia, esse, essence and energia.

As I mentioned before, energia immediately reminded me of the link I gave to a chapter of a book on Existential-Thomism. ET de-emphasize Aristotelian essence to focus on our existential participation in Thomas’ Esse. And this existential metaphysics is further focused in Thomistic Personalism on human relatedness as Persons - with John Paul II being a standout supporter.

In your opinion, is Personalism the prominent Catholic theology today? If so, is its focus on ‘subjective relatedness of existents’ an indicator that there may be a Catholic move in the direction of a more naturalistic theology, such as John Cobb’s Process Theism?

(If you listened to the whole audio I linked to, you would see Cobb spent the last ¼ speaking to a metaphysics of energia!)

Fascinating topics.

Ilíon said...

"... benefits/implications of Trinitarianism."

The reality of morality, and the elimination of the dilemma on the Euthyphro Dilemma.

Morality is interpersonal and relational -- only persons have moral obligations and corresponding moral expectations and only with other persons; only persons having some sort of relationship one to another have moral obligations and expectations one to another.

Implication: since God is eternally Three Persons in Communion, morality is an eternal reflection of God's nature; it is uncreated and non-arbitrary.

Ilíon said...

oops, "elimination of the dilemma [of] the Euthyphro Dilemma."

Warren said...

>> Some [EO theologians/philosophers] maintain that the Aristotelian-Thomistic approach to theology was (and is) so misguided that it has been a primary (if not THE primary) reason for heterodox novelties within Catholicism.

I'm always especially impressed when a schismatic group claims the authority to define what is, and what is not, heterodox for non-schismatic Christians.

Anonymous said...

Warren is correct. Easter Orthodox is the One True Church.

monk68 said...

Dan,

you said:
"ET de-emphasize Aristotelian essence to focus on our existential participation in Thomas’ Esse."

Just a note - Existential Thomists (say like Jacques Maritain) may not speak "as much" about "essences" as traditional Thomists; but they certainly maintain the truth thereof. To reject "essences" in metaphysical pursuits would be to leave the wider umbrella of Thomism proper.

You said:

"And this existential metaphysics is further focused in Thomistic Personalism on human relatedness as Persons - with John Paul II being a standout supporter"

Yes, this focus on "relationality" as a fundamental mode of Being and as fundamental to finite interactions is the hallmark of "Personalist Thomism" via Clarke, Schindler, JP II et al.

You said:

". . is Personalism the prominent Catholic theology today"

Pesonalist Thomism is not "Catholic theology", nor is any form of "natural or philosophic theology" properly speaking "Catholic Theology".

Catholic Theology primarily derives from Divine revelation, not abstract philosophical inquiry (though it makes use of philosophical terms/conepts/paradigms in coming to a fuller, more explicit understanding and expression of revealed datum). Catholic Theology has always been exeedingly "personal", since its primary claim is to "reveal" specific information about God and Man in order to facilitate proper inter-relations between both.

What "Personalist Thomists" do is draw out unavoidable "relational" (dynamic self-communication/reception) features of contingent essences implied within the traditional understanding of the Thomistic metaphysical approach; and then apply these features to specifically human "beings". This they do on purely philosophical grounds without any appeal to "revelation".

Just as purely philosophical proofs for the existence of God as Pure Act mirror nicely with "revealed" theism; so purely philosophical discoveries of ontological relationality in metaphysics, mirrors nicely with the rich personalism in Catholic theology.

In both cases, the mirroring enables Catholic theology to deepen and advance in its own self understanding by virtue of the insights and precision gleaned from these purely metaphysical discoveries.

Further, Personalist Thomists sometimes borrow from the datum of revelation (i.e. doctrine of the Trinity), in order to establish a philosophical hypothesis. That is, GIVEN the truth of Trinitarianism, what metaphysical / ontological suppositions might follow in relation to the wider body of metaphysically established truths. Doing so can yield rich insights for many areas of our human experience.

