Friday, April 12, 2013

Craig on theistic personalism


Someone posted the following clip at YouTube, in which William Lane Craig is asked about me and about his view of the dispute between classical theism and theistic personalism:



Craig kindly cites my series of posts on Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality as having been useful to him in preparing for his debate with Rosenberg.  (I’m gratified that the posts were helpful to him.  I’ve long admired Craig and his work, and as I’ve noted before, his excellent book The Cosmological Argument from Plato to Leibniz was very helpful to me in coming to see how shallow the usual characterizations and criticisms of the argument are, and played a role in my abandoning atheism.) 

Regarding the discussion of theistic personalism in the clip, some clarification is in order.  First of all, the expression “theistic personalism” is not in fact my own.  As far as I know, it was introduced by Brian Davies, who uses it in his book An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion to refer to a family of contemporary views he contrasts with the classical theism of thinkers like Augustine, Maimonides, Avicenna, and Aquinas.  (Also relevant is Davies’ discussion in his book The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil of the issue of whether God is “a person.”)  Davies indicates that “theistic personalism” is the same sort of thing referred to by Norman Geisler as “neotheism” in his book Creating God in the Image of Man?  (See also The Battle for God by Geisler and H. Wayne House.) 

As examples of thinkers who take positions characteristic of theistic personalism, Davies cites Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, John Lucas, Richard Creel, Charles Hartshorne, and Stephen T. Davis.  As examples of thinkers who take positions characteristic of neotheism, Geisler and House cite Plantinga, Davis, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and Linda Zagzebski, and (especially) proponents of “open theism” like Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, John Sanders, William Hasker, and David Basinger.  I don’t think Davies, Geisler, or House would claim that these writers are in agreement on all the relevant theological issues.  But there is a family resemblance between their views that sets them all off from classical theism.  I have also suggested that William Paley and contemporary “Intelligent Design” theorists work at least implicitly with an essentially theistic personalist rather than classical theist conception of God.

Contrary to the impression given by the discussion in the YouTube clip, the main issue here is not whether God is subject to a standard of goodness external to him.  The difference instead concerns more general differences in how classical theists on the one hand and theistic personalists or neotheists on the other conceive of God.  The classical theist tends to start from the idea that whatever else God is, he is essentially that reality which is absolutely ultimate or fundamental, and the source of all other reality.  He not only does not depend in any way on anything outside him, but could not even in principle have depended on anything outside him.  Nothing less than this would be God, so that to say that there is no being who is absolutely ultimate in this way is in effect to say that there is no God.  Different classical theists might spell this basic idea out in different ways.  The Aristotelian will emphasize the thesis that unlike everything else that exists, God is not a mixture of actuality and potentiality but is instead pure actuality or actus purus.  Neoplatonism emphasizes that unlike everything else in reality, God is in no way composed of parts, either physical or metaphysical, but is absolutely One, simple, or non-composite.  Thomists will emphasize that God is not “a being” alongside other beings, and does not merely “have” existence; rather his essence just is existence, he just is Subsistent Being Itself or ipsum esse subsistens.  Followers of Anselm will emphasize that God is not merely the highest reality that there happens to be, but is that than which no greater can even be conceived.  And of course, many classical theists will incorporate all of these notions into their account of what it is to be the ultimate reality and the source of all other reality.

Theistic personalists, by contrast, tend to begin with the idea that God is “a person” just as we are persons, only without our corporeal and other limitations.  Like us, he has attributes like power, knowledge, and moral goodness; unlike us, he has these features to the maximum possible degree.  The theistic personalist thus arrives at an essentially anthropomorphic conception of God.  To be sure, the anthropomorphism is not the crude sort operative in traditional stories about the gods of the various pagan pantheons.  The theistic personalist does not think of God as having a corporeal nature, but instead perhaps along the lines of something like an infinite Cartesian res cogitans.  Nor do classical theists deny that God is personal in the sense of having the key personal attributes of intellect and will.  However, classical theists would deny that God stands alongside us in the genus “person.”  He is not “a person” alongside other persons any more than he is “a being” alongside other beings.  He is not an instance of any kind, the way we are instances of a kind.  He does not “have” intellect and will, as we do, but rather just is infinite intellect and will.  He is not “a person,” not because he is less than a person but because he is more than merely a person.

The difference between classical theism and theistic personalism shows up in their respective attitudes toward some of the traditional divine attributes.  Classical theists insist that God is absolutely simple or without parts; theistic personalists tend to reject the doctrine of divine simplicity.  Classical theists also insist that God is immutable, impassible, and eternal in the sense of outside time altogether, while theistic personalists tend to reject these claims as well.  These differences also affect how the two views interpret claims about God’s omniscience, will, goodness, and sovereignty, with theistic personalists tending to interpret these in a more anthropomorphic way.

I have said a lot more about this subject in a number of posts, links to which interested readers can find collected here.  The question of where Craig’s own views fit is a tricky one.  On the one hand, the kalām cosmological argument, of which Craig is famously a champion, seems (as Geisler points out) clearly to entail that God is eternal or non-temporal.  On the other hand, Craig suggests in his book The Kalām Cosmological Argument that “God is timeless prior to creation and in time subsequent to creation” (p. 152).  (But as Geisler and House point out, this statement can be read in different ways, and while on one reading it is incompatible with classical theism, it is not necessarily incompatible with it on another reading.)  Craig has also been critical of the doctrine of divine simplicity.  I have responded to his criticisms here.

765 comments:

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rank sophist said...

Craig is correct that neither he nor his colleagues would actively subscribe to the conclusions of theistic personalism that the guy in the audience presented. But they're the result of their metaphysics whether they like it or not. Any conception of God that is composite will have to take part in a prior whole above itself, which means that God's goodness will not be his own. I respect Craig, but that's just the way it is.

Also, congratulations to Prof. Feser on stirring the pot. His star is rising more and more.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

I miss his beard, that once-swarthy genius.

Rank Sophist is right, too.

John Burford said...

While I now disagree with Dr. Craig's philosophy/theology, his book "On Guard" is what originally got me interested in philosophy of religion. Watching this clip, I am reminded of my admiration for him as a person as well.

Think about it. Craig could have jumped all over that definition of theistic personalism and said that Feser doesn't know what he's talking about. But instead, he just said that he thinks that's an invalid category AS IT WAS BEING PRESENTED TO HIM. He gave Feser the benefit of the doubt by saying that perhaps Feser's ideas were not being fully communicated.

Dr. Craig is a fine human being, not to mention an excellent debater.

George R. said...

I think that a debate between Feser and Craig would be well worth watching. I watched a little of the Craig-Rosenhouse debate, and I thought to myself, "This is pointless." Debating atheists does no good, except to show that atheism is intellectually bankrupt. But for those who already know that going in, it serves no purpose.

But just because atheism is an obviously false, stupid, and, let's face it, dishonest position, this does not mean that there are not certain theistic positions that are also untenable (although not so obviously such), and which could be shown to be so in debates.

Anonymous said...

George, are you saying that all atheism is dishonest, or just that some or most forms of it are nowadays?

Pedro Erik said...

Excellent, Feser. I am getting each day more fan of you.

I also love Craig, but as I am Catholic, I am also interested in see his differences regarding catholicism. You provided one.

Jonathan Lewis said...

As much as do admire Dr. Craig's work, I have come to see that Dr. Feser's philosophical approach is much better.

Dr. Craig's method is to go straight to the arguments for God, while Dr. Feser prefers to argue for an entire metaphysical worldview before arguing for God. This approach is better because many people have a materialist worldview and the whole concept of God is incompatible with materialism. Dr. Craig argues that God is an immaterial mind, but someone who is a materialist will not believe that anything immaterial can exist. They firmly believe that both the mind and the whole of reality are purely physical.

The cosmological argument might convince you that something caused the universe to exist, but because atheists are such die-hard materialists, they will often insist that whatever caused the universe must itself be physical. The very idea of immaterial things strikes them as utterly absurd. The reason they think that the ultimate cause of nature is purposeless, valueless and meaningless is because they think the whole world is purposeless, valueless and meaningless.

By making arguments about the philosophy of nature and the philosophy of mind, Dr. Feser shows us that immaterial realities are not only possible, they are unavoidable. This makes theism much more persuasive.


c emerson said...

< ... whatever else God is, he is essentially that reality which is absolutely ultimate or fundamental, and the source of all other reality.

A very strong and for me logical position. This grounding position, again for me, then raises the a posteriori question of divine attributes. I believe this is the way Aristotle and Aquinas dealt with it, for which I am grafeful for your posts, articles and books.

I have not attempted my own resolution of the problem, but I have introduced it onto my blog here, if anyone is interested:
http://www.ideasarephysical.net/2013/03/the-genesis-model-is-space-god.html?m=1

George R. said...

Anon writes:
"George, are you saying that all atheism is dishonest, or just that some or most forms of it are nowadays?"

Atheism is an irrational thesis that requires that one attempting to defend it be compelled by necessity to resort to misrepresentations and blatantly fallacious arguments in order to do so. Now atheists do not employ these methods because they’re stupid, nor because they are ignorant of the distinction between a rational argument and an irrational one. We see the proof of this last point all the time when these same atheists happen to be defending a thesis unrelated to atheism. For instance, last week the issue of conspiracy theories came up. Now we all know that if a guy like Jason Rosenhouse were to argue, say, against the thesis that 911 was a Karl-Rove operation from the get-go, a thesis, btw, JR is almost certainly not on board with, we surely would not find him employing any blatant fallacies or misrepresentations of the conspiracy-theorist position in order to make his point. That’s because there would be plenty of rational arguemnts available to him. All these academic atheists know the difference between valid arguments and invalid ones. They employ the latter only when they think they have to, i. e., when there are no valid ones available to them.

...and that, my dear Anon, is what intellectual dishonesty is all about.

c emerson said...

> Atheism is an irrational thesis that requires ...

What, in your opinion, are the one or two key points (whether factual or logical or both) that convince you atheism is necessarily irrational?

Anonymous said...

If God is not a person, but just something like “that reality which is absolutely ultimate or fundamental, and the source of all other reality,” how is a belief in this kind of non-person god any different from atheism? Any atheist physicist or biologist could plausibly subscribe to there being an ultimate reality. Why do you use a proper name, “God”, for this non-person? Why do you and atheists spend huge amounts of energy in bitter debates when you are in basic agreement that there is no Big Person in the Sky running the universe?

Anonymous said...

I don't think that there's anything overtly wrong with atheism, it's scientism that's the problem.

Anon @ April 13, 2013 at 11:44 AM

I don't think it's that simple:

"The Aristotelian will emphasize the thesis that unlike everything else that exists, God is not a mixture of actuality and potentiality but is instead pure actuality or actus purus."

"Thomists will emphasize that God is not “a being” alongside other beings, and does not merely “have” existence; rather his essence just is existence, he just is Subsistent Being Itself or ipsum esse subsistens."

E.H. Munro said...

Because they deny that there is any foundational reality to the universe asserting that things just are because of brute fact.

Also, while we don't view god as personal in an anthropomorphic sense, we also don't view god in pantheist or deist sense. The existence of god and the natural order for us carries with it moral obligations.

Anonymous said...

I don't get it. Don't Aquinas and Feser take the view that God IS the good?

Edward Feser said...

Anonymous @ 11:44,

Note the parallel I drew between "being" and "person." When the classical theist says that God is not "a being" but rather Being Itself, he is, obviously, hardly claiming that God does not exist. On the contrary, he is saying that God exists in a more perfect way than anything else does or could, precisely because he does not merely participate in being (the way everything else does) but just is being.

Similarly, when a classical theist says that God is not "a person," what is meant is not that God is impersonal or a non-person. The point is rather that he does not merely participate in the key attributes of persons (intellect and will) the way we do. As I said in the post, he does not merely have intellect and will but rather just is intellect itself and will itself.

No such thing could be said of the laws of physics or the like, which are impersonal and which are also contingent (or, more precisely, are a shorthand description of the way the contingent material world operates).

Another way to put the point: When I say that God is not "a being" or "a person" the accent is on the word "a," not on the words "being" or "person." The point is that God is not in a genus, not an instance of a kind. Anything that is merely an instance of a kind, even a unique instance, would not be metaphysically ultimate. It would stand in need of explanation itself. (E.g. we would need to ask for an explanation of how this kind of thing came to be instantiated at all, even if it has been instantiated in a beginningless way -- in Thomistic language, we would need to ask how its essence came to be conjoined with an act of existence.)

Edward Feser said...

Anonymous @ 12:07,

Yes, God is the good, as opposed to merely participating in goodness. Again, if he merely participated in it, he would not be metaphysically ultimate because there would have to be some cause of his participating.

Here's where the classical theist and the atheist agree: If the cause of the world in any way could even in principle require a cause of his own -- if his existence were put forward merely as a "brute fact" -- then you might as well stop with the world itself. Even if such a god existed, he wouldn't be the God of classical theism and thus wouldn't strictly be God at all, but just a glorified creature (a superhero, or the like).

Where too many atheists go wrong (in the "one god further" objection, Flying Spaghetti Monster analogies, etc.) is, in effect, assimilating all theism to theistic personalism. But theistic personalism is simply not what theism has been, traditionally. And appeals to Ockham's razor, "best explanation," and the like, whether or not they are relevant to arguments for theistic personalism, are completely irrelevant to classical theism, because the arguments for classical theism take place at a deeper metaphysical level than mere empirical hypothesis formation or the like. They have to do with what any possible science must itself presuppose.

(See the roundups of posts on the cosmological argument and classical theism.)

Ismael said...

I side with Thomism and I must confess that works of Peter Kreeft and you Dr. Feser really opened for me a new world regarding theism some years back.

Yet, I do like W.L. Craig a lot and I think he's a great Christian apologist and a good philosopher, even if I disagree strongly with some of his conclusions.

For exaple I thought his treatment of Aquinas in 'Reasonable Faith' was a bit sloppy... but his criticism of Hume and Kant was very good.

I also admire Craig courage and skill in his debates. He always seems combat ready to give non-believers a run for their money.


I'd love to see a debate (or maybe just a 'friendly dialogue' between you Dr. Feser and Dr. Craig, it might be a very interesting exchange.


Matthew Petersen said...

I'm curious where you place Palamas. Does the Eastern Church take a third view, or are they a type of classical theism that nevertheless asserts God has a will, etc., rather than being a will etc.? (It doesn't seem reasonable to say they hold to a form of theistic personalism, since in his Essence God is beyond all affirmation and negation.)

Ismael said...

Jonathan Lewis "
The cosmological argument might convince you that something caused the universe to exist, but because atheists are such die-hard materialists, they will often insist that whatever caused the universe must itself be physical. The very idea of immaterial things strikes them as utterly absurd. The reason they think that the ultimate cause of nature is purposeless, valueless and meaningless is because they think the whole world is purposeless, valueless and meaningless.


Well indeed... but then it's like arguing with a young earth creationist who puts a literalist view of Genesis above observable facts (something which most of the Fathers let alone the Scholastics would have ever done)

“Hardcore atheism” is a form of blind fundamentalism

Not all atheists are per se materialists... many of them are just 'unconvinced agnostics'.

Take Russel for example, he was an agnostic (but an atheist in practice as he claimed) but he opposed materialism as such.

Recent authors like Tallis or Nigel also have concerns about it.



If you have a chance to read Leah Libresco blog at patheos, an ex-atheist, she once did some 'blog experiments' to understand what he readers believed... and she found out that atheists are a very diverse group, disagreeing on much, except the denial of God (although some of them think God MIGHT exists but is extremely unlikely).

c emerson said...

Feser's reply regarding the distinction between classical theism and theististic personalism is quite useful and clear. Thank you.

I am still hoping to hear why "atheism is necessarily irrational?"

Understanding the two primary monotheistic Christian positions is one thing; understanding why these positions make atheism irrational is quite another.

I constantly see references, as above, holding that materialists are people who "think the whole world is purposeless, valueless and meaningless." Almost all the serious efforts I see by professed atheists is that they argue a position quite contrary to that, namely that humans are free to find their own purpose in the physical world, and therefore to build their own values and meanings.

What I am asking, is why is that an irrational position to take?

rank sophist said...

Matthew,

I'm no expert, but Palamas most definitely did not disagree with divine simplicity. The essence-energies distinction was not seen as a form of composition.

Derek said...

Hello Dr. Feser,

Are you saying, then, that the differences between classical theists and theistic personalists take shape due to their respective starting points? I interpret you to be saying that while classical theists begin with the concept of "being" and then work through that concept to the highest level possible, theistic personalists begin with the concept of "person" and then try to work through that concept to its highest possible level. This leaves the theistic personalist in an inferior position with respect to the classical theist, because starting with the concept of a "person," theistic personalists invariably end up developing a weaker conception of "being" than do classical theists, who acknowledge that while God is a person, He is *more* than that. To understand what God is as best we can (in this life, anyway), one must start from the question of being and not from person. Thus, classical theists have an inherent advantage over theistic personalists due entirely to their starting point. Is that how you see things?

Eduardo said...

Emerson...

That is quite funny Emerson, I mostly met materialists atheists, but I did heard a lot of what you just said they say, is that usually they present it in an incoherent way, you know, suppose something that makes morals worthless if not non existent, while at the same time say that having morals is important... if course usually they are mostly politically friven people so maybe they don't care, but I would of course love to hear George R's argument.

c emerson said...

Btw, to bring my question home a bit, Plato raised the question of holiness (piety) and the good in Euthyphro. U found an interesting post on this subject on a blog named Fide Dubitandum, in a post titled Euthyphro's Reply at

http://fidedubitandum.wordpress.com/2011/12/18/euthyphros-reply/

c emerson said...

@Eduardo,
Hey. I realize I am in danger of pulling the thread off its main topic. The Professor said:

" the main issue here is not whether God is subject to a standard of goodness external to him. The difference instead concerns more general differences in how classical theists on the one hand and theistic personalists or neotheists on the other conceive of God"

So if I have gone off topic, I am happy to hold this line of questions 'til another time.

The distinctions in how God is conceived is of great matter. Peace.

George R. said...

C emerson:
“What, in your opinion, are the one or two key points (whether factual or logical or both) that convince you atheism is necessarily irrational?”

There are a couple of ways to look at this, c e.

First of all, if a proposition is demonstrably true, it would be ipso facto irrational to oppose it. So, if the existence of God can be demonstrated, which it can be, then it cannot be rationally denied. But this of itself does not prove the irrationality, not to mention the dishonesty, of the atheists in question. For instance, divine simplicity is also demonstrable. Therefore, Craig and others are being technically irrational in denying it. However, they are not being blatantly and willfully irrational as I claim the atheists are. Nor do they attempt the misrepresent the position of their opponents.

The reason for the difference with respect to these two erroneous positions is that, while Craig’s position on divine simplicity is ultimately false, it is not an obviously weak one. Atheism, on the other hand, shows itself to be a blatantly and pathetically feeble thesis right off the starting blocks. Consider just some of the things that atheism cannot even begin to explain:

Contingent being: All things in nature are contingent, that is, they are capable of not existing, and certain circumstances are required for them to exist. Therefore, how could there be natural being without prior supernatural “circumstances?” Atheists have no good answer for this.

But it gets worse.

Composite being: All things in nature are composed of two distinct principles, form and matter. Therefore, before the things in nature can exist, form and matter have to somehow exist as principles. But if the natural world is all there is, how can any prior principles exist at all? Atheists have no good answer for this.

But it gets worse.

Living being: Livings things are composed of trillions of tiny, yet staggeringly complex biological machines which are all directed toward the life and well being of the creature to which they belong. Needless to say, atheists cannot even begin to explain this under their paradigm.

But it gets worse.

Intellectual being: We see among the living beings are human beings, who are capable of knowing the reality of all natural being. What is the cause of this knowledge? Atheists are reduced to unintelligible stammering on this point.

(continued)

George R. said...

(continued)

Now as much as atheism is completely inadequate to explain any of these aspects of the natural world, theism can easily explain them all. Contingent being? No problem. With God as the Principle, it is easily explained. Composite being? No problem. With God as the Principle, it is easily explained. Living being? Intellectual being? God a sufficient cause of all these things.

But someone might object that as long as one does not see the existence of God as being absolutely demonstrated, then he is still free to be an atheist. No, he is not! If you were on the jury in a civil trial, and all the evidence was on the side of Mr. A and against Mr. B., would you be free to rule in favor of Mr. B. on the grounds that Mr. A’s case was not absolutely proven? Of course not. Anyone who did this would be a liar.

For the same reason, the atheistic position is completely dishonest and illegitimate, and ought to be treated as such. But what do we see in academia instead? It’s the theistic position that is treated as illegitimate. In other words, it’s the thesis that is obviously true that is to be rejected, and it's proponents persecuted. That, of course, is completely unacceptable. I for my part say that it’s the thesis that’s obviously false that ought to be rejected; and it’s those hold the atheist position who ought to be ridiculed and persecuted.

Eduardo said...

Kind of hardcore moral way huh George.

I mean I know we humans are fuck ups, but do we need to persecute them... isn't seggregation enough, you know split people apart...

Eduardo said...

George...

I think that your arguments would take away more then a combox for you to make them stronger, I mean if I take what you said as the totality of an argument, the atheist would still have choices and lots of them.

Matthew Petersen said...

Sophist:

Simplicity is, I believe, an Energy, as is the Divine Will. The Essence is beyond all affirmation and all negation, and thus is neither simple nor not simple--indeed, since simplicity is an energy, to say that the Essence is simple would be to conflate the Energies and and Essence. (Not that you quite said that.)

Simplicity, for Palamas, means that all of God is present in each of the multiple Divine Energies; so that an encounter with the Energy is simply an encounter with God, not with only some of God. So, if I understand it correctly, a Palamite would reject *absolute* Divine simplicity--the idea that God simply is His Well, etc.--but does not reject simplicity.

