Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Fifty shades of nothing


Note: The following article is cross-posted over at First Things.

Nothing is all the rage of late.  Physicists Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss have devoted pop science bestsellers to trying to show how quantum mechanics explains how the universe could arise from nothing.  Their treatments were preceded by that of another physicist, Frank Close (whose book Nothing: A Very Short Introduction, should win a prize for Best Book Title). New Scientist magazine devoted a cover story to the subject not too long ago, and New Yorker contributor Jim Holt a further book.  At the more academic end of the discussion, the medieval philosophy scholar John F. Wippel has edited a fine collection of new essays on the theme of why anything, rather than nothing, exists at all.  And now John Leslie and Robert Lawrence Kuhn have published The Mystery of Existence: Why Is There Anything At All?, a very useful anthology of classic and contemporary readings.

Leslie is an emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Guelph, known for bringing his distinctive brand of Platonism to bear on questions in cosmology and the philosophy of religion.  Kuhn is the creator and host of the PBS series Closer to Truth, whose interviews and roundtable discussions on the big questions have featured an amazingly diverse range of prominent scientists, philosophers, and theologians. 

In an interesting article in the current issue of Skeptic magazine, Kuhn summarizes his own approach to the subject of nothing.  Titled “Levels of Nothing” (and essentially an excerpt from Kuhn’s own contribution to The Mystery of Existence), the article sets out what Kuhn calls a “taxonomy” or “hierarchy” of kinds of Nothing, from least to most absolute.  We are to imagine, first, space and time devoid of any visible objects but containing particles and energy; then space and time devoid of particles, but containing energy; then space and time devoid of that as well; and so forth until we arrive at the notion of there being absolutely nothing whatsoever, not even possibilities, mathematical truths, laws of nature, or abstract objects of any sort.  (Kuhn does not claim each or any level is in fact either physically or metaphysically possible -- he’s just exploring the conceptual territory.)

Physics isn’t everything

The wary reader might fear that what we have here is a rehash of Krauss’s unhappy speculations about “possible candidates for nothingness” in A Universe from Nothing (which I criticized in a review in First Things).   But that is not the case.  Krauss’s book gained notoriety even among some thinkers who share his atheism for its conceptual sloppiness, arrogance, and philosophically ill-informed flippancy.  Kuhn is neither conceptually sloppy, nor arrogant, nor flippant, nor philosophically ill-informed.  Nor does he share Krauss’s unreflective scientism.  Having for the sake of argument described a scenario in which not even space-time or mass-energy exist but the laws of quantum mechanics do -- he calls this “the physicists’ Nothing,” and it is essentially what Krauss and Hawking have in mind in their accounts -- Kuhn writes:

What physicists contemplate -- the sudden emergence or “tunneling” of universes from “Nothing” -- is fascinating and indeed may be cosmogenic, but the tunneling process or capacity is not Nothing.  The Nothing of physicists is thick with the complete set of the laws of physics, and so between the physicists’ Nothing and Real Nothing lies a vast, unbridgeable gulf.

Moreover, Kuhn does not regard the fundamental laws of physics, whatever they turn out to be, as a plausible terminus of explanation.  For to be that, they would have to be either logically necessary or an inexplicable brute fact, and neither supposition is credible.  Writes Kuhn:

I doubt I could ever get over the odd idea that something so intricate, so involved, so organized and so accessible as the laws of physics would be the ultimate brute fact.

I would add that it is crucial to emphasize that the point by no means rests on mere intuition.  For one thing, physicists themselves, including Krauss and Hawking, do not treat the laws of physics as if they were either logically necessary or a brute fact.  For they regard such laws as empirically testable, which would make no sense if they were logically necessary (i.e. the sort of thing the denial of which would entail a contradiction).  If they can in principle be falsified, then they are not necessary.  Physicists also regard each level of laws as something that might at least in principle be explicable in terms of deeper laws -- Krauss even entertains the possibility that for any level there might always be a deeper one -- and if each level might at least in principle be so explicable, then it isn’t a brute fact.

Furthermore, as Lloyd Gerson points out in his book on the Neoplatonic philosopher Plotinus, the suggestion that the world might be an inexplicable brute fact is simply a non-starter as long as a possible explanation is even on the table.  Hence it is quite silly for the atheist or skeptic to say “Well, maybe the fundamental laws of physics have no explanation.”  The Neoplatonist or any other sort of theist can retort: “What are you talking about?  I just gave you an explanation!”  That explanation then has to be evaluated, of course, but the point is that it is no good merely to suggest that there might be no explanation, as if this by itself does anything to rebut some explanation the skeptic doesn’t like.

More than zero

In any event, Kuhn does something Krauss tried but failed to do, which is to propose a philosophically interesting conception of a kind of “nothing” which is something less than what he calls “absolute” nothing or “Real Nothing.”  The idea is this.  As we go through the different possible “levels of nothing” -- and (contrary to the cute title I gave this article) Kuhn thinks there are nine of them -- at each stage deleting more aspects of reality, we reach a point where there are no concrete objects in existence, but where there are still abstract objects.  That is to say, there are no individual substances of either a physical or non-physical sort -- no material objects of any size, no disembodied minds, and so forth -- but there are still universals, numbers, propositions, Platonic forms and the like.  There would be no actual trees or triangles, but there would in some sense still be the property of being a tree and the property of being triangular; there would be no actual concrete objects that could be counted, but the propositions that two and two make four and there are no concrete objects would still be true.  In this scenario, since there would (in a sense) be no things, we would (in a sense) have “nothing,” but it would not be nothing in an absolute sense, since there would still be truths, properties, etc.

Kuhn goes one step further and imagines a scenario in which there are no abstract objects like numbers, universals, or the like, but there are still possibilities.  This would be the “level 8” kind of “nothing.”  Level 9 -- absolute nothing or Real Nothing -- would be reached when we delete even possibilities. 

Could there really have been “nothing” in either the level 8 or level 9 senses?  As Kuhn rightly notes, there are serious problems with the supposition that there could have been.  The domain of abstract objects is the domain of logically necessary truths, truths the denial of which entails a contradiction.  If these truths are necessary, then there could be no scenario in which they are not in some sense real, and thus no level 8 type scenario.  (I would note also that if the level 8 or level 9 scenarios held, then the proposition that the level 8 [or level 9] scenario holds would be true, in which case there would after all be at least one thing that was in some sense real, namely that very proposition.)

Citing his co-editor Leslie, Kuhn also points out that the abstract entities denied by scenarios 8 and 9 are arguably needed in order to explain the world of actually existing concrete things.  (E.g. how could anything actually exist unless it were in some sense a possibility?)  I would add that even Kuhn’s “no concrete objects, only abstract ones” scenario is explanatorily problematic.  For abstract objects are typically regarded as causally inert.  Hence if we need abstract objects in order to explain the realm of concrete things, we would also need at least one concrete thing in order to explain the others.

While Kuhn does not settle on a particular position, he does indicate that he thinks that either the existence of things is a brute fact without explanation, or there is something that is self-existent in the sense that its essence entails that its non-existence is inherently impossible.  The only remaining question in the latter case would be what else we could say about this self-existent reality (e.g. whether we ought to ascribe to it the standard divine attributes).

For the reason given by Gerson, though, I think that if Kuhn is willing to concede even this disjunction -- that either the universe is an inexplicable brute fact, or there is something self-existent -- then he has really implicitly conceded that there is something self-existent.  For the universe could be an inexplicable brute fact only if there were no possible explanation of it, and once it is conceded that it is at least possible for there to be something self-existent, then we have a possible explanation, viz. that that self-existent thing is the cause of the world.  As Gerson says, it is no good for the atheist to say “Maybe there is no explanation” when the theist has just given one. 

Nor will it do for the atheist to retreat into a fallback position according to which there is a self-existent reality, but it is just the basic laws of physics.  For again, by virtue of the facts that he regards them as empirically testable and susceptible of explanation in terms of yet deeper laws, the physicist implicitly acknowledges that the laws of physics do not exist in an absolutely necessary way.  They cannot in that case be self-existent in the requisite sense.  Nor could anything material be self-existent, given that material things themselves depend on the laws of physics.

The classical perspective

Once we allow that there is something self-existent and that it cannot be the laws of physics or anything that depends on the laws of physics, some brand of theism is really unavoidable.  The only remaining question is which brand.  Pantheism?  Panentheism?  The classical theism of Augustine, Anselm, Avicenna, Maimonides, and Aquinas?  The “theistic personalism” or “neo-theism” of contemporary philosophers of religion like Alvin Plantinga and Richard Swinburne?  This question takes us well beyond Kuhn’s article, though it is certainly relevant to the subject matter of his and Leslie’s anthology.  This brings me to a friendly criticism of the latter. 

As I have argued many times (see e.g. the pieces collected here) the “theistic personalism” that characterizes so much contemporary philosophy of religion (the label is one Brian Davies has attached to the group of thinkers in question) is seriously problematic both philosophically and theologically.  And one reason it is is that God as conceived of by theistic personalists simply cannot plausibly be regarded as an ultimate explanation of the world.  Theistic personalists often speak of God as instantiating properties and of being a member of the class of “persons,” and typically deny or at least seriously qualify the doctrine of divine simplicity.  Some theistic personalists would even attribute change to God.  Yet (so the classical theist would argue) whatever instantiates a property requires an explanation of why it does so; whatever is in any way composed of parts requires an explanation of its composition; whatever is a member of a genus has an essence, definitive of the kind of thing it is, which is distinct from its act of existence, so that the fact that it has existence conjoined to that essence requires an explanation; and whatever changes in any way requires a cause of change.  Hence God so construed would not be explanatorily ultimate -- he would either require an explanation of his own or simply be a “brute fact” himself.  Either way he would fail to satisfy the requirements that most classical theists regard as the chief philosophical reason for affirming God’s existence in the first place.  For a classical theist like Aquinas, God is in no way composed of parts, is not in any genus, and is utterly unchangeable.

Now Leslie and Kuhn’s The Mystery of Existence does include readings from some of the key writers of the classical tradition that are absent from too many contemporary anthologies on these matters.  You will find in it selections from Plato on the Good, Aristotle on the Unmoved Mover, Plotinus on the Good, and Aquinas on divine simplicity.  However, the selections are very short -- these four major writers together take up only slightly more than four of the book’s 288 pages -- and while Leslie’s (in my view somewhat eccentric) brand of Platonism naturally gets some space too, the bulk of the anthology is devoted both to theistic personalists like Swinburne and Plantinga, and to other writers approaching things from an essentially modern rather than classical point of view. 

For a classical theist like myself, this is a little like putting out an anthology on dogs that is top heavy with essays about tails.  The classical theistic tradition is the dominant approach to these matters in the history of Western thought.  It is rooted in the metaphysics of Neoplatonism and Aristotelianism, was honed to rigorous perfection by the Scholastics, and is (as I have said) represented by thinkers of the stature of Augustine, Anselm, Avicenna, Maimonides, Aquinas, and many others.  In contemporary philosophy it is represented by outstanding writers like Brian Davies, John Haldane, Brian Leftow, David Oderberg, Gyula Klima, Christopher Martin, Eleonore Stump, and many others -- some of whom have appeared on Kuhn’s Closer to Truth.  Useful as The Mystery of Existence is, it should have contained more from this camp.

Even the classical selections that do appear in the book are in my view not presented entirely fairly.  For instance, the editorial material accompanying the very brief reading from Aquinas on divine simplicity, while treating his view on the subject respectfully, gives it rather short shrift as ultimately merely “puzzling.”  But as I have argued at length in my books The Last Superstition and Aquinas, you cannot properly understand what a classical writer like Aquinas says about the existence and nature of God unless you understand the general background metaphysical theses in which his views are grounded -- theses that are very different from the metaphysical assumptions made by most modern and contemporary philosophers.  In the case at hand, we have to keep in mind that Scholastic writers like Aquinas have a very different understanding of the notions of substance, essence, properties, and predication than modern and contemporary philosophers do.  If you read what he says about divine simplicity through the lens of the usual modern conceptions, then it will indeed seem very “puzzling.”  Not so if you understand it in light of the Scholastic understanding of these notions.

This is not a small lapse.  While Scholastics and other classical thinkers disagreed over certain details concerning divine simplicity, something like Aquinas’s notion is absolutely central to the way Neoplatonists, Aristotelians, Scholastics, and classical theists more generally understand the nature of God and the nature of ultimate explanation.  To write it off in a line or two is simply not to do justice to what is historically the main approach to these issues in Western thought.

Asking the right questions

In his Skeptic article, too, Kuhn seems to me to take insufficient consideration of the richness of classical approaches to these issues.  For instance, regarding the problem of universals and other abstract objects, one might get the impression from his piece that unless one opts for nominalism (which denies the existence of these objects) one has to accept Platonic realism -- the view that universals and the like exist not only apart from the material world but also apart from any intellect whatsoever (which would make them independent of God).   But this neglects the Aristotelian realist view that universals and the like are real, but still exist only either in concrete objects themselves or in a mind which abstracts them.  This was developed by the Scholastics into the view that universals, possibilities, and the like pre-exist as ideas in the divine intellect, and thus are not independent of him (a suggestion that was in fact foreshadowed in Neoplatonism). 

There is also the not insignificant point that the very manner in which the question of ultimate explanation is asked these days is arguably modern rather than classical.  When we ask “Why is there something rather than nothing?” that rather makes it sound as if there could have been nothing and yet isn’t -- a suggestion which, as we have seen, is problematic.  That can give the false impression that theism is an attempt to answer a defective question.  But contrary to what many contributors to the contemporary discussion of these issues seem to assume, Aquinas and other classical writers do not typically begin their arguments for God’s existence by asking “Why is there something rather than nothing?” They don’t assume that there could have been nothing but isn’t; on the contrary, they would deny that there could have been nothing. 

What they do ask is why a world with some of the specific features our world has exists.  For example, they ask, in an Aristotelian vein, how it is that the world undergoes change, and argue that there is no way in principle to account for this unless there is something absolutely unchangeable; or, in a Neoplatonic vein, how it is that there is a world of composite things, and argue that there is no way in principle to account for this unless there is something absolutely simple or non-composite; or, in a Thomistic vein, how it is that there are things that exist but could fail to exist, and argue that there is no way in principle to account for this unless there is something that just is Subsistent Being Itself.

No doubt such notions will be mystifying to many readers with little knowledge of the classical tradition.  And yet that tradition (rather than ideas of the sort you’ll find in writers like Plantinga and Swinburne, Hawking and Krauss) has, as I say, been the dominant approach taken in the history of Western philosophy and theology.  If there is a deficiency here, I would argue that it is not in the tradition but in too many contemporary readers’ understanding of it.  From the classical theist’s point of view, the moderns not only don’t get to the right answers, they often do not even know the right questions, and also lack the right metaphysical tools to answer them even if they knew to ask them. 

All the same, Kuhn and his co-editor John Leslie are to be congratulated for putting forward a valuable and intellectually serious contribution to the recent debate.

This post has been long-winded enough, but readers looking for further commentary on the recent debate over nothing might find the following of interest:

“Mad Scientists” (my review in National Review of Hawking and Mlodinow’s The Grand Design)

“Why are (some) physicists so bad at philosophy?” (a response to some ideas put forward by physicists Ethan Siegel and Vlatko Vedral)

“What part of ‘nothing’ don’t you understand?” (on New Scientist magazine’s recent treatment of these issues)

“Reading Rosenberg, Part III” (on Alex Rosenberg’s discussion of the origin of the universe in The Atheist’s Guide to Reality)

“Greene on Nozick on nothing” (on Robert Nozick’s treatment of the “something from nothing” question in Philosophical Explanations, cited by physicist Brian Greene in his own book The Hidden Reality)

“Not Understanding Nothing” (my review of Krauss’s A Universe from Nothing in First Things)

“Steng operation” (on Victor Stenger’s attempt to defend Krauss against his critics)

“Forgetting nothing, learning nothing” (on some more recent remarks made by Krauss)

238 comments:

1 – 200 of 238   Newer›   Newest»
Thomas Keningley said...

Dr Feser, I'm sure you've addressed this before, but perhaps you could let me know where: how is the doctrine of divine simplicity, understood to mean that there is no metaphysical complexity in God, not straightforwardly antithetical to the doctrine of the Trinity?

Robert said...

Is absolute nothing logically possible?

Ismael said...

@Thomas

The 'persons' of the Trinity are NOT 'parts' of God. Indeed the doctrine of the Trinity states that there is one and only one God and that the three persons are NOT three gods, three parts or even three aspects of God.

In a straightforward way one can sat that the Logos/Son is 'God knowing himself' and that the Holy Spirit is 'God loving himself' (after knowing himself, that is why the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son).

This can ONLY be really understood once one understands the doctrine of Divine Simplicity, really.

------

@ Robert.

Absolute nothing is logically possible in itself,

Yet, I'd say, since nothing can come from Absolute Nothing, i.e. there would be no world, no ideas, no possibilities, then there cannot have been ONLY absolute nothing at some point.

Even "level 8 nothing" (as described in the blog post) where 'only possibilities' exist makes no sense, really, unless there is something that actuates those possibilities.


But the Theist of course does not say 'there was (only) absolute nothing and then came something'. Rather the Theists says, "there was (absolute) nothing except for God and God created the "world"".

If there was indeed ONLY absolute nothing, nothing would exist at all, since absolute nothing will never produce anything.
Of course there IS “absolute nothing” outside of what exists or can exist, one could say.

Robert said...

@Ismael

Thanks for the response.

Isn't saying that absolute nothing is logically possible in itself the same as saying that there is nothing that is logically necessary?

Anonymous said...

What is potency? It can't be the same thing as being or non-being, or else we run in to Parmenides' problem. But still, how do we know potency isn't some abstraction rather than a real "category" of being that is between being and non-being?

BenYachov said...

>how is the doctrine of divine simplicity, understood to mean that there is no metaphysical complexity in God,

You mean how does the doctrine of the Trinity cause God's existence too no longer be identical to His essence?

It simply doesn't.

I mean how would three subsisting relations in the divine essence divide God's existence from his Essence?

I can't see it.

rank sophist said...

I was on First Things the other day, and I read this article for 5-8 minutes before I scrolled up to the name and realized it was Prof. Feser's. It has the signature Feser italics and terminology, but it just never struck me.

While I was reading it, there was one point that I thought was debatable. I'll quote in full:

I would note also that if the level 8 or level 9 scenarios held, then the proposition that the level 8 [or level 9] scenario holds would be true, in which case there would after all be at least one thing that was in some sense real, namely that very proposition.

This is only the case if we assume that the proposition "level 8 or 9 nothingness holds" is not a being of reason. And I think there are good reasons to say that it is. First, the fact that we think of something propositionally does not automatically entail that the proposition is ontological. We may not be able to comprehend level 8 or 9 nothingness without affirming some proposition about it, but it's a non sequitur to jump from this fact to the conclusion that level 8 or 9 nothingness would have propositional content ontologically. Second, including "nothing" in a proposition makes it a negation rather than an affirmation. If a state of non-being could be affirmed propositionally in real life, then you would have a contradiction: something's non-being would be true, and truth is being, so its non-being would have being.

I personally think that level 8 nothingness is incoherent unless we affirm that God existed at the same time that all else was merely possible, and that level 9 nothingness is incoherent in any situation. I just don't think that the argument from propositional content can prove either one.

Anon at 7:44 AM,

What is potency? It can't be the same thing as being or non-being, or else we run in to Parmenides' problem. But still, how do we know potency isn't some abstraction rather than a real "category" of being that is between being and non-being?

To understand what potency is you first have to understand the concept of substance (i.e. act/potency hybrid). For Aquinas and Aristotle, a substance is the only thing that exists absolutely, and whatever else has being inheres in or relies on a substance. Now potency inheres in a substance, and so it has being. Aquinas and Aristotle are therefore able to say that change is not a transition from non-being to being, but a transition from potential being to actual being. That is, it is a transition between different kinds of being rather than between absolute being and absolute non-being. This solution does not actually answer Parmenides' paradox on its own terms, but rather introduces new, ontic terminology to solve the problem of change on a lower level.

As a side note, one should be careful not to confuse possibility with potency. Potency is a type of being that can become another type of being; possibility is non-being that can become being. Unlike Parmenides and (to my knowledge) Aristotle, Aquinas held that there could be pure possibility that became existent. This is the Christian doctrine of creation from nothing, which is basically impossible for us to comprehend.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reply rank, and the distinction between potency and possibility. Though now I wonder, if potency has being (in some sense), why do people say that it can't cause anything, unlike act?

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the thread jack - I don't want an extended discussion here but I am hoping for a little help with a recent neuroscientific claim and its implications for the hylemorphic view of the soul.

http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/neuroscientist-says-human-head-transplants-are-now-possible/

VJ Torley addresses the implications of this for several versions of dualism, including a Thomistic account of the human soul. I was unsatisfied with Torley's hylemorphic response to the problem. It seems to be far more complicated than he allows (especially when we understand the human soul's specification as 'rational animality'). Could any Thomists address this issue for me? Thanks in anticipation.

rank sophist said...

Anon at 11:14 AM,

They should be understood as speaking in shorthand, since potency can't be an efficient cause. For Aristotle, all matter is potency, and so all material causes are potential. As a result, in any change, potency collaborates with act as a material cause. So potency is certainly not incapable of causing anything, even though it is not capable of causing anything in the sense that those people mean. By contrast, possibility does not collaborate with anything, since it has no being.

Thomas Keningley said...

@Ismael

What formulation of the Trinity denies the persons as "parts" of God?

How is "God knowing himself" a person? Doesn't that reduce the Son to the attribute of self-knowledge? Also, how is this relation of the Father to himself distinct from himself? How is that not unipersonalism?

To put this another way- for the Son to be distinct from the Father, it seems he must have some property that the Father does not have. If this is so, how can we avoid metaphysical composition in God?

@BenYachov

Agreed, but there seems to be a stronger doctrine of simplicity denying metaphysical complexity in God. My question is how this can possibly be squared with the doctrine of the Trinity.

Apologies if I'm misunderstanding something here, just trying to get some clarification on this issue.

Ilari said...

Another recent volume addressing this question is The Puzzle of Existence, edited by Tyron Goldschmidt (Routledge, 2013). The main theistic contribution is by Timothy O´Connor. Highly recommended.

Anonymous said...

This is anonymous @ 11.38.

RE my previous post: 'Sorry for the thread jack - I don't want an extended discussion here but I am hoping for a little help with a recent neuroscientific claim and its implications for the hylemorphic view of the soul...'

Here is a link to a related yet unresolved discussion in a previous thread on this blog. I would really appreciate some comment on this especially as the possibility of such thought experiemnts as 'brain/head transplants' seems now to be a more pressing issue for hylemorphic dualism. Perhaps we could continue the discussion there so as to avoid hijacking this thread anymore.

Again, any comment would be greatly appreciated.

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/how-to-animate-corpse.html

BenYachov said...

>Agreed, but there seems to be a stronger doctrine of simplicity denying metaphysical complexity in God. My question is how this can possibly be squared with the doctrine of the Trinity.


Multiple divine relations/persons or relative persons are not metaphysical "parts" or "aspects".