However, I want to point out that when Personalit Thomists appropriate revealed data in this way, they always (or should always) clarify that they are going beyond the bounds of natural reason. So long, as this is clarified, I see no objection to the use of revealed data simply to explore its metaphysical implications. One can see how Catholic theologians might be very interested in such philosophical hypothesis. Thus, there can be a rich interpaly between theology and philosopphy.

Personalist Thomism centers the wider metaphysical enterprise on the human person. It shows that philosphy can be, well, very personal. The affinity between "personalist" philosophy and the inherent goals of "revealed" religion eplain why it has had such influence upon Catholic theologians/philosophers like Hans Urs Von Balthasar and John Paul II. Personalist Thomism seems to me a prominant (though perhaps not dominat) philosophical stance among Catholic theologians.

BTW, I have not had a chance to listen to Cobb yet.

Ilíon said...

... because, of course, The One True Church is all about the organization/bureaucracy to which one rallies.

Dan said...

Monk

With your definition of Catholic Theology, it is easy to see that scientific advances are slow to be accepted.

A BIG what if…In your thinking, if it comes to pass in a few decades that a fairly complete biological theory of emotion+consciousness+intellect+will shapes up and is as robust as Darwin’s natural selection is today, does the Church have to change anything?

Ilíon said...

Feser: "C. The doctrine could, accordingly, never have been arrived at via purely philosophical arguments."

While I don't see how we could ever arrive, purely via reasoning/argumentation, at the precise doctrine that God is three persons in one unity, I think we can reason to the fact that God is a plurality of persons in one unity. For instance, from the interpersonal and relational of morality we can see that God is plurality of persons. And, from the fact that there cannot be a plurality of First Causes, we can see that God is a unity.

Ilíon said...

"from the interpersonal and relational [nature] of morality "

monk68 said...

Dan,

You said:
"With your definition of Catholic Theology, it is easy to see that scientific advances are slow to be accepted."

How does the idea that a supernatural revelation form God exists (The basis for Catholic Theology), entail that any scientific advance in the natural order would be "slowly" accepted? Catholic Theology might have something to say about whether certain scientific developments are in fact "advances" (a very philosophically charged word)like say the development of a nuclear bomb. It might have something to say about HOW certain scientific discoveries "should" (a moral concern) be used: such as the discovery of nuclear fision being used for public energy production instead of arsenal development. Yet nothing in Catholic Theology militates against the investigation and mastery of the natural order for the sake of the common good - in fact it encourages this. I remain confused by this claim.

You said:
"A BIG what if…In your thinking, if it comes to pass in a few decades that a fairly complete biological theory of emotion+consciousness+intellect+will shapes up and is as robust as Darwin’s natural selection is today, does the Church have to change anything?"

Any "theory" of emotion/conciousness/intellect/willmust needs be communictaed in some way for anyone to "know" about it. Communication implies thoughts expressed to another. If the specific "thought set" expressed is that "thought" itself is merely a biological by-product (a fart of grey matter if you will) resulting upon untold chance interactions of unguided matter extnded through space and time: then there will be no particular reason to "believe" that the theory expressed by that "thought set" is accurate. In short, the conclusions of the theory undermine the useful expression of the theory itself.

The point is that such a theory is falsified the moment it is expressed. This fine point is one of the things that modern phenomenology of mind has wrestled with interminably. I affirm that IN PRINCIPAL such a theory can never be proved. It could (theoretically) be ontologically factual: but it could never successfully be communicated as such for the reasons I have just given. That this is true convinces me that the immateriality of mental activity is FAR more likely than the reductionist model.

Yet regardless of the likelihood of either model, the reductionist model simply CANNOT be successfully expressed in an existentially convincing way. It is like the person who shakes your hand and says "I do not exist". They can say the words, but in the very act of verbalizing their thoughts, there is an inherent, existential, experiential refuation of the claim.

Thus, in practice, the Church will NEVER face that decision.

O.C. said...

Well said, monk68.

Dan said...

Monk

I was merely looking at the intricate intertwining that you point out exists between theology and metaphysical philosophic systems (primarily Thomism for the Church) and that my BIG hypothetical would surely counter a good deal of Aquinas’ epistemological assumptions.