Though my language was probably slopy--I don't think Palamas would say that God has a will (and he definitely wouldn't say that He has a will like we have a will), but he definitely would not (and this was my intended point) say "[God] just is infinite intellect and will."

c emerson said...

@George R
@Eduardo
Thanks, George, for the thorough reply. While I agree with E, it would take much more space to detail it all out, I find that you satisfied my request for your reasons why you atheism to be against the logic and theistic evidence, if not against positive forms of empirical evidence.. I will need to ponder this. Thanks again.

c emerson said...

Back to the main topic, I remain a bit confused as to the classic notion of "being" that is more than our ordinary notion of "personal activity" without such notion of "being" just collapsing back into Craig's notion of theistic personalism.

Is the classic theist's God "active" or just the source of active-ness?

JJS said...

I too agree that WLC is a great philosopher and theologian. When I found myself longing to explore philosophy of religion again, I turned first to WLC. But it was through a link in a comment on the open forum that I discovered Ed Feser, and as a Catholic never fully at ease navigating WLC's site (little things here and there, including a podcast on Catholicism), the discovery came none too soon! I still go on WLC's site from time to time, because I think there is still so much to profit from: the vast learning, powerful intellect, decency, generosity and Christian charity of the man, but there was something never quite right (to this Catholic) about a God that was just infinite mind (as mentioned by a comment above), and in time after creation (though timeless without creation), and the attempts to take the shine off of Aquinas in some of his works (a slight prejudice against Catholicism perhaps? I ask his forgiveness if I am wrong). I understand WLC's conception of God to be a theistic argument grounded in the very premise his atheistic opponents share: a distinction between soul and body along Cartesian lines. I find it quite refreshing and exciting to see Ed go to the metaphysical heart of things. I agree with a comment made above that there is little edifying about debates between WLC and his atheistic opponents (many examples, but just see one of his latest, the one with Rosenberg), though for the Christian young in academia, suffering at the hands of ignorant and hostile professors, his ministry has done wonders and has been a real blessing. But isn't it time that we experienced a truly edifying experience: a live dialogue between two fine Christians and scholars discussing the existence, nature and attributes of God in Christian charity?

Ismael said...

@ DR. FESER

I have a question.

I have recently read Gerard J.Hughes (a Jesuit philosopher at Oxford) book "The Nature of God"

I thought it was a very nice and interesting book about discussion on the several of God's attributes and showed that in fact Aquinas, Kant, Molina, Hume and some others, in spite of everything seemed also to agree on several key points.

However when conclusions come he seems to take more the side of the 'moderns', like his treatment of Omniscence and Omnipotence (although not agreeing with them fully either).

Since I am not a 'professional Thomist' I was curios to know your opinion, if you happen read the book.

rank sophist said...

Matthew,

Simplicity is, I believe, an Energy, as is the Divine Will. The Essence is beyond all affirmation and all negation, and thus is neither simple nor not simple--indeed, since simplicity is an energy, to say that the Essence is simple would be to conflate the Energies and and Essence. (Not that you quite said that.)

Simplicity has traditionally been conceived as a negative term. To say that something is "simple" is to say that it does not fall into any category that we know. Hence in Aquinas's treatment of divine simplicity he systematically rejects all composite labels. This is in line with the Church Fathers. So I don't think that Palamas would hold simplicity to be an energy, because simplicity is not a state. It's just what we're left with after we've negated all composite categories, and all binary oppositions between being and non-being.

Simplicity, for Palamas, means that all of God is present in each of the multiple Divine Energies; so that an encounter with the Energy is simply an encounter with God, not with only some of God. So, if I understand it correctly, a Palamite would reject *absolute* Divine simplicity--the idea that God simply is His Well, etc.--but does not reject simplicity.

Aquinas would reject what you're calling "absolute" simplicity as well, since it's a contradiction. If God has A and B, then A cannot be B on pains of A being A and not-A simultaneously. What Aquinas does is very similar to what Palamas does, to my knowledge. Aquinas says that we name God from his operations--so we say that he is good from one operation, all-powerful from another, all-knowing from another. But these various operations are ultimately just expressions of a God that is beyond all assertion and negation (as you put it, and as Pseudo-Dionysius put it). God does not have an intellect or will, and he isn't an intellect or will--and his intellect is not his will. These are names derived from different manifestations of a being that is in itself totally simple. Because the frameworks that Palamas and Aquinas worked in were different, they had to come up with different ways of formulating this same obvious truth.

The same goes for the Beatific Vision. Aquinas says that we see God's essence but cannot ever fully comprehend it--we keep taking in more and more of it, without end. Palamas gets this same result by thinking of the energies as a torrent spilling out of the essence. We can swim upstream for an infinite amount of time without ever reaching the end.

I recommend the book The Ground of Union: Deification in Aquinas and Palamas, if you're interested in seeing a serious comparison between the two thinkers. The physical book is pretty expensive, but it's free on Scribd.

Matthew Petersen said...

Sophist:

What do you take to be the difference between my claim that "God simply is His will" and Dr. Feser's claim that "He does not “have” intellect and will, as we do, but rather just is infinite intellect and will." Although the wording is different, they seem to say the same thing (though I may be confused).

We are getting into different realms why we ask about why we can name God various things, I've translated a very small part of Aquinas' commentary on Ps. D. here: http://in-librum-dionysii.blogspot.com/

rank sophist said...

Matthew,

I can't speak for Prof. Feser--I was merely summarizing what Aquinas says. And when he says that God is a will, that God's will is his intellect, that his intellect is his goodness and so on, he is saying that such names are ultimately analogies (based on God's various actions in the world) for something that is beyond every affirmation and negation. Our knowledge of God is composite because we know God through his actions, and God acts on composite things. But God's essence is not composite, nor even an essence--beyond all assertion, remember--, and so his various manifestations are ultimately reducible to something absolute simple. We can't ever know this absolutely simple thing in its entirety, but we can experience its transcendence for an infinite amount of time in the Beatific Vision. Sounds pretty close to Palamas to me.

c emerson said...

@soph
> Our knowledge of God is composite because we know God through his actions, and God acts on composite things.

So I want to come back in again here. What does A-T mean by God's "actions" and by "God acts"? Or are those just more figures of speech? Any personalist would accept that God acts, like a person. How else can God act (meant respectfully)?

rank sophist said...

emerson,

God's action is still God, and so we can't talk about it univocally. So, yeah--it's another analogy. However, his effects (i.e. the entirety of created entities) can be discussed. It's from these effects that we build names for God.

c emerson said...

rank sophist,
I appreciate your directness. A-T reasoning by analogy as to attributes (if that even is the right word) of God may be one of the biggest hurdles for non-Thomists to understand Thomist thinking. A non-personal, but somehow not impersonal, conceptualization of ultimate being, starts to sound, as one of the first Anonymous commenters pointed out, very much like a grand "force of nature". I appreciate your clarity. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't the term "theistic personalism" date back to Brian Davies' "An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion" published by Oxford Press?

Anonymous said...

@Feser: Similarly, when a classical theist says that God is not "a person," what is meant is not that God is impersonal or a non-person.

So God is not a person, and he is equally not a non-person. Got it.

Actually I admit that makes some sense to me, in a sort of mystical mode. But it doesn’t make sense if you claim to be doing rational thought, what with its fondness for the law of non-contradiction.

As I said in the post, he does not merely have intellect and will but rather just is intellect itself and will itself.

My baloney has a first name, it’s O-S-C-A-R
My will and intellect has a first name, it’s J-H-V-H.

Or IOW, if you are talking about will and intellect (or even Will and Intellect) why call those things God, which is an inherently personalizing thing to do? Call them will and intellect, and maybe you and the atheists can have a nice polite disagreement about whether they are something that is baked into the metaphysical structure of the cosmos, or if they are things that happened to emerge out of physical laws after the universe had been around for a few billion years, instead of fighting unwinnable religious wars.

Eduardo said...

Anon above me, your comprehension skills are pretty bad XD.

Well the first claim is just... well Feser clarified, but you just ignored it... nice tactic.

The second claim is just, well... you are equivocating what grounds something with naming something or equating something, mostly because you probably believe that theism must be personalist otherwise is not theism, and yeah the the conversation is already at the level you are thinking it should be.

Eduardo said...

"Similarly, when a classical theist says that God is not "a person," what is meant is not that God is impersonal or a non-person.

So God is not a person, and he is equally not a non-person. Got it. "

Let's just see this, Feser is saying that when a group X says proposition Not-A they are not arguing or claiming this particular group Y of propositions that might be attached to Not-A.

Anon's amazing cognition follows... Obviously when they say Not-A they must mean the group Y of propositions, but at the same time Feser is saying they are not Y, oh this make no sense since I sneaked in group Y in there, so Feser is wrong...

Matthew Petersen said...

Sophist,

Yes, I agree that's Aquinas' position, and that is what I was driving at. However, though there is a superficial similarity to Palamas, it sounds like it is radically different from Palamas to me. For Palamas, the plurality is not merely in our conceptions of God, but in God Himself. And it is that uncreated plurality in God which is beyond all creaturely similitude. So for Palamas, for instance, God's will is an ontological reality, actually existing, though beyond creaturely similitude, it does not exist only in creatures' knowledge (that would make it a creature itself).

rank sophist said...

Matthew,

Aquinas would agree that the plurality of affirmations we give God are true. And he would agree that God contains every individual thing that could even possibly exist--and that he has for eternity, which entails an uncreated "plurality". It's true that Aquinas didn't take God's activity as being ontologically distinguishable from God himself, but even Palamas leaves the border pretty blurry. Palamas affirms that God's activity is God, just as Aquinas does. And both see God as an ocean that contains all things. Palamas works in an even more thoroughly Neo-Platonist framework than Aquinas, though, so he appropriates the language of emanation to explain how we can see God without achieving a totalized knowledge of him. Aquinas just says that the obediential potency of grace can be expanded forever without the human mind ever comprehending God. They are fundamentally saying the same things, only in different languages.

It's also worth mentioning that "essence" means something different in Greek than it does in Latin, which has caused a ton of confusion in the dialogue between Palamas and Aquinas. Plus, seeing an essence in Greek metaphysics necessarily entails having totalized knowledge, which is why Palamas placed God's essence at the center of an infinite expanse of energy. Aquinas used a more Aristotelianized framework, which gave him access to language that Palamas didn't have.

Edward Feser said...

So God is not a person, and he is equally not a non-person. Got it.

Well, you could try to give what Aquinas et al. are saying a charitable reading. Or you could be smartass troll. Your choice, but don't expect any further responses in the latter case.

Consider triangularity as such. It is not merely "a triangle" alongside other triangles, since it is that by reference to which any triangle counts as a triangle in the first place. But it would be misleading to say it is a non-triangle, at least if this were taken to mean that it is somehow less than triangular. It could hardly be that, since it is, again, the standard by which triangles count as triangles.

Or consider Plato's Form of the Good. (Whether such a thing actually exists is irrelevant; the question is what sort of thing it would be if it existed.) It is not merely "a good thing" among others, since it is the very standard by which any good thing counts as good. But for the very same reason, it would be quite misleading to call it non-good.

Though God is not a form or a universal, the analogies are useful because the same sort of point applies here. The semantics of saying "God has being" or "God is personal" is more like saying "Triangularity is triangular" or "The Form of the Good is good" than it is like saying "Barack Obama has being" or "Barack Obama is personal." For unlike the relationship between some particular human being on the one hand and being and personhood on the other, what we have in the case of God is not a case of participation or instantiation.

Ilari said...

I have found Eleonore Stump´s articulation of divine simplicity in terms of "Quantum Metaphysics" to be helpful. Here´s a nice interview about that:

http://www.closertotruth.com/video-profile/Is-God-Simple-Eleonore-Stump-/2111

dguller said...

Rank:

Aquinas just says that the obediential potency of grace can be expanded forever without the human mind ever comprehending God.

Except that the blessed will exist in a state outside of time, and thus outside of all change whatsoever. After all, change is the transition from potency to act, and a knowledge that “can be expanded forever” necessarily requires the change from less knowledge to more knowledge, i.e. a transition from potency to act. And if such a transition is impossible, then your account of an ever-expanding, and hence ever-changing, knowledge is equally impossible.

Anonymous said...

Is it not the case that most of the people listed as 'theistic personalists' affirm the Trinity? I don't see how they can be charged with starting from God as a person, when they deny theistic Unitarianism.

In fact, here is what Craig said in one of his defenders podcasts on the Trinity:

"If I were to ask for a show of hands (which I will not), I wonder how many persons here, today, if I asked you, “Is God a person?,” would say, “Yes” and how many would say “No?” Is God a person? Well, I don’t want to embarrass anybody, so we won’t have a show of hands. But technically it is not correct to say that God is a person. Rather, in Christian theology, God is three persons. This is the Christian doctrine of the Trinity –God is tri-personal. So the correct answer to the question would be to say, “God is personal, but he is not a person.” It sounds paradoxical, but that is what the Trinity implies. God is personal, but he is not a person. He is tri-personal. God is three persons."

Mr Veale said...

I would also worry that we're simply assuming that Davies' taxonomy is accurate and useful. Most of the theists on the personalist list would want to say considerably more than God has the properties essential to personhood to a maximal degree.


Alvin Plantinga has also used the line "God isn't less than a person" (in an online discussion with Hilary Putnam). Richard Swinburne in "The Christian God" argues that God is 'limitless, intentional power', but makes it clear that this is only as far as we can go when discussing God's nature. He hasn't exhausted everything that is true of God...he's simply at the limits of human inquiry.
In any case, while 'limitless, intentional power' (I prefer 'limitless, loving power') is easy to comprehend, it isn't easy to imagine. God's love and power would transcend human knowledge or imagination.

This is quite a bit more than saying God is a big, unembodied person in the sky ;-)

I have to say, though, that I'm glad to see the growing popularity of analytic Thomism/classical theism. I think there could be profitable dialogue between modern analytic philosophy of religion and the tradition we've forgotten.

Graham

Adrian J Woods said...

I think for someone like Hartshorne, the classical theist position is difficult to square with the idea of God revealed in Christ. What you get in the incarnation, if anything, is that God is immanent and deeply personal.

Furthermore, if God is love, then God is deeply relational. For Harshorne, Love requires mutual engagement between participants. The relationship must go both ways, or it is not real love, according to Hartshorne.

I think these are big problems for the classical theist in favor of the "personalist."

mbabbitt said...

The attractiveness of anthropomorphizing God is well forewarned - and forbidden by Commandment. Whenever I find myself going in that direction I ask myself a simple heuristic question, "What is God's IQ? (Is it 1,000, 1,000,000?)" Obviously, the question is silly. God is not a person with an IQ; He is the Ground of Intelligence Itself.

Anonymous said...

@Feser Well, you could try to give what Aquinas et al. are saying a charitable reading. Or you could be smartass troll. Your choice, but don't expect any further responses in the latter case.

Hey, I had a charitable reading right after the sentence you quoted (although it may not have been an accurate one).

So you are saying something like god is not a person, but he is personhood (or can be understood to that in an analagous fashion)?

That (a) barely makes sense to me and (b) doesn’t answer the question why you refer to him using a proper noun. Fred is a person, or Rover is a dog, and they get to referred to with a capitalized name. If God is not a person but personhood, why do we give him a proper name? If he is some abstract ground of being and not a distinguished individual, why do you refer to him with linguistic devices that imply the opposite.

I did peer into Aquinas and found this among many other equally impenetrable assertions:

I answer that, It follows from what precedes that there are several persons in God. For it was shown above (Question [29], Article [4]) that this word "person" signifies in God a relation as subsisting in the divine nature. It was also established (Question [28], Article [1]) that there are several real relations in God; and hence it follows that there are also several realities subsistent in the divine nature; which means that there are several persons in God.


Well, that clears that up...

Eduardo said...

Ops I can't understand something so there is nothing to understand here, or this is impossible to understand!!!!

... Wow, just wow ...

FZ said...

Anon,

"That (a) barely makes sense to me..."

Explain why.

"Well, that clears that up..."

Explain what you think Aquinas means.

Daniel Smith said...

What you're doing "Anonymous", is taking bits and pieces of a meticulously defined position and assuming that those isolated bits and pieces "sum up" the whole position.

You should go back and reread everything Dr. Feser has said so far - just in this combox - about God and "person". You'll see that you haven't even given him a charitable reading.

Eduardo said...

FZ

No dude don't give him yet more space for him to speak XD, you think he cares to understand anything XD?

Edward Feser said...

Is it not the case that most of the people listed as 'theistic personalists' affirm the Trinity? I don't see how they can be charged with starting from God as a person, when they deny theistic Unitarianism.

In fact, here is what Craig said in one of his defenders podcasts on the Trinity...

Craig is absolutely right in that passage you quote, and this is in fact a point emphasized by Brian Davies in his book on the problem of evil. (Davies notes that in the history of Christian theology it seems that the formula "God is a person" first arises in a heresy trial, where the heresy in question was affirming that God is a person -- understood as an implicit denial of the Trinity.)

However, theistic personalist writers do indeed sometimes talk this way, despite their Trinitarianism. E.g. in The Coherence of Theism, Swinburne speaks of God as "a person without a body," and in Where the Conflict Really Lies, Plantinga repeatedly raises the question of whether there is "such a person as God."

Edward Feser said...

Probably a waste of time, Daniel. What he should do is go back and read my post "To a louse" to get a sense of how he's starting to come across.

dguller said...

Quick question:

I would presume that a real relation between A and B implies the real existence of A and B are really distinct from one another, which would not be a logical, conceptual or virtual distinction. However, if the persons of the Trinity are real relationships, then how does this not compromise God’s divine simplicity, i.e. the absence of real distinction, i.e. real parts?

rank sophist said...

dguller,

I'm not going to get into a debate about the Beatific Vision with you again. I was just trying to clarify something for Matthew.

Also, I don't think anyone here is an expert on Trinitarian theology (although I may be wrong), so don't expect a definitive answer on your question about God's relations to himself.

Anonymous said...

Yes, physics, like Aquinas, can seem like gobbeldegook if you take a random passage from it. Quite true.

The difference is that physicists are usually pretty careful to distinguish their technical terms from everyday terms. That's why, for instance, the most fundamental “particles” are called quarks, a deliberately nonsensical term extracted from Finnegans Wake. Even the word “particle” is misleading; elementary particles aren’t much like the specks of dust the word suggests (see here for a better defintion). The relationship of the physcists particle to everyday particles is metaphorical; physics bootstrapped its notion of particle from the everyday meaning, but the two concepts have long since gone their separate ways.

Are you saying that when Aquinas and you deploy terms like “person”, you are referring to some technical concept that has only a tenuous connection to the everyday meaning of the term?

FZ said...

Anon, from your quote:

"For it was shown above (Question [29], Article [4]) that this word "person" signifies in God a relation as subsisting in the divine nature."

Anonymous said...

In that quote, I think Aquinas is using "person" in a different way, compared to the way Plantinga/WLC use "person."

Matthew said...

Here's Plantinga on the personhood of God, indicating that there is indeed a great difference between the way God knows and wills things and the way we do.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=70YU8wHIETM#t=2007s

Earlier in the interview Hilary Putnam had said that Plantinga once said that God is "not less than" a person, or something similar, and that strikes me as pretty close to the Classical account.

I'm not sure that Plantinga is as guilty of "theistic personalism" as say someone like Swinburne.

Neal said...

Always enjoy the (mostly fruitful) discussion here prof! were it not for you and Craig I might have almost lost my faith on the grounds that I (lol) thought I was to smart. I have never been so happy to eat vast quantities of humble pie.

So grateful for the immense work of both of you.

BLESSINGS!!

Neal

JamesG said...

Congrats Prof. Feser! Rising star indeed.

kuartus said...

I don't think Craig subscribes to the view that God is just a being among others. He holds to divine aseity. God is completely self existent and only he is metaphysically necessary. No other being or thing is metaphysically necessary in Craig's view.

Anonymous said...

Aristotle, Beauty and Human Biodiversity

http://occamsrazormag.wordpress.com/2013/04/15/the-ancient-greeks-romans-beauty-and-human-biodiversity/

..

Eduardo said...

.... What the heck this has to do with anything XD

Tony said...

Are you saying that when Aquinas and you deploy terms like “person”, you are referring to some technical concept that has only a tenuous connection to the everyday meaning of the term?

You mean, when Thomas defines "person" as "a subsistence of a rational nature?". Yep, I think that qualifies as a "technical definition". See, he goes about proving God has a rational nature, and then goes on to prove that there is a subsistence of that rational nature, and, voila - personhood. Then he goes on to show that there are two relation-sets in God (that of generation under which the Father and Son are distinct from each other, and that of spiration under which the Holy Spirit is distinct from the Father and Son), and thus we have real distinction from which we must say there is distinction of subsistences - three Persons.

So, I think there is a definite possibility that Aquinas is doing metaphysics and theology with EVERY BIT as much technical terminology as physicists use. Possibly more. But of course, you couldn't be bothered to try to discern that when you objected to the passage as being opaque. Somehow, nobody every says that Einstein's equations for General Relativity are objectionable because they are opaque to the typical person.

Anonymous said...

All God-ideas whether personal or impersonal, monotheistic or polytheistic, masculine or feminine in their gender, are creations and projections of the individual, and collective tribalistic ego that proposes or subscribes to them.

All God-ideas necessarily come from the ego. And God-ideas not only reflect the individual and tribalistic ego itself, but, altogether, all God-ideas, being mere ideas about God, reinforce and console the state of egoity in its mortal fear, and, in fact, subordinate the Living Divine Reality to the ego and the ego's search and purpose for power and control, even total power and control.

