Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Apologia interview


I am interviewed at some length in the Spring 2016 issue of The Dartmouth Apologia on the subjects of Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics, classical theism, and related matters.  You can read the interview and the rest of the issue here.  And while you’re at it, check out the Apologia’s main website, where you’ll find past interviews and other features from the magazine.

Interested readers can find some past interviews I’ve given in other venues linked to here.

194 comments:

Georgios Scholarios said...

This interview is an impressive summary of your views, but I think you can improve your response to those who say that the "God of the Philosophers" is too different from the "God of the Bible," whom you address last in the interview.

It seems these people are not so concerned about "philosophizing" as they are that the God that philosophy discovers seems too sterile (sometimes they say "too Greek") compared to the God revealed in the Bible. I've never seen good arguments why this has to be the case, and I think St. Augustine's Confessions show that the classical theist God can be just as personal as God is in the Bible. Furthermore, I would mention that the God described in, e.g., Thomas Aquinas's natural theology is not as Greek as He's made out to be. God is portrayed primarily as Creator - a Hebrew, and not Greek, idea (as Herbert McCabe points out).

Tom DePietro said...

Dr. Feser,

Thank you for posting this, very interesting.

I have to object to your treatment of simplicity and the Trinity however. God's attributes can be distinguished, I would argue, from our perspective, but in no way in themselves. So for instance, God's power and God's intellect are only distinct insofar as we have distinct understandings of the two or something like that.

Alternatively, perhaps God's justice and God's mercy can be distinguished but only insofar as God produces distinct effects, e.g. God's justice is how His goodness treats sinners, God's mercy is His goodness treating repentant sinners.

In any case, the Trinity does not itself have to do with our understanding of God or God's acts ad extra, so it is relevantly different from God's other attributes.


On a side note, how would you argue we are to reconcile God's contingent knowledge with divine simplicity?

In any case, thanks for your contribution
TD

Billy said...

Ed,

That was a brilliantly structured and delivered interview on both sides. I do have one quibble though. You were asked what the strongest objection to the A-T framework is, but didn't answer it. You address what is commonly taken to be the strongest objection instead. I'm guessing part of the reason to address this instead would be because this is an interview, which requires a limited response as well as a recognition of the primary audience (not A-T philosophers), and probably the strongest objection most likely gets in to some major depths that would require unpacking some very complicated concepts first.

I am wondering, however, if you may be able to point to what you think is the strongest objection (or one of the strongest if its difficult to pin down one), and answer(s) to it, if possible? No matter whether you discuss it, or if it is raised and addressed by others.

Regards,

Billy

Jack Ian John Collinson said...

@Georgios Scholarios

"I've never seen good arguments why this has to be the case, and I think St. Augustine's Confessions show that the classical theist God can be just as personal as God is in the Bible."

The God of philosophy can never be as "personal" as the God of revelation, precisely because personality is something revealed rather than derived. Aristotle could derive many things concerning the nature of God, but he couldn't force God to speak to him and make a covenant with him, like God did with Abraham, Moses, David. If you say that you have a sister named Georgia, I can already tell you a lot about her nature just on the assumption that she is a human and a woman; but in order to know her personality, I will have to have a conversation with her, and that goes beyond rational enquiry pure and simple.

" Furthermore, I would mention that the God described in, e.g., Thomas Aquinas's natural theology is not as Greek as He's made out to be. God is portrayed primarily as Creator - a Hebrew, and not Greek, idea (as Herbert McCabe points out)."

Your mistake here is: "Thomas Aquinas's natural theology". It is not St. Thomas' natural theology that allowed him to say that God is a Creator, it is revelation that told him that. St. Thomas himself actually states that you cannot know this about God apart from revelation. His "Summa Theologica" is not principally a work of natural theology, but of theology in general, which includes the data of revelation and therefore is not only limited to what can be derived by natural reason, such as Aristotle, living outside of revelation, was limited to.

Seamus said...

I find it very difficult to read that interview on-screen. Is there any way it can be downloaded in PDF or some other format that can be printed and read in hard-copy?

Daniel said...

On a side note, how would you argue we are to reconcile God's contingent knowledge with divine simplicity?

Easily the most important philosophical question asked on this blog for ages. The Morris animadversion against DS is one of the main stumbling blocks preventing otherwise sympathetic persons embracing Classical Theism. A devastating rebuttal is much needed.

Anonymous said...

@Seamus

You can download the journal by clicking "Share" below the journal and clicking "Download."

Georgios Scholarios said...

@Jack Ian John Collinson

I think we are in agreement.

I was not saying that natural theology could prove that God acts in history like the God of the Bible. Obviously we learn this by divine revelation. But the main contention of the critics is that the God philosophy reveals cannot in principle be brought in harmony with the God of the Bible, even given revelation. They feel that the God that philosophy reveals is too abstract, unloving, etc. Now, I have not seen many good reasons for why this has to be the case, and, as I said, St. Augustine seems to have no troubles with making the God of philosophy seem no different from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The tensions between the two portrayals, I think, are totally exaggerated.

As for your second point, I misspoke when I mentioned "the God of Aquinas's natural theology." You're right that God being Creator is more of a revealed truth. All I was trying to say is that if you compare the God of Aristotle, or even of Plotinus, to the God of Aquinas, then I think it appears that Aquinas's God is not so Greek after all.

@Daniel

Are you referring to Thomas Morris's article "Of God and Mann"? If so, I just read the first few pages, and although I'm no expert, it seems like he is misrepresenting divine simplicity by making it more extreme than it actually needs to be. I think Brandon has some very informative posts about this:

i) http://branemrys.blogspot.com/2010/10/of-simplicity-and-sameness.html

ii) http://branemrys.blogspot.com/2006/09/idem-secundum-rem-et-rationem.html

Kyle said...

Very good.

But I'd have appreciated a bit more in response to the question asking about the strongest objection to the A-T framework. I find (what I know of) that framework very convincing so I'd like to hear someone of the right intellectual grade and subject knowledge to provide a counter to Ed's writings, to ensure I'm getting a good dialectic. As to *why* Ed gave only the answer he did, I can think of only three reasons:

1. He was dodging
2. The interviewer's question is similar to asking about the strongest objection to the Pythagorean proof of the irrationality of sqrt(2). In other words, there *are* no strong[1] objections to it. Put it another way: it's a stupid question.
3. Something else

I put 1 in only to rule it out; it's not 1. (Right, Ed??)
So is it actually 2? (As I say, to my inexpert eyes, it certainly appears that way, but that is why I'd like some metaphysically sophisticated pro philosopher to explain where its weaknesses lie.)

Otherwise, if not 1 or 2, what's 3?

--

[1] I'm including the "strong" qualifier really to mean something like "significant", which in turn I really mean something like "Cosmological Argument Destroying". AFAICT, there certainly are material disagreements between Aquinas and, say, Duns Scotus. But I don't think those were the kind of objections Ed's interviewer was looking for.

Edward Feser said...

Billy and Kyle,

I had no idea the answer I gave to that question would be in any way confusing. So, just to make things clear, the objection I discussed in the interview is in fact both (a) the best objection there is, but also (b) not in fact a very good objection at all. That's why I answered the way I did ("Let me answer this way" etc.)

So, I was neither avoiding addressing what I think is the best objection, nor in any other way dodging the question. (But neither was it a stupid question.)

Jack Ian John Collinson said...

@Georgios Scholarios

I suspect that the people who despise classical theology have irrationalist and fideist tendencies, i.e. they despise the human intellect, or they at least want to diminish it.
When they say that the God of natural theology is "too abstract", I can't understand why this is an insult. It seems to me that the people who are suspicious of the "too abstract" God, and who want a more "personal" God, grew up as Christians and want to cling to their childhood ideas about God, which are not necessarily wrong, but incomplete and unrefined. Whereas I didn't grew up as Christian, and neither did Ed Feser, and so I found the God described by Plato, for example, to be extremely beautiful, and I think its the same for Ed having read his comments on Plato and Plotinus. The "God of the philosophers" is the most beautiful object the intellect can contemplate by its own natural power, and I think that people's aversion for it is a kind of aversion for the use of the intellect in general. I can understand that if you grew up as a Christian praying to God, that you want God to be first and foremost a person that you can talk to, but God's nature does not in any way diminish his (tri-)personality. I think they might be worried that the nature of God as understood in natural theology, becomes inevitably an impersonal thing or force like the God of pantheism. They struggle to understand how "ipsum esse subsistens" can talk to Moses on Mt. Sinai, but I think this is a lack of imagination, or of abstract thinking. There's no reason why "subsistent being itself" shouldn't talk to us as children, seeing as we are beings existing within him.

Balázs Gimes said...

Kyle,

I'm convinced that Dr. Feser's answer to the particular objection in the interview is correct, and I take the A-T framework seriously.
However, I worry there might be a bigger problem with it, which I can't solve satisfactorily, and as far as I know, it was a highly disputed topic even among the scholastics.
I'm talking about an internal problem of the framework, one concerning the status of prime matter. A few days ago, the Maverick Philosopher wrote a very good analysis on his blog, which you can find following this link:
http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2016/04/substantial-change-prime-matter-and-individuation.html
The problem in a nutshell is this: we have good reasons to believe that prime matter both exists and doesn't exist.
(1) Existence: prime matter must exist as a basis, a substrate if we want to account for substantial change.
(2) Non-existence: prime matter is pure potency, not pure act or a mixture of act and potency. "In itself", it's indeterminate and formless, and can't even have potential being, because every potential being must be grounded in something actual, and prime matter is not grounded in something actual (and more fundamental), because otherwise it wouldn't be prime matter, but some kind of designated matter.
/the argument above is just a very brief summary of the post, I suggest reading the original material/
The question is, how can we solve this problem? It seems that Scotus, for example, thought somewhat differently about prime matter than Aquinas, so his solution, if it works, would probably not be a strictly "A-T" solution, it would rather be an "A-S" solution.
I'm truly interested in Dr. Feser's thoughts about this question.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser, that interview finally answered several questions that I had after reading several of your books. However, what is the strongest objection to the A-T framework. Not the strongest perceived bogus objection, but the real strongest objection that keeps A-T people up at night wondering.

Balazs I see your response, but I am wondering what Dr. Feser thinks also. This is a question I have had for years.

Christian said...

A professor at UC Irvine says that all of our conscious experiences are just an illusion and that we can never know things as they are. Here's the article: http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/04/the-illusion-of-reality/479559/ He bases his theory on cognitive science, evolutionary theory, and quantum physics. I thought this might provide fodder for a good blog post.

SK said...

@Christian

How does he not realize that his theory is self-undermining? Dr. Feser has it right when it says that people often confuse abstractions for reality itself.

Philip Alawonde said...

Balázs Gimes,

'The problem in a nutshell is this: we have good reasons to believe that prime matter both exists and doesn't exist.'

No, we don't. This is because prime matter, qua prime matter, does not exist extramentally -- it's an abstraction based on the underlying metaphysical assumptions. But, like form (which we do not argue does not exist), prime matter also exists virtually in every material being.

This is why I do not see why you can at all say that we have reason to believe it does not exist. We cannot since whether something exists extramentally does not depend on whether it exists actually and separately, in itself. All things save God always exist in admixtures with other things.

Balázs Gimes said...

Philip Alawonde,

If prime matter, qua prime matter does not exist extramentally, if it's only an abstraction, how could it be the substrate (base) of real, substantial change? As far as I understand, prime matter must exist somehow, it must have some kind of actuality.
Scotus, Suárez, Ockham and Buridan think so, to name a few impressive medieval philosophers besides Aquinas.

Christian said...

@SK

I was thinking something along the same lines when I was reading the article myself. I haven't had time to fully digest it yet, but I kept thinking, "Yea, but you have to know reality as it really is if you want to make the claim that all we think we know is an illusion, but why should we think this mathematical model is what reality truly is?" I also thought it was very curious how he ended the interview saying that he thought the qualitative contents of consciousness are the ontological building blocks of reality when he had just been saying the whole time that mathematical models of reality tell us what reality is.

Anyways, I feel bad hi-jacking another post with tangential information. Sorry, Dr. Feser. Most times I let my curiosity as to how you would respond to certain issues get the better of me. I will reign it in.

Philip Alawonde said...

Balazs Gimes,

That something does not exist in itself does not mean it does not exist at all. Note that I did not deny existence of prime matter, for that would have meant contradicting myself. What I rather denied was your reification of prime matter.

Again, prime matter exists only *in* corporeal beings, and never apart from them.

Your perplexity comes from the implicit assumption that prime matter is understood as existing in itself, which is a travesty of hylomorphism!

Innocence said...

I agree with the Thomist conception of Prime even if I strongly disagree with the essence and existence distinction, as well as the concepts of motion in respect to entelecheia.

Philip Alawonde said...

Innocence,

Why do you disagree with those two theses?

Innocence said...

In regards to essence and existence distinction, this page summarises it well:

http://lyfaber.blogspot.ae/2014/06/fesers-scholastic-metaphysics-book_4.html?m=1

I am not a Thomist nor a Scotist, but I would understand why many Scholastics would disagree with the Thomistic approach. Fron a modern approach, Joseph Owens, Aryeh Kosman and Joe Sachs outline my concerns quite well in respect to entelecheia. Precisely, when Aquinas attempts to interpret motion by claiming that in every motion potentiality and actuality are mixed and blended,motion then becomes defined as actuality of any potentiality insofar as it is still a potentiality. The 4th, 5th, and 6th pages of this page I think summarises my point much better than I did:

http://www.iep.utm.edu/aris-mot/

And this isn't just some modern criticism that has been inspired by Joseph Owens' trace of incorrect usage of motion by Avicenna who attempted to synthesize Neo-Platonism with Aristotelianism. The Scholastics have always disagreed with each other regarding these topics. Based on what I've read so far, Thomistic conceptions of those topics are actually the outlier, rather than the common views found among Scholastics

Balázs Gimes said...

Philip Alawonde,

I understand what you're saying, but what I've said about prime matter is not implicit, and certainly not an assumption, but the result of an analysis.
Prime matter must exist extramentally, because it is the substrate of substantial change.
If I'm analyzing substances, what you're saying is correct, I think. But prime matter must also play the role of the subject of substantial change, and for this, as far as I can see, virtual existence is not enough.

I hope I could clarify what the problem is.

Kyle said...

@Ed, your answer wasn't confusing as such; I just wondered (as did a few others apparently) if there was any more to be said. Perhaps it was the effect created by the italicized "take" in:

"Well, let me answer this way. What people take to be the strongest objection is the claim that modern science has undermined the A-T framework."

Reasonable minds may differ on how to read that, but I think one reasonable interpretation is that there is a different objection, perhaps not widely known, that actually *is* the strongest. (Also, I am aware that there can be a difference between what an interviewee says or writes, and what appear in the final copy having first passed through the hands/brains of a journalist and editor or two.)

Anyway, thats a minor point. My main interest here is in finding the most robust objections so that if they end up being dismissed, I'll be all the more confident in A-T. As an aside, it is that interest which makes me so frustrated at much of the modern (New) atheist movement, because even their educated folks -- Harris, Dennett -- provide such obviously useless objections that it leaves people like me (i.e. those of us new to the game) nervous about the one-sidedness of it all. But anyway, that's why I asked the question; I just wanted to know if that really was the strongest objection.

My reference to the question being "stupid" was hyperbolic. "Non-sense" was closer to what I was after, although probably still inappropriate. My point was based on my tentative understanding (of the different kinds of proof/argument in use across all fields) that there are some questions -- e.g. "Is it possible that someone could find a rational sqrt(2)?" -- where if the questioner has already been given the proof, then they are being, at very least, a bit obtuse. In this interview case, I don't think the interviewer is guilty of that.

I find all of this to be reminiscent of the second "perhaps deeper reason" you give, in So you think you understand the cosmological argument?, as to why the "What caused God?" objection to the CA is not a serious objection. You say:

So, to ask “What caused God?” really amounts to asking “What caused the thing that cannot in principle have had a cause?”
and then later, of that and a series of similar questions:
And none of these questions makes any sense.

Whether I'm being precise enough here, I'm reflecting something I've learned (I think!) in the wake of you triggering my interest in A-T metaphysics, namely the importance of the distinction between necessity and contingency, and the power of that distinction, once recognized, in letting us discover truths about the world

Overall, one of the reasons I'm impressed with A-T in the form of the Cosmological Argument is precisely because of how it manages to produce a certainty akin to that which we have over something as mundane as the irrational nature of sqrt(2), for something as profound as the existence of God, and while starting only from observing that my coffee just cooled down! I find it not *just* as jaw dropping as Anselm's Ontological Argument, but it's close.

laubadetriste said...

@Innocence: "Fron a modern approach, Joseph Owens, Aryeh Kosman and Joe Sachs outline my concerns quite well in respect to entelecheia. "

Joe Sachs! Now, there's a being-at-work-staying-itself of a reference! :)

Innocence said...

What do you think about his remarks on Motion?

laubadetriste said...

@Innocence: "What do you think about his remarks on Motion?"

Oh, I have no interesting thoughts on that topic. I'm just pleased to hear an old, familiar name. Thank you. :)

Innocence said...

Ah, no worries at all :)

Philip Alawonde said...

Innocence,

'In regards to essence and existence distinction, this page summarises it well...'

No, I don't find that page a summary, much less a summary of whatever your views may be. You can summarise your reasons for disagreeing with the real distinction here, probably in syllogistic form and let's discuss, and stop linking me to other sites.

So once again, why do you object to the real distinction between essence and existence?

Philip Alawonde said...

Balazs Gimes,

Yes, prime matter was discovered precisely as an explanation for the substrate, NOT substance, of substantial change.

Exactly how is that a problem? Prime matter does not exist separately from material bodies; what problem do you have with that. Isn't it just like noting that colour cannot exist apart from material things?

Anonymous said...

Hey all,

May I ask what may be a dumbo question? I still struggle with the notion of it being impossible for God not to exist, as a certain residue of the question "why" still seems possible.

The argument to a First Cause says that because anything contingent exists at all, we know there must be a source of non-contingent being whose essence is its existence. It is not possible for that being (call him God) not to exist given our own existence. But the question still may be asked, why is there that non-contingent being? We know he must exist, but only because we already know there is contingent existence. But does that really answer the question, why something instead of nothing? Why {essence=existence} at all?

In other words, I see how infinite causal regress is prevented by a being without a cause. But what is wrong with the question, "why is there a being without a cause, and couldn't there just as well not have been a being without a cause (and therewith, no one like me to ask the question)?"

I'd be most grateful for anyone to redirect me to previous discussions of this sort of question if you know of any; I'd be most grateful. Or, if there's a simple way out of this that I'm missing, do tell! Thanks.

Innocence said...

I didn't mean to offend. My gripe with the distinction between essence and existence is that it reduces existence to a kind of quasi accident of the form and embodied the abstracted essence which, apart from its existence, isn't really in potency to anything. Aristotle argued that form is actuality and the essence of a thing is its form. Form is the act of which matter is the potency,claiming that the essence is in potency to existence renders a disarray in respect to form in an arrangement of a substance. More specifically,the essence becomes something like an ostensible matter waiting around to be actualized by existence in a quasi-formal role.

For Aquinas, in every motion, actuality and potentiality are mixed or blended to attempt to solve the alleged contradiction between the actuality and potentiality in Aristotle since he never exactly defined the entelecheia, prompting medieval philosophers to come up with their own interpretations. For Aquinas, motion is therefore the actuality of any potentiality insofar as it is still a potentiality. The problem with this interpretation is that whatever happens to be the case right now is an entelecheia.This fails to tell us how any given motion differs from a corresponding state of strain and constraint, balanced tension. Aquinas of course attempts to interpret the meaning of Aristotle's motion by construing grammar of the definition in such a way that the clause introduced by the dative singular feminine relative pronoun 'he has' as its antecedent, in two cases, the neuter participle tou ontos, and in the third, the neuter substantive adjective tou dunatou. To quote Joe Sachs again: "He makes the sentence say that motion is the actuality of the potentiality in which there is yet potentiality. Reading the pronoun as dependent upon the feminine noun entelecheia with which it does agree, we find the sentence saying that motion is the actuality as which it is a potentiality of the potentiality, or the actuality as a potentiality of the potentiality".

I am not trying to say anything bad about Aquinas, I am a big fan of his. I just feel like when Feser mentions something along the lines of modern philosophy wrongfully departing from Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy, I find it slightly disingenuous since most Scholastics rejected the real distinction between essence and existence that was conveyed by Avicenna and slightly by Albert the Great.

Innocence said...

Btw I am on my phone so I can't see if I am hitting the space bar right :)

Philip Alawonde said...

Innocence,

So far as I can tell (you're still not sufficiently clear), your problem with the doctrine appears to come from the fact that you're still working in a philosophy-of-nature frame of mind.

The real distinction was way beyond Aristotle, for Thomas developed it trying to clarify the doctrine of creation ex nihilo.

So, it's a strictly metaphysical doctrine, and goes far beyond changeable beings.

Briefly, the doctrine is just that what something is is different from the fact that it exists. Like I discover with most Thomistic developments, this is also plausible -- even almost obvious, but it's been formally defended by Thomas and the Thomists.

If you have problems with it, you're to attack it on Thomistic grounds and show that the arguments adduced for it fail, not just read strictly Aristotelian notions into it -- Thomas sometimes diverged from the Philosopher, FYI.

In summary, this is one example where Thomism goes beyond Aristotelianism!

Philip Alawonde said...

Anonymous,

That's not a dumb question. It's a real one concerning the amount of psychological satisfaction of theism.

In other words, one's curiosity about God's existence still seems not to have been sated even when one already know that he exists.

Well, how I see this is that this arises from the completely different character of God from everything we know or can know. We cannot comprehend his existence simply because that's his essence -- to be.

Again, I think this is merely psychological because we don't know of any such thing in our experience, and the very notion is almost intelligible to us.

This is where the strong trust the theist has in reason comes to fore: If reason can be absolutely trusted, then even when we cannot find something comparable to God in our memory, we can be sure that the notion is intelligible in itself, even if our minds are too weak to fathom why.

But I wouldn't put the question as *why* does God exist? That's asking, Why does that which cannot not exist exist

Erich said...

@ Philip –

Thanks for your reply. It helps me to sharpen my question. It's not "Why does that which cannot not exist exist," exactly.

Think of how the demonstration that God must exist works. We know God must exist because we exist, in fact because any contingent thing exists. And we know it exactly for that reason: God's necessity follows from our contingency, according to the logic of Aquinas's argument, which begins from the existence of things and works back to their uncaused source in being. Now, one can imagine a state of things in which there were no contingent things at all. How, then, could one logically demonstrate the necessity of that essence=existence that is God? God himself could do it, of course (he'd be the only one around to do it, if no contingent things existed), but that's assuming he exists – which is what we're trying to prove!

Couldn't there simply not have been any essence/existence at all? What would preclude that?

In other words, though nearly certain that Aquinas's argument is perfectly correct and proves that God must be the creator, the argument does not seem to go so far as to "prove" that God ever needed to be there in the first place. (I sometimes imagine that if I make it to heaven, I'll ask the Almighty, "Hey, how did you get here?"!)

By the way, I accidentally posted as "anonymous;" I usually post under the name Erich (though I am new here).

Innocence said...

Philip,

The issue is with motion itself. Motion not working perfectly from a Thomistic standpoint is what I am trying to clarify. In Aquinas' view, motion ends up being the actuality of any potentiality insofar as it is still a potentiality. This is problematic, since it entails that whatever happens to be the case right now IS an entelecheia. As I've stated earlier in my other post,the thomistic account fails to say how any given motion differs from a corresponding state of balanced tension, or of strain and constraint.

I am aware that Aquinas departs from Aristotle in certain ways but in this particular matter, Aquinas argued that Aristotle's account of potentiality and actuality was distorted by Averroes and Maimonides. In order to correct that, he injected his own interpretation that I discussed in the first paragraph. So he doesn't depart from Aristotle at all on this matter, at least in his eyes. He believes that his interpretation is the correct form which Aristotle discussed in his metaphysics. Joe Sachs offers his own account of what the correct interpretation is "The genus of which motion is a species is being-at-work-staying-itself (entelecheia), of which the only other species is thinghood. The being-at-work-staying-itself of a potency (dunamis), as material, is thinghood. The being-at-work-staying-the-same of a potency as a potency is motion". I don't completely agree with his account, but the general thrust of what I am saying is that Aquinas' account of motion has been critiqued not only by moderns like Sachs, but by Scholastics due to similar issues. It's not the matter of difference between Aquinas and Aristotle, but rather the account of motion not working properly when operated on Thomistic grounds.