It might be a situation analogous to changes in criminal law as psychology makes new discoveries.

Looking forward to your thoughts on Cobb.

monk68 said...

Dan,

"I was merely looking at the intricate intertwining that you point out exists between theology and metaphysical philosophic systems (primarily Thomism for the Church) and that my BIG hypothetical would surely counter a good deal of Aquinas’ epistemological assumptions."

I understand what you are getting at: and yes, IF your BIG hypothetical could be "expressed" as "known" to be "true": then it would, indeed, do damage to Aquinas' epistemology and any number of Catholic dogmas.

My point remains, however, that it is literally IMPOSSIBLE for that particular hypothetical to be "expressed" in a way "known" to be "true". Even if such theory WERE ontologically the case; the very cognitive/verbal/communicative act of expressing the theory would, itself, be nothing other than a "belch of the universe"; inherently deprived of meaning and therefore comprehension by any "belch" recipient.

I hope to get a chance to listen to Cobb Saturday.

Peace

Crude said...

monk68,

Just chiming in to mention I appreciate your responses here.

There's one thing I would add, that stresses something I brought up previously. You mention, rightly, that "it is literally IMPOSSIBLE for that particular hypothetical to be "expressed" in a way "known" to be "true"." In other words, the problem being discussed here is not one that will in principle be faced.

I would add that what's being discussed here (a 'biological' explanation of mind, consciousness, intention, etc) has implicitly operated on the assumption that final causes, intentionality in nature, etc will continue to be excluded. But, that's not necessarily the case either. It's also entirely possible (and some would insist, likely or inevitable) that these exclusions will end, and we'll be right back at a point where broad(er) acceptance of intentionality and formal/final causes in the world is called upon to help complete our understanding of the world.

It certainly wouldn't be the first time science has forced naturalists/materialists to go back to the drawing board and ditch some prior expectations of what science would certainly reveal about nature.

Ilíon said...

Monk68: "It could (theoretically) be ontologically factual: ..."

I'm sure you mean 'hypothetically,' rather than 'theoretically.' (For, it you really meant heoretically,' you'd be contradicting yourself.)

Daniel Smith said...

llion,

You said:
"Analogically:

A cube (*) has six faces; but a cube is not a complex entity -- a cube has no parts (**) -- rather, it is a simplex entity."

You lost me at "a cube has no parts". The fact that it has six faces means to me (and my simple-minded understanding) that each face is only a part of the cube and that no face can be called "the cube". Otherwise we could replace "a face" with "the cube" - leading to the unintelligible statement "a cube has six cubes".

For me, the argument for Divine simplicity stumbles over the same points. The fact that there is "a Father", "a Word" (or "a Son") and "a Spirit" seems to contradict the 'absolute' part of 'absolute simplicity'.

Daniel Smith said...

Michael,

You said:
"I have argued online many times over the years that all of the objections on the part of the EO and others to the western conception of divine simplicity as regards the persons in the Trinity... are more than adequately answered by the theology of Bl John Duns Scotus"

Thanks for that. Having just read a brief synopsis of Scotus' views, I find myself much more attracted to his concept of divine infinity than to Aquinas' divine simplicity. One reason may be that I arrived at the same conclusion independently a long time ago - before I even heard of 'metaphysics'!

monk68 said...

llion,

Quite right! That would be contradictory. Careless word usage can so easily get one in trouble. Thanks for the heads up.

Ilíon said...

Monk,
Yes, it does; and you're welcome.

Ilíon said...

Daniel Smith: "For me, the argument for Divine simplicity stumbles over the same points. The fact that there is "a Father", "a Word" (or "a Son") and "a Spirit" seems to contradict the 'absolute' part of 'absolute simplicity'."

Yes, I understand: you said that already. I offered you an analogy to help you see that the stumbling in not in the doctrine, but in your understanding ... and you circled back, rather than advancing.