In the usual mode of philosophical and "theological" thinking a first cause, or a prime mover, or a creator-God is hypothesized to explain the appearance of a presumed objective world and separate self, which are always presumed to be the irreducible first matters of philosophical importance, regardless of the seeming sophistication of the proposed arguments and explanations. Such is ego-based philosophy.

The always spontaneously appearing world is not caused. Rather, the world is acausally evident. Any philosophy that is concerned with "Cause" is about the exercise of the point of view of the ego in its always mortal fear.

If you take up the position of the presumed separate ego, then you always simultaneously have a problem, and you have an apparently objective reality for which to account. Merely to take up the presumed separate ego-position generates an entire system of modes of thinking and seeking.

If you presume the world and the separate-self principle first, then you have already commanded or determined the fundamental characteristics of your philosophy or "theology".

Therefore, to account for Reality Itself, or even for the world itself, or the total universe, or any apparent object, or the Real Condition of the self, point of view must not be assumed a priori, or as a first principle. Nor, in Reality, is the presumed objective world, as it may be said to exist from any point of view, a first principle, or an irreducible characteristic of Reality Itself. Indeed, the presumption of objective world and of an objective separate-self-principle must, and always as the first principle, be perfectly transcended. Or else it is self-evidently impossible for right and true, and True-To-Reality-Itself philosophy to be made and done.

Point of view always defines separate self and objective world. Therefore, point of view always defines and limits whatever is sought, including the Divine.

rank sophist said...

Anon at 1:32 PM,

You've presupposed a univocal ontology. Only when we think of God as a "highest being" placed univocally at the top of the heap of lesser beings do we do violence to the divine. It's true that a lot of theology falls into this trap, and you're right that the gods proposed by those systems are just reflections of the ego. But traditional apophatic and analogical theology doesn't subjugate God to the self by making him an onto-theological highest being. It prevents absolute statements about God and places God beyond being. Jean-Luc Marion's God Without Being is a solid attempt to recover this traditional thinking.

And it's just not true that theology is the process of justifying a subjective transcendental ego and an objective outer world. Traditional Christian theology thinks Being and remembers the difference between the ontic and the ontological. Aquinas's elevation of unrepresentable (but intuitively recognizable) existence over essence is a particularly good example, but it's far from the only one in Christian history. For Aquinas, existence is the condition presupposed by all ontic phenomena, which cannot be reduced to simplistic cause and effect relationships but appears from nothing. It cannot be known, reasoned away or controlled by the subject. It's always already present in metaphysics as their very possibility. And it is brought forth out of nothingness by God (himself beyond existence and non-existence), who is the analogous ground of both the ontic and the ontological without being contained in either category. He grounds the totality but lies beyond it, utterly unrepresentable and incomprehensible. It beats me how you can call that an attempt by the ego in its "mortal fear" to control all being.

Chris said...

Anon,

"If you take up the position of the presumed separate ego..."

Why should we assume the "superiority" of jnani over the bhakti of classical theism?

To do so would violate the doctrine of non-duality. There is, of course, such a thing as Christian gnosis (not to be confused with the heretical gnosticism of late antiquity).

"I want to taste sugar, I don't want to become sugar."

Glenn said...

Anonymous wrote: All God-ideas necessarily come from the ego.

The clarity of apprehension/awareness of the referents of God-ideas is, more or less, inversely proportionate to the active presence of ego. The more active ego's presence is, the less the clarity; while the less active ego's presence is, the greater the clarity. Naturally, certain kinds of claims, such as that of the one by Anonymous above, are not to be unexpected when an ego is actively present.

Ismael said...


Except that the blessed will exist in a state outside of time, and thus outside of all change whatsoever. After all, change is the transition from potency to act, and a knowledge that “can be expanded forever” necessarily requires the change from less knowledge to more knowledge, i.e. a transition from potency to act. And if such a transition is impossible, then your account of an ever-expanding, and hence ever-changing, knowledge is equally impossible.


1- The blessed will be outside of time by grace of God, not by their own natures.
They won't be pure act or potencies that actualize themselves or whatever.


---

knowledge that “can be expanded forever” necessarily requires the change from less knowledge to more knowledge

Does not realy follow directly.

Also in God we expect to be the fullness of our nature, fully actualized by God.

The 'more knowledge' idea, seems to me, is more a eartly view of heaven rather than a Thomistic one.

I also suspect that, if indeed after final resurrectuon we shall be 'eternal' with God (but not like God) we will be also "unchanging", because fully actualized by God.

Maybe Prof. Feser can say something more (or even correct me in case)

i.e. a transition from potency to act

Impossible without an actualizer... and God is the ultimate actualizer.


So your argument, I think, rests on a false assumption, even if we wer not unchanging.

Anonymous said...

Prof. Feser,

Dr. Craig frequently calls upon the Leibnizian cosmological argument to argue that God is a necessary being. He also relies on the "perfect being" theology of Anselm in defining the attributes of God (e.g., in which God just is "the Good", since goodness is a great-making property). Would these positions place him closer to classical theism than the typical theistic personalist? Thanks.

Ayer

monk68 said...

David Bentley Hart has responded to Dr. Feser in the latest issue of First Things. Once again, Hart's position remains shrouded in mystery. He describes Dr. Feser's position as relying upon the views of a “philosophical sect” wherein “slouches” the “specter” of old “two-tier Thomism”; an apparently malevolent force in cahoots with secular reason in bringing about the “deformation” of something called “Christian metaphysics”. Still, he provides no account of exactly what is wrong with such Thomism (even assuming he has characterized it charitably – which seems doubtful), nor exactly how it has led to a deformation of “Christian” metaphysics (whatever that may be). Hence, his criticism of Dr. Feser’s position (in this article) amounts to little more than well-spoken name calling.

By contrast to such a repugnant Thomism, Hart describes himself as an "integralist" without divulging the meaning of that term any more than he divulged the meaning of “Christian metaphysics”. Nevertheless, what he goes on to assert about the interpenetration of the "natural" and the "supernatural" (besides raising some Christological questions), seems to confirm that the fundamental disagreement between himself, and Thomists like Dr. Feser, resides at the level of underlying metaphysics – which is no great surprise. Yet, in this article, much like the original, he avoids exposing his metaphysical hand either in his criticisms of Thomism, or in support of his own cacophony of assertions. Is he working from a metaphysical-cum-theological background akin to EO Essence-Energy ontology; or does he aver to some alternate ontic picture? Who knows – Hart does not say – he is an integralist after all. It is entirely mystifying why a thinker of Hart’s caliber would initiate an attack on one of the most venerable philosophic traditions in Western civilization, and simultaneously putting forward a host of assertions related to his own view, all the while avoiding any arguments in the area of fundamental metaphysics.

In the end, his proposed basis for moral judgment seems grounded in a constellation of human experiences which must be "seen". Yet, while his “integralist” description of such experiences delivers plenty of rhetorical panache, it leaves the question concerning how human beings are supposed to extract from this picture a clear (much less integral) set of moral principles, entirely – well - mysterious. The most concrete explanation provided appears in the article’s last paragraph where we are told that “Certain fundamental moral truths, for instance, may necessarily remain unintelligible to someone incapable of appreciating Bach’s fifth Unaccompanied Cell Suite”. How such a notion is supposed to be an improvement upon natural law morality must simply be one of those truths which must remain unintelligible to those, like myself, who are simply incapable of the requisite Hart-like appreciation.

monk68 said...

"Cello Suite"

rank sophist said...

monk,

Hart has a habit of assuming that people already understand where he's coming from, and that they've already read his major work. I don't have access to the article, so I can't say for sure, but I'm willing to bet that the confusion arises from this tendency of his.

Danielius said...

rank, the good people at First Things, probably knowing that this is an on-going lively discussion, made the article free.

Scott said...

Here's a link.

rank sophist said...

Many thanks. I'll check it out ASAP.

Crude said...

Reading over Hart's piece, the impression I get is that he sees the principle point of dispute with Feser to revolve around the ability to decisively demonstrate certain moral truths or claims, with no possibility of objection or doubt. Not only that, but he seems to think the Natural Law philosopher comes to these disputes cocksure that, if they can just get people to listen to them, said people are going to be compelled to concede argument to them, or may even change their minds on the spot. In response to that, Hart cites some pretty obvious obstacles - different cultural influences, different first principles, etc.

The problem is, if I'm right in my reading of Hart, then I think he's just misunderstanding natural law proponents. Sure, they think they're right, but I've never seen Ed (or any others) storm around acting as if NL arguments will be universally persuasive, or will be capable of dictating secular policy. Pretty much the opposite, really. Now, he's knocked down some really horrible objections to Natural Law - I don't think even Hart could deny that these exist, or even that they're pretty abundant.

What I've seen natural law proponents argue is that they have arguments and reasoning about moral issues in particular that does not derive from revelation, yet is also not opposed to revelation. The idea that someone needs revelation to oppose abortion, oppose gay marriage, etc is extremely common - and insofar as it is, the NL response really is powerful and worth noting. This, I think, is what natural law proponents largely focus on when they're talking about the intellectual power of Natural Law. Hart seems to think they go way beyond this, to some level of total philosophical certainty. If Hart's really saying that, then I'm supremely skeptical he's evaluating the field right.

Maybe I missed some relevant writing, but until I see it, I think he's damning NL for not being able to measure up to a level that NL proponents haven't pretended they can anyway.

Jon Hizmi said...

Hart explains his metaphysics (and much much more) in his daunting book "The Beauty of the Infinite." Don't ask me though, because I am not competent enough to make intelligent distinctions between his metaphysics and Dr. Feser's. As a fan of both, I suspect they are more in agreement than they think (for instance I thought Feser detecting "Humean" tendencies in Hart's work was mistaken given that Hart couldn't be any further from Hume if you read his works) and might just be talking past each other.

But then again, based on Hart's latest response, they might be further apart than I ever imagined, and maybe I failed to grasp the uniqueness of Hart's emphasis on Christian aesthetics (in the spirit of Maximus the Confessor and Gregory of Nyssa, two of the biggest influences on Hart's metaphysics)

Given my respect for both, I hope the rhetoric doesn't get too snarky and both come out looking OK in this exchange

rank sophist said...

A few thoughts.

What Hart means by "two-tier Thomism" is a sharp separation between nature and supernature, of the kind discussed a combox or two ago. This is somewhat popular among modern Thomists like G-L. If I remember correctly, Copleston argues in A History of Philosophy vol. 2 that the Church Fathers saw no sharp separation between theology and philosophy, but that Aquinas did. I think this latter assertion is demonstrably false. Certainly Aquinas and the Church Fathers realized the distinction between primary and secondary causes, but that's different. Aquinas's whole philosophy is inseparable from his ideas about God. If you reject the existence of God, you reject everything that Aquinas wrote. In fact, most of what Aquinas writes becomes unintelligible if you think of it in separation from the supernatural. I'd argue that a sharp separation between nature ("secular", "neutral", "objective") and supernature ("transcendent", "revealed", "subjective") wasn't even conceivable to someone from Aquinas's time. Hart calls himself an "integralist" in the sense that nature and supernature are always intertwined, as Aquinas and the Church Fathers held.

Also, Hart is correct that natural law gives different results depending on one's priorities. I argued this myself in the last combox. Aristotle said that slavery, pride and wealth were called for by natural law, and that they should be pursued. This, of course, is a reflection of pagan culture. The megalopsychos--the great man, the man of the world, the Pontius Pilate type that Nietzsche revered--was self-evidently desirable in that climate, and so natural law bent to accommodate him. Natural law bent again when Aquinas got his hands on it and reshaped it to fit the teachings of the Church Fathers. Aquinas was a very smooth operator, though, so he rarely made it obvious when he warped what Aristotle actually wrote.

Finally, Hart is arguing that all morality is inherently tied to the living subject. It isn't possible to analyze morality in terms of a totalized discourse of objectivity. He rejects the idea of an "ought" because it's an empty science--the blood of moral reasoning is in the interested individual's "I want". Christian natural law is a worthwhile project not because it offers Kantian objective moral reasoning (which is impossible) but because it is a way of fulfilling the individual's "I want"--which is to say, happiness as it is understood through the eudaimonistic framework. Melinda Selmys has made a similar point, in that people follow natural law because it is desirable and aesthetic; not because it is somehow "true" while contradicting all desire, which is of course impossible if one subscribes to the interconvertibility of the transcendentals.

rank sophist said...

Jon,

I agree that they're probably closer together than they realize. The analytic-continental divide is probably too wide for them to ever realize it, though.

monk68 said...

Rank,

I have no beef with your take on Hart's article. Still, I honestly don't understand why a guy like Hart would stir up a Thomistic hornet's nest without taking the time to address what nearly every FT reader who understands the basic issues knows to lies at the bottom of this dispute; namely, an actual metaphysical disagreement, or at least a terminological one. In either case, Hart - given the target of his criticism - should have the good sense to get down to brass tacks within the context of the critical articles themselves; rather than rely on folks to have prior background immersion in his own particular ontology. By contrast, I cannot remember an article which Ed has written in criticism of some modern moral theory wherein he did not take the time to address the underlying metaphysical and/or epistemological concerns as a core part of the criticism itself. Hart's approach just strikes me as sloppy or ill considered. It invites confusion and unnecessary rancor.

Finally, moving away from Hart’s criticism of natural law, can you see anything in his positive integralist proposal that strikes you as superior, clearer, or more likely to gain a hearing than the natural law approach? I don’t. I honestly cannot understand, from what he has written so far, how his own alternative is somehow an improvement. Does he hope to defend a Cappadocian ontology, or establish the claims of divine revelation through some apologetic effort, as a precursor to convincing folks that they should “see” moral truth in their experiences because nature is infused with supernature? Or are folks simply supposed to see it – as in his Bach quote – without being provided any background framework? I really don’t mean to be polemical, its simply that Hart’s alternative seems to suffer from at least as much ambiguity and exposure to cultural distain as the view he criticizes.

Pax

TruthSeeker said...

Dear Professor Edward, would Islam fit better in "Classical theism" or "Theistic personalism"??

rank sophist said...

monk,

I can't say that I disagree that Hart's approach is confusing. I'm not sure he could actually give the necessary background to all of his arguments without writing a book-length article, though.

Anyway, I think that Hart would agree with you about his integralism. It isn't going to be popular. Something that's important to keep in mind is that Hart is always first and foremost, as he said in the article, "a disenchanted modern rambling among the weed-thronged ruins". He's said many times that he thinks we're doomed, that historical forces beyond our control have ended Western civilization, that we're in a nihilistic twilight from which there is no cultural escape--and so on. He doesn't expect to be convincing in secular society, because he's already written off secular society as unsalvageable. He's not even a proponent of democracy.

What Hart is doing here is trying to argue against aesthetically dead and existentially suffocating Kantian constructs, in favor of the kind of freeing "rhetoric" (his word) that he embraces in The Beauty of the Infinite. He writes in that book that "the Christian evangel means to embrace all creation, and so must seek to evoke love from the other, the aesthetic rapture that captivates (or liberates) by its splendor." He sees Kantianesque "natural" reason as nihilism, since it's essentially reducible to one ungrounded and disinterested will subjecting another to critique. (I don't personally think that Prof. Feser is guilty of this type of Neo-Thomistic Kantianism, but other Thomists definitely have been.)

The very idea of natural or secular reason undermines Christianity, since it implicitly acknowledges that there can be a truth other than the one contained by the church, on which the church must rely. In past eras Christians had to justify the use of non-Christian philosophy by arguing that it was in accord with what the faith had already revealed (this included Aquinas himself), but in the modern secular era we've already given away the game by acknowledging the possibility of reason or goodness without supernatural presuppositions. A lot of modern Thomism has an almost Pelagian bent in that sense, which is sometimes kept in check by quasi-voluntaristic conceptions of God, in the Banezian fashion. Aquinas most definitely did not subscribe to this kind of natural reason, as may be demonstrated by any number of his quotations. Here's a good one:

"Hence we must say that for the knowledge of any truth whatsoever man needs Divine help, that the intellect may be moved by God to its act. But he does not need a new light added to his natural light, in order to know the truth in all things, but only in some that surpass his natural knowledge." (ST IIa q109 a1)

Aquinas's definition of "natural" has the supernatural attached to it from the start. And this obviously does not collapse nature into grace, as "two-tier Thomists" might claim. It's perfectly in line with Hart's point. Essentially, natural law itself presupposes the kind of Christian rhetoric that Hart advocates. Recast in the "neutral" Neo-Thomistic terms Hart is attacking, natural law becomes just another enslaving Kantianism.

LintonV2 said...

Gotta love the hypocrisy. When Coyne or some "Gnu" criticizes Feser for not supplying a book-length response to their claims, the local response is, "Read his book, you silly person." But when Hart fanboys operate in a similar manner, you Feserites get all whiny, and mistake Hart's article as his entire position, much like Dawkins and co do when they cite Aquinas' few-page summary of the five ways as being not a summary, but his definitive statement on the matter of God's existence.

Jon Hizmi said...

Linton,

I sort of thought the same thing, though in a much less hostile fashion.

In general, I think it wise to avoid elaborate critiques of short articles (like the one Hart wrote which started the controversy) because they are not meant to be formal, substantive arguments.

Given the word count restrictions, I would think Hart's monthly article in First Things is primarily intended to entertain and provoke thought, and only secondarily to inform or argue.

While his views on Natural Law can be deduced from his other works, the controversy his article ignited might encourage him to treat the issue at length in a more formal manner. And I think that would be good for everyone.

Anonymous said...

I'm having a difficult time digesting Hart's piece, but among the things I do understand, I do agree with the bit about there being obvious natural evils - tsunamis, famines, hurricanes, mass extinction, etc. - and of those evils casting doubt on whether we should take our marching orders from the natural order from which such things emanate.

monk68 said...

Linton,

No hypocrisy at all. The problem with Coyne and Co. is that they write without having read - so what they write is uninformed. Hart likely understands the metaphysical issues well enough, but has chosen small back-page articles, not to critcize a piece by som modern philosopher, but to take an entire philosophic tradition to task - I don't think that makes sense, and the multiple exchanges on this topic which seem to leave as much still unclear as has been resolved bears that out. Hart could have dealt with this substantively by writing one or two larger articles in the center of FT keeping the focus on metaphysical issues. I hope he will do that.

Pax

Brandon said...

Hart's piece makes more obvious how limited his acquaintance with natural law theory is: the claims about how 'nature' functions in natural law theory are completely incorrect for all major natural law theories. As I've pointed out, natural law is called 'natural' because it's not 'positive' law, and is thus natural to us, not because it takes its cues from nature. The role of final causality in natural law theory is not the finality of "Dame Nature" but the final causality involved in the practical decisions of living a human life. This is quite standard: different approaches will differ as to details, but no major natural theory gives nature the particular role Hart attributes to it. We see this especially clearly in the fact that, whatever one's views about the merits of classical vs New Natural Law approaches, and despite the fact that he does not qualify his claims at all, none of Hart's description in the article can possibly characterize New Natural Law approaches, by any stretch of the imagination: NNL avoids general considerations of final causality, does not base morality on natural purposes, takes goods to be incommensurable and non-hierarchical, and is almost obsessive about not trying to get ought from is. Making the mistake about nature with regard to what is usually called 'classical' natural law is understandable: it sticks to Ciceronian and scholastic terminology and argues for a somewhat more robust teleology (although not the kind of teleology Hart claims it is), and thus it can sometimes take considerable effort to avoid reading back post-medieval ideas and associations into that terminology. But there is no such excuse for NNL; it shows that, at best, Hart has a very limited acquaintance with the natural law tradition.

In any case, the obvious crux of the dispute is not that, but this:

What we call “nature” is merely one mode of the disclosure of the “supernatural,” and natural reason merely one mode of revelation, and philosophy merely one (feeble) mode of reason’s ascent into the light of God.

The merely's are all gratuitous and unargued for. Of course it's the case that nature discloses the supernatural; of course it's the case that reason is a mode of revelation; and of course it's the case that philosophy is a mode of rational ascent to God. None of this is in question; what is in dispute is Hart's reductionistic Merely, which has to carry a lot of weight in order to get the conclusions he immediately goes on to derive.

George R. said...

So modern natural-law theories have nothing to do with nature? That's fine. They'll fit right in with modern philosophies, which have nothing to do with reality.

Ismael said...

Anonymous George R. said...
So modern natural-law theories have nothing to do with nature? That's fine. They'll fit right in with modern philosophies, which have nothing to do with reality.

April 17, 2013 at 11:10 AM


Straw Man.

Natural Law bases itself on nature, but not 'nature' meant as flora and fauna of a certain ecosystem, but in the 'nature of a being'. Natural Law, also rests on the final causes of beings.

Natural Law for human beings rests on HUMAN nature.

So to say fro example 'It's ok to do X because many animal species do X' is a fallacy (naturalistic fallacy)

It is irrelevant is all mammals do something (e.g. sniff each other's butts). So you cannot defend a behavior just because occurs in the animal kingdom (and I doubt a judge would accept the defense of a serial 'butt sniffer' who claims "my dog does it too!").

BenYachov said...

Papalinton = Linton V2

Don't feed the troll.

Ismael said...

@ Monk68

What strikes me in the New Atheism movement is an underpinning of mind-numbing anti-intellectualism…

This bigoted attitude is greatly shown in Hallquist own words (ironically):

""I refuse to apologize for not having read more theology, in the sense of the writings of people like Haught and the people he admires. That’s because they frequently don’t even try to write clearly. My typical experience when picking up their books is to first notice they are using words in ways I am not used to. Then I start skimming to try to find the section where they explain what they mean by their words (sometimes there are legitimate reasons for using words in unusual ways). Then I end up closing the book when I fail to find such a section.""