Regarding essence and existence, it's not the issue of Thomism going beyond Aristotelianism. The argument from other Scholastics, is that Aquinas' account doesn't function correctly, whether he departs from Aristotle or not. If I may quote Feser from his 2014 book "Considered by itself, a contingent thing's essence is taken to be a kind of potency, and its existence a kind of actuality." This account according to other scholastics such as Scotists, reduces existence to a kind of quasi accident of the form and embodied the abstracted essence which, apart from its existence, isn't really in potency to anything. The essence becomes something like an ostensible matter waiting around to be actualized by existence in a quasi-formal role.

So to summarize, what I am trying to say is that it's not just the issue of philosophy of nature, but rather metaphysics itself since the real distinction is considered problematic under the points that I provided in the third paragraph. The motion issue can also be a problem as an incorrect usage of it would render the doctrine of motion useless and one would have to discard Aristotelian conception of nature. I am also not touching on any creation ex nihilo arguments, such as the contingency argument. Just on the topic of motion (entelecheia specifically) and the essence and existence distinction. I hope i wasn't confusing to you this time.

Philip Alawonde said...

Innocence,

Since I'm not interested in quibbles concerning which exegesis of Aristotle is more proximate to what the Philosopher meant, I'll just go straight to the E/E issue.

You say that the doctrine makes existence a quasi-accident of the form...

Now, why I said you're still thinking in terms of natural philosophy or what the Philosopher meant by form is clear here, for the EE distinction does not deal with forms or whatever!

Well, let me ask directly: what do you mean by EE making existence a quasi-accident? Is existence supposed to be a quasi-essence, whatever that means?

Again, the thing is, state your main objection to EE neatly.

Philip Alawonde said...

Erich,

Think about what you're trying to do, to imagine that only God exists and at the same time wanting to know if God exists, which is like wanting to eat your cake and still have it.

But perhaps you meant something like, if no contigent thing exist, would God still exist?

Sure. Why? Precisely because he's *necessary*.

Does this address your question?

Balázs Gimes said...

Philip Alawonde,

So you say prime matter can be substrate without really existing? I'm not sure if that's possible, but if you don't see any problem with that, I don't have further questions.

Erich said...

@ Philip –

Thanks – but it doesn't quite address the question.

I don't mean "if no contingent thing existed, would God still exist?" Of course he could still exist, he would simply have chosen not to create (which he was free to do or not do). But again: why does he exist? Aquinas's argument doesn't say.

Look at it this way.

Aquinas's argument begins with the existence of contingent things – which is beyond a doubt – and concludes that there must therefore be a God who is essence/existence. I've no doubt this is valid; we know this is the case.

But it could have been otherwise:

Imagine there are no contingent things, and no creation, but only God; surely God can prove his own existence; he need not even prove it; as it is as clear to him as our own contingent existence is to us (indeed, unimaginably clearer). Now, we know that's not exactly the case, since here we are, but still, God's existence is slelf-evident.

But it could have been otherwise:

Imagine there is no God at all, no creation, Nothing. There is nothing to prove, no argument from existence of any kind, contingent or non-contingent. Nothing exists, not even God; no actuality, no potential, nothing. A void as vacuous as God's plenitude is plentiful. Of course, we know this is not the case, for there is a God, and creation. But nothing necessitates this. There could just as well have been no God, no existence/essence, no being at all. Nothing in Thomas's argument precludes this possibility, since Thomas's argument presumes existence as a fact, and argues for God as the source of all being. So it does not prove that existence, beginning with the existence of God, was necessary in the first place.

Tony said...

But it could have been otherwise:

Imagine there is no God at all, no creation, Nothing. There is nothing to prove, no argument from existence of any kind, contingent or non-contingent. Nothing exists, not even God; no actuality, no potential, nothing. A void as vacuous as God's plenitude is plentiful. Of course, we know this is not the case, for there is a God, and creation. But nothing necessitates this. There could just as well have been no God, no existence/essence, no being at all.

Erich, I see at least 2 places where you seem to be using words with divergent meanings.

When you say "nothing necessitates this" you must, of necessity, mean something other than the kind of necessity that St. Thomas is using in proving God is a necessary being. I suspect you are shifting back and forth between them without noticing.

I am pretty sure the same thing goes for the "could have been" in the sense of "it is possible that...", except that here there is even more room for equivocal uses.

In English, at least, "possible" can stand for a lot of very different levels of "possibility". It is possible (1) for the lion to decline to chase an antelope later today: a future possible. It is "possible" (2) that the antelope was injured - I don't know whether it ever was or not, but it is possible: a historical possible, not of acts but of knowing. That kind of "possible" (2) is different from possible (1). It possible (1) that someone will discover a means of faster-than-light travel, IF FTL is physically "possible" (3). Still another sense. An angel cannot die, given its nature, but it can cease to exist if God ceases to maintain its existence - such is metaphysically (4) possible. Even if it is in this world physically impossible for something to travel FTL, it is logically possible (5) to consider a universe in which such a thing might be possible (3), in which case someone might possibly (1) make such an FTL device. Even if such a universe is impossible to us because we cannot possibly (1 and 3) have anything to do with such a universe.

Now let's say something that ISN'T possible in any of the senses above: It isn't possible that being is the same thing as non-being, as such. It isn't possible for 3 to be the same as 4 in every respect. It isn't possible for the good to be bad just precisely insofar as it is good. If someone says to you "no, I know that here and now good is opposed to bad, but I want you to just consider as possible, theoretically, of a situation where something is bad just precisely insofar as it is good..." then he is saying words that INDIVIDUALLY mean things, but TOGETHER don't mean anything, for there is NO meaning for such a "possible".

Now, before we tackle the 5 proofs for God including the one that shows he is necessary being, we might not realize that saying "no, I know that there is a God, but just imagine theoretically a situation where there isn't one..." doesn't have any meaning. But once we have the proof that he is necessary being, NOW we realize that those words are just as empty as the above "theoretical" scenario of a good that is bad just insofar as it is good. It isn't even so much as a logical possibility, because the parts, together, are inherently illogical in and of themselves. Saying "consider as if "that which must exist" didn't exist..." is self-contradictory.

Omer said...


As usual, I enjoyed reading Ed's clear language in explaining AT metaphysics, classical theology, etc and this issues in relation to modern science and modern presuppositions.

However, as a Muslim, I disagree with Ed's reply on the question dealing with the Trinity.

Ed mentioned that adherents of Divine Simplicity still make distinctions between God's attributes, and soon mentioned,

"But still, no one who is willing to affirm both Divine Simplicity and also that there is power, intellect, will, etc. in God has any right to simply to dismiss the Trinity as obviously incompatible with simplicity."

I disagree and I don't do it based on knee jerk reflexes but on careful contemplations on this issue. Here is one reason among several that come to mind:

Saying that God is made of three persons should automatically make us ask why 3 and not 4 or 5 or 34 or 4,328,931,425 persons or any other of the infinite numbers possible.

It seems to make God have this three-ness quality as a brute fact but the concept of God is antithetical to any brute facts.

Tony said...

This also gets into the order of being vs the order of knowing. We, physical and sensory-dependent humans, learn from sensible things and reason back to more fundamental realities. But being goes in the opposite direction, that which is more fundamental is logically and causally prior to that which is dependent. So, because we are sometimes ignorant of the principles of what we know more directly, we sometimes try to assume as hypotheticals things which (it turns out) contradict the principles on which those dependent things and hypotheticals rest. So we try to assume nonsense. This, by the way, is exactly the nature of a reductio ad absurdum proof: I say Y is true. To prove it, assume not-Y. Saying not-Y involves having to say not-X, which we already know is erroneous because we have proven X. Therefore not-Y is absurd, i.e. it was a WRONG STEP to assume not-Y.

Before we have proven that God is necessary but only know God exists from motion, one might posit that we know that God is because we see movement, but "if there had never been a world in which moving occurs maybe there wouldn't have to be a God." The proof from motion wouldn't directly speak to this, (though it would indirectly once you consider what "to be an unmoved mover" also implies - which is extraneous to the proof itself). But when you go on and do the other proofs, the nature of the unmoved mover, the necessary being, the primary intelligent source, etc all contributes to saying that God is Being as such, and it no longer become possible to intelligibly posit "if there was nothing at all".

Tony said...

Saying that God is made of three persons should automatically make us ask why 3 and not 4 or 5 or 34 or 4,328,931,425 persons or any other of the infinite numbers possible.

It seems to make God have this three-ness quality as a brute fact but the concept of God is antithetical to any brute facts.


Omer, it isn't bruteness at all. In order for there to be distinction between persons, there has to be subsistent relations, and these are present only on certain specific grounds. Knowing and loving are the two eternal operations of the eternal intellectual Godhead, and these give rise to the relations of the knower and the known, and the lover and the loved. The knower is distinct from the known qua relation only, not in the substance (for the knower knows himself), so the distinction of knower from known JUST IS the distinction of Father from Son. The operation of loving produces the termini of the other relative pair, but since there is no opposition between knowing and loving, (or knowing and being loved), the terminus "to be loved" is not distinguished from the relation of knower or the known, so the second operation only gives rise to a third subsistent person, not a fourth. If you want to posit some other operation present in God eternally, I would like to hear it.

The bruteness may have a seeming reality here, in that the trinitarian aspect of God cannot be understood by human reason unaided, so that we cannot "reason it out" in such a way as to establish it, by reason alone, as certainly 3 and no other. But THIS sort of bruteness applies to all truths that are revealed by God because they are above our own capacity to get without help.

SD said...

@Erich, I've been trying to figure out that very question (at least, I think it's the same question) for a while now[1]. Is the following in any way close to what you're asking?

Suppose we consider the Argument from Contingency as consisting of two sub-arguments as follows.

SUB-ARGUMENT #1
The first would be a bunch of premises (P1 to Pn, say) along with minor lemmas (L1 to Lm-1, say) derived therefrom along the way, ultimately leading to the following major lemma:

Lm: If at least one contingent being exists then a necessary being must also exist

That first sub-argument represents the heavy lifting. Getting to that major lemma Just Is the core of this form of the Cosmological Argument. However, core or not, there's a final small move needed to nail the overall conclusion and that's the second sub-argument which is simply as follows:

SUB-ARGUMENT #2
Pn+1: If at least one contingent being exists then a necessary being must also exist. (from Lm)
Pn+2: At least one contingent being exists (from observation)
therefore
C: A necessary being must also exist

And so given all of that, my question -- and I think also Erich's -- is simple:

Why is Pn+2 true?

or, as Erich asked in the first place:

"Why something instead of nothing? Why (essence=existence) at all?"

SD

[1] In fact I asked it on the forum associated with this blog. And as as far as I can see, neither of us is falling foul of the DA fallacy of which Scott (RIP) warned in that thread. (Nor, incidentally, do I think I was making the second error he suggested, namely that I was confusing "necessity" as applied to God's existence, with the necessity consisting in the move from the premisses to the conclusion of a valid syllogism.)

Erich said...

@Tony – thanks very much – you've put your finger on a key issue: there is something about the modality of necessity and its scope that I think gets very tricky here, or perhaps breaks down entirely.

For that very reason, though, I don't think your approach gets at the root of the problem! Your final paragraph sums things up nicely:

Now, before we tackle the 5 proofs for God including the one that shows he is necessary being, we might not realize that saying "no, I know that there is a God, but just imagine theoretically a situation where there isn't one..." doesn't have any meaning. But once we have the proof that he is necessary being, NOW we realize that those words are just as empty as the above "theoretical" scenario of a good that is bad just insofar as it is good. It isn't even so much as a logical possibility, because the parts, together, are inherently illogical in and of themselves. Saying "consider as if "that which must exist" didn't exist..." is self-contradictory.

The part in bold is what I contest. Once we have the proof that God is a necessary being, we look at that proof and see that his necessity is predicated, by the logic of that proof, on existence itself. God must exist only to the extent that anything does exist. But it has not been shown that anything must exist, only that if anything does exist, God must exist.

There is no self-contradiction here. Given the existence of things, sure, God must exist. But why is there God and not nothing? Thomas's proof will not do here. We need something more.

Dennis said...

"Why is there God and not nothing?"

Because, nothing never existed. The notion of "nothing" obtaining, is an unactualizable affair. Logically, if there was nothing, nothing would ever be, but metaphysically, 'nothing' never was. This state is precisely so because of the existence of something which cannot fail to exist, i.e. God.

Philip Alawonde said...

Erich,

'But again: why does he exist?'

Well, I mentioned earlier that this seems a non-question, but perhaps there's something there, so let me ask clearly:

What do you mean by why?

But maybe you've not quite framed your question well. Perhaps what you really mean is: Why does God necessarily exist?

Well, if this is what you're asking, then the answer is that he exists necessarily because that's his nature. God is sufficient reason, or explanation, for his own existence.

Now you are not psychologically *pleased* with this answer because it's necessarily different in kind from any answer to similar questions. But that is not an issue for philosophy any more...

If you want to appreciate the aseity of God better, then you'd only have to continue pondering how something can be a sufficient reason for its own existence until it becomes as familiar as such things can get.

In summary, since no man has any corresponding intuition to fall back on here, one needs to deliberately build familiarity it by habit.

Tony said...

The part in bold is what I contest. Once we have the proof that God is a necessary being, we look at that proof and see that his necessity is predicated, by the logic of that proof, on existence itself. God must exist only to the extent that anything does exist. But it has not been shown that anything must exist, only that if anything does exist, God must exist.

There is no self-contradiction here. Given the existence of things, sure, God must exist. But why is there God and not nothing? Thomas's proof will not do here. We need something more.


I still think you are fumbling through the order of our coming to know vs the order of being.

If we (having the kind of rationality humans have) were some kind of "independent" observer that (a) were not ourselves part of the collection of "all that is", and (b) had no evidence of anything that exists, at all, so that we were unable to say "I observe being",

Then, we humans would be unable to reason to there being in act a necessary being.

The kind of intellects we have would be unable to reason to such a thing, because we need evidence (and for us humans, evidence arises from outside our own intellects), so without the evidence we could not reason to the necessary being.

But of course, those two hypotheticals are inherently impossible. In order for us to be observers (of any kind, whether human or not) we have to BE. And in being, we are unable to say "I see no evidence of being."

So, WE, those who have evidence of being, cannot employ the kind of rational intellects we have to a hypothetical of "suppose there was nothing at all" without knowing that such a hypothetical is contrary to the ACTUAL world we have.

Is it possible to consider some other kind of order of being where there could, possibly, be "nothing existing"? Here is where the _conclusion_ of the 3rd way comes in: we don't know, a priori, that "there is a necessary being", but once we observe being and notice what is logically implied by being, THEN we discover that there is a necessary being. Our knowing of the necessary being depends on our knowing beings in act...but our knowing is not the order of being. The BEING of necessary being is not due to there "being something at all". Thus, your statement that I have bolded above is incorrect.

That we know there is necessary being does depend on the beings that exist that we observe. That necessity transcends our coming to know: we know it AS NECESSARY means we know it is independent of any other being, meaning we know that its being is not "only to the extent there is anything at all." The "only to the extent" is limited to the manner in which we come to know it, not to the mode of its being.

Robert said...

Tony,

Aren't you just explaining the reasons why we know God must be a necessary being? I think Erich is really asking something to the effect of, "how/why does God's aseity work?" He has certainly said that he understands why we must know that God is necessary from the existence we observe. But that doesn't 'explain' God's necessity.

It seems that what Philip said about not being "psychologically pleased" and contemplating aseity is the crux of the matter.

Erich said...

@ Tony –

Many thanks! I follow you and agree with up to this sentence:

'... once we observe being and notice what is logically implied by being, THEN we discover that there is a necessary being.'

And I agree with that, it's the same as I'm saying. But what follows confuses me:

'Our knowing of the necessary being depends on our knowing beings in act...but our knowing is not the order of being. The BEING of necessary being is not due to there "being something at all".'

Perhaps I can't follow what follows because I don't understand you here; I'd be much obliged if you could spell it out. As for what follows, it still seems incorrect:

'... we know it AS NECESSARY means we know it is independent of any other being, meaning we know that its being is not "only to the extent there is anything at all."'

Indeed, its being is itself not dependent on anything else – that's why I pointed out that the argument still works even if we imagine there were no creation, no contingent beings at all; my point is epistemic to the extent that we are the knowing contingent beings making the argument. But if there were no creation, why presume any being? If there is only God, then the only one to whom being is manifest is God himself. If he's not there, no being is manifest to anyone, and that is a state of affairs that Thomas' argument simply does not preclude.

I'm also not sure what you mean when you say the two hypotheticals are inherently impossible. As for (b), one can certainly imagine a universe, say this one a few billion years ago, in which there were no intellects to take note of existence. As for (a), I don't see what relevance being a part of the universe has to the argument either way.

In short: Thomas's argument presumes contingent, caused being and demonstrates the necessity of uncaused, non-contingent being. But being is presumed to make the argument. We may imagine no being at all – of course, that's patently not the case, but why not?

Or another version: I cannot plausibly deny being. Thomas shows that this means we cannot plausibly deny God. But that's all it shows. It does not show why there is being.

In fact I would be suspicious of Thomas's argument if it did, as it would make God's existence contingent on some further existential necessity.

Erich said...

@Dennis – I don't disagree with you. But the argument goes from the undeniability of being to the impossibility of non-being. It begins with what is the case: being, it presumes being. But what if there had never been any being? There would be nothing to demonstrate, no one to demonstrate it, no God, utter void. Why is that not the case? Thomas's argument doesn't say.

Erich said...

@Philip – yes, it's a question of what I mean by "why". Perhaps it is a non-question if phrased that way.

I've put it this way in the middle of other messages here: "What precludes the apparent possibility that there was never any God, never any being at all? Why know this happens not to be the case, but why not?"

I am psychologically pleased with Thomas's argument. From the slightest evidence of being, however contingent, from the very first stirrings of the slightest sensation, perhaps the first wiggle in the womb, or the soft vibrant rhythm of mother's pumping blood, we may divine the eternal existence of an uncaused Creator. But the argument does not appear to make the counterfactual impossible.

And as I wrote above, I would probably be more suspicious of an argument that made God necessary, for his existence would be contingent on some higher existential modality.

laubadetriste said...

@Erich: "@Dennis – I don't disagree with you. But the argument goes from the undeniability of being to the impossibility of non-being. It begins with what is the case: being, it presumes being. But what if there had never been any being? There would be nothing to demonstrate, no one to demonstrate it, no God, utter void. Why is that not the case? Thomas's argument doesn't say."

The Federalist papers don't say, either. Nor does *The Foundations of Arithmetic*, or *The Economic Consequences of the Peace*. No argument says what it doesn't pretend to be about. For that, you must look elsewhere.

I won't develop these here, as my attention is elsewhere, but I want to leave a few links and notes on this point:

"Why is there something rather than noting?" is of course a question associated, not with Aquinas, but rather with Leibniz. There are a number of (I think) worthy answers to it, including (e.g.):

1) *Nothing* is vanishingly unlikely. Take all the grains of sand on the beach, times all the stars in the sky, times all the events in history: there is still an infinitely greater number of ways in which there might have been *something*. There being *nothing* would be the winning (losing?) of the greatest lottery there could possibly be.

2) There should be something.

3) When you think about it, *nothing* makes no damn sense. There is just no alternative to being.

That last one is my favorite. But there is a good brief introduction to the question by the great Leszek Kolakowski here; and a fine overview of proposed answers by John Leslie (who popularized answer #2 in rather the way that WLC popularized the Kalam) here. Another overview of proposed answers is here. And an earlier take is here.

Erich said...

@laubadatrist – quite agreed! My only real point is that some take Thomas's argument to show something it doesn't show, something the answer to which lies elsewhere, should one feel it is necessary.

I like your ideas; here are some possible objections:

1) "Vanishingly unlikely" . . . well, yes, but one could just as well say "nothing" would have been a lot simpler than anything!

2) Yes, there should be something. And I'm certainly all for it. God himself saw fit to make more of it. But if there were nothing there would be no should to begin with.

3) Lots of things make no damned sense. Being generally doesn't make much sense either. I often make no damned sense, but there I am.

Thanks for all the links. I'll take a look.

Anonymous said...

A little off topic... I won't ask the question when are Ed's books going to be published, but I would really like to know how far he has got into writing them with his busy schedule?

grodrigues said...

@Erich:

"I don't disagree with you. But the argument goes from the undeniability of being to the impossibility of non-being. It begins with what is the case: being, it presumes being. But what if there had never been any being? There would be nothing to demonstrate, no one to demonstrate it, no God, utter void. Why is that not the case? Thomas's argument doesn't say."

The argument goes from the existence of contingent beings to the necessary existence of God as the ultimate ground of all being, and that He himself could not not exist. God himself, as He is, is not dependent on His creation for being. Now, it is true that we *know* that God exists from his effects, but so what? If there were no creatures, no contingent beings, presumably it would be impossible to *know* that He exists. Yes, but then there would be no one around to ask the question, so what exactly is the problem? This says nothing about the necessary existence of God, but simply about how the knowledge of God for rational creatures unfolds.

Dennis said...

@Erich

Here's to hoping I don't bring shame to Scott's name when I quote him, and add to grodrigues's comment,

"First: as others have noted with varying degrees of explicitness, the argument of the Third Way shows only that if even one contingent being exists, then a necessary being exists. That doesn't mean that if the antecedent is false (i.e., if no contingent beings exist), then no necessary being exists. At most, it would mean that the argument is silent on that point.

But second, and more fundamentally: as others have also at least alluded to, you're confusing two senses of "necessary." The arguments of the First, Second, and Third Ways show that if certain facts obtain, it necessarily follows that God exists. That is not what is meant by God's necessarily existing.

To say that God exists necessarily, in Thomistic thought, is to say that God, in and of Himself, can't not exist -- that He's a necessary being, not that His existence is the conclusion necessitated by the premises of an argument. The latter is a sort of epistemological necessity, not the metaphysical sort that Thomists and other classical theists ascribe to God.

And even here we can make a distinction: Aquinas differentiates between a necessary being Who has His necessity from Himself (that is, God), on the one hand, and on the other, necessary beings whose necessity is conferred on them by another (the human soul, for example; it's immortal, but only because God created it thus)."


To know that God exists is epistemically contingent on the premise that metaphysically contingent beings exist. You should really look into the forum link that SD (Sleety Dribble) has alluded to, earlier in this thread.

Erich said...

@grodrigues – thanks for your comment. You say, "The argument goes from the existence of contingent beings to the necessary existence of God as the ultimate ground of all being, and that He himself could not not exist."

Yes, given that there is any being at all, God could not not exist. But why is there any being at all? Thomas's argument demonstrates that God himself could not not exist given any existence at all. But it does not derive being itself from any necessity: it relies on our knowledge of it as a fact.

It would seem that we agree, as you say "This says nothing about the necessary existence of God, but simply about how the knowledge of God for rational creatures unfolds." That's exactly my point! Some people take Thomas's argument to be something a little different than it actually is, something on the order of "non-being is impossible," which is what "God cannot not exist" may mean, as the phrase is ambiguous (see below). But that's not what it shows. There may be other arguments to that effect, but Thomas's are not among them.

@Dennis – thank you for the forum recommendation, I'll look into it immediately. Your quote from Scott is quite apt – thanks for that as well, he would surely be proud to be remembered and brought back to life so appropriately! – and it points directly to the ambiguity I referred to immediately above. So: it would appear, given the greater degree of clarity it affords, that Thomas's notion of necessary existence (which I believe is the tripped-over interpretation of the ambiguous phrase above) does not in fact follow from the first, second, and third way arguments. Scott himself says as much in your quote. In fact, it doesn't appear to follow from any of them, as they all argue from some aspect of known contingent being. So if Thomas believes in the metaphysical necessity of God, I have to say he cannot do so on the basis of any of his arguments for God's existence.

I'm not sure I see why you made your penultimate statement: "To know that God exists is epistemically contingent on the premise that metaphysically contingent beings exist." God himself, had he created nothing, would know that he exists: would that knowledge be epistemically contingent on the premise that metaphysically contingent beings exist? Presumably not, if you don't think God is metaphysically contingent. Can you clarify?

Erich Groat said...

@SD – apologies! I somehow missed your response entirely before!

Yes, you've captured my point. Thomas's arguments are for the necessity of God's existence, "necessity" in this case referring to his being necessary in order to explain various aspects of contingent existence. But why there is any existence at all is not addressed – though some tend to think "necessary existence" in the context of such arguments means they entail that being is necessary. the quotes from Scott are really helpful. Thanks for the links: I'll check them out a few clicks from now.

grodrigues said...