They subsist in the divine essence thus they are identical to the divine essence(that is they are equally God) & predicated in the divine essence they are not in anyway distinct from one another.

OTOH predicated as divine relations they are really distinct from one toward the other as relations.

The nature of this real distinction is a strict mystery but negatively we must say the real distinctions between divine persons is not any type of real distinction in essence.

Any type of real distinction in the divine essence would divide it & abolish the divine simplicity.

BenYachov said...

>How is "God knowing himself" a person? Doesn't that reduce the Son to the attribute of self-knowledge? Also, how is this relation of the Father to himself distinct from himself? How is that not unipersonalism?

Attributes are not really distinct in essence but they are not really distinct toward each other either.

The divine goodness is not really distinct from the divine justice but only logically distinct.

The Father is really distinct from the Son as a divine person but not in essence as God.

Naturally in Strict Mystery that real distinction between them is not any type of real distinction in essence & any attempt to try to think or imagine what it must be positively is automatically wrong.

But many of the church fathers favored an analogy of the Son being the Self-Thought of the Father.

See the writings of Frank Sheed for details.

Scott said...

@Anon:

"[T]he possibility of such thought experiemnts as 'brain/head transplants' seems now to be a more pressing issue for hylemorphic dualism."

Why does the issue seem more pressing for hylemorphic dualism just because head transplants might become possible? They're no more problematic than liver transplants to a metaphysics that doesn't think selfhood or the soul is somehow located in the brain.

My suggestion is that you read the thread to which you've linked and pay special attention to TheOFloinn's posts.

Step2 said...

Dialogue from my favorite Mr. Deity episode (The Really Hard Time):

El: Why do I need to create time and nothingness?
Larry: If you want to be the God of Aquinas you need to create absolutely everything.
El: From nothing.
Larry: Right.
El: Boy, that's something.
Timmy: We don't even know if this nothingness is possible, it certainly isn't probable.
El: Well why, because?
Timmy: Because there are an infinite number of ways in which something can exist, but there's really only one way in which nothing can exist. Plus, nobody has ever actually seen or experienced nothingness. Even when it was just you, that was still something.
El: So we need to create nothing so I can create everything?
Larry: And we don't have much time.
El: We can't have any time if I understood you correctly.
Larry: Yeah, that's correct.
El: Okay, so how about this - what if we just ran out of time? What if we just ran out of everything?
Timmy: Then we'd have...nothing!

BenYachov said...

>El: Why do I need to create time and nothingness?
Larry: If you want to be the God of Aquinas you need to create absolutely everything.

God can't create nothing since there is nothing to create.

Aquinas knows this.

Nothing is not part of absolutely everything. Nothing is a privation of something.

Nothing only "exists" negatively.

Like the million dollars I don't have exists as nothing.

Nice try.

BenYachov said...

God can do anything but "creating nothing" doesn't really describe anything. It describes nothing. Which adds new meaning to the phrase "There is Nothing God cannot do!

Anonymous said...

Scott,

'Why does the issue seem more pressing for hylemorphic dualism just because head transplants might become possible? They're no more problematic than liver transplants to a metaphysics that doesn't think selfhood or the soul is somehow located in the brain.

My suggestion is that you read the thread to which you've linked and pay special attention to TheOFloinn's posts.'

Thanks for your response – I have read the thread and am still confused although I think TheOFloinn’s point helps with the example of a decapitated yet animated/informed body that receives an artificial head/brain (or one that is not informed/animated (albeit incompletely) by a soul). Perhaps I’m still a slave to Cartesianism but if A’s body is destroyed except his head which is somehow animated, the animated head of A is still informed/configured by A’s soul, and if it is placed on the animated body of B (whose head has been destroyed yet whose body is still animated by his soul), then I can’t help seeing an issue about which soul configures the new unity. Sorry if I am just missing the really obvious here.

Again, I’m probably hopelessly confused so no doubt the problem is with my reasoning. Could you just clarify that this is the case?!

Scott said...

@Anon:

"[I]f A’s body is destroyed except his head which is somehow animated, the animated head of A is still informed/configured by A’s soul .  . "

Why would that be any more true of his head than of his liver? As TheOFloinn says, if the mind runs the neurons, then getting a new brain just means the mind has to learn to drive new neurons.

And even if that's wrong, it doesn't matter. Hylemorphism is a metaphysical outlook and doesn't claim to be able to answer questions of this nature. All it says is that whatever happens will have an explanation in hylemorphic terms.

"I can’t help seeing an issue about which soul configures the new unity."

I'm not denying that there's an issue. I'm simply pointing out that there's no more of an issue than there is for a liver transplant. Hylemorphic dualism doesn't think "you" are located in your head any more than in your liver.

Step2 said...

God can do anything but "creating nothing" doesn't really describe anything. It describes nothing.

True, but describing nothing is something otherwise how could there be fifty shades of it? In the skit they took the same tactic though, where El allows nothingness to happen (through entropy?), rather than actively creating it.

Anonymous said...

"[T]here is a world of composite things, and argue that there is no way in principle to account for this unless there is something absolutely simple or non-composite. . ." This argument sounds interesting, and does not seem to be the same as any of Aquinas' 5 Ways. Does anyone (inc. Dr. Feser) know of any references in the literature that develop it?

Scott said...

"This argument sounds interesting, and does not seem to be the same as any of Aquinas' 5 Ways. Does anyone (inc. Dr. Feser) know of any references in the literature that develop it?"

It's a staple of neo-Platonism and it dates back (at least) to Plotinus. Ed has previously posted on the subject here, here, and here.

BenYachov said...

>True, but describing nothing is something otherwise how could there be fifty shades of it?

It is something to describe nothing but the something is in the description of nothing not in nothing itself with is still a privation of something.

> In the skit they took the same tactic though, where El allows nothingness to happen (through entropy?), rather than actively creating it.

Further proof this "El" isn't the God of Aquinas like YHWH but some Paley shit stained "deity".

(Don't get me started on Paley & Theistic Personalism)

God couldn't "create entropy" as if things by nature are static till God intervenes supernaturally & decays them. God cause things to exist moment to moment & if he didn't they would cease to exist. God also causes things to exist with essences. God created material things with the essence to decay in a closed system.

Could entropy reduce the universe to nothing? I don't think so. Can you get to zero by continuously dividing One? Because matter has an essence toward decay in a closed system it seems to me matter will exist in some form & change & break down forever.

OTOH I could be wrong since we don't know going down what if anything is bellow subatomic particles or if there is a finis?

But I do know God just has to stop imparting being to creation & it would fall to nothing instantly.

Anonymous said...

Hello Scott,

'@Anon:

"[I]f A’s body is destroyed except his head which is somehow animated, the animated head of A is still informed/configured by A’s soul . . "

Why would that be any more true of his head than of his liver? As TheOFloinn says, if the mind runs the neurons, then getting a new brain just means the mind has to learn to drive new neurons.'

Yes - I agree and you are right to point out that the problem of 'soul identity' is as much a problem for the liver transplant as it is for the head transplant. I think I was here clearly incorrect to stress the 'pressing' nature of the problem given the purported liklihood of future human head transplants.

On the surface, it still seems that the situation with A and B is highly problematic for a Thomistic account of the soul. I want to try to resolve this as I find the account to be otherwise persuasive but perhaps this is as far as we will be able to go here?

TheBloggingMan said...

I find it curious that people imagine nothing as empty space. If I generalise nothing as a vacuum, then that means that the vacuum between planets is nothing, meaning trips to Pluto would take a few minutes since most of the distance is nothing, or rather, it isn't anything. But wait! I admit I simplified the matter a bit, but just to prove that empty space =/= nothing. That should be apparent but isn't. And nothing isn't simply absence, and I don't think you can 'imagine' it by slowly erasing things. I'm with Heidegger on this one: Being would remain if all the beings were erased.

Anonymous said...

'On the surface, it still seems that the situation with A and B is highly problematic for a Thomistic account of the soul.'

That is whether or not we are talking about a liver or a head transplant, this seems problematic for the Thomist.

Robert said...


Once we allow that there is something self-existent and that it cannot be the laws of physics or anything that depends on the laws of physics, some brand of theism is really unavoidable.


This appears to be a bit of a non-sequitor, or at least, I am unaware of any deductive argument that actually succeeds in proving the "some brand of theism" is metaphysically necessary.

Failing such a deductive proof, wouldn't the correct formulation be:

"Once we allow that there is something self-existent and that it cannot be the laws of physics or anything that depends on the laws of physics, we are left with only that which cannot logically fail to exist"?

Perhaps some sort of theism, or perhaps something else entirely. This, Of course, depending on what exactly you mean "some sort of theism" to encompass, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

"But as I have argued at length in my books The Last Superstition and Aquinas, you cannot properly understand what a classical writer like Aquinas says about the existence and nature of God unless you understand the general background metaphysical theses in which his views are grounded -- theses that are very different from the metaphysical assumptions made by most modern and contemporary philosophers. "

Could we get a primer on these? I've see similar language in a few posts on this blog and am left wondering what these assumptions are and if they are warranted.

Scott said...

"On the surface, it still seems that the situation with A and B is highly problematic for a Thomistic account of the soul."

In what way? If Smith's head is transplanted onto Jones's body, then the resulting person might be (a) Smith, (b) Jones, or (c) someone else. The only case that appears even slightly problematic to me is (c), and even if that case turns out to be the real outcome (which I doubt but don't claim to know), it just means that a third soul has entered the picture. Where's the problem? New people are conceived all the time, and each one is initially made from physical matter that comes from its parents; why isn't that just as "problematic"?

Moreover, I see no problem here for hylemorphism even if we acknowledge that we just don't know the answer. We might as well say that because I don't know whether I (a) will or (b) won't have a peanut butter sandwich for lunch tomorrow, there's a "problem" for the law of noncontradiction.

Scott said...

I should have added a case (d): the result of the transplant might be no one at all. But I'm taking that case to be ruled out by the hypothesis that the transplant is successful.

Martin said...

Anonymous at July 25, 2013 at 4:49 AM,

I think you this is a good place to start, followed by Feser's book Aquinas: A Beginner's Guide.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Scott.

‘New people are conceived all the time, and each one is initially made from physical matter that comes from its parents; why isn't that just as "problematic"?’

I have found your response here to be really helpful. I guess that to me this uncertainty was causing me problems because I could not see what could determine whether Smith or Jones or a new soul would be the outcome. Whereas ‘new people’ are configured by their souls, the unity in the transplant scenario seems to bring two forms together with an uncertain outcome that does not seem to be the case in the example of a new person animated by a particular substantial form/rational nature. Your response has shown that there is no inconsistency with hylemorphism, even if there still seems to be a problem relating to the identity of the new unity created (assuming the success of the operation). What do you think would determine in the end which soul was doing the configuring?

Scott said...

"I have found your response here to be really helpful."

Glad to hear it. Thank you.

"What do you think would determine in the end which soul was doing the configuring?"

To be honest, I don't know, and I'm not really competent to do more than suggest some initial considerations.

On the one hand it seems that if two people swapped livers, they'd remain the same people, just with each others' livers. On the face of it, it makes sense that brains (and presumably therefore heads) might work the same way, as TheOFloinn suggests. There are also some pretty interesting cases in which someone has had quite a lot of brain removed and gone on being the same person, which at least suggests that the same thing would have happened if they'd had those same parts of the brain replaced rather than just removed.

On the other hand, suppose a mad scientist took me prisoner and said, "I'm going to destroy half of your body and replace it with the corresponding half of someone else's body. Which half do you want me to replace: the top or the bottom?" Faced with that choice and no way to avoid making it, I'd choose to keep my top half. It does somehow seem to me that my top half plus someone else's bottom half would be "me" in a way that my bottom half plus someone else's top half wouldn't. But I'm not sure how far to trust that intuition.

Then, too, there's the possibility that even if souls don't transplant along with brains, memories do. Perhaps Jones's body with Smith's head on it would be Jones but have access to Smith's memories rather than his own.

The one case I'd be very inclined to rule out is that swapping heads via human artifice would generate any "new" souls. I included that as a possible case for the sake of completeness (and in order to show that even that case didn't pose a problem for hylemorphism), but I don't think it would really happen. Swapping heads isn't something that our bodies do by nature, and it seems to me that doing it artificially would just jumble up existing people rather than create new ones.

But that's just off-the-cuff armchair speculation. There are people who have thought this stuff through far more thoroughly than I have (some of whom do it for a living), and I'm sure any one of them could say quite a lot more about it than either of us could imagine in advance.

Robert said...

What about grafting the left hemisphere of one brain (Chuck) to the right hemisphere of another (Larry)?

Who are you?

Scott said...

@Robert:

"What about grafting the left hemisphere of one brain (Chuck) to the right hemisphere of another (Larry)?

Who are you?"

Even if you graft half of Chuck's brain to the opposite half of Larry's, I'll still be Scott. ;-)

In all seriousness, "who are you" in the sense of "which person do you feel like to yourself" is a somewhat different question from "who are you" in the sense of "which soul do you have."

Suppose we stick half of Chuck's brain into Larry's body. One plausible answer to your question in that case would be that the soul is still Larry's but that part of him has some of Chuck's personality traits, memories, or whatever (if anything) might be carried over with Chuck's brain hemisphere. I'm not saying that is the answer (or even saying that any part of Chuck's "personality" would be carried over at all); I'm just saying I see no contradiction in it. I don't know what would in fact happen.

As for the soul, I suppose there's a sort of ship-of-Theseus problem here if we imagine more and more of Larry's body being replaced by Chuck's. Would there be a precise point at which the soul/form of the reconstructed body became Chuck's rather than Larry's? I don't know the answer, but surely there must be intermediate stages (during some of the transplant procedures, for example) when neither body has either (substantial) form.

Robert said...

@Scott

In my view, at the moment the individual regains consciousness, they would, for a short instant be both Chuck and Larry (probably very confused...) and with every passing moment thereafter be less so, becoming in effect, a new individual, distinct from either Chuck or Larry.

However, in reality, I believe that the question is actually answered pretty conclusively if you ever are unfortunate enough to witness someone going through the various stages of Alzheimer's, or some such disorder.

Scott said...

@Robert:

"In my view, at the moment the individual regains consciousness, they would, for a short instant be both Chuck and Larry (probably very confused...) and with every passing moment thereafter be less so, becoming in effect, a new individual, distinct from either Chuck or Larry."

In personality, perhaps. But again, I think that's a distinct question from the one about whose soul is the substantial form of that body. (And as I suggested somewhat obliquely, I suspect the answer to the latter question has something to do with which body we're putting the other brain hemisphere into.)

"However, in reality, I believe that the question is actually answered pretty conclusively if you ever are unfortunate enough to witness someone going through the various stages of Alzheimer's, or some such disorder."

I have in fact done so, but again I think this clearly has to do with "personality" rather than soul, so I don't regard it as conclusive on the latter question at all. Changes in personality aren't changes in soul; the soul of the person with Alzheimer's is the same soul throughout the entire degenerative process.

Anyway, I think I've contributed sufficiently to this "thread-jacking" ;-) and it's time for me to bow out and let the combox get back on-topic. This is a fascinating subject and we could discuss it for a long time, but this isn't the place to do so.

Scott said...

@Robert:

I will, though, quickly add one final point.

"In my view, at the moment the individual regains consciousness . . . "

Your reference to "consciousness" here highlights the distinction between soul and personality. Your soul, your substantial form, doesn't change when your body is unconscious.

Robert said...

@Scott

The term Soul is pretty nebulous so I am not sure what this is supposed to mean in this context, as who you were before the procedure (either Chuck or Larry) and who you are after the procedure (both Chuck and Larry)would seem to be distinct individuals.

Nathanael said...

@Thomas

I think that the best summary of classic trinitarian theology is found in Stephen R. Holmes' book, The Quest for the Trinity. He summarizes the “harvest of Patristic Trinitarianism” on p. 146 (repeated on pp. 199-200) with these seven points:

-1) The divine nature is simple, incomposite, and ineffable. It is also unrepeatable, and so, in crude and inexact terms ‘one’.

-2) Language referring to the divine nature is always inexact and trophic; nonetheless, if formulated with much care and more prayer, it might adequately, if not fully, refer.

-3) There are three divine hypostases that are instantiations of the divine nature: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

-4) The three divine hypostases exist really, eternally, and necessarily, and there is nothing divine that exists beyond or outside their existence.

-5) The three divine hypostases are distinguished by eternal relations of origin – begetting and proceeding – and not otherwise.

-6) All that is spoken of God, with the single and very limited exception of the language which refers to the relations of origin of the three hypostases, is spoken of the one life the three share, and so is indivisibly spoken of all three.

-7) The relationships of origin express/establish relational distinctions between the three existent hypostases; no other distinctions are permissible.


So, if the three hypostases (persons) were three parts of God rather than three instantiations of the one and simple divine essence then the result would be either tritheism or that neither the Father, the Son, nor the Holy Spirit is full God.

Historically, orthodox theologians have said that the divine persons are only distinguished by their relations. The use of the mental analogy for the trinity comes from Augustine but Ismael's literal use of the analogy comes from the medieval interpretation of it by Henry of Ghent and John Duns Scotus (although I imagine the proximate source for Ismael is probably one of the neo-scholastics).

Anyway, that was probably much too longwinded but I hope it helps.

Scott said...

@Robert:

"The term Soul is pretty nebulous so I am not sure what this is supposed to mean in this context."

As I've deliberately indicated several times, I'm using it in its standard A-T sense (the substantial form of a living thing).

Anonymous said...

Scott,

Once again thanks. I'm keen to explore further these questions about personal identity and the Thomistic understanding of the soul. But you are right to leave this topic for another time/thread. Perhaps Ed will explore some of these, or related, issues at a later date. Until then...cheers.

Scott said...

@Anon: Cheers back at'cha.

Anonymous said...

How does the "substantial form" alter brain chemistry to allow for free will?

Step2 said...

It is something to describe nothing but the something is in the description of nothing not in nothing itself with is still a privation of something.

In order to describe nothing you have to be describing something even if it is only in negative terms, that is just a limitation of language. Unless you want to claim silence is the only true description of nothing thus making nothingness ineffable like God's nature. Second, if nothing is a "thing in itself" distinct from all somethings that means it has an essence as an empty set.

BenYachov said...

>In order to describe nothing you have to be describing something even if it is only in negative terms,

True but the something is in the description not the nothing itself which is still a lack of something.

>that is just a limitation of language.

Of course language is limited. I would never say otherwise.

>Unless you want to claim silence is the only true description of nothing thus making nothingness ineffable like God's nature.

Nothing isn't anything thus there isn't anything to be ineffable.

God is something or better yet THE SOMETHING OF ALL SOMETHING.

>Second, if nothing is a "thing in itself" distinct from all somethings that means it has an essence as an empty set.

I don't think you can say nothing is a "thing in itself". It is an absence of anything thus it's can't really be a "thing in itself".

Maybe in some sense it could be an empty set but an empty something is till something that doesn't contain anything.

I think to get to nothing you have to ditch the empty set too.

You are right thought language is limited.

Anonymous said...

Nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing lots and lots of nothing

Thomas Keningley said...

@Nathanael

I think I have a problem with points 5) and 7) of that list because I'm a Protestant and don't think that the doctrines of eternal generation or eternal procession are scripturally evidenced (I think the Son and Spirit are ingenerate), and so cannot be the distinction between the divine persons. I appreciate that this puts my presuppositions at odds with the general tenor.

Since relations of origin could be described as a property (the property of begetting or being begotten), does this not mean that each divine person has a property that the other divine persons do not have? If the three divine persons each have an individuating property, how can we avoid the conclusion that God's essence is in some sense complex?

grodrigues said...

@Step2:

"Second, if nothing is a "thing in itself" distinct from all somethings that means it has an essence as an empty set."

The empty set is not nothing. For starters, it is a set, and thus a being of reason. Like every set, it has precise identity conditions. There is a singleton set whose unique member is the empty set (unique by extensionality) but there is no singleton set with nothing as its unique member, precisely because nothing is not a something. And once you got the empty set and a singleton set, you have the whole cumulative hierarchy.

Nothing just is no-thing, that is (there are too many is'es in here for my own comfort, but it *is* late and I am tired), it is the privation of any and every thing. It can only be defined negatively (precisely because it has no positive content, it has no being), but otherwise it is a pretty straightforward and simple concept.

BenYachov said...

Thomas

Eternal generation refers to the Son being Begotten and I forget but there is a verse that speaks of the spirit proceeding from the father?

Oh yeh it's this one.

John 15:26
But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceeds from the Father, he shall testify of me:

So even by Protestant Sola Scriptura standards you might be able to believe the ancient view.

Cheers.

Nathanael said...

@Thomas

Well, first of all, I should tell you that I am a Protestant (I am a conservative Presbyterian; a member of the PCA) and that the author of the book I quoted, Stephen R. Holmes, is also a Protestant (an English Baptist).

Now that I have that out of the way let me say that I don't understand how you can deny the generation of the Son and the spiration of the Spirit given the clear scriptural warrant for those doctrines. (For the Son I could cite Prov 8:22-25; Ps 2:7; Heb 1:5; John 5:26; 2 Cor 4:4; and Col 1:15. For the Spirit I could cite John 16:14-15; John 15:26; and Gal 4:6.) Beyond that, I really don't see how you can avoid tritheism if you claim that Father, Son, and Spirit are all God and are all ingenerate. (I should point out here, for what it's worth, that the entire magisterial Protestant tradition prior to the 19th century also adhered to this understanding of the Trinity and simplicity.)

Now, traditional Christian adherents of the doctrine of divine simplicity (Patristic, Medieval, and Reformed) have generally argued that simplicity proscribes division and composition in the Godhead but not distinction. They have argued that the personal relations in the Godhead are real relations properly predicated of God, and yet are not accidents. The opposition entailed in the divine relations is not between God’s relations and his essence, but only in the mutual connection between the relatives themselves so that it is a distinction from relative to relative, and not of relative to essence. Since accidentality doesn’t belong to the proper character of relation, relation need not be
construed as something really distinct from the divine substance itself. In God real relation adds
nothing to the subject. Hence the distinction of persons does not threaten the unity and simplicity of the essence.

I hope that helps!

Robert said...

@Scott

As I've deliberately indicated several times, I'm using it in its standard A-T sense (the substantial form of a living thing).


Indeed you have, though the standard A-T sense is precisely what is being questioned.

BenYachov said...

Well I have never been a fan of Sola Scriptura but that having been said I am not in principle against proving any correct doctrine(by Catholic standards:-)) by making appeals to the bible alone without Tradition or church thought I strongly believe in Tradition and Church with Scripture.

Thus I endorse what Nathanael said.

Tony said...

Of course since what we actually have is something rather than nothing at all, we can only refer to nothing by way of abstracting from that which is (and is thus knowable). Then the "knowledge" of nothing is an abstractive sort of knowing, not the positive knowing by apprehending its nature - a knowing by negating that which is itself knowable.

I think that's part of Kuhn's point: starting from something, by abstracting matter, and form, etc., you mentally can arrive at "nothing", but you are not thus positing some "no" sort of "thing". And you don't have true nothing until you have abstracted every sort of thingness available. This can only done in a logical sense, not in a real sense, because with the real world even after you get rid of matter and energy and space and time, you are left with necessary being which you cannot get rid of without internal contradiction.