(From Chris Hallquist, on his blog on Patheos Atheist Channel, August 30, 2012).



Now this is ridiculous (and hypocritical)!

Sorry but it's like saying:
"I refuse to read about Quantum field theory (QFT) because when picking QFT textbooks I first notice they are using words and symbols in ways I am not used to."... and then go about criticizing QFT as false because “it's mathematical mumbo-jumbo”...

Ok... if you encounter something you do not understand then it means that you ought to do your homework.
I work in physics… if I read a paper and there is something I do not understand, I will research it (looking on text books on the subjects for example, or other papers) I will not just say ‘oh this paper is nonsense because it too technical’


Hallquist claims he has a 'degree in philosophy'... hence one would expect some sort of intellectual behavior: if you do not know it LOOK IT UP.

The new atheist’s approach seems to be rather ‘I googled it and found a site that debunks Aquinas, it’s great!!!’… and then rand about how Aquinas argued design from complexity like William Paley did -___-

rank sophist said...

That was the only remotely intelligent thing I've ever seen Papalinton say, although I wouldn't call it hypocrisy. It's just an unintentional double-standard.

Brandon,

As I've pointed out, natural law is called 'natural' because it's not 'positive' law, and is thus natural to us, not because it takes its cues from nature.

Natural law does take its cues from nature, though. At least as far as Aquinas understood that word. Prof. Feser always begins discussing natural law by citing non-moral examples of teleology and flourishing in the natural world, and then by saying that humans follow the same process. Natural law has no starting point unless one can argue that all natural things act toward the end of flourishing. You're just moving the goal posts.

The role of final causality in natural law theory is not the finality of "Dame Nature" but the final causality involved in the practical decisions of living a human life.

Hart is always careful to point out that one must draw an analogy between human flourishing and flourishing in the natural world, if natural law is to have any weight. Prof. Feser does this regularly. The beginning of all natural law is, "All things tend toward the good." It's from this principle that we get synderesis, from which we learn that we must "do good and avoid evil". The human process of natural law is just natural teleology combined with free will. But people today don't see nature in teleological terms: they see it in Darwinistic terms. As a result, any argument that draws an analogy between the natural world and human action will inherit that Darwinism. The claim that natural law has nothing to do with nature is pure damage control.

We see this especially clearly in the fact that, whatever one's views about the merits of classical vs New Natural Law approaches

Hart has never mentioned NNL. That was Prof. Feser putting words in his mouth.

The merely's are all gratuitous and unargued for. Of course it's the case that nature discloses the supernatural; of course it's the case that reason is a mode of revelation; and of course it's the case that philosophy is a mode of rational ascent to God. None of this is in question; what is in dispute is Hart's reductionistic Merely, which has to carry a lot of weight in order to get the conclusions he immediately goes on to derive.

I'll just refer you to Linton's post. To suggest that that paragraph is anything more than a summary of positions he's developed elsewhere is absurd. It's like asking Prof. Feser to write TLS every time he reviews a New Atheist book.

rank sophist said...

I'd like to add one point.

Something that some here might not realize is that teleology can be conceived in more ways than one. Even if we allow that all things act toward an end, this doesn't entail that the end is good as we traditionally conceive it. Hegel's teleological views, for example, are that good and evil go hand-in-hand. Nature's teleology would thus include, as Hart puts it, "mass extinctions, the cruel profligacy of an algorithmic logic that squanders ten thousand lives to fashion a single durable type, an evolutionary process that advances not despite, but because of, disease, warfare, predation, famine, and so on". This is a purely Hegelian teleology, although Hart doesn't explicitly say so in the article.

George R. said...

Ishmael,
Read Brandon's comment of 8:00 AM about the new natural-law theories. That's what I was commenting on.

Brandon said...

Hart has never mentioned NNL.

Exactly. If Hart is going to make broad claims about contemporary natural law theory that directly contradict one of the most widely held natural law approaches today, then he needs to make clear that his argument is extremely limited and doesn't actually affect all natural law theorists.

Natural law does take its cues from nature, though....You're just moving the goal posts.

Nonsense -- not only is this completely incorrect, it makes exactly the same elementary mistakes I pointed out. (1) This is making universal claims about natural law approaches that are not universally true. (2) Ed can clear things up if this is wrong, but I think you are over-reading what he is doing. Ed starts with general teleological considerations because he thinks he can make a straightforward and plausible case for them, which will lead into natural law and give a context for connecting it to other things -- and also because he is usually also explaining why such-and-such alternative position (say, Lockean rights) deviates from the traditional natural law views, which historically is related to the decline of Aristotelianism. Nothing he has ever said, as far as I am aware, has ever implied that this is the one and only place natural law theory can start.

But even here, in, e.g., his argument on natural rights and private property, the actual natural law theory considerations do not begin with "all natural things act toward the end of flourishing" but expressly with practical reason having good as its natural end. This is, of course, because natural law theory is, and has always been, not a cosmic metaphysics but a theory of practical reason.

Hart is always careful to point out that one must draw an analogy between human flourishing and flourishing in the natural world, if natural law is to have any weight.

And, again, this is simply wrong. Strongly classical natural law theorists (of whom Ed is one) like the analogy because it is a useful pedagogical tool, and it helps to clarify how natural law fits into the grander scheme of things. Strong NNL theorists positively despise the analogy because they are suspicious of too closely connecting a theory of practical reason with one particular kind of broader metaphysics. Natural law theorists have historically ranged the entire spectrum in between.

The beginning of all natural law is, "All things tend toward the good." It's from this principle that we get synderesis, from which we learn that we must "do good and avoid evil".

Again, wrong; this claim makes a complete hash of the actual history of the theory. "All things tend toward good" is the Thomistic explanation for how natural law theory fits into context both of Aristotelian metaphysics and Christian theology. The beginning of natural law theory itself, however, is the character of practical reason itself as concerning good and bad. These are distinct. You have repeatedly committed this mistake, conflating contextual explanations, definitions, and conclusions.

To suggest that that paragraph is anything more than a summary of positions he's developed elsewhere is absurd.

(1) I didn't suggest it was; I was commenting on the role it plays in the immediate argument. (2) Hart is here arguing critically about natural law theory, and how natural law theory should be characterized and what would oppose it is precisely the point in view in this passage. (3) It may have been a while, but I've read Hart (I wasn't impressed; but then I was comparing him to Schelling, so it perhaps wasn't a fair judgment), so trying to pull that out as a trump card won't work. As I've repeatedly pointed out, where Hart's arguments have gone wrong in this recent discussion have not been in his positive positions but his repeated inaccurate and unsupported claims about natural law theory.

Brandon said...

George R said,

So modern natural-law theories have nothing to do with nature? That's fine. They'll fit right in with modern philosophies, which have nothing to do with reality.

It depends on what you mean by 'nature'. NNL theories don't have anything to do with general explanations of Nature or the natural world, because they deliberately confine themselves to what is strictly required for discussing the nature of human practical reason. Of course, NNL theorists wouldn't consider fitting in with modern philosophies an insult; it's a point of contention between NNL and classical theorists that the latter often think the former concede too many modernistic assumptions, and that the former often think the latter try to shove natural law theory in the path of bullets directed at metaphysical questions not essential to arguments for natural law.

rank sophist said...

Brandon,

Nonsense -- not only is this completely incorrect, it makes exactly the same elementary mistakes I pointed out. (1) This is making universal claims about natural law approaches that are not universally true. (2) Ed can clear things up if this is wrong, but I think you are over-reading what he is doing.

First, I don't consider NNL to be natural law. How could it be? It contains almost none of the original components of natural law. At best, your argument here is comparable to this one:

1. Christianity and Mormonism both use the word "God", even though they mean entirely different things by this word.
2. Argument A uses the word "God" while attacking the Christian conception, without bringing up the Mormon conception.
3. Therefore, argument A is invalid, because it doesn't address equivocal uses of the word "God".

You're just being ridiculous.

But even here, in, e.g., his argument on natural rights and private property, the actual natural law theory considerations do not begin with "all natural things act toward the end of flourishing" but expressly with practical reason having good as its natural end. This is, of course, because natural law theory is, and has always been, not a cosmic metaphysics but a theory of practical reason.

Natural law is inseparable from the cosmic picture, though. To discuss the ends of practical reason apart from the argument that all things are striving for the Good is absolutely pointless--a total waste of time. At best, it gives you the ethical naturalist position that rational goal X has a means Y by which it may most efficiently be achieved. But even this does not tell us which ends we should strive for, nor does it tell us anything other than that Y is the most efficient way of going about this. Efficiency is not its own virtue: it's just another fact; not a value. For natural law to have any worth, it must be placed in a supernatural framework.

And, again, this is simply wrong. Strongly classical natural law theorists (of whom Ed is one) like the analogy because it is a useful pedagogical tool, and it helps to clarify how natural law fits into the grander scheme of things. Strong NNL theorists positively despise the analogy because they are suspicious of too closely connecting a theory of practical reason with one particular kind of broader metaphysics.

Natural law doesn't fit into the grander scheme of things: it is an expression of that scheme. You keep talking about it as though it was something that could exist in abstraction from its own premises. Further, your argument about NNL, again, has no point. NNL is a pale ghost of a philosophy, and bringing it up to dismiss Hart's argument is no more worthwhile than citing Mormon theology to dismiss attacks on classical theism.

Again, wrong; this claim makes a complete hash of the actual history of the theory. "All things tend toward good" is the Thomistic explanation for how natural law theory fits into context both of Aristotelian metaphysics and Christian theology.

You should get your facts straight before you accuse someone else of being ignorant. It was Aristotle who first argued that all things tend toward the good, which is God. In fact, this is the conclusion of Aristotle's argument for the Unmoved Mover. Aquinas merely adopted this position.

The beginning of natural law theory itself, however, is the character of practical reason itself as concerning good and bad. These are distinct. You have repeatedly committed this mistake, conflating contextual explanations, definitions, and conclusions.

They are not distinct. We only know that practical reason has an end, and that good and bad are tied to eudaimonia, because all things act for the good. This is the first principle of all natural law reasoning. (Again, don't bother citing NNL.) Natural law is simply one way of analyzing this cosmic metaphysics.

Brandon said...

First, I don't consider NNL to be natural law. How could it be? It contains almost none of the original components of natural law.

It has all the essential components for being a natural law theory; the only question is whether it is defective development of these. Your statement here is as absurd as your earlier claims in another thread that Scotus is not a natural law theorist.

Natural law is inseparable from the cosmic picture, though. To discuss the ends of practical reason apart from the argument that all things are striving for the Good is absolutely pointless--a total waste of time.

Again, this is not correct, and is inconsistent with the actual history of the theory.

Natural law doesn't fit into the grander scheme of things: it is an expression of that scheme. You keep talking about it as though it was something that could exist in abstraction from its own premises.

Its premises concern practical reason; it is obviously not in abstraction from those. But the premises you are talking about are about how practical reason, as such, fits into a grander scheme. And natural law theory does not include these. Natural law theory is not equivalent to Thomistic metaphysics; which is what your argument implies.

You should get your facts straight before you accuse someone else of being ignorant. It was Aristotle who first argued that all things tend toward the good, which is God. In fact, this is the conclusion of Aristotle's argument for the Unmoved Mover. Aquinas merely adopted this position.

Aristotle doesn't have a fully developed natural law theory, only some suggestions in this direction. The first extant complete natural law theory is Cicero's.

We only know that practical reason has an end, and that good and bad are tied to eudaimonia, because all things act for the good. This is the first principle of all natural law reasoning.

No, we know that practical reason has an end because practical reason is by definition reason concerned with means and ends. This is so extraordinarily obvious that your comment had me laughing out loud in the shared faculty office I'm currently in.

Anonymous said...

Um, well...I hope that, whatever side of the Hart/Feser divide you're on, we can agree that debates like these are far more interesting and worthwhile than a "Gnu Atheist of the the Week" smackdown.

Feser is like a massive lightning storm and Hart is like a roaring ocean. Let round two begin!



(btw, I'm almost certain that LintonV2 isn't Papalinton. When has Paps ever had a note of sympathy for anything or anyone religious?)

rank sophist said...

It has all the essential components for being a natural law theory; the only question is whether it is defective development of these. Your statement here is as absurd as your earlier claims in another thread that Scotus is not a natural law theorist.

Scotus's natural law is just another equivocation, but that's a separate subject. The point is that it's ridiculous to call NNL natural law simply because it deals with character development in the style of virtue ethics. "Seeking X to improve oneself" doesn't even distinguish NNL from Nietzschean ethics (we're supposed to seek the Ubermensch, after all), let alone tie it into traditional natural law.

Again, this is not correct, and is inconsistent with the actual history of the theory.

Where is your example? Where, and at what time in history, has natural law (not NNL) been considered in separation from its premises? Which traditional defenders of natural law have proposed it without explicitly tying it into a wider cosmic order? You aren't even arguing, here.

Its premises concern practical reason; it is obviously not in abstraction from those. But the premises you are talking about are about how practical reason, as such, fits into a grander scheme. And natural law theory does not include these. Natural law theory is not equivalent to Thomistic metaphysics; which is what your argument implies.

What are these Thomistic metaphysics, and what do they have to do with what I've been saying? Here's my argument:

1. For traditional natural law to be true, practical reason must have a directedness toward the good.
2. The practical reason has a directedness toward the good only if all things have a directedness toward the good.
3. Therefore, traditional natural law is true only if all things have a directedness toward the good.

(2) is the only controversial point, here. But it shouldn't be. What it means for something to be directed toward the good is for it to have the necessary end of striving for God--of imitating his perfection in some small way. Nothing can have this end except that which is pulled via final causality toward God, which is the beginning of all motion in traditional metaphysics. Therefore, anything that is not directed toward the good cannot move. To say that the practical reason is directed toward the good in separation from the direction of all things toward the good is tantamount to saying that the practical reason is the only thing capable of motion at all, which is absurd.

Aristotle doesn't have a fully developed natural law theory, only some suggestions in this direction. The first extant complete natural law theory is Cicero's.

This is true if we're talking about etymology, but totally false if we're talking about the history of the ideas that make up natural law. Natural law is nothing more than an analysis of teleology, which itself springs from form. Therefore, natural law is a matter of speculative (quidditative) knowledge informing practical reason about the ends of human nature. How is this in any interesting way different from Aristotle's position in the Nicomachean Ethics?

rank sophist said...

No, we know that practical reason has an end because practical reason is by definition reason concerned with means and ends. This is so extraordinarily obvious that your comment had me laughing out loud in the shared faculty office I'm currently in.

Practical reason is the consideration of means and ends, but this does not mean that practical reason has an end. Consideration of means and ends is a totally neutral process in itself, no different from an ethical naturalism. It does not give us any determinate ethical content. How could you miss this? Even if my practical reason considers end X and means Y, this does not entail that practical reason qua practical reason has an end, which it must for natural law to be valid. Why? Because it is from the end of practical reason qua practical reason that we get the axiom "do good and avoid evil". If practical reason is not directed toward the good, but is merely a consideration of ends and means, then it is wholly neutral. We could theoretically choose evil as evil (rather than as good) if we wanted to.

benYachov said...

>(btw, I'm almost certain that LintonV2 isn't Papalinton. When has Paps ever had a note of sympathy for anything or anyone religious?)

Hmmm?

That is a good point. Dully noted.

Kjetil Kringlebotten said...

@dguller,

I would presume that a real relation between A and B implies the real existence of A and B are really distinct from one another, which would not be a logical, conceptual or virtual distinction. However, if the persons of the Trinity are real relationships, then how does this not compromise God’s divine simplicity, i.e. the absence of real distinction, i.e. real parts?

My take, and I could be wrong, is this: The three persons are not ‘parts’ of God. (In fact persons in general aren’t ‘part’ of anything.) Each of the three persons are fully and completely God. There aren’t anything in nature which is truly analogous to three consubstantial persons, so our images naturally fail. Aquinas explains hs views on the divine persons relation to the divine essence in ST 1a, 39. It is, of course, extremely hard for us to conceptualize this. But after reading a bit (over the last few years) from people like Feser, it seems to me, and people might disagree, that ‘theistic personalism’ combined with trinitarianism at one point will probably either collapse into modalism or tritheism.

This also relates, I think, to the question of Filioque. It seems to me that given divine simplicity, Filioque is neccessary. According to an article I once read, but which seems to have disappeared online, we need to analyze the term filioque. If Roman Catholic (and other western Christian) theologians had wanted to express what they are often accused of expressing (albeit mostly online these days), i.e. that the Spirit proceeds from the Son as from a source, they would probably have said that the Spirit proceeds from Patre et Filio, and not qui ex Patre Filioque procedit. The reason for this is that, unlike English, Latin has more than one word covering the meaning of the English word ‘and.’ There is, according to the article, an important distinction between et and que, the former implying equality (the Spirit proceeding from the Father and from the Son as from two equal sources), the latter implying cooperation (the Spirit proceeding from the Father, through the Son, from one source). I do not know Latin, so please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

At the 7th Council of the Church (Nicea, 787), St. Tarasius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, is reported to have held that the Holy Spirit proceeds (have his being) “from the Father through the Son.” (See Philip Schaff & Henry Wace (ed.), Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 14: The Seven Ecumenical Councils. (Second series. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers 1995, org. 1900), p.234. PDF, p.471.)

This seems to me to be in line with Filioque, which does not state that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and from the Son as from two equal sources, but from the Father, through the Son, from one source. This is, of course, an over-simplification.

Brandon said...

The point is that it's ridiculous to call NNL natural law simply because it deals with character development in the style of virtue ethics.

This is, to be quite frank, laughably stupid. NNL, whatever its faults, is a theory of practical reason in light of human goods, considered as having natural force of law, and based on interpretation and development of ideas in Thomas Aquinas's texts on natural law. No person who is not being obviously perverse can read Grisez or Finnis and not regard them as developing a natural law theory, no matter what mistakes are attributed to them.

Where is your example? Where, and at what time in history, has natural law (not NNL) been considered in separation from its premises? Which traditional defenders of natural law have proposed it without explicitly tying it into a wider cosmic order. You aren't even arguing, here.

I find your last sentence here hilarious, given that all you have done is assert without serious argument. (1) I've already pointed out that this is not "in separation from its premises" because you are conflating the premises of the theory itself with the explanation of how it fits into a larger metaphysical context. (2) You're moving the goalposts: it's not a question of "a wider order" but the particular one you keep insisting on. (3) I've already pointed Scotus and NNL -- the fact that you gerrymander the concept so you can ignore the examples I give whenever you want does not suddenly somehow make it true that I've not given examples. You aren't even arguing in good faith here: attacking me for asserting and not arguing in a series of comments in which you've done precisely a lot of asserting-not-arguing yourself (e.g., the above caricature of NNL is your very first actual argument on it in a long line of dismissals) and doing so solely on the basis of the fact that your idiosyncratic definition (NNL theorists think of themselves as doing natural law theory; classical natural law theorists like Hittinger or Feser usually regard NNL as doing natural law theory even if only very defectively) doesn't count them. But other examples can be found. Where is this specific metaphysical account found in Cicero or Isidore of Seville? Where does Martin Luther King, Jr. appeal to it (yes, I know: you won't count him)? Where is it found in those early Protestant jurists who still had robust discussions of natural law but weren't Aristotelian about it (yes, I know: you won't count them either)?

Other points:

Neither (2) nor the argument of which it is part is in dispute; they are weaker than what you've claimed. The argument you give simply argues from natural law to "all things have a directedness to good" -- i.e., gives a contextual explanation for natural law assuming it exists. It does not follow from this argument or any other that you have given that establishing "all things have a directedness to good" is the only way to establish the existence of natural law, which is what your prior claims commit you to.

We can get to the first precept by considering the end of practical reason as part of human nature, yes. But we can also get to it by considering that all practical reasoning has means-end structure. We can also get to it by inference to the best explanation from the authority of positive law and how it relates to common good. We can also get to it on the basis of theological considerations. Your argument on this point is as absurd as saying that no one can accept or know the principle of noncontradiction except by accepting the Aristotelian metaphysics of being. It shows a complete failure to grasp what it means to say that something is a first principle of reason.

machinephilosophy said...

Some of Craig's recent remarks have started getting into metaphysics and philosophy of logic. Therefore, there must be a return of the power beard.

Craig should just grow back the beard, shave his head to a half-hawk in the back, and start a branded world tag-team debating tour with Ed, with live online ESPN-like coverage, automated validity checking coupled with instant replay, atheist and theist commentators, Intrade voting/betting, action figures, t-shirts, vaporizers, AT-Kalam RC drones, backstage debate passes, debate tour packages, the works.

Mr. Green said...

Anonymous: I do agree with the bit about there being obvious natural evils - tsunamis, famines, hurricanes, mass extinction, etc. - and of those evils casting doubt on whether we should take our marching orders from the natural order from which such things emanate.

But of course, that is the point: hurricanes are bad for you — not because someone decreed them so, or because you don't care for hurricanes, or any reason other than that the nature of a hurricane does not mix well with the nature of a human being. Hence the obvious natural law:

"Thou shalt not go running into hurricanes."

This much is fairly obvious; although things naturally get more complex than that, it is why ordinary people are at least at a primitive, perhaps unconscious level, natural lawyers. The catch is that given the pervasive modern error that man is merely an accidental conglomeration of atoms, there can be no such thing as "human nature", really. Which is why ordinary people are rather confused (perhaps at an unconscious level). But we all know the zeitgeist is philosophically bankrupt, so it's still not clear where Hart wants to go with all this.