Daniel Smith: "You lost me at "a cube has no parts". The fact that it has six faces means to me (and my simple-minded understanding) that each face is only a part of the cube and that no face can be called "the cube". Otherwise we could replace "a face" with "the cube" - leading to the unintelligible statement "a cube has six cubes". "

Keeping in mind that the formulation 'a cube' is itself a misleading artifact of language, for it implies that there exist multiple cubes -- if, in my statement that "Face-X *is* the cube" (where 'Face-X' stands for each individual face sequentially), one replaces "a face" with "the cube," then one cannot actually come up with the statement that "a cube has six cubes." For *that* statement is to say that each face of the cube is some other cube, which is a very different statement from the one I made.


The physical objects we call cubes are not actually cubes, they are cube-like objects. But, human minds being what/as they are, sometimes we can grasp a concept only once we can, so to speak, touch it. So, keeping those two points in mind --

Imagine there is on your desk before you a piece of stone, carved into the shape of a cube. Now, if a cube truely has parts, you ought to be able, at least in principle, to remove one or more of those parts.

So, remove one of the faces of the cube which is before you. Can you not see that you cannot? Not only can you not do it as a practical matter, you cannot do it in principle. Therefore, a cube has no parts; that is, a cube is not a complex entity.

Michael said...

Daniel Smith,

To be clear, Scotus affirms divine simplicity as well as Aquinas does. That is, he affirms that God is not composed of substance and accidents, essence and existence, integral parts, or any other kind of composition from disparate elements. The formal distinction does not posit composition in God; rather it shows how there can be formal multiplicity God together with his real unity and simplicity.

For the record, it seems obvious that a cube is not simple. It has integral parts. A stone cube on a desk can be divided in half. A purely mathematical cube can be intersected by a plane. But whatever has integral parts is not simple, ergo, etc.

The error in the argument is the assumption that if the cube has parts, then its parts will be its faces. But the cube's faces are surfaces, that is, termini of its extension (for surfaces are termini of three-dimensional spaces, as lines are termini of two-dimensional spaces and points are termini of one-dimensional spaces), rather than the partible extension itself. It is the extension which is divisible into parts, and not its termini. Since a cube is a three-dimensional object, its proper parts are also three-dimensional, not two-dimensional. (For the same reason, a line is not composed of points even though its termini are points and one can take a point anywhere along the line by intersection.) So a square surface qua terminus of the cube's volume is indivisible, because qua terminus it has no extension. Qua terminus it cannot be removed from its volume, either. That doesn't mean the volume itself can't be divided, in which case it will have new termini. Note also that as a (two-dimensional) space in its own right the square face is divisible.

Ilíon said...

Michael: "For the record, it seems obvious that a cube is not simple. It has integral parts. A stone cube on a desk can be divided in half. A purely mathematical cube can be intersected by a plane. But whatever has integral parts is not simple, ergo, etc."

For the record, your statement is wrong, it is false (as see below). A cube has no parts: there exists nothing which may be removed from it nor added to it; a cube may not be altered.


Michael: "The error in the argument is the assumption that if the cube has parts, then its parts will be its faces. But the cube's faces are surfaces, that is, termini of its extension ..."

The error is in your disinclinaton to see that this is true of *any* proposed part(s) to the cube.

You seek to propose that the parts of the cube consist of its volume, but not its (whether 'it' is taken to refer to the cube-as-a-whole or only to its internal -- can we even say that? -- volume) terminal surfaces. But, 'volume' is senseless without termination. And, as I've intimated, if the terminal surfaces of the cube are not *also* among its proposed parts, then it is nonsensical to speak of the "interior" of the cube.

So, if one wishes to insist that the cube has part(s), he must admit the faces to the set of its parts.

But, one can no more remove any of the faces (or edges, or corners) of the cube than one can remove its volume. Nor add to.

Ergo, the cube has no parts; it is not complex, but simplex.


Michael: "Since a cube is a three-dimensional object, its proper parts are also three-dimensional, not two-dimensional."

And you are a three-dimensional material object. So, all you proper parts are also three-dimensional material objects, right?

Ilíon said...

As I said at the start, my analogy to the cube is meant only to show that the objection that the Trinitarian doctrine is incoherent isn't a sound objection.