So when you are mentally subtracting all being, you are mentally not considering the necessary being, but given that necessary being really is necessary, the supposedly "absolute" nothing that you are focused on has the same sort of status as the (incoherent) premises of a reductio: for the moment you treat them as if they were not incompatible premises, so that you can work forward to a point where you would be forced to say therefore, both A and not-A are true, WHICH IS ABSURD.. During the early part of doing the proof, do both premises "stand" together in the mind? Only in a sense.

Paul Power said...

Just a comment on one thing I found to be incorrect in the post:

"For one thing, physicists themselves, including Krauss and Hawking, do not treat the laws of physics as if they were either logically necessary or a brute fact. For they regard such laws as empirically testable, which would make no sense if they were logically necessary (i.e. the sort of thing the denial of which would entail a contradiction). If they can in principle be falsified, then they are not necessary."

This confuses the laws in accordance with which the physical universe really operates and scientists' conceptions of those laws. It is the latter that scientists test, not the former. For example our quantum theory may or may not be a correct description of how the physical universe operates at the quantum level; we perform experiments to test its concordance with the behaviour of the universe. You could think of our theories as giving us candidate versions of the real laws of the universe. Or equally you might say that in experiments we are comparing our ideas of the real laws with the actual laws themselves. I hope this clear

Scott said...

@Paul Power:

"This confuses the laws in accordance with which the physical universe really operates and scientists' conceptions of those laws."

I don't think it does. The point of testing a proposed physical law isn't to find out only whether our conception of that law is correct, but also whether "the physical universe really operates" in accordance with such a law at all. In that case we're not regarding the law itself (not just our conception of it) as "necessary" in the sense at issue here.

Step2 said...

I think to get to nothing you have to ditch the empty set too.

The empty set is just a way to represent a privation or absence, so if you ditch the empty set you are tossing out your own definition. Without a contrast with necessary or contingent being nothingness could theoretically be the absence of itself forming a true contradiction, it could also be the absence of blog debates literally about nothing (and a fantastic world that would be).

Furthermore, you aren’t required to believe in ex-nihilo creation based on Scripture. The second verse of Genesis reads: "The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters." While that doesn't seem like much, it does seem to be a fluid something.

Scott said...

@step2:

"The empty set is just a way to represent a privation or absence . . .&nbsp"

The empty set is a set, albeit one with no elements.

"[Y]ou aren't required to believe in ex-nihilo creation based on Scripture. The second verse of Genesis reads: 'The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.'"

Then again, that verse does follow the one that credits God with creating the heaven and the earth in the first place.

Scott said...

(Oops. Obviously I intended that "&nbsp" to be a non-breaking space; I just missed the final colon.)

Tony said...

it could also be the absence of blog debates literally about nothing (and a fantastic world that would be)

Great line - best laugh all day! Thanks.

"The" empty set isn't some thing sitting somewhere. It is a notional being at best, of course, a way of notionally designating a certain kind of possible that isn't actual. (Witness: is the more than one empty set, or are there many empty sets? Most say many, because the set of all (live) unicorns is different from the set of all pegasi, but both are empty. But they cannot differ from each other by their membership, i.e. by their "matter".)

But to ascribe to the empty set some being is to take the wrong focus: insofar as we can speak and talk about "nothing" or the empty set, WE, OURSELVES, must of course have being, so our thoughts about it are a kind of reality, they are not "no thoughts". But that's a category mistake - the thoughts are in the knower according to the mode of the knower, not as the thing itself is in the mode of being. Thinking about the empty set doesn't give being to the empty set any more than thinking about a white horse makes the mind white.

Furthermore, nothing isn't the same as privation, because privation carries with it the notion of a lack of something due and appropriate, whereas "nothing" does not, it is negation rather than privation.

BenYachov said...

>The empty set is just a way to represent a privation or absence, so if you ditch the empty set you are tossing out your own definition.

Well as the grodster pointed out the definition of nothing is merely a being of reason. Your the one who wanted "silence" to represent nothing but of course being silence doesn't define anything or tell us anything. Language is limited but you either want to convey your ideas or you don't.

> Without a contrast with necessary or contingent being nothingness could theoretically be the absence of itself forming a true contradiction, it could also be the absence of blog debates literally about nothing (and a fantastic world that would be).

No argument.


>Furthermore, you aren’t required to believe in ex-nihilo creation based on Scripture. The second verse of Genesis reads: "The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters." While that doesn't seem like much, it does seem to be a fluid something.

As a Catholic I believe that based on the Church's interpretation of Scripture & divine revelation in general from Tradition. Catholics don't believe in private interpretation of Scripture or Scripture Alone the later being a Protestant teaching we don't really care for. Aquinas believed in creation based on divine revelation alone because he didn't think either science or philosophy could prove the Universe had a beginning. His philosophical proofs for the existence of God assume a past eternal universe. If I believe Fr Stanley Jaki Biblical Scholar and Physicist then it is possible Genesis is not explicit on Ex-nihilo creation. It is possible to interpret the text to mean God created the universe out of eternally existing material. Going by the Hebrew language of Genesis alone it is not certain but of course it's not excluded either. According to Jaki Second Maccabees is the only book in the Bible that explicitly & unambiguously explicitly teaches ex-nihilo creation.

Of course my memory is fuzzy on the specific verse & I am too lazy right now to go look it up. or dig up Jaki's book.

But there you have it.

Catholic aren't Fundamentalists & not all conservative Protestants it seems are either.

Scott said...

@BenYachov:

"According to Jaki Second Maccabees is the only book in the Bible that explicitly & unambiguously explicitly teaches ex-nihilo creation.

Of course my memory is fuzzy on the specific verse & I am too lazy right now to go look it up."

I assume you have in mind 2 Maccabees 7:28: "I beseech thee, my son, look upon heaven and earth, and all that is in them: and consider that God made them out of nothing, and mankind also[.]" [Translation from the Douay-Rheims Bible, emphasis mine.]

BenYachov said...

Thank you Scott.

Scott said...

You are very welcome, BenYachov.

Step2 said...

The empty set is a set, albeit one with no elements.

So what do you think Kuhn is doing? He is subtracting elements from the total set of being until it is empty.

Then again, that verse does follow the one that credits God with creating the heaven and the earth in the first place.

Which is a common narrative style in the Bible, stating a summary first and then going back to fill in the details, perhaps because it was written down from an oral tradition and the initial summary functioned as a narrative outline. In this case the details clarify the matter about matter.

Well as the grodster pointed out the definition of nothing is merely a being of reason. .

No he didn’t. He said a set is a being of reason. He said the concept of nothingness is simple and straightforward which I believe is false.

Your the one who wanted "silence" to represent nothing but of course being silence doesn't define anything or tell us anything. .

What I wanted was a way to give a true description of nothingness, but if that is impossible silence is the preferable alternative. Frankly, the idea that God spoke the universe into existence was intended to convey a connection between silence and nothingness.

Thinking about the empty set doesn't give being to the empty set…

So God didn’t think about creating a universe out of nothing, it just happened without thought?

Neil Parille said...

@Ben

" If I believe Fr Stanley Jaki Biblical Scholar and Physicist then it is possible Genesis is not explicit on Ex-nihilo creation. It is possible to interpret the text to mean God created the universe out of eternally existing material. Going by the Hebrew language of Genesis alone it is not certain but of course it's not excluded either. According to Jaki Second Maccabees is the only book in the Bible that explicitly & unambiguously explicitly teaches ex-nihilo creation."

Jaki was not a biblical scholar. His Phds were in theology and physics. As I recall, some such as Fr. Brian Harrison criticized his interpretation of Genesis.

BenYachov said...

>Jaki was not a biblical scholar. His Phds were in theology and physics. As I recall, some such as Fr. Brian Harrison criticized his interpretation of Genesis. Jaki was not a biblical scholar. His Phds were in theology and physics. As I recall, some such as Fr. Brian Harrison criticized his interpretation of Genesis.

Fr. Harrison has the liberty to have different opinions from Fr. Jaki in areas not settled by formal Church teaching. I never much cared for some of his opinions & I often thought he was still a bit too influenced by his former Protestant fundamentalism in regards to his latent Creationism. Of course to be fair a Catholic can privately be a Creationist in the Old or Young Earth Sense. But neither is required nor prohibited for orthodox Catholic belief.

Since the Church hasn't taken a side I don't either thought I tend to be a Theistic Evolutionist in the sense allowed by Pius XII & I never found some of Harrison's interpretations of Genesis in regards to the creation of Eve convincing. But he is allowed to hold them & I am not required to agree with him.

BenYachov said...

>No he didn’t. He said a set is a being of reason. He said the concept of nothingness is simple and straightforward which I believe is false.

If you feel the need to split hairs fine. Never the less the definition of nothing is a being of reason while nothingness itself is in fact no-thing. If you wish to disagree with Grod or myself then fine & Grod can clarify since he has forgotten more than I have learned on the subject of Math. But I don't see what is so complicated about nothing? Take Everything and subtract it from itself. How is that hard?

>What I wanted was a way to give a true description of nothingness, but if that is impossible silence is the preferable alternative.

Silence still doesn't tell us anything thought if may be a good analogy or metaphor. Language is not perfect but we have to work within our limitations to convey the best ideas we can have.

>Frankly, the idea that God spoke the universe into existence was intended to convey a connection between silence and nothingness.

Please don't tell me you think God literally has a mouth that uttered a literal word that set off the big bang or something? We are Classic Theists we don't do anthropomorphic theistic personalist "deities" here. They are not allowed. Please, when the Bible says God will enfold us into His wings we do not imagine He is a giant chicken

>>Thinking about the empty set doesn't give being to the empty set…

>So God didn’t think about creating a universe out of nothing, it just happened without thought?

You have too much of an anthropomorphic view of God. Use the search function on Feser's blog and search for Classic Theism to bring yourself up to speed.

God doesn't really "think" per say He simply knows & knows all so He doesn't really have to think & given the Divine Nature it is absurd to say He "thinks" as we do.

BenYachov said...

OTOH if we are going to be overly literal.

>Furthermore, you aren’t required to believe in ex-nihilo creation based on Scripture. The second verse of Genesis reads: "The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters." While that doesn't seem like much, it does seem to be a fluid something.

Now that I think about it & Neil as brought up Fr. Harrision. While some scholars believe ex-nihilo interpretation of Genesis wasn't clear from the literal meaning of the Hebrew words the Rabbinic Tradition taught that all material was created by the first word of Genesis "Breshett" which we translate using three English words "In the Beginning". There is a saying among the Rabbis the letter Bet is the second letter of the alphabet but the greatest letter since by it HaShem created the world.

This has a mystical meaning not a hyper literal. Never the less the Rabbis believed Breshett created all things. Modern orthodox who try to make a concordant interpretation between Genesis & Big Bang believe big bang happened as "Breshett" not at "Let there be light".

OF course I personally reject concordant interpretations. At best I will admit a light & very loose one in Scripture but mostly I believe it should be treated theologically.

Ismael said...

@Robert

"Isn't saying that absolute nothing is logically possible in itself the same as saying that there is nothing that is logically necessary?"

Not sure what you mean.
What exists is not in itself logically necessary, if it is contingent.

Or if you mean that by stating that 'nothing is logically possible' than there is nothing that is 'logically necessary' than... no I do not mean that.


We can put it in a different way:

If there was absolute nothing, than there would indeed be nothing at all. No existence at all.

Yet since there is existece absolute nothing is indeed illogical and also there must be some 'necessary being'.

So I guess going back to the original question, perhaps a better answer is:

Since something exists, absolute nothing is not logically possible.

It would be logically possible only in itself, i.e. if there was no existence at all.

At least in my opinion.

Ismael said...


@ Thomas Keningley:

>> What formulation of the Trinity denies the persons as "parts" of God?


All. In the doctrine of the Trinity, the three ‘persons’ (hypostases as they are called in theology) are NOT three ‘parts’ of God and were never seen as such


Indeed the Nicean Creed states: we believe in ONE God.

As St. Athanasius puts it: "The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God."

This has never been seem (until perhaps the middle ages from some orthodox philosophers and the reformation from some protestant theologians) as ‘seen God made out of metaphysical parts’.

It was always understood that God was the ‘absolute being’, hence God cannot be composite.


>> How is "God knowing himself" a person?

First I thank Ben Yachov for his answer.

Moreover: Thomas, you are understanding ‘person’ as you understand you and me or Bob Dylan. In the doctrine of the Trinity the word ‘person’ is very deceiving since it does NOT mean what we normally understand.

They are not three different ‘substances’ (in metaphysical meaning) or even partial substances (like soul and body) of one being.

Basically we should not look at God as some kind of super human, like us, but far more powerful… God is instead a being very different than us.

Look here: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11726a.htm

At the end paragraph “The use of the word persona and its Greek equivalents in connection with the Trinitarian disputes”

As the article itself puts it: “In the infinite relations there is no subject as distinct from the relation itself; the Paternity is the Father--and no term as distinct from the opposing relation; the Filiation is the Son.”

So in the infinite ‘relations’ of God (i.e. God knowing Himself) such relations are God Himself too. Since indeed there is no composition but indeed only one God. So the procession of the Son from the Father comes from this infinite ‘relation’ within God… and Father is God and Son is God and they are NOT, however, two gods or two parts of God, they are just GOD plain and simple.

This might be very confusing, but you ought to familiarize yourself with the terminology and what the doctrine exactly states.

It’s not something you just grasp from reading a combox.

Also read the articles on the Trinity and related on the “Catholic Encyclopedia” (same link as above), since they do explain things briefly.



>> Also, how is this relation of the Father to himself distinct from himself? How is that not unipersonalism? To put this another way- for the Son to be distinct from the Father, it seems he must have some property that the Father does not have.

If the two ‘persons’ were meant as ‘persons’ as we commonly mean today, but as I stated above it is not so, as they are not three different substances or partial substances.

There is indeed a distinction between the three persons, but that regards again the divine relations, not the divine substance.



Again there a LOT to be said about this… I think you ought to look to Aquinas and literature on the subject that goes deeply into the subject. A few words in a combox cannot really begin to cover it.

I do apologize if my answers are unsatisfactory, but unfortunately this subject is quite complicated and you will need to put time into it if you desire some kind of understanding. (Maybe I am bad at explaining it as well :P)

BenYachov said...

The Rabbis also taught from tradition "G_d created and destroyed many worlds before this one". That is how they interpreted the meaning of "and the world was without form nor void" & that was the reason why it was that way. Our world was made from the rubble of the old ones God destroyed.

If I was into concordant interpretations of Genesis like many Old Earth Creationist types and some Theistic Evolutionists are I might point out our planet is Earth Marc II & may astrophysics believe when Earth first formed it underwent a planetary collision with another world and this contributed to our having a moon & having the active core we have.

But like I said I tend to reject concordant interpretations of Genesis. But I due note that as interesting never the less.

Tony said...

He is subtracting elements from the total set of being until it is empty.

That would be fine, if there were a set like "total set of being", but there isn't.

First of all, "being" is being used equivocally all over the place. Being as substance is a different sense of being than being as quality, or being as relation, or being as passion. Just as an example of the problem, suppose you are left with JUST the empty set because you got rid of all being (including all relation). Now, one of the inherent features of "set"-ness is the relation that a set is a subset of itself (that's the way logicians and mathematicians define subset, anyway). Even the empty set has a subset, itself. So it still has relation. So you didn't get rid of all relation after all.

Also, it is simply inadequate to attempt to identify a "set of all being", that is or could be done away with by eliminating each member, as if it were a logically coherent "set". There are well known limits to the notion "set" and this is one of them. Another example is "the set of all sets that are not members of themselves".

Nathanael said...

@Ismael

A rather small point but in defense of us Protestants the only theologians in the Reformation and post-Reformation era who denied divine simplicity were Socinians and Remonstrants (and only some of them). No Reformed or Lutheran theologian ever denied divine simplicity until well after the Enlightenment.

Step2 said...

We are Classic Theists we don't do anthropomorphic theistic personalist "deities" here. They are not allowed.

I will write about any version of God I believe is justified by Biblical text and history, and if you refuse to do the same that is your problem.

God doesn't really "think" per say He simply knows & knows all so He doesn't really have to think & given the Divine Nature it is absurd to say He "thinks" as we do.

You should know that Biblical characters argued and pleaded with God presumably to change His mind. I also think intercessionary prayer becomes an exercise in futility if you believe in an impersonal God.

Take Everything and subtract it from itself. How is that hard?

How can you use subtraction while also denying it can be represented as a set?

Even the empty set has a subset, itself. So it still has relation. So you didn't get rid of all relation after all.

I’m not trying to get rid of relation, it is part of my definition that nothing has to be contrasted against something to be comprehensible, which is why it is not straightforward and is complex in practice if not theory.

Daniel Smith said...

My Protestant/fundamentalist/quasi-Thomist/ex-Catholic view on divine simplicity:

God has many attributes but no parts. If it were possible to take God and divide him into parts, each part would have all the attributes and be fully God.

God IS the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, just as God is love, light, truth, being, holiness...

I don't know if that's even close theologically, and I welcome thoughtful correction.

BenYachov said...

>I will write about any version of God I believe is justified by Biblical text and history, and if you refuse to do the same that is your problem.

Then you are arguing against a "god" no Catholic or Classic Theist here believes in & thus why should we care if you find problems with a "god" none of use believes exists at all?

I could find problems with a materialist Atheist worldview but a Platonic Atheist wouldn't care because his Atheism isn't based on a belief in Materialism.

>You should know that Biblical characters argued and pleaded with God presumably to change His mind. I also think intercessionary prayer becomes an exercise in futility if you believe in an impersonal God.

What makes you think we believe in an impersonal God? God has Will & Intellect ergo he is personal by Classic standards. Also God can will conditionally. That is He can immutably will from all eternity if you do X He will then do Y if not then not. This would give the appearance God "changes his mind" but in the end God doesn't really change His mind thank God.

>How can you use subtraction while also denying it can be represented as a set?

Talk to Grod he is a Mathematician & he know Thomist philosophy too. BTW what does intellectually abstracting away something have to do with formal Math in the first place? Can't we do informal math? We do it all the time?

@Daniel Smith

That is true as far as it goes the only clarification I would make is that God's attributes are only logically distinct. That is they are distinctions in the Mind since God's essence is simple. Distinctions between persons OTOH are real distinctions. They compel us to say the Father is WHAT the Son is being God but not WHO the Son is being the divine person of the Son. The real distinction between the persons/relations are however not any type of real distinction in essence like a physical part or a metaphysical one (dividing something's essence from it's existence). That later part is a strict mystery and anything you try to imagine it to be with your limited human intellect is automatically wrong.

BenYachov said...

OTOH

>If it were possible to take God and divide him into parts, each part would have all the attributes and be fully God.

I don't know what to make of this or if I can or cannot reconcile it with Classic Theism.

Cheers Daniel.

Anonymous said...

If it were possible to take God and divide him into parts, each part would have all the attributes and be fully God.

So God is a hologram? Certainly Philip K. Dick thought so.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Edward Feser: For the universe could be an inexplicable brute fact only if there were no possible explanation of it, and once it is conceded that it is at least possible for there to be something self-existent, then we have a possible explanation, viz. that that self-existent thing is the cause of the world.

(Emphasis added.) But aren't you conflating two different kinds of "possibility"? The first kind is metaphysical possibility, while the second kind is epistemic possibility.

Suppose you said that you're almost, but not perfectly, certain that God, qua necessary being, exists. An atheist philosopher replies, "Since you are not absolutely certain that God exists, the non-existence of God is possible. But, if the non-existence of God is possible, then God is not a necessary being. That is, your God, qua necessary being, does not exist. Moreover, since this was a simple logical argument starting from a premise that you know to be true (that you are not certain that God exists), you can be absolutely certain of the argument's conclusion, namely, that atheism is true."

This atheist's logic is clearly fallacious. But it seems identical to your logic. What is the difference?

Jeremy Taylor said...

An interesting article as usual.

However, I would say the following is a clear mischaracrerisation of Platonic thought:

For instance, regarding the problem of universals and other abstract objects, one might get the impression from his piece that unless one opts for nominalism (which denies the existence of these objects) one has to accept Platonic realism -- the view that universals and the like exist not only apart from the material world but also apart from any intellect whatsoever (which would make them independent of God).

The Platonic Forms are not independent of Intellect - rather, they are the very substance and content of Intellect. Indeed, Platonism links Being and Intellect at each level of existence. So to speak, the above, therefore, must borderline on a howler.

Anonymous said...

This atheist's logic is clearly fallacious. But it seems identical to your logic. What is the difference?

It doesn't seem identical. If the self-existent is metaphysically possible, then logically it follows that brute fact X has a possible explanation. Your example doesn't deal with logical possibilities, but a person's certainty in their argument. Nothing relevant obviously logically follows from personal uncertainty (or in this case, mostly-but-not-totally-being convinced) about the existence of a necessary being.

I don't think what Ed is saying is trading on personal uncertainty. Instead he seems to be targeting someone who really does believe that the self-existent is metaphysically possible, but just happens to believe that this isn't in fact the case.

Scott said...

@Tyrrell McAllister:

"An atheist philosopher replies, 'Since you are not absolutely certain that God exists, the non-existence of God is possible. But, if the non-existence of God is possible, then God is not a necessary being.'"

I'm with Anon on this one. The reply of your hypothetical atheist has to do with epistemic possibility, but Ed's argument sticks strictly with metaphysical possibility. You've overlooked, I think, the middle "possible" in the passage you quoted: "once it is conceded that it is at least possible for there to be something self-existent . . . " [my emphasis].

Step2 said...

Then you are arguing against a "god" no Catholic or Classic Theist here believes in & thus why should we care if you find problems with a "god" none of use believes exists at all?

If you are willing to admit that Classical Theism is disconnected from Biblical text and history you shouldn’t care. Otherwise you probably should care.

Also God can will conditionally. That is He can immutably will from all eternity if you do X He will then do Y if not then not. This would give the appearance God "changes his mind" but in the end God doesn't really change His mind thank God.

It would be more than just an appearance; it would cause a change in God’s actions. Since God is simply pure act it necessarily changes His intellect.

Scott said...

@Step2:

"If you are willing to admit that Classical Theism is disconnected from Biblical text and history you shouldn't care."

How might the idea of an immutable God be "disconnected" from a Biblical text that includes e.g. Numbers 23:19, Isaiah 46:10-11, Malachi 3:6, and James 1:17?

You may not think classical theism (in particular divine immutability) is true; or you may think that there are other Biblical texts that tell against it and that can't be reconciled with the ones I've mentioned. But the suggestion that classical theism is "disconnected from Biblical text" is not a very convincing one.

"It would be more than just an appearance; it would cause a change in God's actions."

Not at all; God isn't in time and so can't change. You may be thinking of either of two things here, and I'm not sure which it is:

(1) That if you do X, God will do Y, but if you don't do X, then God won't do Y. In this case there's no change in God; He knows ab aeterno what your decision is, so no "change" is needed. As BenYachov says, His will from all eternity is immutable.