(As for the fairness of picking on a short article: if some points require further defence and we need to read his books to get the full context, then Hart simply should have said so. Ed does this all the time, as well he should. And Hart is right about understanding Bach's cello suite, but he suffers his own false dichotomy when he suggests that that is not a rational act. Sure there's a difference between doing math and listening to music — although music is pretty darn mathematical — but there is also a difference between special and general revelation. That doesn't mean they aren't all connected. Again, I just didn't get a good sense of what distinctions Hart is trying to draw and why.)

Anonymous said...

"Thou shalt not go running into hurricanes.

It's the hurricanes (and tsunamis, diseases, etc.) that run into us. That's the previous anon's point.

dguller said...

Kjetil:

The three persons are not ‘parts’ of God. (In fact persons in general aren’t ‘part’ of anything.) Each of the three persons are fully and completely God. There aren’t anything in nature which is truly analogous to three consubstantial persons, so our images naturally fail.

Here’s the problem.

You have three persons, P1, P2 and P3. In order to distinguish between P1, P2 and P3, there must be distinctions between them. For example, P1 has something that P2 lacks, which allows us to distinguish P1 from P2. If P1, P2 and P3 are all “fully and completely God”, then they are pure actuality, and thus lack nothing, which means that it is impossible for P1 to have something that P2 lacks as a means of distinguishing them. In that case, P1 = P2 = P3. But then we cannot say that there are three persons at all, because there is no way to distinguish them, especially since they are identical.

(Perhaps the distinctions between P1, P2 and P3 do not exist in reality, but only exist in our minds, but then we cannot say that God is really a trinity at all, which I’m pretty sure is a heretical statement.)

Aquinas argues that P1, P2 and P3 stand in real relations to each other, which implies that P1, P2 and P3 must be distinct from one another. After all, for X to be in a relationship with Y, there must be a distinction between X and Y. Otherwise, there is no relationship at all, but only X or Y. And if the relationship between X and Y is a real relation, then X and Y must be really distinct, because what else does “real relation” mean? But a real distinction between P1, P2 and P3 is impossible if P1 = P2 = P3, which would have to be the case if P1, P2 and P3 were each “fully and completely God”, as argued above. Furthermore, if there was a real distinction between P1, P2 and P3, then that would contradict God’s divine simplicity, which is the absence of real distinction in the divine nature, i.e. the absence of real parts or components that could stand in a real relation with one another.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Reading the Hart-Feser exchange I found it striking that Ed speaks of the fact-value divide whereas Hart speaks of the is-ought divide. Suppose there is no fact-value divide, and certainly on theistic metaphysics there isn’t. Even then this does not automatically solve the is-ought problem. Here’s why: Suppose we are naturally oriented towards the good, which entails that we are naturally inclined to value the good. Even then it is not quite clear to me why a reasonable person might not freely *choose* to rebel against her own nature, and refuse to recognize any ethical obligation to strive for the good. Even though she recognizes that by nature she values the good, she may find she admires the Nietzschean superhuman more, and that she desires to transcend and reform her own nature.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

rank sophist wrote: “Hart is correct that natural law gives different results depending on one's priorities.”

Reading Hart’s latest piece ( www.firstthings.com/article/2013/05/nature-loves-to-hide ) I too thought that one of his strongest points was his observation that consistent natural law cases can be made for or against, say, capital punishment. If this is so then “natural law” is not a law in the first place.

@ monk68

My sense of what Hart is trying to say is that truth is ultimately not a matter of philosophical argument but a matter of actually looking. Perhaps he is right. Perhaps the best philosophy can do is tell us where we probably shouldn’t be looking.

rank sophist said...

This is, to be quite frank, laughably stupid. NNL, whatever its faults, is a theory of practical reason in light of human goods, considered as having natural force of law, and based on interpretation and development of ideas in Thomas Aquinas's texts on natural law. No person who is not being obviously perverse can read Grisez or Finnis and not regard them as developing a natural law theory, no matter what mistakes are attributed to them.

Your comments have been getting more and more aggressive as your arguments have weakened.

Natural law is, by definition, a study of the ends toward which human nature is directed. That's what makes it natural: it's a study of nature. It is fundamentally eudaimonistic, in that its goal is the actualization of teleological goals entailed by the human essence, with the understanding that actualizing these goals will always lead to flourishing. And this relies on the further presupposition that all teleology is an attempt to reach the Good as such, which drives all things to better themselves.

How does NNL fit into this? First, it claims that human goals are not entailed by human nature, but are rather "self-evident" to the practical intellect. (Perhaps your confusion about the end of practical reason arose from too much reading of the NNL people?) That is, we don't gain quidditative knowledge about human nature that will allow us to analyze its natural ends, which will in turn tell us how humans can flourish. Further, the practical reason sees multiple "self-evident" finite goods: finite goods are, just like God, understood as inherently desirable by the practical reason. In what sense is this natural law, then? It isn't a study of natural teleology; it isn't eudaimonistic; it doesn't keep the distinction between the practical reason's telos (reaching God) and its parsing of finite ends and means. It simply holds that there are certain "self-evident" ends that we should achieve for their own sake. How does this differ from Nietzschean or deontological ethics? In what way is it a natural law theory? Every defining feature of natural law has been excised from NNL.

(1) I've already pointed out that this is not "in separation from its premises" because you are conflating the premises of the theory itself with the explanation of how it fits into a larger metaphysical context.

Again, you're confused. As Aquinas says in ST IIa q94 a2, natural law is based on the natural striving of entities toward the good:

Now as "being" is the first thing that falls under the apprehension simply, so "good" is the first thing that falls under the apprehension of the practical reason, which is directed to action: since every agent acts for an end under the aspect of good. Consequently the first principle of practical reason is one founded on the notion of good, viz. that "good is that which all things seek after." Hence this is the first precept of law, that "good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided."

This is only reason that "do good and avoid evil" is relevant. Unless the practical reason shares this teleological end common to all beings, then it could theoretically choose evil. It would not be determined to seek its own perfection (God), and so there would be no limitation on what the practical reason could decide. It could choose adultery not for its minor good, but for its evil. There can be no natural law without an incontrovertible pre-direction toward goodness as such. As a result, either natural law's first premise is the striving of all things toward goodness, or natural law has no first premise.

rank sophist said...

(3) I've already pointed Scotus and NNL -- the fact that you gerrymander the concept so you can ignore the examples I give whenever you want does not suddenly somehow make it true that I've not given examples.

I've explained how new "natural law" is an equivocation. I could do the same for Scotus's "natural law", but that's a can of worms I absolutely do not want to open right now.

It does not follow from this argument or any other that you have given that establishing "all things have a directedness to good" is the only way to establish the existence of natural law, which is what your prior claims commit you to.

I don't know how you've come to this conclusion. Natural law, as Aquinas says, is based on the premise that all things act toward the good, which is to say toward God, in the manner dictated by nature. Merely arguing that the practical reason observes certain goods as desirable is not natural law. I think this is where you're confused. Aquinas saw the practical reason as being directed toward the good (God) by necessity, but toward the means of reaching the good only contingently. In standard usage, we refer to these finite means as "ends", but they are not the end of the practical reason as such. God is the end of the practical reason, and of all things, since all things strive for him. Motion is only possible because of this striving for improvement, as the Unmoved Mover argument explains. This, then, is the first premise of natural law: that all things strive for the good. Just as a fish acts to complete itself, we must act to complete ourselves--in accordance with the final causes proper to the species that we are.

But we can also get to it by considering that all practical reasoning has means-end structure.

The means-end structure is ultimately just a means structure. If we are not drawn to goodness by necessity, then the practical reason has no "law" written into it, and it can do no more than provide us with ethical naturalist equations. The following have equal moral content on this view:

(A) if I want to stay healthy (end), then a healthy diet would be an efficient way of achieving this (means);
(B) if I want to destroy the World Trade Center (end), then hijacking two 747s and flying them into it would be an efficient way of achieving this (means).

We can also get to it by inference to the best explanation from the authority of positive law and how it relates to common good.

This is utilitarianism, which is even worse than ethical naturalism.

We can also get to it on the basis of theological considerations.

This is divine command theory. Natural law is natural: it is the belief that fulfilling certain ends entailed by nature will lead to eudaimonia, and that the fulfillment of these ends is moral behavior. Any theory of natural law that relies on divine legislation will automatically separate natural ends from morality as such. On such a view, what nature dictates is only moral insofar as it conforms to God's laws. God's laws and nature's laws are left with, at best, a tenuous connection--which undermines natural law at the root.

Anonymous said...

Just change it to "Thou shalt avoid hurricanes."

Glenn said...

"Thou shalt not go running into hurricanes.

It's the hurricanes (and tsunamis, diseases, etc.) that run into us. That's the previous anon's point.


Yes, that was the previous anon's point, and you seem understand it well. Make an effort now to understand Mr. Green's response.

a) There is a difference between a hurricane and a human being (assuming, of course, it isn't Hurricane Carter we're talking about it).

b) And just as there is a difference between a hurricane and a human being, so too is there a difference between the nature of a hurricane and the nature of a human being.

c) What natural law has to do with, then, is the nature of human beings, and not with the nature of hurricanes (or the underlying natural forces which give rise to, or out of which arise, hurricanes, tsunamis, etc.).

d) Lastly, there is a "pervasive modern error that man is merely an accidental conglomeration of atoms", and should one succumbs to this, then one likley will fail to see both the difference and the significance of the difference between the nature of a human being and the nature of, e.g., a hurricane.

BenYachov said...

@dguller

I hope tho does not become the whole monophysite thingy all over again. Except this time I vow not to be a dick.

>Here’s the problem.

The Problem is you need to find a formal contradiction and there reality is none.
The Trinity remains a mystery of revelation otherwise there is no point to it.

>You have three persons, P1, P2 and P3. In order to distinguish between P1, P2 and P3, there must be distinctionsbetween them.

Three Hypostasis actually and yes they are distinct in relation to each other but not in nature.

> For example, P1 has something that P2 lacks, which allows us to distinguish P1 from P2.

Yes the Father is the Arc of the Trinity He eternally begets His Son/Word and the Spirit is the spiration between them. But these are not distinctions in the Divine Nature but in the relations between the Persons.

> If P1, P2 and P3 are all “fully and completely God”, then they are pure actuality, and thus lack nothing,

Your claim that they "Lack nothing" is ambiguous here. The Father obviously is not begotten & the Word obviously doesn't spirate & the Holy Spirit is not the Arc. But these distinctions are relations between themselves not the Divine Nature or anything created outside the Divine Nature which are an analogs to God.

dguller you are making the classic mistake(the one Bill V makes) of trying to see the Trinity as teaching there is One Hypostasis who is simultaneously Three Hypostasis. Or there is One Nature which is somehow Three Natures.
Or deny the distinction between Hypostasis vs Nature/Essence.

>which means that it is impossible for P1 to have something that P2 lacks as a means of distinguishing them.

You are blurring the line here between Hypostais/relations vs Nature./Divine Attributes.

All 3 Hypostasis share the exact same Divine Attributes but the relations are not Divine Attributes. The Father being the Arc is not a Divine Attribute, the Son being Begotten is not an Attribute etc…..you get the idea.

BenYachov said...

>In that case, P1 = P2 = P3. But then we cannot say that there are three persons at all, because there is no way to distinguish them, especially since they are identical.

Only because you are assuming there is no distinction between Hypostasis vs Nature. Also because you are equivocating between the Divine Attributes and the nature of the relations between the Hypostasis' of the Trinity. That is not allowed.

>(Perhaps the distinctions between P1, P2 and P3 do not exist in reality, but only exist in our minds, but then we cannot say that God is really a trinity at all, which I’m pretty sure is a heretical statement.)

You forgot the Third alternative they Really exist within the Divine Reality and it is simply beyond our comprehension. At best we have the analogy of the Father eternally generating the Son intellectively and the Spirit is the Love between them as taught by Aquinas & explained rather neatly in THEOLOGY FOR BEGINNERS & THEOLOGY AND SANITY both by Frank Sheed.

>Aquinas argues that P1, P2 and P3 stand in real relations to each other, which implies that P1, P2 and P3 must be distinct from one another.

Which they are by relation to each other but not by Nature or the Divine Attributes. These are real relations, real realities within the Godhead but not Divisions in Nature. Its part of the Mystery.

> Furthermore, if there was a real distinction between P1, P2 and P3, then that would contradict God’s divine simplicity,

Only if the distinction was in Nature by which we have the Divine Attributes. All three Persons share the same attributes. Again you are not exploring the necessary distinction between Hypostasis vs Divine Nature/Essence. The whole Catholic Tradition East & West assume. mandate and depend on it to explain the Trinity.

>which is the absence of real distinction in the divine nature, i.e. the absence of real parts or components that could stand in a real relation with one another.

duller my friend now would be a good time to bring in the Mystical Theology you have been trying to shoehorn into Natural Theology.

The Trinity is part of revealed Theology we cannot know it is true unless we accept Divine Revelation. We can only know there is no contradiction since there is a dictation between Hypostasis vs Nature and the Relations vs the Attributes. Contradictions only come into being by chucking Trinitarian Theology and equivocating between Modelism or Tritheism.

Cheers Bro!

Anonymous said...

So natural law stems solely from within the sphere of material human beings, and its conceptual soundness has nothing to do with the rest of the material realm?

I guess I've been failing to understand it then -- I always thought there was some necessary connection between "final causality permeates the entire cosmos and all natural processes that fulfill their ends are good," and the integrity of the entire natural law system.

For example, if, as many patristic thinkers like St. Maximus do, we say that original sin has infected the entire cosmos at some deep, fundamental level, would such a state - a diseased natural order - really leave the system of natural law morality wholly unaffected?

Tony said...

He writes in that book that "the Christian evangel means to embrace all creation, and so must seek to evoke love from the other, the aesthetic rapture that captivates (or liberates) by its splendor."

Any time, repeat, ANY TIME you find someone referring to "the other" where the referent is not an actual entity which could have been placed into the sentence instead of the word "other", RUN! Run away as fast as you can, because the rest of it is gibberish of the most virulent kind! Thank you, Rank, for clearing up for me that I don't need to read "The Beauty of the Infinite" at all, and that I may safely burn any copy I come across.

What we call “nature” is merely one mode of the disclosure of the “supernatural,” and natural reason merely one mode of revelation, and philosophy merely one (feeble) mode of reason’s ascent into the light of God.

Which is to say, in effect, that man doesn't have such a thing as a nature, and so he isn't actually knowable as such, and thus everything you want to be able to say you can only say by divine revelation. Hart simply defies the entirety not only of the natural law tradition, but the utter possibility of knowledge, of ideals, of universals, of principles, of everything that all the Aristotelians, Platonists, and Thomists (among others) argued for. Without even alluding to an argument for his position?

Elective Priorities...Consistent natural law cases can be made for or against slavery, for example, or for or against capital punishment, depending on which values one has privileged at a level too elementary for philosophy to adjudicate.

Ugh. Disgusting. One would think that a major philosopher, especially one who doesn't bow down to Kant, would not use a Kantian antinomy to make a philosophic point - especially not such a poor attempt at that. It was bad enough when Kant tried this tactic (and failed, of course), it is worse when Hart tries it centuries later on such goofy argument as this.

Nowhere, not even in the sciences, does there exist a “purely natural” realm of knowledge. To encounter the world is to encounter its being, which is gratuitously imparted to it from beyond the sphere of natural causes, known within the medium of an intentional consciousness, irreducible to immanent processes, that grasps finite reality only by being oriented toward a horizon of transcendental ends (or, better, “divine names”).

As I said, Hart is simply denying human capacity for knowledge at all, instead opting for mysterious mumbo-jumbo that, if he more or less right, would mean that no statement by any person can ever, EVER be declared simply "wrong". And certainly no statement should ever be declared "right" either. In fact, there would never be any reason to say anything. So maybe he should take his own medicine...

Tony said...

For example, if, as many patristic thinkers like St. Maximus do, we say that original sin has infected the entire cosmos at some deep, fundamental level, would such a state - a diseased natural order - really leave the system of natural law morality wholly unaffected?

It doesn't have to leave natural law morality "wholly unaffected" to leave it actually existing. Nobody claims that morality is unaffected by sin.

What you are tying to suggest is that this infection would leave natural moral law impossible. It would if natural things ceased to act for a good end (knowable as good independently of its being an end for this specific act), yes. Since natural things act for an end knowable independently as good (knowledge, for example), the problem is solved.

Which is another way Hart's argument is so poor as to amount almost to bad faith: After all, our modern narrative of nature is of an order shaped by immense ages of monstrous violence: mass extinctions, the cruel profligacy of an algorithmic logic that squanders ten thousand lives to fashion a single durable type, an evolutionary process...

This can only be an ad hominem attack (and a not very good one) on a scientist of the modern stripe who delights especially in stripping out of any account of nature the classical philosophy's elements of it. As a response to Feser, a claim of being one of Feser's errors, it is just mind-bogglingly inept. Feser goes to such immense pains to reject our "modern" narrative's erroneous metaphysical foundations that this argument is tantamount to telling Feser he is in error because moderns will mistake his (Feser's) arguments because they don't understand him.

Lee Faber said...

Natural law is just another of Scotus' many equivocations?

Also, many scholastics say that the persons of the Trinity are really distinct (with respect to each other, not with respect to the divine essence).

Tony said...

Even then it is not quite clear to me why a reasonable person might not freely *choose* to rebel against her own nature, and refuse to recognize any ethical obligation to strive for the good. Even though she recognizes that by nature she values the good, she may find she admires the Nietzschean superhuman more, and that she desires to transcend and reform her own nature.

Right, right. Why, maybe she can transcend her own nature so much as to desire evil as such, for its own sake.

Oh, wait, that isn't possible. That's metaphysically impossible. Why, that means that there are constraints on what she can desire. In fact, what she can desire is constrained by... her nature, as a creature: she can only desire things insofar as they are good, and thus insofar as they attain toward the Good, God. Which means that she is still within the framework of natural law.

Sure, she can choose to rebel against her nature and choose things that are evil, but that just means she has free will. Nobody ever said natural law theory puts man in the same niche as beasts, without free will. Of course man has free will, for man to be subject to law is for man to be obliged to obey, not forced to. The "obliged", or ought is a necessary (logical) consequence of the metaphysical relation of human nature and human telos. Or, if you prefer, the metaphysical unity between the good, the true, and the beautiful, all convertible with being.

rank sophist said...

Lee,

Apologies; my grammar was a bit loose. I meant to say that it is an equivocation to call both Aquinas's and Scotus's moral theories "natural law", because of certain major differences between the two systems. Most of these differences stem from Scotus's unorthodox ideas about the will. I'm aware of your reputation as a defender of Scotus against genealogies of modernism, so I assume that you'll disagree with me on that point. I just wanted to clarify what I was saying.

BenYachov said...

Rank my Brother you can call Scotus philosophically erroneous & plead Aquinas' philosophy over his but the Church has not judged Blessed Dun Scottus unorthodox in any of his teachings, Indeed he got the Immaculate Conception correct over and against the error of the great teacher Aquinas.

BenYachov said...

Mind you I favor Aquinas over Scotus but we must be Catholic first.

rank sophist said...

Ben,

Looks like I messed up again. I didn't mean "heretical" or "heterodox"--I was using unorthodox in the sense of "strange", "innovative", etc. I need to watch my language more closely, I guess.

Tony said...

Rank, I understood your "unorthodox" to mean innovative right off. Didn't for a moment think you were calling him heterodox.

Nolo said...

Wanting to burn copies of Beauty of the Infinite? Really? Should those who are at odds with Feser on a couple of key points rush out to burn The Last Superstition?

What a stupid statement to inject into this discussion, and what an infantile, intemperate fool you are.

But thank you for signaling to me that I only need to scroll past your posts from now on.

Glenn said...

Nolo Comprende,

I myself am in possession of several books I could safely burn. They're on my 'safe burn' list because, for me, nothing would be lost if they went up in smoke. Were I in a cabin in snowy mountains and ran out of firewood, they'd be first in line to help keep the stove doing its thing. Sans a scenario such as this, however, I wouldn't waste the matches it would take to set them ablaze.

Regarding the fact that there are books on my 'safe burn' list, my sole regret is that I had willingly spent money only to find out I had unwittingly frittered it away.

Some years back a book was published under the title of, I Never Metaphor I Didn't Like. If ever it is republished, perhaps it'll include, for people like you, a new section entitled, I Once Metaphor I Didn't Understand.

benYachov said...

Burn BEAUTY?

I think not? Like I said there is a difference between being philosophically inadequate(I like that term beter then erroneous) vs heterodox.

If we are arguing philosophy those of us who agree with Feser can get behind him. OTOH if we think Feser's defense is not adequate then we can go with Hart.

Even thomists don't agree with everything among themselves. That is why there are different school.

Even those who 99% agree with one school might 1% agree with another.

Like McInerny on analogy. On that topic I am sure he would disagree with G-L.

Cheers my brothers.

Anonymous said...

this is of interest to the folks here:

http://calvinistinternational.com/2013/04/17/helping-david-b-hart-find-his-nature/

rank sophist said...

Anon at 10:36 AM,

Whoever wrote that article clearly has never read any of Hart's work prior to this exchange. They got almost everything wrong about Hart's position.

Anonymous said...

The way some Thomists are reacting to Hart, you'd almost think he was a Gnu or something, and that his book is no better than The God Delusion.

Tony said...

Nolo,

I admit, here and now, that I was being very, very hasty in my comments about Hart's Beauty. I haven't read it. I have only seen the quotes from it posted here and there. There might be a world of wisdom in it.

Here's why I gave my comment: he uses the expression "the other". That's it, and by golly, that's plenty. In my experience, (limited but not diminutive), the ONLY people who use the expression by choice are fruitcakes, one way or another. They might possibly be really nice, really smart fruitcakes who are only fruitcakes in one small matter. Or, they might be fruitcakes in so many ways it is impossible to count them. But they are always nuts about at least one thing.