Ilíon said...

Michael: "For the record, it seems obvious that a cube is not simple. It has integral parts. A stone cube on a desk can be divided in half. A purely mathematical cube can be intersected by a plane. But whatever has integral parts is not simple, ergo, etc."

[Keeping in mind that the stone cube in the desk isn't really a cube, but is rather a material object we are using to represent the concept 'cube'] If we divide the stone cube in half, or by any other division, then the stone cube no longer exists. We cannot remove anything from, nor add anything to, the stone cube (this is just as true of a non-solid cardboard cube), for any attempted alternation destroys it.

On the other hand, the human body, which does have parts, may be altered. Its parts may be removed; the set of its parts may be added to.

This alteration of the human body may be either to a proper teleological end, as the body itself is constantly doing to itself, or contrary to the health/function of the body, as is the case with most foreign alterations (say, the lopping off of a hand).

The body's teleological self-modification is continuous for the entire life of every living body, young or old: when this continuous self-modification ceases, the body dies.

But, the body may also be modified by an external force of entity. For instance, an industrial accident may cut off a man's hand. Or, in a horrible misunderstanding in Saudi Arabia, the authorities may lop off his hand.

Yet through all these changes, the body does not cease to exist. Nor does the totality of the person: if we lop off not only your hand, but your whole arm, you are still you.

Rob G said...

FWIW, there's an interesting discussion here on Palamism from the blog of an Orthodox theologian who has no apparent anti-Thomist bias.

http://bekkos.wordpress.com/martin-jugie-the-palamite-controversy/

Dan said...

Monk

I read the paper by Ratzinger (Pope Benedict) on 'Person' which you likked for us 0 FANTASTIC!

Again, I will note that this relational way of looking at our reality is consonant with Cobb's Process Theology.

Off to read more of those articles...

Daniel Smith said...

My thoughts are that, even if a cube represents simplicity, it certainly doesn't represent absolute simplicity. A cube has six sides, a sphere has no sides, therefore a sphere is simpler than a cube. This (again to my untrained mind) illustrates my problems with the concept of absolute simplicity - "nothing" is simpler than "something", therefore the logical end for absolute simplicity would have to be "nothing".

I welcome the corrections to my muddle-headedness that are sure to come!

Anonymous said...

A famous philosopher said "Seek simplicity, and distrust it."

Dan said...

Monk
This stuck in my mind about esse and energia. You said "On the other hand, if there IS an ontological link between God's Essence and His Eenergies, then it would seem we have arrived back at Divine Simplicity a la Thomism (other than altered terminologically)."

I am reading one of the Norris articles and he quotes Fr. Phelan "The act of existence (esse) is not a state, it is an act and not as a static definable object of conception. Esse is dynamic impulse, energy, act the first, the most persistent and enduring of all dynamisms, all energies, all acts. In all things on earth, the act of being (esse) is the consubstantial urge of nature, a restless, striving force, carrying each being (ens) forward, from within the depths of its own reality to its full self- achievement."

I think we have esse=energia here, don't you?

George R said...

The formal distinction does not posit composition in God; rather it shows how there can be formal multiplicity God together with his real unity and simplicity.

If you say so, Michael.

It seems to me that Scotus’s position has big problems. For example, he asserts that mercy and his justice are actually distinct in God. It would necessarily follow, therefore, that God has attributes distinct from His essence. For if God’s mercy and justice were both identical to His essence, they would be identical to each other. But assuming they are not identical to each other, one of them (at least) must distinct from His essence. Therefore, God would be composed of essence and attributes.

Michael said...

George R.,

I suggest that you learn something about a position before asserting that it has big problems. It's clear that you haven't studied what Scotus has to say about this at all.

Michael said...

Ilion,

I don't mean to offend you, and I agree with you that the doctrine of the Trinity is not contradictory, and I applaud your efforts to show this by analogy. Nevertheless you seem to be laboring under multiple misconceptions about the nature of mathematical objects, of bodies, and of parts and wholes. I don't intend to argue in circles about this all week, but perhaps someone else would like to step in and explain why continuous and extended objects - whether bodies or not - are necessarily non-simple.