(2) That if you do X at time t1 (and God therefore does Y), and then don't do X at time t2 (and God doesn't do Y), then there's been a change in God's action. Again, there's no change; as BenYachov says, God's immutable will from all eternity is that Y happen at time t1 and not at time t2. If that sort of thing implied any "change" in God, that would mean He'd be "changing His mind" every time the temperature went up or down.

BenYachov said...

>If you are willing to admit that Classical Theism is disconnected from Biblical text and history you shouldn’t care. Otherwise you probably should care.

Whose interpretation of the Biblical text & whose interpretation of history is it disconnected from?
Not ours. Maybe it is diconnected from yours but we should care why, again?

I told you early on Catholics don't believe the Bible is perspicous & we don't believe in the Bible alone without Tradition. We reject private interpretation.

>It would be more than just an appearance; it would cause a change in God’s actions. Since God is simply pure act it necessarily changes His intellect.

This statement makes no sense. Change involves something going from Potency to Act. Since God is already Pure Act & was never potent & contains no potency to say God changes is absurd. God can changelessly cause any change but God does not change.

The rest see Scott post above.

Step2 said...

But the suggestion that classical theism is "disconnected from Biblical text" is not a very convincing one.

I’m glad you are willing to defend it on those grounds; I was seeing if BenYachov would do the same after implying he was above such things.

The “if” in your first example is highly misleading, suggesting some sort of choice. Act Y is known because X is known.

For the second example I would throw in a spoiler. Meaning if you do X at time t1 and time t2, does that mean God’s immutable will must repeat itself? Or is it God’s immutable will and not in fact a reflection of a contingent human prayer?

Since God is already Pure Act & was never potent & contains no potency to say God changes is absurd.

Since you posited a scenario where God’s acts were conditional, the scenario assumed a potency to act or not act.

Anonymous said...

God is outside time. The past, present, and future are all one to God. So there is nothing inconsistent with God's will being immutable and it being conditional on how we act.

When it comes to the Biblical text, I think it useful to note that in the Rabbinic Tradition the Scripture, coming from God, is said to be so beyond human language as to require inspired commentary to reveal its meaning. The traditional Christian way of interpreting Scripture is according to the four layers of meaning so eloquently explained by Dante: the literal; the allegorical; the moral; and the anagogic. Scripture is also to be interpreted in light of Church Tradition and Authority.

The Scripture is a mystical text. It should be approached with a certain circumspection, reverence, and openness to its symbolic depths.

When Scripture shows figures pleading with God or suggesting he is neglecting them, this is not to be taken as any true indictment of God. Rather, it is a reflection of the human relationship to God and also may include symbolic elements where the meaning to be looked for is not only literal.

Jeremy Taylor said...

God is outside time. The past, present, and future are all one to God. So there is nothing inconsistent with God's will being immutable and it being conditional on how we act.

When it comes to the Biblical text, I think it useful to note that in the Rabbinic Tradition the Scripture, coming from God, is said to be so beyond human language as to require inspired commentary to reveal its meaning. The traditional Christian way of interpreting Scripture is according to the four layers of meaning so eloquently explained by Dante: the literal; the allegorical; the moral; and the anagogic. Scripture is also to be interpreted in light of Church Tradition and Authority.

The Scripture is a mystical text. It should be approached with a certain circumspection, reverence, and openness to its symbolic depths.

When Scripture shows figures pleading with God or suggesting he is neglecting them, this is not to be taken as any true indictment of God. Rather, it is a reflection of the human relationship to God and also may include symbolic elements where the meaning to be looked for is not only literal.

Scott said...

@Step2:

"The 'if' in your first example is highly misleading, suggesting some sort of choice. Act Y is known because X is known."

I intended the example to "suggest[] some sort of choice." BenYachov was after all talking about God's conditional will.

It's true that I deliberately avoided giving any account of that choice (and in what God's knowledge of it consists), because I didn't (and don't) want to steer the discussion toward Molinism and "middle knowledge"—in turn because I didn't (and don't) think anything in the present point depends on it. But yes, my first example was supposed to involve a choice, so I don't see anything misleading about it.

BenYachov said...

>I’m glad you are willing to defend it on those grounds; I was seeing if BenYachov would do the same after implying he was above such things.

So basically you don't wish to defend your personal authority to interpret the Bible & you don't wish to justify why I or any Catholic here should accept your personal interpretations of Scripture above those differing interpretations given by the Church, The Fathers, Rabbis & Tradition?

So don't. I am sure if you read Aquinas or Rabbi Moses Ben Mamon. They would give the Bible verses used to justify certain classic theistic concepts they taught but Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Rabbinic Jews don't believe every doctrine must be justified with a Bible verse.

That is a 19th century fundamentalist concept not an ancient Christian one.

>For the second example I would throw in a spoiler. Meaning if you do X at time t1 and time t2, does that mean God’s immutable will must repeat itself? Or is it God’s immutable will and not in fact a reflection of a contingent human prayer?

God's "different actions" at "different times" are really only notionally distinct. In effect they are all really one act. God from all eternity can foresee what prayers will be asked of Him and from all eternity choose which ones he will answer & which he will not and divinely will the universe to unfold the way He wants to answer those He has said yes too. God can still will from all eternity if you had chosen prayer A he would do B even if He foresees you will freely not choose prayer A in the first place.

>The “if” in your first example is highly misleading, suggesting some sort of choice. Act Y is known because X is known.

Boethus already addressed the question of how Free Choice can exist if God infallibly outside of Time foresees our choices. Since God is outside of time all his seeing of events happen to him in a great Big Now an eternal present. I can now see Socrates siting but my seeing him sit now doesn't cause Socrates to sit. It is similar for God. God's knows all the choices you will make but it doesn't follow he makes them deterministically and you don't make them freely.

Now what in essence is Free Will? My answer, I have no idea other than I know I have it & can choose freely but what mechanism causes the choice and causes it to be free is beyond me & a strict mystery. I know free will can't exist in a materialist world view & a strict mechanistic theistic one either. So like a Thomist I merely believe God causes the reality of Free Will and causes me to act Freely. How He does that I couldn't tell ya. But it is the best we have since I can foresee no other scenario under which free will might exist.

>Since you posited a scenario where God’s acts were conditional, the scenario assumed a potency to act or not act.

I recommend anything by Brian Davies on Thomism & any chapter in any of his books on the subject of free will for details.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Anonymous @July 29, 2013 at 1:12 AM: I don't think what Ed is saying is trading on personal uncertainty. Instead he seems to be targeting someone who really does believe that the self-existent is metaphysically possible, but just happens to believe that this isn't in fact the case.

I agree that, if Kuhn was saying that a metaphysically possibly necessary thing might not exist, then Feser's reply was on point. The S5 axiom, which Feser is implicitly relying on here, is controversial, but I concede that it is a reasonable position.

But I see no reason to think that Kuhn was saying that. To me, it looks like Kuhn was just saying, in effect, "Some people argue that there exists a necessary being, but I'm just not sure of that. Maybe there is such a being, maybe there isn't. Epistemically, I can't exclude either possibility." Kuhn could say this while also agreeing that if there is a necessary being, then its nonexistence is not possible, metaphysically. Nonetheless, even if a necessary being does exist, we still have to entertain the epistemic possibility that the necessary being does not exist, until we reach epistemic certainty that it does. That's all that Kuhn is doing, on my reading.

Everything that Feser quoted from Kuhn is consistent with my interpretation of what he was saying. What justifies Feser's less-charitable interpretation? Is it in something from Kuhn that Feser didn't quote?

@Scott: The reply of your hypothetical atheist has to do with epistemic possibility, but Ed's argument sticks strictly with metaphysical possibility.

I agree that Feser sticks strictly with metaphysical possibility. For precisely that reason, Feser's argument assumes that Kuhn sticks strictly with metaphysical possibility. But if Kuhn was using epistemic possibility, then Feser's reply is a non sequitur.

Scott said...

@Tyrrell McAllister:

"I agree that Feser sticks strictly with metaphysical possibility. For precisely that reason, Feser's argument assumes that Kuhn sticks strictly with metaphysical possibility. But if Kuhn was using epistemic possibility, then Feser's reply is a non sequitur."

Ah, I see your point. I misunderstood you to be saying that Feser had swapped out the meanings.

I still don't think there's a problem, though. The passage in question follows and continues this one, which seems to me to be about metaphysical rather than epistemic impossibility:

"I think that if Kuhn is willing to concede even this disjunction—that either the universe is an inexplicable brute fact, or there is something self-existent—then he has really implicitly conceded that there is something self-existent. For the universe could be an inexplicable brute fact only if there were no possible explanation of it, and once it is conceded that it is at least possible for there to be something self-existent, then we have a possible explanation, viz. that that self-existent thing is the cause of the world" [emphasis Feser's].

dguller said...

I think that the problem is using any kind of "transition talk" involving God. Clearly, there was a “time” when only God existed, and creation did not. Otherwise, creation would be eternal, which violates the Bible. The question is how to think this “transition” from only God to God and creation. It cannot be thought as a transition from potency to act, because potential being is created being, and thus would not exist “prior” to creation. However, it must be thought somehow, because if it is inconceivable, then it follows that creation itself is inconceivable. In other words, there must be some kind of “transition” involved in creation ex nihilo, or the entire account is incoherent.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

Scott: I still don't think there's a problem, though. The passage in question follows and continues this one, which seems to me to be about metaphysical rather than epistemic impossibility:

But that is a quote from Feser, who, I agree, is interpreting Kuhn as using only metaphyical possibility. The quote is already part of Feser's reply, which I think is a non sequitur.

To prove the relevance of Feser's reply, we need a quote from Kuhn showing that he really was referring to metaphysical and not epistemic possibility.

Scott said...

@Tyrrell McAllister:

"But that is a quote from Feser, who, I agree, is interpreting Kuhn as using only metaphyical possibility."

Well, he's saying that that's what Kuhn appears to mean, but he acknowledges that he isn't sure and treats that meaning hypothetically: "While Kuhn does not settle on a particular position, he does indicate that he thinks that either the existence of things is a brute fact without explanation, or there is something that is self-existent in the sense that its essence entails that its non-existence is inherently impossible. . . . [I]f Kuhn is willing to concede even this disjunction . . . " [emphasis mine]

I agree that it would be interesting to know whether Kuhn is willing to concede that, and I'm sure Feser would agree as well; in fact I think that's pretty much his point. I'm confident that if there had been a quote in Kuhn's article that nailed it down definitively and unambiguously, Feser would have found it—and on the other hand I'm equally confident that if it turned out that Kuhn was speaking only of epistemic possibility, Feser wouldn't regard his own argument as a reply to Kuhn personally (though it's still a cogent reply to anyone who does acknowledge the metaphysical possibility of a self-existent being, which is what I'm sure he intended it to be).

Step2 said...

@Scott

I don’t have any reason to consider it a choice when the input and outputs are known values. Choice in the context of an if-then-else statement requires an unknown variable instead of a known constant. Otherwise it is merely acting as an unnecessary obstruction to the singular result, there is no decision capacity at work.

Scott said...

@Step2:

"I don't have any reason to consider it a choice when the input and outputs are known values."

Do you mean you don't have any reason to consider your doing X or not as a choice? Or do you mean that you don't regard God's doing Y if you do X and not doing Y if you don't as involving a choice? I was taking you to mean the first.

Step2 said...

@Scott

I mean it in both senses. So long as there is a real possibility of omniscience there is the implication that choice is an illusion. It is more explicit in God's case since God has perfect knowledge of Himself and creation so choice would imply incomplete knowledge.

Scott said...

@Step2:

"So long as there is a real possibility of omniscience there is the implication that choice is an illusion."

There's no serious possibility that the exercise of volition is an illusion, though. That's why I tried to be careful to frame my example in terms that don't depend on our understanding of volition (libertarian free will, determinism, compatibilism, fatalism, and so forth); I simply don't think that's relevant to BenYachov's point about God's conditional will. "If you do X, God will do Y" doesn't become false just because it's guaranteed that you'll do X. In fact, returning to the main issue at hand, if it's guaranteed that you will do X, it seems if anything even clearer that your exercise of volition doesn't entail any change in God.

Nor, I think, does it matter to that issue whether or not you regard God as making a "choice" in conditionally willing that if you do X, He'll do Y, and if not, not. Granting that God in some analogical sense freely "chooses" or "decides" to do Y if you do X (as part of His decision to create the world at all), that decision is ab aeterno and seems to involve no change in God.

BenYachov said...

I couldn't have said it better myself Scott.

Scott said...

Thank you, BenYachov.

Step2 said...

"If you do X, God will do Y" doesn't become false just because it's guaranteed that you'll do X.

I didn't say it was false, I said it was an unnecessary instruction because X isn't a variable subject to an "if" conditional. It would be better just to say God will do Y and leave X out of the equation.

In fact, returning to the main issue at hand, if it's guaranteed that you will do X, it seems if anything even clearer that your exercise of volition doesn't entail any change in God.

Okay, so also returning to the original issue at hand, there is no point in intercessionary prayer if it entails no change in God's acts.

Scott said...

@step2:

"Okay, so also returning to the original issue at hand, there is no point in intercessionary prayer if it entails no change in God's acts."

The answer to this seems straightforward enough that I'll be content to quote Scholastic philosopher/theologian George Hadley Joyce: "It is needless to say that answers to prayer of the kind supposed are not changes in the eternal disposition of providence. They form part and parcel of these dispositions. From all eternity God foresaw that a particular man would pray for such a boon: and He resolved to grant his request. The change is in the sequence of causes and effects which would otherwise have resulted. God's providential plan is immutable." [George Hadley Joyce, Principles of Natural Theology, p. 438 of the Veritas Splendor Publications reprint;the page numbering is different in this online .pdf).

Scott said...

I should perhaps add that I think Hadley's reply was already at least implicit in what BenYachov and I have already said on this point—nor, as a matter of natural theology, does it require commitment to any special revelation.

ccmnxc said...

Sorry if this is an off-topic comment, but I had a question with regards to hell. As a disclaimer, it is a decent possibility that I am not accurately representing Church teaching or divine simplicity, but I will try anyways.
Simply put, does God love those who are in hell? Initially, it is tempting to answer "yes," but (at least with my conception of hell) it looks problematic. I have seen hell basically as a place where God has withdrawn Himself and He (or more specifically, His love) is not present. Being simple, God withdrawing Himself from hell seems to imply that He also withdraws His love from hell. Can God "feel" love towards the person, or is the problematic on divine simplicity? I hope my comment made sense and I'm wondering if anyone could set me straight, most likely with either clarification on divine simplicity or Hell. Thanks.

dguller said...

Scott:

One potential problem with God’s eternity is that if God cannot change by virtue of his immutability, then it follows that since there is a creation, then he was always the creator. In other words, given the reality of creation, it is impossible for God not to be a creator, and since he cannot change, it follows that he was always the creator from eternity. In what sense, then, can one state that God might not have created creation?

BenYachov said...

>I should perhaps add that I think Hadley's reply was already at least implicit in what BenYachov and I have already said on this point—nor, as a matter of natural theology, does it require commitment to any special revelation.

That was pretty much what I was going for.

Step2's problem is his anthropomorphism. God to him is like the pagan deities of old who existed in time & where in essence meta-human beings with preternatural powers that had nothing do for eternity so to stave off eternal boredom they answered the prayers of men on a whim.

He may project that view on the God of the Old and New Testament but it is an alien view according to Jewish and Christian tradition which was more classical.

God answers your prayers or not before you actually ask them from all eternity. The question is how could you yourself have chosen otherwise? What does it really mean for a human being to have free will? Especially since in Thomistic terms God causes you to will freely and causes the reality of free will?

I am not against molinism thought I am more attracted to Banezism if one accepts negative theology and mystery & sees it in that light.

I have been making that move these past few years after reading Banezisits.

I am reminded of the joke by our Protestant brethren who say when it comes to divine sovereignty and providence they are Calvinists & when it comes to Free Will they are Armenians.

I feel like that thought I am starting to see Banezisits do profess to believe in free will. Many Calvinists (not all) do not.


BenYachov said...

ccmnxc

Some brief points.

Love is ultimately an act of the will.
Specifically the willing of the good for someone or something.
God has no emotions or passions that is not what His love is in essence.
By merely creating us God has both willed and imputed to us the goodness of mere being/existence which we cannot obtain for ourselves.
By sustaining our continued existence & ultimately that of our souls, God is objectively loving us.
Thus he does obviously love the damned in so much as if he didn't love them at all they would cease to exist or maybe never exist in the first place.

Hell is the pain felt in the soul at the loss of the Beatific Vision where the soul empowered by
Divine Grace beyond it's natural powers experiences God directly thought being finite & not infinite it can't fully comprehend Him.
If you reject a good you by nature suffer a privation for it.
If I reject food I suffer starvation & sitting in front of a banquet table full of food cursing at it for not nourishing me till I condescend to eat it does nothing.
Rejecting God is rejecting Goodness Itself & the consequences of that is naturally the privation of Goodness Itself otherwise known as Hell.

I hope this gives you a few ideas.

Anonymous said...

Being a Creator is a relational, Cambridge style change, right?

Tony said...

Being a Creator is not relational, Aquinas style. Being created is relational. IIRC, anyway.

Tony said...

I didn't say it was false, I said it was an unnecessary instruction because X isn't a variable subject to an "if" conditional. It would be better just to say God will do Y and leave X out of the equation.

Conditionals still work to show logical dependence even if the "condition" isn't in doubt, isn't "variable". You can say logically, that "if X is true then Y is true" in a geometry proof, and then circle back and show that X had to be true under the given facts, to finally establish "Y is true". The validity of the conditional is not damaged by the non-variable nature of X being true.

In the case of human action, to the extent the action is "good" properly, it stems whole and entire from God's initiative under one or more causal sequences (usually several). That causality does not mean that we are not free.

dguller said...

Anonymous:

Being a Creator is a relational, Cambridge style change, right?

As Tony said, saying that God is creator cannot involve God being in a relation with creation, because that would presuppose some kind of dependence upon creation. That is because God would not be what he is without creation, and that violates God’s utter independence of any created being. So, you say that a creature is really related to God, but God is not really really related to creation, but only conceptually related to creation.

As Aquinas writes: “a relation of God to creatures, is not a reality in God, but in the creature; for it is in God in our idea only: as, what is knowable is so called with relation to knowledge, not that it depends on knowledge, but because knowledge depends on it” (ST 1.6.2.1. Also: 1.13.7).

dguller said...

The challenge that I’ve always had with the idea that there is a real relation between creature and God, but no real relation between God and creature is that it makes as much sense as saying that the creature is really less than God, but that God is not really more than the creature. If the creature is really less than God, then God necessarily must be really greater than the creature. Denying this is equivalent to denying that if X is larger than Y, then Y is not smaller than X. Such relational terms necessarily define one another in terms of their opposites, and so if one side of the relation is real, then the other side must also be real.

Furthermore, if all relational terms cannot be part of the reality of God, then we cannot say that God is really greater than creation, the creator of creation, more perfect than creation, and so on. These would just be mental constructs of the human mind that have no bearing upon the reality of God, which I think is highly problematic for any theology of God, other than a radical and postmodern kind of theology.

Finally, some of those relational terms involve ordered hierarchies, which means that they would presuppose a common standard of comparison. So, to say that X is greater than Y means that X and Y are being compared according to some standard of comparison in which X is higher on the scale than Y. However, this is impossible in terms of comparing God and a creature, because God does not exist under a genus, and God cannot be a genus himself. And since there is no standard of comparison, it follows that there cannot be an ordered hierarchy involving God and creation, such as the one that allows one to truly say that God is really greater than creation.

machinephilosophy said...

"I am unaware of any deductive argument that actually succeeds in proving the "some brand of theism" is metaphysically necessary."

That there needs to be argumentation and proof at the level of universals already assumes that reason is an ultimate crypto-theistic Mind-God, obligating minds to conform to its specs.

Brandon said...

Such relational terms necessarily define one another in terms of their opposites, and so if one side of the relation is real, then the other side must also be real.

I think you are probably mixing together two different senses of 'real': to say that something is a real relation isn't to say that it is really a relation (both real and rational relations are really relations), it just says something about the way in which one thing is oriented with respect to another, in this case by the thing (the literal meaning of 'real') itself. (Also, 'relation' here isn't something between two terms; it's the relatedness of the terms, what it is in the term that makes it to be related. What we usually call 'relation' the scholastics called 'correlation'.)

Thus there's no problem with something being a real relation in one term of the correlation and a rational relation in the other term. It just indicates a particular kind of asymmetrical dependence; in this case, creatures have a real relation to God because a creature in itself can't not be related as creature to Creator (they have their orientation to God in the way they are things), but God has only a rational relation to creatures because He does not have this dependence, and being immutable, creating doesn't change him so that he has a new orientation in Himself (He has his orientation to creatures by intention or notion). It all follows directly from the fact that creatures depend on their Creator and that God is immutable; if either of these are established, it all follows directly.

Brandon said...

Sorry, that should be 'both' rather than 'either'.

Scott said...

@dguller:

"In what sense, then, can one state that God might not have created creation?"

In (at least) the sense that His unconstrained decision to create is metaphysically and logically, though not temporally, prior to the act of creation itself.

machinephilosophy said...

"[T]here is a world of composite things, and argue that there is no way in principle to account for this unless there is something absolutely simple or non-composite. . ."

To recognize a composite object is to assume components of it that make up that object---and without the need for further regression in order to initially recognize that object as a single object.

In other words, sure, we can then ask whether or not the components of that object are themselves composite. But we didn't, did we?

And necessarily so, in order to recognize any composite object in the first place.

Therefore to recognize any object as composite is to presuppose recalcitrant component simples or primary integral unities that are independent of possible regressions of that object's components into ever further sub-compositions.

In fact, we assume this about the object itself---even apart from any question of whether or not it's composite---in merely recognizing it as a single object in the first place.

That is one aspect of how universals make possible our knowledge of particulars. Sine qua---literally---non.

dguller said...

Scott:

In (at least) the sense that His unconstrained decision to create is metaphysically and logically, though not temporally, prior to the act of creation itself.

I’m not too sure that answers my question. If God does not change due to his immutability, and God is the creator, then God has always and eternally been the creator, which means that it is metaphysically and logically impossible for him not to create, because it is metaphysically and logically impossible for God not to be what he is in eternity.

BenYachov said...

I am not getting suckered into this shit.

dguller said...

Brandon:

Thus there's no problem with something being a real relation in one term of the correlation and a rational relation in the other term. It just indicates a particular kind of asymmetrical dependence; in this case, creatures have a real relation to God because a creature in itself can't not be related as creature to Creator (they have their orientation to God in the way they are things), but God has only a rational relation to creatures because He does not have this dependence, and being immutable, creating doesn't change him so that he has a new orientation in Himself (He has his orientation to creatures by intention or notion). It all follows directly from the fact that creatures depend on their Creator and that God is immutable; if either of these are established, it all follows directly.

First, it seems that saying that X has a real relation to Y is just to say that X is dependent upon Y in a particular way. And that means that X necessarily and intrinsically points towards Y as the foundation and ground of X in some way.