See, the problem with the concept of "the other" is that it is almost entirely contentless, it is almost entirely free of conception of any sort, and it cannot bear any of the weight put on it. Take Hart's use in this instance: the Christian evangel means to embrace all creation, and so must seek to evoke love from the other

It's just contentless drivel here. Formally, unless you constrain it, "the other" can be anything and everything from Satan to the shade of blue on the fungus in your frig to electrons, because all of those are not me, they are all other than me. And, I tell you, there is absolutely no Christian call to "evangel" Satan, or fungus, or shades of blue, or electrons, nor to evoke "love" from Satan, or fungus, or blue.

Now, I will admit that in some rare circumstances the user does actually narrow the usage to mean "the other X". But I gotta tell you, when he does, using the phrase "the other" instead of "the other X" is always less enlightening, more confusion-driven, even within the narrowed context. The shorn usage without X may be prettier, may sound poetic, may even cost less (if you are paying by the word), but if you are striving for meaning, well, the X adds meaning and "the other" fails to.

But in 99% of the places where I see it, the user is just plain dribbling at the mouth. More often than not (a lot more often) the failure to express content is actually germane to the what the writer (or speaker) is about, because they are trying to say something WRONG, and they can't make it sound good when they say it clearly so they say it obscurely, hoping the reader will fill in their own content that might make some sense.

Maybe Hart is in the 1%. Maybe "Beauty" is better than that one quote by orders of magnitude. I admit that I don't know that. But I know "the other." And it isn't pretty.

George R. said...

Tony writes:
"That's it, and by golly, that's plenty. In my experience, (limited but not diminutive), the ONLY people who use the expression by choice are fruitcakes, one way or another."

You do realize that that's one of Joseph Ratzinger's favorite terms.

Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est:

6. Charity goes beyond justice, because to love is to give, to offer what is “mine” to the other; but it never lacks justice, which prompts us to give the other what is “his”, what is due to him by reason of his being or his acting. I cannot “give” what is mine to the other, without first giving him what pertains to him in justice.

[…]

11. Only through an encounter with God are we able to see in the other something more than just another creature, to recognize the divine image in the other, thus truly coming to discover him or her and to mature in a love that “becomes concern and care for the other."


Start squirming, Tony.

Tony said...

Yeah, in those examples Ratzy is clearly using it as "the other person". Clearly limited to persons. Not fungus, not the sheen on an apple. And not Satan, either. As I said, it works OK when there is another noun that one could throw in to finish off, "the other X". It's when the phrase is used especially because there is no possible noun that could work, that you have problems.

Tony said...

But aside from that: I must say, the use and abuse of this phrase in "Communio" was one of the major reasons I could never stand to read very much of it. And to the extent The German Shepherd was part and parcel with that mistake, well, I think it was a mistake. There is nothing about the phrase as used in George's cites above that wouldn't have been just as cogent, or more so, by saying "the other person".

George R. said...

Correction: the quotes above were from Caritas in Veritate not Deus Caritas Est. He uses the term in the latter, too. But I'll spare everyone the quotes.

Tony said...

Hey, while you're at it, George, let's have your opinion of Ratzy's use of "the other". Or can I just take if for granted that you're "agin it" ?

George R. said...

My opinion of it is the same as yours.

Tony said...

Whoever wrote that article clearly has never read any of Hart's work prior to this exchange. They got almost everything wrong about Hart's position.

Rank, I admit I have never read any of Hart's books, but I have read this article in FT, his previous one, and it seems to me that this commentary by Peter Escalante on the articles is pretty decent. Is it possible that Hart isn't wholly consistent between what he says in his books and what he says here? (shades of Wendell Berry) Or something like that?

To use Hart's very own logic, if he's going to write an article like this that is so easy for a (modern) reader to misunderstand, then maybe he is writing it wrong.

A few notes on Hart’s reply. He describes himself as an “integralist,” and says that unlike Dr Feser, whose Thomism divides reality into nature and supernature, he holds to a unitary reality. Of course, most people don’t apprehend this reality; blame it on the Fall of Man or inadequate exposure to Bach or both, the fact is, they just don’t get the ineffable It. They just don’t. Those fine elite who do are in the communion of saints, but they can only point to It, like the Zen master’s finger and the moon.

Seems to me that Hart is right that God is "the ineffable". Good and true. He is utterly unlike us, transcendent. We on the other hand, are effable. Especially when we do not have the Divine Life ennobling our souls, we are terribly, horribly effable. Which, to my ears, makes it seem like there is a basic, true distinction between the supernatural and the natural.

Those who, like the saints, are in the midst of the Beatific Vision, can see the ineffable directly without veil, clearly. St. Paul says that we here still in this life still have a veil obscuring our vision. Well, that difference means something. In fact, what it means is that those who are spiritually mundane, who are dead to the Divine Life, who have repudiated the embrace of the inherently supernatural life of God, are stuck in natural-order goods only (and are disordered with respect to those, also). But that means that there is a difference between the supernatural, ineffable life of God and the natural life of the sin-bound rejector of God.

All Hart could be doing then, is either making a huge, horrid mistake, or simply pointing out that when we enjoy the life of grace we start to enjoy the supernatural life, and that there is no absolute, utterly definitive boundary between enjoying it here and enjoying it in heaven. If he is just trying to say the latter, fine, but when he tries to push beyond that - as it seems in these articles - he entering the territory of the huge, horrid mistake.

BenYachov said...

@Tony


Why do you refer to the Emeritus Holy Father as "Ratsy"?

What's with the disrespect? I don't like it.

Are you a Sede Heretic like George?

BenYachov said...

I note even George R. calls the Emeritus Pope "Benedict XVI" and he rejects the Papacy.

So again what gives Tony?

Eduardo said...

Anger, prejudice, lack of comprehension, the desire to eliminate part of society for the greater good, righteousness...

Come one Ben why make Rethorical questions...

BenYachov said...

@Eduardo

Ask me what I believe & I will tell you without shame or hesitation & I don't give a fly fig what you might think of me good or ill because of it.

Eduardo said...

Strong words, wish I had your drive to face other people like that.

But still, I still think your question is tactically unsound, I mean if the person in question is already heavily biased against something why would he answer questions... especially that the answer seems to ooze out of the guy XD.

*btw... a fly fig XD???*

rank sophist said...

Tony,

Rank, I admit I have never read any of Hart's books, but I have read this article in FT, his previous one, and it seems to me that this commentary by Peter Escalante on the articles is pretty decent. Is it possible that Hart isn't wholly consistent between what he says in his books and what he says here? (shades of Wendell Berry) Or something like that?

I've read three of Hart's books and most of his articles, and I've watched almost all of his talks on YouTube, so I think I can say with confidence that he isn't being inconsistent. He's by no means an easy thinker to grasp, though--and reading his articles without the context of his long-form works can easily lead to misunderstandings.

Seems to me that Hart is right that God is "the ineffable". Good and true. He is utterly unlike us, transcendent. We on the other hand, are effable. Especially when we do not have the Divine Life ennobling our souls, we are terribly, horribly effable. Which, to my ears, makes it seem like there is a basic, true distinction between the supernatural and the natural.

Hart doesn't reject the distinction between the natural and supernatural. In fact, he's spent no small amount of time defending that distinction. He simply rejects the Neo-Thomist formulation of the distinction, which has no basis in Christian tradition or in Aquinas's own works. For the last two, the supernatural is attached at the root of every natural explanation: no sharp border can be established. For example, all men are driven by a natural desire for God (ST IIa q1-5) and no man can know anything without God's help (ST IIa q109 a1). By contrast, Neo-Thomists of the type Hart is attacking generally deny that man has a natural desire for God, and they use obscurantist tactics to avoid talking about the presence of the supernatural in the natural. This is totally contrary to the spirit of Aquinas's texts, and of the texts that he was interpreting.

All Hart could be doing then, is either making a huge, horrid mistake, or simply pointing out that when we enjoy the life of grace we start to enjoy the supernatural life, and that there is no absolute, utterly definitive boundary between enjoying it here and enjoying it in heaven.

That isn't his point, although he most certainly believes that. His point is that there is no utterly definitive barrier between created truth and divine truth, created beauty and divine beauty and so forth, because, as Gregory of Nyssa puts it in On the Making of Man 2.1:

When, then, the Maker of all had prepared beforehand, as it were, a royal lodging for the future king (and this was the land, and islands, and sea, and the heaven arching like a roof over them), and when all kinds of wealth had been stored in this palace (and by wealth I mean the whole creation, all that is in plants and trees, and all that has sense, and breath, and life; and— if we are to account materials also as wealth— all that for their beauty are reckoned precious in the eyes of men, as gold and silver, and the substances of your jewels which men delight in— having concealed, I say, abundance of all these also in the bosom of the earth as in a royal treasure-house), he thus manifests man in the world, to be the beholder of some of the wonders therein, and the lord of others; that by his enjoyment he might have knowledge of the Giver, and by the beauty and majesty of the things he saw might trace out that power of the Maker which is beyond speech and language.

rank sophist said...

The natural is always simply a reflection of the divine, and even those without grace see that reflection. Later in that work, Gregory compares the rational soul to a "mirror" of God, and he calls the human body "a mirror of the mirror" (12.9). Hart's point is that, within the traditional Christian analogical ontology, there is no point at which a line may be drawn between the supernatural and the natural. As a result: "What we call 'nature' is merely one mode of the disclosure of the 'supernatural'". And, no, this is not pantheism, unless you want to call Aquinas and the vast majority of the Church Fathers pantheists.

E.H. Munro said...

Why do you refer to the Emeritus Holy Father as "Ratsy"? What's with the disrespect? I don't like it. Are you a Sede Heretic like George?

Yeah, I believe the preferred terminology is "Pope Ratso".

Tony said...

and no man can know anything without God's help (ST IIa q109 a1). By contrast, Neo-Thomists of the type Hart is attacking generally deny that man has a natural desire for God, and they use obscurantist tactics to avoid talking about the presence of the supernatural in the natural.

I find even this formulation does not do justice to what St. Thomas is saying. True, man can not know anything "without God's help". That's because all action, indeed all ACT, proceeds from the First Mover, who is God. But when a turtle moves onto a rock, it is doing a natural act, not a supernatural act, with God's initiating agency. Likewise, the intellect, as a created thing, is constructed in such a way as to require God to move it, as all created things require. But when God moves it under its natural mode of operating, it is moving and knowing naturally, that is, using a created form under which it knows a thing, such as the concept of "man". Or, a concept of God. In this latter, God is known according to a natural act, that is according to the natural mode of operating of the intellect, in which God "helps" (i.e. is the first mover as He is the first mover of all act) the intellect move naturally.

NONE OF THAT requires grace.

That is, all of that operation is according to the mode of the nature of the created thing.

Differently, then: The intellect cannot form an adequate concept of God by its natural operation, and so by grace lifting it above its natural mode, God Himself supernaturally enlightens the intellect without a created form. In this operation, then, not only is the object known divine, but the very operation itself is not according to the natural mode of operation of the intellect, using a created form to know the thing.

The operation is a supernatural act because it fundamentally exceeds the natural powers of the created thing - it exceeds its nature.

The only way you can say "What we call 'nature' is merely one mode of the disclosure of the 'supernatural'", without running roughshod over what St. Thomas says about these supernatural acts, which he takes pains to distinguish, is to deny that there are created natures, which is _definitely_ to deny all that St. Thomas taught.

Tony said...

Why do you refer to the Emeritus Holy Father as "Ratsy"?

What's with the disrespect? I don't like it.


Mainly because the initial reference George used was "Joseph Ratzinger", for which I used a nickname common to those who love him. Secondarily, because he is not now the Pope. When he was the Pope, I unfailingly referred to him as Pope Benedict, or the Holy Father. And I accorded him both the respect due to his office, and the respect due to his immense accomplishments of learning.

No disrespect was intended at all, as I showed in referring to him also as our "German Shepherd".

Having great respect for him, I continue to think that the expression "the other", and the sort of thinking by second-raters who used it all over the place, was a mistake pretty much through and through. Nothing in the teaching of protection of the Magisterium from outright error requires us to think that the Pope or cardinals will always use the most felicitous expressions of truth, and I think this is one of the least felicitous that some of these thinkers devised.

rank sophist said...

In this latter, God is known according to a natural act, that is according to the natural mode of operating of the intellect, in which God "helps" (i.e. is the first mover as He is the first mover of all act) the intellect move naturally.

Yes, I'm aware of this. So's Hart. You've just given a very good set of examples of why there cannot ever be anything purely "natural", since even the natural is supernatural.

That is, all of that operation is according to the mode of the nature of the created thing.

Which, again, is incomprehensible unless we think in theological terms. Without the love of the Unmoved Mover that draws all things to motion, there can't be movement in the "mode of the nature of the created thing". And there would be no created things unless God sustained them in being at every moment. Every natural explanation is ultimately a supernatural explanation.

Differently, then: The intellect cannot form an adequate concept of God by its natural operation, and so by grace lifting it above its natural mode, God Himself supernaturally enlightens the intellect without a created form.

No one is denying this. But, like Hart says, there's "a seamless continuity between the sight of a rose and the mystic’s vision of God". This is not to say that they are mere differences in degree. Hart is appealing to something very much like Gregory's "mirror" system--the analogical ontology. If you appreciate a created truth or beauty, you appreciate God, since you're looking at a reflection of him. This is not to say that rapture or the Beatific Vision are in any way achievable without grace, or, again, that they are different merely in degree from "the sight of a rose".

The operation is a supernatural act because it fundamentally exceeds the natural powers of the created thing - it exceeds its nature.

There is no such thing as a natural power, in the sense of something that operates on its own. Nothing operates on its own. Any Thomist must admit as much if they want to be consistent with Aquinas's own vision of the world.

Tony said...

Yes, I'm aware of this. So's Hart. You've just given a very good set of examples of why there cannot ever be anything purely "natural", since even the natural is supernatural.

No. You are confusing "act involving God" with "supernatural." It isn't so, at least not in St. Thomas's usage. God causes acts which are natural acts, and he causes acts which are supernatural acts, but the former are not supernatural just because God causes them. Just as: the intellect can know God through understanding natures, and operating in its natural mode, and in doing so although the intellect knows God it is not thus doing the science of (revealed) Divine doctrine, it is doing natural theology. And that's how St. Thomas understands the sciences.

There is no such thing as a natural power, in the sense of something that operates on its own. Nothing operates on its own. Any Thomist must admit as much if they want to be consistent with Aquinas's own vision of the world.

And there is such a thing as a natural power, in the sense of the power operating under its natural mode (i.e. with God).

If there is no such thing as a natural power operating simply under its natural mode, then there is no such thing as natures and Aquinas is utterly wrong in his entire philosophy and theology. If there is no bright line distinction between a power operating under its natural mode and a power operating supernaturally with grace, then there is no bright line distinction of what is proper and perfective of a nature, either, and natures thus become of no account. And Aquinas becomes irrelevant.

Even though a natural power, when operating under its natural mode, needs God, that does not mean (for Aquinas) that its natural mode is supernatural or "like" the supernatural mode. Saying so is to confuse essence and accident.

But, like Hart says, there's "a seamless continuity between the sight of a rose and the mystic’s vision of God".

Why would we posit that there is a seamless continuity when the latter inherently requires supernatural grace and the former does not. Seems to me that the requirement of grace is a discontinuity. In the former the intellect operating naturally (with God) is adequate to the object known, in the latter the intellect is not adequate (operating naturally) to the object. Grace overcomes the critical discontinuity.

rank sophist said...

No. You are confusing "act involving God" with "supernatural."

Do you see what you just said? You acknowledged Hart's point: "What we call 'nature' is merely one mode of the disclosure of the 'supernatural'". Every part of nature is an "act involving God", as you said--supernatural in the broad sense Hart is using. What Aquinas calls "supernatural" is that which is above God's regular interactions with us. Aquinas is not suggesting that there is anything "natural" in the sense of being independent of God's constant presence. The natural/supernatural distinction is a fluid line of God's increasing involvement.

And there is such a thing as a natural power, in the sense of the power operating under its natural mode (i.e. with God).

If there is no such thing as a natural power operating simply under its natural mode, then there is no such thing as natures and Aquinas is utterly wrong in his entire philosophy and theology.


A natural power operating under its natural mode has a certain type of relationship with God, which allows it to exist, move and other things. That, by Hart's definition, makes it supernatural. Aquinas's understanding of supernature, again, is that which is above the regular "supernatural" interaction of God with creation. But Aquinas would never suggest that we can draw a sharp line between the natural, secular, "objective" world and the divine, for the very reason that there is no natural, secular and "objective" world in that sense. There is the world as God usually interacts with it (which Aquinas calls nature) and the world as God sometimes interacts with it (which Aquinas calls supernature). Both of these are ultimately supernatural, in the sense that they involve transcendence, mystery and suchlike.

Why would we posit that there is a seamless continuity when the latter inherently requires supernatural grace and the former does not. Seems to me that the requirement of grace is a discontinuity.

Grace fulfills our natural desire for God. It completes the vision that was hinted at by the rose. (As Hart says, "the latter [mystical vision] is in fact implicit in the former [the rose], and saturates it".) God's presence is readily available to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear, so to speak, because all of creation is a reflection of God. Even though grace is required to get beyond the reflection to the real thing, the reflection is not wholly unlike the real thing, and so grace provides a "seamless" transition from less perfect to more perfect vision. That's all Hart means.

BenYachov said...

@Tony

>Mainly because the initial reference George used was "Joseph Ratzinger", for which I used a nickname common to those who love him....

That's all I needed to hear.

Go in peace brother Tony.

Tony said...

Every part of nature is an "act involving God", as you said--supernatural in the broad sense Hart is using.

A natural power operating under its natural mode has a certain type of relationship with God, which allows it to exist, move and other things. That, by Hart's definition, makes it supernatural.


You just skip over my point. If God creates things to have specific natures, then His enabling them to operate according to those natures and not any further constitutes natural actions, does not "make it supernatural". To keep saying that God's doing it makes it supernatural is just to ignore the very point.

It is also along the same lines of certain (typically Protestant) thinkers saying that when God moves a person to will the good, He know certainly and absolutely that the person will do the good, so God moves him necessarily. Whereas, what St. Thomas says is that God moves some things so that their mode of operation is contingent (and therefore not necessary), EVEN THOUGH God certainly knows the result. That the mode of operating is not turned into that of necessity merely because God's knowledge of it is absolute and certain.

Aquinas's understanding of supernature, again, is that which is above the regular "supernatural" interaction of God with creation.

Aquinas does not attempt to determine the "natural" as being distinguished principally by what is "regular" as opposed to "irregular". God "regularly" turns bread and wine into Jesus Christ's body and blood when a priest says certain words at Mass. That doesn't make it "natural." He also "regularly" gives grace to those who sincerely ask for it, but the grace given is a supernatural gift. The distinction rather has to do with the nature of the thing. Unless you want to get rid of natures, the nature of the thing determines natural operations. Acts that require something essentially higher than what is possible according to natural powers is what makes it supernatural.

But Aquinas would never suggest that we can draw a sharp line between the natural, secular, "objective" world and the divine, for the very reason that there is no natural, secular and "objective" world in that sense.

I agree that there is no such thing as a secular world. Still less is there an "objective" world that needs to be distinguished from some other world. But Aquinas does draw a very marked distinction between the created order and the divine: the created order consists of things that have existence, the divine consists of Him who IS existence itself. All those things that have existence have natures and thus are composed of essence and existence. Not so of God. And yes, that's a very big difference.

Tony said...

Even though grace is required to get beyond the reflection to the real thing, the reflection is not wholly unlike the real thing, and so grace provides a "seamless" transition from less perfect to more perfect vision. That's all Hart means.

You keep saying "seamless", but you haven't provided any ground for it being so. The mystical vision of the rose is implicit in it as a potentiality provided man be given grace - the very potentiality requires something more than his nature operating naturally. Without that added power, the mystical rose is NOT implicit, any more than it is implicit to the horse looking at the rose and about to eat it. The horse's aptitude for apprehending the rose is sensual, the man's is intellectual, but without grace the man's aptitude does not extend to the mystical perception. He has a passive potency to receive a potency for apprehending the mystical rose. I don't see any grounds for claiming this is "seamless", the raising of the first sort of potency by the second sort of potency JUST IS a seam. All I see, rather, is a seamless garment theory that is untenable if you accept St. Thomas's teaching on created natures. Or, using "supernatural" in the "broad" sense you suggest is to use supernatural in such a way as to defy there being any reason to use the word "super" in it at all. In fact, it would be much easier to go back to Parmenides, and simply say "that which is, exists," and there is nothing further to add. It isn't "natural" or "supernatural", it isn't "God" or "not-God" or "creature", it just IS. If it is, it IS, and that sums it up.

rank sophist said...

You just skip over my point. If God creates things to have specific natures, then His enabling them to operate according to those natures and not any further constitutes natural actions, does not "make it supernatural". To keep saying that God's doing it makes it supernatural is just to ignore the very point.

I agree with your definitions of the natural and supernatural. Hart does not use Thomistic lingo, though, and so you can't expect him to use "supernatural" in the same way Aquinas did. (Not that the "two-tier Thomists" use it in the same way Aquinas did, either, but that's another story.) When Hart talks about supernatural happenings, he includes man's desire for God, God's sustaining power and stuff like that. Aquinas understood this stuff mostly in the same way Hart does, since they pull from the same sources, but Aquinas uses different words to describe it.

Aquinas does not attempt to determine the "natural" as being distinguished principally by what is "regular" as opposed to "irregular". God "regularly" turns bread and wine into Jesus Christ's body and blood when a priest says certain words at Mass.