@Erich:

"Yes, given that there is any being at all, God could not not exist. But why is there any being at all? Thomas's argument demonstrates that God himself could not not exist given any existence at all. But it does not derive being itself from any necessity: it relies on our knowledge of it as a fact."

This characterization of the argument is incorrect (I am reading you as not disputing the validity and soundness of the argument, but the strength of the conclusion). The argument establishes, or purports to establish, that God is a necessary being and the premise is the contingent existence of beings. In the *order of knowledge* we go from the effects (the existence of contingent beings) to the cause (a necessary being). But the order of being is different from the order of knowledge, since God, a necessary being, depends on nothing for His existence, neither could He *fail to exist*. In possible world language, God exists in all possible worlds, so there is no possible world that is utterly devoid of being.

Once we have arrived at the latter it makes no sense to ask why is there no being at all, because we already know that something, namely God, cannot not exist. After all, that is what necessary means -- it could not not exist. If the argument only established the conditional existence of God on the existence of contingent beings, you would have a point, but then the necessity of God would be dependent on the contingent existence of the creaturely world, which is no necessity at all, and the argument would hardly be interesting since it would not have provided an *ultimate* explanation for the existence of the contingent, creaturely world.

Hope it helps, regards.

Erich said...

@SD – just read through the thread. Wow, you were asking exactly the same thing I was months ago!

I don't see anything in those posts that leads me to believe our question has been answered. The closest we get is this from Scott:

"Are you asking how we do know that this metaphysically necessary being would still exist (and still be metaphysically necessary) even if there weren't any metaphysically contingent beings? If so, then the answer is that since contingent beings do exist (and we know it) and we therefore know that such a metaphysically necessary being exists as well, we also know that this being would exist (or have existed) even in the absence of contingent beings (i.e., even if God hadn't created or if all created beings were to cease to exist)."

But the argument is incomplete. We do not know that God is a metaphysically necessary being. That's what we are looking for the argument for. And we are saying that Thomas's Five Ways are not such arguments. From them we know that God exists because contingent being exists; his existence is not metaphysically necessary according to these arguments, but only necessary to explain being as we know it.

[[ By the way, what are the html tags for indented quotations, as I might've used to quote Scott? ]]

Erich said...


@grodrigues – thanks for the comment. Some more. . .

You say,

"If the argument only established the conditional existence of God on the existence of contingent beings, you would have a point, but then the necessity of God would be dependent on the contingent existence of the creaturely world, which is no necessity at all, and the argument would hardly be interesting since it would not have provided an *ultimate* explanation for the existence of the contingent, creaturely world."

Well, the argument is still very interesting, since we know for a fact that there is being, so from the argument we know for a fact that God exists, which is surely Big Stuff – and it would be very nice if atheists took the argument seriously!

But yes, the argument does not establish what many purport it to establish. The argument (including each of the five Ways) does not in fact point to God's metaphysical necessity. Perhaps some other argument does, but not these. You say "Since God, a necessary being, depends on nothing for His existence, neither could He *fail to exist*." But that he is a necessary being has not been demonstrated by these arguments. Only that his existence is necessary to account for contingent being has been demonstrated.

Would it be so bad not to be able to demonstrate God's metaphysical necessity? There are limits to our ability to reason our way into (or out of) these mysteries. We are surely approaching the marshy borderlands of a "realm in which only the humble admission of ignorance can be true knowledge and only wondering attendance before the incomprehensible mystery can be the right profession o faith in God," as Ratzinger once said.

Or perhaps there is an argument for God's metaphysical necessity after all!

Tony said...

But that he is a necessary being has not been demonstrated by these arguments. Only that his existence is necessary to account for contingent being has been demonstrated.

I don't agree that this correctly characterizes the argument:

Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has been already proved in regard to efficient causes. Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God.

When he says "there MUST BE something the existence of which is NECESSARY", the "MUST BE" is saying, as you say, that it is "necessary to account for". But at the end he says "necessary", and this is not "to account for", but "having its OWN character, in and of itself. The conclusion IS of the metaphysical necessity of God.

laubadetriste said...

@Erich: "We are surely approaching the marshy borderlands of a 'realm in which only the humble admission of ignorance can be true knowledge and only wondering attendance before the incomprehensible mystery can be the right profession o faith in God,' as Ratzinger once said."

Maybe so. But you're starting to make this attempt at demonstration sound like a Conan the Barbarian story as told by George Steiner.

Daniel said...

As I recall from that thread we pointed out an obvious way of establishing God's necessity to wit Plantinga's Ontological Argument, to which the OP responded asking for us to give a different way (why I don't know but there you go).

On the same principle Divine Simplicity entails necessity, especially on the Thomist account of the Real Distinction (if a being in which Essence and Existence are one is possible it is actually since its essence could not stand 'without' existence - note this is a stronger thesis than saying a being has existence of its essence i.e. necessarily). For a reasonable accessible article on Divine Necessity it's worth checking out Brian Leftow's 'Necessity' in The Cambridge Companion to Christian Philosophical Theology.

Omer said...


Hi Tony,

I did not quite understand your response explaining why you think that the concept of the trinity does not constitute a brute fact.

I agree that God has the attributes of knowledge and love but why does that entail for Him to be composed of three persons?

We can take ourselves to reflect on this.

We have many attributes where the attribute has an object to which it is directed, but we are each a unity.

Moreover, God has attributes in addition to knowledge and love such as wisdom, goodness, the power to create anything or anyone, etc.

Would those attributes requires God to have additional personalities?

It seems to me that your use of terms like operation is not correct.

Ed also acknowledges that the trinity is not on a metaphysical par with other attributes like power, intellect, will, etc.

But the difference is such that I cannot understand how multiple persons can be considered a type of attribute.

I mean if someone is describing a car as having certain attributes as being fast, reliable, strong, etc. and if someone else says that this one car also has the attribute of being three cars that are indivisibly one car, it would seem to be not coherent to have the additional attribute of multiple cars.

I see it as a contradiction.

Christians do acknowledge that God has the attribute of being one but then non-unitarian Christians add that He is also of a trinitarian nature.

It is unintelligible to non Christians and to Unitarian Christians.

Let us say that the we are giving a car the attribute of being black (just like above Christians believe in monotheism..that is that God has the attribute of being one).

If someone says that this black car also has the attribute of being white and black, I think that is a contradiction. I see one-ness and three-ness to be incompatible just like whiteness and blackness.

I understand that the doctrine known as the trinity as believed by Christians is that there is only one God and not more than one God and that three Gods is clearly a heresy for Christians but I see the doctrine of the trinity akin to trying to square a circle.

Finally, regarding the doctrine of divine simplicity, I completely agree that God cannot have any parts, not only is it not possible for Him to have any physical parts but I agree with Ed that God cannot have any metaphysical parts.

If all the attributes in God have to equal each other for this doctrine of divine simplicity to be true, then that must be considered.

However, I am not so sure that this necessarily entails.

God cannot have any accidents as the ancient philosophers would say...our attributes of increasing in knowledge as we age from a baby onwards and to grow in height, etc. are accidents on us...clearly God's attributes are not added on His essence but His essence is such that He is perfect and has no deficiencies and thus He has all those attributes.

However, although I completely believe in the doctrine of divine simplicity, I am not convinced that the attributes must equal each other in the normal sense.

But I agree that if we operationalize God's attributes such that He does such and such action with X, then X has to always be the same....while we may know with our knowledge and we pick up objects with our strength, etc,....we use different attributes...so yes, God does not have multiple attributes in that sense...indeed, He does not have even one attribute that is "added" onto Himself like our attributes are added to use as we grow...in that sense the attributes of God not only equal each other, they simply are seen to simply be expressions of the same essence of God and thus He does not have at-tributions in that sense.

Please correct me where I am wrong in the multiple points above.



Dennis said...

@Erich

"I'm not sure I see why you made your penultimate statement: "To know that God exists is epistemically contingent on the premise that metaphysically contingent beings exist." God himself, had he created nothing, would know that he exists: would that knowledge be epistemically contingent on the premise that metaphysically contingent beings exist? Presumably not, if you don't think God is metaphysically contingent. Can you clarify?"

The answer is no.

However, it would be epistemically contingent on different premises for *us*. It does seem you're having problem with this, I don't think you're characterizing the argument well enough if you think it doesn't demonstrate that a Necessary being exists.

I think grodrigues and Tony sufficiently answer your question and express the same thing I would've liked to express. The conclusion is the inevitable metaphysical necessity of God.

Dennis said...

It doesn't even make sense to ask, "Does this demonstrate God's metaphysical necessity?" Why call him God if he's not even metaphysically necessary?

"Only that his existence is necessary to account for contingent being has been demonstrated. "

But the problem here is, I think that you're somehow missing the fact that when you refer to 'his' existence, the 'his' here implies an existent of a necessary kind as opposed to a contingent one. If you think otherwise, then you simply don't agree that this has demonstrated 'God' (a metaphysically necessary being on which all contingent beings depend) at all. The argument proceeds from the notion that there are contingent beings to the effect that there is a being who cannot fail to exist (metaphysically necessary). As such, if his failure to not exist is true but still epistemically contingent on premises for us, it doesn't follow that his necessity is not proved.

SD said...

I find myself on the same "side" as Erich, but I see several I respect on the other side. I conclude we have some crossed purposes at play. Let me try to debug. Perhaps the problem is the assumption that the question in play is something like:

"Where does the fact that contingent stuff *is* contingent, leave the necessity of God's existence?"

In fact, that's not what's being asked. Rather, we (well me for sure, and I'm guessing Erich) are asking:

"Where does the fact that contingent stuff *is* contingent, leave the Cosmological Argument?"

So it's not actually about the necessity of God's existence at all. In fact, for argument's sake we can assume that God's existence is necessary. Rather the question is about exactly how it is that the Cosmological Argument demonstrates that necessity (and the extent to which its chosen mechanism may leave its soundness vulnerable).

To see how our question is perfectly reasonable when asked of the Cosmological Argument (CA), it might be useful to notice that it would not be reasonable at all if asked about the typical Ontological Argument OA). And that difference in reasonableness further shows that this isn't about the necessity of God's existence, since establishing that is what *both* arguments are built for.

The bottom line is, the OA, for all its supposed weaknesses, is invulnerable to changes in our empirical observations of the natural world, because it is not based on any aspect of the natural world. By contrast, the CA may well avoid the weaknesses of the OA, but that comes at the expense (although, I guess that's at the heart of our question) of losing that invulnerability, because it *is* based on an aspect of the natural world, namely that it contains at least one contingent entity.

SD said...

Addendum. Another way to think of this is to notice how classical theist apologists must be really grateful that God decided to create some contingent stuff, because of the way it makes their job of proving God's existence *so* much easier. Had God not created anything at all, they'd have been all[1]:

"Dang, Lord! Now we're going to have to dust off Anselm's old sh*t and fix it. I don't even remember where we put it, and I'm pretty sure we'll never find replacement parts these days!"

Hmm. I wonder if it's possible to prove that although contingent entities are indeed contingent, they are in some sense indirectly made necessary by some necessary aspect of God himself.

For example, is it possible that although God is the only necessary being, his being a creator (of the contingent) arises necessarily from his perfection in love? Or, put another way, is it perhaps impossible that the God of classical theism would (as opposed to could) tolerate being alone?

--

[1] Of course the lack of any contingently existing entities upon which to base the Cosmological Argument would be the least of the apologists' worries, them being contingent entities themselves and so, by hypothesis, non-existent. That said, those non-existent apologists would at least have the consolation that there would be no existent atheists needing to hear arguments for God's existence anyway.

SD said...

@Erich: "[[ By the way, what are the html tags for indented quotations, as I might've used to quote Scott? ]]"

I don't think you can. For a start, there is only a very small subset of tags permitted by blogger. As far as I can see, it's only <b></b>, <i></i>, and <a></a>. But in addition, indentation isn't usually expressed explicitly in the HTML anyway. Instead it's typically left to the CSS to handle.

Glenn said...

Erich,

[[ By the way, what are the html tags for indented quotations, as I might've used to quote Scott? ]]

Non-breaking spaces can be used to effect indentation. Use &nbsp;  once for each non-breaking space. For example, this...

&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;This line is indented (using five non-breaking spaces).

...shows up as:

     This line is indented (using five non-breaking spaces).

If we use five non-breaking spaces to indent each line in the quotation from Scott below, then we have:

The closest we get is this from Scott:

     Are you asking how we do know that this metaphysically
     necessary being would still exist (and still be metaphysically
     necessary) even if there weren't any metaphysically
     contingent beings? If so, then the answer is that since
     contingent beings do exist (and we know it) and we
     therefore know that such a metaphysically necessary being
     exists as well, we also know that this being would exist (or
     have existed) even in the absence of contingent beings
     (i.e., even if God hadn't created or if all created beings were
     to cease to exist).

Glenn said...

(Ah well. If the quotation from Scott in my comment is looked at after clicking "Post a Comment", then 'were' is where it is supposed to be.)

Daniel said...

So it's not actually about the necessity of God's existence at all. In fact, for argument's sake we can assume that God's existence is necessary. Rather the question is about exactly how it is that the Cosmological Argument demonstrates that necessity (and the extent to which its chosen mechanism may leave its soundness vulnerable).

Alright we are using the principle of the OA or similar arguments to illustrate what necessity 'looks like' i.e. being actual if possible. We can run parallel arguments using 'Divinely Simple being' or 'Uncaused Cause' instead of 'Maximally Great being'- we are not using these arguments to prove God's necessity, only taking certain of their premises as conclusions following from the analysis of these kinds of being.

The Cosmological Argument aka the Thomistic Cosmological Arguments as encapsulated by the first Three Ways (so, not the PSR Cosmological Argument)demonstrates God's necessity by demonstrating the existence of a Divinely Simple being, either by concluding that casual change implies there exists a being without admixture of potency (which the Thomist takes to imply Simplicity) as in the case of the First Way or that there exists a being in which Essence and Existence are one as in the case of the Second Way.

(This is brought home even more pointedly if the Second Way in question is the On Being and Essence variation as further developed by Barry Miller and co)

1. X argument establishes that if Y is the case then there exists a simple being
1a. Y is the case
1b. There is a simple being

2. If there is a Divinely Simple Being then of its nature this being is necessary (conceptual truth)
2a. A necessary being is one which exist in all worlds even those that do not contain contingent beings

Epistemologically we may not have realized that a Divinely Simple being is a necessary being until after we establish its existence but this something to do with the psychology of the person working through the proof not the conclusions of the proof itself.

"Dang, Lord! Now we're going to have to dust off Anselm's old sh*t and fix it. I don't even remember where we put it, and I'm pretty sure we'll never find replacement parts these days!"

Fear not; it’s buried under the pile of ox-dung the Neo-Thomists left.

On a serious note there’s other arguments for a God-like necessary being which do not depend on the existence of contingent beings qua contingent beings such as the Leibnizian Augustian Argument from Eternal Truths.

Since you are specifically after something like a Thomist Cosmological Argument however you might like Pruss’ Aristotelian Powers argument for a necessary very powerful, omniscient being, which has some resemblance to the Third Way.

http://alexanderpruss.com/papers/ActualAndPossible.html

grodrigues said...

@Erich:

"Well, the argument is still very interesting, since we know for a fact that there is being, so from the argument we know for a fact that God exists, which is surely Big Stuff – and it would be very nice if atheists took the argument seriously!"

"But that he is a necessary being has not been demonstrated by these arguments. Only that his existence is necessary to account for contingent being has been demonstrated."

The two quoted statements are inconsistent. If the argument has not shown that He is a necessary then it is a piffle of a failure; this is a simple matter of looking at the argument itself and how it unfolds. If His existence is not necessary, then He cannot stop the regress and the atheist is entitled to avail himself of the PSR and ask "Why does God exist?" as there must be a reason why He exists as opposed to nothing at all. If His existence is not necessary, then it is utterly baffling why exactly do we have to conclude that He exists since the difference between the He that the argument allegedly posits and the creaturely world is merely a difference in degree. No explanatory advancement has been made, as He would be at best an intermediate link in the chain, but not the absolute, ultimate ground and explanation of all being, and what does not serve a purpose for anything or anyone can be easily gotten by without, so chuck Him out.

@SD:

"The bottom line is, the OA, for all its supposed weaknesses, is invulnerable to changes in our empirical observations of the natural world, because it is not based on any aspect of the natural world. By contrast, the CA may well avoid the weaknesses of the OA, but that comes at the expense (although, I guess that's at the heart of our question) of losing that invulnerability, because it *is* based on an aspect of the natural world, namely that it contains at least one contingent entity."

Since God unfailingly knows that God exists, OA is a non-trivial argument only for a contingent creature, so a non-trivial OA can only be run in a possible world with a contingent entity.

Maybe there is some consolation to be had in the fact that were I not to exist I would still be able to run the OA argument to conclude the He exists, although at this point I confess that I, a contingently existent being, contingently shrug my contingent shoulders.

All Hail the Mighty BBC! said...

The BBC REALLY know how bad Thomas was you idiots!!

This is sarcasm of course. The BBC have their own agenda, including embarrassing levels of scholarship it seems.

Tony said...

I did not quite understand your response explaining why you think that the concept of the trinity does not constitute a brute fact.
I agree that God has the attributes of knowledge and love but why does that entail for Him to be composed of three persons?
We can take ourselves to reflect on this.
We have many attributes where the attribute has an object to which it is directed, but we are each a unity.
Moreover, God has attributes in addition to knowledge and love such as wisdom, goodness, the power to create anything or anyone, etc.
Would those attributes requires God to have additional personalities?
It seems to me that your use of terms like operation is not correct.


@ Omer

I didn't intend for my quick summary to be a complete explanation, I was basically just pointing out the shape of St. Thomas's argument. You would have to read St. Thomas to get the full effect.

To partially respond to your questions: (1) This is definitely an area where we cannot readily go from what is true of us to what is true of God: it rests rather critically on the fact that God's essence and existence are not metaphysically distinct, I think. We are nothing like that.

(2) I don't quite see why you object to calling knowing and loving in God "operations". St. Thomas calls it that, I was just following that usage. If you would prefer some other term, suggest away. He also uses "processions".

(3) St. Thomas responds to why the real relations are really distinct when other attributes don't do that:

Objection 2. Further, as paternity and filiation are by name distinguished from the divine essence, so likewise are goodness and power. But this kind of distinction does not make any real distinction of the divine goodness and power. Therefore neither does it make any real distinction of paternity and filiation.

I answer that... So as in God there is a real relation (1), there must also be a real opposition. The very nature of relative opposition includes distinction. Hence, there must be real distinction in God, not, indeed, according to that which is absolute--namely, essence, wherein there is supreme unity and simplicity--but according to that which is relative.

Reply to Objection 2. Power and goodness do not import any opposition in their respective natures; and hence there is no parallel argument.


As to whether there are more relations than just the 4:

I answer that, According to the Philosopher (Metaph. v), every relation is based either on quantity, as double and half; or on action and passion, as the doer and the deed, the father and the son, the master and the servant, and the like. Now as there is no quantity in God, for He is great without quantity, as Augustine says (De Trin. i, 1) it follows that a real relation in God can be based only on action. Such relations are not based on the actions of God according to any extrinsic procession, forasmuch as the relations of God to creatures are not real in Him (13, 7). Hence, it follows that real relations in God can be understood only in regard to those actions according to which there are internal, and not external, processions in God. These processions are two only, as above explained (27, 5), one derived from the action of the intellect, the procession of the Word; and the other from the action of the will, the procession of love.

Of course there is plenty in all this to find difficulty with, this isn't easy stuff. And I have only quoted parts, not the whole thing. The underlying requirement has to do with God's essence and what all follows from that. And the above understanding of God rests on revelation, it is not provable by what we know only from reason - i.e. from the created order - so we do not expect it to be readily accepted by all.

Tony said...

@ All Hail the Mighty BBC!

I love it! Nothing can move itself...so God moved himself. There! That ought to explain it clearly enough.

Erich said...

@Dennis – Thanks for the replies. I am aware that the epistemic contingency applies to us; I'm not having a problem with that; your statement was general, though, and I didn't understand it.

It is not the case that I am not characterizing the argument well enough – I'm pointing out a way in which it is itself unsatisfying. A leap is made without justification from the necessity to explain contingency to necessity per se, and that's what I object to. Perhaps I am missing the part of the argument that justifies this transition, but no one has been able to provide it.

And I must disagree: it makes perfect sense to ask whether an argument demonstrates God's metaphysical necessity. If we want to be rigorous will seek to understand the consequences of every argument as precisely as possible. Also, I never said that God was not metaphysically necessary. My claim is that Aquinas's arguments for God's existence do not demonstrate his metaphysical necessity; a claim about the arguments, not about God. These arguments surely demonstrate that he exists, and that is Being itself and the Creator of all things – that's Godlike enough for me, surely something to encourage atheists to heed!

@SD – That's an interesting summary! It needs chewing on. I wonder if the Ontological Argument sneaks in any contingency that we're not seeing. If so, it would be subject to the same criticism. I don't see that it does (though I have problems with it for other reasons).

I don't think your speculations seeking to "derive" creation in some way akin to necessity can get us far. In Christianity, God is love, and God is Three, and God is plenitude surpassing measure – so there is plenty of love going around already; Creation famously adds nothing to God. Any sort of necessity would be counter to the doctrine of ex nihilo, and I think exceedingly difficult to defend. (What you're describing is closer perhaps to Islam – Allah creating the world in order to be worshipped. . . I used to know the Qor'an and Hadiths on this but I'd need to look them up; I've had debates on this with Muslim friends, but that was long ago.)

@Tony – You say,

'When he says "there MUST BE something the existence of which is NECESSARY", the "MUST BE" is saying, as you say, that it is "necessary to account for". But at the end he says "necessary", and this is not "to account for", but "having its OWN character, in and of itself. The conclusion IS of the metaphysical necessity of God.'

Well yes, he does, in fact he jumps to this other meaning immediately. And that's not a valid transition to make. The only necessity demonstrated is necessity to account for, and not any metaphysical necessity.

@Glenn – thanks for the html tip!

@Laubadatriste – your Conan joke went over my head, I'm afraid – the link you pointed to won't show me any more than the first page!

Dennis said...

"And I must disagree: it makes perfect sense to ask whether an argument demonstrates God's metaphysical necessity."

You then move to talking about rigor. It makes sense to you because I think are unable to see that's it's his necessary existence which does the work of explanation, not anything else.

"Also, I never said that God was not metaphysically necessary. My claim is that Aquinas's arguments for God's existence do not demonstrate his metaphysical necessity; a claim about the arguments, not about God."

I never said you did. But if the arguments do not demonstrate his metaphysical necessity, then the arguments fail. If the arguments do not demonstrate the existence of a necessary being, it fails, and doesn't establish God's existence at all. Daniel has done the heavy-work in explaining how the Thomist does this.

"Well yes, he does, in fact he jumps to this other meaning immediately. And that's not a valid transition to make. The only necessity demonstrated is necessity to account for, and not any metaphysical necessity."

It's his necessary existence which accounts for the contingent beings. So there's no problem here. I've nothing more to add, so I'll leave the rest to anyone else who wishes to continue.

Erich said...

@grodrigues - thanks for your comment. You have helped me considerably!

First, some disagreements:

The statements you refer to above are not inconsistent given the dichotomy I've been putting forward. Again, we need to distinguish two different interpretations of "necessity." What I contend Thomas's arguments show is that God must be presumed to exist in order to explain the fact that there is any being at all, but they do not demonstrate that Being is necessary per se to begin with – what Scott's quote referred to properly as metaphysical necessity. I now see how important it is to keep these apart, and I shall endeavor to do so.

It is surely not a "piffle" to demonstrate that God exists, source of all being and creation, omnipotent, simple, good! This is surely a huge advance, especially for the atheist. The atheist may well go on, on the basis of PSR, and ask "why does God exist?" – and he would be entirely justified in doing so, on the basis of Thomas's logic, and hopefully he will find an answer; I too am looking for it. But even without an answer to that question, he would have no justification for his continued atheism, since God's existence has already been proven. My position most certainly does not permit the snotty Dawkinsian to say "We don't need your God; the universe just is, which is just as good as you're saying God just 'is'."

You said: 'If His existence is not necessary, then it is utterly baffling why exactly do we have to conclude that He exists since the difference between the He that the argument allegedly posits and the creaturely world is merely a difference in degree.' But it's not baffling: the Cosmological Argument makes his existence not only as unquestionable as our own, but infinitely greater in every respect. It's just that that's not the same thing as metaphysical necessity.