George R. said...

I suggest that you learn something about a position before asserting that it has big problems. It's clear that you haven't studied what Scotus has to say about this at all.

(Whoa, I guess I struck a nerve there.)

Michael,
I was just going by something Garrigou-Lagrange said about Scotus in Reality:

[Scotus] maintains that the divine perfections are distinguished one from the other by a formal-actual-natural distinction.

Now if this is an inaccurate assessment of his position, you’re the big Duns-Scotus expert…tell us what is actually the case.

Michael said...

George R.,

You struck a nerve insofar as it is all too common for Thomists to dismiss Scotus' thought based on nothing more than reputation and the derivative judgment of other Thomists, without making even a moderate effort to actually understand it.

There a number of introductory books on Scotus' metaphysics if you care to find out about it. If this is too much trouble, you can look at the archives on my blog: lyfaber.blogspot.com. Try posts with the label "formal distinction" to start with. This comment thread doesn't seem like the place to begin describing Scotist metaphysics from first principles.

Anonymous said...

Looking at Ed's Trinity graphic on the podt and after listening to the Luke interview linked in the comments of Ed'd current blog, I am led to say:

The graphic puts God as centroid of a complex of three qualitatively dissimilar beings, suggesting a problem of incompatible properties.

Ilíon said...

Daniel Smith: "I welcome the corrections to my muddle-headedness that are sure to come!"

Since the other persons who are actually commenting on the particular matter give all appearances of desiring to retain their own muddle-headedness, it appears that you'll have to make do with me. And, so far as I can see, anything more I can say is just to repeat what I've already said -- it seems to me that we've come to the point where it's up to you to understand.

Some thoughts which may (or may not) help you to understand are here ("The knowledge/understanding that the doctrine of the Trinity is a mystery is a metaphysical analogue to grasping the truth of Gödel's incompleteness theorem.") and here (this second is lengthy, so I don't reproduct it here; incidentally, I worked out the cube analogy while composing that post).


But, once more into the breach:
Daniel Smith: "My thoughts are that, even if a cube represents simplicity, it certainly doesn't represent absolute simplicity. A cube has six sides, a sphere has no sides, therefore a sphere is simpler than a cube. This (again to my untrained mind) illustrates my problems with the concept of absolute simplicity - "nothing" is simpler than "something", therefore the logical end for absolute simplicity would have to be "nothing"."

The cube doesn't represent simplicity, it is simplex: it has no parts. How can anything be more simple than that?

The surface of a sphere has an infinite number of points, as, indeed, does the surface of a cube. An infinitity of "parts" compared to an infinitity of "parts;" which is more complex?

The only solution to the conundrum is to recognize that we've hit one of those areas where logic cannot go. Or, possibly, the problem is not that logic is failing us, but rather that the terms (and thus the concepts) we have with which to work are inadequate for stating the truths that we can see.

I've shown you (and Michael) that the cube is simplex, rather than complex. You appear to grasp this truth ... and then circle back to its denial: I can't solve that for you.


Daniel Smith: "This (again to my untrained mind) illustrates my problems with the concept of absolute simplicity - "nothing" is simpler than "something", therefore the logical end for absolute simplicity would have to be "nothing"."

You appear to be insistent upon seeing existence as a "part."

Daniel Smith said...

llion said:
The cube doesn't represent simplicity, it is simplex: it has no parts. How can anything be more simple than that?

The surface of a sphere has an infinite number of points, as, indeed, does the surface of a cube. An infinitity of "parts" compared to an infinitity of "parts;" which is more complex?


And:
You appear to be insistent upon seeing existence as a "part."

It's hard for me not to see existence as a part given the definition of "simplicity" which seems to be (from this discussion anyway): "the fewest number of parts". You say a cube has no parts, but it seems logical to me that a cube has one part - itself. And it also seems equally logical to me that the only thing with no parts would have to be nothing.

I'm thinking though that my understanding of simplicity and parts may be off base.

Thanks for the food for thought llion.