Second, your account would permit one to say that God is really the creator, but not that God is necessarily and intrinsically the creator, because that would make God dependent upon creation for that very attribute, which is metaphysically impossible. In other words, if God is not dependent upon creation, then God cannot have a “real relation” with creation.

Third, I would be interested in hearing your response to my argument that since God cannot be part of any ordered hierarchy, then it is impossible to say that he is greater than creation, is the creator of creation, and so on.

Fourth, I wonder if God’s immutability compromises the very points that you are making. As I’ve mentioned to Scott, if God cannot change, then God necessarily remains the same in eternity, which means that God must have the same attributes and characteristics in eternity. Since there is a creation, then God must have created it, which means that God must always and eternally be the creator. And if God is necessarily the creator, and one cannot be a creator without creating something, then even though creation could not exist without a creator, a creator could not be a creator without a creation. Therefore, the dependency is not asymmetrical, but actually symmetrical, because both creator and creation mutually depend upon one another within the relationship, much like the Father and Son mutually depend upon another in the Trinity, i.e. the former begets and the latter is begotten.

rank sophist said...

dguller,

Furthermore, if all relational terms cannot be part of the reality of God, then we cannot say that God is really greater than creation, the creator of creation, more perfect than creation, and so on.

This is not really as radical as you seem to think. For the majority of Christian history, apophatic theology like this was taken for granted by Christian intellectuals. As always, the gap was bridged by analogy.

Anonymous said...

"This is not really as radical as you seem to think. For the majority of Christian history, apophatic theology like this was taken for granted by Christian intellectuals. As always, the gap was bridged by analogy."

I think I understand why Thomists might say that God can't be placed in the same hierarchy as material objects. But my question is, doesn't this undermine the Fourth Way? I haven't really read into the Fourth Way in detail, but doesn't it rely on gradations?

dguller said...

Rank:

This is not really as radical as you seem to think. For the majority of Christian history, apophatic theology like this was taken for granted by Christian intellectuals. As always, the gap was bridged by analogy.

First, I think that it is radical to the point of completely undermining key cataphatic theological claims, including fundamental theological truths, such as that God is the creator of the universe. After all, as we discussed before, I continue to affirm that “X > Y” necessarily means that “Y < X”. It makes absolutely no sense to me to affirm that “X > Y” is real, and deny that “Y < X” is real. They are just two ways of expressing the same truth, which means that affirming the former necessarily affirms the latter, and denying the latter necessarily denies the former. Furthermore, using such relational terms implies an ordered hierarchy relative to a common standard or scale, which is impossible between God and creation.

Second, Brandon agrees with your earlier claim that denying that there is a real relation between God and creation is just another way of saying that God is radically independent of creation such that nothing about God necessarily and intrinsically points towards creation, which is what Aquinas means when he denies that God has a real relation to creation. However, creation is radically dependent upon God, and thus creation necessarily and intrinsically points towards God, which is what Aquinas means when he affirms that creation has a real relation with God.

Third, to say that “the gap was bridged by analogy” presupposes the existence of a bridge. And yet, it seems to be that such a bridge is impossible. After all, the bridge would have to be something in common between the two sides, i.e. God and creation. The only two ways for this to be possible are (a) if God and creation are both under a common standard, which is impossible, because God cannot be under a genus, or (b) if God himself is the standard, which is impossible, because God cannot be a genus himself. It seems to follow that there is no way for anything to be in common between God and creation, which means that there cannot possibly be a bridge between God and creation.

I guess what I’m saying is that once you take the above point seriously, you end up having to negate several key theological claims, including the numerical threeness of the Trinity, God’s status as creator, God’s being as pure act, and so on. There is a reason that mystical theology ultimately leads to silence and ineffability, because all theological language erases itself and unravels into incoherence and meaninglessness. Whether that occurs as a result of the immense strain placed upon language by the infinite power and otherness of God or by the inherent weakness of language when it reaches that semantic space, is a question I cannot answer.

rank sophist said...

Anon at 9:59 AM,

All the Fourth Way concludes is that gradations in goodness entail a highest principle. Consider: if two things are at different levels of goodness, then they presuppose a measuring stick that contains them both. Similarly, ancient scientists supposed fiery things to participate in pure fire. None of this contradicts the idea that God is not knowable in absolute terms. If X and Y are at two different levels of goodness, then we know that they participate in some kind of standard or ideal of goodness itself. Even if we must subsequently state that God is only analogically goodness itself, it does not follow that X and Y are not referred to him as their standard.

Anonymous said...

Or it could be you have massively misinterpreted what you have read, misapplied it, ignored what didn't fit, misunderstood it and to the n'th degree resisted all correction to that effect by trying to bury your opponent under a mount of blather, equivocations, non-squitors and red herrings?

You don't have one clear objection dguller or argument. You have 20 unclear ones.

You just want to be contrary for it's own sake.

FZ said...

No need to be uncharitable Anon, even if dguller is wrong his posts seem pretty clear.

Anonymous said...

Thanks rank, I guess I still need to look into it.

Anonymous said...

No they are not clear at all.

rank sophist said...

dguller,

After all, as we discussed before, I continue to affirm that “X > Y” necessarily means that “Y < X”. It makes absolutely no sense to me to affirm that “X > Y” is real, and deny that “Y < X” is real.

We've discussed this before, but you have never offered a single argument for your position that didn't rely a presupposition that my position is counter-intuitive. That isn't good enough. According to Aquinas, all relations between cause and effect as cause and effect are real in the effect and notional in the cause. Causes are so named from their effects. As a result, all effects contain relations of inferiority to their causes, while causes do not contain relations of superiority to their effects. Unless we affirm this as a basic truth of causality, a vicious regress obtains--as we've discussed before.

if God himself is the standard, which is impossible, because God cannot be a genus himself

God is not a genus, but this does not entail that he cannot be a standard. Because he created all things, creation contains a relation of inferiority to him. Analogy begins from this inferiority, and it leads to all further positive claims about God. If God is the cause of all created goodness, for example, then created goodness is inferior to him; and this allows an analogical statement about God's ultimate goodness.

Scott said...

@dguller:

"I'm not too sure that answers my question."

I'm pretty sure it does. Your question was, "In what sense, then, can one state that God might not have created creation?" I replied, "In (at least) the sense that His unconstrained decision to create is metaphysically and logically, though not temporally, prior to the act of creation itself."

Perhaps the reason that doesn't appear to you to answer the question is that you began with a misconception in the first place: "Clearly, there was a 'time' when only God existed, and creation did not. Otherwise, creation would be eternal . . . ."

This is false. Creation ab aeterno doesn't mean that God wasn't always, eternally, the Creator; it just means time doesn't extend backwards forever. And as your scare quotes indicate, speaking of the act of creation itself in temporal terms is either analogical or just plain wrong. The "transition" you're looking for is purely a matter of metaphysical priority, which was the point of my reply.

I'll quote Joyce again, as I happen to be reading him at the moment. The act of creation doesn't involve any sort of real transition; it just is "the Divine essence, eternal and immutable, viewed in its relation to the new created order. In the latter sense, the act of creation is the created order itself, as newly existing, and in its relation to the Creator as dependent on Him for being. It is no process of fieri: for the creature does not pass by degrees from nonentity to being. [Thus, no "transition."] Either it is not, or it is. The act of creation is simply the newly fashioned universe in its relation to God. As we have already explained (chap. viii., § 3)"—and as others in this thread have explained as well—"the relation of the creature to the Creator, and that of the Creator to the creature, are widely different. The former is a 'real' relation: the dependence of the creature on the Creator is a real determination of its being. The latter is 'conceptual' only. The Creator acquires no new determination when He creates: the Infinite does not become part of a wider whole embracing alike Himself and finite things, so that He is ordered in some way to them. But our mind views Him in connection with them, and therefore relates Him to them in thought, because they are related to Him." (I've just found a better online version of Principles of Natural Theology, and you can find this quoted passasge here.)

Scott said...

Oops, I should have said the denial of creation ab aeterno doesn't mean that God wasn't always, eternally, the Creator; it just means time doesn't extend backwards forever. (And in retrospect I'm not sure I needed that point anyway.)

dguller said...

Rank:

We've discussed this before, but you have never offered a single argument for your position that didn't rely a presupposition that my position is counter-intuitive. That isn't good enough.

Your position makes as much sense as saying that X is good, but X does not exist. Goodness and being are coextensive in that they refer to the same thing in reality, but under different cognitive aspects. Similarly, saying that X < Y is true while Y > X is false is incoherent, because both propositions refer to the same underlying reality, which is conceived under different descriptions. The reality is that there is a hierarchical scale such that Y is higher on the scale than X, which is identical to saying that X is lower on the scale than Y. They are two different descriptions of the same underlying reality.

According to Aquinas, all relations between cause and effect as cause and effect are real in the effect and notional in the cause. Causes are so named from their effects. As a result, all effects contain relations of inferiority to their causes, while causes do not contain relations of superiority to their effects. Unless we affirm this as a basic truth of causality, a vicious regress obtains--as we've discussed before.

First, say that X causes Y to go from potentially P to actually P. In this situation, X is the cause, and the effect is the transition from potentially P to actually P in Y. Certainly, Y would not change without X causing that change, and thus Y qua effect is completely dependent upon X, which is why Y has a real relation to X. However, X is not dependent upon Y to be X, and X’s independence of Y is the ground for X’s notional relation to Y. In other words, even if X had never encountered Y in the causal interaction, X would remain X. But once X has causally interacted with Y, then X qua cause depends upon Y, because in that context, X’s identity is as the cause of Y. I think that the cause and effect are mutually real and mutually interdependent within the context of the causal encounter.

Second, if Y is inferior to X relative to a common hierarchical scale, then X is necessarily superior to Y. They are different ways of saying the same thing about the a common underlying reality.

Third, I cannot recall the vicious regress that you are talking about. Could you elaborate?

God is not a genus, but this does not entail that he cannot be a standard. Because he created all things, creation contains a relation of inferiority to him. Analogy begins from this inferiority, and it leads to all further positive claims about God. If God is the cause of all created goodness, for example, then created goodness is inferior to him; and this allows an analogical statement about God's ultimate goodness.

First, the key part of the analogy equation is not that creation is inferior to God, but rather that there must be something in common between God and creation. So, if this “something in common” is called X, then you have X-in-God and X-in-creature, and the inferiority in question would be that X-in-creature is less perfect than X-in-God, and for a number of reasons. In some ways, the situation with analogy is much like how knowledge is grounded in the fact that the same form F that is in a material being (i.e. F-in-matter) becomes present in an immaterial intellect (i.e. F-in-intellect). There must be an isomorphism between the two sides in order for there to be a bridge between them.

Second, is it false to say that the perfect is better than the imperfect, which is why all beings strive for perfection in the form of full actualization of their specifying potentialities as delineated in their natures?

dguller said...

Scott:

This is false. Creation ab aeterno doesn't mean that God wasn't always, eternally, the Creator; it just means time doesn't extend backwards forever. And as your scare quotes indicate, speaking of the act of creation itself in temporal terms is either analogical or just plain wrong. The "transition" you're looking for is purely a matter of metaphysical priority, which was the point of my reply.

But if God is always the creator in eternity, then how is that not a “metaphysical priority” and necessity? In other words, if there is no possible way for God not to be a creator, then how is it false to say that it is necessary that God is eternally the creator?

The Creator acquires no new determination when He creates: the Infinite does not become part of a wider whole embracing alike Himself and finite things, so that He is ordered in some way to them. But our mind views Him in connection with them, and therefore relates Him to them in thought, because they are related to Him.

I agree with all of that, but it only supports my point, which is that God is necessarily and eternally the creator, which means that it is impossible for God not to create.

Scott said...

In fact I think I'd probably better rephrase that point altogether.

"Clearly, there was a 'time' when only God existed, and creation did not. Otherwise, creation would be eternal . . . ."

The conclusion doesn't follow. I see no reason why God can't eternally be the Creator of a created order that includes a time series that goes back only to a certain time as viewed "internally." If the created order was/is created "time and all," then in eternal terms there was no "time" (scare-quoted or otherwise) at which it didn't exist, for the simple reason that there is no time apart from the created order. Even the use of the past tense "was" (in "there was a 'time'") is at best analogical and at worst just plain wrong. The relation involved is metaphysical or logical, not temporal.

BenYachov said...

"In (at least) the sense that His unconstrained decision to create is metaphysically and logically, though not temporally, prior to the act of creation itself."

Simply put God logically could have chosen from all eternity to not create or from all eternity to be absent any will to create & there is no reason logically why he couldn't have other than he chose otherwise.

Also this eternal choice is free because nothing in God apart from his will & nothing at all external compels him to make a choice either way.

Simple concept.

Scott said...

@dguller:

"I agree with all of that, but it only supports my point, which is that God is necessarily and eternally the creator, which means that it is impossible for God not to create."

Again, the point is that in creating, God doesn't act under any external compulsion; as I put it earlier, His decision to create is unconstrained. I don't say that that's the only sense in which it was "possible" for God not to create, but it's the only one that matters to me and I think it's entirely sound as far as it goes.

Now, if we keep this up, the thread is going to bog down quickly (and probably just go in circles) on a subject that isn't even really quite on-topic, so I'm going to bow out of this part of the thread.

Scott said...

@BenYachov:

"Simple concept."

It seems so to me as well, and I was writing my reply immediately above while you were posting yours. Had I seen yours first, I'd probably just have referred dguller to it.

BenYachov said...

Now, if we keep this up, the thread is going to bog down quickly (and probably just go in circles) on a subject that isn't even really quite on-topic, so I'm going to bow out of this part of the thread.


Amen!!!!

>I'd probably just have referred dguller to it.

I know you mean well & you are a class act brother but please Don't ever do that for the sake of my sanity.

Scott said...

@BenYachov:

"I know you mean well & you are a class act brother but please Don't ever do that for the sake of my sanity."

Heh. Thank you, and I won't.

dguller said...

Scott:

The conclusion doesn't follow. I see no reason why God can't eternally be the Creator of a created order that includes a time series that goes back only to a certain time as viewed "internally." If the created order was/is created "time and all," then in eternal terms there was no "time" (scare-quoted or otherwise) at which it didn't exist, for the simple reason that there is no time apart from the created order. Even the use of the past tense "was" (in "there was a 'time'") is at best analogical and at worst just plain wrong. The relation involved is metaphysical or logical, not temporal.

I see your point, and I think that you are right.

Again, the point is that in creating, God doesn't act under any external compulsion; as I put it earlier, His decision to create is unconstrained. I don't say that that's the only sense in which it was "possible" for God not to create, but it's the only one that matters to me and I think it's entirely sound as far as it goes.

But his decision to create is constrained, because he is always and forever and eternally a creator, albeit of a temporal series, for example. If God is always and eternally a creator, then it is metaphysically and logically impossible for God not to be a creator. Sure, you can argue that this necessity follows from his nature, but that would violate the notion that God might not have created anything at all. Given the reality of creation, it follows that God is eternally and always a creator, which necessarily means that he could never not have been a creator.

Now, if we keep this up, the thread is going to bog down quickly (and probably just go in circles) on a subject that isn't even really quite on-topic, so I'm going to bow out of this part of the thread.

That’s fine.

Take care. It was nice chatting with you.

BenYachov said...

@Scott

additionally on the subject of God's free divine will.

God cannot do what is logically impossible. Just as if I choose X at Time Y then it follows I cannot at Time Y not choose X if I already had chosen X.

But logically I could have not chosen X at time Y & I was free to do so.

God can choose C from all eternity & logically if he does then he can't not choose C or fail to do C from Eternityetc...



BenYachov said...

BTW that last was directed only at Scott & I was not replying to any other posts. Any seeming reply to others was purely coincidental.

Brandon said...

dguller,


(1) Real relation is not synonymous with "being dependent in some way". Some kinds of dependence, however, result in real relations, as with being a son. Metaphysically necessary and intrinsic active dependence would be an example. Not all real relations require such a dependence, however. The steel being attracted by the magnet has a real relation to the magnet. And not any kind of dependence or intrinsicity yields a real relation, either; the relation of everything to itself is not a real relation, for instance, but a rational one.

Again, you have to get out of your head the idea that what depends on what "within the relationship" is relevant; this is going about it backwards, and guarantees that you will be introducing purely conditional necessities, which aren't relevant here.

(2) God doesn't have a relation with creation; He's really related to creation by a rational relation, whereas creatures are related to God by a real relation. This is in fact the Thomistic position. Was there a confusion about its being so that I missed?

(3) Being a Creator necessarily implies creatures, but whether a relation is real or not depends on the way one relates or refers to another, not on the necessary implications of such a relating. All relating-to necessarily implies a to-term, but this doesn't tell us anything about whether the relating-to itself is had qua thing (real) or qua intention (rational).

(4) 'Always and eternally', like 'necessarily', is a Box or strong modality, and thus can be called a kind of necessity, but, as Scott noted, you cannot move from one kind of modality to another: it's not necessity in a relevant way. It's quite literally like trying to argue that that since X must be done (as an obligation), X must be done (i.e., it can't possibly not be done). Temporal strong modalities are all conditional necessities; but conditional necessities are irrelevant to the question of real or rational relations.

Third, I would be interested in hearing your response to my argument that since God cannot be part of any ordered hierarchy, then it is impossible to say that he is greater than creation, is the creator of creation, and so on.

God is part of an ordered hierarchy, as the principle of order; it's just not a categorical one. (And by scholastic convention, the principle of an ordered hierarchy wouldn't usually be said to be 'part of it', for the same reasons that the scholastics conventionally didn't call one a number but the principle of number; but as an ordered hierarchy consists of the principle of the hierarchy and the parts of the hierarchy, this is purely a matter of convention, and wouldn't make a difference.) Order itself is necessarily a transcendental, and therefore does not have to be an order within a single genus.

Even if that were not the case, though, your argument seems to assume that we are talking about an ordered hierarchy that's metaphysically real; but we can also order things in purely mental ways, as when we say that something is a greater symbol than something else, or a greater thing to be associated with in terms of reputation, or a greater cause of satisfaction. We'd just need to specify the standard in such cases. It's true that any kind of greatness tied to creation specifically could not be such an ordering; but all you need for greater and lesser is a directed ordering of some kind -- any kind will do.

Brandon said...

Sorry (3) should be "God doesn't have a real relation"

Scott said...

@dguller:

I'll reply on one more point as I see I left it unanswered when you first made it.

"But his decision to create is constrained, because he is always and forever and eternally a creator . . . ."

I think you're trying to have it both ways here. If metaphysical priority belongs to God's eternal decision to create, then so does any "necessity" associated with His being a creator. You can't coherently maintain, on the one hand, that His decision to create comes metaphysically first, and then on the other hand turn around and say that the very eternality of the decision somehow becomes metaphysically prior to the decision itself and constrains it.

"Take care. It was nice chatting with you."

And with you as well.

rank sophist said...

dguller,

Your position makes as much sense as saying that X is good, but X does not exist.

It isn't. And your argument once again simply presupposes that my position is incoherent.

because both propositions refer to the same underlying reality, which is conceived under different descriptions.

That's your unargued view. It's incompatible with Thomistic metaphysics.

In other words, even if X had never encountered Y in the causal interaction, X would remain X. But once X has causally interacted with Y, then X qua cause depends upon Y, because in that context, X’s identity is as the cause of Y.

There are two ways to take this position. First, one could call it irrelevant, because it changes the terms of the debate half-way through. Second, one could say that it entails an infinite regress.

In the first way, you could be said to switch the relevant terms. X-as-a-cause does not actually change after its causation of Y, even though X-as-a-substance might be said to. If you've switched the terms of debate from X-as-a-cause to X-as-a-substance, then you've simply equivocated and your argument is invalid. You could say that X-as-a-cause begins to have a notional identity as the cause of Y, but this isn't the argument you're trying to make.

Second, if you are claiming that X-as-a-cause changes by causing Y, then you have successfully denied the possibility of causation--for the reasons we've gone over before.

Second, if Y is inferior to X relative to a common hierarchical scale, then X is necessarily superior to Y. They are different ways of saying the same thing about the a common underlying reality.

There is no underlying reality, and your Hegelianism needs to be checked at the door when you're trying to interpret Aquinas. Statements about the superiority or inferiority of Y are really about accidents within Y and/or within other entities to which it is related. "Superior" and "inferior" are only notionally interdependent; actually, they signify specific accidents of relation. It is fully possible for an accident that entails inferiority to actually be present while an accident that entails superiority is actually absent. However, the superiority/inferiority binary is created by our minds even when it does not reflect the actual world.

Third, I cannot recall the vicious regress that you are talking about. Could you elaborate?

It's fairly simple. If an accident of relation appears in both the cause and effect as a result of the cause causing the effect, then the accident's appearance in the cause is either caused or uncaused. If it is uncaused, then we have a contradiction. If it is caused, then it follows that this further cause will also have a relation to its effect, and so on to infinity. No Unmoved Mover can solve this regress, because a relation will necessarily begin to exist within it--which makes the concept of pure, immutable act incoherent.

First, the key part of the analogy equation is not that creation is inferior to God, but rather that there must be something in common between God and creation.

This is your false, univocal conception of analogy. It's been thrashed many times in these comboxes by many, many people. As I said last time, taking your argument to its logical conclusion entails the contradiction that all substances are really, deep down, numerically the same.

Step2 said...

@Scott:

It is needless to say that answers to prayer of the kind supposed are not changes in the eternal disposition of providence.

So you are saying prayers do reflect change in God’s actions but only from the standpoint of eternity so they don’t "appear" to be changes, but that is just hiding the point behind an unknowable wall. I'll go ahead an make a general point against free will, since that is underlying some of the argument. To mix analogies a bit, the entirety of the universe can unfold in a specific way to answer prayers, but Socrates can't be guided to act a certain way because it would violate his integrity. What about the integrity of the universe? It doesn't make sense that omnipotence stops at the threshold of the human body but is omnipresent everywhere else.

Step2's problem is his anthropomorphism.

I would say the problem is the Bible's anthropomorphism, which apparently isn’t convincing for you. There are innumerable instances in the OT which Yahweh is vengeful, temperamental, and occasionally merciful. To describe God as free of emotions is absurd. Furthermore, I don't know what the purpose of calling God a Father is if you are determined to paint a picture of a being who is beyond human comprehension. The NT is God manifesting in human form, which I would consider the paradigm of anthropomorphism. While the pagan deities were usually humanoid, sometimes they weren't. The Egyptian pantheon in particular was somewhat alien and they also believed in the resurrection of the dead.

BenYachov said...

>I would say the problem is the Bible's anthropomorphism, which apparently isn’t convincing for you.

The Bible tells us to follow Tradition and Church(2 Thes 2:15, 3:6 & 1 Tim 3:15, Matt 16:18). It tells us Scripture isn't often clear (2 Peter 3:16) & can be twisted to your own spiritual harm.

Tradition and Church tell us the Bible's anthropomorphism's aren't to be taken literally.

God's anger for example isn't God feeling angry like an enraged human being. It's God's will to justice without emotion.

When it says God enfolds us in His wings we don't conclude God is a giant Chicken.

You will search in vain for Church Fathers, Saints and ancient Christian teachers who claim otherwise.

Even if there is no God you have given me no reason to take the anthropomorphism hyper-literally as you choose to do.