But now, to the important point, where you have me thinking again:

You seem to be saying (correct me if I'm wrong) that by ascribing "necessity" to the essence of God, Thomas resolves the matter of regress. What I'm saying, though, translated into these terms, is that the matter is also resolved if we ascribe "possibility" to the essence of God. Surely Being is at least possible, if not necessary.

Now it seems to me that modalities like "necessity" and "possibility" become exceedingly fuzzy if applied to Being itself, since under any interpretation I'm aware of, modalities fall back on a pre-given field of ontological "states" (for example in "many worlds" approaches). But it is the very fact of any ontology at all that is at stake here.

My suspicion is that to say that Being is necessary places in the same "conditionalized" space that saying it is "possible" does: i.e. Being becomes contingent on something else. I don't know how else to interpret either the words "necessary" or "possible". So my hunch is that can never really "prove" God's metaphysical necessity: God will have to have within his essence necessity, possibility, and even impossibility; he will transcend all of these categories, and we must leave analytic philosophizing behind and start praying and fasting. . .

But you have shown me the space where metaphysical necessity has an arguable place. I'll keep chewing on it. Thank you very much.

Erich said...

@Dennis and @Daniel –

Daniel said "Epistemologically we may not have realized that a Divinely Simple being is a necessary being until after we establish its existence but this something to do with the psychology of the person working through the proof not the conclusions of the proof itself."

That's a very odd thing to say – it doesn't apply to me. Here's my "situation:" A-T: Here is an argument for a Divinely Simple Being. Me: Excellent, beautiful, I buy it. A-T: Here is a further consequence – this being is metaphysically necessary. Me: Oh really? I don't see that at all. I think there has been slippage in the use of the idea of "necessity."

Thank you for your argument-synopsis, Daniel. Here is the kernal under discussion:

2. If there is a Divinely Simple Being then of its nature this being is necessary (conceptual truth)

My question is simple: why does the consequent follow? Why not say, "If there is a Divinely Simple Being then of its nature this being is possible (conceptual truth)." Of that I may be certain, but of (2), I am not certain, and need to be convinced. What necessitates this necessity?

@Dennis - Please refrain from telling me that I am "unable" to see things. I may not have seen them, but I also may not have been shown them. You yourself have recently shown me something very interesting!


Tony said...

My claim is that Aquinas's arguments for God's existence do not demonstrate his metaphysical necessity; a claim about the arguments, not about God. These arguments surely demonstrate that he exists, and that is Being itself and the Creator of all things – that's Godlike enough for me, surely something to encourage atheists to heed!

Erich, the first and second way prove THAT exists a First (unmoved) Mover, and a First (uncaused) Cause. That God exists is apparent from these. But they don't simply prove that He exists, they prove that He also bears a certain character. After the first way, it would be inappropriate to insist that the proof only proved that God the First Mover exists, but did nothing to prove that He must be the First Mover. The proof uses moved things to get at something that must be of a completely different character, unmoved.

After the second way, it would be inappropriate to say yes, God the First Cause exists, but the proof does nothing to prove that He must be the First Cause. It is not only His sheer existence that necessarily follows from the evidence but also His existence under a certain character that must follow from the evidence. The proof uses efficient causes that are caused to become causes to get at something that must be of a completely different character, it is not caused to be a cause.

The third way is similar (to an extent), it doesn't merely prove that He must exist, it proves his existence under a certain character, that of metaphysical necessity. The proof uses contingent beings to get at something that must be of a completely different character, that of necessary being. The proof doesn't merely state that the being is necessary. It goes further: it allows that there might theoretically be more than one necessary being, but then says that there must also be a necessary being whose necessary-ness does not derive from any other, but is necessary in and of itself. THIS IS the being metaphysically necessary being.

Now, either you are saying that the "proof" doesn't actually prove it, or you are saying that this kind of necessary being is NOT the kind of necessary you are talking about. I respond that (1) if the proof doesn't prove it, then the proof fails as a proof and doesn't prove the existence of God; or (2) what you are looking for is impossible. There isn't any higher sort of necessity, the sort this gets at just is as necessary as necessary gets.

Daniel said...

Why is this being necessary

Because, as has been said, it's Essence and Existence are one (on the Thomist account). On non-Thomistic accounts it's proved in a negative way by arguing that said being cannot be contingent I.e. brought into existence by the casual activities of another.

Anonymous said...

If the Third Way succeeds, it proves Divine Simplicity. It follows from Divine Simplicity that Something exists of its Nature. In other words, that it's of Something's Nature to exist.

Now try running your question on an actualist intepretation of modality, where mere possibilities are grounded in the actual world. What is the possibility of God's non-existence grounded in? Better, what could it be grounded in?

Tony said...

What necessitates this necessity?

Erich, what causes the uncaused cause? What moves the unmoved mover? You are looking for a "behind the scenes" source when there cannot be a behind the scene at all. The necessity of God is the necessity being in an of itself necessary, because that it His nature. Not only is there no further to look, there is no reason to look further. The reason given is adequate to the matter: it is of His very nature to be necessary.

I get the feeling (and I admit this might just be me, and not you at all) that what you really want is for His necessity to be manifest, transparent, rather than the deduction of a series of abstract metaphysical steps. That you want this sort of necessity of God's to be as immediate as the immediacy of the truth "the whole is greater than the proper part." Well, we don't see God face to face...yet. We can only deduce him from what is in our own proper sphere, which is nature. When we see Him face to face, THEN we will be able to experience Him as manifest and immediate, and then His necessity will be manifest also. But that is an experience supernatural to us, beyond human nature's powers on their own. Here, we have to work with nature, and nature is unable to make God's whole nature manifest and immediate, because nature is (as such) always insufficient to show the Godhead as He is in Himself, since nature is inherently finite and God is not. As long as we have to "see" Him mediately, we are stuck with knowing His attributes via derivation from nature, from that which is inadequate to show Him forth fully.

Erich said...

@everybody – you guys are wonderful, thanks very much for this discussion. This is a remarkable forum for such discussions and I am very lucky to have stumbled into such a crew of intelligent and patient people.

@Tony – yes, I understand the "story" of the argument in principle: that not only is God shown to exist, but he is shown to have a certain character, and that character includes necessity. But I do not see that the First Way, or any other way, actually does this. I wish it did, but I don't think it does. For God to be unmoved means he is unmoved, but that doesn't mean "Being is Necessary!"

How is it that you see the metaphysical necessity of God arising once he has been shown to exist via (any of) the Five Ways? Can you point me to a passage in Aquinas or any of his interpreters, yourself included?

Does the Third Way succeed in proving that there is a necessary being whose necessary-ness is not derived? What does it mean for something to be "necessary in itself?" "Necessity" is a word that relies on an ontological background within which conditions might apply; it thereby contrasts with "possibility" and "impossibility." How can God, as Being itself, establish the background against which one could imagine his own necessity? That's as absurd as claiming that God could be his own cause.

To be the source of all causality does not entail being caused. Why should being the source of all necessity entail being necessitated? Both entailments are equally untenable.

I think your (2) above is probably right: what I am looking for is impossible; there isn't any higher sort of necessity to be found – but I would expand that, and say that it is impossible for everyone, including Thomas, and all the Five Ways – we cannot identify the highest point of pure metaphysical necessity, certainly not by logical argument. And though we somehow know it must be with God, we cannot demonstrate it analytically.

I agree very much with your final paragraph (in your second message). Yes, I would "like" God's necessity to be manifest. But remember that I'm arguing we lack an analytical argument for it (at least in Thomas)! I'm the one saying that his necessity is not manifest in the Cosmological Arguments. I get the feeling that many others desire so strongly that it be manifest in those arguments that they give too much credence to arguments that are actually not so strong.

"When we see Him face to face. . . " well yes, exactly! Then, and only then, will his necessity be manifest. As I said in one of the posts that got this whole discussion going: if I should have the good fortune of arriving in heaven, I will say to the Almighty, "Thank you for having me – but how did you get here?"




Jeremy Taylor said...

Anonymous All Hail the Mighty BBC!,

The first half of that video seemed half-decent, then it went downhill. It still beats many presentations of the argument. At least they know that it is everything in motion that requires a cause, and the claim isn't simply everything has a cause.

All Hail the Mighty BBC! said...

@ Jeremy Taylor
Well it isn't even made clear that motion is change in the video. Much more is expected from the BBC with their impartiality guidelines and license fee. It also ends up saying God moves himself, just because God. Making a mockery of how Saint Thomas actually made the arguments without appeal to authority or revelation.

Tony said...

@Tony – yes, I understand the "story" of the argument in principle: that not only is God shown to exist, but he is shown to have a certain character, and that character includes necessity. But I do not see that the First Way, or any other way, actually does this. I wish it did, but I don't think it does. For God to be unmoved means he is unmoved, but that doesn't mean "Being is Necessary!"

How is it that you see the metaphysical necessity of God arising once he has been shown to exist via (any of) the Five Ways? Can you point me to a passage in Aquinas or any of his interpreters, yourself included?


Erich, it appears from what you say that you have not actually read the 5 ways, especially the 3rd. It doesn't show "the metaphysical necessity of God arising once he has been shown to exist." That's not what the proof presents. It presents THAT a metaphysically necessary being exists, which all men call God. You are not blowing off a corollary derived from the proof, you are blowing off the proof itself.

I have already provided the text in which St. Thomas states this. See 2:39 on 4-30.
You can dispute that the proof proves God's existence, but you cannot accept the proof of God's existence and dispute the necessity of His existence.

Does the Third Way succeed in proving that there is a necessary being whose necessary-ness is not derived?

If not, then the proof fails to prove God exists, either.

What does it mean for something to be "necessary in itself?"

St. Thomas, at least, implies what he means: that the necessity is not from another source.

"Necessity" is a word that relies on an ontological background within which conditions might apply; it thereby contrasts with "possibility" and "impossibility."

You are postulating a "background" behind ANYTHING necessary. But your postulate has problems, and I dispute the thesis outright. Your notion of an "ontological background" is untenable in the face of a God (proved in the second way) that is the uncaused cause of all else; any framework in which you suppose such a thing is a mistake.

How can God, as Being itself, establish the background against which one could imagine his own necessity? That's as absurd as claiming that God could be his own cause.

The absurdity is "imagining" his necessity as requiring being a necessity as against some further reality. Just as God does not cause Himself, God does not necessitate Himself: He is necessary without being necessitated by. God is the ultimate background, there is no "behind" to look for.

Philip Alawonde said...

Erich,

First, you mischaracterize my last comment to you, but I'll let that pass.

More to the point is that at this stage, it appears to me you're merely flogging a long-dead horse, blindly!

Now, the dialectic is like this: The Thomist claims that his arguments demonstrate the metaphysical necessity of God, just like they demonstrate divine conservation when fully understood.

You on the other hand are claiming that this is not so . But you've not made a single effort at justifying this claim except gross assertiveness, which doesn't do anything to the truth of your claim.

Thus, you might want to tell us how significantly else the claims 'God exists necessarily, and we know this from contingent existence' and 'God exists necessarily in himself, whether we know this or not' differ, apart from that between the order of being and the order of knowing.

Until you do that, I don't see how your claim holds any water, and we are fully justified in believing that whether we know it or not, God exists necessarily.

Philip Alawonde said...

Erich,

Furthermore, having observed the discussion thus far, I see two problems that keep besetting you in this matter:

First, you've not really understood the Thomistic CAs, and this is what you should work on further. This is not a bad thing in itself; I think anyone who really wants to understand these things needs to struggle with them. I once had such a struggle myself, but it was about conservation -- I couldn't see how this followed from the arguments. I stuck at it and finally got it. Borrow a leaf.

Secondly, you're heavily reading in contemporary metaphysical conceptions into Thomas' notion of necessity, thus mischaracterizing his arguments radically (this is the main problems I see with critics of Thomistic CAs like Plantinga). I don't think you or such people as Plantinga do this intentionally, though, but only because it has become connatural from your training in analytic philosophy. Nevertheless, as Ed has pointed out many times, what readers of Thomas today need to have in mind is just that!

Erich said...

@Philip – many thanks indeed for your comments. Yes, it is of course possible that I have not really understood the arguments; all of these exchanges are in the service of understanding them better – all of us, I should hope, or I shall have wasted everyone's time. I am new to this line of thinking, which approaches a millennial age.

I apologize for misrepresenting anything you said, but do let me know how I did so.

If the horse I'm flogging appears dead to you, it still does not to me. "Over here! Look everybody, a living horse! Don't you see he's alive?" (though I would never flog any horse, of course!).

Have you identified a contemporary metaphysical conception that I am improperly reading into Thomas? If so, please tell me what it is; it's only fair. It is very unlikely that it has derived from my training in analytical philosophy, since I have no such training; my background is in the cognitive sciences, linguistics specifically – in fact I deliberately eschewed analytic debates that surround the subject. My training in analytic philosophy begins here and now, in my reading of Aquinas and various commentators, especially Feser (his book on Thomas, his book on Scholasticism), Kerr, Stump, and others. This blog, too.

You said:

"You on the other hand are claiming that this is not so . But you've not made a single effort at justifying this claim except gross assertiveness, which doesn't do anything to the truth of your claim."

I should sincerely hope this is not the case! I have made every effort to be quite precise. All of Thomas's five ways begin with observations about contingent Being. From these observations God's existence is proven. But the necessity shown in each case – perhaps I should write a paper on it and post it here! – is not a metaphysical necessity, though the word "necessity" is used for both cases. This holds true also of Thomas's earlier argument in Essence and Existence. I have been explicit in my justification: I am pointing out an unwarranted leap from contingent necessity to metaphysical necessity. They are clearly not the same thing; the excellent quotes from Scott above helps clarify this.

I am fully aware that certain concepts may simply have not "sunk in" properly with me yet, and I cede to the more experienced in these matters. But there is always flip side: we sometimes rely too much on what has sunk in and can no longer appreciate what might be a valid criticism of our assumptions.

You also said:

"Thus, you might want to tell us how significantly else the claims 'God exists necessarily, and we know this from contingent existence' and 'God exists necessarily in himself, whether we know this or not' differ, apart from that between the order of being and the order of knowing."

Neither of these choices correspond exactly with the distinction I'm making. It's more like this:

(1) "God exists, and we know this from contingent existence."
vs.
(2) "'God exists necessarily, and we can demonstrate this by means of things we know about his existence."

Thomas proves (1), as far as I'm concerned. It is true that Thomas claims (2), but these are illegitimate claims, for reasons I've spelled-out several times. But I'll keep trying until no one replies to my messages!

SD said...

@Philip:
"...it appears to me you're merely flogging a long-dead horse, blindly!"

Well it doesn't appear that way to me. His point is perfectly clear, and reasonable.

"The Thomist claims that his arguments demonstrate the metaphysical necessity of God..."

Well sure, but it's not just that simple, and it's because it's not that simple that Erich's question makes sense.
So the Thomist does not claim that his arguments demonstrate the metaphysical necessity of God, period.
Rather, he claims that his arguments demonstrate the metaphysical necessity of God given some feature of the world around us, that feature being the existence of contingent states of affairs.

"You on the other hand are claiming that this is not so . But you've not made a single effort at justifying this claim except gross assertiveness, which doesn't do anything to the truth of your claim."

But he has tried to justify it, several times! And I just did it again. But let me have another go, taking a different approach.

Can we agree that Aquinas' third way is essentially a modus ponens:

     P → Q, P ⊢ Q

where:
P = "There exist contingent states of affairs"
Q = "There exists a necessary being"
and
→ = the actual core of Aquinas' argument

But now let's look at how the notions of "necessity" and "contingency" apply not to God's existence, but rather to the soundness of Aquinas' argument. Given that soundness = validity + truth of premisses, to make it easier, let's assume the logic's validity is unassailable, so we have to turn our gaze to premiss P. So, given the content of P -- given its contingency -- what if anything can we say about Q? I think we can say this:

Q is necessarily true if and only if P is necessarily true

And just to be ultra clear (because gawd knows it has proven hard to get this across thus far :-) ):

I'm NOT asking about the necessity/contingency of God's existence, and
I'm NOT asking about the soundness of Aquinas' third way
I am asking about the necessity/contingency of the soundness of Aquinas' third way

As far as I can see, the fact is that the soundness of Aquinas' third way is contingent; it is contingent on P above -- i.e. on "There exist contingent states of affairs" being true. And since clearly -- by it's very content -- P is only contingently true, then so too is the soundness of third way, and so too, finally, is the conclusion that God necessarily exists[1].

Yes, the Third Way shows that God necessarily exists, but it only manages to do that if there exist contingent stuff. If there's no contingent stuff, we don't have a proof!

And so my (and Erich's, I think) question is simply, what's the deal with that then!?

[1] Again, for the avoidance of doubt, my argument (argument, not assertion) that the third way's conclusion is contingent is an argument *ONLY in the context of* the third way. I'm *NOT* saying there conclusion is contingent *overall*. Also, I'm arguing only that the conclusion is contingent, *not* that it is false. In fact, since I would, like everyone else, assert that P, and I also accept the third way's arguments for P → Q, then obviously a take Q to be true.

Erich said...

@Philip – argh, I just wrote a long reply an posted it, and now it's not appearing! May thanks for your generous comments. It is quite possible and more than likely that I've not acquired sufficient experience with Thomas's vocabulary and conceptual world. To that I can say four things: 1. Do continue, as my philosophical elders, to correct me. 2. Do you have any examples of my misplacing modern analytical concepts here? Please tell me how – it is highly unlikely that they have come from my training in analytic philosophy, since I have no training in analytic philosophy (I'm from a physics and cog-sci (linguistics) background and tended to eschew analytic philosophy until I discovered theology - which will certainly be a weakness, but not of the kind you describe!). 3. I think I've made my point quite precisely: none of Thomas arguments, from De Ente to the Five Ways, actually take us from proof of his being to proof of the necessity of Being; only the word "necessity" is used with undue profligacy. 4. I may be wrong – but I am recommending hesitance in our conclusions about what we can know about God; I am suggesting we have been be overeager to ascertain "necessity" in a realm where no human concept of "necessity" may be applicable.

Sorry if this is too brief! I'm writing my tail off these days. . .

SD said...

@Tony: "Erich, it appears from what you say that you have not actually read the 5 ways, especially the 3rd.

Or perhaps you haven't understood what Erich is saying?

"[The Third Way] presents THAT a metaphysically necessary being exists..."
Not exactly. Yes it presents (to use your language) that a metaphysically being exists, but it does that only if contingent states of affairs exist.
If no contingent states of affairs existed, then the argument doesn't tell us anything.

"You are not blowing off a corollary derived from the proof, you are blowing off the proof itself.

No he isn't. He's simply pointing out that the proof's conclusion (the conclusion, not God's existence) is contingent and wondering about the significance of that fact.

"...you cannot accept the proof of God's existence and dispute the necessity of His existence."

Yes, but you can dispute the necessity of the soundness of the proof by disputing the necessity of the premiss upon which it is built, namely "Contingent states of affairs exist".

Consider this simple form of the argument:
P1: If contingent states of affairs exist then a Necessary Being exists
P2: Contingent states of affairs exist
thus
C: A Necessary Being exists

I accept that. You accept it. We all accept it. And by accepting it, we are accepting the necessity of God's existence too. But we're doing that only in the context of the proof. We're entitled to that because we accept that P2 is true. But now consider the following version:

P1: If contingent states of affairs exist then a Necessary Being exists
P3: No contingent states of affairs exist
thus
C: A Necessary Being exists

Does that version prove that God necessarily exists? Assuming P3 were true, would that argument be valid?
I say no.
So now compare P2 and P3. Is P2 necessary? Are there possible worlds where P3 could obtain?
I say no, and yes.

Therefore C -- C, not God's existence -- is, as far as the Third Way is concerned, contingent.

Brandon said...

Is P2 necessary?

Yes, if anything contingent is possible at all. Suppose something contingent exists; then it is a contingent state of affairs that contingent things are existing. Suppose no contingent existence exists, but contingent things could exist; then it is (necessarily!) a contingent state of affairs that those particular contingent things do not exist. Obviously if a contingent thing could exist it can't be a necessary state of affairs that it doesn't.

Therefore C -- C, not God's existence -- is, as far as the Third Way is concerned, contingent.

No, the whole point of the Third Way, is that if it is sound, its conclusion is necessary. What you keep saying is that if it's not sound, the conclusion is not necessary, but this is an obvious logical error: it's an exact logical parallel to claiming that if a premise in an argument is false, the conclusion is false. Nor does the 'as far as the Third Way is concerned'; as far as the Third Way is concerned, its conclusion is not contingent -- as Tony noted, the only question is whether the Third Way itself works in the first place.

Erich said...

@tony – thanks for your point-by-point reply. It's a little hard to copy the format into a third level of embedding; my replies below will simply parallel you responses to me one after the other. Pardon the redundancies; I'm just trying to maintain the parallel. I hope you find this as interesting as I do. Things get exciting at the end, in my opinion.

* I certainly have read the five ways, and have chewed on them over and over, along with numerous commentaries; I have also read the text of and commentaries on Thomas's proof in De Ente et Essentia.

Please do not say I am "blowing off" anything. I take these arguments completely seriously and am trying to understand their precise consequences – which I take to be movingly immense under any interpretation.

Yes, you have provided the relevant text from Thomas – and I have already given my response to it, pointing out the "slippage" in the use of the words "necessity/necessary."

You herewith assert the opposite of what I am arguing: "You can dispute that the proof proves God's existence, but you cannot accept the proof of God's existence and dispute the necessity of His existence." Okay, that's exactly what I disagree with. The argument shows that there must be a source of necessity, something that begins the chain of necessity – quite like there must be a source of causality. What exactly forces us to say that this endpoint is metaphysically necessary?

* Does the Third way fail to prove God exists if it fails to prove God does not necessarily exist? Well, it comes down to whether or not this sentence of the proof holds: "Therefore, we cannot but admit the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity." This, it seems to me, comes close to the proof of the existence something: but is it of a being "having of itself its own necessity?" Should it not rather be "having of itself no necessity?"

* The necessity is not from another source, Thomas implies. Of course, it couldn't be. What is it from, then? From itself? There is something that necessitates itself? Well, this is as senseless as something causing itself. With that it seems you agree – as we continue. . .

Erich said...

@ tony cont'd


* You say my postulate that "necessity" entails a background "has problems." Okay, good, this is where we need to go. You say my "notion of an 'ontological background' is untenable in the face of a God (proved in the second way) that is the uncaused cause of all else; any framework in which you suppose such a thing is a mistake." That's absolutely correct. There can be no such background in the face of God. And that is my point: since there is no background apart from God, "necessity" cannot hold, unless one thinks of God as "the background of his own necessity," which is the same nonsense as god being "the cause of his own causality."

Necessity is always relational, just as causality is. To say that something is necessary or has "necessity" as a quality is to proclaim its dependence on the other terms of a relation, just as saying something is caused proclaims a dependence. It's an accident of language that I can say something is "necessary" without adumbrating what makes it necessary, but that doesn't mean the concept is any less relational than causality is. It is only this accident of language that allows us to say something is just "necessary," in and of himself – as if we no longer needed, or were no longer permitted, to ask, "necessary because of what? Necessitated by what?"

* Final paragraph – Now this is getting really interesting, as we are revealed to be so close here: you say "The absurdity is "imagining" his necessity as requiring being a necessity as against some further reality."

Totally agreed, as described above. It is absurd to imagine some further reality beyond God.

"Just as God does not cause Himself, God does not necessitate Himself: He is necessary without being necessitated by. God is the ultimate background, there is no 'behind' to look for."

As I wrote above: It makes no sense to be "necessary" without being necessitated by something else. Necessity and causality are both relational. Your second sentence is no more solid than this one: "God does not cause himself: he is caused without needing to be caused by."

Let me take your quote and continue your quote the way I would continue it:

"Just as God does not cause Himself, God does not necessitate Himself: and just as there is no cause for God, there is no necessity for God. God is the source of both necessity and causality without himself being caused or necessitated. God is the ultimate background, there is no 'behind' to look for."

How would you compare these two formulations



Erich said...

@philip - this is a test. I have posted two replies to you and they are not appearing on the blog. . . yet two posts I wrote later do appear. . .

testing

testing

Brandon said...

Necessity is always relational, just as causality is. To say that something is necessary or has "necessity" as a quality is to proclaim its dependence on the other terms of a relation, just as saying something is caused proclaims a dependence.

On what grounds could you possibly be establishing this claim as true?

SD said...