Ilíon said...

Daniel Smith: "I'm thinking though that my understanding of simplicity and parts may be off base."

When thinking about God, yes; and that's what I wanted you to understand. Our every-day conceptions of "parts" and "wholes" are misleading when we try to fit God into them.

Another thing to which our every-day conceptions of "parts" and "wholes" don't properly apply is holograms -- every "part" of a hologram contains, or is, the whole hologram. If you've never even heard of holograms, and someone tries to explain that fact of holograms to you, and you're failing to understand him, is it (necessarily) that he has contradicted himself, or might it be that are you failing to understand what he's saying because you're applying incorrect terms/ideas to what he has said?

Communication (thinking-through something is communication to/with oneself) is difficult in the best of circumstances, when the subject matter has been directly experienced. Shouldn't we expect to get confused when we try to think/talk about what it's like to be God?


Ilíon: "You appear to be insistent upon seeing existence as a "part.""

Daniel Smith: "It's hard for me not to see existence as a part given the definition of "simplicity" which seems to be (from this discussion anyway): "the fewest number of parts". You say a cube has no parts, but it seems logical to me that a cube has one part - itself. And it also seems equally logical to me that the only thing with no parts would have to be nothing."

I'd hoped that I'd shown you that the hypothetical stone cube on your desk has no parts.

A thing which is made of parts is built-up of those parts -- which exist in their own right (or, at least, exist independently of the thing) -- and, theoretically, the thing can be broken back down into those individual parts and later reassembled.

One can break down a car into its individual components, and later reassemble it. --Then again, perhaps the reassembled car is not actually the same car as existed before, and we only impute identity to it.

One can cut off a man's finger, and, provided one has a team of skilled surgeons, and the equipment they need, and hasn't let either the finger or the rest of the man's body die, one can reattach the part to the rest of the body.

One cannot remove (nor restore) any of the faces of that stone cube, nor its edges, nor its corners, etc. So, if one insists upon calling the faces of a cube "parts," then one is using the term differently than the customary usage. That one isn't intending to equivocate doesn't change the fact that one is equivocating.


Daniel Smith: "... but it seems logical to me that a cube has one part - itself. And it also seems equally logical to me that the only thing with no parts would have to be nothing."

But, how would one go about removing (and restoring) existence from/to a thing which exists? If one *could* segregate the existence of a thing from rest of the thing, would not the thing no longer exist? How, then, can one restore existence to the thing? Where would one put/store the existence of the thing, even if one could restore it?

Doesn't it seem clear that in speaking/thinking of existence as a "part" we're using the term 'part' in a wholly inconsistent way?

Dan said...

Monk

Any further thoughts on Norris Clarke's work of synthesizing existential Thomism, Personalist Thomism, process Theism, and even the assertion of esse and energia compatibility developed in the paper you linked us to?

Daniel Smith said...

llion,

you said:
But, how would one go about removing (and restoring) existence from/to a thing which exists? If one *could* segregate the existence of a thing from rest of the thing, would not the thing no longer exist? How, then, can one restore existence to the thing? Where would one put/store the existence of the thing, even if one could restore it?

I think you answered this yourself awhile back:
If we divide the stone cube in half, or by any other division, then the stone cube no longer exists. We cannot remove anything from, nor add anything to, the stone cube (this is just as true of a non-solid cardboard cube), for any attempted alternation destroys it.
If you glue the stone cube back together doesn't it bring it back into existence?

I still say that there is nothing simpler than nothing.

Ilíon said...

Daniel Smith: "I still say that there is nothing simpler than nothing."

To speak of simplexity and complexity is to speak of "parts."

"Nothing" doesn't exist. It's not merely that "nothing" has no parts, it's that "nothing" doesn't exist. To speak of "fothing" as being (more) simple is to engage in a category error, and to speak nonsense.


Daniel Smith: "I think you answered this yourself awhile back: ... If you glue the stone cube back together doesn't it bring it back into existence?"

I think that what you're noticing (while perhaps not yet grasping it) is that we -- minds -- impute existence to things which don't really possess it on their own.