As a Catholic Christian I don't believe the Koran was written by God but I have no reason to believe when it speaks of the Hand of Allah that Muslims understand it to mean Allah literally has a physical hand.

Scratch an Atheist find a fundamentalist. There is no such thing as a one size fits all anti-religious polemic.

If I deny God tomorrow I will never believe the anthropomorpism in the Bible where meant to be taken hyper-literally.

Why should I?

BenYachov said...

>The NT is God manifesting in human form, which I would consider the paradigm of anthropomorphism.

No the doctrine of the incarnation is not related to anthropomorphism. IF anything it has no meaning if God is really an anthropomophic deity. God's Word uniting to the flesh taken from the Virgin Mary & living among us as a Man becomes anachronistic & redundant if He is already a Man.

No God is inconceivable or the Incarnation has no meaning as the means by which the incomprehensible One communicates Himself to us.

Scott said...

@step2:

"So you are saying prayers do reflect change in God’s actions but only from the standpoint of eternity . . . "

I'm not sure how you get that out of the Joyce quote I posted, but as in my exchange with dguller, I'm bowing out. We're off-topic and this exchange isn't very productive.

Anonymous said...

Hi Prof. Feser! I am a regular reader of your blog, and positively influenced by it, and for that I'm very grateful. Having the time (and I know that it is very dificult!!), I would like Prof. Feser dedicate a post to the "hiraclitean" views of Prof. Patrick Lee Miller(http://www.unc.edu/ plmiller ~ /). Again, thank you so much for your blog. (Sorry my english, I´m from Portugal!)

João Gabriel

dguller said...

Brandon:

God doesn't have a relation with creation; He's really related to creation by a rational relation, whereas creatures are related to God by a real relation. This is in fact the Thomistic position. Was there a confusion about its being so that I missed?.

And here’s where I get confused. I cannot understand how if X has a real relation to Y, then Y does not have a real relation to X, especially when the relation in question is a bidirectional one. For example, if X is really larger than Y, then it follows that Y is really smaller than X. They are simply different descriptions of the same underlying reality, and to deny either description is to deny the same key aspects of the same underlying reality. So, to say that creation has a real relation to God, but God has a rational relation to creation, is incoherent to me. But perhaps I am misunderstanding the terms. What does “real relation” mean? What does “rational relation” mean?

From what I read in Owens’ An Elementary Christian Metaphysics on p. 179, to say that X is related to Y means that X is the subject or substrate of the relation, Y is the term of the relation, and X refers to Y on the basis of an underlying cause or ground of the relation.

A real relation is one in which there is a real distinction between X and Y, that antecedes the activity of human thought, and a rational relation is one where “[i]n reality there is no distinct term to which the subject could be referred. The relation, accordingly, does not antecede the activity of human thought. Hence it is a product of human reason. It is a being of reason (ens rationis).” (Ibid., p. 179).

So, to say that a creature has a real relation to God just means that the creature, as subject or substrate, refers to God, as term, such that there is a real distinction between the creature and God. And to say that God has a rational relation to a creature just means that God, as subject or substrate, refers to a creature, as term, such that there is no real distinction between God and the creature. But how can this make sense? How can it make sense that X is really distinct from Y, but Y is not really distinct from X? Or am I misreading something here?

(3) Being a Creator necessarily implies creatures, but whether a relation is real or not depends on the way one relates or refers to another, not on the necessary implications of such a relating. All relating-to necessarily implies a to-term, but this doesn't tell us anything about whether the relating-to itself is had qua thing (real) or qua intention (rational).

Fair enough.

(4) 'Always and eternally', like 'necessarily', is a Box or strong modality, and thus can be called a kind of necessity, but, as Scott noted, you cannot move from one kind of modality to another: it's not necessity in a relevant way. It's quite literally like trying to argue that that since X must be done (as an obligation), X must be done (i.e., it can't possibly not be done). Temporal strong modalities are all conditional necessities; but conditional necessities are irrelevant to the question of real or rational relations.

That is a fair point, but the question is whether Aquinas would disagree with my construal. He writes: “It is clear then that God absolutely can do otherwise than he has done” (QDP 1.5). To me, that implies that it is possible that God would have not willed to create, and my question is how this could be possible if God is immutable? If God cannot change, then his status as creator cannot change, which means that it is impossible for him not to create. In fact, to say that God may not have created presupposes a “time” “prior” to creation in which God could have chosen to create or not to create, which is incoherent, as Scott has pointed out. So, the issue is in what sense can Aquinas say that God could possibly not have created if God is immutable?

dguller said...

God is part of an ordered hierarchy, as the principle of order; it's just not a categorical one. (And by scholastic convention, the principle of an ordered hierarchy wouldn't usually be said to be 'part of it', for the same reasons that the scholastics conventionally didn't call one a number but the principle of number; but as an ordered hierarchy consists of the principle of the hierarchy and the parts of the hierarchy, this is purely a matter of convention, and wouldn't make a difference.) Order itself is necessarily a transcendental, and therefore does not have to be an order within a single genus.

First, how is order a transcendental? Wouldn’t order have to be interconvertible with the other transcendentals?

Second, when you say that God is “the principle of order”, what does this mean? Are you saying that God is the source and origin of “order”?

Third, you write that God is the principle of order in the sense of being the source of an ordered hierarchy, and God is not a member of that hierarchy, because the principle is not in the hierarchy, but is the origin and ground of the hierarchy itself, and thus must be outside the hierarchy. It would follow that the hierarchy cannot be applicable to God, because God is not in the hierarchy in question at all, by virtue of being outside of it as source and origin. If saying that X is greater than Y presupposes that X and Y are in an ordered hierarchy, then if X or Y is not in an ordered hierarchy, then X cannot be greater than Y, and Y cannot be less than X. Since God is not in an ordered hierarchy, then God cannot be called greater than anything at all.

Any thoughts?

Scott said...

@dguller:

"If God cannot change, then his status as creator cannot change, which means that it is impossible for him not to create. In fact, to say that God may not have created presupposes a 'time' 'prior' to creation in which God could have chosen to create or not to create, which is incoherent, as Scott has pointed out."

I'm not sure which parts of this you're attributing to me, so perhaps I'd better clarify. (I'm not adding anything new to the discussion, just making sure that what I've already said is being understood/represented correctly.)

I did say that it's incoherent to suppose there was a time "before" God created time, but I didn't say (and don't believe) that we presuppose such a time when we say that God may/might/need not have created. The point of the latter statement is just that metaphysical priority belongs to God's decision/determination to create and that this decision/determination was unconstrained by anything outside of God's intellect/will.

And I certainly don't agree that just because God, having created, can't also not have created, there's some sort of metaphysically prior necessity about His having done so. As both Brandon and I have pointed out, you're mixing modalities here.

machinephilosophy said...

"So you are saying prayers do reflect change in God’s actions but only from the standpoint of eternity so they don’t "appear" to be changes, but that is just hiding the point behind an unknowable wall."

Just the reverse. From the standpoint of eternity there is no change, but only changes in the contingent world order in relation to God's unchanging nature and being.

The logical sequence is: Reason > God > Experience of finite minds in relation to God.

If there's change, then there ain't no God.

And if determinism is the case, you couldn't know it, since knowing it would have to be something beyond the mere product of whatever determining factors are specified.

BenYachov said...

I shouldn't get into this since I know better then to talk to trolls.

It amazes me how some people can't comprehend a simple concept.

For God to be a creator by necessity in the ultra strong sense then it logically follows He doesn't have any type of Will.

Will implies making a choice. God has the Attribute of Will & given divine simplicity is his own will.

It is the essence of will to exercise volition. Since God is immutable and eternal, God exercises His Will all at once from eternity & it doesn't change.

The eternal choice to create is gratuitous on His part since there is nothing He gets out of it & thus He doesn't need to do it. Nothing compels him to do it other than his will. Nothing outside God's Will/Nature moves his will to create.

Logically He could have chosen differently from all eternity & not create. That is what we me when we say God was free to create.

Why is this f***ing hard?

I can't get sucked into 2000 post of blather & I have a sinking feeling the same objections will still be appearing in this tread 200 posts from now without any progress.

One of the tragedies of my life is the numerous times I haven't been proven wrong about things I wish I could be proven wrong on.

dguller said...

Scott:

I did say that it's incoherent to suppose there was a time "before" God created time, but I didn't say (and don't believe) that we presuppose such a time when we say that God may/might/need not have created. The point of the latter statement is just that metaphysical priority belongs to God's decision/determination to create and that this decision/determination was unconstrained by anything outside of God's intellect/will.

I think that the best way to clarify things is to define what “metaphysical priority” means. To say that X is metaphysically prior to Y means … what exactly? I understand that it does not mean that X existed temporally prior to Y. I also understand that X could exist without Y, but Y could not exist without X, and thus Y is dependent upon X, whereas X is independent of Y. Is there more to it?

And I certainly don't agree that just because God, having created, can't also not have created, there's some sort of metaphysically prior necessity about His having done so. As both Brandon and I have pointed out, you're mixing modalities here.

And what I’m trying to argue is that, in this case, the difference makes no difference, because the bottom line is that, given how reality is, there is no possible way for God not to have created it, whether you want to talk about metaphysical possibility, logical possibility, or temporal possibility. To say that God might not have created the universe leads to a logical contradiction when combined with divine immutability:

(1) If X is P and X is immutable, then X has always been P from eternity
(2) God is immutable
(3) God is a creator
(4) Therefore, God has always been a creator from eternity (by (1), (2), (3))
(5) If X is always P from eternity, then it is (metaphysically, logically, temporally) impossible for X not to be P
(6) Therefore, it is impossible for God not to be a creator (by (4), (5))
(7) It is possible that God not be a creator
(8) There is a contradiction between (6) and (7)

To refute this, you would have to explain a metaphysical scenario that is consistent with divine immutability, the fact of the creation of the universe, and God metaphysically possibly not creating the universe. In other words, you would have to show that (5) is false.

BenYachov said...

So dguller wants to pretend there is no such thing as metaphysical priority & or that it doesn't matter (because he can't understand it &that in his mind makes it false)and then sucker Scott into debating how God once he has chosen x from all eternity cannot change His mind. Something Scott & everyone here already believes!

I hate being right!

>To refute this, you would have to explain a metaphysical scenario that is consistent with divine immutability

What the f*** is a "metaphysical scenario"? What does it have to do with something being metaphysically prior?

Just keep making up your own shit!

Oy Vey I have to leave! This is insane!

Scott said...

@dguller:

"In other words, you would have to show that (5) is false."

To the extent that that's necessary, it's already been done. The argument you're trying to make is If X is P and X is immutable, then X is necessarily P, which is clearly false; an eternal apple could be red without being necessarily red. The argument you have made is that If X is P and X is immutable, then it isn't possible that X could become, or ever have been, not-P, and that argument doesn't invoke the right sort of modality. Again, as at least two of us have said, you're mixing modalities here, and as a result you have to equivocate in your fifth step in order to reach the conclusion you want.

Now, that's all from me. My only concern here was to make sure it was clear what should and shouldn't be attributed to me, and I've done that.

BenYachov said...

Fun fact for JHC our resident troll.

Armenian Orthodox, and Assyrian Church of the East Christians actually still perform animal sacrifices.

But reading animal testicles is not involved you are thinking of greeco-roman paganism.

dguller said...

Rank:

It isn't. And your argument once again simply presupposes that my position is incoherent.

It is, actually. Goodness and being are just two different descriptions of the same underlying reality. To say that goodness exists, whereas being does not, is incoherent, because it means that X exists and X does not exist. Similarly, to say that X is greater than Y, but Y is not less than X, is to affirm a contradiction, because they are two descriptions of the same underlying reality, which is X and Y existing at different points in an ordered hierarchy, and describing them relative to one another in that hierarchy. To say that X is higher than Y on that hierarchy, but Y is not lower than X on that hierarchy is logically equivalent to saying that X is higher than Y, but X is not higher than Y, which is a contradiction. After all, X is higher than Y is semantically and logically equivalent to Y is lower than X.

That's your unargued view. It's incompatible with Thomistic metaphysics.

I would say that it shows an inconsistency in Thomist metaphysics.

In the first way, you could be said to switch the relevant terms. X-as-a-cause does not actually change after its causation of Y, even though X-as-a-substance might be said to. If you've switched the terms of debate from X-as-a-cause to X-as-a-substance, then you've simply equivocated and your argument is invalid. You could say that X-as-a-cause begins to have a notional identity as the cause of Y, but this isn't the argument you're trying to make.

The solution to this depends upon how one views the idea that “a thing cannot give what it does not have” (Feser, Aquinas, p. 22). My understanding is that X gives something to Y that causes the transition from potentially P to actually P in Y. Without that giving, the transition would not occur. As Fr. Clarke writes: “It involves an efficacious, productive power in the cause such that the cause makes the effect to be, in whole or in part. It is the positive overflow of one being into another … given the opportunity, it naturally flows over and communicates being to other according to its capacities” (Clarke, The One and the Many, p. 187). He also writes that “efficient causality is the immanence of the cause at work in the effect, as long as the effect is still being actually produced – a presence not by identity of essence but by a continuum of power as the cause pours over and communicates being in some way to the effect” (Ibid., p. 190).

You seem to focus so heavily upon the transition from potentially P to actually P in Y as the only real event, and relegate the causal efficacy of the efficient cause to a mental construct of the human mind, i.e. a “notional identity”. The reality is that “Actio est in passo: The action of the cause takes place in the effect as from the cause” (Ibid., p. 189) and the “act of causation” is located “[i]n the effect as from the efficient cause” (Ibid., p. 190). You need both the efficient cause giving and the effect receiving what the efficient cause is giving to drive the transition from potentially P to actually P. Furthermore, both are real, and not just mental constructs, as far as I can tell, which means that if either one is unreal, then the causal encounter cannot actually occur at all.

dguller said...

Second, if you are claiming that X-as-a-cause changes by causing Y, then you have successfully denied the possibility of causation--for the reasons we've gone over before.

X as a substance does not change, but X’s accidents do change, particularly the accident of action. Prior to the causal encounter, X lacked the accident of action, and during the causal encounter, X acquires the accident of action. As Owens writes: “Its action, accordingly, is not part of its substantial nature nor of its substantial being. Its action, however, is real, for it really operates. The action therefore is an accident really superadded to the substance, and is something that is a second actuality in the agent” (Owens, An Elementary Christian Metaphysics, p. 197).

There is no underlying reality, and your Hegelianism needs to be checked at the door when you're trying to interpret Aquinas.

What I meant is that the different descriptions are trying to describe a single reality. Saying that X is greater than Y describes the exact same reality as Y is less than X, but using different terminology. I don’t think this is Hegelianism, but rather common sense.

Statements about the superiority or inferiority of Y are really about accidents within Y and/or within other entities to which it is related. "Superior" and "inferior" are only notionally interdependent; actually, they signify specific accidents of relation.

I disagree. Saying that X is superior to Y (or that Y is inferior to X) are not “notionally interdependent”, if you mean that they are mind-dependent. If the relation of superiority (or inferiority) is a real relation, then it is necessarily mind-independent, and thus cannot be “notionally interdependent”. But you are correct that saying that X is superior to Y (or Y is inferior to X) presupposes an accident of quantity in X and Y that is being compared under the genus of relation.

It is fully possible for an accident that entails inferiority to actually be present while an accident that entails superiority is actually absent. However, the superiority/inferiority binary is created by our minds even when it does not reflect the actual world.

I think that superior-inferior is parasitic upon large-small, which are fundamentally quantitative terms. To say that X is superior to Y presupposes a common standard that X and Y are being compared to, and that X is closer to the ideal contained within the standard than Y, which is just another way of saying that X has more goodness (and thus being) than Y, and this is the basis for saying that X is superior to Y. Furthermore, this necessarily presupposes that superior-inferior is a real relation, if the comparison occurs independent of the human mind. In other words, if it is an objective truth that X is closer to the ideal than Y, then X is really superior to Y, and Y is really inferior to X.

There is some corroboration for this when Aquinas writes that “the large and the small” are examples of “opposites which are relative” that are “related to each other on an equal basis”, which he distinguishes from “contraries” that are “not related to each other on an equal basis, as knowledge and a knowable object” (In Meta, 10.9.2103). What this means is that when X and Y are reciprocally related by “the large and the small”, then X and Y are either both real relations or both rational relations in the relationship (i.e. “on an equal basis”). This is explicitly distinguished from when X and Y are reciprocally related by “knowledge and a knowable object”, which can be related on an un-equal basis, such that X as knower is in a real relation with Y as known, but Y as known is in a rational relation with X as knower.

dguller said...

So, if I am correct that superior-inferior is parasitic upon large-small, which can only occur in a reciprocal and opposite relationship in which both the subject and the term are really related (if the relation is independent of the human mind) or rationally related (if the relation is dependent upon the human mind), then it is impossible for superior-inferior to occur in an unequal basis, as you are claiming. It would be a category mistake to transfer what is necessarily an equal relation to a necessarily unequal relation.

The only solution is to admit that superior-inferior is just another way of saying independent-dependent. In other words, when you say that X is superior to Y, you are just saying that X is independent of Y. But that presupposes a standard such that independence is correlated with superiority, and if there are degrees of independence, then you are right back on a quantitative scale of some kind, which prohibits any unequal contraries.

It's fairly simple. If an accident of relation appears in both the cause and effect as a result of the cause causing the effect, then the accident's appearance in the cause is either caused or uncaused. If it is uncaused, then we have a contradiction. If it is caused, then it follows that this further cause will also have a relation to its effect, and so on to infinity. No Unmoved Mover can solve this regress, because a relation will necessarily begin to exist within it--which makes the concept of pure, immutable act incoherent.

Except that divine causality is analogous to, but not identical to, creaturely causality, which means that it has characteristics that differentiate it from creaturely causality. So, why not include the power to cause without acquiring the accident of action as one of those differentiating characteristics? That would end the infinite regress nicely, I think.

This is your false, univocal conception of analogy. It's been thrashed many times in these comboxes by many, many people. As I said last time, taking your argument to its logical conclusion entails the contradiction that all substances are really, deep down, numerically the same.

First, how does that follow from my account of analogy?

Second, as I recall, your answer to my account was to say that analogy is basic and essentially unanalyzable into more basic components. In other words, there is no definition of it that is possible, and it just has to be taken as it is, whatever it is. But it clearly can be divided into more basic components, i.e. partial identity and partial difference, which is how analogy has been explained by Aquinas (In Meta 11.3.2197), Clarke (O&M, p. 45), Owens (AECM, p. 86), Wippel (MTTA, p. 571), Rocca (STIG, p. 129), and others. It is also consistent with a Neoplatonic metaphysics of efficiency causality as a kind of participation. It just so happens that it reduces to univocality, which is not a new critique.

dguller said...

Scott:

To the extent that that's necessary, it's already been done. The argument you're trying to make is If X is P and X is immutable, then X is necessarily P, which is clearly false; an eternal apple could be red without being necessarily red. The argument you have made is that If X is P and X is immutable, then it isn't possible that X could become, or ever have been, not-P, and that argument doesn't invoke the right sort of modality. Again, as at least two of us have said, you're mixing modalities here, and as a result you have to equivocate in your fifth step in order to reach the conclusion you want.

I’m afraid I just don’t see the difference. If it isn’t possible that X could ever be not-P, then X is necessarily P. To me, to say that X is necessarily P just means that there is no possible state of affairs or circumstances -- however you want to define “state of affairs” or “circumstances” -- in which X could be not-P. To falsify the proposition that X is necessarily P only requires that one demonstrate a way for X to be X but not-P. If this is impossible, then X is necessarily P. I do not understand what other meaning of “necessity” people are operating with.

Anyway, perhaps someone else can explain where I’m going wrong here, but you’ve explained your position very well, and I apologize if I’ve misconstrued it.

Take care.

FZ said...

Wait, when we say "possible" here, are we referring to a possibility in the actual world or a "possible world?"

Scott said...

@dguller:

"To me, to say that X is necessarily P just means that there is no possible state of affairs or circumstances -- however you want to define 'state of affairs' or 'circumstances' -- in which X could be not-P."

A Euclidean equilateral triangle is equiangular; firemen wear red suspenders. In the first case, X (the Euclidean equilateral triangle) has the property P (equiangularity) necessarily; there simply couldn't be a Euclidean equilateral triangle that wasn't equiangular. In the second case, X (a fireman) has the property P (wearing red suspenders) in fact, but not out of any metaphysical or logical necessity; there's (what seems to me) a perfectly clear sense of "possibility" in which it's "possible" that even an eternal, immutable fireman could have worn suspenders of a different color (or none at all).

If this sort of necessity doesn't make any sense to you, then just don't worry about it; it doesn't matter to the present discussion. What matters is that when people say God didn't have to create the world, that's what we have in mind. It needn't be expressed in terms of "possibility" at all, and in fact both I and He to Whom I Must Not Refer You have explained it in other terms elsewhere in the thread by saying that when God created/creates, He's not constrained by anything but His own will/intellect. That's the heart of the matter; if you don't think the sort of "possibility" at issue here is meaningful, then so be it.

rank sophist said...

dguller,

To say that X is higher than Y on that hierarchy, but Y is not lower than X on that hierarchy is logically equivalent to saying that X is higher than Y, but X is not higher than Y, which is a contradiction. After all, X is higher than Y is semantically and logically equivalent to Y is lower than X.

This is the case in our minds only, because we think in unbreakable binary oppositions. This does not mean that they really reflect the world--they're beings of reason.

My understanding is that X gives something to Y that causes the transition from potentially P to actually P in Y. Without that giving, the transition would not occur.

All that happens is that X and Y come to be in a certain proximity, at which time a collaboration occurs that brings Y from potentially P to actually P. Y could not do this on its own: it relies on the presence of X. But X does not "give" in the mechanistic, push-force sense. The presence of actuality near potentiality draws potentiality to imitate actuality, which is the moment of change.

As Fr. Clarke writes

I don't agree with Clarke's interpretation, here--that is, if your quote is in context. That sort of overflowing applies to divine causality only, since only God is capable of overflowing into the creation of a wholly new thing. The reduction of potency to act is simply the motion of potency springing into act within the presence of act. That is change in a nutshell.

He also writes that “efficient causality is the immanence of the cause at work in the effect, as long as the effect is still being actually produced – a presence not by identity of essence but by a continuum of power as the cause pours over and communicates being in some way to the effect” (Ibid., p. 190).

Again, assuming that this is in context, I don't agree. I think Heidegger did a much better job of capturing the essence of Aristotelian efficient causality with his talk of mutual "responsibility" and "indebtedness". All four causes are co-responsible and indebted to one another in the bringing-forth of the effect. An efficient cause is simply a particular means by which the causal cycle is completed, and it relies on the prior existence of formal, final and material causes acting in unison. The efficient cause in no way "pours over and communicates being", which is to confuse divine causality and ontic causality. The divine efficient cause (so called) is a limitless outpouring that communicates being; the ontic efficient cause is a pack horse under the direction of a final cause, which tells it to deliver a formal cause to a material cause. There is a difference in kind between causing change and causing being.

rank sophist said...