@Brandon: (paraphrasing] "P2 is necessary"

Then we're done. (And QED to you :-) )
But I'm not sure I buy that. I'll have to ponder. Erich, what do you think?

"...the whole point of the Third Way, is that if it is sound, its conclusion is necessary. "

Well, if it is sound then its conclusion is true. But what if P2 were not necessarily true? (As I say, I have to ponder your argument that it is.) With a contingent P2, the conclusion would still be true, but what of its necessity?

"What you keep saying is that if it's not sound, the conclusion is not necessary, "

Well no, then I'd be saying the conclusion is false.

"...as Tony noted, the only question is whether the Third Way itself works in the first place."

Only if P2 is necessary. If P2 itself is contingent then we have an argument that is bomb-proof contingently You are getting right to the heart of the matter (although I'd like to take some credit for directing you there) in arguing that P2 is necessary. I don't think that's where Tony was at all. I think I understand why he did it, but he seems to have been focusing on explaining to Erich that we can be sure of the necessity of God's existence. But for my part, I have no doubt about that. But that's because I believe that contingent states of affairs do exist (although I may be making a rod to beat myself there in using "states of affairs" instead of the much simpler "beings").

And until I've convinced myself that you are right in that the existence of contingency is necessary -- and again, the difference between "states of affairs" on the one hand and, on the other, "beings" or "entities" or "physical realities" may be critical -- I'm not sure that I wouldn't have to adjust my thinking about God's necessity so as to rely on a proof other than the Third Way. (Something like Anselm's OA might be a candidate).

Brandon said...

Well, if it is sound then its conclusion is true. But what if P2 were not necessarily true?... With a contingent P2, the conclusion would still be true, but what of its necessity?

Nothing would change. As noted, the idea that it would change is logically an exact parallel to claiming that if a valid argument had a false premise than its conclusion would be false; this is an incorrect notion of how validity works.

Well no, then I'd be saying the conclusion is false.

(1) If you are claiming the conclusion is false, you are necessarily claiming that it is not necessary. (2) Your claim explicitly requires that there is a possible circumstance in which it would not be sound, and the conclusion would be false in that possible circumstance, which is to say, not necessary.

f P2 itself is contingent then we have an argument that is bomb-proof contingently

'Bomb-proof' is not a logical characteristic of arguments. If We have an argument

(P1) If A, NecB
(P2) A
Therefore NecB

It does not matter whether A could be false; that it is true establishes its necessary conclusion. Consider:

If apples exist, it is necessary that 1+1=2
Apples exist
Therefore it is necessary that 1+1=2

It does not matter in any way, shape, or form that the second premise is contingent; the conclusion identifies a claim as true that talks about all possibilities (including those in which apples don't exist). It is simply false to think that playing with the modality of a premise messes with the modality of the conclusion; just as it is simply false to think that a premise's being false means that the conclusion has to be false.

SD said...

@Brandon: so what of the following:

If unicorns exist, it is necessary that 1+1=2
Unicorns do not exist
Therefore it is necessary that 1+1=2

If I understand you -- "...(including those in which apples don't exist)..." -- the conclusion is still true, yes?

"...just as it is simply false to think that a premise's being false means that the conclusion has to be false."

Well you might be right. I finally feel as if someone is addressing the problem, so I'm definitely learning something here at last.

But if what I'm doing really is logically an exact parallel to denying the antecedent then I'm being confused by a much trickier form. Because I am certain I am not denying the antecedent in the Third Way itself. I am not saying (or at least, I don't believe) that if it turned out the P2 premiss were false then the conclusion of God's necessary existence would be false. As you say, that would be an incorrect notion of how validity works.

Mr. Green said...

Erich: Necessity is always relational, just as causality is.

Not necessarily! Although a given context may indicate that the sort of necessity being referred to is relative to some purpose, clearly Aquinas is not using the term that way. He isn't arguing that God is necessary for something, simply that He's necessary. (necesse = ne, not, + cedo, go, withdraw = something you can’t get away from.) A necessary conditional is relational, but it's the "condition" that's relative, not the "necessary”.

Perhaps think of it in terms of "possible worlds": a necessary condition, that to obtain P, Q must be necessary (i.e. P→Q) is relative. In worlds where we have P, we must always have Q; but we need not have Q in all worlds. So ☐(P→Q), but not ☐Q. Q is necessary relative to P, but not absolutely. However, if G is a necessary being, that is, G exists in all worlds, then simply ☐G: there is no relation to something else.


SD: Yes, the Third Way shows that God necessarily exists, but it only manages to do that if there exist contingent stuff. If there's no contingent stuff, we don't have a proof!

The argument (its soundness) relies on their being contingent stuff, but God’s necessity doesn’t. That is, the argument is not ☐P→Q, or ☐P→☐Q, but rather P→☐Q. If there were no contingent stuff — if ¬P — then the argument would not be sound (though still valid). That doesn’t entail ¬Q or ¬☐Q; ☐Q might still be provable some other way. Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about other ways, because P is true: there are contingent beings. Therefore, the argument works (unless you claim to show an error in it), and the conclusion holds — which conclusion being ☐Q.

Also, I'm arguing only that the conclusion is contingent, *not* that it is false.

But beings are contingent, not conclusions. What does that mean? That the conclusion (☐Q) depends on P? But it doesn’t; if it needed P to be true, then you’re saying that ¬P→¬☐Q, but that's denying the antecedent, as Brandon said.

Again, using the language of possible worlds: Once we have shown ☐Q (which we have, because it so happens that P is true), then Q applies to every world. Even to worlds in which ¬P. But if Q holds in every world, then ☐Q… that is, ☐Q even in those possible worlds where ¬P. That is, ¬P→Q in every world, because Q is true in every world regardless. (Now the poor non-inhabitants of the ¬P worlds cannot know this of course, at least not by availing their non-selves of the Third Way (perhaps non-they could deduce it from the Ontological Argument; that’s a moot point); but it’s true nonetheless, and we can know that it’s true even in their impoverished worlds.)

Vincent Torley said...

Hi everyone,

Just a few quick points:

1. Instead of talking about necessary and contingent beings, I think it would be more helpful to speak of beings which explain their own existence, and beings which don't. Cosmology has been defined as a science which treats the cosmos as a single entity. If that entity doesn't explain itself, then we are forced to postulate the existence of something outside and beyond the cosmos, which is (a) self-explanatory and (b) capable of explaining the cosmos. If there were no cosmos at all, then it doesn't follow that no self-explanatory Being exists; all that would follow is that the existence of such a Being could no longer be demonstrated. And if the cosmos were self-explanatory, then (obviously) a self-explanatory entity would exist; it just wouldn't be the God of classical theism. What the Third Way attempts to show is that the cosmos isn't the sort of thing that could possibly qualify as self-explanatory, since none of its parts are.

2. It's also important to distinguish between epistemic necessity and ontological (or real) necessity. Thus when Erich asks whether it's necessarily the case (epistemically) that there is an (ontologically) necessary Being, he's mixing two kinds of necessity, which is like mixing apples and oranges. To be sure, we can conceive of the non-existence of anything at all, but that doesn't mean it's really possible.

3. It is possible to formulate the cosmological argument with reference to states of affairs or situations, rather than beings. Indeed, Thomist philosopher Robert Koons did precisely that in his 1997 paper, "A New Look at the Cosmological Argument" at https://web.archive.org/web/20030915194909/http://arn.org/docs/koons/cosmo.pdf . See also his more recent paper, "Epistemological Foundations for the Cosmological Argument" at http://www.robkoons.net/media/83c9b25c56d629ffffff8079ffffd524.pdf . Cheers.

Glenn said...

Erich and SD,

Suppose the argument is, "If and only if contingent states of affairs exist in all possible worlds then a Necessary Being exists." Suppose further these three things:

⒜ There are five quintillion plus one possible worlds;
⒝ contingent states of affairs exist in five quintillion
     of the possible worlds; and,
⒞ contingent states of affairs do not exist and cannot
     exist in one of the possible worlds.

In this case, that a Necessary Being exists does not follow.

The argument, however, is not as supposed just above; rather, the argument is as stated further above -- namely, "If contingent states of affairs exist then a Necessary Being exists." Suppose now these three things:

⒟ There are five quintillion plus one possible worlds;
⒠ contingent states of affairs do not exist and cannot
     exist in five quintillion of the possible worlds; and,
⒡ contingent states of affairs do exist in one of the
     possible worlds.

In this case, it does follow that a Necessary Being exists.

Now, since the argument is, "If contingent states of affairs exist then a Necessary Being exists" -- and since there is, at a minimum, one teensy-weensey, solitary world where contingent states of affairs do exist -- that there may be as many as, say, ((five quintillion)^(five quintillion)) other worlds where contingent states of affairs do not exist and cannot exist has no bearing on the matter.

IOW, as Mr. Green has succinctly said, "[T]he argument is not ☐P→Q, or ☐P→☐Q, but rather P→☐Q. [Etc., etc.]"

laubadetriste said...

@Erich: "your Conan joke went over my head, I'm afraid – the link you pointed to won't show me any more than the first page!"

Well, perhaps it was a poor joke. I had too a point the joke was making, but let me tell a better and unrelated joke:

Three men arrive at the Pearly Gates on the day of their deaths. They take St. Peter somewhat by surprise as they approach him across the clouds, and he disappears behind the gates for a while. When he returns, he seems abashed.

"Well," he says, "we're running behind today. We have room, really we do, but just now for only one of you, while we make arrangements. The other two will have to camp out here for a bit." He pauses. "Here's what I'll do--it's only fair--: I'll let in first the one of you who had the worst day today, so you can get a quick start on paradise."

One of the men steps forward immediately. "It's me," he says. "I had a terrible day. I was ill--one of those bugs that just lays you right out. But I dragged myself to work at my job, which I hate. They pay me just enough not to quit, and I work just hard enough not to get fired. So I'm bored in the afternoon, browsing Facebook, and I see some messages I'm not supposed to, and I find out my wife is cheating on me while I'm away! Boy, I was furious. I walked out right then and there, intending to catch them in flagrante delicto and--well, I don't know what, but I raced home to my apartment. The elevator was out in my building, and I live on the 26th floor, so I had to climb all those stairs! And I've been so depressed about my marriage and my job, I've not been eating well or sleeping right, and I'm all out of shape, so when I finally get to the top I'm just dying sick and angry and all out of breath, and I burst in the door looking for the guy. I look in the bedroom and he's not there, I look in the closet and he's not there, I look under the bed and he's not there... Finally I see him, hiding from me, dangling naked from the balcony holding on by his fingertips! So I figure I got him now, and I grab my hammer from my toolbox, and went to town on his fingers! 'Die! Die! Die!' I shouted, and he's yelling, 'Stop! Stop! Stop!' but I got him, he lost his grip and fell! But he landed in the bushes below and was still moving! So I went back into my apartment and unplugged the refrigerator, and pushed it out over the balcony and down on top of him! But all the stress was so great, I felt a pain in my chest and arm and got weak, and everything went black and then I woke up here."

The second man steps forward. "It was a leisurely day. I had breakfast and tea. I was naked out on the balcony of my apartment on the 27th floor, doing my morning exercise routine--I'm a nudist, you see, and a yoga enthusiast--when of a sudden there was a stiff breeze, and I lost my balance. I tried to stop myself, but I went right over the edge! I thought I was a goner, but luckily I caught myself on the floor below. So I'm trying to pull myself up by my fingertips, and out of nowhere this guy comes at me with a hammer! And he's yelling, 'Die! Die! Die!' and I'm shouting, 'Stop! Stop! Stop!' but I lost my grip and fell! But luckily I landed in some bushes below. So I'm trying to get up and run away, and then I see a refrigerator coming at me! And then I woke up here."

The third man steps forward. "So picture this," he says. "It's dark and cold. I'm naked, hiding in a refrigerator..."

laubadetriste said...

@Glenn: "IOW, as Mr. Green has succinctly said, '[T]he argument is not ☐P→Q, or ☐P→☐Q, but rather P→☐Q. [Etc., etc.]'"

Yes, and further:

@Brandon: "If apples exist, it is necessary that 1+1=2 / Apples exist / Therefore it is necessary that 1+1=2 / It does not matter in any way, shape, or form that the second premise is contingent; the conclusion identifies a claim as true that talks about all possibilities (including those in which apples don't exist). It is simply false to think that playing with the modality of a premise messes with the modality of the conclusion..."

--but the part Erich seems directly to have trouble with is the "→☐Q" part. Hence:

@Erich: "Okay, that's exactly what I disagree with. The argument shows that there must be a source of necessity, something that begins the chain of necessity – quite like there must be a source of causality. What exactly forces us to say that this endpoint is metaphysically necessary?"

So, Erich, a different tack: Suppose that the item called "God" arrived at via the argument is *not* metaphysically necessary. Would that not mean that we had really arrived at only an intermediate link in the chain of argument (and hence, at only an intermediate link in the chain of being)? For if that item is *not* metaphysically necessary, would that not mean that we had not in fact halted the regress? For if that item is *not* metaphysically necessary, could we not ask about it what we asked about "the slightest evidence of being, however contingent, from the very first stirrings of the slightest sensation, perhaps the first wiggle in the womb, or the soft vibrant rhythm of mother's pumping blood"? For if that item is *not* metaphysically necessary, would that not mean that we had, in fact, only substituted one contingent thing for another--"God" for "first wiggle in the womb", etc.--and called by the name "God" what in fact could not be God?

SD said...

@Mr. Green: "... the argument is not ☐P→Q, or ☐P→☐Q, but rather P→☐Q."

OK, I certainly agree with that. In fact, I thought I'd actually said as much, but maybe not (see "wildly wooly" in a followup to this multi-part comment).

MrG: "If there were no contingent stuff — if ¬P — then the argument would not be sound (though still valid)."

Yes! That's all I've really been asking (for a while now):
     "Isn't it the case that if ¬P then Aquinas' Third Way would be unsound?"
Or, put it another way:
     "Isn't it the case that if ¬P then to prove ☐Q we'd have to find some approach other than Aquinas' Third Way?"

Which isn't a million miles away from your (bold-emph. mine):
MrG: "That doesn’t entail ¬Q or ¬☐Q; ☐Q might still be provable some other way."

And finally (well, you'd think :-) ):
MrG: "...P is true...Therefore, the argument works (unless you claim to show an error in it), and the conclusion holds — which conclusion being ☐Q."

Correct. Yes, P is true; yes there is no error in the argument; and so yes the ☐Q holds. At this point a disinterested bystander could surely be forgiven for asking "Then what is all the argument about!?"

And of course there is more to it than the above, and it's the more which the argument is about. But I'll end it here for the moment, because I'm about to go out. "More" later (along with follow-up to Brandon's (paraphrasing) "P is necessary" which is part of the more).

Mr. Green said...

Laubadetriste: St. Peter: "The other two will have to camp out here for a bit."

I'm not surprised he didn't have room ready... I wasn't expecting at least two of those men to make it to heaven in the first place!

laubadetriste said...

@Mr. Green: "I'm not surprised he didn't have room ready... I wasn't expecting at least two of those men to make it to heaven in the first place!"

Perhaps an error on the part of an intern, from one of the lesser choirs, at the office of the Recording Angel. But the four last things can be complicated--and philosophy, too:

A boy is about to go on his first date. He asks his father for advice on what to say to the girl he is taking to dinner. "Talk about food," his father says. "Everyone likes to eat."
"But what if that doesn't work?"
"Then talk family. Everyone has family."
"But what if that doesn't work?"
"Then talk philosophy. It's important to get along with a girl, on a deeper level."
"Thanks, dad."
So the boy takes the girl out for dinner. She says little. Soon there is an uncomfortable silence. The boy remembers his father's advice, and thinks of something to say about food.
"So, do you like potatoes?"
"No."
Again there is an uncomfortable silence. The boy feels terrible. What was the next thing? Oh yes, family.
"So, have you got a brother?"
"No."
Again there is an uncomfortable silence. The boy slumps in his chair, his stomach a knot. What was that last thing? Oh yes, philosophy. This had better work...
"So, if you had a brother, would he like potatoes?"

Eduardo said...

I must say Lauba, that I have already told that joke in my life XD, the three dudes joke Awesome to see that it is identical even when you cross borders... Yeah that is all I had please go on.

Erich said...

@ Brandon – Touché! On what grounds might I proclaim that "necessity" is a relational concept? Well, that's central to what the word means, doesn't it? The American Heritage Dictionary gives this definition of "necessary" ("necessity" refers back to this):

1. Needed or required: a contract complete with the necessary signatures; conditions necessary to life. See Synonyms at indispensable.

2.a. Unavoidably determined by prior conditions or circumstances; inevitable: the necessary results of overindulgence.
2.b. Logically inevitable: a necessary conclusion.

3. Required by obligation, compulsion, or convention: made the necessary apologies.

The first and third definitions can probably be put aside; notice that they are in the passive voice – "determined, required" – which entail an implicit subject in any case.

So focus on 2. 2.a: is passive and obviously relational, involving prior conditions. 2.b is about a conclusion, which entails something prior from which a conclusion may be derived.

Now it may be possible to invent a new notion that resembles necessity but does not include such a relation. Yes, everything we say of God can only be analogical, but if it entirely disrupts the basic meaning of the concepts used, the analogy is not of much help, being no longer anything remotely like the idea of "necessity" used in Thomas's and our general discourse.

@ Mr. Green – thanks for your comment. But your examples, I think, actually exemplify what I'm saying. You say that the necessity of G ("G is a necessary being) means "G exists in all possible worlds." Okay. So we have some set of possible worlds – notice how rich this already is, some set of possible worlds, maybe some of them actual, a very rich ontological universe – and G's necessity is a function of his existence in all possible worlds. Functions are relations. You have shown that the necessity of G is relational (indeed dependent) on a given ontology of possible worlds: the "possible worlds" approach defines "necessity" in terms of a universal predicate over worlds. That's about as relational as it gets.

One cannot demonstrate G's necessity, whether G be God or anything else, in a non-relational manner.

Erich said...


@Vincent – your post is very interesting – I need to look at the Koon article (his name keeps popping up, and here you are mentioning it again!). But you make a real mistake in (2): I have been quite clear about the difference between epistemological and metaphysical necessity. In fact it is the unwarranted transition from the former to the latter that is one of my main points of contention. Take a look at my longer posts; I hope that comes across.

@Glenn

This may be a debilitating deficit on my part, so if you can shuttle me to nearby ambulance I'd be much obliged to be carried off – but I can't get any mileage out of "possible world" approaches to these questions. What counts as a "possible world" in the first place? What makes us imagine such worlds are possible? Answering these questions – which need at least to be answerable, if possible words arguments are to rest on solid ground – require already a notion of God, the very possibility of possibility, the very logic of a conceivable world, whether actually Created or not, but in every case presupposing a Logos that would characterize it and differentiate it from the others.

@Laubadatriste – You are such a blessing. I understand now. I am that refrigerator.

You asked: "For if that item is *not* metaphysically necessary, would that not mean that we had not in fact halted the regress?"

No, it would not mean that. This is it, this is where I challenge Thomas.

With that item – who is Being itself – we have arrived at the source of all necessity, the source of all causality. Everything is caused because of him, but he is not caused. Everything is necessary because of him, but he is not necessary. He can't be caused by something outside of him; there is nothing outside of him. He can't "cause himself," not under any idea of "cause" we can imagine within reason. He can't be necessitated by anything outside him; there is nothing outside him. He can't "necessitate himself," not under any idea of "necessity" we can imagine within reason.

"But wait!" say my opponents. "We can say, as Thomas did, that God is simply necessary, period! You misunderstand: he did not mean 'necessity' in this relational way!"

Well, no. Necessity is exactly as relational as causality; to take away that relationality is to destroy the concept, precluding even an analogical understanding. If Thomas did not see this then he missed something.

Rational argument cannot tell us that Being necessary any more than it can tell us that Being is caused.

laubadetriste said...

@Eduardo: "I must say Lauba, that I have already told that joke in my life XD, the three dudes joke Awesome to see that it is identical even when you cross borders..."

That won a readers' contest for funniest joke in a British newspaper years ago. Don't let anyone tell you I'm original.

@Erich: "The American Heritage Dictionary gives this definition of 'necessary'..."

I am sympathetic to the use of dictionaries to establish usage. But one must be careful, as dictionaries track irrelevant usages of words, too. In this case, a better definition would be this one: "*Philosophy* (Of a concept, statement, judgment, etc.) inevitably resulting from or produced by the nature of things, so that the contrary is impossible." (Where of course the nature of God would be included in the nature of things, even though God is not a thing, for we would be speaking De rerum natura, "to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term", etc.) I suspect tomorrow Brandon will provide more august examples as well.

But anyway, more even than a definition, we want an *analysis* of the definition(s). Grant for the moment that you were right about *your* definition: ok, but what would that *mean*? For example, those relations you say are inevitable, are they *necessary*?--and if not, would not they too lead back to a metaphysical necessity, by just the argument we're talking about?

"Now it may be possible to invent a new notion that resembles necessity but does not include such a relation."

See, I don't think that notion is new. I think it is very old. (Hence the OED, ↑above.) Unless of course you mean to claim that, *upon analysis*, that is in fact what we find.

"...but I can't get any mileage out of 'possible world' approaches to these questions. What counts as a 'possible world' in the first place? What makes us imagine such worlds are possible? Answering these questions – which need at least to be answerable, if possible words arguments are to rest on solid ground – require already a notion of God, the very possibility of possibility, the very logic of a conceivable world, whether actually Created or not, but in every case presupposing a Logos that would characterize it and differentiate it from the others."

laubadetriste said...

You aren't alone in those animadversions. But I suspect Mr. Green was just switching terminology in an attempt to be clearer--"Perhaps think of it in terms of 'possible worlds'", he said--and has no particular attachment to that way of speaking. His point, that terminology aside, still stands, unless, again, you provide further analysis: "...Aquinas is not using the term that way. He isn't arguing that God is necessary for something, simply that He's necessary. (necesse = ne, not, + cedo, go, withdraw = something you can’t get away from.) A necessary conditional is relational, but it's the 'condition' that's relative, not the 'necessary'."

"You are such a blessing. I understand now. I am that refrigerator."

Well, that joke (unlike the previous one) had no point whatsoever, other than being funny. But we can start calling you by the name of an appliance.

"Yes, everything we say of God can only be analogical, but if it entirely disrupts the basic meaning of the concepts used, the analogy is not of much help..."

You say ↑that, but then you say:

"With that item – who is Being itself – we have arrived at the source of all necessity, the source of all causality. Everything is caused because of him, but he is not caused. Everything is necessary because of him, but he is not necessary."

Is "source" analogical, too? Is "source" "relational"? You seem to argue for too much, or too little: if there is good reason to say "source" (as opposed to, say, "pizza") then there is good reason to say "necessary"--and if there is not good reason to say "necessary", then there is not good reason to say "source" (and we could with equal justice say "pizza").

Also, are you making a de re vs. de dicto distinction when you claim that, "...in fact he jumps to this other meaning immediately. And that's not a valid transition to make. The only necessity demonstrated is necessity to account for, and not any metaphysical necessity."

And what if metaphysical necessity is necessary in order to account for?

"As I wrote above: It makes no sense to be 'necessary' without being necessitated by something else."

Ok. Why doesn't it make sense? (Note: I am not asking about how anyone may have used the term before [although, as above with the dictionaries, I do think you're wrong about that anyway].)

Anonymous said...

There is only infinite, absolute, indivisible, indestructible Fullness. And that is THAT!
No you, no other.
No separation, no relatedness, not a jot of difference.
No beginning, no end.
No division, no fault.
No problem, no answer, not even a question.
No thing.
But not absence-of-things. Not a negative emptiness.
Fullness only. Divine Fullness. Love-Bliss-Fullness.

Philip Alawonde said...

Erich,

‘I apologize for misrepresenting anything you said, but do let me know how I did so.’—You had said, ‘I am psychologically pleased with Thomas's argument.’ But I didn’t say you weren’t; my point was that you were not psychologically, shall we say, convinced of the traditional answer to the question, Why does god exist necessarily; that thus your problem was not logical but psychological. Thus, I was not about Thomas’s argument at all.

‘Have you identified a contemporary metaphysical conception that I am improperly reading into Thomas? If so, please tell me what it is; it's only fair.’—Well, others have pointed out what I specifically meant by this, too. But I was referring, as I hinted at, at your taking ‘necessity’ to mean another thing than Thomas meant. You seem to be using something like a possible-worlds apparatus.