I didn't mean to say that the difference between the natural and supernatural was a matter of regularity. I just meant that the order of nature (which is nonetheless shot through with the divine presence) is most of what we see, while stuff of a supernatural order is less common. For Hart's purposes, both Aquinas's "nature" and "supernature" count as supernatural. Again, he isn't using Thomistic language, even though he has Aquinas's same beliefs on this point.

But Aquinas does draw a very marked distinction between the created order and the divine: the created order consists of things that have existence, the divine consists of Him who IS existence itself. All those things that have existence have natures and thus are composed of essence and existence. Not so of God. And yes, that's a very big difference.

I fully agree. (In fact, I would go further and say that God's existence is just an analogy, since he's, as Pseudo-Denys says, beyond all affirmation and negation.) The thing is that both Hart and Aquinas agree on this point, too. No one is disputing that God is so wholly different from creation that nothing created can do more than offer a vague analogy of his greatness. Hart is simply affirming that analogy is possible, which means that those who contemplate created truth, for example, are experiencing something like mystical vision--since created truth is like divine truth, in some sense. This is what he means when he says that there is a "seamless continuity" between the two.

The mystical vision of the rose is implicit in it as a potentiality provided man be given grace - the very potentiality requires something more than his nature operating naturally.

I think you've misunderstood Hart. Here's what he said:

"There is a seamless continuity between the sight of a rose and the mystic’s vision of God; the latter is in fact implicit in the former, and saturates it, and but for this supernatural surfeit nothing natural could come into thought."

His point is that A) a created rose's being and beauty are like God; B) it is God's presence alone that allows the rose its beauty, being and intelligibility; and C) the rose's being and beauty, since they are similar to God, offer an experience that is in some way similar to the Beatific Vision. He is not making a claim about grace.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Tony writes:

In fact, what she can desire is constrained by... her nature, as a creature: she can only desire things insofar as they are good, and thus insofar as they attain toward the Good, God.

That’s patently false, isn’t it? Surely creatures, indeed each one of us, often desire what’s not good.

dguller said...

Ben:

The Problem is you need to find a formal contradiction and there reality is none.
The Trinity remains a mystery of revelation otherwise there is no point to it.


The contradiction is that the only way for there to be a Trinity of persons is for there to be a distinction between them. However, distinction between them is impossible, because that would imply that one person had something the others lacked, which would contradict their status as pure actuality. So, what is necessary for the Trinity is also impossible.

Three Hypostasis actually and yes they are distinct in relation to each other but not in nature.

The problem with this is that for P1 and P2 to have a real relation between them, then that would imply that P1 really has something that P2 really lacks via that relation. That solves the problem of distinction between P1 and P2, but at a tremendous cost, because if God is pure actuality, then God cannot lack anything, because lacking something implies an unactualized potency, which is impossible for pure actuality. It would then follow that P1 and P2 could not both be God, because one would have something the other lacked, which means that one would have an unactualized potency, which is impossible for God. It would follow that P1 is God, but P2 is a creation of God.

Your claim that they "Lack nothing" is ambiguous here. The Father obviously is not begotten & the Word obviously doesn't spirate & the Holy Spirit is not the Arc. But these distinctions are relations between themselves not the Divine Nature or anything created outside the Divine Nature which are an analogs to God.

What I mean is that they lack an unactualized potency. It is impossible for the Father to be begotten, but it is necessary for the Word to be begotten. If the Father and the Word had the same nature, then they would have the same range of possibilities open to them, which differ in terms of how fully those possibilities are actualized in reality. However, if the Father and the Word are both God, then they must both fully actualize their natures, and thus if the Word has an activity that the Father lacks, then they must have different natures. Since this is impossible, they cannot be distinct, which means that they cannot exist in a Trinity. You have to give something up for this account to work.

All 3 Hypostasis share the exact same Divine Attributes but the relations are not Divine Attributes. The Father being the Arc is not a Divine Attribute, the Son being Begotten is not an Attribute etc…..you get the idea.

Then where do the differences in the relations come from if each divine person is identical to the others in all respects? Remember that each divine person, being fully God, is metaphysically simple and thus devoid of composition. There is nothing that P1 has that P2 lacks, but you want to say that P1 lacks a particular relation that P2 has, for example, and then deny that this counts as a divine attribute. Fine. But then what accounts for it? If P1 is identical to P2, then you can substitute P1 for P2 in any proposition and not change the truth content. So, if the Word is begotten, then the Father should be begotten, as well, because the Word is the Father in reality. What is it about the Father that prohibits his being begotten whereas the Word is necessarily begotten? It is not the divine nature and the divine attributes, because these are identical between the two. So, where does the different relations come from?

Tony said...

That’s patently false, isn’t it? Surely creatures, indeed each one of us, often desire what’s not good.

Whatever is desired, is desired under the aspect of good. It is never desired precisely in virtue of evil, but of good. The good can be a partial good, of course, which means that it is not wholly good, so it may be a moral evil while it is good in some other aspect. But the choice is under the good aspect.

lee faber said...

thanks for clarifying, Rank. Historically speaking, Scotus' position isn't heterodox, as he was attempting to find the mean between the extremes of Aquinas and the older voluntarist tradition found in ealier franciscans and secular masters such as Henry.

Tony said...

I agree with your definitions of the natural and supernatural. Hart does not use Thomistic lingo, though, and so you can't expect him to use "supernatural" in the same way Aquinas did.... Aquinas understood this stuff mostly in the same way Hart does, since they pull from the same sources, but Aquinas uses different words to describe it.

Hart is of course free to use his terminology differently. But if he is going to tackle Thomists, especially specific subsets of Thomists, he cannot use the same words they use and use them differently without explaining that he is using the words in a different sense, and either accept that their usage is different but legitimate, or argue that their usage is different and not as correct. That's just irresponsible dialogue.

And while there is nothing inherently inappropriate to using "supernatural" in a broader sense than Thomas did, there is something distinctly fishy here in consciously choosing to use it in a broader sense, and then claiming that the broader sense is proper and the narrow sense is trying to identify a distinction where none exists. That's not merely using the word differently, it is claiming a position about the underlying subject. You can't make such claims without an argument to back it up, and then retreat into "I was just using the words differently" when you are unprepared to substantiate the underlying claim.

Hart is simply affirming that analogy is possible, which means that those who contemplate created truth, for example, are experiencing something like mystical vision--since created truth is like divine truth, in some sense. This is what he means when he says that there is a "seamless continuity" between the two.

I agree: the two sorts of seeing the Truth are EXACTLY alike, except where they differ.

BenYachov said...

@dguller

So many things to correct and explain....

>The contradiction is that the only way for there to be a Trinity of persons is for there to be a distinction between them.

This is just an ad hoc claim on your part like when you dogmatically decreed the incarnation was not the incarnation unless the Divine Nature changed into a human one which was heresy not the Catholic doctrine. The only way for there to be a contradiction is if you claimed Three hypostasis in one hypostasis, 3 natures in one nature or that the nature was composite and simple at the same time. None of these are the Catholic teaching thus strawman ad hoc.

> However, distinction between them is impossible, because that would imply that one person had something the others lacked, which would contradict their status as pure actuality.

They have the same Divine Attributes which would include the attribute of being Pure Act but the distinctions in relations are not the same as the Divine Attributes. You have to equivocate big time the correct terminology to get here.. But polemics against modalism or TriTheism are non-starter objections. Just like your polemics against a monophysite Christology. You are equivocating between the operations & processions of the Hypostasis in the Trinity with the Nature and Attributes.

That is not allowed.

>So, what is necessary for the Trinity is also impossible.

Rather the Trinity is inconceivable since there are no formal contradictions.

>The problem with this is that for P1 and P2 to have a real relation between them, then that would imply that P1 really has something that P2 really lacks via that relation.

So what? As long as it has nothing to do with Essence or Nature then the Divine simplicity is maintained.

> That solves the problem of distinction between P1 and P2, but at a tremendous cost, because if God is pure actuality, then God cannot lack anything,

The "anything" refers to Nature in reference to the Divine Attributes not the relations or processions in the Trinity. Aquinas is very clear a Divine Hypostasis is not an attribute but a focal point of attribution(or was that Frank Sheed? My memory is fuzzy).

BenYachov said...

>What I mean is that they lack an unactualized potency.

The Father eternally begetting the Son is NOT an actualizing of potency nor is it a causing to be from nothing (i.e. an act of creation). It is an eternal relation in the Godhead between the Persons. Father Son and Holy Spirit are not 3 Attributes of God since that is akin to the Modalism heresy.

Thus your objections are non-starters. Just as the Incarnation isn't transmuting the Divine Nature into a human nature(as you erroneously thought) nor is the activity of the relations either acts of change nor acts of creation ex-nilo.

I think I understand your confusion. Aquinas thought it was possible for there to be a Past Eternal Universe which God would cause to exist for all time. You no doubt are equivocating between God the Trinity causing a Universe to exist from nothing from all eternity to all eternity with the Father eternally begetting the Son. They are superficially similar but in where it counts they are not alike at all.

If God the Trinity causes the Universe to exist He is Causing something with a separate nature whose existence is different from it's essence to come into being from nothing. Creation takes place outside the Godhead.

The processions and relations occur in the Godhead. When the Father begets the Son He is communicating the One Divine Nature to Him via an Act of the Divine Intellect if we believe Augustine and we do. It's a mysterious operation in the Godhead not an act of change or creation.

>You have to give something up for this account to work.

It's not a problem if I don't equivocate between the processions and operations of the Divine Persons vs the Attributes of the Divine Nature.

>It is impossible for the Father to be begotten,

Otherwise He wouldn't be the Father.

>but it is necessary for the Word to be begotten. If the Father and the Word had the same nature, then they would have the same range of possibilities open to them,

This is ambitious language designed to conflate the necessary distinctions between the operations of the Persons and their relations vs the Nature & Attributes. They cannot be equivocated.

>which differ in terms of how fully those possibilities are actualized in reality.

You are confusing how God creates and changes his creation with the operations in the Godhead between the Divine Persons. I so called that:-)

BenYachov said...

>However, if the Father and the Word are both God, then they must both fully actualize their natures,

No they are both on the level of Nature one in Being of Pure Act.

>and thus if the Word has an activity that the Father lacks, then they must have different natures.

No the Father eternally communicates the One Divine Nature to the Son the activity is one of a relation between the Persons not Attributes of the Divine Nature.

>Rather if they have an activity of nature one lacks.

To quote Yoda "That is why you fail". The processions and activities of the relations are not activities of the Divine Nature or the Attributes. They are between the Persons only.

>Since this is impossible, they cannot be distinct, which means that they cannot exist in a Trinity. You have to give something up for this account to work.

I think you are still thinking of the Trinity in material terms.

>>All 3 Hypostasis share the exact same Divine Attributes but the relations are not Divine Attributes. The Father being the Arc is not a Divine Attribute, the Son being Begotten is not an Attribute etc…..you get the idea.

>Then where do the differences in the relations come from if each divine person is identical to the others in all respects?

Your use of ambitious non scholastic language is a problem here. To say the Persons are "identical to the others in all respects" is like saying "God can do anything" and then having David Span or some other Gnu chucklehead you and I never tire of correcting come back with a genius quip like "Well then can God make 2+2=5? etc"….

Of course unlike Span you are open to correction and learning which is why you are well loved here.

This link might help. Scroll down to part three and click and read chapters 13 to chapter 21 and good luck my friend.

http://www.thesumma.info/reality/index.php

>So, if the Word is begotten, then the Father should be begotten, as well, because the Word is the Father in reality.

Your use of "really" is similarly ambiguous. Again we must use precise terms.

>What is it about the Father that prohibits his being begotten whereas the Word is necessarily begotten? It is not the divine nature and the divine attributes, because these are identical between the two. So, where does the different relations come from?

G-L gives a neat summery I am going to punk out and defer to him.

dguller said...

Ben:

They have the same Divine Attributes which would include the attribute of being Pure Act but the distinctions in relations are not the same as the Divine Attributes.

What is the difference between an attribute and a relation? Why is it that an attribute is expressive of a nature, but a relation is not expressive of a nature?

So what? As long as it has nothing to do with Essence or Nature then the Divine simplicity is maintained.

First, how can a relation have nothing to do with an entity’s nature? Wouldn’t the possibility of having relations in some kinds be part of an entity’s nature? For example, it is part of the nature of a male human being to potentially be a father, because a male human being has physical characteristics that are conducive to sexual reproduction. The possibility of that relation is rooted in the nature of the entity in question. A different nature would necessitate a different set of relations that an entity is capable of. Thus, there is no separation between an essence, attributes and relations, as you like, because they all flow from an entity’s nature, which if fully actualized means that all attributes and relations must be actualized, as well.

Second, what is a “real relation”? Is it different from a “fake relation”, a “virtual relation”, some other kind of relation? It seems that a real relation can only occur between real entities, which can only occur if there is a real distinction between those entities. Otherwise, what does “real” mean here? I mean, do you disagree that if X has a real relation with Y, then X and Y must be really distinct?

The "anything" refers to Nature in reference to the Divine Attributes not the relations or processions in the Trinity.

Where do the relations come from if not from the divine nature or the divine attributes? I mean, if P1 has the exact same nature and the exact same set of attributes as P2, then how can P1 have a different relation than P2? Where does the difference in relations come from when P1 and P2 are exactly alike in terms of their natures and attributes? Can you give any non-divine examples of where this is possible?

The Father eternally begetting the Son is NOT an actualizing of potency nor is it a causing to be from nothing (i.e. an act of creation). It is an eternal relation in the Godhead between the Persons.

Fair enough.

The processions and relations occur in the Godhead. When the Father begets the Son He is communicating the One Divine Nature to Him via an Act of the Divine Intellect if we believe Augustine and we do. It's a mysterious operation in the Godhead not an act of change or creation.

That makes no sense. So the Son participates in the divine nature through the Father? Would the Son have a divine nature if it wasn’t passed on from the Father to the Son? The account implies that the Son is somehow dependent upon the Father, and could not exist as the Son without the Father, and yet any such dependency is impossible for anything with the divine nature.

dguller said...

Your use of ambitious non scholastic language is a problem here. To say the Persons are "identical to the others in all respects" is like saying "God can do anything" and then having David Span or some other Gnu chucklehead you and I never tire of correcting come back with a genius quip like "Well then can God make 2+2=5? etc"….

I’m saying that if the persons are identical in terms of having the exact same divine nature and the exact same divine attributes, then where do the differences in relations come from? In creation, differences in relations come from differences in natures and/or differences in attributes. There is no example in creation that justifies the belief in different relations with the exact same nature and attributes of the related entities.

It just seems to me that if you want to say that P1 and P2 are really distinct from one another by virtue of their different real relations to one another, then P1 and P2 should violate divine simplicity, which is the utter absence of any real distinction within God. I mean, unless you want to say that a real relation between P1 and P2 does not necessitate a real distinction between P1 and P2, but that is absurd.

BenYachov said...

I'm a little out of my depth but I'll give it a go.

@dguller
>What is the difference between an attribute and a relation? Why is it that an attribute is expressive of a nature, but a relation is not expressive of a nature?

I am not certain how to answer this? I'll give it a go. In Trinitarian doctrine there is a difference between discussing a Divine Person vs talking about the Divine Nature. The Hypostasis is "who" acts the Nature is "by which it acts".

A relation is associated with the internal operation of the Godhead and is associated with the Divine Persons who act vs the Nature by which the Persons Acts and or happens to be.

Did you read chapters 13 tp 21 in G-L with the Link I provided because I am going back to re-read them for a more sophisticated explanation then the simplified on I read in Sheed back in the day?

>First, how can a relation have nothing to do with an entity’s nature? Wouldn’t the possibility of having relations in some kinds be part of an entity’s nature?

Rather the relations have to do with the Persons who instantiate the Nature. Your real question is then "How can the One Divine Nature have more then one Divine Person instantiated in it, identical to it in essence yet differ from another Divine Person by mere relation?"

Answer: Heck if I should know! That is the Mystery of the Trinity. Thomist have a strong Negative Theology in regards to the Trinity. Maybe if you talk to Lee Faber? I understand Scotus may differ on a few points but He did cover a lot of this ground with Bill Vallicella when he as bagging on the Trinity.

My approach here is less sophisticated since I am still mastering Natural Theology & I am reading Mystical Theology as part of my spiritual life. I still have to learn more about Revealed Theology at least on a more sophisticated level then I do now know.

>A different nature would necessitate a different set of relations that an entity is capable of.

If I remember my Frank Sheed that literally applies to created nature and of course we each have our own allotment of human nature. Not human nature itself. The Godhead has the One Divine Nature but the Father communicating it to the Son is not accidental like it is which created Father's siring Children but substantial. See Chapter 14 of the G-L link

Oh and G-L stands for Garrigou-Lagrange from his book REALITY. Again just follow the link I provided.

BenYachov said...

>Second, what is a “real relation”? Is it different from a “fake relation”, a “virtual relation”, some other kind of relation?

It means it is really objectively there in the inner life of the Godhead & not some type of human intellectual construct nor a mere subjective mode as taught in the modalism heresy.

>Can you give any non-divine examples of where this is possible?

No absolutely not at best you can give metaphors or analogies but no real life example, That goes against the mystery.

>Where do the relations come from if not from the divine nature or the divine attributes?….

I am not sure what you are asking? They are simply in the Godhead as the manifestation of the inner life of the Godhead & this is the formulation the Church guarded by the Holy Spirit has given us. It is a mystery and can only be know via divine revelation. One cannot know via natural knowledge God has this inner life.

>That makes no sense. So the Son participates in the divine nature through the Father? Would the Son have a divine nature if it wasn’t passed on from the Father to the Son?

What you are saying is kind of inconceivable. God is alway a Trinity and God cannot change & never ceases to be a Trinity anymore then God can cease to be. The Father never ceases to eternally communicate the Divine Nature to the Son nor Eternally Love the Son which is the Holy Spirit.

>The account implies that the Son is somehow dependent upon the Father, and could not exist as the Son without the Father, and yet any such dependency is impossible for anything with the divine nature.

Again from a standpoint of Theology God cannot cease to be God & if this truly is the inner life of God the the Almighty can never ever be anything that is not this. Granted there are other mysteries of God but there is no nor will there ever be a fourth person or more.

>I’m saying that if the persons are identical in terms of having the exact same divine nature and the exact same divine attributes, then where do the differences in relations come from?

I am not sure how to answer that? They simply are according to divine revelation. The First Person is a Father for doing the eternal begetting and the Second is the Son for being begotten and or the Word for being Intellectively generated and the Third Person is the Spiration of Love from the Father to the Son etc.

> In creation, differences in relations come from differences in natures and/or differences in attributes. There is no example in creation that justifies the belief in different relations with the exact same nature and attributes of the related entities.

Yes and that is very important otherwise we could then know God is a Trinity via Natural Knowledge and thus it wouldn't be a Divine Mystery & that would overthrow the whole Faith.

>It just seems to me that if you want to say that P1 and P2 are really distinct from one another by virtue of their different real relations to one another, then P1 and P2 should violate divine simplicity,

Only if you equivocate the Divine Attributes with the relations. Only if you conflate the Persons with the Nature. Maimonides tried to do this in the GUILD TO THE PERPLEXED but Aquinas had him in his sight & tailored both SUMMAS to answer him. Especially SUMMA CONTRA GENTILES BOOK 2 I believe

> which is the utter absence of any real distinction within God. I mean, unless you want to say that a real relation between P1 and P2 does not necessitate a real distinction between P1 and P2, but that is absurd.

From the perspective of Aquinas' Negative Trinitarian Theology there is a real relation & real distinction between the relations, the Persons/Hypostasis but not the Nature and that is a Mystery we cannot know about God via any natural knowledge by only by Divine Revelation.

This is the best I can answer. Go read G-L & take a peek at Lee Faber's blog.

Cheers friend.

BenYachov said...

@Dguller

My friend I wonder as I re-read my responses to your latest if I could have done better?

So I am going to post what Aquinas says on the Divine Relations.

This may take a few please don't be overwhelmed.

BenYachov said...

THE DIVINE RELATIONS (FOUR ARTICLES)

The divine relations are next to be considered, in four points of inquiry:

(1) Whether there are real relations in God?

(2) Whether those relations are the divine essence itself, or are extrinsic to it?

(3) Whether in God there can be several relations distinct from each other?

(4) The number of these relations.


http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/aquinas/summa/sum032.htm

BenYachov said...

It looked smaller on my IMAC screen.

So I posted the link.

BenYachov said...


THE TRINITY:
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15047a.htm

This ought to give a neat summery of the differences between the Greek and Latin views with some bias toward the Latins but it is still useful.

dguller said...

Ben:

You wrote that the relations between the divine persons are distinct from the divine essence and attributes. However, Aquinas writes that "it is clear that in God relation and essence do not differ from each other, but are one and the same". If the divine persons have the same essence, and if having the same essence means that they have the same relations, because the divine essence is identical to the divine relations, then each divine person must have the same relations, which means that the Trinity is impossible.

BenYachov said...

>You wrote that the relations between the divine persons are distinct from the divine essence and attributes. However, Aquinas writes that "it is clear that in God relation and essence do not differ from each other, but are one and the same".

Sorry but that just merely means the Father is God and the Son and Spirit are God they share the same Nature/Essence. Nowhere does Aquinas say the Relations are Divine Attributes that have no distinction.

If you go back and read the links you will see Aquinas clearly denies Modalism.


>If the divine persons have the same essence, and if having the same essence means that they have the same relations,

No the relations have the same essence/nature like I said in the sense The Father is God etc..the relations are still distinct and the relations are not divine attributes.

> because the divine essence is identical to the divine relations, then each divine person must have the same relations, which means that the Trinity is impossible.