You seem to focus so heavily upon the transition from potentially P to actually P in Y as the only real event, and relegate the causal efficacy of the efficient cause to a mental construct of the human mind, i.e. a “notional identity”.

The efficient cause is a presence that draws potentiality to actuality. That's what it does. It has no efficacy in the sense of forcing potentially P to change to actually P. The only real event is the transition in Y, which results from the presence of efficient cause X. That's it.

You need both the efficient cause giving and the effect receiving what the efficient cause is giving to drive the transition from potentially P to actually P.

This is an incoherent idea. If the efficient cause gives in the sense that you mean, then it must change. That makes causation impossible. Only if it gives in the sense that I mean--i.e. as a changeless presence that potentiality is drawn up to--is causation a possibility.

X as a substance does not change, but X’s accidents do change, particularly the accident of action. Prior to the causal encounter, X lacked the accident of action, and during the causal encounter, X acquires the accident of action.

And yet, as I've cited before, Aquinas and Aristotle both reject the idea that X really gains the accident of action. If causality occurs as a result of the accident of action, then the infinite regress follows.

As Owens writes: “Its action, accordingly, is not part of its substantial nature nor of its substantial being. Its action, however, is real, for it really operates. The action therefore is an accident really superadded to the substance, and is something that is a second actuality in the agent” (Owens, An Elementary Christian Metaphysics, p. 197).

This interpretation flatly contradicts what Aquinas and Aristotle really wrote, as I've pointed out in past debates.

Saying that X is superior to Y (or that Y is inferior to X) are not “notionally interdependent”, if you mean that they are mind-dependent. If the relation of superiority (or inferiority) is a real relation, then it is necessarily mind-independent, and thus cannot be “notionally interdependent”.

I mean that our words "superior" and "inferior" are only inseparable in our minds. In reality, they are separable and can exist apart. This is because "superior" and "inferior" generally refer to the presence of certain accidents--and not every accident that entails inferiority relates to a corresponding accident that entails superiority. This is the case with causality, since effects have relations of inferiority to causes that do not have corresponding relations of superiority. We must create this reverse relation mentally, as Aquinas confirms; but it does not really exist.

rank sophist said...

I think that superior-inferior is parasitic upon large-small, which are fundamentally quantitative terms.

Superior-inferior is parasitic upon the transcendental concept of One, from which we derive the axiom that the whole is greater than the part. It has nothing to do with quantity.

So, why not include the power to cause without acquiring the accident of action as one of those differentiating characteristics?

If the accident of action is a necessary condition of causality, then this claim would entail irrationalism. What we call God's causality would simply be an unknowable equivocation--not an analogy.

Second, as I recall, your answer to my account was to say that analogy is basic and essentially unanalyzable into more basic components

This was indeed my argument.

it clearly can be divided into more basic components, i.e. partial identity and partial difference, which is how analogy has been explained by Aquinas (In Meta 11.3.2197), Clarke (O&M, p. 45), Owens (AECM, p. 86), Wippel (MTTA, p. 571), Rocca (STIG, p. 129)

We've been over the Aquinas reference. It completely fails to offer solid ground for interpreting analogy. Later Thomists who based their arguments about analogy on those passages are simply wrong.

To say that analogy entails partial identity and partial difference in the sense that you mean guarantees that there will be a numeric identity between X and Y, which is a contradiction. If X and Y are both sheep, then this means that they both have the form of sheepness. But the form of sheepness is not identical between them, because signate matter literally changes the form it takes on. If we were to affirm that the form was identical between the two sheep, this would entail that one numerically identical form was present in two numerically distinct entities, which gives us a contradiction. Or, if we proposed that one numerically identical form grounded both entities but was present in neither, then we would be subject to the third man argument. As a result, it is impossible for partial identity to be a condition of analogy.

It just so happens that it reduces to univocality, which is not a new critique.

It isn't new because Thomists have a long history of botching analogy, thanks to Aquinas's vague and disconnected writings on the subject.

Step2 said...

We're off-topic and this exchange isn't very productive.

Thanks for nothing. However, I did enjoy your good cop to the nameless one's bad cop.

From the standpoint of eternity there is no change, but only changes in the contingent world order in relation to God's unchanging nature and being.

From the standpoint of temporal being, what is outside space-time is eternal by perspective, not necessarily a timeless state. In other words, if there is a way to make a different universe from a singularity our universe would be timeless in relation to that universe. Of course there would be an interaction problem as well but let’s ignore that problem for the moment.
http://arxiv.org/abs/1305.2614

The logical sequence is: Reason > God > Experience of finite minds in relation to God.

The logical sequence is: Reason>Finite minds grasping reason because reason is relational and finite>Infinite mind caught in an infinite self-referential loop.

If there's change, then there ain't no God.

The New Covenant indicates differently.

Brandon said...

dguller,

If it isn’t possible that X could ever be not-P, then X is necessarily P. To me, to say that X is necessarily P just means that there is no possible state of affairs or circumstances -- however you want to define “state of affairs” or “circumstances” -- in which X could be not-P. To falsify the proposition that X is necessarily P only requires that one demonstrate a way for X to be X but not-P. If this is impossible, then X is necessarily P. I do not understand what other meaning of “necessity” people are operating with.

This is indeed the most general meaning for 'possibility' and 'necessity', since these are just (one way of framing) the general definitions for weak and strong modality. But it is a simple fact of modal logic that there is a massive number of different versions of weak and strong modality -- possibly even an infinite number. And the reason for this lies in the fact that you can't ignore the however you want to define “state of affairs” or “circumstances”. Different definitions of what counts as state of affairs and circumstances put you in different universes of discourse, or, to put it in a different way, change the system of modal principles you have to assume to draw inferences, or, to put it a third way, change the modal logic in which you are working. Temporal modal logics have their own version of weak modality ('possibility' in the purely structural sense) and strong modality ('necessity' in the purely structural sense), and these are (1) by definition different modalities than those used to talk about (say) essences or natures and (2) can work in very different ways, allowing or disallowing very different kinds of inferences. Thus you always have to be careful which modalities you're working with; defining a modality relative to times is very different from defining a modality relative to possible actions, which are both very different from defining a modality relative to places, which are all very different from defining a modality relative to scenarios not ruled out by the principle of noncontradiction, and so forth, despite the fact that we are capable of defining weak and strong modalities for each.

We can relate modalities to each other, but it gets complicated. For instance, something that is everywhere (or at all times) is described by a strong local (or temporal) modality. It's necessary in a perfectly definable sense. But it's not necessary in the sense of necessarily existing or occurring; its local (or temporal) modality is logically conditional its existence: Given that it exists, it is at every possible place (or time). But its being at every possible place does not mean that there is no definable possibility (again, there are massively many) for which only the weak modality applies to it.

BenYachov said...

>The New Covenant indicates differently.

Whose interpretation of the New Covenant?

Yours or ours?

Ours, the one given by the Fathers, Tradition and Church are the only ones we recognize.

If it is just your private interpretation then it's not really the New Covenant as far as we are concerned.

As Americans why would we give a crap what the Chinese or Russians thought our constitution meant?

It is what we Americans and the Supreme Court think that counts.

dguller said...

Scott:

A Euclidean equilateral triangle is equiangular; firemen wear red suspenders. In the first case, X (the Euclidean equilateral triangle) has the property P (equiangularity) necessarily; there simply couldn't be a Euclidean equilateral triangle that wasn't equiangular. In the second case, X (a fireman) has the property P (wearing red suspenders) in fact, but not out of any metaphysical or logical necessity; there's (what seems to me) a perfectly clear sense of "possibility" in which it's "possible" that even an eternal, immutable fireman could have worn suspenders of a different color (or none at all).

Again, I think they are just different kinds of necessity, but they are still necessities. If an eternal, immutable fireman has red suspenders, then it is impossible that he “could have worn suspenders of a different color”. How could he do so, if he is truly immutable and has always worn red suspenders? I mean, if you think it is possible, then explain the scenario in which it would be possible.

If this sort of necessity doesn't make any sense to you, then just don't worry about it; it doesn't matter to the present discussion. What matters is that when people say God didn't have to create the world, that's what we have in mind. It needn't be expressed in terms of "possibility" at all, and in fact both I and He to Whom I Must Not Refer You have explained it in other terms elsewhere in the thread by saying that when God created/creates, He's not constrained by anything but His own will/intellect. That's the heart of the matter; if you don't think the sort of "possibility" at issue here is meaningful, then so be it.

I have no problem with the claim that God is unconstrained by anything other than his intellect and will, and if you define necessity as constraint outside of a thing’s nature, then God would not necessarily will anything under this scenario. However, when you add the claim that God could have chosen otherwise to this, then I think you start having problems, especially when you add divine immutability to the equation.

In other words, the following propositions are distinct:

(1) X chooses without any external constraint
(2) X could have chosen otherwise

Neither necessarily implies the other. X could choose without any external constraint, but X’s internal dynamics are such that X could not have chosen otherwise. X could choose with external constraints, and yet be open to different possible choices, depending upon the external constraints.

dguller said...

Brandon:

Thank you for the clarification.

FZ said...

dguller, how are you using the word "necessary?" Are you defining it as something like "in all possible worlds?"

dguller said...

Rank:

This is the case in our minds only, because we think in unbreakable binary oppositions. This does not mean that they really reflect the world--they're beings of reason.

That just begs the question. There is no reason why some binary oppositions cannot be real.

All that happens is that X and Y come to be in a certain proximity, at which time a collaboration occurs that brings Y from potentially P to actually P. Y could not do this on its own: it relies on the presence of X. But X does not "give" in the mechanistic, push-force sense. The presence of actuality near potentiality draws potentiality to imitate actuality, which is the moment of change.

Then the maxim that X cannot give what X does not have is false. X does not give anything under your account.

I don't agree with Clarke's interpretation, here--that is, if your quote is in context. That sort of overflowing applies to divine causality only, since only God is capable of overflowing into the creation of a wholly new thing. The reduction of potency to act is simply the motion of potency springing into act within the presence of act. That is change in a nutshell.

I’m not saying that creaturely causality results in “the creation of a wholly new thing”, but rather that it results in the transition from potentially P to actually P in the patient, and Clarke states that the efficient cause, in an imperfect imitation of divine causality, overflows into the patient to cause this transition, when the agent and patient are in the proper relations with one another. You’ve discussed your account of causality on a few occasions. Can you direct me to some of your readings on the subject?

This is an incoherent idea. If the efficient cause gives in the sense that you mean, then it must change. That makes causation impossible. Only if it gives in the sense that I mean--i.e. as a changeless presence that potentiality is drawn up to--is causation a possibility.

Not at all. The efficient cause can give, and yet not change at all. Why would it need to change in the giving? Its causal power is its being an instrument of the divine. As Aquinas writes: “God is the cause of every action, inasmuch as every agent is an instrument of the divine power operating” (QDP 3.7). God’s overflowing abundance is present in the efficient cause, but in a restricted and imperfect fashion by virtue of the limitation of its form. However, it does not follow that its giving to the patient necessarily involves a change in itself.

And yet, as I've cited before, Aquinas and Aristotle both reject the idea that X really gains the accident of action. If causality occurs as a result of the accident of action, then the infinite regress follows.

First, where do they do so?

Second, there is no reason that the regress couldn’t stop with divine causality that does not involve accidents in any way. Much like we infer from composite entities that are admixtures of act and potency to a simple entity that is pure act, we can infer from creaturely causality that necessarily involves accidents to divine causality that cannot involve accidents.

dguller said...

This interpretation flatly contradicts what Aquinas and Aristotle really wrote, as I've pointed out in past debates.

I can’t recall this.

I mean that our words "superior" and "inferior" are only inseparable in our minds. In reality, they are separable and can exist apart. This is because "superior" and "inferior" generally refer to the presence of certain accidents--and not every accident that entails inferiority relates to a corresponding accident that entails superiority. This is the case with causality, since effects have relations of inferiority to causes that do not have corresponding relations of superiority. We must create this reverse relation mentally, as Aquinas confirms; but it does not really exist.

Here’s how I see things. You have substance X and substance Y. X has accident A1, and Y has accident A2. A1 and A2 are different instantiations of a common kind of accident, and thus A1 and A2 would each have the same accidental form F. A1 and A2 differ in terms of the degree to which they actualize F, which sets the standard for what an ideal instantiation of F would be as a final cause.

Say that A1 actualizes F to a greater extent than A2. That means that A1 is a better instantiation of F than A2, because the more actual being, the more goodness, by the interconvertibility of the transcendentals. Note that none of this is just in the mind, but rather corresponds to reality.

To say that X is superior to Y only makes sense in terms of comparing the degree to which A1 has more being than A2, which is just another way of saying that A1 is a better example of A2, according to the standard set by F. It is an objective fact that A1 approximates the ideal set by F to a certain extent E1. It is an objective fact that A2 approximates the ideal set by F to a certain extent E2. E1 and E2 can then be compared, and if E1 > E2, then A1 is superior to A2. Notice that this is just another way of saying E2 < E1, and A2 is inferior to A1. None of this is in the mind. The relation between A1 and A2 is objectively real, and is based upon their differing degrees of approximation to the ideal set by F.

It makes absolutely no sense to say that A1 is superior to A2, but A2 is not inferior to A1. They are just different ways of describing the same underlying reality, which is that A1 is closer to the ideal set by F than A2. As I said before, it would be like saying that X is good, but X does not exist. If X is good, then X must exist, because goodness and being are just different descriptions of the same underlying reality.

Even Aquinas agrees that large-small is an example of a relation that is necessarily equal, i.e. saying that X is larger than Y necessarily means that A1 in X and A2 in Y are either both beings of reality or both beings of reason. It makes no sense to him to say that X is larger than Y, but X’s largeness is real, while Y’s smallness is not real. Either they are both real, or they are both mental constructs.

dguller said...

Superior-inferior is parasitic upon the transcendental concept of One, from which we derive the axiom that the whole is greater than the part. It has nothing to do with quantity.

How do you derive that axiom? Transcendental unity just means one undivided being, and transcendental multiplicity just means one undivided being is divided from another undivided being. How do you go from that to “the whole is greater than the part”? From what I understand, the use of “greater than” in this context is parasitic upon quantity in the sense that it necessarily involves the use of a metaphor that transfers the quantitative concept of X > Y to a non-quantitative transcendental setting. Personally, I don’t think it makes any sense, but that’s a whole other matter.

If the accident of action is a necessary condition of causality, then this claim would entail irrationalism. What we call God's causality would simply be an unknowable equivocation--not an analogy.

No, it would entail the inconceivability of divine causality. We cannot conceive of creation ex nihilo without necessarily conceiving of non-being as a “state” from which being is created from. However, we also understand that those characteristics of non-being are impossible, because non-being is not a “state”. And what makes divine causality analogous is some commonality with creaturely causality, but with important differences, one of which would have to be action without the accident of action.

We've been over the Aquinas reference. It completely fails to offer solid ground for interpreting analogy. Later Thomists who based their arguments about analogy on those passages are simply wrong.

Again, would you mind pointing me to some sources or texts that expound your position? Obviously, I can’t cite Aquinas or any Thomists, because they bungled the matter up thoroughly. Who should I read to get a better understanding of this issue?

To say that analogy entails partial identity and partial difference in the sense that you mean guarantees that there will be a numeric identity between X and Y, which is a contradiction. If X and Y are both sheep, then this means that they both have the form of sheepness. But the form of sheepness is not identical between them, because signate matter literally changes the form it takes on. If we were to affirm that the form was identical between the two sheep, this would entail that one numerically identical form was present in two numerically distinct entities, which gives us a contradiction. Or, if we proposed that one numerically identical form grounded both entities but was present in neither, then we would be subject to the third man argument. As a result, it is impossible for partial identity to be a condition of analogy.

I would respond by differentiating formal identity from numerical identity. F-in-X and F-in-Y are numerically two, but formally one. The F in F-in-X and F-in-Y would be the commonality between them, and would be the basis for the analogy between X and Y. The difference would be the fact that X has F-in-X and Y has F-in-Y. That would be the partial identity (i.e. F-in-X and F-in-Y) and the partial difference (i.e. F-in-X and F-in-Y).

Since it's a long weekend, it may take me a few days to respond to your upcoming response, if there is going to be one.

Take care.

dguller said...

FZ:

dguller, how are you using the word "necessary?" Are you defining it as something like "in all possible worlds?"

Not necessarily. Necessity depends upon a system S. To say that P is necessarily true within S just means that there is no way that P can be false in S. If there is a way for P to be true in S, then P is not necessarily true. S can be a logical system, a metaphysical system, a physical system, or whatever. So, P can be necessary in a physical system, but only possible in a logical system, for example.

For me, it is a metaphysical and logical truth that if X is P and X is immutable, then it is metaphysically and logically impossible for X to be not-P, because there is no logical or metaphysical state of affairs or circumstnaces in which X could be not-P if X is eternally immutable and X is P. After all, part of the very meaning of X is immutably P from eternity is X cannot be not-P. At least, that's how I see things.

dguller said...

Rank:

Sorry, just one more thing.

You wrote that “The presence of actuality near potentiality draws potentiality to imitate actuality, which is the moment of change”. That implies that the efficient cause does not act upon the patient in order to cause change in the patient, but rather the patient is intrinsically directed towards that change, and yet is obstructed somehow. The efficient cause’ presence seems to remove the obstruction, allowing the natural tendency of the patient to change from potentially P to actually P.

However, you also wrote that “the ontic efficient cause is a pack horse under the direction of a final cause, which tells it to deliver a formal cause to a material cause”. This implies that the efficient cause is giving a formal cause to the material cause.

So, is the transition from potentially P to actually P in the patient due to the agent giving something to the patient to cause the transition (as an efficient cause), or due to the agent’s presence inspiring the patient’s potentiality to become like the agent in becoming actual (as a final cause)?

Thanks.

rank sophist said...

dguller,

That just begs the question. There is no reason why some binary oppositions cannot be real.

Some are. The one between cause and effect isn't.

Then the maxim that X cannot give what X does not have is false.

It simply means something other than what you thought it did.

Can you direct me to some of your readings on the subject?

I recommend this and this, to start with.

Why would it need to change in the giving?

Because the kind of giving you're talking about entails interdependent relation, rather than the non-motion of the efficient cause and the motion of the effect.

First, where do they do so?

Lonergan addresses their case at length in the essay I linked.

Second, there is no reason that the regress couldn’t stop with divine causality that does not involve accidents in any way.

Again, Lonergan addresses their argument against this position.

X has accident A1, and Y has accident A2. A1 and A2 are different instantiations of a common kind of accident, and thus A1 and A2 would each have the same accidental form F. A1 and A2 differ in terms of the degree to which they actualize F

This isn't how the relation of causality works, though--as you should know.

the more actual being, the more goodness, by the interconvertibility of the transcendentals.

This is a side issue, but it should be noted once again that being and goodness cannot be quantified, since they are above the category of quantity. There is no such thing as "more goodness" unless we're comparing different levels of being, i.e. accidental and substantial. Having more ontic actuality entails being better, but it does not entail having more being, which is an incoherent idea.

Even Aquinas agrees that large-small is an example of a relation that is necessarily equal, i.e. saying that X is larger than Y necessarily means that A1 in X and A2 in Y are either both beings of reality or both beings of reason.

Which is, again, irrelevant. We're talking about the relation of effect to cause, which is different from any other type of relation.

rank sophist said...

How do you derive that axiom? Transcendental unity just means one undivided being, and transcendental multiplicity just means one undivided being is divided from another undivided being. How do you go from that to “the whole is greater than the part”?

One is identical with being and goodness, and so it comes into our mind as soon as we intuit the existence of any being. If One (i.e. whole, unified) is higher, then whatever is not One (i.e. part, disconnected) must be lower. This, I assume, is why Aquinas states that "the whole is greater than the part" is among the axioms that we must know and cannot doubt. However, if a superior-inferior value judgment is inherent to One, then it is clear that superior-inferior does not rely on quantity.

Obviously, I can’t cite Aquinas or any Thomists, because they bungled the matter up thoroughly. Who should I read to get a better understanding of this issue?

Aquinas didn't bungle the matter; he simply didn't write that clearly about it. The later Thomists who read Aquinas in separation from his sources made copious errors about analogy. Anyway, Hart is the greatest modern writer on the topic of analogy, which is the core of The Beauty of the Infinite. I would also recommend Pseudo-Dionysius and Gregory of Nyssa.

F-in-X and F-in-Y are numerically two, but formally one. The F in F-in-X and F-in-Y would be the commonality between them, and would be the basis for the analogy between X and Y. The difference would be the fact that X has F-in-X and Y has F-in-Y. That would be the partial identity (i.e. F-in-X and F-in-Y) and the partial difference (i.e. F-in-X and F-in-Y).

This simply relocates the problem. If F-in-X and F-in-Y are not absolutely identical in some respect, then there is not an identity between them--as you claim. And they can't be absolutely identical, because forms change when they adapt to matter. There is no "formal" sense here; concrete substances are always absolutely individual. As a result, there is a vagueness about the similarity of F-in-X and F-in-Y to start with, prior to any statements regarding absolute identity.

We are able to group sheep as sheep because our powers of abstraction let us find an innate similarity--not an innate identity--between sheep. But to say that this similarity is the absolute identity of form is to ignore Aristotle's and Aquinas's positions on the primacy of substance over form and the malleability of form in matter. Once again, your idea of partial identity entails absolute numeric identity.

So, is the transition from potentially P to actually P in the patient due to the agent giving something to the patient to cause the transition (as an efficient cause), or due to the agent’s presence inspiring the patient’s potentiality to become like the agent in becoming actual (as a final cause)?

A bit of both. The efficient cause is directed to motion by a final cause, and this final cause determines the specific actual form that the efficient cause will place before matter. Remember: matter always becomes actual in a certain respect; never absolutely. And that certain respect is the form it copies from the efficient cause, when the efficient cause is within the proper proximity.

Scott said...

" . . . we derive the axiom . . . How do you derive that axiom? . . . "

Surely I'm not the only one wondering when we started "deriving" axioms.

dguller said...

Rank:

The one between cause and effect isn't.

Fair enough. It seemed that you were generalizing to all binary oppositions. It remains to be seen whether cause and effect is a binary opposition that is real.

It simply means something other than what you thought it did.

But what is the giving here? Something must be given from the agent to the patient for this maxim to make any sense. If you are correct that the agent stands as an external standard of actuality that inspires the patient to rise from potency to act, then the agent hasn’t actually given anything, unless presenting a model to emulate from a distance counts as a gift.

Because the kind of giving you're talking about entails interdependent relation, rather than the non-motion of the efficient cause and the motion of the effect.

I don’t think so. I’m talking about giving without losing anything.

Lonergan addresses their case at length in the essay I linked.

From what I read, Lonergan actually contradicts himself. On the one hand, he says that “the objective difference between posse agere and actu agere is attained without any change emerging in the cause as such” (p. 380), which implies that all agents do not undergo change during the causal encounter. On the other hand, he says that “this analysis prescinded from the case of the mover being moved accidentally … but this does not prove that the cause as cause undergoes change but only that the terrestrial body as cause does so” (p. 377). In other words, some agents undergo accidental change from potential agent to actual agent (e.g. physically touching material bodies), and other agents do not undergo accidental change (e.g. God, the celestial spheres). It is not necessary to agents as such to accidentally change or not change qua causal agents.