‘But the necessity shown in each case – perhaps I should write a paper on it and post it here! – is not a metaphysical necessity, though the word "necessity" is used for both cases.’—Well, this is exactly what you should make clear. Take any favourite Thomistic CA of yours and show that this is the case.

‘I have been explicit in my justification: I am pointing out an unwarranted leap from contingent necessity to metaphysical necessity.’—This is an interesting statement. As I said above, you’ve not been explicit enough; you’ve only asserted. But my interest here is the oxymoron ‘contingent necessity’: what the devil can that possibly mean?

‘(2) "'God exists necessarily, and we can demonstrate this by means of things we know about his existence."/ Thomas proves (1), as far as I'm concerned. It is true that Thomas claims (2), but these are illegitimate claims, for reasons I've spelled-out several times.’—No, Thomas does not claim (2), whatever (2) could even mean. What Thomas claims is the first part of (2), which is equivalent to your carefully worded but tendentious rendition of (1). As many others have pointed out, when we prove that God exists, it simply does not make sense to ask how he came about, for that’s what those demonstrations are supposed to explain somewhatly, otherwise we would not have demonstrated the existence of God at all, but of a superhuman entity. I think to be clear, if God exists, then he has to necessarily exist, otherwise he couldn’t be God. You, on the other hand, seem to be asking for the impossible, namely, that Thomas has demonstrated the existence of an unnecessary god—like Odin or Zeus—but that’s a very unfair reading of Thomas, for Thomas was a Christian and an Aristotelian, and what he purported to demonstrate was the existence of the Ground of all being (which, as a matter of course, cannot but be necessary). Again, I say that you do not know what Thomas means by God; you still seem to have a personalist conception of Deity.

Philip Alawonde said...

SD,

‘So the Thomist does not claim that his arguments demonstrate the metaphysical necessity of God, period./ Rather, he claims that his arguments demonstrate the metaphysical necessity of God given some feature of the world around us, that feature being the existence of contingent states of affairs.’—Well, then, it simply remains for you to show us how else, apart from epistemically, those two claims defer. Until you do this, you’d merely be begging the question.

‘But now let's look at how the notions of "necessity" and "contingency" apply not to God's existence, but rather to the soundness of Aquinas' argument. Given that soundness = validity + truth of premisses, to make it easier, let's assume the logic's validity is unassailable, so we have to turn our gaze to premiss P. So, given the content of P -- given its contingency -- what if anything can we say about Q? I think we can say this:’—Well, see what you’ve done here. You want to pretend you’re not disputing the ontological necessity of God, but rather, the necessity of the argument’s conclusion qua proposition, but you quickly equivocated when you assumed that there’s something it means for a proposition to be contingent. Well, if you mean that it may be denied without contradiction, then I dare you to deny the premise that there’s at least one ontologically contingent being. If you mean something else by contingent premise, you’ve yet to make clear your meaning. So, this is all a muddle in your mind. Get it clear first; perhaps you’ll come to see by yourself this murkiness!

‘I am asking about the necessity/contingency of the soundness of Aquinas' third way…’—Thus, everything that follows the above, especially this, is nonsense. What do you mean by the necessity or contingency of the soundness of an argument?

‘Yes, the Third Way shows that God necessarily exists, but it only manages to do that if there exist contingent stuff. If there's no contingent stuff, we don't have a proof!’—Of course, everyone knows this. So what’s the point? Is this your objection? How exactly is it an objection since we all know it? What does this trivial fact object to? Of course if we didn’t exist, there’d be no proof—so what?

‘And so my…question is simply, what's the deal with that then!?’—Exactly what I would ask you: So, what’s the deal?

In summary, you have made two foibles: Firstly, you’ve at best failed to clarify what you mean by contingency or necessity when applied to premises or the soundness of arguments; at worst, you’ve merely equivocated, which is a symptom of a mental muddle, and secondly, you’ve made a very vacuous statement if what you mean is simply that if there’s no contingent stuff, we can have no Third Way; I ask, So? How is that an objection at all?

Brandon said...

So focus on 2. 2.a: is passive and obviously relational, involving prior conditions. 2.b is about a conclusion, which entails something prior from which a conclusion may be derived.

This is an odd argument, since almost every important step in it is obviously wrong. Dictionaries record the range of common usages; they do not identify the usages appropriate to a particular topic of discussion, nor are they rigorous accounts of concepts. Any given dictionary only gives a selection of meanings to fix the range of meanings; for instance, it's not at all difficult to find yet other meanings, like "true under all interpretations or in all possible circumstances" or "such that it is not possible that it not exist". Any claim can be put in passive voice, and dictionaries favor passive voice because of their layout -- (1) passive voice is often the easiest way to get all the relevant information on one side of the sentence and (2) in English adjectives are often formed from it. That we describe something in passive voice does not mean that it is relational; the 'relation' is an artifact of the grammar and may or may not correspond to anything. Definition 2.b is not about a conclusion; 'necessary conclusion' is an example, not a part of the definition. The definition would also apply to an axiom, for instance, or the principle of noncontradiction; neither of which are derived from anything prior. And definition 1 is obviously not one that can be simply set aside here; it is the most obviously relevant definition.

But far more important than these is that your claim, "necessity is relational", to function as it does here must do two things:

(1) it must be relevant to the way 'necessary' is actually used in this context, namely, the Third Way, and you have not established in any way that your use of the term is that relevant to the discussion in the Third Way;
(2) it must be absolutely necessary (since if it weren't, you couldn't draw the conclusions that you are claiming to draw from it, which have to cross all possible counterfactual situations).

But by your own lights, if (2), then it must be necessitated; therefore you must be able to tell us what makes it so that the necessary (actual necessity in the real world, not the word) is relational.

Philip Alawonde said...

SD,

‘But now consider the following version:

P1: If contingent states of affairs exist then a Necessary Being exists
P3: No contingent states of affairs exist
thus
C: A Necessary Being exists

Does that version prove that God necessarily exists? Assuming P3 were true, would that argument be valid?
I say no.’

—LOL. The above argument is invalid irrespective of the truth or otherwise of P3 or any other premise for that matter. The step from P3 to C is unjustified, except of course you want to tell us exactly how you make the move. So again, your attempt falls flat and doesn’t even try to fly. So I’m saying again, clear the noetic muddle you obviously have. Perhaps, you may not even need others to make you see your errors, once you just calm down and think!

Philip Alawonde said...

Balázs Gimes,

‘So you say prime matter can be substrate without really existing? I'm not sure if that's possible, but if you don't see any problem with that, I don't have further questions.’

Sorry, I didn’t notice this until presently. No, I did not say prime matter does not really exist—I prefer ‘does not extramentally exist’, though. My point is that prime matter, considered in itself, without any other thing, isolated from all else does not exist but in the mind. But prime matter, as a substrate for substantial change, definitely does exist extramentally.

By now you should get the point. Otherwise I don’t know how else to explain.

Glenn said...

Erich,

This may be a debilitating deficit on my part, so if you can shuttle me to nearby ambulance I'd be much obliged to be carried off – but I can't get any mileage out of "possible world" approaches to these questions.

Perhaps so. And if so, then one must wonder why questions were asked which invite such approaches. (To wit, "...couldn't there just as well not have been a being without a cause (and therewith, no one like me to ask the question)?"... as well as, "Now, one can imagine a state of things in which there were no contingent things at all. How, then, could one logically demonstrate the necessity of that essence=existence that is God?")

Mind, though there does seem to be something incongruous in claiming to be fruitless the very approaches invited by the questions asked, I do not suggest there is something wrong with the questions themselves which have been asked.

- - - - -

I once heard a commodities broker tell a story which he said was a hit with his farmer clients out in the Midwest. The story went something like this: Once upon a time there was a frog hopping down the road. Alongside the road was tall grass, and hidden in the tall grass was a snake. When the frog got alongside where the snake was hiding, the snake slithered out and gobbled up the frog. The moral of the story, said the commodities broker, is that had the frog been carrying a six-shooter with him, he'd still be hopping along somewhere.

laubadetriste said...

@Anonymous May 4, 2016 at 4:04 AM: "There is only infinite, absolute, indivisible, indestructible Fullness. And that is THAT! / No you, no other. / No separation, no relatedness, not a jot of difference. / No beginning, no end. / No division, no fault.
No problem, no answer, not even a question. / No thing. / But not absence-of-things. Not a negative emptiness. / Fullness only. Divine Fullness. Love-Bliss-Fullness."

Unbeknownst to the rest of us, this Anonymous is the revivified hero M. Mirande, who "would dazzle his juniors, French and American, by dispatching a lunch of raw Bayonne ham and fresh figs, a hot sausage in crust, spindles of filleted pike in a rich rose sauce Nantua, a leg of lamb larded with anchovies, artichokes on a pedestal of foie gras, and four or five kinds of cheese, with a good bottle of Bordeaux and one of champagne, after which he would call for the Armagnac and remind Madame to have ready for dinner the larks and ortolans she had promised him, with a few langoustes and a turbot--and of cource, a fine civet made from marcassin, or young wild boar, that the lover of the leading lady in his current production had sent up from his estate in the Sologne." It is no wonder that he conceives of reality in terms of culinary triumph!--"only infinite, absolute, indivisible, indestructible Fullness. And that is THAT!" No, not room for one more piece, not even of Taillevent's songbird pie! "No beginning, no end. No division, no fault." No soup, no desert! No first course, no last! "Fullness only. Divine Fullness. Love-Bliss-Fullness." Waiter, the bucket, quickly!

SD said...

@Philip Alawonde: "So again, your attempt falls flat and doesn’t even try to fly. So I’m saying again, clear the noetic muddle you obviously have. Perhaps, you may not even need others to make you see your errors, once you just calm down and think!"

Dude, I’m not remotely interested in playing that game. I asked you a question with good intent but you appear to have misread it as rhetorical, and replied accordingly, adding a good dollop of sarcasm and insult for good measure. I’d put it down to the off day everyone has from time to time, but I can see from your past comments to others that condescension is pretty much baked into your style. Have a nice day.

Erich Groat said...


@ Everybody,

Oh dear, I'm being attacked and admonished from all sides... I don't know if that's good or bad! I don't have the time to reply to everyone this evening; I'll make a few specific reactions, but try to incorporate into a "general statement" at the end my reply to the many criticisms laid upon me. Apologies if I fail to reply o every point.

First, a couple direct responses:

@laubadatriste:

1) You ask, "And what if metaphysical necessity is necessary in order to account for?" Well, that'd be great, but that's the question I'm asking: is it?

2) My reference to the dictionary entry was no appeal to "authority," I hope you understand. (For the sake of full disclosure I have worked as a lexicographer for that very dictionary. . . ) I meant only to point out that all the active definitions of "necessary" involve relationality and dependence. You offer another definition from the OED: "*Philosophy* (Of a concept, statement, judgment, etc.) inevitably resulting from or produced by the nature of things, so that the contrary is impossible." But this definition exemplifies again exactly the relationality inherent in the concept: X "resulting from or produced by" Y. There is simply no concept of "necessity" that is not relational. Or is there? Tell me what such a concept would mean! Apparently Thomas believes it to be contiguous with "necessity" understood relationally. But how could "it just has to be" be contiguous with "this has to be because that is"?

3) I'm not sure why you're picking on my use of the word "source." It's surely and interesting picking to pick at, but it seems a bit of a distraction here. . .

4) I said: "As I wrote above: It makes no sense to be 'necessary' without being necessitated by something else."

Then you said: "Ok. Why doesn't it make sense?" Well here's why: because "necessity" is a concept that is relational. Something is dependent on something else. If there is no relation, then what the hell do we mean by necessity?

Take the concept of being "to the left," of "leftness." Can something have "leftness" without reference to something else? No, not in everyday language. Not even in politically metaphoric language. If someone cam along and said that some thing had "inherent leftness," and was in and of itself "to the left," even without any other thing in creation to be on the left of, well, I would not know what he was talking about.

Erich said...


@Phillip –

I asked: ‘Have you identified a contemporary metaphysical conception that I am improperly reading into Thomas? If so, please tell me what it is; it's only fair.’ you replied: 'Well, others have pointed out what I specifically meant by this, too. But I was referring, as I hinted at, at your taking ‘necessity’ to mean another thing than Thomas meant. You seem to be using something like a possible-worlds apparatus.'

Well, I am taking issue with what Thomas could possibly mean in the first place. Thomas means two things but "necessity": one in the relational sense in common use, and the other in some technical non-relational sense. And yet he puts these two uses together in a singe argument (in the Third Way explicitly).

I certainly don't want to use a "possible worlds apparatus" (and have in the meantime expressed my skepticism of it). All possibility and necessity, as aspects of Being, already presume God. (More on this below in response to Glenn's excellent challenge.) But if we cannot take Thomas's arguments to say, as I argue, that God is intrinsically "necessary" any more than we can say he is "caused," then, well, Being itself would appear not to be necessary.

The rest of your questions should be addressed forthwith. As for what I meant by "contingent necessity," I meant only what we must know because we know we exist contingently; God "necessarily exists" to the extent that we wouldn't be here if he didn't.

Erich said...

@Brandon – you are indeed fierce, but I will defend myself! To your first point:

"This is an odd argument, since almost every important step in it is obviously wrong. Dictionaries record the range of common usages; they do not identify the usages appropriate to a particular topic of discussion, nor are they rigorous accounts of concepts. Any given dictionary only gives a selection of meanings to fix the range of meanings; for instance, it's not at all difficult to find yet other meanings, like "true under all interpretations or in all possible circumstances" or "such that it is not possible that it not exist". Any claim can be put in passive voice, and dictionaries favor passive voice because of their layout -- (1) passive voice is often the easiest way to get all the relevant information on one side of the sentence and (2) in English adjectives are often formed from it. That we describe something in passive voice does not mean that it is relational; the 'relation' is an artifact of the grammar and may or may not correspond to anything. Definition 2.b is not about a conclusion; 'necessary conclusion' is an example, not a part of the definition. The definition would also apply to an axiom, for instance, or the principle of noncontradiction; neither of which are derived from anything prior. And definition 1 is obviously not one that can be simply set aside here; it is the most obviously relevant definition."

First off, as I said to Laubadatriste above: I’m not trying adjudicate anything through dictionary definitions.

Second, you are indeed right in saying that the use of the passive itself does not entail a relation. There are languages in which the passive can be used with intransitive verbs, for example German: "Gestern wurde getanzt," literally, "Yesterday was danced" (meaning, roughly, "people danced yesterday"). "To dance" is an intransitive verb in German as it is in English. But German grammar allow passivization even of intransitive verbs, with no subject-object relation.

But that's beside the point. The fact is that "necessity" is not a concept that can be construed non-relationally. It's like saying "difference" could be construed non-relationally. To claim it is being used non-relationally is a kind of slippage.

Next:

Brandon: 'But far more important than these is that your claim, "necessity is relational", to function as it does here must do two things:

(1) it must be relevant to the way 'necessary' is actually used in this context, namely, the Third Way, and you have not established in any way that your use of the term is that relevant to the discussion in the Third Way;"

Erich: Again: I have been perfectly clear: the range of meaning of "necessary" in the third way is intolerably inconsistent.

Brandon: (2) it must be absolutely necessary (since if it weren't, you couldn't draw the conclusions that you are claiming to draw from it, which have to cross all possible counterfactual situations).

Erich: you've fallen back here on the notion of "necessity" which is not under dispute: The existence of everything, especially our minds arguing about all this coos stuff, serves as proof of God; God is necessarily there. No disagreement here.

But by your own lights, if (2), then it must be necessitated; therefore you must be able to tell us what makes it so that the necessary (actual necessity in the real world, not the word) is relational.

I'm not talking about counterfactuals, really. Or am I? Is it possible to assert that "Being is not necessary" without some notion of "possible worlds?" Can't "not being necessary" be an unconditioned quality of God himself?

Erich said...

@Glenn – thank you for your pointed repost. You may well be right. There are so many balls in the air for me to juggle: let me make another post to sum up my argument.

laubadetriste said...

@Erich: "Oh dear, I'm being attacked and admonished from all sides... I don't know if that's good or bad!"

A backhanded compliment. :) Nothing to worry about, I assure you.

"1) You ask, 'And what if metaphysical necessity is necessary in order to account for?' Well, that'd be great, but that's the question I'm asking: is it?"

Well, that's great, but that's the question I'm answering: yes, it is.

I kid. But I hope you are doing more than *just* asking. I think you do not mean to imply that a "necessity to account for" could have had effect, say, before the existence of the people doing the accounting...?

"2) My reference to the dictionary entry was no appeal to 'authority,' I hope you understand....I meant only to point out that all the active definitions of 'necessary' involve relationality and dependence."

Pointing out that "all the active definitions of 'necessary' involve relationality and dependence" would seem to be an appeal to authority--namely, the authority of a dictionary. I should add that I have no problem with an appeal to authority. (I suspect no one here does.) But of course, whether or not anything particular is in fact an *authority* is very much in question. That is, it might be the case (or it might not be) that a dictionary has nothing relevant to say on this matter.

"3) I'm not sure why you're picking on my use of the word 'source.' It's surely and interesting picking to pick at, but it seems a bit of a distraction here. . ."

I picked it because you did, and because by parallel reasoning I think you would have to stop using it, if your undermining of "necessary" succeeded.

"4) ...Well here's why: because 'necessity' is a concept that is relational. Something is dependent on something else."

So you have asserted. I am trying to move beyond that, by finding out *why* you think so.

"Take the concept of being 'to the left,' of 'leftness.' Can something have 'leftness' without reference to something else? No, not in everyday language. Not even in politically metaphoric language. If someone cam along and said that some thing had 'inherent leftness,' and was in and of itself 'to the left,' even without any other thing in creation to be on the left of, well, I would not know what he was talking about."

Ah, no. :) No, we understand *what* you are saying there. No need for examples. Yes, the term "left" is correlative to the term "right". What we want to know--again, beyond re-assertion--is *why* you think so. Because, in that sense, we deny that the term "necessary" is like the term "left". And so your saying that it is like the term "left" is not illuminating.

Let me approach this another way: if "necessary" is like "left", then what is the correlative term for "necessary", equivalent to the term "right"?

(Are you about to say...."contingent"?)

"The rest of your questions should be addressed forthwith."

Oh, take your time. Hell, take the night off. See a movie. Some of us have too much time on our hands... :)

Tony said...

@laubadatriste:

Pleeeeeeeaaaaassssseee do not feed the anonymous trolls!

Like the glutton: if you feed it, it will come (back). Though I gotta say, killing it by overfeeding to the point of suffocation is an interesting idea.

Erich said...

Okay, here's a statement:

"Necessity" is a relational concept. It cannot be understood otherwise. Like "causality," it requires two terms. We say God is uncaused he has no passive causal relation to anything (though he may cause other things). In the same way he cannot be necessitated by anything (though other things are necessitated by him). But if there is ultimately only God, how can he be "necessary?"

This leads, on the surface at least, to an odd idea: God is not necessary in any relation other than that of his relation to creation. One does not want to talk of "possible worlds" – since all such possibility is already inherent in Being, hence in God – and yet, we can still cannot say "God is necessary" all by itself: where is the relation? To what? And "God/Being is not essentially necessaary" entails "God/Being is not necessary. . . "

So while it's arguable that to ask "Why is there God?" is meaningless, it is not so clear that the statement "God/Being is not necessary" is meaningless.

* * *

But of course, all necessity, all possibility, inheres in God – otherwise what are we talking about!?!

Necessity resides in God, then. As does possibility: all possible worlds already assume God. What, then, of this riddle: that Being itself should be necessary, if necessity is inherently relational? Necessary to what?

What this would mean, it seems to me, is that being itself is relational. And that has a precedent in Trinitarian theology. We say "God is love": what can it mean for the One Absolute to be love? It means that the one absolute is relationality itself. The three persons love each other as they are necessary to each other; they ARE love as they ARE necessity. There is some close connection here.

So the idea that God is "necessary per se" I can accept only as I accept (and I fully accept) the idea that God is love per se - utterly relational, and thus triune.

I thus suggest that there is a deep connection between the "necessity" of God and his triune being. Necessity is inherently relational, like Love: as must be Being itself.



There is some connection between the

Erich said...

@all

please delete the last sentence fragment "there is some connection. . . " – it was not visible on the page when I posted the message!

Sorry!

Tony said...

Oh dear, I'm being attacked and admonished from all sides...

Oh, Heavens! No, no, Erich. You are not being attacked from ALL sides. Only from the right. That side being the side relative to... :)

Or, to put it another way: imagine that there is God. Nothing else. God thinks true things. He doesn't think wrong things. Indeed, there is nobody who thinks wrong things, for there is only God, who is the Truth. So, the question is, does God's being right require someone being wrong? Is his rightness only rightness if there is some wrongness for his rightness to be right against? Should we say that God isn't right in this scenario, because there is no wrong? Can he only be TRUTH when there is also error?

laubadetriste said...

@SD: "Dude, I’m not remotely interested in playing that game. I asked you a question with good intent but you appear to have misread it as rhetorical, and replied accordingly, adding a good dollop of sarcasm and insult for good measure. I’d put it down to the off day everyone has from time to time, but I can see from your past comments to others that condescension is pretty much baked into your style. Have a nice day."

Oh, don't take your toys and go home!

Really, it would be much better to demonstrate just where sarcasm and insult fall short. You will note how effective they are as weapons against the puffed-up pretenders of the world--but also how they can be shamed by argument and charity.

(Just in case folks wonder--as of course I myself use sarcasm and insult regularly--the ↑above sentence is sincere.)

@Tony: "Pleeeeeeeaaaaassssseee do not feed the anonymous trolls! / Like the glutton: if you feed it, it will come (back). Though I gotta say, killing it by overfeeding to the point of suffocation is an interesting idea."

Sorry. Whimsy got the best of me. :)

Erich said...

Laubadatriste has in a previous post implicitly suggested a question I think we all need to ask of ourselves:

"If I could be any household utensil or technology I wanted to be, what would I be?"

Erich said...

@ Phillip – I seem to to have terrible luck in writing to you! Apologies for all the typos. I accidentally posted not the text file I had finished but the text file I was working on. I hope you can see through the typos.

Eduardo said...

The dild..... I mean.... The frying pan!!!!!!

U__u yeah the frying pan!

Couldn't hold it folks my bad! XD.

SD said...

@laubadetriste: "Really, it would be much better to demonstrate just where sarcasm and insult fall short."

Yes, but it requires much higher levels than I possess of skill, and self-control (in order to avoid stooping to the insulter's level).

Still high on, but a little lower down the usefulness and required equanimity scales is staying engaged while ignoring the gibes. But that's still beyond me, and would end up with someone's blood on the walls, and a slight darkening of my soul.

So in the spirit of Matthew 5:29 I rip out the eye of my argumentative nature and have to settle for disengaging with the other completely. The job of helping them to learn a lesson I have to leave to those more patient and skilled than I am. Based on what I've seen so far -- bearing in mind I don't really know everyone here very well yet -- if Mr. Alawonde would like an example of what appears to be well-nigh Olympic levels of forbearance and kindliness in the face of condescension, I'd refer him to Erich. However, I typically assess skill, in this context, in terms of how much I learn from another, and since I've only agreed so far with Erich, I can't judge him on that parameter. Candidates for an effective combination of patience *and* skill would include Brandon, Mr Green, and yourself.

"You will note how effective they are as weapons against the puffed-up pretenders of the world--but also how they can be shamed by argument and charity."

The second, yes. But the first, only when the person deploying the sarcasm and insults has, in a sense, first earned from their adversary the right to do so. My friends and I can use sarcasm and insult among ourselves because: a. we have implicitly given permission; b. we have calibrated to levels that suit us; and, most important, c. it is understood that the underlying motivation is one of mutual respect, caring, love even.

But when the insulter is a stranger, a. and b. haven't taken place, and it's impossible to know what's going on with c. And all of the associated problems are dramatically multiplied by the old principle that email (these days to include blog comboxes) is extremely bad at conveying sarcasm and other negative non-verbal cues.

But again, this is all merely how I experience it. I know many who are not so challenged. But at my age I've come to accept that patience and the ability to suffer foolishness (real or imagined) gladly are not my strongest suits and so their cultivation needs constant vigilance and is probably a lifelong task. Given that, it's always nice when one comes across an admirably skilled and patient individual who is willing to explain that the patience portion is hard-won, and remains as much of a challenge to them as to me. Our very own Brandon might be an example since he says (bold emphasis his):

     For a rough introduction to my philosophy of blogging,
     including the Code of Amiability I try to follow on
     this weblog, please read my fifth anniversary post.


That fifth anniversary post (link over at his original -- go look) eventually leading to another entitled, The Virtue of Amiability.

laubadetriste said...