Your going to have to refute specifically what Aquinas says in the link & not cherry pick one citation that doesn't at all say the relations are Divine Attributes.

Merely saying the relations have the same nature/essence is the reason they are One. That the Person are district by relation is the reason they are three & thus a Trinity.

Given these truths as Brian Davies says the Trinity is not Prima Facia a contradiction though it is a mystery.

BenYachov said...

I mean come dguller you are giving me objection one of Question 28.

Objection 1: It would seem that there are no real relations in God. For Boethius says (De Trin. iv), "All possible predicaments used as regards the Godhead refer to the substance; for nothing can be predicated relatively." But whatever really exists in God can be predicated of Him. Therefore no real relation exists in God."END QUOTE

BenYachov said...

Quote"But relation in its own proper meaning signifies only what refers to another. Such regard to another exists sometimes in the nature of things, as in those things which by their own very nature are ordered to each other, and have a mutual inclination; and such relations are necessarily real relations; as in a heavy body is found an inclination and order to the centre; and hence there exists in the heavy body a certain respect in regard to the centre and the same applies to other things. Sometimes, however, this regard to another, signified by relation, is to be found only in the apprehension of reason comparing one thing to another, and this is a logical relation only; as, for instance, when reason compares man to animal as the species to the genus. But when something proceeds from a principle of the same nature, then both the one proceeding and the source of procession, agree in the same order; and then they have real relations to each other. Therefore as the divine processions are in the identity of the same nature, as above explained (Q[27], AA[2],4), these relations, according to the divine processions, are necessarily real relations."END QUOTE

BenYachov said...

Reply to Objection 1: Relationship is not predicated of God according to its proper and formal meaning, that is to say, in so far as its proper meaning denotes comparison to that in which relation is inherent, but only as denoting regard to another. Nevertheless Boethius did not wish to exclude relation in God; but he wished to show that it was not to be predicated of Him as regards the mode of inherence in Himself in the strict meaning of relation; but rather by way of relation to another.

BenYachov said...

Also if you read the next question.

Whether relation in God is the same as His essence?

Quote" Now whatever has an accidental existence in creatures, when considered as transferred to God, has a substantial existence; for there is no accident in God; since all in Him is His essence. So, in so far as relation has an accidental existence in creatures, relation really existing in God has the existence of the divine essence in no way distinct therefrom. But in so far as relation implies respect to something else, no respect to the essence is signified, but rather to its opposite term.

Thus it is manifest that relation really existing in God is really the same as His essence and only differs in its mode of intelligibility; as in relation is meant that regard to its opposite which is not expressed in the name of essence. Thus it is clear that in God relation and essence do not differ from each other, but are one and the same."END QUOTE

I reply: Thus relations are the same as the divine essence but distinct from each other and as we can see from my earlier quote relations are not divine attributes and each of the Persons would share the same attributes such as for example being Pure Act.

So the Trinity is not impossible as long as we understand the Persons thought identical in essence are distinct from one another by relation.

BenYachov said...

@dguller
>Aquinas writes that "it is clear that in God relation and essence do not differ from each other, but are one and the same"

BTW I assume the above is from the Summa but where did you get it from since the precise wording doesn't seem to match the translation I linked too?

Cheers my friend.

dguller said...

Ben:

Sorry but that just merely means the Father is God and the Son and Spirit are God they share the same Nature/Essence. Nowhere does Aquinas say the Relations are Divine Attributes that have no distinction.

I agree that Aquinas says that the relations are the sources of the distinction between the persons (e.g. ST 1.40.2), but the question is how he can endorse this in a consistent fashion.

When he discusses relations in ST 1.28.1, he says relations are either real relations or logical relations. With regards to real relations, these occur “in those things which by their own very nature are ordered to each other, and have a mutual inclination”. In other words, if you have an entity X and an entity Y, and they are “ordered to each other, and have a mutual inclination” by virtue of their natures, then their relation is a real relation. Otherwise, it is a logical relation, which basically means that if the relation is not grounded in the natures of the related entities, then it must be a logical relation, and thus not a real relation at all.

Applying this account to the divine processions, he says that “the divine processions are in the identity of the same nature”. He further says that “when something proceeds from a principle of the same nature, then both the one proceeding and the source of procession, agree in the same order; and then they have real relations to each other”. It then is supposed to follow that “these relations, according to the divine processions, are necessarily real relations” (ST 1.28.1).

In other words, the only justification that Aquinas gives for saying that the relations between the divine persons are real relations is that they must be “in the identity of the same nature”, and that since the relations are derived from the natures of the entities in question, then they can be real relations. If you want to say that the relations are distinct from the divine essence, then you have undercut the only reason that Aquinas gives for saying that they are real relations.

And with regards to your quotes, you are right that Aquinas writes that “relation really existing in God has the existence of the divine essence in no way distinct therefrom. But in so far as relation implies respect to something else, no respect to the essence is signified, but rather to its opposite term.” You seem to imply that the latter part of the quote is Aquinas’ actual position, but it is not. In fact, he says in the next paragraph that “relation really existing in God is really the same as His essence and only differs in its mode of intelligibility … Thus it is clear that in God relation and essence do not differ from each other, but are one and the same.”

Furthermore, he says in objection 2 of that section that “essence differs from relation”, and he rejects this conclusion by saying that “in God there is no distinction, but both are one and the same”.

So, you are still stuck with a contradiction. In order for there to be a real distinction between the divine persons, there must be different divine relations. But the divine relations are identical to the divine essence, which is the same in all the divine persons. And if the divine relations are identical, then they cannot be distinct, and thus there cannot be a Trinity of divine persons.

BenYachov said...

@dguller
>if you want to say that the relations are distinct from the divine essence, then you have undercut the only reason that Aquinas gives for saying that they are real relations.

Forgive my imprecise terminology all I meant to convey is a relation is not the same as an attribute I would be the last person to say the relations aren't God.
Also I am making a traditional distinction between taking about the Divine Persons vs discussing the Divine Nature. I am referencing the whole of Catholic Tradition here not just Aquinas formulations.

>In other words, the only justification that Aquinas gives for saying that the relations between the divine persons are real relations is that they must be “in the identity of the same nature”, and that since the relations are derived from the natures of the entities in question, then they can be real relations.

Naturally since you must understand and accept Aquinas does not arrive at God being a Trinity from philosophical argument but what is revealed in Scripture and Tradition that is Divine Revelation. The Trinity is not a philosophical conclusion and it is ultimate wrongness to ever treat it as such.

>And with regards to your quotes, you are right that Aquinas writes that “relation really existing in God has the existence of the divine essence in no way distinct therefrom. But in so far as relation implies respect to something else, no respect to the essence is signified, but rather to its opposite term.”

Which confirms what I have been saying all along. The Persons don't differ in Nature/Substance/Essence but only in relation to one another.

BenYachov said...

> You seem to imply that the latter part of the quote is Aquinas’ actual position, but it is not.

I'm sorry but if it wasn't his view then he would have listed it in his Objections rather he writes this in his answers to refute his listed Objections. He nowhere unsays what he clearly says here.

>In fact, he says in the next paragraph that “relation really existing in God is really the same as His essence and only differs in its mode of intelligibility … Thus it is clear that in God relation and essence do not differ from each other, but are one and the same.”

I don't see how this unsays anything I have said nor what he has just said about the nature of relations? I have said in all my posts the Persons are one in Nature which is the same as saying "relation and essence do not differ". The Father is God and so is the Son etc… so I don't see any negation of what I have been say here nor do I see Aquinas anywhere identify the relations as Divine Attributes.
We must remember Aquinas lists the Divine Names and Attributes in his Natural Theology. If being Father, Son and Holy Spirit & or having relations in the Godhead where Attributes he would have listed them there & he would be defending modalism and wouldn't not be St Thomas but Thomas the neo-sabellian heretic.

>Furthermore, he says in objection 2 of that section that “essence differs from relation”, and he rejects this conclusion by saying that “in God there is no distinction, but both are one and the same”.

I take responsibility here for my own imprecise use of language but like I said when I talk about "distinction" between the Persons and Essence I am not saying the Persons are not God. But I am talking about the distinction in talking about the Persons of the Trinity vs the Divine Nature. We simply do not confuse the Persons or divide the nature. That is the rule for explaining th Trinity & I live my life by it.

>So, you are still stuck with a contradiction. In order for there to be a real distinction between the divine persons, there must be different divine relations.

Which is not a problem as long as we read how Aquinas defines relation and insists we not say they are not the same as the divine essence which is God.

>But the divine relations are identical to the divine essence, which is the same in all the divine persons. And if the divine relations are identical, then they cannot be distinct, and thus there cannot be a Trinity of divine persons.

That is not going to work dguller you are skipping over all of Aquinas' polemics against modalism/Sibellianism, You can no more attribute modalism to Aquinas then you can say the Incarnation is Monophysite & requires the Word "change" it's nature from Divine to human. The divine relations "are identical to the divine essence" in that they are all equally& fully God not that they are not distinct from each other as distinct Hypostasis"“relation really existing in God is really the same as His essence and only differs in its mode of intelligibility …" since the Persons are called subsistances in the Divine Substance. who fully possess the divine substance to just participate in it.

So as Brian Davis says there is no Prima Facia contradiction.

BenYachov said...

@dguller

Your skipped over this quote on what Aquinas says about "relations" it confirms what I said QUOTE"But when something proceeds from a principle of the same nature, then both the one proceeding and the source of procession, agree in the same order; and then they have real relations to each other

Therefore as the divine processions are in the identity of the same nature, as above explained (Q[27], AA[2],4),


these relations, according to the divine processions, are necessarily real relations."END QUOTE

Remember my friend your whole objection at thsi point is in effect objection 1.

Cheers again.

I am going to take my daughter for a walk.

I catch you later.

BenYachov said...

edit:since the Persons are called subsistances in the Divine Substance. who fully possess the divine substance not merely participate in it.

BenYachov said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again. I pretty much feel that dguller most likely knows more Thomism that I do at this point.

I say that without any hint of irony and with much affection. But......I do know something about dogmatic theology and what the proper doctrinal formations are for Church teaching. So that is a slight advantage I have here.

The thing with the Trinity is the Persons are distinct from each other in relation but the same in the divine essence.

I made a Person vs Nature distinction at the beginning of this discussion. It seems now that I read G-L more carefully in-between visits to the Chiropractor. Aquinas made a distinction between the Person/Hypostasis as Subsistances in God while the Divine Nature is the Substance of God.

I still recommend giving G-L a good read on the subject of the Trinity. I have the book but it's online.

http://www.thesumma.info/reality/index.php

THIRD PART
THE BLESSED TRINITY

13
Augustine and Thomas
14
Divine processions

. generation
. spiration
15
Divine relations
16
Divine persons
17
Notional acts
18
Equality and union
19
Trinity naturally unknowable
20
Proper names and appropriations
21
Indwelling of the Blessed Trinity

I hope dguller & anyone who reads this gives them a look.

dguller said...

Ben:

Forgive my imprecise terminology all I meant to convey is a relation is not the same as an attribute I would be the last person to say the relations aren't God.
Also I am making a traditional distinction between taking about the Divine Persons vs discussing the Divine Nature. I am referencing the whole of Catholic Tradition here not just Aquinas formulations.

First, you did not respond to my argument that if you are correct in your claim, then you have undercut Aquinas’ argument that justifies saying that the relations are real at all. His argument is that a real relation only occurs when it is derived from an entity’s nature, and thus if the divine relations are not derived from God’s nature, then they cannot be considered real relations at all.

Second, you still haven’t explained to me how different relations can occur between entities that have the same nature and attributes. Where do the differences between P1 and P2 come from if P1 and P2 have the same nature and attributes?

Naturally since you must understand and accept Aquinas does not arrive at God being a Trinity from philosophical argument but what is revealed in Scripture and Tradition that is Divine Revelation. The Trinity is not a philosophical conclusion and it is ultimate wrongness to ever treat it as such.

But Aquinas’ claim that the relations between the divine persons are real is one that is rooted in a philosophical argument, which is completely undermined if you are correct.

I'm sorry but if it wasn't his view then he would have listed it in his Objections rather he writes this in his answers to refute his listed Objections. He nowhere unsays what he clearly says here.

Let me quote Aquinas again: ““relation really existing in God is really the same as His essence and only differs in its mode of intelligibility … Thus it is clear that in God relation and essence do not differ from each other, but are one and the same.” I really don’t know how he could be any clearer in his claim that divine relations are identical to the divine essence.

I don't see how this unsays anything I have said nor what he has just said about the nature of relations? I have said in all my posts the Persons are one in Nature which is the same as saying "relation and essence do not differ". The Father is God and so is the Son etc… so I don't see any negation of what I have been say here nor do I see Aquinas anywhere identify the relations as Divine Attributes.

You are claiming that the divine nature is identical to the divine attributes (due to divine simplicity), but that the divine relations is different from the divine nature and attributes, and cannot be identical to them. However, Aquinas clearly says that the divine relations are identical to the divine essence, and thus also identical to the divine attributes, and only differ in their “mode of intelligibility”. Similarly, the divine intellect and the divine will are one and the same, but they differ in how they are conceived by us, i.e. their mode of intelligibility. Therefore, whatever differences we conceive of in God cannot be real due to divine simplicity, but must be byproducts of how we conceive of God, and thus cannot be “real” relations at all.

dguller said...

We must remember Aquinas lists the Divine Names and Attributes in his Natural Theology. If being Father, Son and Holy Spirit & or having relations in the Godhead where Attributes he would have listed them there & he would be defending modalism and wouldn't not be St Thomas but Thomas the neo-sabellian heretic.

I understand all that, but that is what his position logically implies, if it is to be consistent.

I take responsibility here for my own imprecise use of language but like I said when I talk about "distinction" between the Persons and Essence I am not saying the Persons are not God. But I am talking about the distinction in talking about the Persons of the Trinity vs the Divine Nature. We simply do not confuse the Persons or divide the nature. That is the rule for explaining th Trinity & I live my life by it.

The point is that Aquinas rejects the claim that “essence differs from relation”. I mean, he says, on several occasions, that in God, essence is identical to relation, which completely undermines the Trinity, as I think you’ll agree. The only way to preserve the Trinity’s logical coherence is if, as you say, the divine relations are distinct from the divine essence and divine attributes, but since this is false, according to Aquinas, the Trinity must be viewed as logically incoherent.

Which is not a problem as long as we read how Aquinas defines relation and insists we not say they are not the same as the divine essence which is God.

Except that Aquinas denies this.

The divine relations "are identical to the divine essence" in that they are all equally& fully God not that they are not distinct from each other as distinct Hypostasis"“relation really existing in God is really the same as His essence and only differs in its mode of intelligibility …" since the Persons are called subsistances in the Divine Substance. who fully possess the divine substance to just participate in it.

Sorry, but this won’t fly.

First, you still have no account for where the differences in relations come from if the divine persons have the same essence and actualized attributes.

Second, you contradict Aquinas’ clear statements on the matter that there is, in reality, no distinction between the divine relations and the divine essence, making them fully identical.

Third, a distinction between X and Y implies a “gap” or a “space” between X and Y, and once you have a gap or space of any kind, then you have parts of a whole. After all, there is a distinction between form and matter, essence and existence, act and potency, and so on, because there is a gap between them such that one can exist without the other, which is why they are considered real distinctions. In other words, without some kind of really occurring gap between X and Y, there can be no real distinction between X and Y. Now, there cannot possibly be such a gap within God due to his divine simplicity, and thus there can be no real distinction within God. But if there is no real distinction, then there cannot be real relations, either, because a real relation between X and Y implies a real distinction between X and Y. It is not just a conceptual distinction in our minds that does not occur in reality, but there is really a division between X and Y in reality. Clearly, this cannot be possible in God.

Your skipped over this quote on what Aquinas

I quoted it in the comment that you responded to.

BenYachov said...

@dguller

>First, you did not respond to my argument that if you are correct in your claim, then you have undercut Aquinas’ argument that justifies saying that the relations are real at all.

I think I did I think the problem is you are not understanding it.

>His argument is that a real relation only occurs when it is derived from an entity’s nature, and thus if the divine relations are not derived from God’s nature, then they cannot be considered real relations at all.

No he literally says"But when something proceeds from a PRINCIPLE of the same nature, then both the one proceeding and the source of procession, agree in the same order; and then they have real relations to each other

Therefore as the divine processions are in the identity of the same nature, as above explained (Q[27], AA[2],4),"END QUOTE I
think you might be misreading something here?

>Second, you still haven’t explained to me how different relations can occur between entities that have the same nature and attributes. Where do the differences between P1 and P2 come from if P1 and P2 have the same nature and attributes?

You can't absolutely explain it & I have already told you that. At best you can have a few imperfect analogies to explain it but you can't fully understand it otherwise it is not a mystery.

>But Aquinas’ claim that the relations between the divine persons are real is one that is rooted in a philosophical argument, which is completely undermined if you are correct.

This is a fallacy of equivocation. You can't positively show God is a Trinity with philosophy. You can't start with a philosophical argument like "whatever is moved is moved by another etc" and conclude "Therefore God is a Trinity". Of course you can used the language of philosophical theology to explain the Trinity and show there is no prima facia contradiction.

Otherwise Aquinas would not have written a whole book on the subject.

>Let me quote Aquinas again: ““relation really existing in God is really the same as His essence..."

I interject here: Yes the Persons and relations are by nature fully God as opposed to not-fully-God. So what?

>"....and only differs in its mode of intelligibility … Thus it is clear that in God relation and essence do not differ from each other, but are one and the same.” I really don’t know how he could be any clearer in his claim that divine relations are identical to the divine essence.

They are identical in Nature but not in relation to each other.

>You are claiming that the divine nature is identical to the divine attributes (due to divine simplicity), but that the divine relations is different from the divine nature and attributes, and cannot be identical to them.

No I am saying Divine Relations are not Divine Attibutes and you have yet to produce a quote or argument from Aquinas that says that they are. I am not saying the Divine Persons and Relations aren't by Nature Fully God.

>However, Aquinas clearly says that the divine relations are identical to the divine essence,

Merely means they are all fully God not that the Persons aren't distict by real relation to each other & not by nature.
To put it simply. They are both the identical same WHAT not the same WHO.

>and thus also identical to the divine attributes,

They are identical in Nature(WHAT) but not the same (WHO).

BenYachov said...

>and only differ in their “mode of intelligibility”. Similarly, the divine intellect and the divine will are one and the same, but they differ in how they are conceived by us, i.e. their mode of intelligibility. Therefore, whatever differences we conceive of in God cannot be real due to divine simplicity, but must be byproducts of how we conceive of God, and thus cannot be “real” relations at all.

To put this in uber simplistic terms.

The intellect and the divine will as taught to us by our natural knowledge as attributes are the same WHAT but neither are WHO's in the WHAT so their mode of intelligibility isn't a real distinction. The Persons & relations are different WHO's that are the same identical single WHAT but not the same WHOS to each other thus they are really distinct in they really are different WHO's & we can only know this by revelation not natural knowledge.

We via our intellect as informed by revelation know they are absolutely the same WHAT but not the same WHO.

>Therefore, whatever differences we conceive of in God cannot be real due to divine simplicity, but must be byproducts of how we conceive of God, and thus cannot be “real” relations at all.

Rather any differences in God's attributes we can conceive by our natural knowledge cannot be real but the differences in the Divine Persons and relations are not something we can conceive by our natural knowledge thus this rule doesn't apply.

>Therefore, whatever differences we conceive of in God cannot be real due to divine simplicity, but must be byproducts of how we conceive of God, and thus cannot be “real” relations at all

He is consistant you are equivocating I'm afraid thought I know it's not on purpose. You are equivocating between what we can know about God by our own natural intellect with what we can only know via revelation. We can naturally know God is PERSONAL as an attribute in that He has an Intellect and Will but calling him PERSONAL is not the same as saying he is a PERSON. We can only know God is a PERSON (in the analigous sense let's not start that again BTW;-)) or more preciesely three PERSONs via revelation that are identical in essence but distict threw divine relation.

>The point is that Aquinas rejects the claim that “essence differs from relation”.

Rather they are concieved as different Hypostasis that differ in relation to one another & thus can't be the same hypostasis.
The different relations are not divine attibutes since they cannot be known via natural reason like the attributes. Aquinas reject the claim "essence differs from relation" in that they aren't fully God not that they are the same hypostasis.

BenYachov said...

>I mean, he says, on several occasions, that in God, essence is identical to relation, which completely undermines the Trinity, as I think you’ll agree. The only way to preserve the Trinity’s logical coherence is if, as you say, the divine relations are distinct from the divine essence and divine attributes, but since this is false, according to Aquinas, the Trinity must be viewed as logically incoherent.

Rahter you have misread Aquinas and forced a meaning into his teaching he would reject and equivocated between what we can know by nature vs what we know by revelation.

The Pesons and relations are the same in essence & are fully God that is not denied but relations are still not divine attributes and there is no way they can be.

There is no logical reason why three WHO's can't be the same identical WHAT but differ in one WHO not being the other via relation.

>I quoted it in the comment that you responded to.

Yes your right. I think this is the problem.

>In other words, the only justification that Aquinas gives for saying that the relations between the divine persons are real relations is that they must be “in the identity of the same nature”,

Yes the Persons are in the Godhead they all have the same nature.

>and that since the relations are derived from the natures of the entities in question, then they can be real relations.

No they are derived of a PRINCIPLE of the same nature, etc maybe that is the problem here. He may mean something different here than what you think he means? Maybe?

>If you want to say that the relations are distinct from the divine essence, then you have undercut the only reason that Aquinas gives for saying that they are real relations.

Rather the distinction is between dicussing what we can know via natural knowledge vs divine revelation & not equivocating in discussing one sphere with another.

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