Again, Lonergan addresses their argument against this position.

It seems to me that Lonergan actually endorses the idea that all lower causality is ultimately instrumental and derives its innermost actuality from the higher cause, which is ultimately God. This would be consistent with Fr. Clarke’s interpretation of creaturely causality as an overflowing of being from agent to patient, which causes the transition from potency to act, which you had rejected as too close to divine causality. Since divine causality is intimately present within the innermost actuality of all creaturely causal interactions, I don’t see why this overflowing could not occur in an analogous fashion in such interactions.

As Lonergan writes: “divine providence is an intrinsically certain cause of every combination or interference of terrestrial causes … God applies every agent to its activity” (p. 391), and that “all causes except the highest are instruments” where “an instrument is a lower cause moved by a higher so as to produce an effect within the category proportionate to the higher” (p. 392). Furthermore, “the causal certitude of providence” is such that “without it motion cannot take place now; with it motion automatically results” (p. 395). Finally, he writes that “God alone is being by nature, and so God is the sole proportionate cause of being; every other cause of being is an instrument. Further, the instrument, if it is to act, must have some participation of the proportion of the principal cause” (p. 401).

Again, it seems to me that Lonergan is arguing that the created agent’s causal activity upon the patient is intrinsically and intimately related to the divine overflowing of efficient causality through created instruments, and thus Clarke is not far off the mark to speak of them in analogous terms.

dguller said...

This is a side issue, but it should be noted once again that being and goodness cannot be quantified, since they are above the category of quantity. There is no such thing as "more goodness" unless we're comparing different levels of being, i.e. accidental and substantial. Having more ontic actuality entails being better, but it does not entail having more being, which is an incoherent idea.

And I know that we disagree about this, because I think that if X has “more ontic actuality”, then X has “more being”, because actuality is a kind of being. It would be like saying that John has more horses, but does not have more mammals. A horse is a kind of mammal, and thus having more horses necessarily means having more mammals. Similarly, act and potency are different kinds of being, and thus having more of either necessarily implies having more being.

I also think that if you think that it makes sense to talk about different degrees of approximation towards the actualization of an ideal set by the nature of an entity, then it must also make sense to talk about different degrees of actuality, and thus different degrees of goodness, because being is interconvertible with goodness, given that they have the exact same referent. If B(eing) and G(oodness) are both different ways of that a common X presents itself to our minds, then if there is more B, then there mustbe more X, and thus more G, because B and G are just different labels for the same X.

One is identical with being and goodness, and so it comes into our mind as soon as we intuit the existence of any being. If One (i.e. whole, unified) is higher, then whatever is not One (i.e. part, disconnected) must be lower. This, I assume, is why Aquinas states that "the whole is greater than the part" is among the axioms that we must know and cannot doubt. However, if a superior-inferior value judgment is inherent to One, then it is clear that superior-inferior does not rely on quantity.

But that is not a derivation. You start with the assumption that if X is undivided and Y is divided, then X is superior to Y, which just reduces to the claim that what is undivided is superior to what is divided. But why would this be so? What is it about indivisibility that is superior to divisibility? Superiority would have to make reference to a superiority in terms of something, i.e. some standard of comparison. In terms of the standard of divisibility, a divisible X is superior to an indivisible X, for example. So, is there a way to demonstrate your claim without begging the question?

(Also, under this framework, wouldn’t a non-Trinitarian God be superior to a Trinitarian God, because the former is indivisible as a single divine person whereas the latter is divisible into distinct divine persons?)

Aquinas didn't bungle the matter; he simply didn't write that clearly about it. The later Thomists who read Aquinas in separation from his sources made copious errors about analogy. Anyway, Hart is the greatest modern writer on the topic of analogy, which is the core of The Beauty of the Infinite. I would also recommend Pseudo-Dionysius and Gregory of Nyssa.

First, I’m getting to Hart. Doing lots of background reading first, because I want to understand it as much as possible, especially given how important his work is for your own perspective. I really hope that he has an extended analysis that makes sense of analogy without actually defining “analogy”. By the way, I’m not too sure if you know this, but Hart has a new book coming out in September called The Experience of God. Looks interesting.

dguller said...

Second, on the subject of similarity, Pseudo-Dionysius writes that “He is spoken of as Similar to the creatures, in so far as He is the Creator of things similar to Himself and of their similarity; and as Dissimilar from them in so far as there is not His like” (DN 9.1). He explicitly identifies the similarity as being grounded in the relationship of created to creator, which is ultimately the relationship of effect to cause. He affirms that “the things that belong to the effects pre-exist in the causes” (DN 2.8), which ultimately means that the intelligible content (or Exemplar, or Paradigm) of each created being pre-exists in God in a unitary fashion (DN 5.8), which is subsequently differentiated in particular beings during creation.

As Perl writes: “the cause (here, God) is the undifferentiated containment of the effects, and the effects (here, all things) are the presentation of the cause in differentiated multiplicity … Dionysius’ God is all things in all things in that whatever intelligible content is found in any thing, so the thing itself, is God-in-it, in the distinct way that is constitutive of that being” (Eric Perl, Theophany: The Neoplatonic Philosophy of Dionysius the Areopagite, p. 31).

To me, this just comes down to affirming that similarity is due to partial identity and partial difference. The intelligible content, or the form F, is present in God and in a created being, but in a different way. F is an undifferentiated unity in God and F is a differentiated multiplicity in creation, and the similarity is due to the partial identity (i.e. F), and partial difference (i.e. F-as-undifferentiated versus F-as-differentiated).

As for Gregory of Nyssa, I think that the similarity relationship would be due to the fact that “God imprinted on [human nature] the likeness of the glories of His own Nature, as if moulding the form of a carving into wax” (Homilies on the Song of Songs, 1271A). As Von Balthasar writes: “There exists a possession of God that is antecedent to all efforts of the intelligence: it is the image of God in the soul, the concrete form of the analogy of being” (Presence and Thought: An Essay on the Religious Philosophy of Gregory of Nyssa, p. 111) and that “In gazing upon his own purity, he contemplates the archetype of the image” (Ibid., p. 112). In other words, there is a commonality between the archetype and the image, which is what makes the image in man an image of the archetype in God. Without this isomorphism, what makes the image of the archetype at all?

This simply relocates the problem. If F-in-X and F-in-Y are not absolutely identical in some respect, then there is not an identity between them--as you claim. And they can't be absolutely identical, because forms change when they adapt to matter. There is no "formal" sense here; concrete substances are always absolutely individual. As a result, there is a vagueness about the similarity of F-in-X and F-in-Y to start with, prior to any statements regarding absolute identity.

There is a formal sense in that it is the same form, present in different instantiations. Without this objective isomorphism, all knowledge becomes impossible. I am not saying that there must be absolute identity, but only a kind of identity between compared terms. For example, John is wearing a jacket, and Bill is wearing a jacket. They are identical in that they are both wearing a jacket. They are different in that their jackets are different jackets. That is the only kind of identity that is necessary for a similarity relation to occur. They do not have to be wearing the exact same jacket, which would be impossible. As long as there is something that is the same, the similarity holds.

dguller said...

We are able to group sheep as sheep because our powers of abstraction let us find an innate similarity--not an innate identity--between sheep. But to say that this similarity is the absolute identity of form is to ignore Aristotle's and Aquinas's positions on the primacy of substance over form and the malleability of form in matter. Once again, your idea of partial identity entails absolute numeric identity.

Again, there are different kinds of identity, and as long as one kind of identity holds in the similarity relationship, then the similarity relationship is a genuine one. There is no need to reduce all kinds of identity to numerical identity. That is too strong a condition, and is completely unnecessary, because weaker kinds of identity would also work.

A bit of both. The efficient cause is directed to motion by a final cause, and this final cause determines the specific actual form that the efficient cause will place before matter. Remember: matter always becomes actual in a certain respect; never absolutely. And that certain respect is the form it copies from the efficient cause, when the efficient cause is within the proper proximity.

I see. So, the agent does not actually give the form to the patient, but rather presents an actualization of the form F in itself as an exemplar and model for the patient, which then is so inspired by the agent’s actual F that the patient itself transitions from potential F to actual F using its own internal resources. But then I must ask: where did this extra actual being in the patient come from?

It seems that the patient was in a state of potency with respect to F, was internally driven to be in a state of act with respect to F, had the extra actual being to cause the transition from potentially F to actually F, and yet is obstructed from this transition by … something. And having the agent with actual F in the proximity of the patient with potentially F is somehow enough to remove this obstacle, and allow the natural process of flowing the extra actuality in the patient to cause the transition from potential F to actual F.

How does the agent remove this barrier? What is this barrier? Why is this account more plausible than the agent overflowing its actual being into the patient by virtue of being an instrumental medium through which divine actuality is limited and funneled, as Clarke states?

BenYachov said...

@RS

Before you go down the rabbit hole 500 posts from now you might want to point out to your so called opponent that Owens is an Existential Thomist like Gilson & Lonergan is a Transcendental Thomist or is at least sympathetic to some TT ideas.

So we have two different schools here.

None of this has anything to do with his faulty views of analogy in regards to the divine names and naming God & his equivocating between the comparison of beings with other being vs naming Being Itself.

rank sophist said...

dguller,

Something must be given from the agent to the patient for this maxim to make any sense. If you are correct that the agent stands as an external standard of actuality that inspires the patient to rise from potency to act, then the agent hasn’t actually given anything, unless presenting a model to emulate from a distance counts as a gift.

That last bit is what I would argue. Your position entails that the efficient cause must A) change by becoming related to its effect and B) change by giving part of itself to its effect. I don't believe that this is in line with what Aristotle and Aquinas really meant, whereas I'm fairly certain that my interpretation is exactly what they meant.

In other words, some agents undergo accidental change from potential agent to actual agent (e.g. physically touching material bodies), and other agents do not undergo accidental change (e.g. God, the celestial spheres).

He is following a position that Aquinas lays out himself in his Commentary on the Metaphysics, I think. It can be summarized easily:

Material substances that act as causes cause by the medium of touching. Any time two material substances touch, they change each other. However, this does not mean that the cause as a cause changes when causing something. The substance as a cause changes accidentally.

Also, change is when a certain type of actuality is placed near a certain type of potentiality; and, if that type of actuality (i.e. the form) changes in the cause when the effect is being produced, then the effect fails to be produced. Consider the form transmitted by a potter's hand to a pot: if that form changed in the process of being transmitted to the pot's matter, then the pot would fail to come into being. If the form was changed essentially in the cause as a result of interaction with the effect, then it would follow that change was impossible.

It seems to me that Lonergan actually endorses the idea that all lower causality is ultimately instrumental and derives its innermost actuality from the higher cause, which is ultimately God.

As a Thomist, Lonergan is more-or-less bound to accept this. God is the final cause of all change, as the original goal of all efficient causation. He is also the efficient cause that creates and sustains substances. This entails universal instrumentality by default. Instrumentality and participation are the same thing.

rank sophist said...

Furthermore, “the causal certitude of providence” is such that “without it motion cannot take place now; with it motion automatically results” (p. 395).

For Aquinas, providence is God's presence as the final cause of creation (ST I q22).

It would be like saying that John has more horses, but does not have more mammals.

Except that "horse" and "mammal" are both ontic terms, whereas "horse" and "being" are, respectively, ontic and ontological terms.

then it must also make sense to talk about different degrees of actuality, and thus different degrees of goodness

Ontic actuality is not being, though. It is a state that presupposes existence.

What is it about indivisibility that is superior to divisibility?

Because One is an ontological concept, it cannot be broken down further. As a state convertible with being and goodness, it just is innately and unquestionably superior to whatever is not-One.

Also, under this framework, wouldn’t a non-Trinitarian God be superior to a Trinitarian God, because the former is indivisible as a single divine person whereas the latter is divisible into distinct divine persons?

Being is not applicable to God except analogically, and so One is not applicable to God except analogically. If God was part of the category of being, then your objection would be valid.

By the way, I’m not too sure if you know this, but Hart has a new book coming out in September called The Experience of God. Looks interesting.

I just discovered that myself a week or so ago. I'm very excited to read it.

rank sophist said...

The intelligible content, or the form F, is present in God and in a created being, but in a different way.

I would argue that his account presupposes similarity's priority over identity. Because however the effects are present in God, they cannot be present there individually. And this entails that F is not really present in God at all, as we understand the idea of the presence of a form. Perl puts it well by saying that "the effects (here, all things) are the presentation of the cause in differentiated multiplicity". In Neo-Platonic fashion, the effects are fundamentally similar to the One (not to be confused with the transcendental concept) because they are representations of the One. Whatever derives from the One represents the One in some respect. However, because the One is undifferentiated unity, it is impossible for it to contain a form in the sense that creatures contain forms. The similarity of forms to the One must be taken as basic, over against the identity between forms in creatures and forms in the One.

F is an undifferentiated unity in God and F is a differentiated multiplicity in creation

This is a contradiction. If F is an undifferentiated unity in God, then it is no longer F but something else.

There exists a possession of God that is antecedent to all efforts of the intelligence

I would agree with this reading of Balthasar's. I've argued for this myself: similarity to God is always already present as a condition of existence.

rank sophist said...

In other words, there is a commonality between the archetype and the image, which is what makes the image in man an image of the archetype in God.

No. The similarity between the image and the archetype is always already there, since anything that is in any respect springs from the archetype. Thinking about creature-creation analogy as an identity type being present in two locations reduces God to the ontic level. In truth, every substance in its entirety always already represents God by the very fact that it exists.

And Gregory certainly does not conceive of analogy in the rigid sense of identity being present in two locations. He takes the divine image in man to entail a fundamental similarity--not an identity--between God and man. Elsewhere he refers to the mind as "a mirror to receive the figure of that [divinity] which it expresses" (On the Making of Man XII). This is not partial identity but an affirmation that man is always already a representation of God by the very fact of his existence. A mirror does not share an identity with that which it reflects: it simply represents something else; it presents a similar but in no way identical reflection.

For example, John is wearing a jacket, and Bill is wearing a jacket. They are identical in that they are both wearing a jacket.

But "wearing a jacket" is vague. What does it mean to wear? This differs from case to case. What does it mean to be a jacket? This, too, differs from case to case. "Wearing a jacket" cannot be identical between them: it can only be similar. Something about one reminds us of the other.

Identity is always the identity of a singular. Something can be identical to itself and to nothing else. We know this because substance is prior to form and matter. Form always appears in a particular, singular way; never identically. When we say that one form is present in two places, we mean that similar forms are present in two places. If these were really the same form, then we would be stating a contradiction. However, your partial identity and partial difference equation requires that one and the same form--not two similar forms--be present in two places.

That is too strong a condition, and is completely unnecessary, because weaker kinds of identity would also work.

Weaker kinds of identity reduce to similarity, which means that they can't explain similarity in the way that you argue.

So, the agent does not actually give the form to the patient, but rather presents an actualization of the form F in itself as an exemplar and model for the patient, which then is so inspired by the agent’s actual F that the patient itself transitions from potential F to actual F using its own internal resources.

This is what I'm arguing, sans that last part: "using its own internal resources". This is to confuse the draw of the final cause on the efficient cause with the draw of the formal cause on the material cause. The material cause simply becomes, as a result of the efficient cause placing the form before it, an imitation of the form. Potency is pulled toward act like metal to a magnet. Potency is moved by act; never self-moved.

An efficient cause, on the other hand, can in certain cases be self-moved toward a final cause.

rank sophist said...

Ben,

You have a point about the difference in schools. However, I don't think the particular point that Lonergan is making in that article relies on his transcendental Thomism--which is a school that I think misrepresents Aquinas, in many respects. In this case, I think Lonergan simply had an insight into Aquinas that most have failed to have. Thanks for the warning, though.

dguller said...

Rank:

That last bit is what I would argue. Your position entails that the efficient cause must A) change by becoming related to its effect and B) change by giving part of itself to its effect. I don't believe that this is in line with what Aristotle and Aquinas really meant, whereas I'm fairly certain that my interpretation is exactly what they meant.

Okay.

Material substances that act as causes cause by the medium of touching. Any time two material substances touch, they change each other. However, this does not mean that the cause as a cause changes when causing something. The substance as a cause changes accidentally.

First, I don’t understand what it means to say that a cause “as a cause” doesn’t change when causing something if the cause changes. Can you elaborate?

Second, this seems to completely ignore context. In the context of the causal encounter, the cause is a cause, even if only by entering into a proximity with another substance such that it inspires it to transition from potentially P to actually P. The cause is really inspiring the effect to occur, in that situation, even if the cause never actually intrinsically changes. To deny this is to deny context, and to deny context is to deny meaning and significance, which necessarily depends upon context for sense and coherence. In other words, there is no need to take each substance as a monad, disconnected from its wider context and relations that determine what it is in important ways.

Also, change is when a certain type of actuality is placed near a certain type of potentiality; and, if that type of actuality (i.e. the form) changes in the cause when the effect is being produced, then the effect fails to be produced. Consider the form transmitted by a potter's hand to a pot: if that form changed in the process of being transmitted to the pot's matter, then the pot would fail to come into being. If the form was changed essentially in the cause as a result of interaction with the effect, then it would follow that change was impossible.

But on your account, the form is not given at all. The form is already present in a state of potency in the patient, and only requires the agent to inspire the form to transition to act in the patient. In other words, the agent has F-in-act and the patient has F-in-potency, which then becomes F-in-act when in the proximity of the agent’s F-in-act.

As a Thomist, Lonergan is more-or-less bound to accept this. God is the final cause of all change, as the original goal of all efficient causation. He is also the efficient cause that creates and sustains substances. This entails universal instrumentality by default. Instrumentality and participation are the same thing.

Right. A cause’s causality depends upon the intrinsically present divine causality, and thus is analogous to divine causality, because effects are like causes. So, Clarke’s account of causality as an overflowing of being from agent to patient is certainly possible.

Except that "horse" and "mammal" are both ontic terms, whereas "horse" and "being" are, respectively, ontic and ontological terms.

I don’t think that matters. Act and potency are kinds of being. To have more act is to have more being, because act is a kind of being.

dguller said...

Ontic actuality is not being, though. It is a state that presupposes existence.

If it is actuality, then it is a kind of being. I think it is more helpful to think that there is a kind of being that admits of degrees and a kind of being that does not admit of degrees. The former would correspond to the various powers of an actual being, which can be actualized to different extents. The latter would correspond to the sheer existence of an actual being, which is all-or-nothing. The former would account for why one substance is better than another due to the different degrees to which their powers are actualized, and thus the different degrees of goodness that they have, and the latter would account for why all substances are good to the extent that they exist.

Because One is an ontological concept, it cannot be broken down further. As a state convertible with being and goodness, it just is innately and unquestionably superior to whatever is not-One.

But even transcendental unity involves division in the form of transcendental multiplicity. Indivisibility and divisibility are both inherent parts of the transcendentals, which means that you cannot rank one as higher than the other. They are equal.

I would argue that his account presupposes similarity's priority over identity. Because however the effects are present in God, they cannot be present there individually. And this entails that F is not really present in God at all, as we understand the idea of the presence of a form. Perl puts it well by saying that "the effects (here, all things) are the presentation of the cause in differentiated multiplicity". In Neo-Platonic fashion, the effects are fundamentally similar to the One (not to be confused with the transcendental concept) because they are representations of the One. Whatever derives from the One represents the One in some respect. However, because the One is undifferentiated unity, it is impossible for it to contain a form in the sense that creatures contain forms. The similarity of forms to the One must be taken as basic, over against the identity between forms in creatures and forms in the One.

A few concerns about this account:

First, you must be able to distinguish between similarity and identity. They are different, but how so? What is it about similarity that distinguishes it from identity, and vice versa? I would say that X and Y are totally identical if they are the same in every way, and X and Y are partially identical if they are the same in some way, which is what I would call “similarity”. In other words, they must be the same in some respect, even if not in every respect, in order to be similar. I know that you have reasonable objections to this account, which I respond to below.

Second, it ignores the fact that God cannot be the Neoplatonic One, for the very reasons that you cite. The One is undifferentiated, and God is differentiated, but in a virtual fashion, as we discussed before. The divine ideas are virtually distinct from one another, and thus there must be differentiation within God, because all forms of intelligible content necessarily must be distinguished from one another via differentiation. And if God lacks any differentiation, then God must also lack the divine ideas. Furthermore, to deny such differentiation is to deny intelligibility itself, which is why the One is beyond intelligibility. God, on the other hand, is only unintelligible to us, but not intrinsically unintelligible (unlike the One). In fact, God is supremely intelligible, but is beyond our finite capacities to contain or understand.

dguller said...

Third, when you say that “whatever derives from the One represents the One in some respect”, you have to clarify what this “in some respect” means. If the One has no differentiation, distinction or composition, then how can it be represented “in some respect”? If X can be presented according to different respects, then wouldn’t that necessarily mean that X is differentiated to begin with? Otherwise, the different respects are just notional distinctions, and thus not really representative of X at all. Thus, for the One to be represented in different respects, the One must be differentiated, which means that the One cannot be the One at all.

This is a contradiction. If F is an undifferentiated unity in God, then it is no longer F but something else.

You are right. In God, F must be differentiated from not-F.

similarity to God is always already present as a condition of existence.

I would agree, as well, but disagree that this “similarity” is indefinable and inexplicable.

No. The similarity between the image and the archetype is always already there, since anything that is in any respect springs from the archetype. Thinking about creature-creation analogy as an identity type being present in two locations reduces God to the ontic level.

But even Gregory of Nyssa says that “God imprinted on [the soul] the likeness of the glories of His own Nature, as if moulding the form of a carving into wax”. For this analogy to make sense, there would have to be something present in both God and the soul, much like the form is present in the carving and in the wax. Isomorphism is the connection that grounds the similarity, and is the only way for it to make sense. Once you remove isomorphism, what basis do you have to justify the connection between the two? You seem to be using terms that intrinsically demand isomorphism while denying isomorphism, which I think negates the terms themselves, much like talking about a square, but denying four-sidedness.

In truth, every substance in its entirety always already represents God by the very fact that it exists.

I agree. A created entity is a combination of essence and existence, both of which are derived from God, and thus “every substance in its entirety always already represents God by the very fact that it exists”, i.e. every composite entity represents God by participating in God via being an instantiation of a divine idea and having esse commune to actualize that divine idea into a particular individual.

Elsewhere he refers to the mind as "a mirror to receive the figure of that [divinity] which it expresses" (On the Making of Man XII). This is not partial identity but an affirmation that man is always already a representation of God by the very fact of his existence. A mirror does not share an identity with that which it reflects: it simply represents something else; it presents a similar but in no way identical reflection.

But a representation re-presents something else. In other words, you have X, and X is present in reality as X, and then is re-presented to the mind as a representation. What makes the representation of X a representation of X is an isomorphism between X and the representation of X, which typically involves the presence of F in both X and the representation of X. Without this isomorphism, there is no grounding connection between the two. And you are absolutely correct that the isomorphism is not totally identity, but rather partial identity, i.e. similarity. (More on this below.)

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