@SD: "Yes, but it requires much higher levels than I possess of skill, and self-control (in order to avoid stooping to the insulter's level)."

Ah, so you say. And yet you write most skillfully.

But then, perhaps you know yourself all too well. I remember an anecdote about C. S. Lewis having a very beautiful student transferred from his class, because he could not trust himself with her, and did not wish to expose himself to temptation.

"Based on what I've seen so far -- bearing in mind I don't really know everyone here very well yet -- if Mr. Alawonde would like an example of what appears to be well-nigh Olympic levels of forbearance and kindliness in the face of condescension, I'd refer him to Erich."

Erich *does* seem like a very even-keeled kinda guy.

(Ya hear that, Erich? That's a compliment. This dispute will die down, and then you'll be accepted--unless you say something really exceedingly stupid, which seems unlikely...)

You'll notice that, within certain limits which I would be bored to describe, the regulars have a great tolerance and even fondness for each other's eccentricities. (Why, just the other day I went to Baskin Robbins with DNW, and when they were out of rum raisin and he threw a fit about dairy Jacobins, I did nothing but lick my cookies n' creme and smile.) Erich has been subject to some interrogation, but really that has been very mild. I think that because most of us genuinely pursue the good, the true, and the beautiful, there is a sort of check upon us. I have not known a regular really to be cruel, for example, or who will not apologize if called to account for something egregious.

"Candidates for an effective combination of patience *and* skill would include Brandon, Mr Green, and yourself."

I am flattered almost to embarrassment by my inclusion in such lofty company. Yet Brandon has never told a knock-knock joke, and as for Mr. Green--how about another pigment, hmn? Always with the chlorophyll and the emeralds!

"The second, yes. But the first, only when the person deploying the sarcasm and insults has, in a sense, first earned from their adversary the right to do so. My friends and I can use sarcasm and insult among ourselves because: a. we have implicitly given permission; b. we have calibrated to levels that suit us; and, most important, c. it is understood that the underlying motivation is one of mutual respect, caring, love even."

That is well put, and I cannot dispute it.

I would be a great fool if I did not sometimes wonder whether I might be setting a bad example.

Brandon said...

I’m not trying adjudicate anything through dictionary definitions.

Well, whether you're trying to do it or not, it's what you did -- asked on what grounds you could possibly establish the claim that necessity is relational, you answered entirely with dictionary definitions.

Again: I have been perfectly clear: the range of meaning of "necessary" in the third way is intolerably inconsistent.

You have not established anything of the sort; you've claimed it on the basis of your statement that necessity is relational. But you haven't established that your use of the word 'necessary' in this context is not equivocal, or that it is the only way in which it can coherently be understood. You've literally just listed dictionary definitions and then restated your claim. Both the comment in which you say the above and your comment at May 4 7:01 pm do nothing but state the claim again, for instance, now in shorter form, now in longer form.

As laubadetriste notes, we all know what you are saying. The question is on what grounds do you establish it as necessarily true?

I'm not talking about counterfactuals, really. Or am I?

Whether you are or are not, your claim about necessity being relational still has to be necessary to function as it does, and by your own lights, that means that it must be necessitated by something else, which you would have to show.

Glenn said...

Due to his most recent comments, I now have a much better appreciation for what Erich is getting at. He is not seeking to be argumentative for the sake of being argumentative; he is genuinely trying to understand, i.e., he is seeking to find a way around or over something which is proving to be a hurdle for him. The hurdle is real, and others have encountered it (though not necessarily likewise with the subject of the necessity of God). It has to do with human intellect, human understanding, and the language used by humans -- all in relation (no pun intended) to that which greatly surpasses all three, individually or collectively. If we take the statement, "God is necessary," to be an affirmative proposition about God, then the section in ST dealing with the question of whether affirmative propositions can be formed of God makes for a good starting point in assisting Erich over the hurdle he faces. No more time here; have to run. Sorry!

DNW said...


I noticed Green and several others (at various times, and both on this thread and others) discussing what I took to be the relevance of both standard modus ponens and of bi-conditionals as shedding light on the concept involved in the idea of divine necessity.

If Feser has not yet explored the formal aspects of this necessity concept as it relates to a particular kind of implication, it might be helpful for him or someone else to do so.





DNW said...



"You'll notice that, within certain limits which I would be bored to describe, the regulars have a great tolerance and even fondness for each other's eccentricities. (Why, just the other day I went to Baskin Robbins with DNW, and when they were out of rum raisin and he threw a fit about dairy Jacobins, I did nothing but lick my cookies n' creme and smile.) "


It wasn't quite a fit, more of my standard rant. And what mood would you expect after having first suggested Ben & Jerry's, of all places? Next thing you know, you will be wanting to get together with the wives at "Starbucks®" after a little urban mountain biking.

Glenn said...

Now that I'm back and have some time, I'll start afresh and take a different tack.

Erich: "Necessity" is a relational concept. It cannot be understood otherwise.... This leads, on the surface at least, to an odd idea: God is not necessary in any relation other than that of his relation to creation.

One short (and unargued) response might be that adjectives such as 'good', 'wise' and 'necessary' do not apply to God in the ordinary sense of their significations, but in a more eminent and unencumbered way (ST I Q13 A3 ad. 2). (This, of course, would be to say that ‘necessity’ can be understood otherwise than merely as a relational concept.)

For example, when we apply the term 'necessary' to God, we make use of the implication (of the ordinary understanding of the concept of 'necessary') that He cannot not be, while leaving aside the implication (of the same ordinary understanding of, etc.) that He must have been or is necessitated. I think this makes sense.

That is, and more generally, I think it makes sense to expect that the meaning or signification of words, terms and/or concepts which have to do with things belonging to a genus, will not be quite the same as when those words, terms and/or concepts are applied to that which does not belong to any genus, i.e., God.

If this is (basically) correct, then the "odd idea" is an artifact of an attempt to employ the unmodified ordinary sense of the signification of 'necessity' or 'necessary' when and where it does not apply.

Rivka333 said...

Balazs Gimes, and Philip Alawonde,

Different thinkers have different ideas about what prime matter is. I think that we could say that they use the same word, but aren't really talking about the same thing.

Aquinas explicitly says in his Treatise on Separate Substances (in several spots, I believe), that prime matter doesn't actually exist. So when he is talking about prime matter, I think that we can say that he was using the same word to mean something else than those thinkers who said it does exist.

Glenn said...

An Odd Idea (Or, How Could Glenn Not Know How to Remove a Boot From His Foot?)

I had to find out how to get the boot off.

I sat in the chair by the desk, and placed my right ankle on top of my left knee. I reached out, and... the doorbell rang.

"Just when I'm about to do the deed, the doorbell rings. Dagnabbit." I got up and went to answer the door.

It was laubadetriste and DNW.

Hm. Not only was I wearing boots, so too were laubadetriste and DNW. I, Kenneth Cole Reaction 'Steer the Wheel' Lace-Up Boots (they were a gift, and wearing them once is a simple act of courtesy); laubadetriste, Old West Zipper Western Ankle Boots (I don't know what his excuse was); and DNW, John Varvatos Gray Engineer Triple-Buckled Boots (no excuse required). Grey Leather boots, Black Cherry boots and Charcoal boots; boots with laces, boots with zippers and boots with buckles. Interesting. Maybe not. Whatever.

"Hey, guys, what's up?"

"We're going for ice cream, and stopped by to invite you along." It was laubadetriste who answered.

"Where are you headed?"

"Ben & Jerry's was considered. Briefly. But we're going to Baskin Robbins." Again, it was laubadetriste who answered.

DNW seemed not to be in good humor, and I noticed he was carrying Carville's latest tome on political philosophy, "Why I Scream."

"Why not?" I asked. "More to the point, why not Breyers?"

"Huh?"

"Never mind."

"Well, are you coming along or not?"

"I'd like to. But I have to get the boot off. And I first have to find out how to do that. You go ahead, and I'll catch up later when -- if-- I can."

They looked at my feet, then each other. "If you're going to change your footwear, why take off only one boot? And, pardon one further question, but how could you not know how to do that?"

I smiled. "Not only do I have to get the boot off, it'll probably cost me an arm and a leg to do so, so I may be temporarily unable to pay for my ice cream."

With a hasty, "Well you catch up with us later if you can," and what I suppose was meant to pass for a wave, they skedaddled.

Had I heard a mumbled "afford it" after the clearly enunciated "if you can"? No matter. And no time to think about that sort of thing. The deed needed to be done.

I sat back in the chair by the desk, and again placed my right ankle on top of my left knee. I reached out, picked up my cell phone, and began dialing.

I had to find out how to get the boot off.

laubadetriste said...

@DNW: "It wasn't quite a fit, more of my standard rant. And what mood would you expect after having first suggested Ben & Jerry's, of all places? Next thing you know, you will be wanting to get together with the wives at 'Starbucks®' after a little urban mountain biking."

"Hm. Not only was I wearing boots, so too were laubadetriste and DNW. I, Kenneth Cole Reaction 'Steer the Wheel' Lace-Up Boots (they were a gift, and wearing them once is a simple act of courtesy); laubadetriste, Old West Zipper Western Ankle Boots (I don't know what his excuse was); and DNW, John Varvatos Gray Engineer Triple-Buckled Boots (no excuse required). Grey Leather boots, Black Cherry boots and Charcoal boots; boots with laces, boots with zippers and boots with buckles."

Heh. :) See? That's awesome. I look ridiculous to begin with; and while I don't know how DNW and Glenn look (for all I know, they're runway models coming here to live dangerously), they sure both *sound* like they look ridiculous. And you take three people like that, with silly boots and sugar cones, and the only way out is a straight face and the liberation of a small village from banditry.

For the record, I *do* like Starbucks, but only so I can tell the barista my name is Spartacus, and at the end of the bar have people fight over who claims my coffee.

"If this is (basically) correct, then the 'odd idea' is an artifact of an attempt to employ the unmodified ordinary sense of the signification of 'necessity' or 'necessary' when and where it does not apply."

But would that not show *how* that account of "necessary" may be true, and not *whether* it is true?

Or no--are you not talking directly about the account now, but rather proposing a defeater for Erich's attack on it?

Glenn said...

laubadetriste,

"If this is (basically) correct, then the 'odd idea' is an artifact of an attempt to employ the unmodified ordinary sense of the signification of 'necessity' or 'necessary' when and where it does not apply."

But would that not show *how* that account of "necessary" may be true, and not *whether* it is true?

Or no--are you not talking directly about the account now, but rather proposing a defeater for Erich's attack on it?


1. Erich agreed that the being of the necessary being is not dependent on anything else. He also gave a clear indication that he was in agreement with that before he posted any comment at all (at least under this OP). See his response to Tony on April 30, 2016 at 8:15 AM.

2. Notwithstanding that, he later suggested what he himself called an "odd idea", namely, that "God is not necessary in any relation other than that of his relation to creation." And he went on to say that "it is not so clear that the statement 'God/Being is not necessary' is meaningless." See his statement of May 4, 2016 at 7:01 PM.

3. There is clarity in Erich's agreement, and confusion in his subsequent suggestion and implied speculation (that God/Being might be contingent).

4. There can be no confusion without a source, and, as best I can tell, the source of the confusion is to be found in holding:

a) for all X (i.e., for each and every X without exception), to say "X is necessary" necessarily implies that X is necessitated by something other than X; and,

b) since any X which is necessary is necessitated by something other than X, it follows that any X which is necessary is also in some way contingent.

5. So, no, I was not proposing a defeater for some attack by Erich, but attempting to identify the source of his (partial) confusion.

Glenn said...

5. So, no, I was not proposing a defeater for some attack by Erich, but attempting to identify the source of his (partial) confusion.

Of course, it must be said, Brandon had previously gotten at that when he wrote,

"Dictionaries record the range of common usages; they do not identify the usages appropriate to a particular topic of discussion, nor are they rigorous accounts of concepts."

Glenn said...

laubadetriste,

Heh. :) See? That's awesome. I look ridiculous to begin with; and while I don't know how DNW and Glenn look (for all I know, they're runway models coming here to live dangerously), they sure both *sound* like they look ridiculous.

As you know, sounds can be deceiving. (But I did once wear a hat.) Anyway, and in case you're really curious regarding how awesome I look, what I actually look like can be seen here.

Glenn said...

(Oops. "...how awesome I look..." s/b "...how Orson I look...")

NSA (Eduardo) said...

Ih thats all we in the NSA need to know you are muahahahahahaha...

Hope you 'kay wit day.

DNW said...

I know I'm going to regret this, but ... on the left - your left.

The other guy was a WWII fighter pilot friend.

And since the image is over a decade old now and I have a beard ... graying ... Eduardo's pals will never find me.

DNW said...

As I was about to post I realized I was almost "quoting"; re., second thoughts.


Have a good weekend.

laubadetriste said...

@Glenn: "As you know, sounds can be deceiving. (But I did once wear a hat.) Anyway, and in case you're really curious regarding how awesome I look, what I actually look like can be seen here."

You've lost weight! I envy your metabolism--why, you're just a shadow of your former self. Me, I'm suffering from relativistic effects about the belt buckle.

@DNW: I know I'm going to regret this, but ... on the left - your left. / The other guy was a WWII fighter pilot friend. / And since the image is over a decade old now and I have a beard ... graying ... Eduardo's pals will never find me."

DNW, you look like one of those nondescript, competent people in the movies, who do black bag work and have "connections"--like the assassin Quinn from *Prison Break*, or Operations Officer Barnes from *Syriana*, or Sherlock's father Morland Holmes from *Elementary*. Naturally, we can get coffee wherever you like. I'll pay. I don't know where the item is. The password is "Marlborough".

I think actually Don Jindra has us all beat with that old track picture of his from a few months back. Naturally, I do not count Daniel Joachim or Taylor--the former having the advantage of all that exercise on Lian Yu, and the second being a professional.

@Glenn: "4. There can be no confusion without a source, and, as best I can tell, the source of the confusion is to be found in holding: / a) for all X (i.e., for each and every X without exception), to say "X is necessary" necessarily implies that X is necessitated by something other than X; and, / b) since any X which is necessary is necessitated by something other than X, it follows that any X which is necessary is also in some way contingent. / 5. So, no, I was not proposing a defeater for some attack by Erich, but attempting to identify the source of his (partial) confusion."

Ok, that makes sense to me. We'll have to see when Erich gets back from the movies. :)

Speaking of which, where did Philip go? Philip, *you're* not new! I hope you didn't go anywhere, either.

Eduardo said...

No wayyy man, the NSA have programs so sophisticated now we can predict, with a wrinkle of precision, your face muhahaahhaha

I sincerely thought you were younger DNW... Unless that is somewhat how you looked with 20! Than I would be right lol.

Glenn said...

laubadetriste,

You've lost weight! I envy your metabolism--why, you're just a shadow of your former self. Me, I'm suffering from relativistic effects about the belt buckle.

You're not to blame, as most relativistic effects are unavoidable. But since most lapses in common sense are preventable, the same cannot be said for me. To wit, the earlier photo was taken before receiving an invitation to dine with the celebrated M. Mirande, while this one was taken after mistakenly accepting the invitation.

Glenn said...

laubadetriste,

Ok, that makes sense to me.

Good, I'm glad.

I should qualify something, though. I think the distinction made by Tony -- between the order of being, and the order of our coming to know -- goes directly to the root cause of the confusion. What I identified (speculatively) as the source, I think actually should be taken more as a symptom than the actual source.

laubadetriste said...

@Glenn: "I think the distinction made by Tony -- between the order of being, and the order of our coming to know -- goes directly to the root cause of the confusion. What I identified (speculatively) as the source, I think actually should be taken more as a symptom than the actual source."

That also makes sense to me, you generally sense-making person, you.

Erich said...

Hey everybody – two apologies, one for the strange accumulation of typos (in one case I pulled a strange copy-and-paste trick that utterly failed, in the others I was simply inattentive) – and one for disappearing; I went up to a cabin in the woods in the expectation that the internet and telephone would get turned back on there for the season, but it took not only days, but hours on the line with useless technicians and bizzaro-world on-hold xylophone music that is now on seemingly permanent repeat in my brain.

Should any of you still be here and should my arguments not have been completely knocked down by this time I'll read everything here tonight and do my best to reply pronto.

jesusLover said...

You do not serve Jesus, you serve a pagan shaman in a White robe surrounded by munchkins in red!

You do not trust in Jesus for your salvation; you trust in fortune cookies administered by black-collared sodomites!

You do not pay to Jesus; you pray to the demon-whore Semiramis your fake church calls the Virgin Mary who is not the true vessel God used to introduce Jesus into the world.

Leave the Great Whore of Babylon and Return to the True Bride of Christ or you will burn for eternity in the Lake of Fire right alongside Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, Sam Harris and the rest of atheists you think you oppose.

laubadetriste said...

@jesusLover: "You do not serve Jesus, you serve a pagan shaman in a White robe surrounded by munchkins in red! / You do not trust in Jesus for your salvation; you trust in fortune cookies administered by black-collared sodomites! / You do not pay to Jesus; you pray to the demon-whore Semiramis your fake church calls the Virgin Mary who is not the true vessel God used to introduce Jesus into the world. / Leave the Great Whore of Babylon and Return to the True Bride of Christ or you will burn for eternity in the Lake of Fire right alongside Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, Sam Harris and the rest of atheists you think you oppose."

Five'll get you ten jesusLover is an atheist with a modest sense of humor, and ↑that is a false flag.

...although he did capitalize the word "white", and needless capitalization means cray-cray.

Erich said...

Hello to anyone who revisits. . .

@Brandon – I must disagree: I was not adjudicating through dictionary definitions, though in retrospect I can certainly see why one might have interpreted it that way, so I should have made my intensions clear. What I did, and intended, was to show a range of definitions from a source that has some descriptive adequacy concerning the meaning of the word to help show how relationality is implicit in it. Laubadatriste countered with another good description of those senses from a different dictionary, for good measure – but I replied saying that relationality is inherent in that definition too, and I think that's true. Give me any definition you want! Thomas may mean something else by it with reference to God, but we only say that because he cannot mean what we mean by it by reference to everything else – part of my point – not because he defines it otherwise, or even points out an incommensurability – which he regularly does with other cases of incommensurability.

So the question is, how well can ideas like necessity carry over to God?

You are quite right: I have certainly not "demonstrated that [my] use of the word 'necessary; in this context is not equivocal, [nor] that it is the only way that it can be coherently understood." My whole argument is that, seek as I might a definition of "necessity" that is both non-relational and coherently understandable, I cannot find one. No one here has offered one. We need one to proceed with the argument, I think.

@Glenn – thanks for all your comments, and for your attentiveness – surpassing mine – to what I said in earlier posts.

You said:

One short (and unargued) response might be that adjectives such as 'good', 'wise' and 'necessary' do not apply to God in the ordinary sense of their significations, but in a more eminent and unencumbered way (ST I Q13 A3 ad. 2). (This, of course, would be to say that ‘necessity’ can be understood otherwise than merely as a relational concept.

I agree. But the way of analogy – crucial for Thomas – may not absolve a concept of all applicability when it comes to God.

If a Muslim says God is Love, what can that mean? Can he really say that? There is in Islam the idea that God created the world that he might be adored and express his love. This assumes love is relational, and then leads to the famous problem of Allah's dependence on his creation in order to express love.

Now, one way out of this is to say that "Love" in God transcends its relational quality for us humans; it is "stranger" in God than we can imagine. The "ordinary significance," as you put it, does not apply.

But it seems to me that this problem goes away much more satisfyingly – if equally mysteriously! – in the trinitarian view of God, in which relation is of his essence. He can be Love because he is each person as love between the others.

(cont'd)

Erich said...

@ Gelnn (cont'd)

In the same way, I'm saying, "necessity" is just not something we can grasp in a non-relational sense without really referring to something else entirely. If necessity is inherent to God, then relationality must be inherent to God.

And that what the trinity already tells us.

So (recapitulating and extending a bit here) I'd conclude that any argument toward necessity does not tell us that Being was ever necessary (with respect to some utter factless void), but that God, as Being, must be relational – and that tells us something about the Trinity.

* * *

What you called my "implied speculation that Being/God may be contingent" is not quite right. I am not arguing that God maight be contingent. I am suggesting that nothing proves his metaphysical necessity.

(Let me add that, though I am a newcomer to theology, I see this lack of a proof as exceedingly interesting, and I find myself compelled to it – not because I want to challenge A-T in any way, but because I feel it actually makes the whole enterprise of A-T more exquisite and precise. That's just personal intuition, of course, but it deeply influences my biases, so I mention it for that reason. Perhaps someone can pick that apart.)


@ laubadatriste – thanks for your kind words. Having watched things for a year or so here it seems to me that most people in this combox can tell the difference between someone who's troubled by aspects of A-T and is trying to figure it out, and someone who's messing about just to cause trouble. But I know full well that either can be mistaken for the other, so I have no problem running the gambit, and do not mean to try anyone's patience. These kinds of discussion are a rare blessing on a public forum on the internet. And I may well be an idiot.

Philip Alawonde said...

SD,

‘Dude, I’m not remotely interested in playing that game. I asked you a question with good intent but you appear to have misread it as rhetorical, and replied accordingly, adding a good dollop of sarcasm and insult for good measure. I’d put it down to the off day everyone has from time to time, but I can see from your past comments to others that condescension is pretty much baked into your style. Have a nice day.’

I also didn’t intend, and wasn’t interested in, playing any game. And if you really had good intent in asking your question, you’d not have prefaced it with a good dollop of an irrelevant as well as aggressive officiousness too!

Philip Alawonde said...

Erich,

‘Well, I am taking issue with what Thomas could possibly mean in the first place. Thomas means two things but "necessity": one in the relational sense in common use, and the other in some technical non-relational sense. And yet he puts these two uses together in a singe [sic] argument (in the Third Way explicitly).’—Good. This is a clearer statement of your problem. But you still have not demonstrated that this is the case. So, pick the Third Way and actually demonstrate that this allegation is true. Until that time we wouldn’t know exactly what you’re talking about.

‘But if we cannot take Thomas's arguments to say, as I argue, that God is intrinsically "necessary" any more than we can say he is "caused," then, well, Being itself would appear not to be necessary [my bold].’—Well, this is exactly what you’ve not yet argued, contrary to your claim above. That’s why I call again upon you to show that we cannot take Thomas’s arguments to say that God is intrinsically necessary, and thus that Being Itself would appear unnecessary.

‘As for what I meant by "contingent necessity," I meant only what we must know because we know we exist contingently; God "necessarily exists" to the extent that we wouldn't be here if he didn't.’—So, let’s use this to interpret your previous claim, ‘I have been explicit in my justification: I am pointing out an unwarranted leap from contingent necessity to metaphysical necessity.’—So, you meant that there’s an unwarranted leap from what we must know, given our knowledge of our contingent existence to metaphysical necessity. Good, makes more sense. But the troublesome thing again is that you’ve merely insisted that there’s this leap, but you’ve leapt eagerly away, failing to demonstrate your claim. Again, please show us that given our knowledge of our contingent existence, what we must know precludes the existence of a metaphysically necessary existent.

So, it all boils down to the simple fact that you’ve so far refused to demonstrate your claim. Attempt that, and we might be well on the way to something. Cheers!

Philip Alawonde said...

Rivka333,

‘Aquinas explicitly says in his Treatise on Separate Substances (in several spots, I believe), that prime matter doesn't actually exist.’—Well, it appears the problem is not as much with prime matter as with what the predicate ‘to exist’ signifies. Of course, prime matter qua prime matter does not exist as a separate substance; but that does not mean it does not exist at all, full stop!

So, re-read the Treatise in context, and you’d find that the Angelic Doctor merely meant that prime matter does not exist separately of substances, which of course I agree with. It’s these two senses of understanding how prime matter exists that I’ve been trying to clarify for Balázs since.

Or ask yourself, if you think prime matter does not exist in substances, ‘What would be the point of talking about non-existent entities?’—Engaging in some kind of Platonic or Leibnizian game? SMH.

Philip Alawonde said...

laubadetriste,

‘Speaking of which, where did Philip go? Philip, *you're* not new! I hope you didn't go anywhere, either.’

I certainly went somewhere, but not forever. :). I can only reply properly and more clearly from a cyber café, which I do not visit every time. This is because I cannot do the usual formatting, copying or a detailed response on my phone. But though I always follow the discussion from my phone, I usually postpone my responses to when I’m at the café, like presently.

That’s why all my comments are lined up.

Brandon said...

What I did, and intended, was to show a range of definitions from a source that has some descriptive adequacy concerning the meaning of the word to help show how relationality is implicit in it.

Your argument clearly required that necessity have relationality implicit in it not in the sense that some uses of the word have it -- that literally follows directly from Aquinas's Third Way and thus is not in any way in dispute -- but that all of them must have it. And it was this for you which you were explicitly being asked to show the grounds -- not examples, but the grounds for saying it in the first place. So asked what your grounds or reasons were for saying that necessity must be relational, you responded by listing a handful of dictionary definitions.

My whole argument is that, seek as I might a definition of "necessity" that is both non-relational and coherently understandable, I cannot find one. No one here has offered one. We need one to proceed with the argument, I think.

As I've already pointed out, this will not work. If the Third Way is sound, it establishes a sense for necessity that is nonrelational. 'Establish' is the key word; the Third Way does not assume that necessity is nonrelational; it concludes to a kind of necessity that is nonrelational.

Literally the entire argument is that becoming-and-perishing requires that there be something with at least necessitated-necessity (i.e., necessity in your sense). If it is necessitated-necessity, it requires a cause, and as we cannot have an infinite regress in causes, we eventually reach something that is an uncaused, and therefore unnecessitated, cause of everything else, including things with necessitated-necessity. Thus the existence of the necessary being is established entirely by consideration of causes, in which you yourself have already said there is no problem. You don't want to call it a necessary being; OK, but literally everyone who has discussed the argument in the past seven hundred years has, including Aquinas himself, and the course of the argument does not depend on what your personal word preferences are.

Thus either you are simply saying that the argument works but you don't like the word it uses -- which is fine, but you keep presenting this as a problem for the Third Way rather than just a reason to state exactly the same argument in different words -- or you need from the beginning to rule out the possibility of there being any kind of necessity that is nonrelational -- i.e., as I said before, you need your claim about necessity to be a necessary claim.

I replied saying that relationality is inherent in that definition too, and I think that's true. Give me any definition you want!

Existing even if nothing else exists. Existing in such a way that it can be neither generated nor destroyed nor caused to continue to exist (note that this is literally the kind of existence to which the Third Way concludes). Existing uncaused (note that this is a direct implication of the Third Way). Existing independently of anything else. Existing such that it is incorrect to say that its doing so is in any way relationally dependent. Having in itself existence that requires nothing else. Being the initial terminus of a regress of necessitating causes. Precisely what we are discussing is why you think the term can't have some such definition.

Erich said...

@Phillip – I haven't "refused" to do anything – rather, either you have failed to see that I have done it, or I have failed to see that I haven't!

@Brandon – you can jump in here –

I hate to say it, but it comes down, perhaps, what scope we can permit, or are willing to permit, words to have. When Thomas, in the Third Way (the one Way in which he explicitly argues for necessity), concludes that God has necessity in himself, then either he is using the word in the same way that he is through the rest of his argument, or he is not.

He concludes as follows:

". . . we cannot but admit the existence of some having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity."

So Thomas sees in everything other than God that its necessity is caused, and in God that his necessity is not caused by anything. Now, what can it mean for something to "have necessity" in such a way that necessity may be either caused (relational) or not caused (non-relational)? What is this "neutral meaning" of necessity that Thomas invokes?

I cannot think of one; Thomas does not define one. I can only think of necessity as including already that causal relation, and so is not neutral. I'm not saying it's impossible to find one; I just want to see it.

The other possibility is that "necessity" when applied to God simply does not mean the same thing as it does when applied to contingent things. That would hardly be surprising! Nothing means quite the same thing when applied to God. But certain key aspects of meaning must remain, otherwise we cannot even speak of analogical meaning, and words become purely equivocal; Thomas of course denies that and asserts the validity of analogical meaning.

(cont'd...)

Erich said...


(…cont'd)

Okay, so how might we understand "necessity" as something that God "has" in a way that is analogous to "necessity" as something contingent things have? Any suggestions?

Yes: Brandon has one (the last paragraph of his last post). He puts forth five sentences that are predications of "existence." And I agree that what the Third Way shows is exactly the kind of "existing" his statements describe. (Maybe it's not perfect for whatever reasons, and an Überthomist might come along and critique them, but that's beside the point!).

But why should we use the word "necessary" to denote this kind of existence? What special relation does this word have? What do we gain from using this word? I just don't see the relation between all of these statements and what we otherwise use the word "necessary" for. Sure, we can simply use the word "necessary" to denote everything Brandon has listed, and add that definition to the scholastic vocabulary. But I can also say that there's a definition of "cat" that includes both cats and dogs (a nutty example), or a definition of marriage that includes oaths of fidelity between two men or between two women (a current example). But by doing so we are either simply redefining terms ad hoc, or genuinely losing continuity with the core meanings of the words.

If I look at the set of descriptions of existence that Brandon gives us, none of them says to me that such an existence is "necessary" in any sense of the word I know (nor do all of them as a whole). Of course we can apply the word "necessary" to this is we want, but that isn't helpful.

To do so we would be a bit like what Freud does in The Future of an Illusion: he simply names as "illusion" any belief or belief system we have that is motivated by wish-fulfillment (his real target being belief in a Father god, of course). He admits that this definition of the word does not entail that the beliefs are actually untrue, but uses this word in this way anyway. Well, he certainly can use words any way he wants and define them according to his practical purposes – but nothing is gained – in fact, only his own biases are encouraged – by this use of the word "illusion".

Does that parallel make sense?

Brandon said...

But why should we use the word "necessary" to denote this kind of existence? What special relation does this word have? What do we gain from using this word?

It's the word that's always been used, though; and this use of the word arguably pre-exists any more restricted use of it. So the question is rather, What do we gain from restricting the use of the word in this particular way?

Erich said...

@Brandon -

It's the word that has been used in this sense only of God; it could not be used of anything else in this way. This is not a "general" sense that is later restricted: it is a profoundly different, non-relational sense, specific to God, in stark contrast to the relational meaning we use in describing everything else, including as Thomas uses it in his arguments.

God may bearing "necessity" in and of himself in this special sense, but that does not mean he is necessitated, no more than God's bearing all "causality" within himself means he is caused.

Erich said...

@Brandon - (I meant "God may bear", of course!)

laubadetriste said...

@Erich: "Having watched things for a year or so here it seems to me that most people in this combox can tell the difference between someone who's troubled by aspects of A-T and is trying to figure it out, and someone who's messing about just to cause trouble."

Oh no! I've been found out!

"It's the word that has been used in this sense only of God; it could not be used of anything else in this way. This is not a 'general' sense that is later restricted: it is a profoundly different, non-relational sense, specific to God, in stark contrast to the relational meaning we use in describing everything else, including as Thomas uses it in his arguments."

So what if that were a word used so only of God? If it applied so only to God, would that not make sense? Why should not "a profoundly different, non-relational sense, specific to God" be not used in a "sense that is later restricted"? And if that sense were so later restricted, would there not be a contrast, perhaps a stark one, between the earlier use and the later?

"And I agree that what the Third Way shows is exactly the kind of 'existing' his statements describe."

Well then. Let us, in our discussions, call this kind "necesserich", where "necesserich" means exactly the same as "necessary", but is spelled differently to indicate your agreeing but disliking the agreement.

Mr. Green said...

Erich: So we have some set of possible worlds – notice how rich this already is, some set of possible worlds, maybe some of them actual, a very rich ontological universe

As Laubadetriste noted, this is merely a way of speaking, so we shouldn't read too much into it. We especially shouldn't read any ontology into it, as though these "possible worlds" were some sort of parallel dimensions, à la Star Trek. Possible worlds have no existence whatsoever, they are merely a bookkeeping device, a way of drawing different hypotheticals on the blackboard so we don't lose track; and to be summarily erased if they cause more confusion than they dispel. (There certainly aren't some actual worlds — only one, this world, the real one; and we don't need to worry about those "other" worlds precisely because if we know they aren't this world, then they aren't real at all, and thus don't matter.)

Philip Alawonde said...

Erich,

‘I haven't "refused" to do anything – rather, either you have failed to see that I have done it, or I have failed to see that I haven't!

Well, of course, but I think it’s the latter horn that’s the case here. But let’s see possible reasons why you might think you’ve done so, whereas you haven’t. I’ll say it boils down to your having a very vague notion of what an argument or a demonstration is supposed to be—No, it’s not just re-asserting something over and over again till everyone gets bored and leaves the combox to you.

Earlier on, you claimed to have been a reader of Feser’s blog (perhaps even read a couple of his books). Well, given your low view of what an argument is, I seriously doubt that—well, either that or that you’ve failed to note what Feser does and how he proceeds when he accuses someone of botching up their argument. I’ll tell you: He doesn’t just make the allegation and then keep on repeating the claim stubbornly. He takes careful pains to explain what he means and also why he thinks the person has done what he’s accusing them of, by (1) citing their own words so as not to misrepresent them, (2) showing from the citation and the context at hand how they commit this fallacy. Sometimes as a regular reader one is tempted to think that he overdoes his clarification, not minding that that was one of the outstanding things that drew one to his blog some time back, but I digress…

But here you are, accusing the Aquinate of unjustifiably having equivocated on the word ‘necessity’ but yet have failed to show us how you think he’s done this equivocation. You should quote the argument you’re talking about and demonstrate from there how exactly he’s done what you’re accusing him of. You’ve asserted over and over again, but this is what you’ve not done.

But perhaps—as not to foreclose the possibility of my having missed it—kindly point out where you’ve done this, and I’ll apologise pronto (let’s also assume it’s not in Feser’s spam net). But there yon are, Erich. Give it a go: Either show me where you’ve demonstrated this charge in our discussion thus far, or provide the demonstration in order for your charge to be taken with some seriousness!

Erich said...

@laubadatriste – You're the man, man. I'm doing the best I can here. . .

Okay, you say: 'So what if that were a word used so only of God? If it applied so only to God, would that not make sense? Why should not "a profoundly different, non-relational sense, specific to God" be not used in a "sense that is later restricted"? And if that sense were so later restricted, would there not be a contrast, perhaps a stark one, between the earlier use and the later?'

Sure! That'd be great, in principle. But if "necessity" is something we're going to ascribe to Being first and foremost, and then let it be restricted by in its application to created things, well, then I'd like to know what it means before it has been restricted. But it doesn't seem to mean anything "first:" we arrive at "necessity" in God by virtue of "necessity" as a relational idea (following Thomas). But if it's not relational in God, then what is it? How does the concept apply in any way to both God and what is "necessary" in creation?

@ Philip – Touché, if you think I have a "low view" of what an argument is; I do not quite know how to respond. Yes, I am a reader of Feser's blog, and reader of his books, among others. Are you? I'll tell you one thing Feser never does: he never circumnavigates the arguments made by his critics by repeatedly asking them to repeat their case as if they hadn't done so, as you are asking me to do. Why don't you address what I have already written? Look at my posts preceding and you'll see that I make a determined, if unclear, and quite possibly incorrect, argument concerning equivocation on the concept "necessity" – one which has iteratively evolved, thanks to the constructive criticism of others here, yourself included, and I have referred explicitly to Thomas, and quoted him directly. So I refer you to all of my above posts. I did it again in my reply to laubadatriste just now.

I'm happy to do it again!

Version #27.b: "Necessity" in Thomas's arguments, most notably in the Third Way, is understood as relational: things are necessitated by other things. There must be a terminus to this relation, and that will lie with God, just as causality, another relational term, reaches its terminus in God. So far so good?

Well, just as going on to say that God has no cause, and certainly cannot "cause himself," it must be that God has no necessity, and certainly cannot "necessitate himself." To ascribe to God "necessity" in some non-relational way is fine, just as he is "causality" in some non-relational way. But if so, then we can hardly say that God is "necessary" in relation to absolute void. Nothing shows that God is "necessitated" any more than it shows he is caused. To use the word "necessity" with respect to God in this non-relational sense special to God precludes us from any ontological relation between Being and non-Being. Yet this is what the last sentence of Thomas's Third Way implicitly does, or at least seems to make people think it does. Am I wrong? Probably! But please tell me why; I have given it a go many times now!






Glenn said...

Erich,

Version #27.b:...

...propagates the same basic argument as does version #27.a, as well as versions #26.zzz...#26.aaa, versions #26.zz...#26.aa, versions #26.z...#26.a, versions #25.zzz...#25.aaa, etc., etc., so and so forth, all the way back to that which itself is not a version of anything prior to itself, but which, nonetheless, is that of which the aforementioned versions have been given.

Now, for the sake of clarity, that which itself is not a version of anything prior to itself -- but which, nonetheless, is that of which versions have been given -- shall be referred to as the original version.

- - - - -

Before moving on, however, there is an objection to be dispensed with.

The objection to be dispensed with is that that nothing held to be a version can actually be a version unless it be a version of something prior to itself, and that, therefore, to speak of an original version is to misspeak -- if the intention of the one so speaking is to refer to that which itself is not a version of anything prior to itself but nonetheless is that of which one or more versions have been given or exist.

We dispense with this objection by calling attention to and commenting upon the definition for "back-translation" found in Research Methods in Applied Linguistics: A Practical Resource, which definition is as follows:

"Back-translation A process used to assure that a translated and original version of a questionnaire or a document is equivalent. The process involves translating the original version into the second language and then having a second person or group translate the second language version back into the original language. The original version and the (twice) translated version can then be compared to assure that they are equivalent."

What does this mean?

Suppose I author, in English, a document containing a single sentence which reads as follows: "The term 'necessary' was in use in a non-relational capacity before any dictionary declared, whether explicitly or implicitly, that the use of that term in any but a relation capacity constitutes an illicit linguistic act."

Suppose further that my document is translated into another language, say language L, and then the language L version is translated back into English.

The original version, that document authored in English by myself, and the twice translated version, that version translated into English from language L (which itself is a translated version of my English document), now can be compared for equivalency.

All this is clear.

As is the fact that it is perfectly acceptable to refer to my original document, which itself is not a version of anything prior to itself, as the original version.

Objection dispended with, we now move on.

- - - - -

According to the original version of the argument, and as specifically worded in version #27.b,

To ascribe to God "necessity" in some non-relational way is fine, just as he is "causality" in some non-relational way. But if so, then we can hardly say that God is "necessary" in relation to absolute void.

This suggests that it is impermissible to use a term now in one sense, now in another sense.

But why would a linguist suggest that?

Heavenly days!

Glenn said...

(A couple of things to tidy up:

(1. Clearly, "so and so forth" s/b "so on and so forth".

(2. Obviously, "necessity" and "necessary" are not one and the same term. Still, to ascribe to God "necessity" in some non-relational way is to say of God that he is "necessary" in some non-relational way. Now we have one and the same term.)

Erich said...

@Glenn – sorry I didn't reply to your previous comments before the latest – I got overwhelmed! Thanks for all your comments.

Your account of "versions" (if I understand the point you're making) is very helpful here.

We think of generally think of versions relationally, but any chain of "versions" may lead to a "version" that is the original version. And of course we can also imagine a single "version" of something, with no others standing in relation to it. We can unproblematically say that the original version, even though it stands alone – perhaps in principle – and is never changed, is still a "version," the single version. We can ascribe "versionness" to it, as it were, unproblematically.

But note that we are using the word somewhat idiosyncratically. The word "version" suggests a range of variation (the root ver- meaning a "turning," a twist on something – the possibility of alternatives). Now there's no reason that range might be restricted to one thing only, and we know what "version" means in that circumstance. But it's a slightly odd use in the case of something that can in principle have no greater range than one. It's a bit like presenting someone with possible courses of action: if there are two possibilities, we say he has two choices. But if there is only one possible course, though we might say he has "only one choice" (and people do say that), we might as well say he has no choice (and people say that too).

The ordinary meanings of "version" and "choice" break down somewhat in the case of an absolute singularity. But their meaning is recoverable.

What I'm saying is that when we predicate "necessity" of an absolute singularity, its ordinary meaning is not properly recoverable. Perhaps it has another, non-relational meaning here: sure, just as "version" may have. But the problem is that people (including, I think, Thomas) then go on to use it as if it still had a relational meaning, putting God's necessity in a relation with the void, making being's existence "necessary" vis-a-vis void. That's what I object to!

So to your final comments:

I said, To ascribe to God "necessity" in some non-relational way is fine, just as he is "causality" in some non-relational way. But if so, then we can hardly say that God is "necessary" in relation to absolute void.

Then you replied, This suggests that it is impermissible to use a term now in one sense, now in another sense.

But why would a linguist suggest that?


It does not suggest that, and I never suggested it. My point does not rely on it. I am perfectly happy to have "necessity" mean something quite different when applied to absolute Being (just as "person," "goodness," or any number of other ideas can be understood only analogically, at best, when speaking of God – I am basically a Thomist, after all!). Granted, I don't understand very well what it would mean – I make no claim. But whatever it might mean, it won't be a "relational" sense in any way that puts that relationality outside of God himself. So let us not mistake that meaning for a relational meaning, which (I think we agree) it cannot have. And if it is not relational, then we cannot understand God's necessity to mean God is the necessary alternative to the void.




Erich said...

@Glenn –

Just reread what I posted; a typo early on: I said, "Now there's no reason that range might be restricted to one thing only, and we know what "version" means in that circumstance. "

I meant

"Now there's no reason that that range should be restricted to one thing only, and we know what "version" means in that circumstance."

Sorry!

Glenn said...

Erich,

Thanks for the response, and sorry for the delay. Yes, you caught on to most of what I was getting at by going on about "versions".

I didn't have time to respond yesterday, and don't have have time to say more now. I expect to be able to later this afternoon, or in the evening.

Erich said...

@Glenn –

No rush, Glenn! I'm happy as a clam for this discussion (and more thankful than any clam, if less thoughtful), and I'll check back here again over the next few days.

Glenn said...

Erich,

I'll be brief.

But the problem is that people (including, I think, Thomas) then go on to use ["necessity"] as if it still had a relational meaning, putting God's necessity in a relation with the void, making being's existence "necessary" vis-a-vis void. That's what I object to!

Well, the sun neither rises not sets, yet people speak as if it does, so why not object to that?

And if it is understood that the sun neither rises nor sets, then what is the basis for concern regarding imprecise 'as-if' speech about the sun rising and setting?

Likewise, if it is understood that the Third Way isn't positioning God as a necessary alternative to the void, but pointing out that the void is not and cannot be an alternative to that which we call God, then what is the basis for concern regarding imprecise speech from someone speaking as if God were an alternative to the void?

Provided the speaker doesn't really believe, e.g., that the sun actually rises or actually sets (or that God actually is a replacement alternative to the void), his imprecise 'as-if' speech is idiomatic (in the sense that the actual truth of the matter of which he speaks cannot be assembled from a literal interpretation of the constituent elements of his speech).

So it seems to me.

Erich said...

@Glenn –

Well, the sun neither rises not sets, yet people speak as if it does, so why not object to that?

Because it accords with our everyday sense of things, even if we know it's not true.

Are you suggesting it's okay to say "Being is necessary" in the context of a rigorous argument, even thought we know it's not true?

"Yeah, whatever, necessity is neither here nor there; I'll just apply it to God 'as if' his existence were necessary."

Imprecise and idiomatic speech are not what Thomas relied on. Nor should any apologist!

I will happily point an atheist to Thomas to prove to him God exists. But I won't equivocate if he asks, "Why God and not nothing?" for Thomas does not answer the question. Reason itself reaches its endpoint there. That limit neither deflates Thomas nor makes any concession to the atheist skeptic: on the contrary, it states what can be stated securely. To claim any more is what provides fodder for the skeptic.

Glenn said...

Erich,

>> Well, the sun neither rises not sets, yet people speak as if it does, so why not object to that?

> Because it accords with our everyday sense of things, even if we know it's not true.

Right.

So when St. Thomas speaks of the necessity of God, and you think he's using the term "necessity" in accordance with your ordinary sense of "necessity" as being relational, know that it's not true (that he's using "necessity" in that sense).

Very simple!

;)

Glenn said...

(And if you can't bear to think that you might be reading a relation sense of the term when others are using it with a non-relation sense, and insist instead that others are using it with a relational sense when it should be used in a non-relational sense, then just chalk it up to their speaking idiomatically. All bases are now covered. Case closed.)

Philip Alawonde said...

Erich,

‘I'll tell you one thing Feser never does: he never circumnavigates the arguments made by his critics by repeatedly asking them to repeat their case as if they hadn't done so, as you are asking me to do.’

Well, all this simply assumes that you’ve done what you’ve not done. You’re again simply merely thinking that you’ve done something when you’ve not done so in fact. The evidence is clear. There’s no single demonstration that Thomas equivocated as you so charged him—at least you’ve not made it evident!

‘Why don't you address what I have already written? Look at my posts preceding and you'll see that I make a determined, if unclear, and quite possibly incorrect, argument concerning equivocation on the concept "necessity" – one which has iteratively evolved, thanks to the constructive criticism of others here, yourself included, and I have referred explicitly to Thomas, and quoted him directly. So I refer you to all of my above posts.’

Well, in all your posts in our discussion, what you’ve relentlessly done is merely assert without proof. I’m repeating too much now, so I’ll just stop as it’s becoming clear you’re not really interested in discussion, your apparent patience notwithstanding. Also, it’s very vague to refer me to all your posts above. Quote just one place where you’ve made it clear that your charge against Thomas is true, and I’ll retract my statements!

‘"Necessity" in Thomas's arguments, most notably in the Third Way, is understood as relational: things are necessitated by other things. There must be a terminus to this relation, and that will lie with God, just as causality, another relational term, reaches its terminus in God. So far so good?’

No, not good at all; this is exactly where the problem is. All of the above statements are just mere assertions, and until you demonstrate them by quoting the argument you’re referring to and showing how at least one person apart from you understands the argument as you claim it’s understood. That’s when the discussion will start!

‘Well, just as going on to say that God has no cause, and certainly cannot "cause himself," it must be that God has no necessity, and certainly cannot "necessitate himself." To ascribe to God "necessity" in some non-relational way is fine, just as he is "causality" in some non-relational way. But if so, then we can hardly say that God is "necessary" in relation to absolute void. Nothing shows that God is "necessitated" any more than it shows he is caused. To use the word "necessity" with respect to God in this non-relational sense special to God precludes us from any ontological relation between Being and non-Being. Yet this is what the last sentence of Thomas's Third Way implicitly does, or at least seems to make people think it does. Am I wrong? Probably! But please tell me why; I have given it a go many times now!’

We’ll only be able to tell whether you’re wrong after the charge as been established as true. So give it a go. Demonstrate that Thomas equivocates—don’t just say he did! How simpler can I put that?

Glenn said...

If I hadn't said that the case is closed, I'd have been able to add to it what is below.

- - - - -

Erich,

Imagine there is no God at all, no creation, Nothing. There is nothing to prove, no argument from existence of any kind, contingent or non-contingent. Nothing exists, not even God; no actuality, no potential, nothing. A void as vacuous as God's plenitude is plentiful. Of course, we know this is not the case, for there is a God, and creation. But nothing necessitates this. There could just as well have been no God, no existence/essence, no being at all.

If St. Thomas is correct in saying that, "[T]he possible, or contingent, that is opposed to the necessary has this characteristic: it is not necessary for it to happen when it is not" (SCG 3.86.9), and the Gedankenspiel is correct in saying that, "There could just as well have been no God, no existence/essence, no being at all," then it follows that if God exists subsequent to the Gedankenspiel's postulated nothing (or were God to exist subsequent to that postulated nothing), He is (or would be) contingent.

Now, if God exists, and He is not contingent, then either what St. Thomas says is incorrect, or what the Gedankenspiel says is incorrect.

(But, of course, if X exists and is contingent, then X is not that of which St. Thomas says "all men speak of as God".)

Nothing in Thomas's argument precludes this possibility, since Thomas's argument presumes existence as a fact, and argues for God as the source of all being. So it does not prove that existence, beginning with the existence of God, was necessary in the first place.

Whether God exists is one question, and whether God has always existed is another question. Since the argument to which you refer is concerned with establishing that God exists, and not with establishing that He has always existed, that God has always existed requires a separate argument.

CT 1.7, e.g., obliges:

"[N]othing begins to be or ceases to be except through motion or change. But God is absolutely immutable, as has been proved. Therefore it is impossible for Him ever to have begun to be or to cease to be. Likewise, if anything that has not always existed begins to be, it needs some cause for its existence. Nothing brings itself forth from potency to act or from non-being to being. But God can have no cause of His being, since He is the first Being; a cause is prior to what is caused. Of necessity, therefore, God must always have existed."

- - - - -

But I did say that the case is closed, so I cannot add to it what is above.

Oh well.